Mythicism’s Methodological Mess

Mythicism’s Methodological Mess October 21, 2014

It is funny that some mythicists think that, in pointing out that there are lots of different scholarly proposals about Jesus, they are making a profound observation, and even providing evidence that something is fundamentally wrong with the methods historians currently use.

Eating BibleOn the one hand, historical details are capable of being interpreted in multiple ways, and unless we were to declare a moratorium on historical investigation of Jesus, then the only way scholarship can continue to be done is by offering new proposals. If there were the amount of interest in another figure from history that there has been and continues to be in Jesus, we would have much the same state of affairs in the historical investigation of that figure.

But on the other hand, mythicism is far from uniform. Some mythicists say that Jesus was a figure derived primarily from scriptural interpretation. Others say that Jesus was a figure derived primarily from religious experiences. At least one says he is an invention of the Romans trying to stabilize their rule over the Jews. Some think the Gospels are astrotheological allegories. And some say that Jesus as depicted in the Gospels is a pastiche of multiple figures.

That last suggestion has found a proponent in Daniel Unterbrink, who has written a number of books, including Judas of Nazareth: How the Greatest Teacher of First-Century Israel Was Replaced by a Literary Creation. In it, he claims that Jesus is a combination of Judas of Galilee and Paul’s celestial Christ.

It is ironic that mythicists treat the fact that scholars are not unanimous as evidence that something is wrong (as though there were genuine unanimity in any field of scholarly inquiry), when it is rare to find two mythicists the precise details of whose viewpoint is the same. To quote Richard Carrier, even though I do not find the first part of his statement persuasive for reasons indicated above, “A field that generates dozens of contradictory conclusions about the same subject is clearly bereft of anything like a reliable method. But the very same flaw befalls the mythicists, whose community is likewise plagued by dozens of completely contradictory theories of the Jesus myth. If such a state is a scandal for historicity (and it should be), it is equally a scandal for mythicism” (Richard Carrier, On The Historicity of Jesus, p.11).

For more on mythicism, see Simon Joseph’s recent post, “Dispelling the Jesus Myth.”

Of related interest, John Dickson has offered to eat his Bible raw if anyone can point to a full professor in a relevant field at an accredited university who thinks Jesus did not exist. Get some popcorn (or salted Bible pages, if you prefer). This ought to be good.

 

"The posted comic reminds me a little of the argument from achievement: If God simply ..."

Batman and Theology #CFP
"Anyway, as I said I was hoping we could move on from that particular confusion. ..."

Challenge to Fundamentalist Bible Readers
"One player I just found online summed up the battle in this way:On my return ..."

Sci-Fi, Superhero, Game, and Cinematic #CFP ..."
"I grew up playing the Gold Box D &D games on my C64 where every ..."

Sci-Fi, Superhero, Game, and Cinematic #CFP ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • John MacDonald

    Carrier is a twit. He doesn’t have credentials as an expert in the New Testament. I have no idea why people listen to him, except maybe that some atheists hate Christianity and the easiest way to attack Christianity is to deny Jesus ever existed. Paul clearly said Jesus had a brother. Carrier deals with Jesus’ brother at the end of his book “On The Historicity of Jesus,” but his argument is a pathetic joke.

    The far more reasonable stance for a secular person like me to take is that Jesus was just a normal human being who had miracle stories grow up around him and emerge after he died, like is that case that happened with other figures like Muhammad, Joseph Smith, and Apollonius of Tyana.

    • Kainan

      He has credentials as a PhD in ancient history. Jesus is a figure of ancient history, not limited to the NT, and his historicity (or rather the probability thereof) can be decided by the usual historical methods. Setting Jesus aside as some special case that is only accessible to the scholars specializing in the NT studies is a hallmark of pseudoscholarship.

      While I agree that mythologization of a historical Jesus is more reasonable, what Carrier has shown (albeit it has already been more or less clear without him), is that it is far from “certain”. It is, in fact, only barely more probable than the alternative Carrier proposes. One really has to be a twit to deny this.

      • Has Michael Behe’s publications on biochemistry shown that mainstream evolutionary theory is far from “certain,” and barely more probable than the alternative Behe proposes?

        I don’t think that the mere fact that someone has written a book proposing an alternative instantly makes the prevailing view less likely. Not even waiting for responses to Carrier, evaluating his claims and arguments, is definitely jumping the gun (I have one that will be available by next week, looking at one particular detail).

      • Jim

        Alright, so I’m a twit. But apparently, I’m not the only twit on the block. “[RC has credentials as a PhD in ancient history. Jesus is a figure of ancient history …” That association does not seem overly clear to me.

        Maybe I’m nuts, but I’ll try out an analogy: Lipid chemistry and nucleic acid chemistry are both organic chemistries. So if I want to learn more about nucleosides, I can therefore equally go to a specialist in either field to answer my nucleoside related questions. Really? Sure there is a remote possibility that the lipid chemist is a remarkable genius who knows absolutely everything, but the odds are that I’m better off to rely on a nucleoside chemist for the better answer related to that specific field. I’m guessing this analogy can be extrapolated to history studies as well.

        Any reasonable scholar will usually provide an opinion on a topic close to their specialty, but will ultimately defer you to a specialist in that specific topic for a more thorough explanation.

        • Dan

          Your analogy fails because RC’s DPhil concentration is related to the study of first century Palestine. If his History degree was on Norse prehistory or Ancient Mesoamerica, then perhaps his credentials would have no bearing, but it does. You have to at least give him that. (As an Industrial Chemist, I will have little to say about nucleosides. I can understand the chemistry in their literature, but I don’t have an overarching view of the subject. In such cases, it is best to be silent.)

          Saying all that, I still believe that McGrath’s criticism of Carrier et al is valid. Mythicism has so far shown no compelling argument or data that can overturn historicism. Their rhetoric is overblown and triumphalistic, even in the face of meager evidence and an abundance of counter-evidence.

          • Jim

            Well so much for my analogy then. I thought it was potentially clever since both of these organic molecule types are found as their phosphorylated analogs in biological systems (phospholipids and nucleotides) with the phosphate moiety being the Palestine.

            Say did you ever hear my football analogy then …. 🙂

          • Just in the interest of precision, I’m not aware that Carrier’s thesis relates to the study of first-century Palestine. The dissertation’s title is “Attitudes toward the Natural Philosopher in the Early Roman Empire (100 B.C. to 313 A.D.)”

            Of course, there is no reason that someone with a broad knowledge of Roman history and philosophy cannot chime in on a discussion about Jesus. I’m just leaving this comment because Carrier’s PhD did not, as far as I can tell, focus on Palestine. Perhaps Dan meant to refer to his MPhil thesis? I have no information about that.

            http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/12/dissertation-done.html

            http://www.richardcarrier.info/cv.pdf

  • “If there were the amount of interest in another figure from history that there has been and continues to be in Jesus, we would have much the same state of affairs in the historical investigation of that figure.”

    Maybe this is the problem! Why do we devote so many faculty positions, publications, and research dollars into this one ancient rabbi?

    Maybe we should put a moratorium on historical Jesus research, and reinvest those resources into historical Socrates, and Alexander, and Buddha, and …?

    • I wonder whether that would help, or would just obscure those other figures as much as Jesus gets obscured by the sheer volume of publication about him.

      • Well, I know a few historians who would appreciate spreading around the faculty positions and research dollars.

        • Well, that I would certainly be in favor of – I’m just not sure that we’d be doing the fields or our knowledge a favor, in the longer term.

    • Michael Wilson

      Well I think each scholar should follow their bliss. However I would encourage more historians to look into other ancient figures. Because these figures like Jesus shape our understanding of the whole world, I think it is good to seperate myth from reality. Im glad we have examined the life of Jesus from so many perspectives. I feel I have a good deal reluable data about the man. However the value of the myths to many makes getting a consensus difficult.

    • MattB

      The elderly dude from Up!? That is legit cool BQ

      • My coworkers have been telling me for sometime that I look like the old coot from Up! .

  • Bethany

    I’m curious about the specification “full professor”. Are there assistant or associate professors in a relevant field at an accredited university that believe in mythicism? I didn’t think there were.

    • At an accredited university? Not that I can think of. I’m not sure why the specification, other than that there could be someone that he was not aware of who is a recent scholar. Or maybe he wanted to make sure that no one could get him to eat a Bible by pointing to Raphael Lataster?

      Robert Price teaches at an unaccredited seminary. Richard Carrier is a freelancer. Thomas Thompson doesn’t accept the label “mythicist” and says that his work on the stories about Jesus as myth are not demonstrations that there was no historical Jesus.

      • Bethany

        So what would otherwise disqualify Raphael Lataster — aside from the fact that a cursory investigation makes it sound like his (self-published) work isn’t very good?

        • I’m not sure what position he occupies at the University of Sydney at present, if any, so I honestly don’t know. He definitely taught there while a grad student.

          • Bethany

            Yeah, looks like they haven’t updated the “staff” part of their website for a year and a half.

          • MattB

            I think Raphael Lataster is still a PhD student. Also, isn’t the term “Religious Studies” broad? RL doesn’t seem to reveal any c.v. or resume to my knowledge except on his home page, where he gives a brief bio claiming that he is a PhD researcher and teacher for the University of Sydney, however, I’m pretty sure by “teacher”, he means lecturer. This would not be the same thing as a full-time tenured position I would assume. So I think John Dicksons’ argument still stands:)

          • Bethany

            That was my thought, too. “Religious studies” can mean someone has done a lot of work in the area, or (I assume) it means they study e.g. Hinduism and not anything related to the history of Jesus and the early Christian movement at all.

          • MattB

            True. It would seem Ralph would need to give us more info. However, judging by a review I read of his book “There is no Jesus, There is no God” it seems to me he knows just how well the evidence is for Jesus. Either that or he is another sensationalist like Carrier.

      • John MacDonald

        Does Price still teach there? I thought he wasn’t currently teaching or able to get a position anywhere.

        • I don’t know – I haven’t followed his career, to be honest.

      • MattB

        Also Thompson is an Old-Testament scholar, so he’s not really qualified in historical Jesus studies.

  • redpill99

    there’s this website
    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Jesus_myth#Arguments_in_favor_of_the_case

    “The main issue is that of all the “evidence” for a historical Jesus only
    the writings of Paul (Romans, 1st Corinthians, 2nd Corinthians,
    Galatians, Philippians, 1st Thessalonians and Philemon) can be said to
    be of a true possible contemporary to a Jesus who supposedly lived c 6
    BCE to 36 CE. And Paul is emphatic that all his knowledge is coming from
    visions and revelation not from human sources”

    Galatians 1:11-12 “Paul Called by God – I want you to know, brothers and
    sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not
    receive it from any man”

    it proceeds to lay out claims

    • As has been pointed out to you countless times before, no one finds this way of understanding Paul and the sources of his knowledge persuasive. Paul mentions in Romans that he had relatives who were Christians before he was. He persecuted the church. We’re supposed to believe that at that stage he had received no information about the religion and its message? Why do you consider that even remotely plausible, never mind more plausible than what mainstream historians think happened?

      • redpill99

        why then does Paul say “, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man” how do we know which information Paul has comes from Jesus and which comes from his own personal revelation?

        • He is emphasizing in Galatians that his gospel, which includes the claim that Gentiles can be incorporated into the people of God without circumcision, is something that he received directly from God, and thus does not depend for its authority on the Jerusalem apostles who contradicted him. That is clear from the letter. Whether you believe Paul, or whether you think this is a ploy to avoid a powerful counterargument to his own assertions and authority, is your business. But that he knew nothing about any Christian gospel when he persecuted the church is not only unbelievable, it is downright ludicrous, don’t you think? Be that as it may, the notion that, when he claims to know what the Lord said about divorce, or the last supper, he received that from revelation, and other Christians converged on the same beliefs and practices either by coincidence or miracle, is not only unconvincing, it is unnecessary. What Paul passed on to others, which he also received, makes better sense as tradition he received from other Christians, and he does not suggest otherwise.

          Why are you making me repeat myself yet again on this?

          • Did the Russians who killed Jews during the pogroms understand the Jewish religion and its message? Did the Romans who persecuted Christians with accusations of incest and cannibalism understand Christianity and its beliefs? Perhaps some did, but for the most part I suspect that the victims were being scapegoated for problems that had nothing to do with what they really believed and the actual people who carried out the persecution had been fed a pack of lies about what the persecuted group believed and practice.

            Given what we know about the nature of religious persecution, I don’t think there would be anything ludicrous at all about Paul carrying out his attacks without any real information about the followers of Jesus and their message. I can easily see how it would serve the interests of those Jews who profited under Roman rule to scapegoat some messianic cult for the problems of the day.

            I personally don’t believe that Paul’s admission that he persecuted Christians has any probative value in determining what, if any, part of his message actually goes back to his predecessors. Of course we have gone over this before but I don’t think it has ever been adequately addressed.

          • I will say again as I have said before, the point is not that Paul’s perception of Christianity was correct, any more than one ought to assume that his perception of Christianity was “correct” even after he became one. The point is that it makes nonsense of what Paul tells us to treat his assertions about his gospel as a claim to not have known anything about Jesus other than by divine revelation. That claim was patently false and obviously so to anyone who kmew anything about him. And so is it more likely that he was making an absurdly false and thoroughly implausible claim that was contradicted by his own letters? That is what mythicists would have us believe. Or is it more likely that he meant what he explicitly said, that his message is one that he comsiders directly authorized by God, and therefore not dependent on the Jerusalem Christians?

          • My point is that not only does Paul’s claim to persecuting the church not make nonsense of his claim to revelation, it doesn’t shed any particular light on it at all. It is at the very least a solid possibility that Paul’s persecution was based on misinformation. After whatever visionary experience he had convinced him of the error of his ways, his understanding went in a new direction with influences that may be beyond identification. His claim that his message was not taught to him by any man might be perfectly accurate.

            While the historian may not be able to credit Paul’s claim that he received revelations directly from God, he can certainly credit Paul’s belief that this is what happened. We know from 1 Cor 12:7-11 that the early church believed that individuals regularly received direct communications from God. I don’t see how Paul can be read as “explicitly” claiming that his message was merely authorized by God when he explicitly claims that it was revealed.

            On the other hand, sometimes religious persecutions are founded on an accurate understanding of what the victims actually believe. I also consider it a solid possibility that Paul attacked Christians because he was truly offended by something they actually believed, e.g., a crucified criminal was the messiah. Then after his visionary experience convinced him that their beliefs were true, he viewed it as a direct revelation from God rather than anything he learned from man. However, it seems to me that the most natural reading of Paul is that he is claiming that it was communicated to him directly.

            My point is that Paul’s claim to have persecuted the church is consistent with either a message that was largely or entirely the product of his own theological creativity or a message that was largely drawn from the beliefs of the group he persecuted. It is impossible to know which because Paul never tells us much of anything about the practices or beliefs of the church before he joined it or why he was persecuting them. As a result, that claim doesn’t help us in interpreting his claim that his message was divinely revealed.

            There may be some other grounds to argue for your interpretation of Paul’s claim to revelation, but I don’t see that his claim to being a persecutor tips the balance either way.

          • I think you are missing the point. Paul’s persecution of the church makes nonsensical the mythicist distortion of what Paul says, i.e. that he did not merely insist that his gospel was of direct divine origin, but claimed that everything he knew about Jesus was of divine origin.

          • I’m sorry, but you are begging the question. The issue is whether there was any Jesus outside the gospel message for Paul to know about in the first place. That Paul claimed to persecute the church before his conversion doesn’t help answer the question.

            I do agree that it is inaccurate to say that Paul claims scripture and revelation as the source for everything he knows about Jesus and more accurate to say that Paul never acknowledges any other source for his gospel message. However, since I can’t see that Paul knows anything about Jesus or has any interest in him apart from the gospel message, I’m not sure that the distinction has any real significance.

          • No, you are just running together two separate issues. The point here was that mythicists misrepresent what Paul says. Whether the Jesus about whom Paul had heard from others was a historical figure depends on other evidence. But once the mythicist distortion of what Paul means when he talks about what he received is dealt with, the significance of Paul’s reference to what not he but the Lord says can be evaluated.

          • Someone disagreeing with you about what Paul meant by “received” does not constitute misrepresentation or distortion.

            To the best of my knowledge, Paul uses “received” three times. In Galatians 1, he is clearly claiming that he received the gospel directly from God and was not taught it by man. In 1 Corinthians 11, he describes Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist as something he “received from the Lord.” Immediately following his discussion of the Eucharist, Paul addresses various ways in which he believed that the Holy Spirit communicated directly with people such as words of wisdom, words of knowledge, prophecies, and tongues. Nowhere does Paul discuss traditions being passed on by his predecessors. Therefore, when Paul uses “received from the Lord” in 1 Cor. 11, I think that the most obvious conclusion is that he is asserting the same kind of direct communication that he discusses in the next chapter.

            Paul also uses “received” in 1 Corinthians 15 without identifying from whom he did the receiving. However, Paul is talking about the gospel again which he claimed to have received by direct revelation in Galatians 1. That seems to me to be a point in favor of interpreting the 1 Cor. 15 reference as a claim to direct revelation as well. I do not of course believe that Paul in fact received any of these things by direct revelation from God, but I suspect that he believed that he had and that was how he expected his readers to understand it.

          • Avenger

            This divine communication channel is a curious thing. It tells Paul that Jesus was crucified; that Jesus was of Davidic descent; that he opposed divorce; that he ate a meal on the night when he was handed over. We must assume that these were not the only revelations: there were surely many others. In that case it is strange that Paul doesn’t mention any other details about the mythical Jesus. His congregations would surely have wanted to know more. Paul’s silence certainly seems to be a problem for the myth theory.

          • How about the fact that he rose from the dead? I would call that a detail about the mythical Jesus. In fact, I would say that Paul writes almost exclusively about the mythical risen Christ.

          • Avenger

            Indeed. One of the details about the mythical risen Christ is that he appeared first to Cephas. Since Paul’s information comes exclusively through revelation, we may be certain that Cephas himself is a mythical character.

          • Personally, I don’t think that any of Paul’s knowledge really came from divine revelation. I think that some of the ideas we find in his letters probably were the products of his own imagination, but I suspect that most of them had some source outside of Paul. Nonetheless, I see no particular reason to doubt that Paul was convinced that God was revealing everything to him directly. I think it highly likely that Paul learned about at least some of the appearances from other people.

          • Are you aware that the New Testament World was a high-context society? Paul’s message of receiving in 1 Cor. actually includes passing on, which is the language of oral tradition and not of divine revelation.

            Paul’s silence is because there was no need to go into these details. He’s not writing a life of Christ.

          • Avenger

            Yes, I am aware of that. I apologise if my attempt at satirising the myth theory fell flat.

          • Yeah. It did. Honestly, mythicists say so many crazy things nowadays that I expect anything. Mike Licona when he spoke at OSU for Ratio Christi got some questions from Frank Zindler who asked “How do we know Paul even existed?”

          • Paul uses the exact same “received” and “delivered” formulation in 1 Cor. 11 to refer to what he received “from the Lord” so clearly the language is not limited to oral tradition.

          • We use “delivered” for both mail and babies. So what? There is a tendency in certain religious circles to treat the Bible like a code, and say a word means X here, therefore it also means it there. But in mainstream scholarship, we try to deal with the way languages actually work.

          • I agree completely. We have to take into account how the speaker has been using the word. If I use the verb delivered without an object, but I have been talking about delivering mail, it wouldn’t make much sense to think that I have suddenly switched to talking about delivering babies. By the same token, if Paul has just used delivered to refer to something he received “from the Lord,” it is silly to insist that his next use of the word necessarily refers to something he received by oral tradition. It might, but it can’t be our default assumption.

          • “Just used” is a bit of a stretch in at least some of the instances we are talking about. But at any rate, why are you assuming that “from the Lord” indicates the immediate rather than the ultimate source? And even if in those instances where it is qualified by “from the Lord” it means directly, why is the qualification necessary if that it what it implies anyway, even when Paul is emphasizing what he holds in common with other Christians?

          • The instance I am referring to is 1 Corinthians 15 following 1 Corinthians 11 with an intervening discussion of direct communications from God in 1 Corinthians 12. I’ll be glad to substitute “recently” for “just” if it makes you happy.

            I am not sure why the qualification is necessary in 1 Corinthians 11. Perhaps there had been competing formulations of the Eucharistic ceremony and Paul wanted to make sure the Corinthians understood that the one he was giving them had come directly from God. He may have dropped the qualification in chapter 15 because he had told the Corinthians on many occasions previously what he told the Galatians, i.e., that the gospel had been revealed to him directly.

            I can’t find any instances where Paul claims God as the ultimate source of something that he admits that he got from man. On the other hand, I can find a couple of places where Paul is unambiguous about God being the immediate source of communications. I think I have to give the nod to that which has the better precedent.

          • If these were not things about which Paul had consulted and conversed with other Christians, would he have confidently stated that he and the others proclaim the same traditions?

            I understand that you really want Paul to say something that makes mythicism plausible. But in none of these instances do I get the impression that Paul is talking about things received through dreams or visions rather than as part of the Christian tradition that existed even before he was one. It just doesn’t fit what he writes about, what he does with the material, and how it relates to other early Christian literature nearly as well as the mainstream historical view.

          • As I have said before, in my experience, it is quite common for people to confidently claim that others agree with them when they really don’t even when the claim can be disproved with a few clicks of a mouse. I have observed many Christian apologists doing so and you regularly accuse mythicists of doing so. On occasion, the person may know that the other people don’t really agree while other times the person manages to convince himself that they others do. Most commonly, however, I think the person is just so convinced that they are right about everything that they either can’t imagine that anyone disagrees or they are convinced that everyone would agree with them if given the chance. Such people sometimes suffer from a narcissistic personality disorder.

            I am not particularly interested in making mythicism plausible and I don’t particularly believe that much of what Paul writes came to him in dreams or visions. I suspect that Paul was a person who managed to convince himself that certain ideas that came into his head were put there by God regardless of their source.

            I am well aware that this is not the mainstream view, but that doesn’t make it a misrepresentation or distortion of what Paul says.

          • Sorry Vinny. Doesn’t fly. Ever read Craig Keener’s “The Historical Jesus”? Keener points out this language was used of oral tradition and going back to claiming to receive something from Sinai. How many Rabbis would have said they received divine revelation from a mountain? What is meant is that Sinai is the ultimate source for what they said but not that it was not oral tradition. Why would Paul say this was received from the Lord and use the language of oral tradition? Because it’s an oral tradition rooted in what the Lord Himself said on Earth. Jesus is the source for the words.

            So why not do this in 1 Cor. 15? Because Jesus is not the source for the words in the creed. Scholars are convinced this is an oral tradition. When Carrier says this is by divine revelation and there is no other explanation, I just want to laugh. I nearly fell out of my chair reading that last night.

            As for Galatians 1, what I take it to mean is that through a revelation, Paul did come to know Jesus as Messiah which confirmed the message the Christians were teaching which He already knew was true. It says nothing about the inner details of Jesus’s life. Doherty and others keep confusing Gospel, as in one of the four, with gospel, as in the message of Jesus as Messiah.

          • Paul makes claim to “receiving” direct revelation without human intermediation in Galatians 1 and he refers to various forms of direct communication from God in 1 Corinthians 12. How rabbis in the Sanai might have used the term wouldn’t have meant much to the gentile converts in Corinth.

          • In Galatians 1, Paul makes it clear what his source was and how it happened. It’s his Damascus Road experience and it’s meant to be compared to the calling of Jeremiah to go to the nations. The prophetic calling is a one time event.

            As for 1 Cor. 12, please do point out what forms he refers to and what verses explicitly.

            And I said nothing about rabbis in the Sinai. I said something about Rabbis using the language tracing it back to Sinai, which would mean Moses’s revelation. Paul is a good rabbi. He will still use the same language as a rabbi and he never would have seen himself as ceasing to be a rabbi. If Jewish language would mean little to converts in Corinth, we might as well ask why he quotes the Old Testament.

            Again, you should deal with Keener, a real scholar, unlike the huge bulk of the mythicists, including Doherty.

          • Words of wisdom, words of knowledge, prophecies, and tongues are referenced in 1 Cor. 12.

            Paul is also the apostle to the gentiles and an excellent communicator. Why wouldn’t he take his audience’s understanding into account in choosing his words? Adhering to strict rabbinic forms doesn’t seem to be at all characteristic of Paul to me.

            Just out of curiosity, what language would a rabbi use to communicate that he was passing along something that had been revealed to him directly by God?

            To my mind, Keener is an apologist rather than a scholar and I’m no more eager to delve into his views on the historical Jesus than I am his views on miracles. I’ve never read Doherty’s books.

          • Winny: Words of wisdom, words of knowledge, prophecies, and tongues are referenced in 1 Cor. 12.

            Reply: Yes. And I should assume that all of those are ways of receiving revelation because?

            Vinny: Paul is also the apostle to the gentiles and an excellent communicator. Why wouldn’t he take his audience’s understanding into account in choosing his words? Adhering to strict rabbinic forms doesn’t seem to be at all characteristic of Paul to me.

            Reply: It is quite characteristic of Paul who could not at all cease to be a rabbi in his thinking. Note also that his audience would have been thoroughly familiar with Jewish thought at that point.

            Let’s see. What else does he say? In 1 Cor. 10 he speaks about our forefathers in verse 2. He’s including Gentiles in this saying they are the descendants and speaking as if they would be familiar with the OT by now. In 1 Cor. 12:2 he speaks about his audience as formerly Gentiles.

            Vinny: Just out of curiosi ty, what language would a rabbi use to communicate that he was passing along something that had been revealed to him directly by God?

            Reply: He would probably be using a term such as “Thus Sayeth the Lord.”

            Vinny: To my mind, Keener is an apologist rather than a scholar and I’m no more eager to delve into his views on the historical Jesus than I am his views on miracles. I’ve never read Doherty’s books.

            Reply: Yes. If someone is a scholar and happens to be an apologist, then you can just write them off. No need to avoid poisoning that well. I could just as well say Christ mythers are idealogues who don’t study and interact with their opponents and aren’t taken seriously in academia. I still read them. Keener’s research stands whether he’s an apologist or not, including his claims on miracles.

          • Unfortunately there is an inherent conflict of interest between being an apologist and being a scholar just as there is an inherent conflict between being an attorney and being a member of the jury. One person’s job is to advocate for one side and to present all the arguments and evidence in the best possible light for that side. The other’s job is to weigh the evidence on both sides as fairly and objectively as they possibly can.

          • Bias is an excuse used to avoid dealing with the data and to dismiss the data. I read anyone I can and I don’t care if they’re an apologist or not. I care about the data.

            And for apologists who are scholars, you know how they got there? They did the hard work and had a Ph.D. passed that was reviewed by their peers. They do the hard work and the only reason to dismiss their work because of bias is because someone has their own bias.

          • The fact that someone earns a PhD doesn’t make everything they do after that scholarship.

          • Nor does it mean it’s not. You only know by looking at their data and the arguments they put forward.

            It’s so amusing. You don’t want to listen to scholars who are apologists because they’re biased, and yet you have a bias against them that you discount their arguments without looking at them.

          • The problem isn’t that they are biased. The problem is that they have assumed the role of advocate which is inconsistent with the role of objective scholar. You seem to assume that I haven’t read any apologists who pretend to be scholars, but you are wrong. The last such work I read was Mike Licona’s pile of drivel defending the historicity of the resurrection.

          • You know anyone who argues for a position is really an advocate for that position. Right? By that standard, no one could write a work in scholarship.

            As for Licona’s book, are you aware that book is based on his Ph.D. dissertation, a Ph.D. that passed peer-review at a university that is not a Christian university? This was a dissertation he successfully defended before his peers. Apparently, they did not think it was a pile of drivel. Would you mind telling me what great insight you have into his book that they didn’t?

          • Do you understand the difference between an attorney and a jury member? After hearing all the evidence and considering it as objectively as possible, the jury member may try to convince other members of the jury of the defendant’s guilt or innocence, but he doesn’t assume the role of advocate prior to considering the evidence. The attorney, on the other hand, assumes the role of advocate at the time he accepts the client. No matter what his objective analysis of the evidence might show, his job is to present it in such a way that it will advance his client’s interests.

            The scholar tries to convince other scholars of conclusions based on analyzing the evidence as objectively as he can, The apologist has a faith based commitment to a particular side before he begins his research.

          • Yes I do. Do you understand the difference between data and motive? In fact, despite your being wrong about Licona since he’s a continual doubter in his positions and wants to dot every i and cross every t, let’s go with it. Let’s assume that he just has this commitment prior.

            Does that change the data or the arguments?

            The data and arguments stand on their own regardless of the motive. That’s why I again say bias is an excuse. It’s an excuse to avoid dealing with the arguments.

            I pointed out that Licona’s work passed Ph.D. review and he was able to defend it. That means it’s a work to take seriously. That means his peers agreed he had done his homework and had presented a case worthy of a Ph.D.

            If you think it’s wrong, show it by the data. Just standing up and crying “Bias!” is not an argument.

          • Jim

            Hi Nick; I can appreciate that you are defending the conservative evangelical position, and that’s ok. I’m guessing that you would not defend Bart Ehrman’s understanding of the data as much as Mike Licona’s understanding of the same data. But my question has more to do with the term data.

            Since you refer to data, what unequivocal data is there for the resurrection of Jesus for example? (I have read BE’s HJBG, but admittedly haven’t read Licona’s Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.

            My intent is not to insight a holy war, but rather to try to understand how you use the term data.

            I remember watching a youtube debate between Licona and Martin, and Dale and Mike seemed to understand the terms “historical method” and “data” quite differently from each other.

          • Hi Jim.

            No. I would not defend much of Ehrman’s approach, although I will say much of his stuff is insightful. I find his suggestion that Judas revealed Messianic talk Jesus was having with his disciples to the ruling priests at the time to be a quite interesting hypothesis. I also have read HJBG. (Have you read the response edited by Bird of “How God Became Jesus” as well?) My biggest problem with Ehrman honestly is that too often he gives the sound of one hand clapping and does not interact with the best of his critics. (And yes, I fault apologetics books when they do the same.)

            When it comes to data, Licona prefers the minimal facts approach as used by Habermas as well. This includes a number of facts accepted by scholars across the board.

            Jesus died by crucifixion.
            Jesus was buried and the tomb was found empty. (This one is notably doubted by some including most recently Bart Ehrman. I think Craig Evans and Greg Monette have shown Ehrman’s position is faulty and Byron McCane’s article on the burial being dishonorable is golden.)
            The apostles and others claimed to Jesus alive again after his resurrection.
            The skeptic James was converted.
            The skeptic Paul was converted.

            Licona looks at the data and then compares the resurrection hypothesis to that of others like Craffert, Goulder, and Crossan. He also gives an extended look at Dale Allison. Furthermore in the book, he gives a defense of miracles and how history is done. (And this was before Keener’s massive work on miracles.)

            This is a good approach, though when I speak not the only one I use, as I also speak about it from a social-science perspective and how Christianity was a shameful belief at the time of its formulation and broke the rules of the society around it thus marking it out as deviant. I contend it only won out in the end and survived as it did because the facts were there to back it.

            I hope that helps!

          • Jim

            Thanks for your reply, I think I know see your application of the term data.

            Yes
            I have read Bird et. al’s “How God Became Jesus”. I thought that it was
            terrible, but that’s just me. To me, other than for Craig Evans’
            chapter, much of the rest of HGBJ revealed that in many instances the
            authors did not understand what BE wrote in HJBG, which detracted significantly from their effort. I had actually written on Bird’s blog
            that I wish I would have bought a case of beer instead of that book. But
            again, that’s just me.

            But since we are on this rabbit trail,
            why do you think Bird et. al. felt so compelled to go after BE, but yet
            are so silent about countering Richard Carrier? Do you think that Carrier’s OHJ is more difficult to challenge as it was not written
            specifically for lay readers like HJBG was?

          • I suspect the last thing is what you really want a response to. Why go after Ehrman and not Carrier?

            Because Ehrman is a recognized scholar whose works do have an impact in the field of both popular opinion and scholars. Carrier meanwhile is someone who is a legend in his own mind. He’s popular on the internet, but that’s it. Go to the Society of Biblical Literature and he doesn’t come up at all. A number of scholars in England have never heard of him. Bird is in Australia and for all I know, he’s never heard of him either.

            If they have heard of him, it’s probably the kind of thesis that’s not a pressing issue right now and they don’t really want to waste time on. Ehrman’s claim in his book is an issue taken seriously in the world of academia. Carrier’s is not.

            I interact personally with a lot of NT scholars. I don’t know any who really take mythicism seriously.

          • Jim

            Yeah, that’s kind of what I was thinking. I was thinking along the lines that apologists should be interested in at least one of Carrier’s arguments, namely the use of the term brother in Gal 1.19. Carrier, and some of those who hold the mythicist view, feel that the use of the term brother in Paul’s line could imply “Christian brother” rather than familial brother. (Ehrman incidentally considers the term to be referring to an actual blood brother).

            So I had wondered why the apologists didn’t address at least this particular claim by Carrier due to its significance. To me it seems that this is not all that trivial and is important to deal with since it is likely the earliest historical reference to Jesus if the term is referring to family. Anyway, this is what was at the back of my mind when I posed the question.

          • Well Jim, the reality is scholars have heard such objections before and found them weak. It’s for similar reasons that what YECs consider powerful arguments against evolution are ignored by scientists in the academy for the most part, though they could be addressed in blogs.

            The main reason again is despite his loyal internet following, scholars don’t take Carrier seriously. They have no reason to. He doesn’t have major publications they need to address. He has no reviews at the Society of Biblical Literature. The last time I checked, he doesn’t even have any hits there. I suspect most people in Europe have no clue who he is.

            This despite Carrier’s claims to be a world-renowned scholar and philosopher and to be equal to Aristotle and Hume in knowledge and ability. Yes. He has made both of those claims. Carrier has no teaching position at an accredited university and quite likely, never will. I suspect with his latest book he has sadly sealed his fate. I could be wrong on that part, but that’s my suspicion.

          • Jim. I don’t post on Sundays, but I thought about this even more and decided to do some checking.

            Let’s take Ehrman’s latest book. As of this time, this is where it ranks on Amazon.

            Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,993 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
            #1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Religion & Spirituality > Christian Books & Bibles > Bible Study & Reference > History & Culture
            #2 in Books > Christian Books & Bibles > Bible Study & Reference > Criticism & Interpretation > New Testament

            #2 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Religion & Spirituality > Christian Books & Bibles > Bible Study & Reference > Criticism & Interpretation > New Testament

            Now that is pretty good ranking.

            Carrier ranks much longer. My computer is not being good with it, but overall, it’s about #21,000 or so and that’s probably because the book is new and his fanboys are buying it. I could hardly even find atheists talking about the book online.

            Ehrman meanwhile is a recognized scholar in the field and his books make it on the bestsellers list. This is a guy who actually got a book on textual criticism to be a bestseller. That’s practically a miracle in itself. He is someone who is much better known all around the world.

            Carrier doesn’t have that. He’s a no-name in the field with no teaching position despite having a Ph.D. and despite his claims about his reputation. He’s an exemplary example of someone who is a legend in his own mind. In the scholarly world, people who deny Jesus existed are hacks on the level of holocaust deniers, moon landing deniers, and 9/11 truthers.

            In a sad way, Carrier can be seen as the Ken Ham of NT studies. If anyone replies to him in the scholarly world, it is not because his arguments are so powerful, but that they’re so weak and without some corrective, they’ll persuade those who don’t know better. (In fact, as I read Ehrman’s “Did Jesus Exist?” I could get the impression of him saying in thebook “I can’t believe I actually have to write this.”)

          • I know that Licona claims to be a doubter, but I have seen no evidence of that in anything I’ve read that he has written. You are quire right that his prior commitments don’t change his data or his arguments, but you forget that I have read his data and his arguments and I found them utterly lacking in merit.

            I haven’t once cried “bias” and I have addressed the problems with Licona’s methodology a number of times on my own blog. If you would care to interact with those arguments, you are welcome to do so.

          • Why do you think his PH.D. was far longer than it was supposed to be? As a doubter, he has to check everything repeatedly and asks hundreds of questions about matters. He second guesses himself constantly.

            If you have a problem with his methodology, present it here.

          • Don’t be ridiculous, I’m not going to fill up Dr. McGrath’s blog with matters that are that far removed from the topic of his post.

          • Herro

            >In fact, despite your being wrong about Licona since he’s a continual doubter in his positions and wants to dot every i and cross every t, let’s go with it.

            A continual doubter? The guy is an inerrantist. :S

          • Yes. I know very well his position. Would you care to show how being an inerrantist and being a continual doubter necessarily contradict?

          • Herro

            Because inerrancy is such an absurd position that if he was honestly “doubting” it he would see that it’s not true.

          • And it’s absurd because….you say so?

            Are you unaware of the Plutarch research he’s doing right now to deal with the problem of contradictions in the Gospel narratives?

          • Herro

            >And it’s absurd because….you say so?

            Let me guess, you’re an inerrantist?

            It’s absurd because it’s obvious to anyone who isn’t a fundie that the bible is full of errors. Ask our good host James McGrath.

          • Maybe if you take a modern literalist view of the text. I don’t. That’s why I’m one of the co-authors of “Defining Inerrancy.” I prefer a version that is enriched by the best in biblical scholarship, and I do read both sides on the issue. One of the best books to read on this now is Walton and Sandy’s “The Lost World of Scripture.”

            But inerrancy is really a non-essential to me. If inerrancy went out the window, I’d still have a strong case for the resurrection. Mike Licona would say and has said the exact same thing.

          • Kris Rhodes

            Inerrancy seems absurd to me because the only way to interpret the doctrine in a way that makes it at all plausible (by asserting that while it is inerrant, this inerrancy can only become apparent once you’ve interpreted it correctly in a way that’s not obvious on a first reading) also strips it of all significance (because now the words on the page no longer meaningfully limit claims as to what the bible says, but an inerrantist must make claims about what the bible says or else not be saying anything about the bible that makes any difference).

            With all that aside, I think it is logically, and even humanly, possible to be an inerrantist and a biblical historian, assuming the inerrantism does not play a part in the arguments made as a biblical historian.

            What’s the connection between Plutarch and Gospel contradictions?

          • I’m going to address the last part. It’s the most relevant.

            We often read ancient works like they were modern ones to modern readers, which is a big mistake. i don’t care what document you’re reading. You must read it according to the culture that it was written in and not hold it to modern standards. The Gospels are Greco-Roman bioi for the most part, though there is some disagreement that Luke could be a historiography with a bioi section at the start.

            Licona is examining Plutarch since he wrote in that genre also to look at how Plutarch could often record the same event and do so different in different lives to see what techniques were allowable in Greco-Roman bioi for writing and then taking that back to the Gospels. It should be out in a book within the next couple of years.

          • MattB

            I would rather be an inerrantist than a denialst(Carrier).

          • I am aware that Licona’s book was based on his PhD dissertation and I am also aware that he had been defending that position long before he undertook his PhD research. I am also aware that some PhD programs are much easier than others.

          • Do you have any evidence that the University of Pretoria has a much easier Ph.D. program or do you just want to speculate that that must be it rather than have to deal with the actual data of the argument?

          • My only evidence of any deficiencies in the University of Pretoria is the fact that it awarded Licona a PhD for what was in my opinion nothing more than apologetic claptrap.

          • Ah. So you did no research whatsoever on the University of Pretoria but made a claim based on your own biases. Evidence be darned!

          • I didn’t make any claim about the University of Pretoria I was merely responding to your insistence that I should be impressed by the mere fact that Licona had been awarded a PhD. Moreover, Licona’s PhD is evidence of the quality of the university even if it is too small a sample upon which to base a judgment.

          • Yeah. You did make a claim. Your claim has to be that Pretoria has low standards for a Ph.D. Your basis for this? Licona got a Ph.D. there. That’s it. It’s a small sample which makes it highly fallacious as well.

            And yes, don’t give me this stuff about you’re not going to tie up McGrath’s blog. You’ve been discussing data with him and me on messages of receiving and what is meant by gospel, etc. (All of which you seem to have backed down from) Now, you suddenly don’t wish to discuss data?

            Christ-mythers are just so funny!

          • Yes, I did make a claim, but it was about universities in general, not the University of Pretoria in particular. Some PhD programs are easier than others, therefore the mere fact that someone earned a PhD doesn’t prove that their dissertation was good.

            Despite being completely intimidated by your tough talk, I am not going to waste my time repeating everything I wrote on my own blog. The posts are there if you care to interact with them. If not, I will try to get over my disappointment.

            BTW, I am not a Christ-myther and I am not aware of backing down from anything that I have written in this comment thread.

          • Oh. Since you’re not interested in discussing data, then I guess there’s no point in going further. I can have better interactions with Jim. At least he seems to be able to discuss data more.

          • I’m interested in discussing evidence, but what you call data is actually conclusions drawn from evidence.

          • No. What I call data is information agreed upon by the leading scholars in the field no matter what their theological persuasion.

          • What you call data are conclusions drawn from the evidence. Regardless of how great the agreement might be among scholars, they are still conclusions rather than evidence. The texts constitute the evidence and they provide the data. The facts are conclusions that are drawn from the data or evidence.

            I have never seen any historian use anything like the minimal facts approach in analyzing any historical question.

          • Of course they don’t use the minimal facts approach because the minimal facts approach is not a methodology but is rather using data accepted by nearly all scholars in the field. Now why do you think they accept that data? Do they just not know how to do history?

            In Licona’s book, he does set out his historiographical method. Apparently, it was good enough for McCullah to endorse it. So what do you know that he doesn’t?

            In fact, we could do a comparison and see the scholarly endorsements on Carrier’s book like….

            Oh wait. There aren’t any. Wonder why…

          • I am not aware that McCullagh has endorsed Licona’s conclusions.

          • I’m sure it’s difficult to follow along, but we were talking about methodology. That is, how do you do go about doing the history? Apparently, McCullagh thought Licona did a fine job of doing the history even if the conclusions were disagreed with, and that happens in scholarship. What did McCullagh say?

            “This is an astonishing achievement and a major contribution to the ongoing debate. It is clearly written and full of fresh insights and arguments that will enrich discussion for years to come.”

            So what is it you know that he doesn’t?

          • If he doesn’t endorse any of the conclusions reached by the methodology, then there is no basis for claiming that he endorses the methodology.

          • The basis is his own endorsement on the book. Why would McCullagh endorse a book if he didn’t think it had a well-reasoned and evidenced historiographical argument?

          • If he thought it made a well-reasoned and well-evidenced historiographical argument, why didn’t he agree with the conclusion? Could it be that as a historian he knows perfectly well that miracles cannot be established by historical methodology?

          • Feel free to try to contact him and ask him, but if you want to claim miracles cannot be established, then by all means feel free to give an argument for this position.

          • Kris Rhodes

            Improbable events can be established based on their effects. Miracles can’t be established because no amount of evidence can raise the probability that an event was supernatural. A natural explanation is always more probable, in other words.

          • That is only something that works if you accept a natural/supernatural distinction. I don’t. I also don’t accept any methodology that sets out what conclusions will and will not be allowed prior to its application.

          • Kris Rhodes

            What is a miracle, on your account? (I.e. without reference to the supernatural.)

            Concerning your second point, before I say more about that I want to make sure about something–would you accept a methodology about which one can determine (prior to having applied it) that it would eliminate all conclusions that contradict themselves? In other words, a methodology that determines from the outset that self-contradictory conclusions won’t be allowed?

          • I like Keener’s point where he points to suprahuman beings interacting with us in some way. (It could be a god, God, angels, demons, etc.) The natural/supernatural distinction treats this world as given, which I don’t, and frankly, there are many aspects of reality I think don’t fit purely into either category.

            As for self-contradictions, no. Philosophically, those are indeed impossible as contradictions cannot be true. Now if you want to argue that they can, that will be amusing, and it will be over quickly. Unless you have a metaphysical basis for putting miracles on the same level as logical contradictions (And I mean real contradictions, not apparent ones) then you’re arguing from dogma.

          • Kris Rhodes

            I think a supernatural explanation is a contradiction in terms, which is why I said above that “no amount of evidence can raise the probability that an event was supernatural.”

            But that’s assuming a natural/supernatural distinction. I define “supernatural” as “not admitting of natural explanation,” while I define “natural” as “admitting of explanation in terms of laws and descriptions of states of affairs.” It’s old school but it seems to me to work, albeit things get complicated in any serious or interesting cases.

            When you say you don’t buy a natural/supernatural distinction, do you mean the same thing by the terms as what I said in the paragraph above? I am not sure what you mean when you say the supernatural/natural distinction “treats this world as a given”. Given by whom/what, to whom/what, by what means? Or do you mean “treats this world’s exclusive existence as a given?”

          • The above paragraph from my viewpoint makes no sense. The position seems to be that what we see around us, we don’t need to really explain that, but anyone going beyond needs to explain. No. I think we need to explain as much as we can and some ideas don’t really fit.

            For instance, triangularity. Is that natural or supernatural?

            How about laws of morality?

            How about numbers?

            How about laws of logic?

            And then, how about existence itself?

          • Kris Rhodes

            //The above paragraph from my viewpoint makes no sense. The position seems to be that what we see around us, we don’t need to really explain that, but anyone going beyond needs to explain. //

            Which paragraph are you talking about?

            I am not sure what it means to explain triangularity, unless you mean “explain what triangularity is.” Is that what you mean? If so, we’re using “explain” in two different senses. I have been talking about explanations of events in terms of reasons for their occurring.

            What kind of explanation are you talking about?

          • You used the term “above paragraph.” I meant that which you referred to.

            What it means to explain these is to ask if they are natural or supernatural. Oh we all should know what traingularity is, but is it natural or is it supernatural, and what about everything else?

            The claim about natural or supernatural really doesn’t help and can be a hindrance.

          • Kris Rhodes

            //You used the term “above paragraph.” I meant that which you referred to.//

            I understand now. Well, what I said presumed a natural/supernatural distinction in the first place, which you already don’t agree with so it’s probably safe to just lay the claim I was making aside for the moment.

            //What it means to explain these is to ask if they are natural or supernatural. Oh we all should know what traingularity is, but is it natural or is it supernatural, and what about everything else?//

            On the one hand you’re saying you don’t believe in a natural/supernatural distinction, but on the other hand you’re saying that to explain triangularity is asking whether triangles are natural or supernatural. I’m not totally certain what’s happening here.

          • Kris Rhodes

            Going back to what may be a more important question, when I asked what a miracle is if there is no natural/supernatural distinction, you suggested a miracle is an event evolving suprahuman beings interacting with us in some way. This invites the question of what a suprahuman being is. You gave some examples (God, angels, demons) but in order for me to understand what a miracle _is_ I’d need to know what a suprahuman being _is_, not just have in hand some examples of it. It’s particularly difficult for me because the examples you gave are ones I would have called “supernatural beings” but that can’t be what you mean!

          • Certainly. My point is that if you accept the distinction, where do you put these realities? Note I didn’t even put up items that would be highly questioned like angels or gods or God. I pointed to realities I think all of us accept.

          • Kris Rhodes

            Got it. My own view is that everything that exists and that we can sensibly talk about exists naturally, not supernaturally. I think we can sensibly talk about triangularity (and that it exists), so I’m committed to the view that triangularity exists naturally, not supernaturally.

          • And what does that even mean? Does that mean things detected with the senses? The trouble is we don’t have sense experience of triangularity, but we do of triangles. How about morality?

            Now if you just mean we can have coherent conversations about them, well we can do that with unicorns, Harry Potter, and Clark Kent. We can also do that with God. Does that mean all of those exist?

            Your response is just confusing. The terms are vague and I suspect it’s still part of that word “naturally.”

          • Kris Rhodes

            What does “naturally” or “sensibly” mean, or something else?

            By “naturally,” I mean “as a part of a system that proceeds according to laws”. By an activity being carried out “sensibly” I mean its yielding reliable results, i.e., doing a relevantly similar thing as part of this activity on two different relevantly similar occasions will yield relevantly similar results.

            Specifically when it comes to the activity of “talking about something,” this can be carried out sensibly only when claims about the thing that are felicitous when made on one occasion continue to be felicitous when made on other occasions under similar circumstances. (“Felicitous” here can mean different things depending on the exact nature of the subject and the purpose for talking. It might cover the concept of “true” in some cases, or the concept of “politically empowering” in other cases, or any of a number of other concepts in still other cases. The basic idea is, a division between successful and unsuccessful utterances, where what “success” means depends on what you’re trying to do with your words.)

            So expanding it out: I think if triangularity (exists and) can be talked about in a way that yields reliable results (i.e., a little more colloquially, in terms of this specific topic: we can trust that truths about triangles are always true), then triangularity exists as part of a system that proceeds according to laws.

            If I’m right about this, I don’t claim it’s obvious that I am. But the basic idea can be motivated by the following observation. If something exists _not_ as part of a system that proceeds according to laws, then it proceeds lawlessly or doesn’t proceed at all. If it proceeds lawlessly, then obviously we can’t expect reliable results when talking about it, since whatever is true of it at one point will not have any bearing on what is true of it at another point. Meanwhile, if it doesn’t proceed at all, then it can have no effect on us, and if it can’t have an effect on us, then there is no reason to think it is reflected in what we say about it. (There’s the logical possibility that it IS reflected in what we say even though there’s no reason to THINK it’s so reflected, but that would be purely lucky for us and would in any case give us no actionable information since there’s by hypothesis no reason to think it true).

            Well, I worked on the above for a while trying to make it more readable than it maybe is… my apologies if I’ve failed.

            As to your point about fictional entities, note I was careful to say that IF a thing exists AND we can have sensible (or as you put it, coherent–that works to) conversations about it, THEN it exists naturally. I wasn’t giving conditions on whether things exist or not, but rather, what the things that exist and that we can talk about must be like.

          • Kris Rhodes

            I want to be sure it’s clear that, while that all of the above is an explication of my view, as you noted, it all relies on (or maybe more exactly _implies_) a natural/supernatural distinction. That’s a distinction you don’t agree with, so I don’t expect any of the above to be convincing. I typed it just by way of explicating my view a little, explaining it, showing why I think it’s consistent etc, as I took you to be inviting me to do so in your posts I was responding to.

          • Kris: By “naturally,” I mean “as a part of a system that proceeds according to laws”. By an activity being carried out “sensibly” I mean its yielding reliable results, i.e., doing a relevantly similar thing as part of this activity on two different relevantly similar occasions will yield relevantly similar results.

            Reply: Well this part still gets confusing. Are numbers the result of laws? Maybe they don’t exist. (I’m not sold that they do really) How about laws of morality? Do they exist? Are we going to be straight nominalists?

            Kris: Specifically when it comes to the activity of “talking about something,” this can be carried out sensibly only when claims about the thing that are felicitous when made on one occasion continue to be felicitous when made on other occasions under similar circumstances. (“Felicitous” here can mean different things depending on the exact nature of the subject and the purpose for talking. It might cover the concept of “true” in some cases, or the concept of “politically empowering” in other cases, or any of a number of other concepts in still other cases. The basic idea is, a division between successful and unsuccessful utterances, where what “success” means depends on what you’re trying to do with your words.)

            Reply: If the term can mean different things, then we have something problematic. Could we say a lie is something that exists then since it could be politically empowering and allow someone success if done right? If your condition can change meaning, is it valid?

            Kris: So expanding it out: I think if triangularity (exists and) can be talked about in a way that yields reliable results (i.e., a little more colloquially, in terms of this specific topic: we can trust that truths about triangles are always true), then triangularity exists as part of a system that proceeds according to laws.

            Reply: But isn’t the first question to ask is if something exists? You say “I think if triangularity exists”. If it exists, then it exists and that is it. It doesn’t matter if we can really talk about it meaningfully at this point or make sense of it. There are many ideas out there we can’t make much sense out of yet and many realities, but that does not mean they don’t exist.

            Kris: If I’m right about this, I don’t claim it’s obvious that I am. But the basic idea can be motivated by the following observation. If something exists _not_ as part of a system that proceeds according to laws, then it proceeds lawlessly or doesn’t proceed at all. If it proceeds lawlessly, then obviously we can’t expect reliable results when talking about it, since whatever is true of it at one point will not have any bearing on what is true of it at another point. Meanwhile, if it doesn’t proceed at all, then it can have no effect on us, and if it can’t have an effect on us, then there is no reason to think it is reflected in what we say about it. (There’s the logical possibility that it IS reflected in what we say even though there’s no reason to THINK it’s so reflected, but that would be purely lucky for us and would in any case give us no actionable information since there’s by hypothesis no reason to think it true).

            Reply: So let’s use laws of morality as an example. If they are real, they would exist independently of us to be objective and they would not be changing. What kind of morality is it that changes to suit us? That is not morality. Does it proceed according to laws? No. It would have timeless existence and if matter is all there is, what laws could effect laws of morality? Does it proceed at all? No. A morality that changes is not really a morality but more personal preferences. Can we talk sensibly about morality still? Absolutely.

            Kris: As to your point about fictional entities, note I was careful to say that IF a thing exists AND we can have sensible (or as you put it, coherent–that works to) conversations about it, THEN it exists naturally. I wasn’t giving conditions on whether things exist or not, but rather, what the things that exist and that we can talk about must be like.

            Reply: This doesn’t really help. We can talk about many things sensibly and they don’t exist. We can also think of things that don’t exist that we have a hard time understanding so we can’t really talk about them that sensibly now.

            The first question is what exists, and I I find a natural/supernatural dichotomy just creatres more problems than it could solve.

          • Kris Rhodes

            Thanks for these questions. In a sense there’s nothing I like better than to type about my (only partially developed) metaphysical and epistemological views. But I do want to say that in this particular context, while I’m happy to keep up that conversation, I don’t want to (by doing so) hijack the topic. I’m honestly more interested in finding out what a miracle can be if there is no natural/supernatural distinction. You said a miracle could involve suprahuman beings interacting with us, but that makes me curious what a suprahuman being is, if there is no natural/supernatural distinction.

            Another approach to the same issue. Here’s a tautology: Either every event occurs in a way that is constrained by some law or other, or no event occurs in a way that is constrained by some law or other, or some events occur in a way constrained by some law or other while some other events occur without such constraints. Which of the three disjuncts in this tautology do you think is true? I’d guess the third, but I don’t want to presume that. (My own answer is that I would bet on the first disjunct being true, but even if it’s not, there is basically no use talking about events that don’t occur in a way constrained by some law or other, since there’s no basis for making any inferences from or to the occurrence of any such event.)

            Concerning some of your replies above:

            Yes, I am probably some kind of nominalist. (I would say numbers exist, but their existence is not a kind of abstract, ideal, platonic existence but a concrete existence thinly distributed through certain kinds of activities we engage in. This is a long way of saying numbers exist in models, and models are things we make.)

            I’d say if moral laws exist, their existence is similar to what I described for numbers above. But I’m not sure “existence” is the right category to apply to them. Being laws, the right thing to say might be that they “are valid” rather than they “exist.”

            About existence and making sense and all that–I’d admit from the get-go that things could exist that we can’t make sense of. But if we can’t make sense of them, it is literally no use at all talking about them. This is why my concern is to say what the things that exist *and that we can make sense of* must be like.

          • I’ll stick to the first part then since you don’t want to hijack the topic. A suprahuman being would be a being that possesses rationality that is not human. At this point, we could include angels, demons, God, other gods, aliens, or any manner of spirits in other religious systems.

          • Kris Rhodes

            I have always been very interested in the question of what non-human (but not less-than-human) rationality could be and could look like to us.

            I am not sure how to connect the concept of a miracle to that topic though. Take the quintessential miracle–resurrection. Assuming we’re talking about literal, bodily resurrection (we are, right?) how does the idea of a form of rationality help us understand what is going on when someone is resurrected?

          • When I say resurrection, I mean not only bodily, bodily in a glorified body to never die again. So with your question, assume for the sake of argument the resurrection of Jesus happened. (I could argue for that, but your question does not depend on that.) What are some possible causes?

            Well there is the swoon theory which would not give that kind of body and is simply implausible. Jesus would not have been called a Lord who conquered death. He would have been called a doctor instead.

            Next, you could argue that Jesus was just a fluke. Some have argued this. I believe Michael Martin has said that is a possibility. (Though he certainly doesn’t think so since he’s a Christ-myther.) This one to me just stretches incredulity. Of all people to be resurrected, it’s Jesus?

            You could argue Jesus knew some secret technique to sustain Himself, but I find this unbelievable as well for surely we would have discovered something by this time like that.

            Those two causes are causes that are not caused by any intelligent agent. So what do we have other than that? Well an intelligent agent.

            It could be aliens then. Yet this points us to something we do not know about and frankly, there are no metaphysical arguments for aliens and the scientific data is lacking and then what motive would aliens have?

            Or you could point to a being that is clearly suprahuman, such as God. If God is the cause, we have motive. God could want to vindicate the claims of Jesus and the way to do that is through resurrection.

            Now I would grant that this could establish faith in the God of Scripture, but it could be greatly benefited by having a metaphysical basis prior, such as in an Aristotelian-Thomistic worldview where God is a being of pure actuality.

            How would God do that? Beats me. Yet that doesn’t stop me. As it stands, I am typing this to you right now. I know I am willing my fingers to type the words, but I cannot explain how that works. If I cannot explain how I can do something like this, why should I be able to explain God? I do of course know I am causing my activities just like for the most part I know other people cause theirs unless I have reason to think otherwise. (Epileptic seizures for instance.)

            Does that help?

          • Jim

            Nick, I think that the approach based on purely natural explanations should be appreciated by apologists because it is based on scientifically observable/reproducible facts/data (and the exclusion of non fits) and can serve as a somewhat stable baseline for those who then wish to blend in theological/supernatural claims into the mix. When one begins to include the supernatural, it becomes a debate as to what can be considered as hard data re the status of each supernatural event.

            As an example, if one considers the appearance of a resurrected Jesus as hard data, does one also include the appearances of Mary, who appeared to a much larger number of witness in the 1900s?

            Also the naturalist explanation base will change as new scientific information becomes available.

            I don’t mean to imply that anyone should be discouraged from their personal religious convictions, but it is always good to know what can be currently established by explanations that do not evoke the supernatural.

            In that regard, I’m wondering if the idea of the apologetics approach that has served Christianity for over 1800 years should now be scrapped for a newer model that acknowledges rather than discourages the input of a naturalist worldview? Just my opinion though.

          • Jim. I wonder if you have been watching the dialogue because you keep using these terms “natural” and “supernatural” which really make no sense to me. Now if you want to go and try to defend a natural/supernatural dichotomy, go to it.

            Furthermore, I do acknowledge the input from naturalists. That’s why I read atheist and agnostic NT scholars as well. I think Bart Ehrman, Gerd Ludemann, Crossan, and others have excellent insights and they see some spots I miss.

            And as for Mary, well we can compare the claims and the evidence for both and see what each event is true is meant to say about the other person. Do you have a recommended source on the Marian appearance
            you wish to discuss?

          • Jim

            Wasn’t trying to irritate you in any way, nor make too much of a natural/supernatural dichotomy.

            I got the impression that in your support of Licona’s work, you considered Jesus’ resurrection to be actual data. Historical and scientific methodologies cannot establish this event as having occurred as it falls into the category of a supernatural miracle. This does not mean that it didn’t happen, but these fields can never establish that it actually did occur.

            I think that’s an example where apologists like Licona contend that they are using historiographical methods, however they do insert theological assertions which makes their approach not purely historiographical.

            Now there is nothing wrong with them pursuing the avenues they are pursuing. I just think they should forgo trying to give the impression that they are following the historical approach.

            Again, it doesn’t mean that the historical approach is the end all, but it does mean that a purely historical approach is understood as having a set of boundaries that exclude the incorporation of any super-/supra-natural interventions (at least for the time being).

            Re the Mary thing, it was just an example of a relatively recent reported Christian supernatural occurrence, and whether this counts as historical data.

          • Once again, when you use the terms natural or supernatural, you’re buying into a way of thinking that you have yet to demonstrate to me is valid and that I have numerous oppositions to.

            But in response, no. I don’t accept the resurrection as data. I accept it as an interpretation of the data. The data is for the most part agreed upon. It’s how we deal with it that matters.

            You also say history cannot establish a miracle. Okay. Why should I think that? What reason? I don’t see an argument for this. I just see it repeated.

            And with Mary, well without a recommended account of the events, it’s really hard to discuss the data.

          • Jim

            I guess I should have clarified my use of the term supernatural. I generally use the term as reference to extremely rare occurrences that are *not currently* explainable by naturalistic methods (i.e. science etc.).

            Re the appearances of Mary, this was just an example that possibly parallels NT appearances of Jesus (I Cor 15.6); the idea being that apologists would typically support the latter and reject the former even though the former had more witnesses and is more recent.

            Wrt Mary I was thinking of the events in March 1984 where it was claimed that Mary was seen by around 1000 people. Apparently there are some details in Rene Laurentin’s “The Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary Today” in case you are interested in the subject. (I have not read this book since I’m not interested in the topic).

            Not worth prolonging the conversation on this subject as I have taken it down a rabbit trail. Best Regards.

          • Okay. I’m wondering since it seems unclear. Are you saying you want to discuss Marian appearances or the natural/supernatural distinction or none of them?

          • Kris Rhodes

            Minor addendum–being an activity being done “sensibly” doesn’t just require reliable results, but also differential results, i.e., that some situations yield different results than others when the activity is undertaken.

          • Evidence is an effect from which we infer a cause. If we come across a body on the floor with a knife sticking out of its back and that knife has little swirly patterns on the handle that match the patterns on someone’s fingers, we think we have evidence of who was responsible for inserting the knife into the back. We think this because we understand the natural processes that cause the appearance of those patterns on objects and we believe that those processes act consistently, if not invariably. If we thought those pattern appeared randomly in nature or by divine fiat, we couldn’t draw any inferences from their appearance on the knife handle and they wouldn’t be evidence of anything. We rely on known processes of cause and effect in order to declare “It was Professor Plum in the billiards room with the knife!”

            Miracles, on the other hand, don’t follow known processes of cause and effect. We don’t know what sets of evidence point to a supernatural cause and we don’t know what kinds of evidence a supernatural cause is likely to produce. The Shroud of Turin may be a fascinating artifact, but we have no basis for concluding that it is the kind of effect that a supernatural resurrection would produce.

            The problem is not one of worldview or horizon that does not allow for the possibility of miracles. It is simply a limitation of the intellectual tool we use to draw inferences from evidence. That tool relies on processes of cause and effect that can be observed and known.

            In the case of the resurrection, the evidence consists of a collection of mostly anonymous writings filled with fantastic stories. These writings are based on unidentified sources which are removed an unknown number of times from any witnesses to the events in question. While it might be plausible to suppose that an actual miracle might cause a fantastic story to be told, the most common cause of such stories are human shortcomings such as ignorance, superstition, prevarication, wishful thinking, gullibility. and exaggeration,

          • Vinny: Miracles, on the other hand, don’t follow known processes of cause and effect. We don’t know what sets of evidence point to a supernatural cause and we don’t know what kinds of evidence a supernatural cause is likely to produce. The Shroud of Turin may be a fascinating artifact, but we have no basis for concluding that it is the kind of effect that a supernatural resurrection would produce.

            Reply: Nothing wrong with reasoning from the effects to the cause. That’s a good part of philosophy. What we can say is if all known causes don’t fit the bill, there’s nothing wrong with referring to causes we don’t know, though I don’t use the word supernatural. The supernatural/natural distinction is flimsy. As for the Shroud, the effects of it to my knowledge have never been totally reproduced and it contains aspects to it that a forger in the medieval period would not have known about.

            Vinny: The problem is not one of worldview or horizon that does not allow for the possibility of miracles. It is simply a limitation of the intellectual tool we use to draw inferences from evidence. That tool relies on processes of cause and effect that can be observed and known.

            Reply: Yes. It is a problem of worldview. You see, I would infer that suprahuman causes can be known. We can use metaphysical arguments to find them for instance. If you say only that which fits into a scientific paradigm is allowable, then you shut off immediately the question of miracles which means if miracles are true, you can never know them because of a prior philosophical commitment.

            Vinny: In the case of the resurrection, the evidence consists of a collection of mostly anonymous writings filled with fantastic stories.

            Reply: Except most resurrection defenses today do not rely on the Gospels. They rely on the epistles of Paul and thus not anonymous writings. Besides, let’s consider this also. How do you know Plutarch wrote the works of Plutarch?

            Vinny: These writings are based on unidentified sources which are removed an unknown number of times from any witnesses to the events in question.

            Reply: Have you interacted with Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”?

            Vinny: While it might be plausible to suppose that an actual miracle might cause a fantastic story to be told, the most common cause of such stories are human shortcomings such as ignorance, superstition, prevarication, wishful thinking, gullibility. and exaggeration,

            Reply: Feel free to choose your better explanation for the evidence that we do have then.

          • If you have some objective, non-question-begging methodology for determining when a fantastic tale is the product of an actual miracle rather than a product of the usual human foibles, feel free to explain it. However, I am not aware of metaphysical inference being a valid tool of historical methodology.

            I am aware that Licona likes to pretend that he is not relying on the gospels, but it amazes me that anyone falls for it. Even if he weren’t, I don’t see how that constitutes “most” resurrection defenses.

          • He’s not pretending. He really isn’t. That’s the beauty of the minimal facts approach. It uses the information in Paul. I’ve seen Habermas, Licona’s mentor, give it several times. I know it well.

            As for finding when something is a miracle, the start is to not rule it out at the outcome or set the standards for determining one at an impossible level. Once again, in Licona’s research, he says that all explanations we have need to fail and the atmosphere needs to have religious significance. If you’re blind and sitting at home one day and suddenly regain sight, that could be a miracle, but there’s not enough to know. If your pastor comes by and prays for your blindness and asks for you to be healed in the name of Jesus and you immediately are, then that gives you justification for thinking a miracle has taken place.

            Again, Keener lists several several cases and does get into the questions of methodology and deals with philosophical questions.

          • Kris Rhodes

            As you know from our conversation, I’m having a hard time understanding what you mean by miracle. This post of yours gives me another way to try to grasp it. Can you tell me what difference it makes whether the healing is a miracle or not?

          • Certainly. If the healing is not a miracle, we could examine it scientifically and see what happened and if we could repeat it. If it is a miracle, then we could see it as verification of a certain claim. Miracles even biblically are not done on a whim. They are done to verify a claim. This is also why Keener makes much of healings that happen when someone is prayed for in the name of Jesus. I highly urge reading his book.

          • Kris Rhodes

            I’ll hopefully read it someday. From the amazon entry, it’s not clear to me–is this a popularization, or is it a book that gets cited in scholarly circles?

            As to what you’ve said here–what I don’t understand is how an event can verify a claim AND at the same time not (in theory) be amenable to scientific analysis. To me, the former entails the latter–it can’t verify anything unless we have some idea of what it reliably is caused by and what effects it reliably has. And to know the latter just IS to know how to “do science to it” so to speak.

            I am guessing/hoping Keener has something to say relevant to that.

          • Oh it is a scholarly book no doubt. It does get cited in scholarly circles. I see several hits at the SBL web site on the topic. The book is so big it’s divided into two volumes and about 300 pages are bibliography and index. For a sampler of it, you could listen to my interview with Keener. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/grok558/2013/08/10/deeper-waters-miracles

            As for not being open to scientific analysis, we could study the scientific effects, but not the scientific cause. Scientism is a reigning paradigm in our world today and it’s simply a false one and an insult to the sciences. We can know plenty of effects today without knowing the causes. The problem is ruling out suprahuman causes a priori. This is just what I call atheistic presuppositionalism.

          • Kris Rhodes

            I think there’s an important distinction to be made between the following views:

            //Suprahuman causes can be ruled out a priori.//

            and

            //If there are suprahuman causes, there is nothing we can usefully say about them.//

            There are those who argue for the former, but the latter seems to not suffer from some of the important weaknesses of the former.

            As to studying scientific effects and causes, I don’t think (given what you’ve said about suprahuman events) that we _can_ study their effects. That isn’t obvious so I have to explain it a little. Basically, for example, were a resurrection to occur, we could study the effects of the resurrection for sure, but what we can’t study are the effects of _whatever it is that makes that resurrection suprahuman_. In other words, while we can posit that the resurrection occured and determine what effects it led to, we can’t use any of this information to say anything else about any possible future suprahuman events. This means that whatever we’re studying, it’s not the suprahuman qua suprahuman.

            Why can’t we use what we find in studying the effects to derive information about possible future suprahuman events? Because since (as you stipulated) we can’t study the resurrection’s cause, this means we cannot say what it takes for such an event to be brought about. Because of that, we can have no information about what things are going to be like around a future suprahuman event, or what the event itself will consist in. From our lack of information about either of those, it follows that we have no information as to what the effects of any future such event will be.

            In a nutshell, no matter what we discover about this particular suprahuman event, its suprahuman nature will give us no information whatsoever about any other event. This means that positing the event to be suprahuman is useless. That’s not to say the event isn’t suprahuman, just that its being suprahuman makes no real difference to us.

          • I think you’re misunderstanding my position. We can study the cause. We just don’t do so scientifically. That’s because if there is a suprahuman reality, it could be something that is not amenable to science seeing as it could be an immaterial reality. What can we use? We can use philosophy. We can use theology. We can use metaphysics. We can use history. We can look at the context of the event and see if there is any reason to suspect a particular agent. In the case of the resurrection, one would immediately leap to YHWH as the cause as biblically, He alone has the power to raise up someone from death. (Anyone who does so as a prophet does so as a broker of the covenant of God. They would never say they did so by their own power)

            That’s also why we bring in the idea of Licona that an event must be in an atmosphere charged with religious significance of some kind.

          • He is pretending. He really is.

            Licona relies on the consensus of scholars and those scholars rely on the gospels.

            As you note, one of Licona’s criteria for establishing the historicity of the resurrection is that the circumstances surrounding the event are charged with religious significance. He relies almost entirely on the gospels to establish that essential element of his claim.

            The second point of Licona’s “historical bedrock” is that “[v]ery shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.” This necessarily relies on the gospels as the epistles never say how long it was between Jesus’ death and the appearances. They also doesn’t say that the appearances led to their belief in the resurrection rather than the appearances confirming a belief they had reached based on some other. The epistles don’t say that Paul was an unbeliever at the time he experienced an appearance.

            The beauty of the minimal facts approach is that it creates the illusion that the apologist isn’t relying on the gospels, which are the primary evidence for most of its claims. That way the apologist needn’t deal with just how problematic the gospels are as sources.

          • Vinny: He is pretending. He really is.

            Reply: No he isn’t. He really isn’t.

            I mean, if you’re just going to make an assertion that’s all that’s required to counter it.

            Vinny: Licona relies on the consensus of scholars and those scholars rely on the gospels.

            Reply: Actually, no. The information needed can all be found in the epistles.

            Vinny: As you note, one of Licona’s criteria for establishing the historicity of the resurrection is that the circumstances surrounding the event are charged with religious significance. He relies almost entirely on the gospels to establish that essential element of his claim.

            Reply: Because we all know that 1st century Judaism around the time of someone claiming to be a Messiah would in no way be charged with religious significance.

            Vinny: The second point of Licona’s “historical bedrock” is that “[v]ery shortly after Jesus’ death, the disciples had experiences that led them to believe and proclaim that Jesus had been resurrected and had appeared to them.” This necessarily relies on the gospels as the epistles never say how long it was between Jesus’ death and the appearances. They also doesn’t say that the appearances led to their belief in the resurrection rather than the appearances confirming a belief they had reached based on some other. The epistles don’t say that Paul was an unbeliever at the time he experienced an appearance.

            Reply: Rather than a belief they had researched based on some other? Some other what? As for shortly after, considering the material in the creed in 1 Cor. 15 can be dated to within a few years, this would be a short time. As for the epistles never saying Paul was an unbeliever, yeah. I guess several believers could have written Galatians 1 where they talked about persecuting the church.

            Vinny: The beauty of the minimal facts approach is that it creates the illusion that the apologist isn’t relying on the gospels, which are the primary evidence for most of its claims. That way the apologist needn’t deal with just how problematic the gospels are as sources.

            Reply: I have given the minimal facts approach as well several times. Never once had to touch the Gospels at all. Maybe you should read it instead of just reading about it.

          • in order to meet Licona’s definition of historical bedrock, the matter must be such that scholarly opinion is nearly unanimous. Do all those scholarly articles in Habermas’s database rely only on the epistles? If not, then the gospels are necessary to Licona’s case because they are necessary to the scholarly consensus that forms part of his argument.

            Whether or not we might have reason to think that 1st century Palestine was oozing with religious significance, Licona’s makes the argument that It is the things Jesus said and did that establish the context of religious significance, and for this he must rely upon the gospels.

            I’m sorry. That should have read “some other reason.” For example, the followers of Joseph Smith who claimed that the Angel Moroni showed them the Golden Plates in a vision already were believers. Similarly, the disciples could have come to a belief in the resurrection through a process of cognitive dissonance reduction and only had the visions thereafter.

            The creed can only be dated to a few years later by using the gospels to establish the timeline.

            I didn’t say that the epistles never say that Paul was an unbeliever. What they never say is that he was an unbeliever at the time of the appearance. Based on what Paul say there is no way to know that he didn’t become convinced of the truth of Christianity prior to his vision.

          • Vinny: in order to meet Licona’s definition of historical bedrock, the matter must be such that scholarly opinion is nearly unanimous. Do all those scholarly articles in Habermas’s database rely only on the epistles? If not, then the gospels are necessary to Licona’s case because they are necessary to the scholarly consensus that forms part of his argument.

            Reply: The scholars are nearly unanimous. More will be said on this in a few years no doubt. Habermas is working on his magnum opus on the resurrection as we speak.

            Vinny: Whether or not we might have reason to think that 1st century Palestine was oozing with religious significance, Licona’s makes the argument that It is the things Jesus said and did that establish the context of religious significance, and for this he must rely upon the gospels.

            Reply: If you want to point to religious significance, I would not have much problem with that. For the facts alone needed to establish the data that must be explained, 1 Cor. 15 and Galatians 1 are sufficient.

            Vinny: I’m sorry. That should have read “some other reason.” For example, the followers of Joseph Smith who claimed that the Angel Moroni showed them the Golden Plates in a vision already were believers. Similarly, the disciples could have come to a belief in the resurrection through a process of cognitive dissonance reduction and only had the visions thereafter.

            Reply: This kind of thing doesn’t fly. It’s called psycho-history and extremely difficult. For one thing, it’s not even accurate with cognitive dissonance. The leading work on this that I know of is Festinger’s “When Prophecy Fails.” Even then, it’s not really a valid study.

            With cognitive dissonance, we’d expect the number of Christians to decrease and not increase. That’s the opposite of what happened. Also, the disciples would have had to want to believe in the resurrection. We have no evidence they did. A resurrection would have been totally unexpected. At most, they would have probably expected visions of Jesus in Abraham’s bosom being divinely exalted.

            Vinny: The creed can only be dated to a few years later by using the gospels to establish the timeline.

            Reply: The creed is actually dated using Galatians 1 as the main point. If you want to be skeptical of if Jesus died around 30 A.D., be my guest.

            Vinny: I didn’t say that the epistles never say that Paul was an unbeliever. What they never say is that he was an unbeliever at the time of the appearance. Based on what Paul say there is no way to know that he didn’t become convinced of the truth of Christianity prior to his vision.

            Reply: Nothing in Galatians 1, his own testimony, indicates that he was a believer of some sort. Let’s go with what he said then.

          • I’m happy to know that Habermas is writing a new book, but that has nothing to do with the point I made. If an argument cites the consensus of scholars on a point and those scholars rely on the gospels in order to reach that consensus, then the argument depends on the gospels regardless of whether it expressly mentions them.

            Since a context of religious significance is an essential element of Licona’s claim and that context is established from the gospels, he is in fact using the gospels to make his argument.

            It doesn’t matter how hard psycho-history is or how persuasive you find the cognitive dissonance hypothesis. The fact remains that Paul never tells us whether the disciples believed in the resurrection as a result of the appearances or whether the appearances were a result of their belief in the resurrection. That element of Licona’s historical bedrock is found only in the gospels.

            It also doesn’t matter whether I am skeptical of the dating of the crucifixion. Paul never says how much time elapsed between the crucifixion and the appearances. In order to establish that the apostles experienced them “very shortly” after the crucifixion, Licona must rely on the gospels.

            Nothing in Galatians indicates that Paul converted as a result of an appearance. Of course that detail is found in Acts, so technically I suppose Licona can still claim he is not relying on the gospels.

          • For the former, all that matters is that the apostles claimed to see the risen Christ. Most scholars will also tell you Paul and James were unbelievers before the time of their conversion. With Paul, Galatians describes him as a persecutor advancing in Judaism. He had no intent of changing his mind, and yet he did.

            As for cognitive dissonance, it matters a great deal. It’s hard enough to do counseling and diagnose someone when you have them right across from you and can question them directly. It’s much harder to do it with ancient people. I have given reasons why I question the cognitive dissonance interpretation. Unless you can rebut those, then the objection fails.

            As for the dating of the crucifixion, we could point out that even Tacitus says Jesus was crucified under Pilate. That could give us a time frame. If you want to say they use the Gospels for that, then Licona is guilty of doing what every other scholar does as well.

          • No Licona is guilty of claiming that he doesn’t use the gospels when he actually does. I don’t know of any genuine scholars who do that although apologists masquerading as scholars sometimes do.

          • Any port in a storm eh? Just to avoid the data.

            And masquerading as a scholar. That’s nice. How about we go to the SBL web site and compare how many people interact with Michael Licona vs. how many interact with Richard Carrier.

            I think you’ll note a significant difference.

          • How about you just admit that Licona’s claim that his argument doesn’t rely on the gospels is just plain false. Then we can think about why he and Habermas are so eager to avoid talking about the evidence by focusing on arbitrary constructs like “historical bedrock” and “minimal facts.”

          • If you’re saying that the problem is that the Gospels establish the ground date for the crucifixion, fine. Every critic agrees with this however. So when we get to the second, what evidence are they avoiding talking about? Do you deny the Pauline epistles are evidence? Do you also deny that the Pauline epistles most likely predate the Gospels? How is that avoiding evidence just by going to the earliest evidence we have?

          • I don’t deny that the epistles are evidence. What I deny is your patently absurd claim that most defenses today of the resurrection don’t rely on the gospels. Any argument that depends on the consensus of scholars who rely on the gospels is relying on the gospels. On top of that, Licona relies on specific details that can only be derived from the gospels, such as the timing of the appearances, the religious context in which the resurrection stories originated, and that the appearances preceded the disciples belief in the resurrection.

            Paul’s letters are certainly evidence of what Paul believed and what the congregations he founded believed. With respect to the circumstances under which belief in the resurrection first arose, they don’t provide much information.

          • They don’t. The Gospels can help establish basic facts, but these are also facts all critical scholars will agree on save those on the far fringe. Most scholars will agree Jesus died at either 30 or 33 A.D. Somewhere around there. It doesn’t matter for the illustration.

            If you think Licona is using a fact that isn’t accepted by the majority of critical scholars, then please feel free to point out what that fact is.

          • Do you think that all those critical scholars agree without any evidence to establish those facts?

          • Of course not. You can see this by reading them.

          • My problem with the “minimal facts” approach is that only the extreme few (Habermas, Licona, etc) who support the “minimum facts” approach to the resurrection would actually call these “facts”. Other scholars would call these “facts” – such as the empty tomb, the appearance experiences of the apostles, the martyrdom’s of the apostles – opinions, proposals, hypotheses, probabilities, explanations, scenarios, anything but “facts”.

            And the way that the vast majority of scholars interpret these “facts” that aren’t facts, do not make a “fact” of the resurrection.

          • Other scholars interpret the facts differently. That’s true. That’s why Licona’s approach also compares the hypotheses and he critiques them. Also, you have some of the facts wrong. Habermas for instance regularly says to not argue from the martyrdom of the twelve because for many of them we don’t have the most reliable traditions.

            As for the facts.“The fact of the death of Jesus as a consequence of
            crucifixion is indisputable, despite hypotheses of a pseudo-death or a
            deception which are sometimes put forward. It need not be discussed further
            here.” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” Page 17.)

            Christians who wanted to proclaim Jesus as
            messiah would not have invented the notion that he was crucified because his
            crucifixion created such a scandal. Indeed, the apostle Paul calls it the chief
            “stumbling block” for Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). Where did the tradition
            come from? It must have actually happened. (Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A
            Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Third Edition. pages
            221-222)

            Jesus was executed by crucifixion, which was a
            common method of torture and execution used by the Romans. (Dale Martin, New
            Testament History and Literature. Page 181)

            That Jesus was executed because he or someone
            else was claiming that he was the king of the Jews seems to be historically
            accurate. (ibid. 186)

            Jesus’ execution is as historically certain as
            any ancient event can ever be but what about all those very specific details
            that fill out the story? (John Dominic Crossan http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-d…_b_847504.html)

            So there’s one fact with only non-Christian scholars cited as my source. (And by non-Christian, I mean someone who does not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus even if they identify as Christian.)

            Do you disagree with Jesus being crucified?

          • No. That’s one of the most likely “facts”. You’re throwing all your evidence at the easy one.

            The empty tomb? Not so much. The resurrection appearances? Well, we may have a sense that some disciples experienced something – but we have no idea what those experiences actually consisted of.

          • No. I’m just going in order and point by point. So with the empty tomb. You’re right. It’s not the most likely. Who says it’s not also? Habermas and Licona both. Habermas has said publicly in his presentations that not as many scholars support the empty tomb, though it is the majority. Licona points out on p. 462 that a respectable minority argue against it. Also, just like the appearance, even those who accept the reality do not necessarily accept resurrection as the cause, though naturally some do. (This even includes at least one non-Christian, Pinchas Lapide.)

            So at this point. I’m simply going point by point. I’d be glad to present the scholarly citations to the appearances.

          • No need to provide scholarly citations to appearances. I’ve seen them. What the “appearances” actually were, will vary widely from scholar to scholar – and we have no end of “appearance” witnessing throughout history, including those of Elvis and countless alien abductors.

            Even the empty tomb majority is not what it is purported to be. Read our host, James McGrath’s, book on the topic. He supports the possibility that an empty grave of some sort might have played into actual events (though he by no means calls this a “fact” – few scholars do). But you would be hard-pressed to construe McGrath’s empty grave hypothesis into anything that would support the Licona/Habermas “minimal facts”.

            If the Licona/Habermas “minimal facts” approach actually worked – we should all be putting iron bars on our windows, because there is far more “minimal facts” evidence that we are being abducted by aliens from our beds at night, than there is for Jesus’ resurrection.

          • Feel free to present the contrasting evidence then for aliens in comparison to the resurrection. As for McGrath’s book, I’d be glad to, though it’s hard to picture a variation. Either the tomb was empty or it wasn’t.

          • One would almost think you had never read any tomb scholarship. What tomb was empty? Jesus’s tomb? A criminal’s grave? a mistaken tomb? The hypotheses go on and on …

            As for alien abduction, while ridiculous, one hardly needs “scholarship” to know that the witnesses of alien abductions (and there are hundreds) still live among us and can be questioned even today. While for Jesus’s appearance, all we have is the hearsay of Paul and the diluted Greek accounts of gospels.

          • Read it indeed. Which tomb? The tomb that Jesus was buried in, which I personally think was that of Joseph of Arimathea.

            Do I know witnesses of alien abductions are alive? Yep. Feel free to show which case you think is the most convincing and let’s discuss the evidence for and against.

            With Jesus’s appearances, we have multiple attestation that is not contested by scholars, though the source certainly is, and we have the early creed in 1 Cor. 15 which also is not in serious dispute.

          • I think you’ll find that the “consensus” of empty tomb support cited by Licona is, by no means, a consensus supporting the Joseph of Arimathea story.

            Oh, I don’t think any of the alien abduction witnesses are convincing. Neither do I find resurrection witnesses convincing.

            The difference, of course, is that we actually have living people claiming to be witnesses of abductions, rich with detail, whereas with Jesus’s resurrection, we only have an ancient and rather vague report of appearances, the context of which we know nothing.

          • Neither did I say the J of A story was the consensus. I just said an empty tomb was a consensus. Then I gave my personal opinion on what the matter was.

            As for aliens, you find no cases convincing. Fine. Neither do I find them as such for my own different reasons, though I have no doubt these people for the most part certainly experienced something. It’s simply a matter of explaining it within my own worldview.

            Meanwhile, we have no denial thus far of the validity of the appearances or that they happened. At this point, there has been nothing on what caused them or if they were subjective or objective or anything of that sort. If appearances are accepted by the scholars, and they are, then everyone must explain them somehow.

          • I agree that many (maybe most) alien abduction witnesses are sincerely reporting experiences that they believe they had.

            As for the Jesus appearances, before you can “explain” the appearances, you might want to investigate what scholars even think these appearances consisted of in the first place. I’ll grant that some early Christians thought they saw Jesus (though, like many scholars, I seriously doubt it’s the nice round “500” that Paul suggests), but – heck – I know plenty of people today who think they’ve seen Jesus. You won’t find a consensus or even a majority of scholars who propose that the “appearances” occurred just the way they are depicted in the gospels.

            We don’t know how many “appearance” witnesses there were, but I doubt they can surpass the number of people in the middle ages who saw and reported the work of witches, nor trials convicting them of witchcraft.

            Don’t get me wrong. I don’t find alien abductions or witchcraft reports credible in the least. Nor resurrections from the dead.

          • Then you and I both need to explain alien abduction experiences. Especially if both of us are skeptical of alien life. I don’t rule it out, but I am skeptical, though I leave that more to the sciences.

            I also never said the appearances were just like those in the Gospels. All that’s being claimed is that these experiences were taken as evidence Jesus had risen.

          • It’s fairly clear that throughout human history, people have described dreams, waking dreams, optical illusions, hysterical fears, psychological disturbances, and other experiences in terms of the mythologies of their day – which is why we have a plethora of witnesses throughout history of fairies, witches, demons, succubi, magic, curses, resurrections, gods, and today, even aliens.

            If there were witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection (too bad we only have vague second-hand reports rather than actual witness reports), I’m sure that they suffered the same sorts of delusions as those who’ve seen fairies, witches, aliens, and Elvis throughout history.

            Fortunately, historians no longer take much stock in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fairy sightings.

            My original point is that what Habermas and Licona call “minimal facts” are not facts – most of the historians they cite do not call them facts. I would add that Habermas and Licona’s “minimal facts” proposal would’t qualify as “history” in any field except one – apologetics.

          • So let’s see. The facts so far claimed have been that Jesus was crucified and that there were appearances. Neither of these have been contested. That the tomb was found empty is accepted by most, though certainly not all. That hasn’t been tested. So all that is in dispute really is the interpretation.

            Now you say plenty of people have hallucinated. Yes. They have. They have had subjective experiences. So why should I think this is the case when in this case we for one thing have group experiences which is not fitting for hallucinations.

            Second, why should I think the disciples would throw everything away and take a shameful belief like Christianity over a hallucination? Would they not want to make sure?

            Third, if they had a hallucination, why would that convince them that Jesus was bodily resurrected? Wouldn’t they go with something more like apotheosis, something that could not be easily disproved?

            And fourth, if the tomb was found empty, hallucinations don’t explain that.

          • First, on the empty tomb:

            Habermas’s acceptance numbers on the tomb have changed more than once and they are based on his own personal database, collected using vague criteria, and he hasn’t released the full list for anyone else to confirm. What’s more, it is not a proportion of what all New Testament scholars believe – it is a proportion of what those NT Testament scholars that have bothered to write an article actually supporting one position or the other, actually believe. So even assuming his data set is unbiased and follows peer-reviewed methodology for meta-data surveys (it doesn’t, because the database has not been peer-reviewed), it still does not represent the opinion of most NT scholars. Most NT scholars haven’t written a specific article arguing for or against an empty tomb (I imagine quite a few would consider it a useless endeavor).

            So the “empty tomb” is a dicey “fact” at best.

            Now, for your objections:

            First, we don’t know that they had “group” experiences, except by second hand report. We don’t even know how vague those experiences were or how the original Christians interpreted them.

            Second, the disciples had already “thrown everything away” following Jesus in the first place – as had many other desperate followers of apocalyptic preachers in that century and others. We still see people in various degrees of desperation throwing away their lives to kooks like David Koresh or Harold Camping – it doesn’t require magic. And what do you mean by “to make sure”? How would they “make sure”. Even assuming they knew where Jesus was buried, could get there easily, and could “dig him up” without getting into trouble, by the time of the day of pentacost, any dead body would be unrecognizably deteriorated.

            Third, who knows what the original “witnesses” made of their experiences – we only have Paul’s take on it.

            Fourth, if (HUGE IF) their was an “empty tomb”, it could have been a mistaken tomb, it could have been a partly filled criminal’s grave, there are many possibilities that have been suggested as possibilities by scholars, and the crazy thing is that Habermas probably counts these as pro-empty tomb scholars!

            I really don’t see how anyone can honestly see this biased historical guesswork as evidence that a magical resurrection took place 2000 years ago, unless they were already biased by their religious commitments.

          • Habermas has not been vague on his criteria and his database will be released soon, probably within 2-3 years or so, though no guarantees. He’s working on his Magnum Opus on the resurrection now.

            Also, of course he refers to what they write on the issue. What else could he use?

            As for group experiences, yes, we know they had them. When the text says that he appeared to them all at one time and mentions numerous groups, then yes, those are group experiences.

            Second, they would have been able to realign themselves easily enough in Jewish society. For some reason, they didn’t. Every other Messianic movement that happened, everyone just went home for found another movement when the Messiah died. Not this time. Furthermore, the location of the tomb would have been known by those who buried him and they could have easily shown the body to the disciples and it could still be recognized as a crucified victim.

            Third, what we have from Paul is that these witnesses were open to question so what they made of it would have been what Paul agreed with or else he wouldn’t recommend going to them.

            Fourth, I wouldn’t mind seeing your data on that, but the kind of ideas like a mistaken tomb never really caught on.

            Finally, bias cuts both ways. I can just as easily say the reason people don’t accept the resurrection is they have a bias against theism or miracles or something of the like.

          • Thanks for confirming that Habermas has yet to release his survey; I’m not hopeful about the 2-3 year promise – he’s been dragging his feet for more than a decade – that’s not how historians do research! That don’t draw conclusions from unreleased data! My main point still stands – even if the survey is a legitimately representative survey of empty tomb articles, it still does not represent a majority of NT scholars – not by a long shot.

            Group experiences – we only have Paul’s word for it, and we have no idea what they were like! Bless your heart, the “text” is a letter from religious zealot 2000 years ago!

            Why would the leaders of Jesus want to “realign” themselves to some other movement, when they already had followers of their own, supporting their movement with funds! How silly to say that they “would have been able to realign themselves easily enough” – you don’t know that! Your “second” paragraph, making propositions about what other messianic followers could “easily” do – sorry, but that is completely made up. You have no idea how easily those followers could have changed their lives!

            Why would those who buried Jesus have any inclination to show the body of Jesus to his followers? Christianity was no danger to Rome until much later, when, yes – whatever remains would be unrecognizable.

            Your third paragraph, right, easy enough for Greek Christians scattered across the Mediterranean to take a quick flight over to Jerusalem to question whoever these witnesses are that Paul mostly fails to name.

            On the empty tomb, I can only repeat, most NT scholars are not represented by Habermas’ survey. And most would most definitely not refer to anything regarding Jesus tomb as a “fact”.

            You’re right; bias cuts all sorts of ways. Don’t take it personally; I’m also biased against purveyors of witchcraft, fairies, astrology, magic spells, demonology, and alien abductions. There are all sorts of silly supernatural claims made with ridiculous sorts of “evidence”.

          • I am quite confident Habermas is releasing his material soon as he’s actively putting it all together in the magnum opus as we speak.

            At the start, a religious zealot. Yep. That’s amusing. He was a highly trained scholar in his time and 1 Cor. 15 is a masterful piece of rhetoric of the day. Also, this is an established creed that would have been repeated not just to Corinth, but anywhere else.

            Could anyone have gone to Jerusalem to talk to eyewitnesses? Absolutely! Paul in the next chapter talks about people joining him to go to Jerusalem for the collection. Travel was difficult, but not impossible and many people the world over traveled to Jerusalem regularly for Passover and other events. Also, a group could pay to send representatives on their behalf to go to Jerusalem. If Meeks is right and there was significant growth among the middle and upper class of the church, then these were the people with the very resources to check the facts.

            For the realignment, I don’t think you realize what I was saying. I was speaking about how they could have returned to the traditional system of Judaism. What would they have to gain otherwise? Money? They would be willing to be seen as deviants cutting themselves off from YHWH for money? What would James have to gain? What would Paul have to gain?

            The Romans might not have cared about the Jesus movement, but the Jews surely would have. This especially since they were the first antagonists of the movement.

            And as for bias, again, it does go both ways, but I find it interesting you used the term supernatural. I have repeatedly said on this blog post over and over that I do not accept a natural/supernatural distinction. Do you have a reason why I should?

          • You can assess Paul anyway you like, but if Albert Einstein had written that Jesus bodily appeared to him, most thinking people would consider it probably a delusion, much less a 2000 year old “scholar” of whom we know little but his own writings.

            People could have checked up on the story and were motivated to? Paul was talking to Greeks who had once believed in gods on Mount Olympus – do you really think they had the same standards for evidence that we do? They knew who buried the body and could talk them into showing them the grave? Noone had anything to gain from the Jesus movement? The “Jews” were threatened enough by early Christians to go searching for a body (according to who? the late gospels)?

            Do you really consider such haphazard guesswork as evidence for a magic resurrection?

            When you say “I do not accept a natural/supernatural distinction”, that’s fine for you – but don’t expect a consensus of scientists or historians to sit up and take notice. You might as well say “I do not accept the nonexistence of fairies.” It’s not a particularly profound thing to say.

          • If all we had was a bodily appearance to one person, yes, most people would think it something else, most likely a hallucination, which is not the same as a delusion. That is not all we have. We have group appearances, which is more difficult to explain, as well as people being willing to join a movement that would be considered deviant.

            Would they be interested in evidence? If people were joining a deviant movement that would cut them off from their society, especially if those were the middle and upper class, they certainly would be!

            How do we know the movement was seen as a threat? We have Paul’s testimony that he saw it as worth persecuting which would include to the point of death, and then we have the testimony of Acts.

            And as for the supernatural/natural distinction, your position was against supernatural agency, but this term I really see makes no sense whatsoever. If you want to be skeptical of it, then feel free to give the criteria for what is natural and what is supernatural. If not, then it’s simply a meaningless claim.

          • We don’t have a group appearance. We have a 2000 year old letter, claiming that a nice round 500 people had seen Jesus together; but we don’t know what they saw exactly, what the experience was like, who Paul heard it from. This isn’t evidence, it’s religious hearsay – not unlike the girl’s who told Cotton Mather: “I saw Goody Pritchet with the devil!”

            If Albert Einstein had written that 500 people saw Jesus, few people would take this as evidence, much less a 2000 year old writer.

            If Paul saw Christianity as worth persecuting (again, it all seems to be based on this one man’s word), I wonder why he didn’t go searching for the body? That doesn’t even seem to be recorded in Acts (which is as late a writing as the gospels).

            Well you can define supernatural anyway you like – but it’s clearly obvious from your context that among whatever other things it might mean, supernatural means dead people coming back to life!

            Sorry, I outgrew fairies a long time ago.

          • Actually, we do have group appearances. Either Paul is lying about a claim that he wants people to go check up on, or he’s mistaken about a claim that was being repeated throughout all the churches from the original apostles himself, or something happened. If a theory means denying a piece of data just because it’s problematic, then that is not a good theory to have.

            Why should i also care what Einstein wrote? Great scientist, but why think he’d be an authority on history?

            We have no record Paul did not search for the body but even if he didn’t, there would be a good reason. The reason you use today I suspect. It’s just obvious nonsense. He would have known the claims of a blasphemer to YHWH being seen as the Messiah as bad enough.

            As for Acts, at this point I date it to before 70 A.D. For an oral society, any time in the first century would still be quite good.

            It also won’t help to define supernatural any way you like. After all, I can say supernatural is things that are incompatible with a non-Christian worldview which would make you be begging the question at issue. I think if you use the term, you should define it.

            I however, abandoned endarkenment thinking years ago.

          • Actually we don’t have group appearances; we have a report of group appearances from someone who wasn’t there, and you have no idea how often it had been repeated by whom or to whom when Paul heard it. If a theory means making up data, then it’s not a good theory to have.

            Good point about Einstein – and why would I care what a 2000 year old writer says about an event he didn’t witness?

            Hey, I agree that manyJews (especially those with little exposure to Greek pagan traditions) would have seen resurrection claims as nonsense. Thanks for making my point. Why would any of them have any interest in showing Christians where the body of Jesus was buried (if anyone even knew).

            Forget the term “supernatural” if you have such semantic problems with it. I couldn’t care less about the word.

            What the heck is “endarkenment thinking”?

            You believe in dead people coming to life based on 2000 year old letters. I stopped believing in fairies a long time ago.

          • Actually, we do have dates on the creed in 1 Cor. 15. Normally, 5 years after the event is the latest the creed is placed at and it is certainly not Pauline save the part at the end where he includes himself. This would be knowledge that would be put out regularly in the churches where they could be challenged on. The people would be known (And 500 is an approximation) and Paul has his opponents in Corinth so why make up something that those going to Jerusalem could find out was false? Once again, if your theory can’t explain the data, it’s easier to say they were lying.

            An event Paul didn’t witness. Okay. Then let’s throw out the parts of Tacitus that he didn’t witness as well. Let’s throw out Plutarch’s biographies that he didn’t witness. If we went by this standard we’d lose much of ancient history.

            Why would they want to show where Jesus was buried? To make sure the movement stayed dead and to shame the Christians. Also, if you have a case that he wasn’t buried, feel free to present it. If he was buried and it had just been even weeks ago, the Sanhedrin would know where it was.

            And as for supernatural, are you saying you used a term you don’t know the meaning of or have no definition of? I could just as well say it shows a bias on your part. Once again, bias cuts both ways.

            Endarkenment thinking? Just think about it. It’s not that hard to figure out.

            I also don’t believe based on old letters but on reading the best scholarship out there I can find. Yes. That means reading both sides of the issues. Now if you want to think a resurrection is just like fairies, you need to make the metaphysical case why that is so. I don’t just take it on the basis of atheistic presuppositionalism.

          • Nick, you’re very good at addressing arguments that I never made; so I won’t bother addressing your straw men. A case that Jesus wasn’t buried? Throwing out all second hand reports? Whoever you’re talking to, it isn’t me.

            What Paul heard may well have been a creed established five years earlier – though this requires quite a bit of supposition, and real historians don’t make the mistake of calling such theories “facts”. But that doesn’t make whatever “event” it was based on any clearer. I’ve stood in Pentacostal churches, watching participants calling out shared visions and “words from the spirit”, caught up in the fervor of the experience, and I see no reason such an event couldn’t be the origin of the Pauline “creed”; religious stories of events always grow with the telling as the conflicting accounts of gospels stories demonstrate quite clearly. It doesn’t require outright lying; just fervent religious storytelling with embellishments.

            But that’s just one supposition. The fact of the matter is that historian’s know very little about the origins of the Pauline creed. But a fervent religious gathering with charismatic elements is a far more likely origin for the Pauline creed than a dead man coming back to life.

            I’m glad you brought up Tacitus. Do historians “throw out” each portion of Tacitus’s histories that he didn’t personally witness. Well, not when it is a probable description of possible events and can be corroborated with other historical sources. Most would consider Tacitus’s report of the crucifixion of Jesus as a good secondary source. But no historians believe that the Emperor Vespasian could perform healing miracles based on Tacitus’s reports. In fact you can add the independent reports of Suetonius and Cassius Dio to Tacitus and historians still do not consider them as evidence of Vespasian miracles – for the very simple reason that supernatural explanations are not taken seriously by historians, though they would certainly be interested in the sources for such superstitions. They wouldn’t “throw it out, but they would contextualize it.

            I know the meaning of supernatural, though you seem more worried about the word than I am. It’s fairly clear that you are the only person in this conversation with hangups over definitions. Yes, I looked up endarkenment. That makes sense; you do sound like someone who would oddly resent the term enlightenment.

            And yes, I do equate fairies, witches, demons, angels, miracles, and resurrections. It only requires a simple dictionary definition of “supernatural” to do so.

          • Paul E.

            You, sir, are a far more patient man than I!

          • There is more “Jesus” scholarship available than for almost any other person in history – for obvious reasons – the ubiquity of Christianity.

            But there’s only so much a 2000 year old letter can tell us, no matter how many “scholarly” papers speculate about context, background, intent, etc. Apologists will point to all the speculation (as Nick does) and call it “fact”, something that no respectable scholar would do.

            Despite all the speculation, all we have are surmises and guesses about what Paul is referring to in 1 Corinthians 15. It is clearly an event he didn’t witness himself; many ancient historians referred to supernatural events unquestioningly. It is not an uncommon thing to find in ancient writings. If the event Paul refers to had an origin, it was probably not unlike many fervant religious gatherings where one participant claims a vision, which is then mimicked by all the other participants. In Salem, Mass, the citizens all began crying against their neighbors, “I saw Goody ” with the devil! I saw Goodman ” with devil” mimicking the same formulaic vision experience, much to the amazement of the witch hunting court.

            Nick’s (and Licona’s) insistence that a dead man coming to life is the best explanation of Paul’s obscure writing, is so patently absurd, they have to surround it with scholarly writings about the text to defend their “conclusion”, despite the fact that virtually none of these scholarly writings support the same absurd conclusion.

            I annoy him by comparing his resurrection to fairy and witch tales, and all Nick can do then is obfuscate by proposing that dead men coming to life (and healing miracles, and anything else biblical) is somehow defined differently than other magical and superstitious tales.

            Somehow, he thinks that his “metaphysical” distinction makes miracles and dead men coming to life more rational than other superstitions.

            But anyone can see that the emporer has no clothes. Religious magic, like all magic, looks just as ridiculous.

          • But there’s only so much a 2000 year old letter can tell us, no matter how many “scholarly” papers speculate about context, background, intent, etc

            Exactly correct.

            The Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination does not become a high definition video just because lots of experts study it. No matter how many times the individual frames are enlarged, the pixels simply are not there.

            One of the things I find amusing about the minimal facts approach is that real historians are always poring over the early sources in the hopes of finding something that other historians have missed or misunderstood. Habermas and Licona, on the other hand, claim that the value of their approach is that they focus on what other scholars have already concluded while avoiding the early sources upon.which those conclusions are based.

            Regarding group appearances, when I was in Catholic elementary school in the 1960’s, the nuns would tell us about the appearances of the Virgin Mary to tens of thousands at Fatima. At the time I heard the stories, some of the original witnesses were still alive, but none of my teachers ever talked to any of them. They were simply passing along stories about which they had never thought critically, but which they believed to be true.

          • Yes, the “miracle of Fatima” may be the best known and biggest example of the sort of pseudo “group appearances” that minimal facts proponents tell us are impossible. But I saw similar group experiences take place regularly at the Pentacostal church I once attended. A little religious fervor and peer pressure is all that is required to make the emperor’s clothes appear.

          • I also think that it illustrates the unreliability of stories told by true believers decades after the fact. There may have been tens of thousands present for the “Miracle of the Sun,” but only a few left first hand reports. Of those, many didn’t agree on what they saw and some said they didn’t see anything. Of course that didn’t stop the nuns from telling me that thousands of people saw the Virgin Mary.

          • Beau: Nick, you’re very good at addressing arguments that I never made; so I won’t bother addressing your straw men. A case that Jesus wasn’t buried? Throwing out all second hand reports? Whoever you’re talking to, it isn’t me.

            Reply: Actually, it is you. You made a claim about Paul not being an eyewitness. So what is your standard for accepting an eyewitness claim? Is it if it agrees with your worldview? As for burial, notice I said “If.” You have not made your case known and my saying “if” indicates I do not know if you hold to burial or not. I know scholars like Crossan and Ehrman deny the burial.

            Beau: What Paul heard may well have been a creed established five years earlier – though this requires quite a bit of supposition, and real historians don’t make the mistake of calling such theories “facts”. But that doesn’t make whatever “event” it was based on any clearer. I’ve stood in Pentacostal churches, watching participants calling out shared visions and “words from the spirit”, caught up in the fervor of the experience, and I see no reason such an event couldn’t be the origin of the Pauline “creed”; religious stories of events always grow with the telling as the conflicting accounts of gospels stories demonstrate quite clearly. It doesn’t require outright lying; just fervent religious storytelling with embellishments.

            Reply: Except it really doesn’t work in the case of the Gospels. For instance, Paul’s account includes multiple mass appearances. The Gospels do not include those. If anything, if we were going by order of writing, Mark would tone it down some. As for the opinion that this started with just a religious experience of some sort like at a Pentecostal church, well if you want to say middle and upper class Christians would join a deviant sect opposed to the emperor that would give them no present benefits and cost them their current present ones including their loss of honor based on that without checking up on the facts themselves when they had the means to, go right ahead.

            Beau: But that’s just one supposition. The fact of the matter is that historian’s know very little about the origins of the Pauline creed. But a fervent religious gathering with charismatic elements is a far more likely origin for the Pauline creed than a dead man coming back to life.

            Reply: Actually, we do. We know it is not original with Paul. We know it points to a tradition going around in the early church. We know it is early. Since Paul is here using this as a case for his position at the start, he’s stating that the claim he is making can be known and backed by eyewitnesses who are available for questioning. This is not something about getting caught up in religious experiences. A religious experience however, would have Jesus having divine exaltation. It would not involve bodily resurrection.

            Beau: I’m glad you brought up Tacitus. Do historians “throw out” each portion of Tacitus’s histories that he didn’t personally witness. Well, not when it is a probable description of possible events and can be corroborated with other historical sources. Most would consider Tacitus’s report of the crucifixion of Jesus as a good secondary source. But no historians believe that the Emperor Vespasian could perform healing miracles based on Tacitus’s reports. In fact you can add the independent reports of Suetonius and Cassius Dio to Tacitus and historians still do not consider them as evidence of Vespasian miracles – for the very simple reason that supernatural explanations are not taken seriously by historians, though they would certainly be interested in the sources for such superstitions. They wouldn’t “throw it out, but they would contextualize it.

            Reply: Tacitus himself was suspicious of the claim which is important to realize. Also, there was advantage in this case to the story. It happened in a city that was quite quick to proclaim Vespasian when he was rising to the throne and would have thus received special privileges. Such did not exist with Christianity.

            Beau: I know the meaning of supernatural, though you seem more worried about the word than I am. It’s fairly clear that you are the only person in this conversation with hangups over definitions. Yes, I looked up endarkenment. That makes sense; you do sound like someone who would oddly resent the term enlightenment.

            Reply: Yes. I do think it’s important to define words. You say you know the definition. Fine. Feel free to give it. Oh by the way, fairies doesn’t annoy me. It only confirms for me when atheistic presuppositionalists think saying “Fairies” counts as an argument. So no. You don’t annoy me. You just make me laugh.

            Beau: And yes, I do equate fairies, witches, demons, angels, miracles, and resurrections. It only requires a simple dictionary definition of “supernatural” to do so.

            Reply: It requires a false distinction that’s a hangover from Endarkenment thinking. I find too many items don’t fit clearly into one category or the other. Destroy the false dichotomy and the problem disappears.

          • Nick, I’m not sure you thought carefully through your first response. You said, “You made a claim about Paul not being an eyewitness. So what is your standard for accepting an eyewitness claim? Is it if it agrees with your worldview.”

            Nick, what are you talking about? My “standard” for accepting an eyewitness, would at the very least require that the person is, well, actually an eyewitness! Paul was not an eyewitness to the appearance event of 1 Corinthians 15. He doesn’t even claim to be an eyewitness. There aren’t any scholars who theorize that he was an eyewitness. It’s a simple fact. It has nothing to do with my worldview.

            What doesn’t really work in the case of the Gospels? Multiple mass appearances?

            As for what middle and upper class Christians might or might not do in the 1st century – you’re the one inventing a very special scenario of highly skeptical citizens only willing to follow a new religion if it benefits them monetarily or if they corroborated a man rising from the dead. We still have middle and upper class citizens today throwing away their time and money on such ludicrous claims as Harold Camping’s end times prophecies. And as VinnyJH pointed out, there were plenty of nuns and other catholics passing on the story of the “miracle” of Fatima, without questioning the witnesses. Most religions succeed in attracting fervant and unskeptical followers from the upper classes without the need for “proofs” or fringe benefits.

            You haven’t really told us much about the origins of the Pauline Creed. Certainly nothing to counter my point that we know very little. Early? Didn’t originate with Paul? Passed around churches? Sorry, but that’s very little. Certainly not evidence that a dead man came back to life.

            So which is it? Tacitus was suspicious of the Vespasian miracles or he saw advantage in proclaiming them? Whatever you “realize”, historians differ on Tacitus’s report of these miracles. What is beyond dispute is that most ancient historians, from Plutarch to Herodotus, report miracle tales without skepticism, and historians do not take them as evidence for the miraculous. Only religious apologists take ancient miracle reports as evidence of ancient miracles (but only the miracles in their own religious canon, of course).

            Do I really need to quote Webster?

            Supernatural

            1 of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil

            2 a : departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature

            b : attributed to an invisible agent (as a ghost or spirit)

            My definition is in the dictionary; I think you are the one inventing a new definition for supernatural – I wonder what it could be?

            As for as me making you laugh – you’re welcome.

          • Beau: Nick, I’m not sure you thought carefully through your first response. You said, “You made a claim about Paul not being an eyewitness. So what is your standard for accepting an eyewitness claim? Is it if it agrees with your worldview.”

            Nick, what are you talking about? My “standard” for accepting an eyewitness, would at the very least require that the person is, well, actually an eyewitness! Paul was not an eyewitness to the appearance event of 1 Corinthians 15. He doesn’t even claim to be an eyewitness. There aren’t any scholars who theorize that he was an eyewitness. It’s a simple fact. It has nothing to do with my worldview.

            Reply: Yes. There was a mistype there. I am not arguing Paul was an eyewitness. I am arguing he is passing on eyewitness testimony. Now we all know that if we only went by eyewitness testimony, we’d know very very little about the ancient world. (And if we went by only it today, we’d solve very few crimes.)

            Beau: What doesn’t really work in the case of the Gospels? Multiple mass appearances?

            Reply: What doesn’t work is embellishments. If any account would be the strongest, it’s Paul with an appearance to 500. That’s nowhere in the Gospels. The Gospel appearance stories are mundane by comparison.

            Beau: As for what middle and upper class Christians might or might not do in the 1st century – you’re the one inventing a very special scenario of highly skeptical citizens only willing to follow a new religion if it benefits them monetarily or if they corroborated a man rising from the dead. We still have middle and upper class citizens today throwing away their time and money on such ludicrous claims as Harold Camping’s end times prophecies. And as VinnyJH pointed out, there were plenty of nuns and other catholics passing on the story of the “miracle” of Fatima, without questioning the witnesses. Most religions succeed in attracting fervant and unskeptical followers from the upper classes without the need for “proofs” or fringe benefits.

            Reply: Today we live in an individualistic society instead of an honor/shame society. In Jesus’s day, you would be joining a deviant movement and setting yourself up on the outs with the emperor and society and losing all position you had in a marketplace that did not tolerate new ideas.

            Beau: You haven’t really told us much about the origins of the Pauline Creed. Certainly nothing to counter my point that we know very little. Early? Didn’t originate with Paul? Passed around churches? Sorry, but that’s very little. Certainly not evidence that a dead man came back to life.

            Reply: The creed is not from him and believed to be what he received at his first visit in Jerusalem from the apostles themselves and thus pre-dated even that. The people cited in it would be seen as eyewitnesses who could back the claim of resurection.

            Beau: So which is it? Tacitus was suspicious of the Vespasian miracles or he saw advantage in proclaiming them? Whatever you “realize”, historians differ on Tacitus’s report of these miracles. What is beyond dispute is that most ancient historians, from Plutarch to Herodotus, report miracle tales without skepticism, and historians do not take them as evidence for the miraculous. Only religious apologists take ancient miracle reports as evidence of ancient miracles (but only the miracles in their own religious canon, of course).

            Reply: I would have no problem with a miracle being true outside of my religion. If Vespasian had healed someone, that’s fine with me. I said Tacitus was suspicious of the claim and probably didn’t believe it, but the people of the city where the miracle took place certainly had reason to purport that Vespasian was a healer and it did benefit them.

            What benefit were the apostles getting?

            Beau: Do I really need to quote Webster?

            Supernatural

            1 of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil

            2 a : departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature

            b : attributed to an invisible agent (as a ghost or spirit)

            My definition is in the dictionary; I think you are the one inventing a new definition for supernatural – I wonder what it could be?

            Reply: Yes. Let’s start with the first one. There are realities most of us believe in that aren’t visible and observable and not physical even. Realities like numbers or moral truth claims, etc. I could argue that existence itself would fit since we don’t really observe existence but existing things. We don’t observe triangularity but triangles. Where do these kinds of realities fit in? Are they natural or supernatural?

          • It’s odd that you say we’d solve very few crimes with only eyewitness testimony in this context. Because the alternative you offer in 1 Corinthians 15 is hearsay, which is rarely admissible in court. It’s true that we solve crimes with evidence other than eyewitness, but hearsay is rarely used to solve crimes.

            Yes, of course historians build upon second, and even third and fourth hand reports, to understand the past. But as I’ve already pointed out, historians weigh all reports against corrobating evidence, other reports, and knowledge of what’s possible. As I’ve already pointed out, historians don’t take ancient reports of miracles as evidence of ancient miracles. Only religious apologists do that.

            It’s still not clear to me how comparing the gospel account to the Pauline account serves your argument that a dead man came back to life. Paul’s “evidence” of resurrection isn’t made any better by pointing out worse “evidence”.

            To whatever extent “honor/shame” is a useful generalization about ancient societies, it’s also clear that ancient societies were rampant with a plethora of religious cults and superstitions, whose appeal was not a modern cost/benefit analysis.

            Yes, there are lots of speculations about the origins of the Pauline creed. What we know amounts to very little.

            What benefit were the apostles getting? Who knows? Maybe they liked the power and support of having followers. Maybe they believed their own pentacostal experiences, as my pentacostal friends do today. Such speculation hardly evidences the resurrection of the dead.

            So you are now confusing concepts like numbers, morality, and triangles with the supernatural? Somehow this doesn’t seem to iron out the differnence between fairy tales and resurrection tales.

            I still think Behan McCullough puts it best:

            “The hypothesis that God exists and cared about Jesus is of questionable plausibility; the hypothesis that he wanted to raise Jesus from the dead and reveal him to the disciples and others is almost entirely ad hoc.”

            McCullagh, C. Behan (2012) ‘The Resurrection of Jesus: Explanation or Interpretation?’ Southeastern Theological Review Vol.3 No. 1: 41-53

          • Beau: It’s odd that you say we’d solve very few crimes with only eyewitness testimony in this context. Because the alternative you offer in 1 Corinthians 15 is hearsay, which is rarely admissible in court. It’s true that we solve crimes with evidence other than eyewitness, but hearsay is rarely used to solve crimes.

            Reply: 1 Cor. 15 points to earlier eyewitnesses that would have been known in the community. In a church where Paul had his opponents, he’s going to be careful to make sure that he doesn’t spread information that is knowingly false. Again, this hearsay evidence is enough to lead scholars to think the apostles did have an experience they thought was seeing the risen Christ.

            Beau:Yes, of course historians build upon second, and even third and fourth hand reports, to understand the past. But as I’ve already pointed out, historians weigh all reports against corrobating evidence, other reports, and knowledge of what’s possible. As I’ve alr eady pointed out, historians don’t take ancient reports of miracles as evidence of ancient miracles. Only religious apologists do that.

            Reply: This assumes there can be no evidence of a miracle or that miracles cannot happen. Why should I think any of those are true?

            Beau: It’s still not clear to me how comparing the gospel account to the Pauline account serves your argument that a dead man came back to life. Paul’s “evidence” of resurrection isn’t made any better by pointing out worse “evidence”.

            Reply: You claimed embellishment happened. If so, why is the most primitive account the most advanced account?

            Beau: To whatever extent “honor/shame” is a useful generalization about ancient societies, it’s also clear that ancient societies were rampant with a plethora of religious cults and superstitions, whose appeal was not a modern cost/benefit analysis.

            Reply: Actually, this is not clear at all. People found all manner of benefits by belonging to the other cults. Christianity meanwhile offered no temporal benefits and offered plenty of temporal costs. Also, honor/shame is not a generalization. It is a simple fact. This can be found in scholars like Witherington, Neyrey, Malina, Pilch, Richards, Jeffers, DeSilva, O’Brien, etc.

            Beau: Yes, there are lots of speculations about the origins of the Pauline creed. What we know amounts to very little.

            Reply: Do you have a reply to what was said? Doubt is not an argument.

            Beau: benefit were the apostles getting? Who knows? Maybe they liked the power and support of having followers. Maybe they believed their own pentacostal experiences, as my pentacostal friends do today. Such speculation hardly evidences the resurrection of the dead.

            Reply: You’re still assuming the idea of Pentecostal experiences. I have no reason to believe it. As for power, what power? They were setting themselves up against Rome and ostracizing themselves from their Jewish community. Why would they do something like that?

            Beau: So you are now confusing concepts like numbers, morality, and triangles with the supernatural? Somehow this doesn’t seem to iron out the differnence between fairy tales and resurrection tales.

            Reply: No. I’m not. I’m asking upon what grounds should I not consider numbers, morality, triangularity, and existence to be supernatural? This is part of the problem with the dichotomy.

            Beau: I still think Behan McCullough puts it best:

            “The hypothesis that God exists and cared about Jesus is of questionable plausibility; the hypothesis that he wanted to raise Jesus from the dead and reveal him to the disciples and others is almost entirely ad hoc.”

            McCullagh, C. Behan (2012) ‘The Resurrection of Jesus: Explanation or Interpretation?’ Southeastern Theological Review Vol.3 No. 1: 41-53

            Reply: I would like to get to track down the article for myself, but at this point I can say that McCullagh knows history, but not metaphysics. That is the area where we determine if the argument for God is of questionable plausibility or not.

          • Hi Nick

            Your “solving crimes” analogy clearly doesn’t apply to hearsay, but I’ll let that go. Actually scholars differ on what the appearance experience might have consisted of. We have the direct testimony (with names) of quite a few witnesses from Salem, Mass. who saw the devil in 1692, often in groups together. Renowned men such as the emminent theologian and scholar Cotton Mather and Judge John Hawthorne (great great grandfather of Nathaniel Hawthorne), heard their testimony and believed them.

            Clearly you do believe that supernatural events occur; and it doesn’t take much in the way of evidence to convince you. I doubt I could dissuade you. I am just grateful that the vast consensus of historical scholarship does not engage is such apologetic efforts.

            Perhaps the Pauline account has “500 witnesses”, but I’m not sure by what standard that is more “advanced” or “embellished”. If you don’t see tales of dead saints traipsing about Jerusalem, fish miracles, angels appearing, Jesus rising to the heavens in full sight of disciples, as “embellishments” then I won’t argue the point. But neither do I see how the odd differences between the Pauline and gospel accounts could possibly serve your argument.

            I provided the definition of supernatural, that you demanded of me. You have yet to return the favor. How do you define supernatural in such a way that Salem witches are less plausible than 1st century resurrections?

            The rest of your responses are merely retreading the weak groud we’ve already covered. I think you’ll find that the Licona/Habermas approach will continue to prove completely unconvincing to the vast majority of historical scholars.

          • Beau: Your “solving crimes” analogy clearly doesn’t apply to hearsay, but I’ll let that go. Actually scholars differ on what the appearance experience might have consisted of. We have the direct testimony (with names) of quite a few witnesses from Salem, Mass. who saw the devil in 1692, often in groups together. Renowned men such as the emminent theologian and scholar Cotton Mather and Judge John Hawthorne (great great grandfather of Nathaniel Hawthorne), heard their testimony and believed them.

            Reply: By all means feel free to produce the evidence then for the Salem witch trials. I’ll be glad to see it and compare the accounts. I also do know scholars differ. Ludemann tries to tie the 500 to Pentecost, though I understand he has since abandoned that position.

            Beau:Clearly you do believe that supernatural events occur; and it doesn’t take much in the way of evidence to convince you. I doubt I could dissuade you. I am just grateful that the vast consensus of historical scholarship does not engage is such apologetic efforts.

            Reply: How could I believe in supernatural events when I think supernatural is a misnomer and the term is essentially meaningless. Note I could say “Clearly you disbelieve in the miraculous and no amount of evidence will convince you.” That would not change the data at all.

            Beau: Perhaps the Pauline account has “500 witnesses”, but I’m not sure by what standard that is more “advanced” or “embellished”. If you don’t see tales of dead saints traipsing about Jerusalem, fish miracles, angels appearing, Jesus rising to the heavens in full sight of disciples, as “embellishments” then I won’t argue the point. But neither do I see how the odd differences between the Pauline and gospel accounts could possibly serve your argument.

            Reply: We’re talking about the resurrection accounts. We’re not talking about the whole of the accounts in general. For the resurrection of the saints, I remain undecided as to if that’s apocalyptic or literal and seeing as that’s the focus of my Master’s research at the moment, I choose to comment no further on that one.

            For the ascension, that account takes place in Acts.

            Why is the resurrection account greater in Paul? It involves a physical body appearing to multiple groups and to multiple individuals.

            Beau: I provided the definition of supernatural, that you demanded of me. You have yet to return the favor. How do you define supernatural in such a way that Salem witches are less plausible than 1st century resurrections?

            Reply: Still missing the point. I don’t hold to a natural/supernatural distinction and I think supernatural is a term that should be removed from our vocabulary. Why would I have a definition of it. Meanwhile, your idea of it is still problematic seeing as it doesn’t leave a proper place for morality, numbers, triangularity, and existence. Why hold to a concept like the fake dichotomy if it cannot explain such realities?

            Beau: The rest of your responses are merely retreading the weak groud we’ve already covered. I think you’ll find that the Licona/Habermas approach will continue to prove completely unconvincing to the vast majority of historical scholars.

            Reply: Duly noted no response is given to the idea of metaphysical data. I also am more interested in what the data shows since I am aware bias cuts both ways.

          • Nick, I don’t have to “produce the evidence” for the direct testimony of devil witnesses at the Salem trials. What a silly demand. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of early American history knows that the Salem witch trial testimony exists; it’s a simple fact that you can look up yourself. The obvious point is that it is direct testimony; something completely lacking for Jesus resurrection. Yet I can think of noone who now believes there were actual witches in Salem.

            Since you still enjoy playing semantic games, I’ll rephrase – clearly you believe that dead people can come back to life, and it doesn’t take much in the way of evidence to convince you.

            I didn’t ask you to defend miracle accounts in the gospels. I just don’t see why bringing up differences between resurrection accounts in the gospels (or the related texts in Acts) and Paul helps your case in any way. There are multiple groups and individuals who see Jesus in the Acts and the gospels as well as Paul, so I still don’t see what is particularly “greater” about Paul’s account unless you’re counting the oddly round figure of 500. But, even granting that Paul’s account is “greater” (whatever that means), how does that support the case for the resurrection?

            No, you’re missing the point. You have completely failed to demonstrate why the miracle and magic stories of your own faith are categorically different (not to mention “truer”) than those of the thousands of other faith/mythology/superstition stories heard throughout the history of the world. Are you deliberately trying to be obtuse on the subject?

            The “data” certainly doesn’t show a resurrection. It shows a religion; like countless others seen throughout history.

          • Paul E.

            beau_quilter: I continue to be impressed with your patience in this discussion. In another thread, even our congenial host has lost patience with an IDer and used the phrase “dishonest garbage” in relation to claimed evidence of ID. While I certainly agree with McGrath’s opinion, I wonder how much good it does to use rhetoric like that regardless of its truth. Problem is, in discussions with apologists or IDers or flat-earthers, etc., basic issues of honesty, sooner or later, have to be addressed, don’t they? And when they do, and dishonesty is either not acknowledged or recognized, how can the discussion turn anything but ugly?

          • Do you think Nick Peters is being dishonest with us?

          • Paul E.

            I haven’t followed closely enough to make that claim as to him personally, as I am not certain on whom he relies. Certainly someone can have a sincere belief in a claim without an understanding that the claim is itself dishonest. My view of this discussion has been more general and my comment applied to the idea that the reanimation of a corpse can be claimed as a respectable historical explanation for the data we have of early Christianity. That claim, when applied within the confines of professional, public, rational-empirical enterprise such as history, is, in my opinion, dishonest per se.

          • I think Nick is probably sincere. But I do find value in bringing the argument continually back to dead men coming to life. I like the way you put it: “the idea that the reanimation of a corpse can be claimed as a respectable historical explanation for the data”.

            Too often this simple ridiculous notion is lost in obtuse language about “metaphysical data” and “natural/supernatural distinctions”.

          • Cornell Anthony

            beau

            Just because we have no explanation for the possibility of bringing a dead man back to life now, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t any. Science does not deal with absolutes, and science in the year of 2014 isn’t complete to the point where we have all the information about reality that one can possibility have.

            How stupid will everyone look IF humans of the future find a way to Resurrect people from the dead, so all you’re doing is making an argument from incredulity.why

            It’s just funny watching atheists jump to a radical version of scientific realism when it’s conveinent for them.

            Oh and before you ask, even if we find a natural explanation for raising dead people that doesn’t affect God, because God is natural, and that’s where Nick an I are going. However this is still a miracle, because at the time Jesus was Resurrected our species didn’t have this knowledge, but yet some other being did, and therefore this Being would be the explanation.

          • A very strange argument, you make, CS. I can’t think of anyone who is arguing that a first century scientist reanimated the dead corpse of Jesus. We may have flying cars in the future; that doesn’t make flying cars in the 1st century any more likely.

          • Cornell Anthony

            Not a 1st century scientist, a necessary being, unmoved mover, being of pure act, etc. that knows the physics of his own reality, so where I’m going with this is the fact if Theism is true, then the probability of this event happening goes up.

            The only other explanation I can come up with besides God, would be another group of intelligent species, perhaps what we would called aliens, though I wouldn’t understand their motive.

          • CS, you were the one who suggested that if humans could revive dead people in the future, it would somehow make a 1st century resurrection plausible. As I said, flying cars in the future don’t make flying cars in the 1st century any more plausible.

            But if what you really want to argue is a being who can change the “physics of his own reality”, then I think you are selling such a being short. If such a being exists, then literally anything is possible. Reviving dead corpses, healing amputees, dancing with fairies, visits from Santa Claus.

          • Cornell Anthony

            BEAU, there isn’t any changing of his own physics, it’s moreso the fact we don’t know everything there is about physics and to say that dead people cannot be resurrected is an argument from incredulity. Years ago people thought cloning wasn’t possible, and that was proven to be false. Your line of thinking is flawed as you think that just because we don’t have the knowledge of bringing dead people back to life now, it therefore can not happen in the future, even if it takes us thousands of years. So you need to stop thinking that science in the 21st century is complete, because it isn’t.

            I also don’t see the correlation between raising dead corpses to fairies, so why don’t you explain that to me as it doesn’t look analogous.

            Flying cars aren’t analogous to raising people from the dead either, because cars are inanimate objects whilst humans aren’t, raising people from the dead would be something known in the medical field, whilst cars would have expertise in a non-medical field. So this analogy is very bad.

          • CS

            Then I’ll leave the analogy, since it appears to be going over your head. While science may very well revive dead people in the future, science will not revive dead people in the past unless you are proposing a time machine.

            I think it is your analogy that is flawed. Are you really proposing that God brought the corpse of Jesus to life using futuristic medical science?

          • Cornell Anthony

            He brought Jesus back to life using knowledge that WE HAVEN’T DISCOVERED YET. This is a big difference

            Take for instance the fact that someone in the 14th century could have used and iPhone if they had the knowledge of making it, there knowledge wouldn’t depend on a future scientist sending it back through time, it depends on whether or not the knowledge was accessible to them. Discoveries are not the same thing as inventions.

            And your analogy is still flawed, human anatomy is vastly different from mechanical cars, for instance cars are inanimate objects. Analogies need to be analogous in order to work, yours isn’t analogous therefore it doesn’t work.

          • Very well, CS. You contend that there is a God with the “knowledge” to bring a dead corpse back to life in the 1st century; and that if human scientists are able to duplicate this “knowledge” in the future, that will somehow bolster your theory?

          • Cornell Anthony

            Correct, though I still have to concede the fact that some other intelligent species far beyond us would also be a possibility. All and all it’s a bit too hasty to state that dead people can’t be brought back to life

          • Very interesting. Thank you for clarifying, CS

          • Beau: Nick, I don’t have to “produce the evidence” for the direct testimony of devil witnesses at the Salem trials. That testimony exists; it’s a simple fact that you can look up yourself. The obvious point is that it is direct testimony; something completely lacking for Jesus resurrection. Yet I can think of noone who now believes there were actual witches in Salem.

            Reply: Oh I know about the claims. I just figured you might have a specific source or book you considered authoritative on the issue.

            Beau:Since you still enjoy playing semantic games, I’ll rephrase – clearly you believe that dead people can come back to life, and it doesn’t take much in the way of evidence to convince you.

            Reply: Since this relates to a miraculous event, then I could just as well say something back. “Clearly you disbelieve in miraculous events and no amount of evidence will convince you.” Looking at presuppositions and supposed mindsets of people will not change the data however.

            Beau: I didn’t ask you to defend miracle accounts in the gospels. I just don’t see why bringing up differences between resurrection accounts in the gospels (or the related texts in Acts) and Paul helps your case in any way. There are multiple groups and individuals who see Jesus in the Acts and the gospels as well as Paul, so I still don’t see what is particularly “greater” about Paul’s account unless you’re counting the oddly round figure of 500. But, even granting that Paul’s account is “greater” (whatever that means), how does that support the case for the resurrection?

            Reply: The multiple groups in Acts and the Gospels are not as grand as the ones in Paul. There you have an appearance of 500. I brought it up because you spoke of embellishments. Let’s see how this would work.

            Paul has an appearance to Cephas, to the twelve, then to the 500, then to James, then to the apostles, then to Paul. That’s six appearances, three of whom are to groups.

            Let’s see. Mark, the first account has….zero appearances. Not even the women see him in Mark.

            Matthew has the women and then the eleven.

            Luke has the women, then the two on the road to Emmaus, then the disciples. Acts has still just the disciples.

            John has Mary, then the disciples, then the disciples plus Thomas. If you add in JOhn 21, there’s one more appearance.

            None of those are as numerous or as grand as the ones in Paul. Odd for embellishment.

            Beau: No, you’r e missin g the point. You have completely failed to demonstrate why the miracle and magic stories of your own faith are categorically different (not to mention “truer”) than those of the thousands of other faith/mythology/superstition stories heard throughout the history of the world. Are you deliberately trying to be obtuse on the subject?

            Reply: No. Not at all. I’m not saying anything about those stories. In fact, those stories don’t trouble me. Suppose Apollonius actually did some miracles. Okay. So what? That would disprove the resurrection of Jesus or Christianity how? In fact, if anything, it would give more credibility since that would show miracles are possible. I have no problem with miracles in other religions. I have no problem with Muslims or Hindus or others getting prayers for healings answered. I just wonder what it is I am to draw from this. For the resurrection, I have data I find convincing, backed by metaphysical principles I find backable, and with a clear meaning to the resurrection as the vindication of the claims of Jesus.

            Go ahead and argue for miracles in other religions. Grant them and my case is still there. Yet if we granted them, would your metaphysical case be there? Chesterton was right. The theist believes in a miracle (Rightly or wrongly) Because of the evidence. The skeptic disbelieves in them (Rightly or wrongly) because he has a dogma against them.

            And if you do have a dogma against them, don’t you think you should back that instead of assuming it?

            Beau: The “data” certainly doesn’t show a resurrection. It shows a religion; like countless others seen throughout history.

            Reply: Just like countless others? Countless other novel religions rose up in an ancient honor/shame society that featured crucified messiahs, challenged the Roman Empire, would have involved claims that would have been embarrassing to the teachers, and came out of a strictly monotheistic culture?

            I wouldn’t mind seeing these countless others.

          • Nick

            If you’re really interested in the Salem witch trials, you can find the transcripts of the court records and contemporary accounts online. the HeinOnline Legal Classics Library is a good place to start. But since you already know that direct testimony exists from devil witnesses in Salem, why do you need more “authority”? My point was simply that no such direct testimony exists in the case of Jesus’s resurrection.

            I generally do disbelieve in miraculous claims, not in spite of evidence, but rather because of the dearth of evidence.

            I see. You define “embellishments” as numbers of people. For some odd reason you take great issue with my referring to the additional miracle stories surrounding the resurrection in the gospels and Acts as “embellishments”. Ok. I still have no idea why the semantics of the word “embellishments” is so important to you. You seem to be arguing over a meaningless point, instead of addressing the central question; how on earth do the differences between Paul and the gospels/Acts make the resurrection more plausible?

            Actually, Nick, I don’t grant the magical claims of other religions, for reasons of the same complete lack of evidence (both contemporary and ancient). But it’s very interesting that you do. Maybe that’s why my Salem witch trial example doesn’t worry you. Maybe you believe the citizens of Salem were actually witches and deserved their hangings.

            Your last reply is just weird. I said that there were countless religions, not countless religions exactly like Christianity (all religions have unique attributes). And yes quite a few persecuted by Rome at various times: the Bachanals, the Druids, the Jews, among other others. Of course, when Christianity became the state religion of Rome, any religion deemed “pagan” was outlawed and persecuted.

          • Beau: Nick

            If you’re really interested in the Salem witch trials, you can find the transcripts of the court records and contemporary accounts online. the HeinOnline Legal Classics Library is a good place to start. But since you already know that direct testimony exists from devil witnesses in Salem, why do you need more “authority”? My point was simply that no such direct testimony exists in the case of Jesus’s resurrection.

            Reply: Actually, you misunderstand authority. There can be numerous accounts of an event. I was just asking if there was one account you considered to be reliable or not. Now for me, eyewitness testimony of witches or other such things would not be a problem. I suspect they are for you. With the resurrection, we still have the data that must be explained and I’ve given my reasons for trusting the creed. The main objections I’ve seen have been guilt by association.

            Beau: I generally do disbelieve in miraculous claims, not in spite of evidence, but rather because of the dearth of evidence.

            Reply: Generally? Let’s see about that. Give a miraculous claim you believe in then and why.

            Beau: I see. You define “embellishments” as numbers of people. For some odd reason you take great issue with my referring to the additional miracle stories surrounding the resurrection in the gospels and Acts as “embellishments”. Ok. I still have no idea why the semantics of the word “embellishments” is so important to you. You seem to be arguing over a meaningless point.

            Reply: Oh my point was entirely about the resurrection accounts. If the appearance stories supposedly start off simple, why is the first one the one with the most bodily appearances and the most group appearances?

            Beau: Actuall y, Nick, I don’t grant the magical claims of other religions, for reasons of the same complete lack of evidence (both contemporary and ancient). But it’s very interesting that you do. Maybe I’ve that’s why my Salem witch trial example doesn’t worry you. Maybe you believe the citizens of Salem were actually witches and deserved their hangings.

            Reply: Actually, I don’t. I’ve had Muslims tell me they’ve been healed from cancer after praying. That’s not a problem for me. Now if you have a miracle meant to validate another religious system, please feel free to show it.

            Beau: Your last reply is just weird. I said that there were countless religions, not countless religions exactly like Christianity (all religions have unique attributes). And yes quite a few persecuted by Rome at various times: the Bachanals, the Druids, the Jews, among other others. Of course, when Christianity became the state religion of Rome, any religion deemed “pagan” was outlawed and persecuted.

            Reply: No interest in discussing if Christianity is true in hearing about what happened after Christianity had already been solidified. I’m interested in how it got there to begin with. It violated every social norm it could in an agonistic society, had a crucified Messiah, promised something that went against the norms of the culture and would have been seen as embarrassing, challenged the Roman Empire, and resulted in ostracism due to being seen as a deviant.

            It looks like most of your arguments are just guilt by association.

          • 1 Corinthians 15 doesn’t say that the appearances were “bodily.” For all we know, the appearances occurred in dreams. Moreover, as far as I can see, only the appearance to the five hundred is alleged to have been “at the same time.” For all we know, Paul understood Jesus to have appeared to the Twelve and to the Apostles individually.

            What needs to be explained is the evidence, which consists of mostly anonymous ancient texts containing fantastic stories, written decades after the events they purport to describe, based on unknown sources which are themselves removed an indeterminate number of times by oral tradition from the originators of the stories who may or may not have had any first hand knowledge of the events described. Trying to figure out what really happened based on such sources is like trying to figure out what really happened at Fatima based on the stories that the nuns told me in grade school. When the evidence is as problematic as it is here, any explanation will be little more than speculation and conjecture.

            What you call data is in fact a set of conclusions that have been cherry-picked by Habermas in order to sidestep the problems with the evidence. Even if there were any validity to such a methodology, until Habermas submits his database to peer review, there is no reason why anyone should bother trying to explain it.

          • With regard to 1 Cor. 15, have you read Gundry’s “Soma in Biblical Greek.”?

          • No. Does it contain additional information about the appearances?

          • I think he means Gundry’s “Soma in Biblical Theology”. Gundry is a retired professor and evangelical. He was taken to task by his fellow evangelicals for suggesting that Matthew tailored his gospel to his reader’s needs. In his defense, he argued that he still believed in the inerrancy of scripture.

          • I managed to find out that much about Gundry with Google. I didn’t run across anything about Gundry that seemed directly relevant to the point I made though.

          • Paul E.

            I haven’t followed the whole conversation here, so I’m not sure if this comment is on point. Nevertheless, if someone mentioned Gundry in the context of “soma,” then my guess is that the reference refers to Gundry’s argument contra Bultmann that when Paul used the term, he didn’t mean “whole body” in a sort of holistic sense, but meant more like a “thing.” Gundry was attempting to counter a more spiritual interpretation of Paul’s view of the term, I think. I’m not sure what the consensus is these days; McGrath would know. Nevertheless, it looked to me, Vinny, as though your comment was geared more toward the appearances mentioned in Paul, which makes the application of Gundry’s argument far more problematic than what Paul meant by soma. Even if you’d grant that soma had a “thingness” aspect to it (unclear), Paul used it metaphorically as well. And even if you’d grant that Paul could have used it more literally in the relevant contexts (unclear), it is unclear what “thingness” was at the time. I.e., does thingness or even physicality get confined to what we would call the physical world? Did pneuma have thingness? Or, e.g., ether, etc.? Was what we today would call “spirit” considered thingness? And even if you’d grant all the above (unclear), how does that apply to the appearances? Certainly, regardless of the use of the term soma, the appearances could have had a different aspect to them. Did even an evangelical like Gundry believe, for example, that Jesus appeared in flesh and blood to Paul, or was it more of an apparition appearance? So I may have just typed a lot that was not relevant to the conversation, but those are some of my thoughts relative to “soma.” It’s even more problematic than that, of course, but that’s part of the flavor, I think.

          • Thanks Paul. I thought it might be something like that and I think you have hit on the point that I would have tried to make had Nick responded. Regardless of Paul’s understanding of the resurrection body, he doesn’t say anything about the appearances being “bodily.”

          • It’s Gundry’s contention that the greek “soma” always refers to a physical body, and can’t mean simply person, or spiritual body.

          • That doesn’t seem to go to whether the appearances were visions or dreams.

          • I agree.

          • The point with the work is about the way the term body was understood. Unless you’re speaking clearly metaphorically, as in the church being the body of Christ, it refers to a physical reality. Hence, the body of believers in 1 Cor. 15 after the resurrection is physical and if Christ is the firstfruits, then His resurrection was also physical.

            Furthermore, Paul is a good Pharisee. He believes in resurrection which is bodily resurrection. The idea of a resurrection taking place and yet a body being left behind would make no sense. You could say the appearances were not really bodily, but Paul certainly believed they were.

          • In Acts 26, Christ appears as a light in the sky. In Matthew 2′ an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. That Paul believed in a physical resurrection doesn’t mean that the appearances were bodily. Even Licona admits that.

          • Jim

            Cameo appearances were for select audiences only (Acts 10.40-41). Everyone else was supposed to trust their story on faith. 🙂

          • Hi Nick

            Do you realize that you are making your position less clear, not more? Are you being purposefully offensive when you impune that I “misunderstand authority”? I have no problem with the fact that eyewitness testimony about seeing the devil was given by multiple witnesses at the Salem witch trial. But this does not entail that I believe that a mythological devil actually existed and appeared to these people. They were either lying, mistaken, hallucinating, or most likely caught up in a fervent, communal, religious event in which they convinced themselves that they had seen the devil (I’ve seen plenty of people do this to themselves at Pentacostal churches). I’m trying to be as clear as I can. Even an eyewitness of an event is not enough evidence that an event took place, if the event is impossible or ridiculously improbable. In the case of Jesus, of course, we don’t even have eyewitness reports – just one man’s report of eyewitness reports of seeing a man who was supposed to be a corpse. I can’t tell if you are being purposefully evasive in your response to this. You say that eyewitness testimony of witches would not be a problem for you, but then say later that you don’t believe the citizens of Salem were actually witches. I can’t tell what you’re saying. Are you saying that you don’t think eyewitness reports in Salem actually exist? or that they exist but you don’t believe them?

            Your other responses are equally obtuse. If I generally disbelieve miraculous claims because of the dearth of evidence, why would I “give a miraculous claim I believe in”. How does this make sense?

            And all of your discussion of numbers of witnesses was to argue that resurrection reports don’t start off simple? I don’t think you’re arguing against anyone’s “lynchpin”, and you seem to have contented yourself with a very “simple” definition of “simple”. Lot’s of people is complex? Multiple miracle stories are simple? Really? Even your long description of the various detailed appearance stories in the gospels and acts demonstrated their complexity. Paul’s mention of 500 witnesses is more complex? You have a very strange definition of complex.

            Your last paragraph is full of generalizations about early Christianity which are debatable and hardly evidence of the impossible or improbable resurrection of a particular corpse. Some of your generalizations seem to be aimed at the idea that early Christians wouldn’t follow a lie (presumably because of the “shame” and danger involved). I’m sure that most early Christians did believe. Even today, religious people sincerely believe crazy things that don’t provide any benefits and fly in the face of evidence to the contrary. The end times followers of Harold Camping may be the best example. From Paul’s writings, we can see that there were plenty of early Christians expecting the glorious return of Jesus in their own lifetime.

            “Guilt by association”? Who’s guilty of what?

          • Beau: Do you realize that you are making your position less clear, not more?

            Reply: Generally, it would be good to have some examples.

            Beau: Are you being purposefully offensive when you impune that I “misunderstand authority”?

            Reply: No. My statement is you misunderstand what I mean. Do you find it offensive to think you can misunderstand what someone else says? You were making a statement about the quality of the evidence. I was about the source of the evidence.

            Beau: I have no problem with the fact that eyewitness testimony about seeing the devil was given by multiple witnesses at the Salem witch trial. But this does not entail that I believe that a mythological devil actually existed and appeared to these people. They were either lying, hallucinating, or most likely caught up in a fervent, communal, religious event in which they convinced themselves that the y had se en the devil (I’ve seen plenty of people do this to themselves at Pentacostal churches).

            Reply: Sure. Maybe they were. This does not mean the resurrection appearances accepted by scholars are of the same quality. We need to deal with each claim on a case by case basis.

            Beau: I’m trying to be as clear as I can. Even an eyewitness of an event is not enough evidence that an event took place, if the event is impossible or ridiculously improbable.

            Reply: The last two claims have not been thoroughly established. You want to say miracles are impossible for instance. Okay. Just demonstrate it first. I can’t take it on faith.

            Beau: In the case of Jesus, of course, we don’t even have eyewitness reports – just one man’s report of eyewitness reports.

            Reply: Which means he was passing around information he knew was false ignorantly or knowingly or he was passing around information he believed was true but was false ignorantly or knowingly or he was passing around true accounts. Considering that he claims to know these eyewitnesses and says they are open for question, it’s hard to say that he was passing around a claim he knew would be found untrue upon the questioning of the witnesses. Also, he had plenty of opponents at this church. Is he going to be foolish enough to make a claim that could be easily disproven just by asking these people?

            Beau: I can’t tell if you are being purposefully evasive in your response to this. You say that eyewitness testimony of witches is would not be a problem for you, but then say later that you don’t believe the citizens of Salem were actually witnesses. I can’t tell what you’re saying. Are you saying that you don’t think eyewitness reports in Salem actually exist? or that they exist but you don’t believe them?

            Reply: No. I’m just saying I haven’t read the case there so I don’t make any comment until I thoroughly examine the history. Either way, it’s not a problem for me. If Salem’s reports were true, that’s fine. If not, that’s also fine.

            Beau: Your other responses are equally obtuse. If I generally disbelieve miraculous claims because of the dearth of evidence, why would I “give a miraculous claim I believe in”. How does this make sense?

            Reply: You say you generally disbelieve. That would imply that while you’re skeptical, there are exceptions. Well are there any? Have you found any miracle claims you give credibility?

            If not, it would seem you are the one operating from a dogma position on miracles.

            Beau: And all of your discussion of numbers of witnesses was to argue that resurrection reports don’t start off simple? I don’t think your arguing against anyone’s “lynchpin”, and you seem to have contented yourself with a very “simple” definition of “simple”. Lot’s of people is complex? Multiple miracle stories are simple? Really?

            Reply: Yes actually. To say Christ appeared to a few people is simple. To say he appeared to 500 is not. I also was not arguing that this is a lynchpin for my case, but you made a point about embellishments. I just wanted to see if you could back it.

            Beau: Your last paragraph is full of gen eralizat ions about early Christianity which are debatable and hardly evidence the impossible or improbable resurrection of a particular corpse.

            Reply: Ah. And they are all conveniently ignored. If they are debatable, then how about this? Debate them.

            Beau:”Guilt by association”? Who’s guilty of what?

            Reply: That would be the person who has made an argument based on fairies in this thread before.

          • I haven’t “conveniently ignored” your generalizations about early Christianity. That’s a bit rich coming from someone who simply pleads ignorance of the Salem witch trials.

            I think the most telling part of your responses has been the silly extreme you have gone to trying to rebut my statement that the gospels “embellished” the resurrection account. To make a meaningless point, you keep insisting that because Paul’s short verse account mentions a larger number of people, I am somehow wrong to use the words “embellishment” or “complex” to describe the far more detailed multiple verse accounts of the resurrection with names, conversations, miracles, stories found in the gospels. I cannot take such peevish argumentation seriously.

            It’s simply clear to any rational historian that you have not provided anything that can be construed as evidence that a corpse came to life. You seem to think you’ve shown that no other explanation for Paul’s short verse exists, and yet you have not even begun to exhaust the possibilities (much less discount the possibilities you’ve mentioned). How could the claims of Paul’s witnesses be easily disproven by asking them, if the only available witnesses believe their own delusion and Paul is biased in favor of it himself (being prone to delusions himself – he describes them in his letters). I’ve seen sincere people in Pentacostal churches experiencing group visions. I’ve also heard the retelling of these experiences embellished in less than a week. Fortunately, one needn’t take my word for it. Respected historians in the field will tell you that the attempt to evidence a resurrection is an entirely ad hoc endeavor.

          • Beau: I haven’t “conveniently ignored” your generalizations about early Christianity. That’s a bit rich coming from someone who simply pleads ignorance of the Salem witch trials.

            Reply: Oh you haven’t? Then let’s see where you interacted with them and….oh! That’s right! You didn’t! Sounds like ignoring.

            And also claiming ignorance of the Salem witch trials, until I look at the actual documents and what was said, yes. That’s what you’re supposed to do. I happen to think it’s not wise to speak of what happened at an event without examining the primary evidence. Do you have a different belief on that? Should I claim to know what was seen before examining the evidence?

            Beau: I think the most telling part of your responses has been the silly extreme you have gone to trying to rebut my statement that the gospels “embellished” the resurrection account. To make a meaningless point, you keep insisting that because Paul’s short verse account mentions a larger number of people, I am somehow wrong to use the words “embellishment” or “complex” to describe the far more detailed multiple verse accounts of the resurrection with names, conversations, miracles, stories found in the gospels. I cannot take such peevish argumentation seriously.

            Reply: It would be nice to see it argued against actually. That could be asking for too much.

            Beau: It’s simply clear to any rational historian that you have not provided anything that can be construed as evidence that a corpse came to life.

            Reply: I am sure all rational historians then would be those that don’t believe corpses can come back to life. Right? Which reminds me, what’s this miracle that you do believe in? Never answered that one.

            Beau: You seem to think you’ve shown that no other explanation for Paul’s short verse exists, and yet you have not even begun to exhaust the possibilities (much less discount the possibilities you’ve mentioned).

            Reply: No. I know they do. They range from Robert Price’s interpolation theory to Carrier and Doherty’s spiritual revelation to subjective visions to objective visions. I just find they all fail miserably.

            Beau: How could the claims of Paul’s witnesses be easily disproven by asking them, if the only available witnesses believe their own delusion and Paul is biased in favor of it himself (being prone to delusions himself – he describes them in his letters). I’ve seen sincere people in Pentacostal churches experiencing group visions.

            Reply: So this kind of testimony is valid when you give it but not when Paul does? As for Paul being prone to delusions, that’s only if you believe that he is experiencing delusions, but that’s bringing a worldview to the text.

            Beau: I’ve also heard the retelling of these experiences embellished in less than a week. Fortunately, one needn’t take my word for it. Respected historians in the field will tell you that the attempt to evidence a resurrection is an entirely ad hoc endeavor.

            Reply: That’s fine because I don’t take your word for it. As for respected historians, would that include also someone like N.T. Wright who even Newsweek says is the world’s top Bible scholar? I think he did the same thing. Or is anyone who argues for a resurrection just not doing history rationally? In other words, any argument for miracle just won’t work.

            Of course, it’d be nice if that was the argument to see a real metaphysical argument against miracles. One hasn’t been presented. I suppose just like anything else in the world of presuppositionalism atheism, it must be taken by faith.

          • Nick

            I understand that the main critical difference between us is our differing presuppositions about corpses coming to life and other miracles and magic. That we can debate.

            I’m so glad you’re going to be reviewing the Salem witch testimony and comparing it to 1 Corinthians 15. I wait with baited breath. Though you seem to have preempted any conclusion by saying that you have no problem if real witches turn out to have been hung in Salem.

            And I do understand that we can both select and enumerate our own “authorities” in this area; though I don’t think you’ll find any historians arguing for a presupposition of miracles outside of religious apologetics.

            But, how exactly does one respond to nonsense like demanding a believed-in miracle from someone who has already answered that he sees no evidence for miracles? Or claiming that I haven’t argued the gospel/acts versions of the resurrection as embellishments, when I clearly have? You’re argument seems to be that fish miracles, detailed appearance stories with named characters, multiple chapters, ascensions, rolled away stones, angels, and sudden appearances through closed doors are all somehow less complex than the number 500. Maybe you can argue that a higher number is more complex than detailed stories; but to claim that I haven’t argued?!

            Are these tactics an attempt at hyperbole on your part, or are they purposeful falsehoods? I know that we’ve both included a bit of snark in our comments, but I would prefer not to continue this discussion without a commitment to honesty.

          • With regard to Salem I have no problem because having something be a false case in one area does not demonstrate it in another, especially with totally different circumstances, but your last paragraph is where the major difficulties lie.

            Beau: Now, how exactly does one respond to nonsense like demanding a believed-in miracle from someone who has already answered that he sees no evidence for miracles?

            Reply:Ah yes. I believe this demonstrates my point. You had said you are generally skeptical. Generally does not mean an absolute ruling out of miracle and so I wanted to push to see if you had any exceptions. You have admitted you have none, which tells me this is a dogma position. This is why I had brought up metaphysics, but alas, there was no metaphysical argument given against miracles. Maybe it’s a faith claim.

            Beau: Or claiming that I haven’t argued the gospel/acts versions of the resurrection as embellishments, when I clearly have?

            Reply: This is amusing since I had been arguing the past few posts that your claim that the resurrection accounts are embellished later on is false. I have no idea how you got that totally backwards.

            Beau: You’re argument seems to be that fish miracles, detailed appearance stories with named characters, multiple chapters, ascensions, rolled away stones, angels, and sudden appearances through closed doors are all somehow less complex than the number 500.

            Reply: My claim is in relation to the appearances. I’ve stated that. It’s not that difficult a concept.

          • It appears that your responses are boiling down to snark; and I’ll accept responsibility for a bit of snark myself. I would be happy to discuss an issue of substance, but trading barbs is no longer of interest to me.

          • Cornell Anthony

            yes we believe that it’s metaphysically possible that dead people (non-life) can be brought back to life

            And you believe that life can come from non-life, otherwise how do you explain life in general?

            Concepts are the same, they both imply that life can come from non-life,so even if you want to argue about conditions, it is still agreed that it is metaphysically possible for life to come from non-life, and that’s all we need.

            I don’t see a problem,so stop acting like we have a dilemma on our hands, oh and stop pretending to know things you don’t know while you ‘re at it.

          • The reanimation of a three day old corpse in a day isn’t quite the same claim as abiogenesis in millions of years, which, by the way, I don’t pretend to know about, though you pretend to.

          • Cornell Anthony

            That’s not the point though, I’m talking about metaphysical possibility.

            It is metaphysically possible that life can come from non life, and this proposition is a starting point. So what I’m saying is, that one shouldn’t automatically dismiss the case that a human cannot be raised from the dead.

          • Metaphysical possibility sounds like a nice catch-all phrase, for anything you might want to believe in: bringing corpses to life, talking to ghosts, dancing with fairies, riding a chariot to Allah, reincarnation, hanging witches, getting presents from Santa Claus, …

          • In a church where Paul had his opponents, he’s going to be careful to make sure that he doesn’t spread information that is knowingly false.

            I guess we should believe that Joseph Smith was always careful to tell the truth since he had opponents within Mormonism.

            Again, this hearsay evidence is enough to lead scholars to think the apostles did have an experience they thought was seeing the risen Christ.

            Again, that hearsay evidence isn’t enough. Scholars depend on the gospels.

            This assumes there can be no evidence of a miracle or that miracles cannot happen. Why should I think any of those are true?

            It does nothing of the kind. It simply applies the principle of analogy to conclude that when it comes to ancient fantastic stories, well documented phenomena such as ignorance, superstition, gullibility, exaggeration, wishful thinking, and prevarication provide vastly superior explanations to entirely unverifiable phenomena like miracles.

            They were setting themselves up against Rome and ostracizing themselves from their Jewish community. Why would they do something like that?

            They feared death and wanted to believe their lives had meaning.

          • Paul E.

            I looked at a bit of this exchange just now, and it is sort of fascinating in an odd way. It has been a long time since I thought interacting with an apologist was a valuable experience. What are your thoughts on this exchange? Do you think it has been useful or thought-provoking for you at all? Serious question.

          • Jim

            Sorry for butting in to a question posed to beau_quilter, but I have also been following this conversation so thought this might be a place for my comment.

            I think that at least one area of difficulty in dialogue with apologists relates to what is considered to be admissible data. This doesn’t seem to be as difficult in science (agreeably interpretation of the scientific data may be quite varied), and the data is clearly measurable by all. In terms of HJ studies, the data set from a purely historical perspective, by definition, relates to being provable by naturalistic/scientific means.

            The/an empty tomb and resurrection of Jesus cannot be established by (current) naturalistic means and requires the incorporation of theological interpretations. For the apologist this does not necessarily need not be taken negatively, but rather more as a matter of the current state of science/historiography, however should be recognized to be relying on theology to some extent.

            So in my opinion, some of the difficulty in dialogue with apologists arises from what is actually considered to be hard data re HJ studies; purely historiographical and apologetics rely on somewhat different (although partially overlapping) acceptable criteria for data. Just more of an opinion though.

          • I don’t see how theological interpretations of resurrection stories can be construed as “data” in any field except apologetics.

          • Jim

            Agreed, I wouldn’t look it as data either. I used the term data rather loosely.

          • Paul E.

            Well, yeah that’s probably one of the problems.

          • Licona, of course, throws a lot of actual NT historical research into his book (all of it borrowed from better scholars), but what apologists always cover up is the fact that copies of 2000 year old letters are laughable evidence for magic resurrections. I’m sure it’s comforting to people who already believe to be deluded that they have “research” on their side, but this is not the way actual historical work is done, and anyone with a bit of skepticism can see right through it.

            The reason I finally decided to engage Nick on this is a little different. I’m bothered by the fact that scholars will go out of their way to decry mythicism as pseudo-scholarship, but will ignore the far more invasive and prolific apologetic forms of pseudo-scholarship.

          • Paul E.

            I hear you.

          • I have read many of them, and I don’t recall a single one who pretends to be able to establish the details of Jesus’ life without relying on the gospels. It is only apologists who.seek to get away with that sleight of hand.

          • Establishing the details of the life of Jesus is not the same as establishing his death, burial, and resurrection.

          • Surely the death and burial of Jesus are the kind of events that should be subject to the same sort of historical analysis as any other. Of course the resurrection requires some sort of ad hoc Rube Goldberg methodology with cherry picked minimal facts.

          • BTW, as I already said, I read Licona’s book. I have also read a number of articles by Habermas about his approach.

          • Cornell Anthony

            What is a human foibles?

          • The kind of human foibles that I am referring to are things like superstition, ignorance, gullibility, prevarication, wishful thinking, and exaggeration.

          • Cornell Anthony

            Oh so a godless reality that entails a purposeless, nonrational, impersonal, unintelligent mechanism as the reason for why existence exists would be on that list, right?

          • No, it wouldn’t, and I cannot imagine why you think it would.

          • Jim

            Re your “Miracles, on the other hand, don’t follow known processes of cause and
            effect. We don’t know what sets of evidence point to a supernatural
            cause …”

            Do you think that an increase in elapsed time from when an original miraculous event occurred also adds significantly to the uncertainty of a reported miracle? I’m asking this weird question because I don’t even have a clue as to what can be considered as positive data for a miracle (a rare one time event such as the resurrection) as having occurred in the distant past.

          • I think that there can certainly be instances in which no natural explanation can be found for the existing evidence, but I can’t imagine how you would justify the conclusion that no natural explanation could ever be found. The more remote the event, the higher the probability that evidence of the natural causes has been lost.

            Even if we might be justified in concluding that no natural explanation is possible, I don’t see how we are justified in attributing the event to any particular supernatural agent.

          • Jim

            TY for your comment. I suppose that the two ends of the continuum are historical/natural at one end and theological/supernatural at the other end.

            What is considered to be permitable data at each of these termini seems to be somewhat straightforward to define. It’s a bit more difficult to define what acceptable data is at each point in between.

            At the purely historical end, since a miracle cannot be proven to have occurred (especially if it occurred in the past), by definition only natural explanations can be entertained. As one moves toward the theological terminal, I suppose what is considered to be allowable data depends highly on a judgement as to which specific supernatural events can be incorporated into the data set.

          • I think it is a matter of what the intellectual tool is capable of detecting. If all I have is a ruler, I cannot measure the level of radon gas in your basement. However, that doesn’t mean that I am precluding the existence of radon gas or that I have an anti-radon bias. It just means that the available tool has nothing to contribute to the inquiry. Methodological naturalism does not preclude the supernatural (or supranatural if you prefer) in my humble opinion. It simply has no way to detect it.

          • One need not contact Professor McCullagh to know his opinion of historical resurrection claims. His views are quite public:

            “The hypothesis that God exists and cared about Jesus is of questionable plausibility; the hypothesis that he wanted to raise Jesus from the dead and reveal him to the disciples and others is almost entirely ad hoc.”

            McCullagh, C. Behan (2012) ‘The Resurrection of Jesus: Explanation or Interpretation?’ Southeastern Theological Review Vol.3 No. 1: 41-53

          • arcseconds

            I think you’re making a huge mistake in your understanding about how the academy works here, Vinny.

            Thinking that someone has made a good argument, one that deserves publishing and even praise, is different from thinking that someone has made an argument that one finds personally convincing.

            If academics always shot down everything where they don’t agree with the conclusions, then nothing would ever get published under peer review.

          • I quite agree. That is why the mere fact that McCullagh posted a nice blurb for Licona’s book on Amazon doesn’t constitute an endorsement of the monimal facts approach.

          • Kris Rhodes

            He may have endorsed it* for the reasons he gave.

            //”This is an astonishing achievement and a major contribution to the ongoing debate. It is clearly written and full of fresh insights and arguments that will enrich discussion for years to come.”//

            In my own field, I know of major contributions that enrich discussion that I also would say exhibit poor reasoning and methodology. I’d still say people should read them, because they contribute and enrich in other ways.

            *Or, really, to read him very carefully, endorsed the reading of it…

          • The New Testament world was widely, if not wildly, diverse and Christianity was a polyglot movement. Paul’s letters give no indication of the kind of shared assumptions and knowledge that characterize high context cultures. Paul often repeated points that he knew his audience already knew.

          • So no examples given from 1 Cor. 12 and Keener is completely ignored. Got it. Instead, the mythicist shuffle moves to another point.

            Okay. What study have you done on high context cultures to show this? Have you read Pilch? Malina? Neyrey? Richards? O’Brien? Jeffers? DeSilva? Witherington?

            Paul often repeated points he knew his audience knew? Care to give some examples?

          • What peer-reviewed work have any of those people produced in the field of cultural anthropology?

          • Could have, but studying that is not the same as studying ancient civilizations from a historical basis.

          • What exactly do you think Paul means by the term “gospel” in Galatians?

          • I think that he meant “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” and that most of the rest is elaboration and explanation, but I don’t think there is any way to know exactly where Paul would have drawn the line or whether he would have just considered everything he had to say to be part of the gospel.

          • Neko

            Do you think the post-crucifixion worship of Jesus as Messiah was somehow unknown to Paul? Seems a bit of a stretch.

            Did the Romans who persecuted Christians with accusations of incest and cannibalism understand Christianity and its beliefs?

            Pliny the Younger seemed to have a handle on the basic idea of worship of Christ, “as to a god.” Likewise wasn’t the Romans’ main grievance against Christians “atheism”? Which assumes some idea of what made them so.

          • I think the Romans’ problem with Christians was that they refused to offer the sacrifices that were thought necessary to keep the gods happy. That would have made them very handy scapegoats any time things went wrong. If a poor harvest caused hungry peasants to resent wealthy landowners more than usual, it would be very handy to redirect the peasants’ anger against the Christians. There might have been any number of people who had a reasonably clear picture of what the Christians believed, but the attacks on Christians would need to be whipped up with lies in the same way that the pogroms were.

          • Neko

            That’s exactly what the Romans meant by “atheism”: the refusal to sacrifice to state gods, who protected the people from ills like a poor harvest.

            But yes, pogroms and the like are always accompanied by propaganda.

          • How do we establish that Jesus was worshiped prior to Paul? He never really says anything about the movement’s beliefs before he joined it. About the only thing I think he really says for certain is that there were some people who believed that they had seen a crucified guy who returned from the dead. Because Paul claims that he got the gospel by direct revelation, I think that it is very difficult to determine what is pre-Pauline and what is not.

            I find it hard to imagine that Jesus wasn’t thought of as the Messiah before Paul came along, but the Messiah was expected to be human. It might well be that Paul was largely responsible for elevating Jesus to the level of divinity that warranted worship. I also think it might be that Paul came up with ideas like Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrifice. When it comes down to it, I think that almost anything we find in Paul’s letters might have been his contribution.

          • Neko

            I thought you acknowledged that some of 1 Cor 15:3-8 and Phil 2:6-11 were pre-Pauline, as the scholars say. What happened?

          • Really? I don’t recall ever expressing an opinion about Phillipians. I do think it likely that the appearances were part of the movement’s story before Paul joined, but I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t have been Paul who worked out the idea of the atoning sacrifice.

          • Neko

            We’ve had this conversation before, and I usually mention the two together. Sorry if I misremembered.

            I’m not referring to Paul’s ideas about atonement, but to your query “How do we establish that Jesus was worshiped prior to Paul?” Pre-Pauline tradition? The Phillipian hymn assumes Jesus was some kind of pre-existent divine being who paid Earth a visit and “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” That doesn’t impress you as worship of Jesus prior to Paul?

          • I guess my question is how we would establish that the composition of the hymn predates Paul’s conversion. If Paul converted in 35 AD and Phillipians was written in 62 AD, how would we know that the hymn wasn’t composed during those 27 years?

    • dconklin

      I could be wrong, but as I recall Orchard showed how Paul used a bit of Matthew in 1 Thessalonians.

      Side-bar: combining what I learned in the seminary ab’t how to study things in-depth and applying that to the Synoptic Problem, plus what i learned in undergrad ab’t sociology and from history that I studied on my own, I figure that Matthew was most likely written (hang on to your seats) by Pentecost.

  • David Chumney

    From my reading on the historical Jesus, it seems that the many of the disparate proposals available depict a “plausible Jesus,” while serious historians ought to be focusing more attention on a “probable Jesus.” Dale Allison has made this observation: “After years of being in the quest business, I have reluctantly concluded that most of the gospel materials are not subject to proof or disproof, or even to accurate estimates of their probability…. There’s a gaping chasm between what happened and what we can discover or deem likely to have happened.” I’m convinced that Allison overstates matters only by using the word “most” rather than “many;” otherwise, his caveat stands. Just as mythicists are willing to acknowledge too little of the surviving evidence most historians often try to make too much of that evidence by claiming more than it will bear. Historians can certainly say enough about Jesus to leave no reasonable doubt about his existence as a historical figure, but perhaps the guild should try to come to some basic consensus about what we can say is “probable,” and not keep offering us so many “plausible” proposals. Of course, they’ll likely keep doing the latter because Jesus books are profitable!

    • Maybe there is no probable Jesus. I have read classicists who say that there is no way to find the historical Socrates. Given the limitations inherent in the sources, the best that any scholar can do is to come up with a theoretically possible Socrates. I think the limitations in the sources are much greater when it comes to Jesus and I think that plausible is a plausible Jesus is the best one can hope for.

      • David Chumney

        VJH, you may be correct. I think, though, that most historians would agree that there are a very few things that we can say are “probable” about each of those two figures. The problem that I see with Jesus is that the sources we have lead to more than one “plausible Jesus,” so I think we should try to establish what most historians would agree is probable (a very limited portrait).
        If one scholar’s “plausible Jesus” is so different from another’s (and many such examples are out there), why try to say more than we can? Why not admit that we really don’t know? Research has added a great deal to what we know about the milieu in which Jesus lived. Research has given us new tools with which to analyze the surviving sources. Yet we really don’t have any new evidence concerning the man himself.
        No one, of course, has to have my permission to paint the next new portrait of a plausible Jesus. When someone does, I will very likely buy the book!

  • It is funny that some mythicists think that, in pointing out that there are lots of different scholarly proposals about Jesus, they are making a profound observation, and even providing evidence that something is fundamentally wrong with the methods historians currently use.

    Isn’t that what mainstream historical Jesus scholars themselves often say? Especially those who have more recently chosen to replace criteria of authenticity with plausibility, etc?

  • I started going through Carrier’s book last night and got to that part and immediately put a note in the book that I suppose that when we have a scientific hypothesis such as, say, the origins of life, and there are several different and contradictory proposals to explain the data, well then the whole thing must be invalid.

    Carrier’s approach would not work in any other field and it does not work here.

  • Kris Rhodes

    I’d agree that just because a field has divergent views, this doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the field. But on the other hand, a _method_ that yields divergent _results_ is by definition not a reliable method.

    This invites the question of how similar results have to be, along what dimensions, in order to count as not being “divergent” but in the meanwhile hopefully the above clarifies what _plausible_ argument is being made by some mythicists, as opposed to the _implausible_ one that is often ascribed to them (rightly or wrongly as it may be in individual cases).

    • arcseconds

      But on the other hand, a _method_ that yields divergent _results_ is by definition not a reliable method.

      Surely this is not the case, or at least, not without important additional caveats. We generally want methods that yield different results given different inputs. In fact, a method that always yielded the same result no matter what the input, while they can be useful in certain contexts, couldn’t be said to yield new knowledge or new information. A stopped clock might be said to be reliable in a sense, but it certainly isn’t useful, whereas a working one generally yields different results every time it is looked at.

      Or to apply it to the topic in question, a method that always yields the result ‘Jesus existed’ no matter what the evidence (such as always tacking on additional assumptions to explain away any difficulties) is not something we could regard as being genuine historical analysis. Whereas Bayes’s theorem certainly yields divergent results for different priors and likelihoods.

      • Kris Rhodes

        Yes, I meant that a method that returns divergent results given the same inputs is by definition not a reliable method. I wrongly assumed this would be understood since the idea that a method must always return the same results no matter what the inputs is patently ridiculous.

        • arcseconds

          If we were living in a world where no-one ever said anything I thought was patently absurd, internet discussions would look very different.

          That the same method returns different results given different inputs means it’s quite difficult to conclude that the method is unreliable just because the results are different. If we happen to be building a circuit or an algorithm, then normally we can tell clearly what the inputs actually are, but that’s a case where everything is explicit and under control.

          In the case of historical reasoning, there’s a lot that’s not made explicit: different starting assumptions, different weightings of different kinds of evidence (different priors and likelihoods in Bayesian terms), etc. are never completely spelled out, not even to the person formulating the argument.

          (And even in the case of a circuit or algorithm, it’s well known that there are important cases where these sorts of things are very sensitive to input values, so differences that are not initially measurable can be amplified: so even there, a divergence of results might just tell you that your inputs were in fact different, even though you thought they weren’t)

          So I’m not sure that we learn too much by observing divergent results.

          • Ian

            I disagree, arc. And I think the key thing is to make a distinction between different results and divergent results.

            There are some processes that have divergent outcomes for small perturbations in input. They display high sensitivity to initial conditions. Typically those processes are not very good for inferal, or simulation.

            There are other processes where the fine details don’t matter as much, you get largely the same (but never exactly the same) dynamics out, particularly qualitatively.

            If you show me a simulation of the national economy which matches known data well, but I change a small value in the input, or make a small change in the method, and get a totally unbelievable dynamic, then that simulation is probably not very good.

            It may be that it isn’t very good because it just isn’t. Or it may not be very good because the process you’re modelling is inherently divergent, so there can be no ‘very good’ model. But even in the latter case, the simulation or method is not good, it just isn’t “it’s fault”, if you see what I mean.

            In real systems (I was involved in simulating evolution and did some work on economics) there is often a combination, you get a lot of convergent dynamics and then outlying events can be highly divergent.

            As it applies to historical methods, I think it is a valid concern. If two people applying ostensibly the same kinds of methods from the same data end up with radically different conclusions, then it does raise the question of whether a) the method is suspect, and b) the problem is inherently divergent.

            That said, I think James’s point is well made. The divergence in mythicism is an a fortiori example of the same.

          • Kris Rhodes

            //That said, I think James’s point is well made. The divergence in mythicism is an a fortiori example of the same.//

            Only to the extent that mythicism can be distinguished from other pursuits by positive methodological claims. If “mysticism” just means “the characteristic belief of anyone who doesn’t think Jesus existed” then it’s not surprising or telling that there are a lot of different mythicist stories.

          • Ian

            I agree Kris.

            But in my reading of mythicist writing, I get the sense that they aren’t just claiming to be a bunch of people who happen to think that Jesus didn’t exist.

            But rather they seem to want to claim that history done correctly would lead one to mythicist conclusions. And that their analysis of the topic constitutes one such application of reasonable historical thought to the data. At least that is the subtext I read strongly in the writings of, for example, Carrier, Price, and Doherty.

          • I agree Ian. IMHO, The problem is highly problematic sources that are insuffient to eliminate or even marginalized any number of plausible theories. That is a problem that everyone faces.

          • arcseconds

            I’m not sure of what you’re actually disagreeing with me about? I think I agree with almost all of your comment, and I don’t find it contradicts what I said earlier.

            Yes, of course if you wanted more sophistication of what counted as a reliable method, you’d need to take into account how it performed with slightly differing inputs. But with a genuinely chaotic situation a method that yields divergent results with only slightly different inputs may in fact be an accurate representation of the situation, and a ‘reliable’ method that gave nearly the same results for nearly the same inputs would only be reliably wrong.

            I wasn’t attempting to write a textbook on reliable methods, though, I was just noting shortcomings in what Kris has said so far.

            The one point that I might quibble with is that it seems to me entirely possible (and even quite plausible) that two people could use the same kinds of methods but end up with quite different results. For example, it seems quite possible for two people to go down the same Carrieresque Bayesian analysis of the evidence for the historical Jesus, and end up with quite different results at the end, entirely due to the way they weight priors and likelihoods. As you yourself have demonstrated, they don’t even necessarily need to weight things very differently to have this result.

            Perhaps this couldn’t end up with ‘radically different’ results, depending on what is meant by that. I’d say being able to come out with ‘Jesus Christ almost certainly didn’t exist’ and ‘Jesus Christ existed beyond reasonable doubt’ (neither can be ruled out given certain selection of priors etc.) is radically different.

            But maybe ‘radically different’ means different kinds of explanation or something, like, I don’t know, a ‘Great Men’ view of history contrasted with a Marxist view where it’s all about the means of production and the control thereof. Here it seems implausible that such different kinds of explanation should result from the same methodology, I agree. But does anyone claim otherwise? I think it’s pretty obvious that historians follow different approaches to history from one another, and they’re normally fairly clear about this themselves.

            As far as the mythicists go, perhaps it needs to be noted more, especially to those who speak of a ‘growing support for mythicism’ about how divergent the approaches and the alternative theories are, but you need to have a rather superficial understanding of the area (or be thinking rather wishfully) to think that mythicists have the same methodology or reach similar conclusions, apart from the shared contention that Jesus didn’t exist.

          • Ian

            Good, always glad to violently agree!

            I just thought Kris was making a valid point about divergence that you were interpreting wrongly as difference. A minor thing, and the conversation has moved on. I agree with your response to me.

          • Kris Rhodes

            What we learn from observing divergent results is that it would be better if the inputs to the method were spelled out more clearly and more often, since this could help us diagnose the divergence.

          • arcseconds

            Easier said than done. It’s still not entirely clear to me why, for example, you’re so supportive of mythicism. Is telling you to spell out your inputs (and, for that matter, your method), more clearly and more often going to help the matter?

            If so, spell out your inputs and your method more clearly and more often! 🙂

            Also, it’s worth noting that historians actually do have these kinds discussions quite a lot, discussing what evidence they find convincing and why, etc. It’s not like they just go “oh well, different results. (*shrug*). OK, on to the next paper!”. You can see examples of this on James’s blog sometimes, even. And occasionally they even pinpoint plausible moments of disagreement which might explain divergent conclusions.

          • Kris Rhodes

            //Is telling you to spell out your inputs (and, for that matter, your method), more clearly and more often going to help the matter?//

            It would certainly help if I did that.

            //If so, spell out your inputs and your method more clearly and more often! :-)//

            I would like to but whenever I sit down to do it I realize I just am not in a position to do it right now. But you’re right that it would help if I did, which is exactly in keeping with what I said above.

            The short version is I point to Carrier’s book and wait for some serious people to take it seriously. If nobody ever does, that’ll be it for this generation. I’ll see what the kids are up to in thirty years.

          • arcseconds

            My point isn’t that it’s not a good idea to do that. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that opacity and confusion is better than clarity (and there are circumstances under which I would suggest that, but this isn’t one of them). But rather that (a) it’s not that easily accomplished, and (b) everyone already thinks it’s a good idea and tries, at least to some extent, to do this.

          • Kris Rhodes

            And my point was that I’m not inconsistent on this (you seemed to be arguing that I was when you pointed out I haven’t spelled things out to some particular degree).

            Just to clarify, I don’t think it’s new news that spelling out assumptions can help. I was responding to your observation that you aren’t sure we learn anything by observing divergent results with what I thought would be an unobjectionable observation of my own, (rephrasing it here,) that when we observe divergent results, this can spur us to clarify our assumptions, (and I’ll add here, can help us see what exactly we need to clarify) in order to diagnose the divergence. I expected this to be an unobjectionable observation, though it is strictly contradictory to your suggestion that we don’t learn anything about how researchers should proceed from observing divergence in their results.

            No big point, just a minor reminder.

            Meanwhile, I’m more interested in this now

            //To suggest otherwise is to suggest that opacity and confusion is better than clarity (and there are circumstances under which I would suggest that, but this isn’t one of them)//

            I find this thought attractive, and I’m curious to know what you have in mind specifically.

  • MattB

    Does anyone know how to respond to Carrier’s crazy claims about applying Bayes Theorem to predict historical events?

    • Jim

      I don’t know much about the specific details of Bayes calculations, nor how to determine standard deviation, error limits etc. for this technique. How often is this technique applied in other fields of ancient history studies, and what level of contribution does this calculation contribute to the overall outcome in those studies? I’m voting for Matt B to figure all of this out.

    • arcseconds

      It’s not in itself a crazy idea. Bayesian epistemology is probably the most popular approach to formalizing induction, that is, learning from experience, and the confirmation of scientific theories in the philosophy of science.

      Given that historians also formulate hypotheses in response to evidence, in principle it ought to also be amendable to Bayesian analysis.

      ‘predict’ is putting the matter in a somewhat prejudicial way. It sounds a bit absurd to predict past events. The point would rather be to give a level of certainty to the idea that some particular event happened. We’re not equally certain about everything in the past: we’re very certain about quite a lot of detail about the American Civil War, for example, but we’re much less certain about the details of the transition to an Anglo-Saxon culture in Britain. And levels of certainty are exactly what a Bayesian means by ‘probability’.

      So Carrier’s approach would have to be assessed on the details, not the general idea.

      However, I would have to say it strikes me as putting the cart before the horse a bit to charge in with Bayesian epistemology and go for the jugular on a point the experts regard as secure. If someone said ‘here, arcseconds, have a handsome research budget and do what you can in the field of Bayesian epistemology and history’, what I’d want to do first is to do some ‘rational reconstruction’ of known and accepted landmark results in history. That would show how Bayesian epistemology can capture and (one could hope) clarify celebrated accomplishments in history. Then I’d go and see what it could do for some issues regarded as contentious by the experts. I would only be going after things everyone thinks is secure after having proved my approach in those areas.

      Also, i’d really want to be doing all of this with expert collaborators, if I could.

      And I also will take the opportunity to re-iterate my concern that what introducing Bayes’s theorem (and the probability calculus more generally) into these debates frequently just ends up being a rhetorical trick, a bit like the apocryphal story of Euler and Diderot (“Monsieur, (a+b^n)/n = x; donc Dieu existe; respondez!”), except in reverse (” P(H|E) = (P(E|H)×P(H))/P(E); hence Jesus doesn’t exist, answer please!”).

      Plus people promoting this on the internet often don’t seem to understand the matter as well as they think they do. We just had an occasion recently of a mythicist sympathizer making a rather strange argument about the “brother of the lord” phrase with the ‘help’ of Bayes’s theorem.

      • MattB

        But aren’t historians using bayes in a strict logical/philosophical and not as a mathematical proof? It seems to me that Carrier is misusing BT when it comes to Jesus and historical studies. He wants to use it as a way of replacing historical criteria and this is extremely problematic. How will you know which texts are historical and which are not solely on the basis of BT?

        For example, Carrier gives James the brother of the Lord a high probability on historicsm than mythicism, but he doesn’t calculate James as high as historicists want to claim. He presupposes that James in Paul is different from James in the gospels, and that we can justify that by calculating all those named James from that time Period to somehow rule out that James in Paul is different from James in the 4 Gospels. This is extremely absurd. There is no way to falsify that because no matter how high or low the probability, Carrier’s argument will still be in his favor because of his presupposition. James is the same in Paul and the Gospels because the authors both suggest that based on the wording of the text. There are plenty more examples(which you probably know) but this is just one which really irks me.

        • Avenger

          Carrier is like a physicist who thinks that an explicit knowledge of Newton’s laws of motion will enable him to beat Roger Federer in a tennis match.

          • MattB

            lol:)

        • arcseconds

          But aren’t historians using bayes in a strict logical/philosophical and not as a mathematical proof?

          I don’t know what this means. I think historians, as a rule, never make explicit reference to Bayesian probability and don’t generally know anything about Bayesian epistemology. I wouldn’t describe anything historians do as ‘strict logical/philosophical’, not sure what you mean by that. As for mathematical proof… my impression is that Carrier doesn’t use the probability calculus to actually compute a numerical value for the probability of Jesus’s existing. He uses it instead to structure his informal argument (informal in the sense it’s not a mathematical or logical (in the sense of symbolic logic) proof).

          The criteria are, in a way, beside the point. They could easily enough be incorporated into a Bayesian framework if one wanted: e.g. imagine two biblical scholars, one who thinks the Criterion of Embarrassment is just fantastic, and the other who doesn’t think it shows anything at all. And consider some hypothesis H and embarrassing evidence E. Then the first scholar will give a higher likelihood H|E (i.e. a higher probability for H in the face of E) than the second.

          More generally speaking, this is an example of how Bayesian treatments don’t actually put an end to these kinds of discussions. If everyone became Bayesians over night, we may still be having the same discussions about the criteria, we’d just frame them in terms of priors or likelihoods instead. Some people appear to think Bayesian treatments just mean everything turns into mathematics and everything can be proven, sorted out, and nailed down without all this silly historian heming and hawing about crtieria or whatever, but this just isn’t the case. It hasn’t worked that way in its home territory in philosophy of science, and history is not going to be more amenable to formalization than abstract epistemological puzzles like the famous ravens, or simplified examples from physics.

          (That’s not to say I think it’s useless. I think history as a discipline could potentially learn a lot from Bayesian epistemology (and it’s quite possible Bayesian epistemology could learn things from history, too!). It’s just not going to put an end to the informal, wordy discussions that historians currently engage in.)

          If that’s what Carrier’s doing with James, then that does strike me as strange. He does need to take into account at some point that the probability of two mentions of James being about the same James increases massively if the two texts are generally about the same group of people, and massively more if, given that, similar things are said of the two Jameses.

          From what Kris or someone has said before, what he may be doing is starting from the background probability of two mentions being about the same James, which of course is very small, and working his way up from there considering different bits of evidence, in which case he should end up with a substantially higher probability at the end than he did at the beginning.

          But the problem here is not the fact he chooses to express himself in Bayesian terms. The problem (if there is one) is that he hasn’t treated the evidence appropriately, and the solution isn’t to dismiss him tout court because of the Bayesian stuff, but to point out that in this particular case he’s putting (say) absurdly low weight on the fact that the two sets of texts are about the same group of people.

          Basically, there’s not going to be a simple argument to dismiss Carrier from your sight, I’m afraid. Bayesian framing doesn’t mean Carrier is let of the hook in terms of giving historical reasoning, but it also means you’re not let of the hook from engaging with his arguments, either.

          • MattB

            Hello Arcseconds,

            sorry for the late response.

            “I don’t know what this means. I think historians, as a rule, never make explicit reference to Bayesian probability and don’t generally know anything about Bayesian epistemology. I wouldn’t describe anything historians do as ‘strict logical/philosophical’, not sure what you mean by that. As for mathematical proof… my impression is that Carrier doesn’t use the probability calculus to actually compute a numerical value for the probability of Jesus’s existing. He uses it instead to structure his informal argument (informal in the sense it’s not a mathematical or logical (in the sense of symbolic logic) proof).”

            Sorry for the confusion. What I meant was that historians use historiography, which has its foundations in philosophy of history. So if philosophers of history have helped develop and evaluate the foundations of methods used by biblical scholars and historians ,then Carrier’s arguments about the field of biblical scholars being “hijacked”(or whatever nonsense he says) is nonsense. I’m not sure if I would say that because Carrier has made claims that Jesus’ probability must be 33% and that’s based on certain nonsensical methods like his misuse of the Rank-Raglan scale, and other elements of the Greco-Roman and first-century palestine.

            “The criteria are, in a way, beside the point. They could easily enough be incorporated into a Bayesian framework if one wanted: e.g. imagine two biblical scholars, one who thinks the Criterion of Embarrassment is just fantastic, and the other who doesn’t think it shows anything at all. And consider some hypothesis H and embarrassing evidence E. Then the first scholar will give a higher likelihood H|E (i.e. a higher probability for H in the face of E) than the second.”

            The criteria are extremely important. Criteria are developed as a means of finding objective truth about the evidence. Whether or not a few scholars may think some of the criteria(some) aren’t very useful is really just a straw-man for Carrier. Now while you may be able to incorporate the criteria into a Bayesian-framework, I still don’t think that one could use BT as some sort of mathematical-proof like Carrier is doing. This would just show that you are using some sort of reasoning which historians are already doing with these criteria. They are assessing evidence in a pool of live options and are using these criteria to arrive at the best explanation of such options. The Christ Myth Theory has not been able to explain the evidence without committing numerous fallacies or bad assumptions. The historicist theory has been able to explain the evidence in light of the Christ Myth Theory and is extremely more reasonable because of the evidence.

            “More generally speaking, this is an example of how Bayesian treatments don’t actually put an end to these kinds of discussions. If everyone became Bayesians over night, we may still be having the same discussions about the criteria, we’d just frame them in terms of priors or likelihoods instead. Some people appear to think Bayesian treatments just mean everything turns into mathematics and everything can be proven, sorted out, and nailed down without all this silly historian heming and hawing about crtieria or whatever, but this just isn’t the case. It hasn’t worked that way in its home territory in philosophy of science, and history is not going to be more amenable to formalization than abstract epistemological puzzles like the famous ravens, or simplified examples from physics.”

            Which I think would just go to show the problem of using a method beyond its limits. Historians, as I said earlier, are trying their best to be objective about what happened in the past, which these criteria do. Using a non-historical method in place of historical methods just leads to psuedo-scholarship.

            “(That’s not to say I think it’s useless. I think history as a discipline could potentially learn a lot from Bayesian epistemology (and it’s quite possible Bayesian epistemology could learn things from history, too!). It’s just not going to put an end to the informal, wordy discussions that historians currently engage in.)”

            I think you raise a very good observation, Arc. I personally would love to know the precise probability of Jesus’ existence(I bet if that were possible, it would very close to 100%!) but unfortunately, I just don’t see it happening. I think trying to mingle a mathematical formula with historical information is like trying to mingle apples and oranges(that’s not to say that BT doesn’t apply in certain areas in the field of historical study because it does) rather, it is just to say that for it to be used in historical studies in general is extremely hard and pretty much almost impossible, both on the historian and the mathematician.

            “If that’s what Carrier’s doing with James, then that does strike me as strange. He does need to take into account at some point that the probability of two mentions of James being about the same James increases massively if the two texts are generally about the same group of people, and massively more if, given that, similar things are said of the two Jameses.”

            Absolutely.

            “From what Kris or someone has said before, what he may be doing is starting from the background probability of two mentions being about the same James, which of course is very small, and working his way up from there considering different bits of evidence, in which case he should end up with a substantially higher probability at the end than he did at the beginning.”

            Maybe. But from what I’ve read, it would seem that he is stacking the deck in his favor by trying to find anyway of a priori ruling out Jesus having a real biological brother named James. First it would involve twisting the text to mean something that it doesn’t; mainly the idea that James was a spiritual brother and not flesh and blood. However, the text doesn’t suggest that at all. Then he would probably take into account the likelihood of someone having the name James in Palestine and using that to show that James couldn’t have been Jesus’ brother, however, Maurice Casey has shown in his book that James, which derives from Jacob, is a very common name. But even if it wasn’t a common name, that is completely irrelevant to someone’s existence because in order to know what the text is saying, we have to exegete it and look at various clues and details in order to build an objective understanding. We wouldn’t do it the way Carrier does by using BT.

            “But the problem here is not the fact he chooses to express himself in Bayesian terms. The problem (if there is one) is that he hasn’t treated the evidence appropriately, and the solution isn’t to dismiss him tout court because of the Bayesian stuff, but to point out that in this particular case he’s putting (say) absurdly low weight on the fact that the two sets of texts are about the same group of people.”

            Well I think he’s doing exactly what I said up above: stacking the deck in order to make mythicism seem more credible by looking for any means of trying to show that James couldn’t have been a relative of Jesus even though the evidence overwhelmingly shows the opposite.

            “Basically, there’s not going to be a simple argument to dismiss Carrier from your sight, I’m afraid. Bayesian framing doesn’t mean Carrier is let of the hook in terms of giving historical reasoning, but it also means you’re not let of the hook from engaging with his arguments, either.”

            I would disagree. If one can show the foundations of trying to use Bayes Theorem in trying to calculate Jesus’ existence to be faulty, than one does not need to address the arguments since the house of cards would collapse. It would be like when mythicists try to bring up hundreds of people who lived around the time of Jesus, but are yet silent about his existence. Historians don’t have to address every single argument of all the people who don’t mention Jesus. They simply attack the foundations of this kind of argument; mainly that it is simply irrelevant because people weren’t very interested in religious figures and Jesus was an extremely obscure jewish preacher who was from an extremely small and insignificant part of the Roman empire that would have made little to no importance to these people.

    • Herro

      If you don’t know how to respond to his claims, then why do you say they are “crazy”?

      • MattB

        Because experts have pointed them out?

        • Herro

          Pointed what out?

          • MattB

            Carrier’s misuse of BT and his misuse of historical judgements

          • Avenger

            I think we can ignore the whole question of BT. If it is going to be applied in this case, it has to be applied by someone whose judgement we can trust, and that person isn’t Carrier. The fallibility of his judgement is shown by his assessment of Gal. 1:19, among other things.

            There is no need to discuss the usefulness of the method when we already know that the method is being abused. Carrier’s abuse of the method may be due to incompetence, but we should also consider other factors. Carrier has spent years waging a campaign against Christianity. This has to be taken into consideration when we see that Carrier has reached a conclusion, as he has in the case of Gal. 1:19, which is at odds with that of all biblical scholars.

  • James, I’ve noticed that the conversation on this post, especially in Nick Peters comments, has turned to defenses of the apologetics of Mike Licona and others. Those who argue the historicity of an actual resurrection.

    This is the polar opposite of mythicism, and just as dubious in it’s claims to use historical methodology. Miracle apologetics has a far greater popular following than mythicism, and has made far more headway into academic publishing.

    Isn’t this a greater problem than mythicism?

    • Potentially, although depending on the view that is adopted, in could be rather like mythicism, or more along the lines of theistic evolution, where the person is accepting what mainstream scholarship concludes, and simply adding more layers of interpretation which go beyond what science or scholarship can say. And there is a range of views in between. And since I have Licona’s book on my shelf and ought to have read it a year ago and blogged about it, I have been refraining from chiming in. But I will get caught up on that eventually and not just talk about the topic in blog comments, but in a blog post.

      • To borrow a term from another post of yours; resurrection apologetics is wacky.

        If I’m comparing the wackiness of the claim that Jesus didn’t exist versus the claim that Jesus worked miracles, flung out demons, and rose from the dead – I’d have to say the latter is the wackier academic claim.

      • Paul E.

        I hope there’s something else you read first! 😉