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Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? – An Interview with Carl Olson

Christians around the world are just a couple weeks away from celebrating what they consider the most important event in human history: the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

But for skeptics around the world, the celebration of Easter marks, at best, a mass confusion—delusion at worst.

So who is right? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Does the Resurrection make the best sense of the available evidence, or do we have better alternatives?

Those are the questions that Carl E. Olson probes in his new book, Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? Questions and Answers about the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus (Ignatius Press/Augustine Institute, 2016).

Today I sit down with Carl to ask about the book, some common misunderstandings about the Resurrection, and whether he thinks his arguments will convince skeptics.
 


 
BRANDON: A short review of Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead? on Google Books describes your book as "Fundamentalist obscurantist dribble" and then states: "Don't waste your time unless you like slanted deluded nonsense." How does that make you feel?

CARL OLSON: Does it matter how I feel?

BRANDON: No. But feelings are big these days.

CARL OLSON: Well, I find it amusing.

BRANDON: Why?

CARL OLSON: In a former, younger life I was a pretty good basketball player. However, I was only an average dribbler. So I'm not sure the, uh, reviewer is accurate or informed on that count. More to the point, and a more seriously, I am actually a former Fundamentalist. I know a bit about Fundamentalism—I even wrote an entire book about premillennial dispensationalism, which has long been a key theological perspective among many American Fundamentalists.

BRANDON: But you're a Catholic now...

CARL OLSON: Yes. In fact, this Easter marks the twentieth anniversary of my wife and I entering the Catholic Church. I grew up in a Fundamentalist home and then attended an Evangelical Bible College; my wife has a similar background.

BRANDON: How does that background inform or shape your understanding of the Resurrection?

CARL OLSON: While Catholics disagree with Fundamentalists about a number of important topics, the core belief in the bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ is something we certainly agree on. It is a fundamental belief, after all, of all orthodox Christians, going right back to the beginning of Christianity. In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community; handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross..." (par 638). Of course, Fundamentalists have issues with the word "Tradition", but that's a conversation for another time.

Near the end of my time in high school and then during my college years, I began to develop an interest in apologetics, especially as I began to meet and spend time with people who either had no interest in Christianity or who were openly antagonistic toward it. For example, in my first year of college I had an art professor who went on a rant one day about the "secret gospels" and how they told us "the truth" about the "real Jesus". I knew just enough to know he was spouting silliness, but not enough to really respond with specifics.

In my two years at Briercrest Bible College, I took courses in apologetics and Scripture, and began to read fairly widely in both fields, something I've done ever since. And so I refer to and quote often from the works of scholars such as N.T. Wright, Richard Bauckham, Dale Allison, Craig Evans, Michael Licona, Martin Hengel, Craig Keener, and many others, none of whom are Catholic. The fact is, much of the best New Testament scholarship in recent decades has been done by various Evangelical scholars, and I am certainly thankful for their impressive and helpful work. The Resurrection, which is of course part of the greater mystery of the Incarnation, is something that Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox can stand together on, learning from one another in the process.

In sum, to come full circle: if what I say in my book about the Resurrection is "Fundamentalist," then Peter, Paul, Augustine, John Chrysostom, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Pascal, Newman, Wesley, Barth, C.S. Lewis, Schmemann, and Pope Francis—to name just a very few—are all "Fundamentalists".

BRANDON: Are you implying that your book is not the work of an obscurantist party hack desperate to uphold a belief in deluded nonsense that rests on legends, myths, and cleverly devised tales?

CARL OLSON: I sense that is something of a loaded question, but I happy to answer in the negative.

BRANDON: Fair enough. Why, then, did you write the book?

CARL OLSON: The book was originally conceived as a possible study guide to a major motion picture about the Resurrection. That didn't work out, but we went ahead with it for a couple of reasons. The first is that there really hasn't been a work of popular Catholic apologetics focusing on the Resurrection to be published in quite some time. Certainly there have been works of Catholic apologetics that contain helpful chapters or sections on the topic—for example, Dr. Brant Pitre's excellent new book The Case for Jesus (which I mention in my book)—but none that focus exclusively on it.

Secondly, my sense has long been that quite a few Catholics (and other Christians as well) view the Resurrection as something we simply accept by faith; that is, we really don't have a way to argue for it using evidence, facts, and logic. That is, in my estimation, a very serious mistake.

Thirdly, anyone familiar with New Testament scholarship knows there is an incredible amount of recent and new literature about topics directly or indirectly relating to the Resurrection. Most people, for obvious reasons, simply cannot keep up with it all; more importantly, it can be so confusing and intimidating that many good and helpful things can be missed. And, conversely, many questionable or problematic popular books—by authors such as Bart Ehrman, Deepak Chopra, John Shelby Spong, Reza Aslan—receive a lot of time and attention from the secular media. My book seeks to be an introductory guide through some of the jungle.

BRANDON: Why did you choose to use a Q&A format in the book?

CARL OLSON: That was partially because we thought it might be a study guide. But I think it works well for a popular work on the topic because, again, there is so much to cover and using 75 or so questions helps make it more "bite-sized" for readers. Also, and equally important, I wanted the book to be conversational in nature, with the questions coming from a more skeptical, even antagonistic, perspective.

BRANDON: How did you arrive at the questions? What are some examples?

CARL OLSON: Mark Brumley, president of Ignatius Press and a very fine apologist, and I came up with the questions, drawing on our studies and experiences, which I then organized into chapters.

For example, in the opening chapter ("What's the Point?"), there is this question: "But why this fixation on the Resurrection? Why is it important whether Jesus rose from the dead—especially when it seems to be entirely a matter of faith?"

In the chapter on the historical reliability of the Gospels, there is this question: "You mentioned that the Gospels are some form of biography. But wouldn’t you agree that trustworthy biographies are built on facts and eye witness accounts, not on stories told by illiterate fishermen decades after the events? Why shouldn’t the Gospels, and their accounts of Jesus’s life—especially miraculous elements—be viewed with suspicion?"

And in chapter titled "Physical and Spiritual", there is a series of questions about the nature of Christ's body, including this question: "Paul also says that the 'first Adam became a living being,' quoting Genesis 2:7, while the last Adam, Jesus, became 'a life-giving spirit' (1 Cor 15:45). Doesn’t this suggest that the risen Jesus was a spirit?" And so forth.

BRANDON: Does the book assume the historical reliability of the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament?

CARL OLSON: On the contrary, rather than start with such an assumption, the book argues that it is reasonable to take the Gospels seriously as historical documents. Although I believe in that Scripture, as Dei Verbum states, was "written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit" (par 11), the book does not argue for that belief. One reason is because such an argument would require an entire book in itself; another is that I wanted to emphasize, throughout the book, that the testimony and accounts presented in the Gospel and other New Testament books, can and should be taken seriously as works conveying history and facts about real events and people in first century Palestine. As I argue in the book, there are a number of essential events in the Gospels that historians across the spectrums of faith and personal philosophy accept as real events, based on the criteria used by scholars in studying ancient texts.

BRANDON: But weren't the writers of the New Testament books biased?

CARL OLSON: Yes, of course, if by "bias" we meaning holding to certain convictions and beliefs about what they had witnessed, seen, and heard. As Craig Keener points out, contrary to what some modern writers assume, the “bias” of the gospel writers doesn’t mean their biographies of Christ are novelistic or fictional. All ancient historians had a certain “bias”; in fact, all historians have a “bias,” if by that we mean coming from a certain perspective and holding specific beliefs about the subject at hand.

The key is recognizing and acknowledging one’s perspectives—or what Michael R. Licona calls “horizons”—in assessing information, analyzing texts, and reaching conclusions. And so it is no surprise that historians and other scholars end up with such a wide array of understandings of who Jesus was and what he did, but often revealing more, arguably, about themselves than about Jesus.

BRANDON: What are, in your opinion, some of the common mistakes or misunderstandings made about the Resurrection?

CARL OLSON: There are quite a few! Here are a couple that stand out to me: First, many people seem to miss how compressed of time period is involved when discussing the events described in the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and Paul's writings. Put another way, there is often this sense that belief in the Resurrection developed over many, many decades (if not centuries), as in some sort of fog. But the evidence consistently points to a very compressed period of time. The German New Testament scholar Martin Hengel, for instance, notes that it is widely agreed that Jesus probably died in April of A.D. 30, and that Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus took place between A.D. 32 and 34—and then Paul’s letters were written between A.D. 50 and A.D. 57. This means that Paul—who had been persecuting the first Christians—was spending time with Peter, the head apostle, within just a few years of the Resurrection (cf. Gal 1:18).

As Hengel notes, this means that within the space of less than two decades, Paul emerged with a fully formed Christology that contains many clear references to pre‐Pauline language, titles, and theological assertions (such as, for instance, the great Christological hymn in Philippians 2:5–11). “In essentials,” Hengel writes, “more happened in Christology within these few years”—that is, from A.D. 32 to A.D. 50—“than in the whole subsequent seven hundred years of church history." But, as Hengel observes, rather dryly, “If we look through some works on the history of earliest Christianity we might get the impression that people in them had declared war on chronology.” And I think that is most assuredly the case in many instances.

Secondly, many people apparently assume that there are all sorts of things that could have happened: "We really can't know what happened!" But, in fact, there are only a certain number of limited options. To begin with, Jesus either rose from the dead or he didn't. If he didn't, then there are just a few possibilities: he was actually resuscitated and later died, the disciples made it all up, they suffered a group hallucination, or some variation thereof. There is also the "spiritual Resurrection" theory, which has been quite popular since the Enlightenment era. The book examines each of these and argues that each is seriously lacking.

Finally, there is the common (and understandable) argument that since there are apparently differing details in the post-Resurrection accounts, those accounts are either questionable or cannot be trusted at all. This is a pretty involved issue, but one thing I point out is that skeptics usually fixate on this or that detail and completely ignore the many agreements and cohesive nature, overall, of what is a most stunning and confusing event.

BRANDON: So you think skeptics are wrong to raise those questions?

CARL OLSON: Not at all! Those are good questions. And that's why they are in the book. But my conviction is that in a secular world, which is what we live in here in the West, skepticism cuts both ways. And that, as odd as it might sound, is good news. In other words, while skeptics and secular fundamentalists often act as if their constant appeals to science and reason have adequately explained every aspect of reality, that is only so much “secularist spin,” which actually refuses to think outside its own rather limited, materialist box. In other words, such secularists have simply created a narrative based on their materialist, scientistic assumptions but without actually offering either real proof or satisfying explanations for a whole host of things. So, yes, Christians have questions to answer—and they've been answering them since that Pentecost following the Resurrection. But so do the skeptics.

BRANDON: Do you think, then, that your book will convince skeptics?

CARL OLSON: I think the book presents evidence and arguments demonstrating that belief in the Resurrection is not irrational, or anti-historical, or "fundamentalist". Faith is different from reason, but it is never unreasonable or illogical; it is supra-rational. I like to think of the Resurrection as the "Big Bang" within history, changing everything that follows it while also raising startling questions that every one should contemplate and ponder. In the words of J.R.R. Tolkien: "The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the 'inner consistency of reality.' There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath."

Brandon Vogt

Written by

Brandon Vogt is a bestselling author, blogger, and speaker. He's also the founder of StrangeNotions.com. Brandon has been featured by several media outlets including NPR, CBS, FoxNews, SiriusXM, and EWTN. He converted to Catholicism in 2008, and since then has released several books, including The Church and New Media (Our Sunday Visitor, 2011), Saints and Social Justice (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014), and RETURN (Numinous Books, 2015). He works as the Content Director for Bishop Robert Barron's Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Brandon lives with his wife, Kathleen, and their five children in Central Florida. Follow him at BrandonVogt.com or connect through Twitter at @BrandonVogt.

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  • OMG

    Brandon,
    Thanks for this. I'm hopeful that you'll have some insight as to whether Catholics and Fundamentalists differ in understanding the nature of the "bodily" resurrection of Jesus. In John 20:26, Jesus came and stood in the midst of the apostles while the doors were locked. Jesus asks Mary Magdalene not to touch him on the morning of the resurrection (John 20:17). I don't know exactly where, but somewhere in Acts or the Gospels there is a line about not all people being able to see Jesus during the period after the resurrection but prior to his ascension. Catholic, I've had this nebulous notion of the body of the resurrected Christ being somehow extremely unusual, as in a body not really a typical body. Also, did Jesus' resurrected body demonstrate the ability to do unusual things (i.e., pass through walls) or do disciples and believers somehow perceive his body differently?

    • Carl Olson

      There's an entire chapter in my book on this topic, which is a very important—and challenging—one. Here's my take on your question re: Fundamentalists: most Fundamentalists don't spend a lot of time or effort arguing about the sort of details and nuances that you'll often find discussed among Catholics and Evangelicals. As a Fundamentalist, I was taught that Jesus rose bodily from the dead. Period. We knew and believed that his body had been glorified, but we didn't spent much or any time on that point. But that very issue is discussed in great detail by a number of Evangelical scholars. To take another example: I grew up believing in the Trinity, but was taught nothing at all about classic, orthodox insights into Nature, Persons, etc. Fundamentalists read Scripture in a rather wooden, literalist fashion; there is no patience with senses of Scripture and any sort of modern biblical scholarship.

  • In my two years at Briercrest Bible College, I took courses in apologetics and Scripture, and began to read fairly widely in both fields, something I've done ever since.

    It's purely a personal opinion of mine, but it seems to me apologetics and biblical scholarship don't mix. The danger, of course, is that the apologist wants to read scripture in a way that supports the case he or she is trying to make. It is exactly what Brant Pitre was accused of doing in Confecting Evidence: A Review of Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, which appeared in First Things. I was discouraged to see Olson refer to "Brant Pitre's excellent new book The Case for Jesus, since as I noted in other threads here on SN, I found that book by Pitre anything but excellent.

    • Carl Olson

      There's also a danger that the Scripture scholar wants to read scripture in a way that supports the case he or she is trying to make (Crossan immediately comes to mind). And I don't say that flippantly. I do agree that some apologists seek to shoehorn various passages of Scripture into certain arguments. But I also find that the best apologists employ a much deeper and more careful reading of Scripture. Believe it or not, I do have my disagreements with Pitre, even with the new book, which I do think is a very fine work of apologetics. The Rowe review in FT of the "Jewish Roots" book was weird and often unfair at best.

    • The danger, of course, is that the apologist wants to read scripture in a way that supports the case he or she is trying to make.

      Are you saying that the biblical scholar is not also subject to the same prejudice/​bias? Or that the biblical scholar is somehow better at resisting that prejudice/​bias? Note that appeal to the secular academy is no great guarantee of increased objectivity†. Note also this observation by Jonathan Haidt:

      And when we add that work to the mountain of research on motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, and the fact that nobody's been able to teach critical thinking. … You know, if you take a statistics class, you'll change your thinking a little bit. But if you try to train people to look for evidence on the other side, it can't be done. It shouldn't be hard, but nobody can do it, and they've been working on this for decades now. At a certain point, you have to just say, 'Might you just be searching for Atlantis, and Atlantis doesn't exist?' (The Rationalist Delusion in Moral Psychology, 16:47)

      Now, whether "it can't be done" or we moderns are simply that terrible at understanding how the mind works is a topic for another time. What is relevant here is that for biblical scholarship to have an edge, it seems that it has to do what a social psychologists claims we don't know how to do.

      But perhaps I have missed something?

       
      † Here's the summary of copious empirical observation from three sociologists. The topic is "what modernity is all about" and the concept tested is "accurate self-understanding". What is found is that, on average, those educated moderns called 'intellectuals' do not actually seem to have superior self-understanding.

          The presumption that one knows exactly what modernity is all about rests, in turn, on the deceptions of familiarity. An individual is generally ready to admit that he is ignorant of periods in the past or places on the other side of the globe. But he is much less likely to admit ignorance of his own period and his own place, especially if he is an intellectual. Everyone, of course, knows about his own society. Most of what he knows, however, is what Alfred Schutz has aptly called 'recipe knowledge'—just enough to get him through his essential transactions in social life. Intellectuals have a particular variety of 'recipe knowledge'; they know just enough to be able to get through their dealings with other intellectuals. There is a 'recipe knowledge' for dealing with modernity in intellectual circles: the individual must be able to reproduce a small number of stock phrases and interpretive schemes, to apply them in 'analysis' or 'criticism' of new things that come up in discussion, and thereby to authenticate his participation in what has been collectively defined as reality in these circles. Statistically speaking, the scientific validity of this intellectuals' 'recipe knowledge' is roughly random. The only safe course is to ignore it as much as one can if (for better or for worse) one moves in intellectual circles. Put simply: one must, as far as possible, examine the problem afresh. (The Homeless Mind, 12)

      • Are you saying that the biblical scholar is not also subject to the same prejudice/​bias?

        Wikipedia defines Christian apologetics as follows: "Christian apologetics (Greek: ἀπολογία, "verbal defence, speech in defence") is a field of Christian theology that presents historical, reasoned, and evidential bases for Christianity, defending it against objections." Of course, any scholar (any human being) will have his or her own position and the potential prejudices and biases that go with it. But it seems to me trying to be both an apologist and a serious biblical scholar is a tricky endeavor. It is perhaps a little akin to doing scientific research on tobacco use when you are getting your funding from the tobacco industry.

        The job of the apologist is to make the most persuasive arguments in favor of Christianity (or defenses of Christianity) possible. The job of the biblical scholar is to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Suppose a Catholic apologist is defending the dogma of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. He or she has a vested interest in explaining away references to the brothers and sisters of Jesus. I think a great many contemporary Catholic biblical scholars would today say that the weight of evidence is that Jesus had siblings, but add that Tradition and the teaching authority of the Catholic Church must be heeded on the question of Mary's perpetual virginity. But apologists are on rather weak ground appealing to Tradition and the teaching authority of the Catholic Church to explain away difficulties in biblical texts.

        • Rob Abney

          a great many contemporary Catholic biblical scholars would today say that the weight of evidence is that Jesus had siblings

          will you name the biblical scholars you are referring to?

          • See this article, which is over 20 years old. The "liberal" opinion has no doubt spread more widely over the past two decades. Meier, Perkins, and Johnson were and are major figures.

            . . . Then, four years ago, in his presidential address to the Catholic Biblical Assn., Father John P. Meier told a meeting at Loyola Marymount University that on historical grounds "the most probable opinion is that the brothers and sisters of Jesus were true siblings." . . .

            "No linguistic evidence warrants our interpreting Gospel passages about Jesus' brothers and sisters as his cousins," wrote Notre Dame scholar Jerome Neyrey in the new HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism. Neyrey said the word used in the original Greek could not be interpreted as "cousins."

            And Catholic scholar Pheme Perkins of Boston College contends that calling Jesus' brothers cousins "is plain ridiculous." . . .

            But Perkins concedes that there is a gap in the attitudes of Catholic Bible scholars and the faithful in the pews, who are often devoted to the image of Mary as a virgin, the holy mother of God.

            "If you found a birth certificate saying that James was the child of Mary, it wouldn't distress the academic community, but it would distress the faith community," she said.

            As bold as the shift in thinking about Jesus' family is, Luke Timothy Johnson, another Catholic scholar who discards the "cousins" explanation, finds compensating value in the image of Jesus as one of many children.

            The dogma of the Perpetual Virginity of Mary had its origin in Tradition, not the Bible, so it is a matter biblical scholarship can't really solve.

          • Rob Abney

            In his long CBQ article, 1992, pp. 1-28, he says on the last page that we must ask whether the hierarchy of truths should not let us accept Protestants into the Catholic Church without asking them to believe in Our Lady's perpetual virginity.
            There is a hierarchy of truths, in that some are more basic than others. But this does not at all mean we can countenance denial of even one doctrine taught repeatedly by the Ordinary Magisterium and the most ancient Creeds - and therefore infallible. Really,if some Protestants seemed to enter the Church, but did not accept the teaching authority, they would not be really Catholics, even if they accepted all but one of our teachings. That authority if really accepted leads them to accept all, not all minus one.

            That's from an EWTN article, which I would expect that you would discount based on the source. But it does make it seem as if Meir has a motive for his interpretation.

            The bible is not separate from Tradition, it is part of it, it was never intended to be able to teach the truths of Jesus Christ solely by itself.

        • Of course, any scholar (any human being) will have his or her own position and the potential prejudices and biases that go with it.

          Yes. It's serious business:

          And when we add that work to the mountain of research on motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, and the fact that nobody's been able to teach critical thinking. … You know, if you take a statistics class, you'll change your thinking a little bit. But if you try to train people to look for evidence on the other side, it can't be done. It shouldn't be hard, but nobody can do it, and they've been working on this for decades now. At a certain point, you have to just say, 'Might you just be searching for Atlantis, and Atlantis doesn't exist?' (The Rationalist Delusion in Moral Psychology, 16:47)

          Maybe, just maybe, this is simply an essential part of what it means to be a human being. If so, then you have two options: display this aspect of yourself and let it be examined and critiqued (with you defending it), or hide this aspect of yourself and let it subversively manipulate you and others. Which do you think is the more intellectually honest endeavor? It's not clear there is a third option.

          The job of the biblical scholar is to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

          That's the model; does it match reality? What Haidt wrote indicates that the answer may be "no". We could also consult the following science:

          Why does public conflict over societal risks persist in the face of compelling and widely accessible scientific evidence? We conducted an experiment to probe two alternative answers: the “Science Comprehension Thesis” (SCT), which identifies defects in the public’s knowledge and reasoning capacities as the source of such controversies; and the “Identity-protective Cognition Thesis” (ICT), which treats cultural conflict as disabling the faculties that members of the public use to make sense of decision-relevant science. In our experiment, we presented subjects with a difficult problem that turned on their ability to draw valid causal inferences from empirical data. As expected, subjects highest in numeracy—a measure of the ability and disposition to make use of quantitative information—did substantially better than less numerate ones when the data were presented as results from a study of a new skin-rash treatment. Also as expected, subjects’ responses became politically polarized—and even less accurate—when the same data were presented as results from the study of a gun-control ban. But contrary to the prediction of SCT, such polarization did not abate among subjects highest in numeracy; instead, it increased. This outcome supported ICT, which predicted that more Numerate subjects would use their quantitative-reasoning capacity selectively to conform their interpretation of the data to the result most consistent with their political outlooks. We discuss the theoretical and practical significance of these findings. (Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government)

          The smarter you are (specifically: good at evaluating [quantitative] evidence), the better you are at rationalizing your current beliefs in the face of the evidence and the more likely you are to do so. Hmmm, what do we do with that scientific evidence? Do we throw it out, because it disagrees with our preferred models of objective inquiry?

          • I see the problems, but what are we to do? Assume all of our beliefs, and all the findings of scholars, are the result of confirmation bias?

            You raise very important questions, but they are no more relevant to this particular thread than to any other thread.

          • We should face reality as it actually is, rather than pretending that it is something other than what it is. This includes our pretending that we are asymptotically approaching ideals which we are not asymptotically approaching. Pretending that prejudices and biases aren't there in scholarship is a recipe for worse scholarship. If the apologist is straightforward about his/her prejudices and biases instead of pretending that they don't exist or pretending that they do not appreciably impact how [s]he thinks about reality, why are we rhetorically punishing the apologist?

            Maybe the reason that the situation is as hard as Haidt says it is, is that we have been in massive denial about human nature for centuries, now. Maybe prejudices and biases can be changed, but you have to shed enough pretending, first. Maybe humans first have to be more honest and perceptive about their constitution than they want to be. You know: before you try to change reality, first understand reality. What if we've refused to understand reality—that is, a very specific part of reality, which apologetics and Christianity happens to care very much about?

          • What if we've refused to understand reality—that is, a very specific part of reality, which apologetics and Christianity happens to care very much about?

            Who writing here on Strange Notions is under the illusion that a theist can change an atheist's mind, or vice versa, or that somebody who takes a very conservative position on the Bible can change the mind of someone who takes a very liberal position on the Bible, or vice versa. Of course, people do change over time. Bart Ehrman is a prominent example. But I don't see the point of interrupting a thread here in an attempt to "understand reality." We all know enough about our own fixed positions or the fixed positions of others without fearing we are missing something about human nature.

            If you push Haidt's position too far, you have to ask whether he is not just as biased as anyone else, and consequently why should we pay attention to anything he says. Is he alone exempt from confirmation bias? Or is he so biased in favor of his own theory that we can't trust anything he says?

          • But I don't see the point of interrupting a thread here in an attempt to "understand reality."

            When you argue that biblical scholars are somehow better at understanding reality than Christian apologists, I think that it is important to check whether such things are likely true, based on the best available evidence and reasoning. What I have seen time and again is that when the area of study have normative implications for the one studying, bias and prejudice simply cannot be approximated away. You can either admit them for what they are and characterize them, or pretend they don't matter and then be blindly manipulated by them.

            We all know enough about our own fixed positions or the fixed positions of others without fearing we are missing something about human nature.

            Why should I believe this? Indeed, it seems to me that one of the biggest problems the West faces is too much confidence that Westerners understand (i) their own positions; (ii) the positions of others.

            If you push Haidt's position too far, you have to ask whether he is not just as biased as anyone else, and consequently why should we pay attention to anything he says. Is he alone exempt from confirmation bias? Or is he so biased in favor of his own theory that we can't trust anything he says?

            Of course. And only when positions are placed out in the open and investigated rigorously—as apologists like to do—can we really answer such questions. Pretend that you're unbiased or that your biases don't matter and things will only deteriorate further.

          • When you argue that biblical scholars are somehow better at understanding reality than Christian apologists . . . .

            What I said was as follows: "It's purely a personal opinion of mine, but it seems to me apologetics and biblical scholarship don't mix." Someone once said, "No man can serve two masters."

            Why should I believe this? Indeed, it seems to me that one of the biggest problems the West faces is too much confidence that Westerners understand (i) their own positions; (ii) the positions of others.

            You are responding to a quote taken out of context. I was not generalizing about the West. Let me extract the pertinent parts of my comment:

            Who writing here on Strange Notions is under the illusion . . . . But I don't see the point of interrupting a thread here in an attempt to "understand reality." We [i.e., those of us writing on Strange Notions] all know enough about our own fixed positions or the fixed positions of others without fearing we are missing something about human nature.

            You took a remark I made which I deliberately began with the words "It's purely a personal opinion of mine." If I had wanted to derail the discussion of the OP, perhaps I would have begun "It is a truth universally acknowledged."

            The questions you are raising are very important, but my point is that we don't have to answer them in order to continue with this thread. I remember hearing about a jury trial (it may very well have been fictional) in which the defense wanted to introduce expert testimony on the unreliability of eyewitness testimony. It was not permitted. The point of the trial was to try the defendant, not to decide the value (or lack thereof) of eyewitness testimony. The questions you are raising deserve to be discussed in their own right, not as preliminaries to a discussion on the resurrection of Jesus.

          • Here are both sentences:

            DN: It's purely a personal opinion of mine, but it seems to me apologetics and biblical scholarship don't mix. The danger, of course, is that the apologist wants to read scripture in a way that supports the case he or she is trying to make.

            Do you think the second is relevant to "a discussion on the resurrection of Jesus"?

          • It is relevant to the extent that Carl Olson, interpreter of scripture, is subverted into trying to make scripture into something it is not by Carl Olson, apologist. I am currently reading Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? (I've reached 28% in the Kindle version), and my preliminary opinion is that he relies far too heavily on the Bible as "historical."

            I just read a section in which Olson quotes three passages (Lk 1:1-4; 2 Pet 1:16; Jn 21:24-25) to demonstrate the NT authors' intentions, for example, "This is the disciple who is bering witness to these things, and we know that his testimony is true" from John. He then goes on to say the following:

            These three passages of Scripture do not, of course, prove the historicity of the New Testament. Rather, they suggest quite pointedly that the authors, far from being knuckle-dragging simpletons, set about to write works depicting real people and events—especially since they believed the narratives they recounted had meaning only if they really did occur. As such, the historical content should be judged not against tales of unicorns and Santa Claus, but against other first-century works of history and historical narrative.

            I don't ever remember suggesting that the New Testament authors were "knuckle-dragging simpletons." I don't think Bart Ehrman, or the Jesus Seminar, or Dominic Crosson, or any of the NT scholars I have read have maintained any such thing. This is not the kind of argument that is going to convince me.

          • I don't ever remember suggesting that the New Testament authors were "knuckle-dragging simpletons." I don't think Bart Ehrman, or the Jesus Seminar, or Dominic Crosson, or any of the NT scholars I have read have maintained any such thing. This is not the kind of argument that is going to convince me.

            Perhaps Carl Olson's audience is wider than what you just laid out. If you visit Outshine the Sun, Cross Examined, or Debunking Christianity, I bet you'd find quite a few people who would agree with the phrase "knuckle-dragging simpletons".

          • If there are really people who believe the NT authors were "knuckle-dragging simpletons," very few if any of them are going to read Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? let alone be persuaded by it. In fact, I think the vast majority of the people who will read the book will be those who already believe Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. It is my guess (admittedly based on no data) that the average reader of apologetics books is someone who just enjoys reading accounts of what he or she already believes, and maybe enjoys looking down on nonbelievers who think things like that the NT authors were "knuckle dragging simpletons." One of the 5-star reviews on Amazon reads:

            An excellent book for believers. I would have liked diagrams and photographs to illustrate the text. A wonderful book and well written. Unfortunately atheists will never believe unless they see the resurrection themselves. No argument, no amount of reason will ever convince a die hard atheist. They are proud of their atheism and nothing will ever convince them. Even if Jesus appears to them and they touch him they will still claim to disbelieve. Many atheists, not all, but many do not even like the idea of a God and an absolute standard of morality. Whatever feels good at that moment in time is their standard of morality.

          • If there are really people who believe the NT authors were "knuckle-dragging simpletons," very few if any of them are going to read Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? let alone be persuaded by it. In fact, I think the vast majority of the people who will read the book will be those who already believe Jesus did indeed rise from the dead.

            One of the women who attends a Bible study I lead with my wife really wants to get into apologetics with the group. Why? Because she regularly encounters atheists who like to talk about this stuff. Shall I ask her if any of them would describe any of the NT authors as "knuckle-dragging simpletons"?

            By the way, there's also this:

            For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26–31)

          • One of the women who attends a Bible study I lead with my wife really wants to get into apologetics with the group. Why? Because she regularly encounters atheists who like to talk about this stuff. Shall I ask her if any of them would describe any of the NT authors as "knuckle-dragging simpletons"?

            Yeah, sure. Ask her.

            This sounds like the case of a believer who is certain she is right, but needs "ammunition" because she can't answer the objections of atheists. I remember reading one of those ask-a-priest columns once and the questioner said something like, "Some of my non-Catholic friends have been challenging such-and-such a doctrine. Can you give me some good answers for them?" And the priest said, "Well, why do you believe that doctrine?"

            That, as I see it, is one of the weaknesses of apologetics. It's often for people who are committed to believing Christianity/Catholicism, but if someone challenges them, they need apologists to supply them with the reasons why they believe, and they need canned arguments.

          • Interesting. So should people only believe things which they can robustly defend against skeptics who are experts in the relevant field and can marshal the evidence (or part of the evidence, finding reasons to dismiss the rest) this way and that?

          • So should people only believe things which they can robustly defend against skeptics . . . .

            I wouldn't say that, but it isn't exactly what's under discussion. What is under discussion is a willful, deliberate form of "confirmation bias." If we find the concept of confirmation bias as a troubling realization of a flaw in human reasoning, shouldn't we be even more troubled that people say, "Someone is challenging my beliefs in a way I am having troubling dealing with. I'm going to study apologetics to get some good answers to those challenges."

            I don't think there is anything wrong with people whose faith is being challenged to acknowledge that there are questions that they can't answer and to feel they must dig deeper. But I think there should be some element of intellectual honesty and humility on the part of people being challenged so that they do not assume every challenge is necessarily wrong and turn to apologetics for reassurance.

            This is of course more complicated than I am making it here. I don't think a person who is challenged must immediately adopt a neutral stance every time he or she is faced with an unsettling question. But if you set yourself up as a "defender of the faith," it seems to me you have an obligation to truly understand the issues you are pontificating on rather than arm yourself with a collection of canned answers from apologists. Take the issue of the brothers and sisters of Jesus. In Catholic school, I was always taught that "brothers and sisters" could just as easily refer to cousins as to siblings. If that wasn't good enough, then maybe Joseph was a widower who had children from a previous marriage, so the brothers and sisters of Jesus were only half brothers and sisters. It seems to me that the danger of apologetics is to come up with "work arounds" to get out of difficulties presented by biblical texts.

            Of course, to be fair, I suppose there can be good apologetics as well as bad apologetics. And as I have noted several times before, I was less than pleased in Catholic school to be told, "Well, I can't explain it, but this is what you have to believe."

          • Your treatment of confirmation bias appears to depend on the idea of scholars whose research is not significantly impacted by their prejudices and biases, even when the research is on topics which carry normative import for those scholars. This is precisely what I have questioned, with scientific support. I suspect you are setting up an impossible ideal. We can delude ourselves into believing we (or the noble among us) have [approximately] reached that ideal if we carefully hide our prejudices and biases, rather than tease them out as the better apologists do.

            Think of it this way. You are the instrument with which you explore reality. You are not aware of huge aspects of how that instrument operates. Much is hidden from consciousness. Is it not better to characterize the instrument rather than pretend it operates in some particular way? After robust characterization, we can then consider how it might be good to alter the instrument. But if we refuse to do that characterization, we'll be banging here and there without having anything remotely resembling a scientific understanding of what we're doing. Instead, we will tell ourselves pretty stories which make us feel good about ourselves.

            Perhaps the missing piece is that I don't think every single Christian has to come to the kind of massive understanding you seem to be requiring of him/her. Different people can take on different aspects, and there can be experts who are more integrative. (Society these days is severely lacking in the integrative disciplines, denigrating them as "jack of all trades, master of none".) There are dangers to partial understanding in any domain, but I know of no solution which isn't going to involve a whole lot of what you don't like. The Enlightenment ideal of autonomous individuals fully rooted in Reason seems ridiculous in our day and age, at least for many people under current cultural conditions. I would like to believe that can change because of my understanding of the New Covenant, but as atheists repeatedly tell me, what I like and dislike has absolutely no bearing on anything in reality.

            When it comes to your experience in Catholic school, I have little to say. I am not Catholic, and I never had beliefs forced on me in that manner.

          • You have not said anything to cause me to change my original opinion, which was that apologetics and biblical scholarship don't mix.

            This is precisely what I have questioned, with scientific support.

            Scientific? You didn't even include any equations.

          • Biblical scholarship would probably be aided by the scholars first doing apologetics to flesh out just what they believe. That way, with the instrument characterized, they can be more confident in its exploration of reality. For example, one could have more confidence about which measurements are artifacts and which measurements are likely to be due to instrument-independent reality. This is a way for the two not to mix which nevertheless doesn't paint apologetics in the horrible light you seem to want to paint it. (Modulo your possible kinda-concession of "Of course, to be fair, I suppose there can be good apologetics as well as bad apologetics.")

            As to science & equations, would you be willing to enumerate the equations in On the Origin of Species?

          • Michael Murray

            What if we've refused to understand reality

            We atheists do keep telling you this :-)

          • Oh yes, I've been told that many a time. And yet, when I produce empirical evidence such as the following—

                Another exaggeration may have been the conventional view of the reach of scientific rationality. One does not have to look at religion only in order to find this thought plausible. It is amazing what people educated to the highest levels of scientific rationality are prepared to believe by way of irrational prejudices; one only has to look at the political and social beliefs of the most educated classes of Western societies to gain an appreciation of this. Just one case: What Western intellectuals over the last decades have managed to believe about the character of Communist societies is alone sufficient to cast serious doubt on the proposition that rationality is enhanced as a result of scientifically sophisticated education or of living in a modern technological society. (A Far Glory, 30)

            —they tend to scurry away or deflect. I can add to that Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government or the following from Jonathan Haidt:

            And when we add that work to the mountain of research on motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, and the fact that nobody's been able to teach critical thinking. … You know, if you take a statistics class, you'll change your thinking a little bit. But if you try to train people to look for evidence on the other side, it can't be done. It shouldn't be hard, but nobody can do it, and they've been working on this for decades now. At a certain point, you have to just say, 'Might you just be searching for Atlantis, and Atlantis doesn't exist?' (The Rationalist Delusion in Moral Psychology, 16:47)

            Somehow, such empirical evidence doesn't seem to get processed by the atheists I've presented it to so far. I wonder why. (I seriously do.)

          • And yet, when I produce empirical evidence such as the following—

            When you speak of empirical evidence, do you regard it as equivalent to empirical fact? Or do you make a distinction between evidence and fact?

          • I don't know if I have a solid distinction between the two; perhaps my firm belief in Ceteris Paribus Laws biases me toward the more tentative "empirical evidence", over against the totalistic "empirical fact". In the case at hand, I wouldn't be surprised if some people are more rational overall thanks to science. I hold out the possibility that the Dunning–Kruger effect does not universally apply. Going a bit further afield, if one examines the Creating God in your own image article, it is all to easy to skate over the opening "For many religious people", and generalize to "For all religious people". I suppose I have it in my mind that "fact" is more closely associated with "all", while "evidence" is not.

          • When you speak of empirical evidence, do you regard it as equivalent to empirical fact? Or do you make a distinction between evidence and fact?

            I don't know if I have a solid distinction between the two; perhaps my firm belief in Ceteris Paribus Laws biases me toward the more tentative "empirical evidence", over against the totalistic "empirical fact".

            I have no idea what you might mean here by “totalistic,” but I would make the distinction as follows. Given some proposition or statement P of purported empirical fact, I would regard as evidence E for P any other empirical fact or set of facts that justifies my thinking that P is more likely to be true than it would have been had E not obtained. And if this sounds Bayesian, it's because I am a Bayesian. No other interpretation of evidence, it seems to me, incorporates a consistent application of logic to the concept. The prior, or antecedent, probability of P is the likelihood of its being true absent any evidence. The consequent probability is that which it acquires as a result of the evidence, and if the consequent probability is greater than the prior, then the evidence has provided us some reason – but not necessarily sufficient reason – to believe P. It seems reasonable to me to suppose that we're justified in believing a proposition unless the evidence for it results in a consequent probability of more than ½, and whether it does that will depend, among other things, on what its prior probability was. A proposition with a very low antecedent probability requires better evidence to become credible than a proposition with a higher antecedent probability.

            In saying that evidence must be some fact or set of facts, I intend to say something rather specific. For a proposition that is in dispute, we get no epistemological benefit from using evidence that is itself disputed. In your earlier post, you referred to “empirical evidence such as the following” and then quoted something from a book by Peter Berger in which he expressed certain opinions about science, rationality, and their relationship to modern political and social thought. The only indisputable fact there is that a sociologist of some repute expressed those opinions. An authority's endorsement of some opinion does arguably give us some reason to accept that opinion ourselves, but whether the reason suffices to establish a high consequent probability depends on a presupposition that may or may not be counted, in Bayesian terms, as part of our background knowledge. This presupposition is that the authority has, prior to stating the opinion, produced a justification that would convince us if we could examine it ourselves in the same detail in which he did. In other words, we are to imagine that he has shown us all the evidence on which he based his opinion and reconstructed the argument by which he inferred his opinion from that evidence, and that we would be justifiably convinced by his having done so. This presupposition, I would argue, is sometimes justified and sometimes not. In short, if an expert says X, then the only fact counting as evidence for anything is not X itself, but an expert's affirmation of X.

            it is all to easy to skate over the opening "For many religious people", and generalize to "For all religious people". I suppose I have it in my mind that "fact" is more closely associated with "all", while "evidence" is not.

            I would argue that whatever is not a fact cannot be evidence, period. Anything said about all religious people is almost never a fact except by entailment from its being true of all people regardless of their religiosity. And, it should be obvious, whatever is true of all people cannot be evidence for any difference between religious and nonreligious people.

          • I have no idea what you might mean here by “totalistic,” …

            The term "fact" implies a sort of polish that remove a tentativeness which I think is critical. For example, is it a fact that the earth moves around the sun? Well, if the entire solar system is actually moving through space, perhaps the earth is actually behind the sun, even by a few angstroms. My guess is that such a difference would not show up except on long time scales. And yet, I find people wanting to make "facts" absolutely true.

            And if this sounds Bayesian, it's because I am a Bayesian. No other interpretation of evidence, it seems to me, incorporates a consistent application of logic to the concept.

            Try out Dempster–Schafer theory, plus Ignoring Ignorance is Ignorant. :-)

            The prior, or antecedent, probability of P is the likelihood of its being true absent any evidence.

            Yes, I'm very interested in just what that prior is and how it gets set. Based on stuff like Chomsky's poverty of the stimulus and other anti-tabula rasa thinking and evidence, it seems to me that the prior of any human being is radically different from the "uninformative" prior. Things get even more problematic when you realize that how you categorize is part of your information about the world, and therefore a maximally uninformative prior would have to be somehow maximally unstructured. You weren't born pre-programmed with a belief-slot for every proposition.

            For a proposition that is in dispute, we get no epistemological benefit from using evidence that is itself disputed.

            Sure you do, unless disputation is an all-or-nothing thing. We have formalized ways to perform "sensor fusion", when multiple noisy sensors give overlapping information. An example would be the Kalman filter, which is Bayesian.

            In your earlier post, you referred to “empirical evidence such as the following” and then quoted something from a book by Peter Berger in which he expressed certain opinions about science, rationality, and their relationship to modern political and social thought.

            Yes; on the one hand, I'm playing a bit fast-and-loose with the term "empirical evidence". On the other hand, there is no such thing as a bare number, free from interpretation, free from theoretical structure, which is a "fact". There was a very interesting shift in our history, from acknowledging the central role of interpretation, to forgetting it. Mary Poovey details it in her A History of the Modern Fact: Problems of Knowledge in the Sciences of Wealth and Society.

            In short, if an expert says X, then the only fact counting as evidence for anything is not X itself, but an expert's affirmation of X.

            All knowledge is personal. I'd be willing to hash this claim out at some length; I'd draw heavily on Michael Polanyi's Personal Knowledge (13,000 + 9,000 'citations'). I'm sure plenty of those citations disagree with Polanyi. :-)

            I would argue that whatever is not a fact cannot be evidence, period.

            So is a fact a micro-theory, or micro-hypothesis?

          • I have no idea what you might mean here by “totalistic,” …

            The term "fact" implies a sort of polish that remove a tentativeness which I think is critical.

            When I use the word, I intend no such implications.

            For example, is it a fact that the earth moves around the sun?

            Yes.

            Well, if the entire solar system is actually moving through space, perhaps the earth is actually behind the sun, even by a few angstroms.

            In what coordinate system? And in that system, which direction is forward?

            And yet, I find people wanting to make "facts" absolutely true.

            And therefore, what? I’m not one of those people. Can we keep this conversation between and you and me? As I told you in another thread a while back, the only opinions I’m here to defend are my own.

            No other interpretation of evidence, it seems to me, incorporates a consistent application of logic to the concept.

            Try out Dempster–Schafer theory,

            A proper Bayesian argument is logically valid. There is no better application of logic.

            plus Ignoring Ignorance is Ignorant.

            For countless hypotheses, the prior probabilities are subject to reasonable disagreement. And as long as that is true, reasonable people will disagree about the consequent probabilities of those hypotheses regardless of whatever evidence is at issue.

            The prior, or antecedent, probability of P is the likelihood of its being true absent any evidence.

            Yes, I'm very interested in just what that prior is and how it gets set.

            As we all should be and too many are not. One good thing about using Bayes’ Theorem in good faith is that it forces one to confront that very issue.

            Based on stuff like Chomsky's poverty of the stimulus and other anti-tabula rasa thinking and evidence, it seems to me that the prior of any human being is radically different from the "uninformative" prior.

            I see no relevant whatsoever in Chomsky’s thinking to what we’re discussing. I’d never heard of the uninformative prior until just now, and the page you linked to gave me no reason to think I have missed anything I should care about.

            For a proposition that is in dispute, we get no epistemological benefit from using evidence that is itself disputed.

            Sure you do, unless disputation is an all-or-nothing thing.

            For any given proposition, a dispute exists or it does not. Of course people can argue about what constitutes a dispute. Some creationists will assure anyone who listens to them that there is a dispute within the scientific community over whether evolution is a fact. Notwithstanding their insistence, that dispute does not exist.

            there is no such thing as a bare number, free from interpretation, free from theoretical structure, which is a "fact".

            If I am arguing for some empirical proposition, and I claim that certain facts A, B, and C are evidence for that proposition, and you sincerely think it is uncertain whether they are facts, then if we wish to continue the debate, the focus of our discussion will have to be on whether A, B, and C are actual facts.

            But, if you are honestly of the opinion that there just are no facts, period, or that there are facts but we cannot know any of them, then you have embraced a kind of skepticism with which I cannot communicate.

            In short, if an expert says X, then the only fact counting as evidence for anything is not X itself, but an expert's affirmation of X.

            All knowledge is personal.I don’t believe that contradicts what I said.

            So is a fact a micro-theory, or micro-hypothesis?

            No.

          • I'm afraid I may have misunderstood what you wrote a comment up:

            DS: Given some proposition or statement P of purported empirical fact, I would regard as evidence E for P any other empirical fact or set of facts that justifies my thinking that P is more likely to be true than it would have been had E not obtained.

            Perhaps you could help me understand how you get "facts" from sense data? Surely some processing must be done before sense data becomes "fact"?

          • Perhaps you could help me understand how you get "facts" from sense data?

            Perhaps I could, but we’d be changing the subject.

            Surely some processing must be done before sense data becomes "fact"?

            That processing had to have happened before we started discussing whether the fact supports whatever hypothesis we’re arguing about. That processing is how we became aware of the fact, if it is a fact, or acquired the mistaken belief in its factuality if it isn’t.

            If I’m defending my belief in some hypothesis H by claiming that some fact F supports H, then you’re certainly entitled to rebut my argument by claiming that F isn’t really a fact. At that point, I’m obliged to defend my belief that it is a fact, and for that, I might need to produce the evidence on which I base that belief. And you can then challenge the factuality of that evidence. But this can’t go on forever. There are certain things about reality that you and I both just assume to be the case. We might hold many common assumptions or we might not, but if we can identify the particular assumptions that we disagree about, then we will have identified the roots of our disagreement about nearly everything else.

          • Ok, so my criticism is that you are ignoring a critical layer of cognition:

                 (A) sensory impressions
                   ↓
                 (B) sensory organs
                   ↕
                 (C) non-Bayesian filtering, interpretation, and partitioning
                   ↕
                 (D) Bayesian inference mechanism
                   ↕
                 (E) other conscious cognition

            Computer vision folks have formalized this. (They have not exhaustively formalized all possible options.) In a sense (D) and (E) should be on the same level and both interact with (C), but hopefully the above is sufficient for our discussion.

            I think a lot happens in (C) that is worth critiquing. When Isaiah 6 talks about "seeing and not perceiving" and "hearing and not understanding", the root of the problem can lie solely in (C). If speech of "facts" presupposes that my (C) is like your (C), then I'm fully within my rights to question whether your (C) is all that it should be. But that requires destabilizing the notion of 'fact'. However, one cannot destabilize so far such that the following becomes true:

            DS: But, if you are honestly of the opinion that there just are no facts, period, or that there are facts but we cannot know any of them, then you have embraced a kind of skepticism with which I cannot communicate.

            One way of properly deconstructing is to determine just what we really do agree on. It is possible to get along with people with very little actual agreement; indeed, Rawlsian political liberalism is founded upon this idea. Or at least, it is possible to do this for some period of time; the American Revolution, the Franco-Prussian War, and World War I offer critiques to the idea that such a setup is perpetually stable. But I suspect it is rather important to ensure that we do not deceive ourselves into thinking that we agree on more than we actually do. Blithe speech of 'facts' can easily thwart such an endeavor. I think 'empirical evidence' is superior, because it intrinsically supports the notion of multiple possible interpretations.

          • Ok, so my criticism is that you are ignoring a critical layer of cognition:

            I don't know what you're criticizing. For all that I can figure out what you're getting at, you could be disputing my assertion that facts exist, or you could be disputing my assertion that we're justified in claiming to know what some of those facts are, or you could be disputing something else I've asserted but I just haven't caught on to what that something is. So, which is it?

          • I don't know what you're criticizing.

            All the Bayesian inference in the world won't help if (C) non-Bayesian filtering, interpretation, and partitioning is screwed up.

          • All the Bayesian inference in the world won't help if (C) non-Bayesian filtering, interpretation, and partitioning is screwed up.

            OK. So what are non-Bayesian filtering, interpretation, and partitioning?

          • Tell me, do the activations of your rods and cones get sent directly to your Bayesian inference?

          • You know the answer to that question. It does not give me an answer to mine.

          • I don't have a precise model of exactly everything that happens before you get your inputs to your Bayesian inference. All I need to establish is that there is a tremendous amount of processing which does indeed happen before you get your inputs to your Bayesian inference. Do I really need to do more work to establish that?

          • Do I really need to do more work to establish that?

            The work you need to do is to respond to the following, which I don't think you've done yet:

            For all that I can figure out what you're getting at, you could be disputing my assertion that facts exist, or you could be disputing my assertion that we're justified in claiming to know what some of those facts are, or you could be disputing something else I've asserted but I just haven't caught on to what that something is. So, which is it?

            Let's try this one step at a time. I assert that facts exist. Do you disagree with that assertion?

          • The closest definition I recall from you of "fact" was circular:

            DS: Given some proposition or statement P of purported empirical fact, I would regard as evidence E for P any other empirical fact or set of facts that justifies my thinking that P is more likely to be true than it would have been had E not obtained.

            And when I tried to make it non-circular:

            LB: Perhaps you could help me understand how you get "facts" from sense data? Surely some processing must be done before sense data becomes "fact"?

            DS: Perhaps I could, but we’d be changing the subject.

            So you're asking me to confirm/​deny the existence of an entity you may define differently than I. Alasdair MacIntyre provides a wonderful example of how things can mess up:

            The twentieth century observer looks into the night sky and sees stars and planets; some earlier observers saw instead chinks in a sphere through which the light beyond could be observed. What each observer takes himself or herself to perceive is identified and has to be identified by theory-laden concepts. Perceivers without concepts, as Kant almost said, are blind. (After Virtue, 79)

            Is it a "fact" that the sky is a solid sphere, or not? If you say it is not a fact, then Ptolemy and his friends get shoved in this direction:

            DS: But, if you are honestly of the opinion that there just are no facts, period, or that there are facts but we cannot know any of them, then you have embraced a kind of skepticism with which I cannot communicate.

            What I think is really true comes from Bernard d'Espagnat, who decided to update philosophy with the latest quantum physics:

                Finally then, should we call "mere appearances" appearances—causal ones included—that are the same for all those who are able to perceive them (including, perhaps, animals)? As we know, idealists answer this question negatively, and on this particular point it seems difficult to call them wrong. In fact our judgment on this matter depends very much on the meaning we impart to words. It goes without saying that referring to things conceived as being independent of us greatly facilitates everyday life. From this it follows that we have a natural tendency toward reifying. Concerning objects, this is an approach that, with regard to practical points, is entirely legitimate. It may quite well be accepted also in philosophy, but only provided we keep in mind that, by making use of this objectivist language, we, in fact, merely refer to our communicable experience. With this reservation, empirical reality, the reality that is ours, within which we are born, life, and die, does really qualify for being called "reality." In the sense just defined it would not only be incorrect but also inconsistent to claim it is merely an "appearance." But at the same time we must remember that in view of contemporary physics such a reifying proves unwarranted when we, naively, take it strictly literally. To repeat, we have to keep in mind the fact that it finally is but a means of stating in a convenient manner some possible observational predictions (and therefore of predicting and planning possible actions). And finally, within the framework of such a conception, while the distinction between (empirical) reality and "appearances in a trivial sense" of course remains essential, the one between (empirical) reality and "appearances that are the same, at all times, for everybody" clearly ceases to be valid. (On Physics and Philosophy, 411)

            The one problem I have with this is the absolute universalizing: "the same for all who are able to perceive them". It is easy to pretend this is true and then ostracize anyone who sees them differently. I don't know exactly what d'Espagnat meant there, so it may or may not be a disagreement with him.

            In light of all this, we can call "facts" those aspects of experiences that we can find ways to describe such that the description I give can arbitrarily well-match the description you give. These things obviously exist. But I'm not sure that is what you mean by "fact".

          • The closest definition I recall from you of "fact" was circular:
            DS: Given some proposition or statement P of purported empirical fact, I would regard as evidence E for P any other empirical fact or set of facts that justifies my thinking that P is more likely to be true than it would have been had E not obtained.

            I was not trying to define “fact” there. I was trying to explain the distinction that I perceived between evidence and fact. I was assuming that we agreed on the meaning of “fact” but disagreed on the meaning of “evidence.”

            And when I tried to make it non-circular:
            LB: Perhaps you could help me understand how you get "facts" from sense data? Surely some processing must be done before sense data becomes "fact"?

            Your question, as I understood it, was not about the meaning of “fact” but about the means by which we become aware of a fact.

            So you're asking me to confirm/deny the existence of an entity you may define differently than I.

            I’ve been assuming that whatever I mean by “fact” is the same as whatever you mean. Perhaps that assumption has been unwarranted.

            In light of all this, we can call "facts" those aspects of experiences that we can find ways to describe such that the description I give can arbitrarily well-match the description you give. These things obviously exist. But I'm not sure that is what you mean by "fact".

            The context of this discussion, as I perceive it, is whether we’re justified in using a Bayesian analysis if we wish to know whether some body of evidence justifies our belief in some hypothesis that is alleged to be supported by that evidence. By "body of evidence," I claim, we must be referring to some fact or set of facts. In this context, I would define “fact” as some state of affairs that actually obtains, and thus any statement reporting that state of affairs is a true statement.

            This means, unfortunately, that “fact” and “truth” become defined in terms of each other and thus circularly. This kind of circularity is at some point unavoidable in any discussion about anything. Euclid didn’t seem to quite understand this, and we had to wait for Hilbert to make it clear in the case of geometry, but it is universally relevant. Whatever issue we’re discussing, we reach a point where we have to assume that certain words we’re both using mean the same thing to both of us. And if we cannot assume that, then further discussion becomes pointless.

          • LB: The closest definition I recall from you of "fact" was circular:

            DS: Given some proposition or statement P of purported empirical fact, I would regard as evidence E for P any other empirical fact or set of facts that justifies my thinking that P is more likely to be true than it would have been had E not obtained.

            DS: I was not trying to define “fact” there. I was trying to explain the distinction that I perceived between evidence and fact.

            The only distinction I can see is that 'evidence' is "one or more facts which can support ___", where the only option so far for the blank is another [purported empirical] fact.

            I was assuming that we agreed on the meaning of “fact” but disagreed on the meaning of “evidence.”

            I'm sorry, but ever since your "evidence for ... nonempirical propositions", I'm going to assume no such things in this domain when it comes to the two of us.

            Your question, as I understood it, was not about the meaning of “fact” but about the means by which we become aware of a fact.

            I'm not sure the two can be all that disentangled. Need I reference the routine appeals I hear everywhere about how "what is science" is deeply related to "the scientific method"?

            The context of this discussion, as I perceive it, is whether we’re justified in using a Bayesian analysis if we wish to know whether some body of evidence justifies our belief in some hypothesis that is alleged to be supported by that evidence.

            That discussion is inevitably going to reduce to, "Can you find a better way?" I'm not sure the formalism that is required to set up the question permits any other answer. But I'm not going to immediately submit to that formalism.

            In this context, I would define “fact” as some state of affairs that actually obtains, and thus any statement reporting that state of affairs is a true statement.

            Yep, you're going one step beyond d'Espagnat and yours truly.

            This means, unfortunately, that “fact” and “truth” become defined in terms of each other and thus circularly. This kind of circularity is at some point unavoidable in any discussion about anything.

            Is it? This seems to presuppose that language does not have an external referent. Although, there is a sense of interdependence which does not seem circular to me; an example would be 'person' and 'relationship'. I do not see how those can be defined without reference to each other, and yet in no way do they reduce to each other.

            Whatever issue we’re discussing, we reach a point where we have to assume that certain words we’re both using mean the same thing to both of us.

            You see that I covered this, right?

          • You see that I covered this, right?

            Clarity is not your strong suit. I often have no idea what you think you have covered.

          • DS: Whatever issue we’re discussing, we reach a point where we have to assume that certain words we’re both using mean the same thing to both of us.

            LB: You see that I covered this, right?

            DS: Clarity is not your strong suit. I often have no idea what you think you have covered.

            Really? Let's examine the record:

            LB: In light of all this, we can call "facts" those aspects of experiences that we can find ways to describe such that the description I give can arbitrarily well-match the description you give. These things obviously exist.

            Would you please explain to me how the immediately above does not cover the first chunk of words from you I quote in this comment?

          • I cannot explain why I don't understand you. I can only tell you when I don't.

          • So you cannot make any sense out of the what I said—

            LB: In light of all this, we can call "facts" those aspects of experiences that we can find ways to describe such that the description I give can arbitrarily well-match the description you give. These things obviously exist.

            —such that it connects to what you said—

            DS: Whatever issue we’re discussing, we reach a point where we have to assume that certain words we’re both using mean the same thing to both of us.

            ?

          • So you cannot make any sense out of the what I said—

            LB: In light of all this . . . .

            I didn't say that. What I said was, "I often have no idea what you think you have covered" in response to your statement "You see that I covered this, right?"

          • The irony here is that you are being incredibly opaque in this very situation. So how about a yes/no answer to the following:

            DS: Whatever issue we’re discussing, we reach a point where we have to assume that certain words we’re both using mean the same thing to both of us.

            LB: You see that I covered this, right?

            If "yes", then your subsequent note about lack of clarity is gratuitous. If "no", then either "So you cannot make any sense out of the what I said" is true or "I cannot explain why I don't understand you." is false. I see no third option, but you are good at that, so perhaps you can show it to me.

          • So how about a yes/no answer to the following:

            DS: Whatever issue we’re discussing, we reach a point where we have to assume that certain words we’re both using mean the same thing to both of us.
            LB: You see that I covered this, right?

            When you first posted it, the answer was no. I did not see it then.

          • Well, perhaps you can tell me why you don't think these two things do not cover a lot of the same thing, or how the bit I said originally did not make as much sense or was as relevant as it is now:

            DS: Whatever issue we’re discussing, we reach a point where we have to assume that certain words we’re both using mean the same thing to both of us.

            +

            LB: In light of all this, we can call "facts" those aspects of experiences that we can find ways to describe such that the description I give can arbitrarily well-match the description you give. These things obviously exist.

            This is critical information if I am to improve on the following:

            DS: Clarity is not your strong suit. I often have no idea what you think you have covered.

            Then again, possibly it is not clarity on my part but reading comprehension on yours which is the problem. Further investigation would help me discern which is which and make all the adjustments I can do improve communication.

          • Then again, possibly it is not clarity on my part but reading comprehension on yours which is the problem.

            Yes, possibly. I don't know a good way to prove that that is not the case.

          • In this context, I would define “fact” as some state of affairs that actually obtains, and thus any statement reporting that state of affairs is a true statement.

            Yep, you're going one step beyond d'Espagnat and yours truly.

            OK, so now we know. When you and I are talking about facts, we're not talking about the same thing.

          • When I use the word, I intend no such implications.

            Ok.

            In what coordinate system? And in that system, which direction is forward?

            In a normal Cartesian coordinate system, no adjustments for general relativity. Direction of forward is irrelevant. Really, all that matters here is the lack of coplanar motion.

            And therefore, what? I’m not one of those people. Can we keep this conversation between and you and me? As I told you in another thread a while back, the only opinions I’m here to defend are my own.

            You wrote "I have no idea what you might mean here by “totalistic,”"; I was explaining. Other people are part of my explanation. Why? Because I am a social being, and language is an essentially social phenomenon.

            A proper Bayesian argument is logically valid. There is no better application of logic.

            Logic applies to already-carved-up reality. How to carve it up is another matter.

            One good thing about using Bayes’ Theorem in good faith is that it forces one to confront that very issue.

            Philosophers were forcing people to confront the issue long ago. It's nice to have something more formal, but it's not like we didn't know that one's a priori beliefs impact how one processes sensory input.

            I see no relevant whatsoever in Chomsky’s thinking to what we’re discussing. I’d never heard of the uninformative prior until just now, and the page you linked to gave me no reason to think I have missed anything I should care about.

            Umm, how much do you actually know about Bayesian inference?

            For any given proposition, a dispute exists or it does not. Of course people can argue about what constitutes a dispute.

            That's like saying for any number on the real interval [0, 1], it is either zero or nonzero. That misses the question of whether the interval is real or integer. Part of the essence of Bayesian inference is to be able to deal with probability distributions on that interval. Now, if you want to define "disputed" in a totalistic fashion—such that there is absolutely no chance of budging on that matter unless something else changes—then feel free to do so. But per my understanding of the English language, 'disputed' doesn't have to mean that. I can dispute a premise, be uneasy about it, but allow for my interlocutor to press forward regardless—at least for a time.

            But, if you are honestly of the opinion that there just are no facts, period, or that there are facts but we cannot know any of them, then you have embraced a kind of skepticism with which I cannot communicate.

            This statement is quite ironic, given that I produced a less stringent notion of 'fact' than you, a notion which satisfies your communication requirement:

            LB: In light of all this, we can call "facts" those aspects of experiences that we can find ways to describe such that the description I give can arbitrarily well-match the description you give. These things obviously exist. But I'm not sure that is what you mean by "fact".

            Contrast to your own definition:

            DS: In this context, I would define “fact” as some state of affairs that actually obtains, and thus any statement reporting that state of affairs is a true statement.

            Curiously enough, the stance that science can be corrected on any point—which ostensibly you believe—undermines this totalistic stance.

          • Well, if the entire solar system is actually moving through space, perhaps the earth is actually behind the sun, even by a few angstroms.

            In what coordinate system? And in that system, which direction is forward?

            In a normal Cartesian coordinate system, no adjustments for general relativity. Direction of forward is irrelevant.

            In any Cartesian system, the words “behind” and “ahead” are meaningless without reference to some direction designated “forward.”

            And yet, I find people wanting to make "facts" absolutely true.

            And therefore, what? I’m not one of those people. Can we keep this conversation between and you and me? As I told you in another thread a while back, the only opinions I’m here to defend are my own.

            You wrote "I have no idea what you might mean here by “totalistic,”"; I was explaining. Other people are part of my explanation.

            You were telling me what those other people meant by “facts,” and the context made it apparent that you disagreed with them. You can’t tell me what you mean just by telling me that other people are wrong about what they mean.

            A proper Bayesian argument is logically valid. There is no better application of logic.

            Logic applies to already-carved-up reality. How to carve it up is another matter.

            That would go to the soundness of any argument. It has nothing to do with the argument’s validity.

            The prior, or antecedent, probability of P is the likelihood of its being true absent any evidence.

            Yes, I'm very interested in just what that prior is and how it gets set.

            As we all should be and too many are not. One good thing about using Bayes’ Theorem in good faith is that it forces one to confront that very issue.

            Philosophers were forcing people to confront the issue long ago

            Philosophers have never forced people to do anything. They can only advise them, and their advice, when good (as it frequently is not), is typically ignored if it is inconsistent with what people want to believe.

            I see no relevant whatsoever in Chomsky’s thinking to what we’re discussing. I’d never heard of the uninformative prior until just now, and the page you linked to gave me no reason to think I have missed anything I should care about.

            Umm, how much do you actually know about Bayesian inference?

            I’ve never claimed to know everything. You’re welcome to try filling in any gaps you find. You’ll have to do better than that Wikipedia article, though, because that didn’t even show me that you’d found one.

            That misses the question of whether the interval is real or integer. Part of the essence of Bayesian inference is to be able to deal with probability distributions on that interval.

            That question does not arise. Part of the definition of probability is that (a) it lies within that interval and (b) the interval is real.

            Now, if you want to define "disputed" in a totalistic fashion—such that there is absolutely no chance of budging on that matter unless something else changes—then feel free to do so.

            I still have no idea what you mean by “totalistic.” If you want to know how I define “disputed,” you could just ask. If that’s too much bother, though, I’ll spare you. What I mean is about what the Oxford English Dictionary says: “That is made the subject of dispute, debate, or contention; debated, contested.” In other words, a proposition is disputed, in the most general sense of the word, if and only if, given that some people believe it, there are other people who don’t believe it. In some contexts, though, the relative numbers of agreers and disagreers can be relevant, such as when creationists claim that there is a dispute within the scientific community over whether the theory of evolution is true.

          • Doug, I don't know what we're doing here anymore. You seem to be arguing solely to argue, and that does not interest me. Feel free to re-frame this entire discussion if you'd like, but if you're not up for that, I think I'm done.

          • Doug, I don't know what we're doing here anymore. You seem to be arguing solely to argue, and that does not interest me. Feel free to re-frame this entire discussion if you'd like, but if you're not up for that, I think I'm done.

            What I have intended to be doing is responding to your objections to certain statements I have made in defense of my beliefs, and then responding to your defenses of those objections. Since neither of us is going to change the other's mind, we can only keep this up until one of us decides that it's gone on long enough. In another thread where you and I went a few rounds, I made that decision. If you have now made that decision, I'll understand perfectly.

          • We should face reality as it actually is,

            How, in your judgement, can we know whether or when we are doing that?

          • There is no single method and a total answer to your question would span volumes. When it comes to the issue at hand, I think I've provided a sufficient answer, but you're welcome to ask clarifying questions. I suppose I could add one more thing: we should be aware of when we are no longer asymptotically approaching the various ideals we have set for ourselves. This requires being willing to admit that those ideals might not be good ideals.

          • We should face reality as it actually is,

            How, in your judgement, can we know whether or when we are doing that?

            There is no single method and a total answer to your question would span volumes.

            Fair enough, but can you at least identify one example?

            When it comes to the issue at hand, I think I've provided a sufficient answer, but you're welcome to ask clarifying questions.

            I have not noticed any answer, sufficient or otherwise, but it's possible I haven't been reading with proper attention.

            By way of clarification . . . let’s consider the Testimonium Flavianum as an example. The oldest extant copy of Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities was produced during the 11th century. The first patristic writer known to have quoted the Testimonium, or mentioned it at all, was Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History, of which the earliest extant manuscript was written around the 10th century. Those facts, so far as I am aware, are not disputed by anyone, so we may take them as representing reality as it actually is. It is also not disputed, so far as I’m aware, that Eusebius included the quotation in his original version of the Ecclesiastical History. But there is a dispute over whether Josephus himself actually wrote at least a portion of the Testimonium. That dispute really exists, notwithstanding the claims of some partisans of both sides that there ought to be no dispute, and notwithstanding that one side might represent a substantial majority of the relevantly qualified authorities.

            Now, the reality as it actually is, is either (a) that Josephus wrote at least some of the Testimonium or (b) that Josephus wrote none of the Testimonium, and to face reality is to accept whichever is the actual case. It is to believe that he wrote at least some of it, if he did in fact write some of it, or to believe that he wrote none of it, if he did not in fact write any of it. I happen to believe that the Testimonium is entirely inauthentic, but if I were to argue, “We should face reality as it actually is and accept the Testimonium’s inauthenticity,” I would be begging the question, because that reality is precisely what is being disputed.

            The admonition to “face reality as it actually is” could be construed as an admonition to accept whatever conclusion the evidence leads us to, whether or not we happen to like that conclusion. Very well, but whatever the past reality was, the present reality could be that the surviving evidence does not lead us unambiguously to a particular conclusion. We will unavoidably bring certain presuppositions to our analysis of that evidence, and those presuppositions will affect our judgments about which conclusion is made most probable by the evidence. The vitriol I often see characterizing these debates is usually due, it seems to me, to each side’s thinking that its particular presuppositions cannot be rejected by any reasonable person.

          • Fair enough, but can you at least identify one example?

            This comment. If that's not what you're asking for, you'll have to help me understand what it is you are asking. For example, perhaps you think that I am treating this as some sort of Final Truth™? That would be problematic, for in the way the scientist can be wrong on anything (at least according to the dogma), I believe that any terrible situation can be redeemed (if the relevant people are willing). That means I think Haidt's observation (beginning of that comment) is due to lack of competence and/or wisdom, perhaps convolved with having the wrong desires or not enough of the right desires. (I believe God can easily design human psychology to foil evil desires, especially over the long term.)

            I have not noticed any answer, sufficient or otherwise, but it's possible I haven't been reading with proper attention.

            Your example of the Testimonium Flavianum seems at least somewhat at odds with the following restriction I made:

            LB: What I have seen time and again is that when the area of study have normative implications for the one studying, bias and prejudice simply cannot be approximated away.

            I get that indirectly it supports stuff about Jesus and that stuff about Jesus is supposed to have normative implications for us, but the amount of indirection is too much for me. There is too much wiggle-room and I have not learned to navigate it well—if I ever will. On the other hand, when it comes to the sociological observation from A Far Glory I repeatedly excerpt ("Another exaggeration may have been the conventional view of the reach of scientific rationality. …", most recent time), there is very little indirection. What do I find when I present this excerpt to most atheists? Silence and deflection. Perhaps the right model is that I just blasphemed their god and the response is speechlessness, because they don't [yet?] have enough cultural power to stomp me into the ground.

            The admonition to “face reality as it actually is” could be construed as an admonition to accept whatever conclusion the evidence leads us to, whether or not we happen to like that conclusion.

            It is not that easy, because evidence is always theory-laden, and often incomplete. Many people also seem to love to think that reality will always be like it has been. But when one has compensated for these and similar issues, I would agree to something like what you've said. For example, it is extremely problematic to say that we in the US live in anything like a democracy, based on Converse 1964 and follow-ups (documented in Electoral Democracy in 2003 and Democracy for Realists in 2016). But that doesn't necessarily mean a democracy is impossible.

            Now, if any individuals believe that they are in contact with God and he wishes them to change reality, then we can discuss how that would enter into the equation. If one believes God desires theosis, then I am quite confident in saying that before we try to change reality, we should first understand reality. For example, we should not pretend that human nature is other than it is, taking note of what seems to be universal vs. culturally inculcated.

            Very well, but whatever the past reality was, the present reality could be that the surviving evidence does not lead us unambiguously to a particular conclusion.

            Of course. This is why I try to maintain a superposition of possible explanations, assigning probabilities as I can, and being careful to note when I have not exhausted the possibility space. I'm fairly confident that the term 'superposition' is apropos here, for multiple reasons I could go into.

            The vitriol I often see characterizing these debates is usually due, it seems to me, to each side’s thinking that its particular presuppositions cannot be rejected by any reasonable person.

            I would be interested in a series of scientific studies of precisely this matter. I can think of multiple causes for that vitriol. I've seen what you describe, although sometimes I wonder whether it's a cause or more of a symptom. Two pieces of science to kick this off are Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government and Why Do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory.

          • I have not noticed any answer, sufficient or otherwise, but it's possible I haven't been reading with proper attention.

            Your example of the Testimonium Flavianum seems at least somewhat at odds with the following restriction I made:
            LB: What I have seen time and again is that when the area of study have normative implications for the one studying, bias and prejudice simply cannot be approximated away.

            I don’t remember suggesting that bias and prejudice can be made to go away, whether by approximation or by any other means. The best we can hope for is just to minimize their effects. Of course, we can’t do even that without first admitting that we have them, but given a good-faith admission, we can make some progress.

            What do I find when I present this excerpt to most atheists?

            I try to remember, when I talking to you, that I’m not talking to most Christians.

            The admonition to “face reality as it actually is” could be construed as an admonition to accept whatever conclusion the evidence leads us to, whether or not we happen to like that conclusion.

            It is not that easy, because evidence is always theory-laden, and often incomplete.

            I didn’t say it was easy. No, it’s not easy at all. That doesn’t give either side of the debate any excuse for not even trying.

            Many people also seem to love to think that reality will always be like it has been.

            Yeah, and plenty of other people hate to think so. At the same time, I don’t know anybody who thinks either that nothing ever changes or that nothing is constant. I think we all get it that some things do change and some things never change. Where we get some reasonable disagree is over whether some particular things belong to one set or the other set.

          • I don’t remember suggesting that bias and prejudice can be made to go away, whether by approximation or by any other means. The best we can hope for is just to minimize their effects. Of course, we can’t do even that without first admitting that we have them, but given a good-faith admission, we can make some progress.

            It is not clear to me that making them go away is a good goal. Although, you might consider that the leader of a government would just love it if nobody other than him/her had a single prejudice or bias. That way, everyone would simply obey.

            I try to remember, when I talking to you, that I’m not talking to most Christians.

            Thank you. But I wonder if you can do that because you now know quite a bit about what I believe and how I go about things. It is because I have been an apologist—at least for my own views—that you are able to appropriately differentiate me. And I've given you additional information for any judgment I make; you can consider what you know of me (the instrument) and get an idea of whether the judgment is likely an artifact of the instrument, a distortion produced by the instrument, or something to pay attention to. The most 'objective' instrument is the one that has been exhaustively characterized and calibrated.

            That doesn’t give either side of the debate any excuse for not even trying.

            Agreed.

          • I don’t remember suggesting that bias and prejudice can be made to go away, whether by approximation or by any other means. The best we can hope for is just to minimize their effects. Of course, we can’t do even that without first admitting that we have them, but given a good-faith admission, we can make some progress.

            It is not clear to me that making them go away is a good goal.

            I don’t think it would be. We acquired them for good evolutionary reasons, meaning that we couldn’t have survived if we hadn’t had them. There were situations in which we needed them, and we still confront situations of that sort. What we need to learn, a lot better than we have learned so far, is how to recognize when we are not in those situations and then, on those occasions, to disregard our biases and prejudices to the best of our ability.

            I try to remember, when I talking to you, that I’m not talking to most Christians.

            Thank you. But I wonder if you can do that because you now know quite a bit about what I believe and how I go about things.

            I was my learning of some of your beliefs that made me aware of how you differed from most Christians.

            More to my point, though, I didn’t have to get to know you in particular to be aware of how foolish it is to suppose that all Christians are alike. I learned how diverse Christians are during the years I was one myself.

          • I suppose I could add one more thing: we should be aware of when we are no longer asymptotically approaching the various ideals we have set for ourselves. This requires being willing to admit that those ideals might not be good ideals.

            This observation seems to presuppose that, if I wish to know whether I am asymptotically approaching some ideal that I have set for myself, the answer will depend on whether I can admit that it might not be a good ideal. Is that what you meant to suggest?

          • Yep. As far as I'm concerned, an impossible ideal too easily functions as a veneer, behind which violations of the ideal can be strategically made to the advantage of some. Impossible ideals are a kind of lying.

          • This observation seems to presuppose that, if I wish to know whether I am asymptotically approaching some ideal that I have set for myself, the answer will depend on whether I can admit that it might not be a good ideal. Is that what you meant to suggest?

            As far as I'm concerned, an impossible ideal too easily functions as a veneer, behind which violations of the ideal can be strategically made to the advantage of some. Impossible ideals are a kind of lying.

            I don't see how the problems that concern you entail your conclusion, unless you're a lot more misanthropically cynical that you have so far seemed to be.

            I often see plenty of evil being done for the stated purpose of bringing our society closer to some ideal that I agree with, and I attribute this discrepancy to one or more of three possible causes. (1) The perpetrators are too foolish to see the evil that they do; (2) they see the evil but claim it is justified as a means of achieving the ideal; or (3) they don't really believe in the ideal but find it a convenient excuse for perpetrating the evil. Only in the third instance would I consider the ideal a kind of lying, but the ideal itself is not a lie, only their statement of allegiance to it.

            Almost every ideal is impossible in the sense of being humanly unattainable, almost by definition and certainly by common presupposition, because it typically suggests of kind of perfection that most of us feel pretty sure is beyond our natural capabilities. And for any particular ideal that some or most people claim to embrace, there is also plenty of disagreement about its actual desireability. The social justice that some leftists are agitating for is not something I consider any kind of justice, social or otherwise, and so I would certainly not consider it a good ideal, but that doesn't mean they're lying when they say they want to make it happen.

          • I don't see how the problems that concern you entail your conclusion, unless you're a lot more misanthropically cynical that you have so far seemed to be.

            I have been harmed by false ideals in ways other than your (3).

            I often see plenty of evil being done for the stated purpose of bringing our society closer to some ideal that I agree with, and I attribute this discrepancy to one or more of three possible causes. (1) The perpetrators are too foolish to see the evil that they do; (2) they see the evil but claim it is justified as a means of achieving the ideal; or (3) they don't really believe in the ideal but find it a convenient excuse for perpetrating the evil. Only in the third instance would I consider the ideal a kind of lying, but the ideal itself is not a lie, only their statement of allegiance to it.

            The reason I used the term "lying" was to get at intentional deception, whether of others or self. I'm disinclined to give too much credence to (1), because I think people in the West generally have at least an inkling when they're doing something immoral/​unethical. What happens is that most people take takes tiny steps in that direction instead of huge leaps. But I resist Aristotle Socrates's adage that "Nobody knowingly does evil." Likewise, I am skeptical that (2) is pure from at least weak objections from the conscience.

            Now, suppose that I am wrong on my stance toward (1) and (2). In that case, maybe there sometimes isn't any "better knowledge", any conscience, to object. If that is true, then the error is not correctable "from the inside", at least not before a lot of suffering is incurred. The more we allow for errors not correctable "from the inside", the more we need an outside. But is there an outside? It is my observation that when no outside is acknowledged, those in power immunize themselves from guilt and end up scapegoating. Maybe Jesus had to be executed, to provide the empirical evidence of what is going on. You want people to form beliefs based on the evidence, right?

            Almost every ideal is impossible in the sense of being humanly unattainable, almost by definition and certainly by common presupposition, because it typically suggests of kind of perfection that most of us feel pretty sure is beyond our natural capabilities.

            I suggest we carefully examine when one is being truthful about "heading toward" the ideal and when one is engaged in deception, whether wittingly or unwittingly. Surely you do not think we should deceive ourselves?

          • The reason I used the term "lying" was to get at intentional deception, whether of others or self.

            I don’t object to getting at people’s intentions, but if the intention is deceit, we’d better try really hard to correctly identify just what they are trying to deceive us (or themselves) about.

            But I resist Aristotle's adage that "Nobody knowingly does evil."

            It was Socrates’ adage as channeled by Plato in The Republic. I well understand, and even sympathize with, resistance to it. My problem is with the major implication of its denial, which is that the proper exercise of reason may on some occasions lead to the justification of some evil behavior.

            It is my observation that when no outside is acknowledged, those in power immunize themselves from guilt and end up scapegoating.

            We’ve all heard about love of money being the root of all evil. I don’t agree. I think love of power is the root of much evil. Of course power tends to correlate with wealth, but we’re not justified in assuming that those who try to get both are motivated by only one of them.
            As an aside, I also disagree with those skeptics who say that it takes religion to make good people do bad things. Power, again, can be just as effective.

            I suggest we carefully examine when one is being truthful about "heading toward" the ideal and when one is engaged in deception, whether wittingly or unwittingly.

            But of course.

            Surely you do not think we should deceive ourselves?

            I could probably think of an exceptional situation or two, highly specific and very carefully defined, but none relevant to the present discussion.

          • It was Socrates’ adage as channeled by Plato in The Republic.

            Thanks; I have always attributed it to Socrates except for this one time. I'd like to see what Freud would do with that one.

            My problem is with the major implication of its denial, which is that the proper exercise of reason may on some occasions lead to the justification of some evil behavior.

            Then you seem to want to fuse rationality and value when you say "reason". That is, there are three components:

                 (1) logic
                 (2) proper sensitivity to all of the evidence
                 (3) moral excellence

            What I don't understand is how you can maintain a hold of the fact/​value dichotomy while wanting 'reason' to operate in precisely this way.

            We’ve all heard about love of money being the root of all evil. I don’t agree. I think love of power is the root of much evil. Of course power tends to correlate with wealth, but we’re not justified in assuming that those who try to get both are motivated by only one of them.

            That comes from the KJV translation of 1 Tim 6:10. Sometimes, every jot and tiddle matters. Here are the critical variations of the verse:

                 The love of money is a/the root of all [kinds of] evil.

            A read of the second half of the verse makes it really hard to take the KJV seriously; the act of spiteful revenge, for example, doesn't obviously involve money at all. For a counter, one can see the KJV Today article “The root of all evil” or “A root of all kinds of evil” in 1 Timothy 6:10?. My own suspicion is that it is in response to the erasure of greed as one of the Seven Deadly Sins and the nascent elevation of capitalism to the cure of humanity's sin (i.e. aristocrats causing mayhem with their passions), documented by Albert O. Hirschman in The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph.

            In contrast to the above, we could understand the temptation of Eve being that of gaining the power to legislate good and evil, imposing that legislation on other people. That is what the gods get to do. Money is but a tool which can be used to influence legislation. Silicon billionaire Peter Thiel has noted that the rich and powerful in the world are very good at isolating themselves from the competition of the free market. After all, perfect competition fritters away all of your wealth! So, it seems to me that the problem is the desire to dominate instead of serve. You know, what Jesus discusses in Mt 20:20–28.

            LB: Surely you do not think we should deceive ourselves?

            DS: I could probably think of an exceptional situation or two, highly specific and very carefully defined, but none relevant to the present discussion.

            A Few Good Men popped into mind, with "You can't handle the truth!" But surely that is aimed at children (who may be past the voting age), who could be trained up to handle the truth. Or maybe my belief in theosis is showing.

          • Thanks; I have always attributed it to Socrates except for this one time.

            You’re welcome. I had to struggle over how I worded that, because I don’t think anyone knows whether Socrates really said it or Plato just made him say it. There seems to be plenty of debate over how much of the historical Socrates shows up in Plato’s dialogues.

            My problem is with the major implication of its denial, which is that the proper exercise of reason may on some occasions lead to the justification of some evil behavior.

            Then you seem to want to fuse rationality and value when you say "reason". That is, there are three components:
            (1) logic
            (2) proper sensitivity to all of the evidence
            (3) moral excellence
            What I don't understand is how you can maintain a hold of the fact/value dichotomy while wanting 'reason' to operate in precisely this way.

            I don’t see the inconsistency. Can you elaborate?

            That comes from the KJV translation of 1 Tim 6:10. Sometimes, every jot and tiddle matters. Here are the critical variations of the verse:

            The love of money is a/the root of all [kinds of] evil.

            Whether the common rendering is a proper translation of the original Greek is irrelevant to the point I wished to make. The common rendering conveys the common belief. My point was that the common belief is wrong, not because it misrepresents a statement alleged to be the word of God, but because it is inconsistent with certain facts about human behavior.

            My own suspicion is that it is in response to the erasure of greed as one of the Seven Deadly Sins and the nascent elevation of capitalism to the cure of humanity's sin

            My political conservatism is not entirely orthodox, but I’m pretty much on board with supporting capitalism. I have never, though, endorsed the notion that pure capitalism is the cure for all social problems. What is good for General Motors may well be good, generally speaking, for America, but there will be exceptions, and a rational capitalist will see them because what is not good for America cannot be good for an American business.

            Whether greed is morally problematic depends on how it is defined. When someone is accused of greed, it usually seems to mean no more than that the accused person wants more money than the accusing person thinks they should get. The first question I then have for the accuser is: On what basis did you make your judgment as to how much they should get?

            LB: Surely you do not think we should deceive ourselves?
            DS: I could probably think of an exceptional situation or two, highly specific and very carefully defined, but none relevant to the present discussion.
            A Few Good Men popped into mind, with "You can't handle the truth!"

            Some people really can’t. That doesn’t mean they can’t learn how to handle it, and it doesn’t excuse them from the obligation to learn how.

            But surely that is aimed at children (who may be past the voting age), who could be trained up to handle the truth. Or maybe my belief in theosis is showing.

            Theosis is obviously no part of my worldview, but I think we’ve made some moral progress, and I think we can make some more.

            What I don’t think is that whatever progress we have made or will continue to make is due to anything but our having gotten better at the exercise of reason. This is related to something one of Heinlein’s characters said in a short story called “Logic of Empire,” in which scolded a companion for embracing what he called the “devil theory of sociology”: “You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity."

    • The danger, of course, is that the apologist wants to read scripture in a way that supports the case he or she is trying to make.

      I don't think we can assume that any scholar, apologist or otherwise, is not trying to read scripture in such a way. If they're not trying to defend Christian orthodoxy, they're trying to defend something else, and the mere fact that some of us skeptics happen to like their conclusions doesn't mean they're making a better argument.

      If we lay people want to appeal to scholarly authorities in defense of our own positions, I think we have little choice but to closely examine the evidence and arguments used by those authorities. And that is not too difficult these days, thanks to the Internet. It does require a significant investment of time, but it's an investment we must make if we are to offer a proper defense of whatever we believe about the Bible. Otherwise, the only defensible position, considering the diversity of opinions among the experts, is a suspension of judgment.

  • Rob Abney

    quite a few Catholics (and other Christians as well) view the Resurrection as something we simply accept by faith; that is, we really don't have a way to argue for it using evidence, facts, and logic.

    I can't tell from this interview, but what is the strongest evidence referred to, especially what is the strongest logical evidence used to support the resurrection?

    • Carl Olson

      Rob: A very quick answer here between deadlines. Two things stand out: first, the testimony and witness recorded in the Gospels and New Testament; see Richard Bauckham's important study Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Eerdmans, 2007). Various attempts to explain away that testimony (the disciples hallucinated, they made it up, they were confused, etc) are not convincing for many reasons.

      Secondly, the origins and very existence of the Church. The essence of this is summed up quite well in a recent homily by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa (Preacher of the Papal Household):

      In what sense, then, do we speak of an historical approach to the resurrection? Two facts are offered for consideration to historians that allow them to speak about the resurrection: first, the sudden and inexplicable faith of the disciples, a faith so tenacious that it withstands even the test of martyrdom; second, the explanation of such a faith left to us by those involved. An eminent exegete has written, “In the hour of crisis [after Jesus was crucified] the disciples held no . . . assurance [of a resurrection]. They fled (Mark 14:50), and gave up Jesus’ cause for lost (Luke 24:19-21). Something must have happened in between, which in a short time not only produced a complete reversal of their attitude but also enabled them to engage in renewed activity and to found the primitive Christian community. This ‘something’ is the historical kernel of the Easter faith.”

      It has been correctly observed that if the historical and objective character of the resurrection is denied, the birth of faith and of the Church would be a mystery that is even more inexplicable than the resurrection itself: “The assumption that the whole great course of Christian history is a massive pyramid balanced upon the apex of some trivial occurrence is surely a less probable one than that the whole event, the occurrence plus the meaning inherent in it, did actually occupy a place in history at least comparable with that which the New Testament assigns to it.”

      • Can I just say that when you say "testimony" and "witness", you are doing violence to these terms. These terms suggested some legal merit. Testimony from witnesses in written form is never second or third hand, it is never anonymous, it means sworn statements by in the presence of witnesses with the power to administer oaths. These are considered weak evidence unless we can cross examine the witnesses under oath. And there have to be very good reasons to use affidavits in the first place.

        What we have in the Gospels is better described as stories of unclear origin written for clear theological purposes.

        We don't need to "explain it away" its advocates need to establish its claim credibility first. All of the Gospels and Paul would be laughed out of court as hearsay and ridiculous for proving someone survived his death.

        Call them accounts if you like, but if you want to clothe yourself in legal terms expect such criticism.

        Second there are no accounts much less any credible accounts of anyone being martyrded for maintaining she or he witnessed the resurrection.

        And if all you have is that over a several years versions of Christianity arose. Again this tells us nothing about whether the resurrection occurred.

        And goodness. Jesus couldn't even convince most Jews he was their Messiah, even to this day, despite killing all those Egyptians and Amalakites and other genicidal wars and abhorrent laws to "prepare" them for his arrival.

      • Rob Abney

        That looks like good support for the gospels being historically accurate. But does it cover any "logical" evidence? What would logical evidence even look like?

  • In other words, while skeptics and secular fundamentalists often act as
    if their constant appeals to science and reason have adequately
    explained every aspect of reality, that is only so much “secularist
    spin,” which actually refuses to think outside its own rather limited,
    materialist box. In other words, such secularists have simply created a
    narrative based on their materialist, scientistic assumptions but
    without actually offering either real proof or satisfying explanations
    for a whole host of things.

    There are so many things wrong with this, I'm tempted to just chuck this whole post in the trash and forget about trying to respond. You've already poisoned the well against science, and you seem to assume that the supernatural is necessary in order to explain the unexplained. I don't know how you can reach such a conclusion.

    What we are not doing is claiming that science has an explanation for everything. Far from such thinking, we acknowledge that some things are going to remain unexplained, and our position on such topics is "we don't know what the answer is." We are able to acknowledge that we have limited knowledge and understanding. We also understand that this cannot be used to justify belief in the supernatural without appealing to fallacious reasoning.

    What we do claim, however, is that science is the most reliable methodology we have ever created, and that the conclusions of science are far more likely to be true than the conclusions of any other methodology. Science can only explain in terms of nature because we know that nature exists and we can establish natural causation. On the other hand, we do not know that the supernatural exists, nor do we have a method to explore anything beyond nature. If you want to justify the belief that Jesus was raised supernaturally, you need to demonstrate that the supernatural exists, and that the supernatural has the power to raise Jesus from the dead. If you cannot demonstrate the supernatural, your beliefs are unjustified, and irrational.

    • What we do claim, however, is that science is the most reliable methodology we have ever created, and that the conclusions of science are far more likely to be true than the conclusions of any other methodology.

      Most reliable at doing what? Suppose that we had had a nuclear armageddon. Would science still be considered "the most reliable methodology we have ever created"? Or suppose that we cannot manage to stop catastrophic global climate instability, such that billions of people die and science & technology are set back centuries. Would science still be considered "the most reliable methodology we have ever created"?

      If you want to justify the belief that Jesus was raised supernaturally, you need to demonstrate that the supernatural exists, and that the supernatural has the power to raise Jesus from the dead.

      I can play that game. If you want to justify the belief that there is this beast 'rationality' which is truth-seeking, you need to demonstrate how the following argument is fallacious:

      LB: I think that one of the biggest problems the naturalist faces is this:

           (1) Physical laws are the only causal powers.
           (2) All beliefs are caused by physical laws.
           (3) Some beliefs are true, others false.
           (4) Physical laws cannot distinguish true from false beliefs.
           (5) Therefore, truth and falsity of belief is unknowable.

      This is a deflationary theory of truth; it obliterates the distinction between truth and falsehood.

      That is, it is almost certainly the case that based on your belief system, there is no causal power which is operating when you form true beliefs, and is not operating when you form false beliefs. But if all knowledge is causal, then the lack of such a cause means the lack of such a knowable distinction.

      So, shall we dance?

      • Most reliable at doing what?

        Determining what is most likely to be true. Science is the reason that small pox is defeated, and why the Earth can support 7.4 billion people.

        Suppose that we had had a nuclear armageddon. Would science still be considered "the most reliable methodology we have ever created"?

        Why would it not be? How would a nuclear armageddon undermine the reliability of science?

        (1) Physical laws are the only causal powers.

        Physical laws are descriptive. They only tell us how things generally behave, and themselves have no power to cause anything. Properly stated, premise 1 would be something like:

        1. Only natural phenomena has been demonstrated to have causal power.

        I'm ignoring to ignore the rest of your argument because it starts on such a bad footing. Feel free to update your argument and I'll re-evaluate.

        That is, it is almost certainly the case that based on your belief system, there is no causal power which is operating when you form true beliefs, and is not operating when you form false beliefs.

        Can you clarify what you mean here? As far as I can tell, the same process is running when I form true beliefs as when I form false beliefs. As far as I know, I have no way to actually know if my beliefs are true or not. All I can do is say that (for beliefs based on synthetic propositions) the empirical evidence matches what I would expect if the proposition is true, and involves the least number of unknown entities.

        But if all knowledge is causal, then the lack of such a cause means the lack of such a knowable distinction.

        I really don't follow you here... I agree that inductive conclusions can always be wrong, but we have a good, reliable, method for making inductive conclusions about the world.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          Determining what is most likely to be true.

          True to what? "True" means "faithful", as in "true to the facts" or "true to life." Natural science is directed toward the truth of measurable facts regarding physical bodies, and is of middling help regarding the truth of, for example, testimony in a courtroom, where the testimony of witnesses is called upon, and none at all regarding the truth of propositions regarding ideal bodies in mathematics.

          Science is the reason that
          small pox is defeated, and why the Earth can support 7.4 billion people.

          I would have said that was due to technology, which is not exactly the same thing.

          • True to what?

            How objective reality behaves.

            Natural science is [...] is of middling help regarding the truth
            of, for example, testimony in a courtroom, where the testimony of
            witnesses is called upon,

            Except that science does help us here. If your testimony was that a dragon swooped down and took you away for an adventure to the land of fairies, one would say that we have no rational basis for accepting such a conclusion because science has never confirmed the existence of dragons, or a "land of fairies".

            Science informs us of what is possible, and how likely something is. When we start looking back at history, and trying to figure out what likely happened, science informs that area too.

            and none at all regarding the truth of
            propositions regarding ideal bodies in mathematics.

            Not entirely true. If mathematics says X, and empirical evidence says NOT X, then empirical evidence wins. Mathematics is just a tool to help model the world around us, and does not supersede reality. That said, science isn't in the business of assessing analytical propositions, rather it assess reality itself.

            I would have said that was due to technology, which is not exactly the same thing.

            Virtually all technology of modern life has been made possible because of our understanding of the world, specifically through the scientific method. If it wasn't for science, we wouldn't be communicating right now. Computers, and the internet, could never have happened without an understanding of quantum physics, and that only happened because of science.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            You don't need science to be skeptical about dragons and faeries. Ordinary experience is sufficient. If you want to expand Science!™ to cover such things, then you have to be prepared to call police detectives and building contractors "scientists."

            The same for mathematicians and engineers. A great deal of mathematics was developed prior to its usage by scientists -- group theory and imaginary numbers come to mind -- and a great deal of engineering came about through tinkering and trial and error that was later explained by science. If it weren't for engineering, we wouldn't be communicating right now. (Although, I might go so far as to say, if it weren't for linguistics as what is more prior.)

            Science!™ is not merely empirical evidence. Facts are not self-explanatory. They require a theory to give them meaning, and there is always more than one theory that will fit any finite body of facts. At the time the theories were proposed, the available empirical evidence was against Copernicanism, Darwinian evolution, and electromagnetism. Even today, there are several different explanations of quantum mechanics. We don't usually worry about them because the math works the same way regardless of the different physical theories.

            The old positivist apotheosis of Science!™ is gone. While there are severe problems with Popper and the other post-moderns, you can't bring back the dead.

            Or can you?

          • You don't need science to be skeptical about dragons and faeries.

            Correct. You just need skepticism, and a way to overcome that skepticism.

            The same for mathematicians and engineers.

            Mathematics itself is only useful when empirical observations confirm that the mathematics is correct. As for engineers, a modern engineer is literally an applied scientist. Everything they do is based on scientific models that have been built, and tested, by science.

            . A great deal of mathematics was developed prior to its usage by scientists -- group theory and imaginary numbers come to mind

            And again, if you want to use these ideas in the real world, you need to demonstrate that the models hold true in the real world. The best way to do that is with science.

            and a great deal of engineering came about through tinkering and trial and error that was later explained by science. If it weren't for engineering, we wouldn't be communicating right now.

            I don't know what you think science is, or what you think engineering is.

            Science!™ is not merely empirical evidence.

            Science is both a method, and a body of knowledge. Science - the method - is how we gather the body of knowledge., and how we can have confidence in that knowledge.

            [...] you can't bring back the dead.

            Or can you?

            Not to my knowledge. Nobody has EVER demonstrated that people can be brought back once they are dead (clinically brain dead.) If somebody could bring the dead back to life, we'd have something to investigate, that science could try to explain.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Well, the "out" is that if they were brought back then they were not "really" dead. A friend of mine was brought back from the dead after drowning, do "death" can have an elastic meaning. People in vegetative states have been able to communicate, and so are not technically dead. Go figure.

            Skepticism is not per se Science!™

            A mathematical proof is correct when the proof is a valid procession from true axioms. In what way can it be empirically verified that a function space topology is both splitting and conjoining iff it is minimal conjoining and maximal splitting? Every empirical effort to ascertain the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter will yield (by definition!) a rational number. Does this mean that the irrationality of π has been falsified?

            What is the empirical demonstration for the validity of modus tollens, as opposed to any particular instance of falsification? What is the empirical demonstration for the validity of the scientitic method, as opposed to any particular instance of its use? Which particular scientific method do you have in mind?

            The idealization of Science!™ the generic theory from Science the practice is discussed here in the context of particle physics:

            The reproducibility crisis is a problem, but at least it’s a problem that has been recognized and is being addressed. ... we produce a huge amount of new theories and yet none of them is ever empirically confirmed. ... Current observational data can’t distinguish the different models. And even if new data comes in, there will still be infinitely many models left to write papers about. The likelihood that any of these models describes reality is vanishingly small — it’s roulette on an infinitely large table. But according to current quality criteria, that’s first-rate science. The accepted practice is instead to adjust the model so that it continues to agree with the lack of empirical support.

            But in the absence of good quality measures, the ideas that catch on are the most fruitful ones, even though there is no evidence that a theory’s fruitfulness correlates with its correctness.

            The underlying problem is that science, like any other collective human activity, is subject to social dynamics.

            Sabine Hossenfelder, "Science needs reason to be trusted," Nature Physics, 13, 316–317(2017) doi:10.1038/nphys4079 Published online 05 April 2017
            https://www.nature.com/nphys/journal/v13/n4/full/nphys4079.html

            Discussed outside paywall, here: https://judithcurry.com/2017/04/05/science-needs-reason-to-be-trusted/

          • Well, the "out" is that if they were brought back then they were not "really" dead.

            Exactly. In which case, why invoke an unknown entity?!

            A friend of mine was brought back from the dead after drowning, do "death" can have an elastic meaning.

            Death is a process, and after some point there appears to be no recovery. After about five minutes without oxygen, the brain dies, and we know of no way to undo that. To say that a person who just lots consciousness, and vitals, after drowning is dead is a bit of a mislabeling.

            Skepticism is not per se Science!™

            No, and neither is oxygen air, but skepticism is an important philosophical part of being a good scientist.

            A mathematical proof is correct when the proof is a valid procession from true axioms.

            As a person with a math degree, I understand how mathematics works. What you are describing here is the equivalent of a valid logical argument. In logic, given the premises, when the conclusion follows directly, we say the argument is valid, but it does not demonstrate soundness. The same is true of mathematics. It is entirely possible that the axioms have a fundamental flaw that bear out in reality.

            Mathematics is simply a tool that helps us model reality, but mathematics must bend to reality, not the other way around.

            In what way can it be empirically verified that a function space topology is both splitting and conjoining iff it is minimal conjoining and maximal splitting?

            You missed my point entirely. My point is that for mathematics to be useful it must actually be true in reality. Valid mathematics, that is not sound, is virtually useless to us, except as a mental exercise.

            Every empirical effort to ascertain the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter will yield (by definition!) a rational number. Does this mean that the irrationality of π has been falsified?

            Partly, you're confusing the issue. We can verify the approximate value of pi, but irrational numbers are a concept of mathematics that doesn't really exist in reality. There are also no perfect circles in reality!

            To say that Z is an irrational number is to say that there exists no X and Y such that Z = X/Y. Given limits of measurement, we are always going to have some definite X and Y. So yes, by definition, we will always measure pi as a rational number.

            What is the empirical demonstration for the validity of modus tollens, as opposed to any particular instance of falsification?

            Category error. You cannot empirically validate modus tollens, but you can empirically show the soundness of modus tollens.

            What is the empirical demonstration for the validity of the scientitic method, as opposed to any particular instance of its use?

            The scientific method actually isn't "valid", since it's an inductive, rather than deductive form of inquiry. If science was deductive, it's would actually be fallacious since it effectively affirms the consequent: P -> Q, Q therefore P.

            That said, the usefulness of the scientific method has been demonstrated by the proverbial pudding that has been produced by the fruits of the effort.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            IOW, natural science is useful for some things. No one denies this. It is not useful for other things, esp. those that are more foundational. I would also like to suggest that "usefulness" is not the sole criterion of worth.
            +++
            So death is a "process" rather than say a state. Excellent. Now, what is a "process"? Or is this a matter of revising the definition whenever the old definition produces unacceptable results of previously dead people not being as dead as desired?

          • So death is a "process" rather than say a state. Excellent. Now, what is
            a "process"? Or is this a matter of revising the definition whenever
            the old definition produces unacceptable results of previously dead
            people not being as dead as desired?

            Death is a process that starts once supporting biological functions have ceased. The inevitable result is brain death (which is when a human is actually dead), at which point you cannot bring a person back.

            We have the ability to resuscitate some people, once death starts, but only for a limited period of time. After about five minutes without oxygen the brain is dead, and nothing we know of will bring them back to life.

            Literally all of the evidence we have suggests that after five or so minutes, after life functions cease, you cannot bring the person back to life, yet in spite of this, you, as a Christian, very likely accept that somehow Jesus was returned from being clinically dead, in some special way, by magic. Why?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            But what is a process?

          • Seriously???

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Death is a process that starts once supporting biological functions have ceased. The inevitable result is brain death

            This implies that brain functions are not biological functions. Surely, you do not intend to imply that! So perhaps death is a "process" that starts once some, but not all supporting biological functions have ceased. In which case, which ones need to cease and which ones need not?

          • In which case, which ones need to cease and which ones need not?

            We know there are at least two requirements for humans to be alive at any given moment:
            1. Something to move your blood around
            2. Something to oxygenate your blood.

            If your heart was to stop you would probably have a few seconds before you lost consciousness. While unconscious, your body is not yet dead, but it is going through a process of death. Cells will continue to consume the fuel, and oxygen, that they have available, until it depletes, at which point the cells will begin to starve, and die.

            If this stuff is all news to you, I may be able to dig up some good medical literature that explains it...

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The requirement for a prime mover is well known. You may be confusing "process" with "not instantaneous." A process is a set of causes that work together to produce a result. There is not, technically, a death-producing process -- that's why I asked what you had in mind. There is a life-sustaining process; and death, like all evils is simply the absence of a good, as your explanation seems to accept. That's why the one is best displayed by a process map and the other by a fault tree.

          • Mathematics itself is only useful when empirical observations confirm that the mathematics is correct.

            Are you conflating "true" and "useful"? Let us recall:

            HN: What we do claim, however, is that science is the most reliable methodology we have ever created, and that the conclusions of science are far more likely to be true than the conclusions of any other methodology.

            LB: Most reliable at doing what?

            HN: Determining what is most likely to be true. Science is the reason that small pox is defeated, and why the Earth can support 7.4 billion people.

            The term 'useful' is always based on one or more purposes. It is a teleological word. But if you wish to argue that ultimate reality is teleologically neutral (that is, no teleology), then you'll have to strike 'useful' from your vocabulary when you're talking about 'truth'. What is true is not necessarily useful and what is useful is not necessarily true.

          • You don't need science to be skeptical about dragons and faeries.

            Without science, how would you justify your skepticism?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Hume did quite well without science. You need only be from Missouri. Why would you need science to justify skepticism -- rather than, like Hume, vice versa?

          • Hume did quite well without science

            That isn't how I read him.

            You need only be from Missouri.

            "Show me" is a demand for observational evidence. That's what science is about.

        • HN: What we do claim, however, is that science is the most reliable methodology we have ever created, and that the conclusions of science are far more likely to be true than the conclusions of any other methodology.

          LB: Most reliable at doing what?

          HN: Determining what is most likely to be true. Science is the reason that small pox is defeated, and why the Earth can support 7.4 billion people.

          Ahh, weak scientism. May I take it that you deny that something like egalitarianism is required for science to progress arbitrarily far? That is, may I take it that on your view, there is absolutely no moral prerequisite for the successful pursuit of science? If actually you think there is, then I wonder whether you think there is also moral truth, or whether it is simply the case that not all the prerequisites for science to progress arbitrarily far fall into the category of 'truth'.

          Why would it not be? How would a nuclear armageddon undermine the reliability of science?

          If you had construed 'science' as a tool for allowing us to impose our will on reality ever more effectively, then a nuclear armageddon or runaway catastrophic global climate instability would threaten said imposition of will.

          Physical laws are descriptive. They only tell us how things generally behave, and themselves have no power to cause anything. Properly stated, premise 1 would be something like:

          1. Only natural phenomena has been demonstrated to have causal power.

          I'm ignoring to ignore the rest of your argument because it starts on such a bad footing. Feel free to update your argument and I'll re-evaluate.

          This is a bit confusing. You just got done saying that science is most reliable at determining what is most likely to be true. Surely physical laws are some of the highest-confidence results of science. And yet you now want to so weaken physical laws such that the way I framed my argument equates to "such a bad footing". Do you have confidence in science or don't you?

          Now, it's not actually clear to me that my talking about the map (physical laws) instead of the territory (natural phenomena) is "such a bad footing". My argument says that if the map does not have a certain aspect, "truth and falsity of belief is unknowable". What is that aspect? The existence of a causal power which operates only sometimes: only in the formation of true beliefs. Enlightenment folks often called it 'Reason' and it existed in the realm of res cogitans, not the realm of res extensa. But sure you will deny that the two are distinct in any interesting way.

          As far as I can tell, the same process is running when I form true beliefs as when I form false beliefs.

          Which means there is a different causal power operating to separate between the two, with name @heraldnewman:disqus. Except don't your very beliefs deny that you are the initiator of even a single causal chain? At best you are a semi-stable causal nexus.

          As far as I know, I have no way to actually know if my beliefs are true or not.

          There is a stronger condition: your map provides you with zero way to distinguish "more true" from "less true". You simply don't have the fundamental building block of the agent, with causal powers originating in it which can operate sometimes and not other times, such that when it is active is not 100% determined by external factors. Noam Chomsky gets at that directly:

          Specifically, Descartes speculated that the workings of res cogitans—second substance—may be beyond human understanding. So he thought, quoting him again, "We may not have intelligence enough to understanding the workings of mind." In particular, the normal use of language, one of his main concepts. He recognized that the normal use of language has what has come to be called a creative aspect; every human being but no beast or machine has this capacity to use language in ways that are appropriate to situations but not caused by them—this is a crucial difference. And to formulate and express thoughts that may be entirely new and do so without bound, may be incited or inclined to speak in certain ways by internal and external circumstances, but not compelled to do so. That's the way his followers put the matter—which was a mystery to Descartes and remains a mystery to us. That quite clearly is a fact. (Noam Chomsky - "The machine, the ghost, and the limits of understanding", 9:58)

          What was thought to be located is the res cogitans must now be relocated in the res extensa. But who says that is possible? You might end up requiring something super-natural (super-res extensa) in order to be able to distinguish between what is true and what is false. You could still distinguish between what helps you get what you want vs. don't want, but you're saying that science gets you more than that.

          • If you had construed 'science' as a tool for allowing us to impose our
            will on reality ever more effectively, then a nuclear armageddon or
            runaway catastrophic global climate instability would threaten said
            imposition of will.

            What on Earth are you talking about!?! When did I say that science is a tool to impose our will on reality? Science is a tool for discovering truth about reality.

            You just got done saying that science is most reliable at determining
            what is most likely to be true. Surely physical laws are some of the
            highest-confidence results of science.

            Laws are descriptions of how nature behaves, but it doesn't proscribe behavior. Your premise seems to imply the latter.

            Do you have confidence in science or don't you?

            Of course I do. But you don't seem to understand what science is, how it works, or what it says... At the very least you don't seem to understand my epistemic foundations.

            . My argument says that if the map does not have a certain aspect, "truth and falsity of belief is unknowable". What is that aspect? The existence of a causal power which operates only sometimes: only in the formation of true beliefs. Enlightenment folks often called it 'Reason' and it existed in the realm of res cogitans, not the realm of res extensa. But sure you will deny that the two are distinct in any interesting way.

            I'm really having trouble making sense of this. It looks like a word salad to me.

            Which means there is a different causal power operating to separate between the two, with name Herald Newman.
            Except don't your very beliefs deny that you are the initiator of even a single causal chain? At best you are a semi-stable causal nexus.

            More word salad!

            There is a stronger condition: your map provides you with zero way to distinguish "more true" from "less true".

            Bullshit! But until you actually ask me about my epistemic foundations, you're making claims that you cannot justify.

            You simply don't have the fundamental building block of the agent, with causal powers originating in it which can operate sometimes and not other times, such that when it is active is not 100% determined by external factors.

            More word salad.... Talking with you isn't very fruitful!

          • What on Earth are you talking about!?! When did I say that science is a tool to impose our will on reality? Science is a tool for discovering truth about reality.

            You missed my "If".

            Laws are descriptions of how nature behaves, but it doesn't proscribe behavior. Your premise seems to imply the latter.

            How does it imply the latter?

            But you don't seem to understand what science is, how it works, or what it says...

            Hey, if you know tremendously more than I do about science, that's a great opportunity for me to learn! But before we get too far, how much empirical data have you personally examined in your understanding of how science works? Perhaps you could point me to a few key books (academic press preferred) or peer-reviewed articles? I'm thinking of something like Hasok Chang's Inventing Temperature: Measurement and Scientific Progress, but perhaps you'll look down on that and suggest something better.

            At the very least you don't seem to understand my epistemic foundations.

            That is almost certainly the case. Nor would I bet that you understand my epistemic foundations—especially since I'm not sure I have any (I'm inclined toward antifoundationalism/​nonfoundationalism, in favor of something in the domain what is called "unarticulated background"). One question is whether you're willing to put in the hard work required to bridge such differences. I am.

            I'm really having trouble making sense of this. It looks like a word salad to me.

            Are you unaware of René Descartes' separation of reality into the categories of res extensa and res cogitans?

            More word salad!

            How do you distinguish between true and false beliefs, other than them merely being useful to you accomplishing whatever it is you want to accomplish in life? Note:

                 (1) truth ⇏ utility
                 (2) utility ⇏ truth

            Unless you disagree with one or both of those?

            Bullshit! But until you actually ask me about my epistemic foundations, you're making claims that you cannot justify.

            Do feel free to articulate your epistemic foundations. As it stands, I am convinced you require certain elements in your epistemic foundations in order to know the difference between truth and falsity.

            More word salad.... Talking with you isn't very fruitful!

            You may indeed be a fantastically superior being.

          • You missed my "If".

            Great. Now demonstrate that science is a tool for imposing our will on reality...

            How does it imply the latter?

            You stated:

            (1) Physical laws are the only causal powers.

            Physical laws do not cause anything. Laws are descriptive, not proscriptive. This is why I suggested a rephrasing like: Only natural phenomena has been demonstrated to have causal power.

            Are you unaware of René Descartes' separation of reality into the categories of res extensa and res cogitans?

            I'm vaguely familiar with his concepts. I don't accept that his distinction is valid.

            How do you distinguish between true and false beliefs, other than them merely being useful to you accomplishing whatever it is you want to accomplish in life?

            Assuming we're talking about beliefs regarding synthetic propositions, then a true belief is one that corresponds to a true synthetic proposition, and a false belief is one that refers to a false synthetic proposition.

            Very briefly (and this is not a complete definition), a synthetic proposition is true implies that all of the empirical predictions of that proposition will be true. Conversely, to say that a proposition is false is to imply that at least one of the empirical predictions will not be true.

            To say that something is "true" is to say that there are certain thing we should expect to find in reality, and other things we should not expect to find. As a result, we can look at the empirical predictions of a proposition, and the belief about that proposition, to determine if the belief is likely true, or not.

            How do you determine if a proposition is true, or not? I hope you don't go to your holy book to find the answer!

            EDIT: If you'd like a more detailed explanation, see: What is truth

          • Great. Now demonstrate that science is a tool for imposing our will on reality...

            It is obviously a tool for imposing our will on reality; the debate would be over whether it is more than just that. I would like to believe so, but as I'm sure you'd be the first to lecture me, what I would like to be the case is 100% irrelevant as to what is the case. I merely point out that said sword cuts both ways.

            Physical laws do not cause anything. Laws are descriptive, not proscriptive. This is why I suggested a rephrasing like: Only natural phenomena has been demonstrated to have causal power.

            I think you might have meant "prescriptive"? Unless perhaps that is a veiled reference to Popper, sans the bits about probabilistic laws. Anyhow, I don't see why the difference really matters for my argument—as I've already stated. It's like you're picking at something irrelevant to avoid the meat of the matter.

            HN: I'm really having trouble making sense of this. It looks like a word salad to me.

            LB: Are you unaware of René Descartes' separation of reality into the categories of res extensa and res cogitans?

            HN: I'm vaguely familiar with his concepts. I don't accept that his distinction is valid.

            Ok, so we've established that what "looks like word salad to [you]" can just be due to your ignorance. Most of QFT looks like symbol salad to me, but I would only be indicting myself to say that out loud.

            Now, I don't necessarily think Descartes' distinction is valid either. However, we inhabit the mechanical philosophy, which is what Descartes thought applied to only the res extensa. Apply it everywhere, and the ability to distinguish between truth and falsity goes up in smoke. You need causal powers which can turn on and off outside of the influence of external forces, and as far as I've seen, that was an ability unique to the res cogitans. Can the res extensa be given that ability? So far, I haven't seen any evidence that your epistemology allows this. (You can replace "res extensa" → "matter/​energy".)

            Very briefly (and this is not a complete definition), a synthetic proposition is true implies that all of the empirical predictions of that proposition will be true. Conversely, to say that a proposition is false is to imply that at least one of the empirical predictions will not be true.

            Yeah this needs Ceteris Paribus Laws. Probably also some Wittgenstein, on what else you have to hold as "true" in order to start pumping out those empirical predictions. Finally, it seems awfully tied to control: how can I set things up so that if I poke the system this way, it always responds that way?

            How do you determine if a proposition is true, or not? I hope you don't go to your holy book to find the answer!

            I do not think that propositions are the primary form of truth[1]. But to the extent that we're restricting the domain to propositions, something nearby what you've said seems like the only option.

            [1] Because your resident model of me seems to be that of an idiot, I reference Michael Polanyi's Personal Knowledge as well as the following from Richard J. Bernstein:

                To speak of a new model of rationality may be misleading, because it suggests that there is more determinacy than has yet been achieved (or can be achieved). Nevertheless, what is striking is the growing awareness and agreement about the components of an adequate understanding of rationality as it pertains to scientific inquiry. There has been a dramatic shift in what is taken to be the significant epistemological unit for coming to grips with problems of the rationality of science. In the philosophy of science, and more generally in contemporary analytic epistemology, we have witnessed an internal dialectic that has moved from the preoccupation (virtually an obsession) with the isolated individual term, to the sentence or proposition, to the conceptual scheme or framework, to an ongoing historical tradition constituted by social practices—a movement from logical atomism to historical dynamic continuity. Awareness has been growing that attempts to state what are or ought to be the criteria for evaluating and validating scientific hypotheses and theories that are abstracted from existing social practices are threatened with a false rigidity or with pious vacuity and that existing criteria are always open to conflicting interpretations and applications and can be weighted in different ways. The effective standards and norms that are operative in scientific inquiry are subject to change and modification in the course of scientific inquiry. We are now aware that it is not only important to understand the role of tradition in science as mediated through research programs or research traditions but that we must understand how such traditions arise, develop, and become progressive and fertile, as well as the ways in which they can degenerate. (Beyond Objectivism and Relativism, 24–25)

          • Valence

            Good luck with Luke. Almost every conversation I've seen him undertake ends with disaster. His communication is incredibly unclear (my impression is he's trying to sound smart without actually understanding the definition of the words he is using) and he constantly makes unwarranted assumptions about what you are saying and tears down the resulting strawmen​. It can be pretty frustrating.

          • I agree, engaging with him is frustrating. He clearly spends a lot of effort when he engages with atheists, but yet you run into all kinds of problems that are very difficult to work out without typing entire essays. He subtly confuses issues, and often goes on strange tangents.

            If he's a troll, he's a sophisticated troll. He's also been one of the most challenging (both positively and negatively) people I've ever engaged online. Sometimes I want to block him, but I don't think he deserves that.

          • Valence

            I don't think he intends to be a troll, my guess is he is trying too hard. He's obviously intelligent, but I don't have the patience...Maybe when I'm old.

          • Perhaps you two should exchange e-mail addresses and have this conversation in private (if at all).

          • Valence

            I'm not politically correct and think it would be positive if Luke reads the interaction. Moderators are free to delete what they want, of course. Or ban me, I here this site is big into banning people, lol.
            I'm done with this conversation, however.

    • CO: In other words, while skeptics and secular fundamentalists often act as if their constant appeals to science and reason have adequately explained every aspect of reality, that is only so much “secularist spin,” which actually refuses to think outside its own rather limited, materialist box.

      HN: …
      What we are not doing is claiming that science has an explanation for everything. Far from such thinking, we acknowledge that some things are going to remain unexplained, and our position on such topics is "we don't know what the answer is." We are able to acknowledge that we have limited knowledge and understanding.

      I do think @disqus_F8CTzsNmFH:disqus should address this objection. One place to go is Thomas Nagel's Mind and Cosmos, which got so much flak from folks like Dawkins and Dennett that The Weekly Standard published a 2013 article titled The Heretic. The kind of reaction documented there seems to offer a kind of pushback which would be worth teasing out. There is also Colin McGinn's The Mysterious Flame: Conscious Minds in a Material World (chapter 1 on NYT); Dennett attacked a previous book on the issue (new mysterianism).

      Furthermore, I have multiply encountered the word "emergence" used such that the following would be apropos: "God Emergence works in mysterious ways." A read of Massimo Pigliucci's Essays on emergence, part I provides a nice foil to the pervasive fuzziness which I have observed to surround that word and its cognates. But to the extent that fuzzy nebulousness is used to cover for things which scientists cannot yet explain, Carl's argument has bite.

      On the other hand, Carl probably did state his argument too strongly, when it comes to the majority of skeptics and secularists. What would help a great deal here is for both of you to provide specific, concrete evidence for your positions. The idea is that each of you has come up with generalizations from the particulars. Well, let's see how the generalizations stack up. If it turns out that there are really only one or two interesting things you will admit science to not be close to understanding, Carl's stance will be buttressed. If Carl cannot pick out at least one or two interesting instances of [non-crackpot] scientists overreaching, that will look quite bad for him.

    • Carl Olson

      You state: " You've already poisoned the well against science...." No, because I didn't criticize science; I criticized scientism.

      • And would you care to define "scientism"?

        • Carl Olson

          Here are two definitions: First, from Dr Edward Feser: "Scientism is the view that all real knowledge is scientific knowledge—that there is no rational, objective form of inquiry that is not a branch of science." Secondly, from Hawkings and Mlodinow: "What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator? ... Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge" (quoted in "The Folly of Scientism" by Austin L. Hughes).

          • Scientism is the view that all real knowledge is scientific knowledge—that there is no rational, objective form of inquiry that is not a branch of science

            Well, if you're making claims about the world, outside of pure thought, then you need a methodology to make good inductive inferences which has the ability to find, and correct, systematic errors. Do you have another method, outside of science, which can do this?

          • First, from Dr Edward Feser:
            "Scientism is the view that all real knowledge is scientific
            knowledge—that there is no rational, objective form of inquiry that is not a branch of science."

            Do you believe there is an alternative to science that is also rational and objective? Or do you believe that some forms of inquiry should not be rational or objective?

          • Valence

            Personally I think religion is a social construction like money, corporations, nations, laws and similar things. Science really does seem to fall very short on these subjects because essentially only exist in the minds of people...I.e. they aren't objective though they certainly affect objective reality. Thus, science really does fall short of dealing with much of what is important to humans making dogmatic forms of scientism obviously false. It also explains why science struggles to deal with qualitative, which is inherently subjective, not objective.
            While I don't think any religion is objectively true (I know you disagree) it is clearly important for human society. Most atheists subscribe to humanism which is essentially a non supernatural religion that elevates humans to the status once held by gods. Human rights are found nowhere in reality but play an important role in our modern society, for instance.

  • Unfortunately this doesn't get to the heart of the skepticism of the claim that Jesus died and then was not dead.

    The questions are that we have insufficient historical evidence to demonstrate that this actually happened, which would be an extremely monumental event, as opposed to people honestly believing it happened, which is not at all uncommon.

    The criticism is that we have maybe five sources. Paul and the Gospels.

    Paul says very little about the resurrection, he notes that others believe it, but their testimony did not convince him, rather he persecuted anyone who would say this as a blasphemer and liar. Rather, he was given a mystical experience that changed his mind. I would say this is extremely weak.

    Next we have Mark which is dated decades after the events it describes and the earliest versions end with the confusing statement that the people who witnessed a resurrected Christ never told anyone. This is barely credible.

    The other synoptic Gospels are even later, like Mark anonymous and these three are not independent with a number of passages being virtually verbatim the same.

    We have John which is now quite late.

    Someone surviving his own death is something even theists today consider to be virtually impossible. Certainly impossible without some kind of supernatural intervention. This should rightly be considered a event that would require the highest level of evidence to demonstrate actually happened. There are good reasons for this, which I would hope are obvious.

    So we are left with a claim that someone survived his death on the account of A) someone who never witnessed it, was aware of people maintaining it was true even dying for this claim, but was unconvinced. B) stories written decades later by followers of a religion that held this as its central miracle, mainly anonymous and not independent.

    What I would like to see is a treatment of the sources, and a fair assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of them, not just with respect to general historical reliability but of those specific passages about the resurrection.

    From my view, a much more likely interpretation is that people were telling stories that Jesus survived his death and some people wrote about these stories to advance a theological view of this burgeoning religion.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Greek historiography distrusted documentary sources in favor of what they called "the living word," that is: the testimony of witnesses. Such folks could be looked in the eyes and cross-examined. (Denizens of the internet know how easily pure text can be misunderstood.) This is almost the opposite of today's prejudices.

      It was only as the eyewitnesses were beginning to die off that their testimonies were written down. You can see this not only in the case of the gospels but also in the bioi of other famous Greeks and Romans. IIRC, the life of Epicurus was not written until centuries afterward!

      The odd thing about the gospels is not only that they were written about someone who from the Greco-Roman perspective was inconsequential, but that they were written so shortly after he had lived: within the memory of most who had known him. Matthew was the first to be written, in Aramaic; but this version has not come down to us. A Greek version was written later full of explanations of Judaic terms and customs, so it was intended for a Greek readership. Mark seems the earliest of the surviving texts, but it was not written in a vacuum: Mark was Peter's secretary and translator. He wrote down the stories Peter told and after Peter was executed arranged them into the form of a Greek bios with the stories set in not-necessarily chronological order. (See Plutarch for other examples in which anecdotes are arranged in topical order.) Thus, while it is true that Mark was not a witness to the events, his boss was.

      Something similar holds for Luke, who tells us in his prelude that he followed the norms of Greek historiography, interviewing those who were witnesses "from the beginning." Every time Paul mentions Luke in his letters, he also mentions Mark, so the two of them were well-acquainted and it is no surprise if their respective gospel bioi have strong resemblances. Luke was also well-acquainted with Peter and seems to have written his gospel and the Acts during his travels with Paul and during Paul's imprisonment.

      • Ignatius Reilly

        Matthew was the first to be written, in Aramaic

        This is not the consensus of biblical scholarship.

      • Ye Olde Statistician: Matthew was the first to be written, in Aramaic; but this version has not come down to us. A Greek version was written later full of explanations of Judaic terms and customs, so it was intended for a Greek readership.

        The New American Bible: The questions of authorship, sources, and the time of composition of this gospel have received many answers, none of which can claim more than a greater or lesser degree of probability. The one now favored by the majority of scholars is the following.

        The ancient tradition that the author was the disciple and apostle of Jesus named Matthew (see Mt 10:3) is untenable because the gospel is based, in large part, on the Gospel according to Mark (almost all the verses of that gospel have been utilized in this), and it is hardly likely that a companion of Jesus would have followed so extensively an account that came from one who admittedly never had such an association rather than rely on his own memories. The attribution of the gospel to the disciple Matthew may have been due to his having been responsible for some of the traditions found in it, but that is far from certain.

        Ye Olde Statistician: Mark seems the earliest of the surviving texts, but it was not written in a vacuum: Mark was Peter's secretary and translator. He wrote down the stories Peter told and after Peter was executed arranged them into the form of a Greek bios with the stories set in not-necessarily chronological order.

        The New American Bible: Although the book is anonymous, apart from the ancient heading “According to Mark” in manuscripts, it has traditionally been assigned to John Mark, in whose mother’s house (at Jerusalem) Christians assembled (Acts 12:12). This Mark was a cousin of Barnabas (Col 4:10) and accompanied Barnabas and Paul on a missionary journey (Acts 12:25; 13:3; 15:36–39). He appears in Pauline letters (2 Tm 4:11; Phlm 24) and with Peter (1 Pt 5:13). Papias (ca. A.D. 135) described Mark as Peter’s “interpreter,” a view found in other patristic writers. Petrine influence should not, however, be exaggerated. The evangelist has put together various oral and possibly written sources—miracle stories, parables, sayings, stories of controversies, and the passion—so as to speak of the crucified Messiah for Mark’s own day.

        Ye Olde Statistician: Luke was also well-acquainted with Peter and seems to have written his gospel and the Acts during his travels with Paul and during Paul's imprisonment.

        The New American Bible: Early Christian tradition, from the late second century on, identifies the author of this gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles as Luke, a Syrian from Antioch, who is mentioned in the New Testament in Col 4:14, Phlm 24 and 2 Tm 4:11. The prologue of the gospel makes it clear that Luke is not part of the first generation of Christian disciples but is himself dependent upon the traditions he received from those who were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word (Lk 1:2). His two-volume work marks him as someone who was highly literate both in the Old Testament traditions according to the Greek versions and in Hellenistic Greek writings.

        Among the likely sources for the composition of this gospel (Lk 1:3) were the Gospel of Mark, a written collection of sayings of Jesus known also to the author of the Gospel of Matthew (Q; see Introduction to Matthew), and other special traditions that were used by Luke alone among the gospel writers. Some hold that Luke used Mark only as a complementary source for rounding out the material he took from other traditions. Because of its dependence on the Gospel of Mark and because details in Luke’s Gospel (Lk 13:35a; 19:43–44; 21:20; 23:28–31) imply that the author was acquainted with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70, the Gospel of Luke is dated by most scholars after that date; many propose A.D. 80–90 as the time of composition.

        Luke’s consistent substitution of Greek names for the Aramaic or Hebrew names occurring in his sources (e.g., Lk 23:33; Mk 15:22; Lk 18:41; Mk 10:51), his omission from the gospel of specifically Jewish Christian concerns found in his sources (e.g., Mk 7:1–23), his interest in Gentile Christians (Lk 2:30–32; 3:6, 38; 4:16–30; 13:28–30; 14:15–24; 17:11–19; 24:47–48), and his incomplete knowledge of Palestinian geography, customs, and practices are among the characteristics of this gospel that suggest that Luke was a non-Palestinian writing to a non-Palestinian audience that was largely made up of Gentile Christians.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          1. Matthew wrote a gospel in Aramaic ("Hebrew"). It was used by a sect called the Ebionites as late as Jerome's time. The version we have today was apparently composed later in Greek and appears not to have been a straightforward translation of the original Matthew. Possibly, the original Matthew -- described by Pappias as "the oracles of the Lord" -- sounds a bit like the collected sayings, like the ever-elusive "Q", much speculated upon but never empirically produced.

          2. The Petrine sources of Mark are clearly indicated within the text in the traditional Greek manner. (Compare, e.g., Porphyry's Life of Plotinus.) In any assemblage of apostles, Peter is always mentioned first, for example. He is known, as you say, from external sources to have been Peter's interpreter, and would have made notes in Greek of Peter's story-telling in Aramaic/Syriac, later arranging those notes into a systematic narrative that was not strictly chronological. (Since he hadn't been present; and strict chronology was not the primary goal of Greek historiography in any case.)

          3. That Luke was born in Antioch does not prevent him from traveling with Paul and meeting all the movers and shakers and even making notes with an eye toward one day writing a book, esp. after Matthew has "collected the oracles of the Lord" and Mark has prepared a bios. That he addresses Gentile converts the way Original Matthew supposedly addressed Jewish converts makes perfectly good sense.

          4. If a later date of composition depends on reading the lamentations for Jerusalem as being written after the fall of the city to the Romans, a bit of circular reasoning creeps in. It's like saying a fellow on a cell phone, looking out the window of a train and seeing another train approaching on the same track telling his interlocutor that there will be a big train wreck soon could only have been making the call after the wreck is making some heavy assumptions about even human foresight. Anyone who knew about Jewish rebelliousness and how Romans treated rebellions could have made that call. Ask the city fathers of Carthage and Corinth, or Numantia. Or later in Epirus, et al.

          5. That Luke was not of the "first generation" does not mean "biological generation." It means he was not a first-hand hearer of the Lord. When he says he spoke with those who did know, it means exactly that, not that he heard from someone who heard from someone. Recall that Pappias knew the gospel of Luke already and Papias had spoken with at least two surviving disciples [Aristion and the presbyter John], with the daughters of Phillip, and with people "who had heard directly from Andrew, Peter, Philip, Thomas, James, John, Matthew, or by any other of the Lord's disciples." So surely, if Papias had access to these folks in Hierapolis, Luke had earlier had access in Antioch, where they were first called "Christians."

          Irenaeus called Papias "a hearer of John, and companion of Polycarp, a man of old time," so you can't get too much closer to the sources than that, unless it is 19th century German university professors pursuing a now-outmoded research paradigm.

          • so you can't get too much closer to the sources than that, unless it is 19th century German university professors pursuing a now-outmoded research paradigm.

            Would you say the same about Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I don't think we have any sources as close to Moses as Papias or the MUratorian Canon are to the evangelists. We're talking about within the lifetimes of the participants.

            That said, in very ancient times, the notion of authorship was not our own "copyright" notion.

            BTW, if someone is going to ascribe authorship to otherwise anonymous documents, why pick no-name backgrounders like Mark and Luke or second-tier apostles like Matthew? (Even John might be either the son of Zebedee or the Presbyter.)

          • 1. Matthew wrote a gospel in Aramaic ("Hebrew"). It was used by a sect called the Ebionites as late as Jerome's time.

            Cite your sources for this and your other points as well. You write as if what you say is established fact or common knowledge, and it simply isn't.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            “Matthew also called Levi, apostle and aforetimes publican, composed a gospel of Christ at first published in Judea in Hebrew for the sake of those of the circumcision who believed, but this was afterwards translated into Greek though by what author is uncertain. The Hebrew itself has been preserved until the present day in the library at Caesarea which Pamphilus so diligently gathered. I have also had the opportunity of having the volume described to me by the Nazarenes of Beroea, a city of Syria, who use it. In this it is to be noted that wherever the Evangelist, whether on his own account or in the person of our Lord the Savior quotes the testimony of the Old Testament he does not follow the authority of the translators of the Septuagint but the Hebrew. Wherefore these two forms exist “Out of Egypt have I called my son,” and “for he shall be called a Nazarene.”
            -- Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, Ch.3
            http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2708.htm
            +++

      • Luke was also well-acquainted with Peter and seems to have written his gospel and the Acts during his travels with Paul and during Paul's imprisonment.

        Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea in 57–59 and under house arrest in Rome in 60–62. According to the New American Bible, "Traditionally, the gospel [of Mark] is said to have been written shortly before A.D. 70 in Rome, at a time of impending persecution and when destruction loomed over Jerusalem." So if Luke wrote his gospel while Paul was in prison, he wrote approximately a decade before Mark, which is doubly remarkable, because the current consensus is that Luke used Mark as a source.

      • Matthew was the first to be written, in Aramaic; but this version has not come down to us. A Greek version was written later full of explanations of Judaic terms and customs, so it was intended for a Greek readership.

        The following is from John L. McKenzie's Dictionary of the Bible:

        There are, however, serious difficulties against the hypothesis that Mt was written in Aramaic. It does not show the signs of translation; in particular, it is difficult to retranslate Mt into an Aramaic original. There are some word plays (6:16; 21:41; 24:30) which are possible only in Gk. The citations from the OT number 41, of which 21 are common to Mt-Mk-Luke; these 21 are all given according to the LXX, which makes an Aramaic original unlikely and also weighs heavily against any common Aramaic source for all three. In the 20 citations peculiar to Mt the Hb text is followed more closely, but there are affinities to the LXX here also; the variations are not always easy to define, but it is clear that the author is not using the Hb OT, as one would expect an Aramaic writer to do. Finally, there is an evident dependence on Mk in almost all the narrative passages (cf Synoptic Question). It is therefore possible to maintain an Aramaic original of Mt only if one understands that the Gk Mt is a thorough and substantial revision of the Aramaic original and not a mere translation, and that no traces are left from which the Aramaic original can be reconstructed. It follows that Matthew is not the author of the Gk Mt.

      • > It was only as the eyewitnesses were beginning to die off that their testimonies were written down.

        There is no evidence of that, except in John there is no indication where the Gospels came from.

        >IIRC, the life of Epicurus was not written until centuries afterward!

        Sure, I wouldn't believe any supernatural accounts in that either, if there are any.

        I am not sure what you are saying is generally accepted by New Testament historians, but even if it is, it still is not enough to believe someone survived his own death.

        • Ye Olde Statistician

          I wouldn't believe any supernatural accounts in that either, if there are any.

          Well, then that is the issue, not how long after the events the accounts were written or whether different accounts disagree with one another in persnickety details, or any of the other smoke screens raised.

          But it is a fact that in Greek historiography,accounts were written down only as the eyewitnesses were becoming unavailable for cross-examination by the community. There is no reason to suppose that Hellenized Jews writing in the tradition of Greek historiography would ignore this practice. Although in fact, the gospels were written sooner after the events they describe than most other Greek-style bioi.

          Another Greek technique was the citation of minor players in the narrative. This was generally a means of footnoting a source before standard pagination made true footnoting possible. Hence, when in his History Socrates Scholasticus mentions that one of the Jews driven out of Alexandria by Cyril was a physician named Adamantius, who fled to Constantinople and professed Christianity, he is likely the source of the story. In this light we note characters like Alexander and Rufus (the sons of Simon of Cyrene) or Zacchaeus (who climbed a tree because he was short). Or the women mentioned in different gospels as witnesses. Different shout-outs in different gospels because not all of them were available or known to the churches when and where these gospels were written.

          • You've got it. There are thousands of people today that make such claims, I don't believe them either.

            The problem isn't the resolution or age of the documentation, though this is often exaggerated.

            The problem is that we have billions of examples and strong science saying this cannot happen. We also have billions of examples of people being wrong or flat out lying. Especially about religious claims.

            Is there nothing that would convince me? No. Given the power and knowledge attributed to this deity, if it wanted to ensure this story was believed at the time and today. This would allow us to make an informed choice as to whether to follow and align with the deity, like Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, the disciples and so on.

            Instead, the diets, if it exists, seems satisfied with most of humanity not believing.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            If only you were God, you would do a better job of rubbing people's noses in it and making them believe. (Be-lief from "be-" the Old English general intensifier prefix + "lief" meaning to desire or love. Believed = Ger, geliebt = "beloved.")

          • Gods don't make believe, they are make believe.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            That's a conclusion, not an argument.

          • (Be-lief from "be-" the Old English general intensifier prefix + "lief" meaning to desire or love. Believed = Ger, geliebt = "beloved.")

            Maybe. The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary don't seem to share your certainty about the word's origins.

          • Rob Abney

            Instead, the diety, if it exists, seems satisfied with most of humanity not believing

            He may be satisfied as you assume but I don't think it is accurate to say that "most" people do not believe in God, you are in the minority and it seems that the majority of the population has been convinced by the available evidence.

          • No, most people don't believe Jesus is God.

          • it seems that the majority of the population has been convinced by the available evidence.

            I agree they're convinced. I'm not so sure the evidence had anything to do with their becoming convinced.

          • The problem is that we have billions of examples and strong science saying this cannot happen. We also have billions of examples of people being wrong or flat out lying. Especially about religious claims.

            Oh interesting. Suppose I apply that logic to the widespread denial of the empirical results of Converse's 1964 study, The nature of belief systems in mass publics. What Converse found was that the average citizen in the United States just don't have stable beliefs which assemble into anything like the comprehensive ideology which they could then percolate to their elected representatives. And yet, this has been denied in all levels of discourse since then, despite repeated failed attempts to falsify those empirical results. A summary of this denial can be found in Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels' Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government. So, should I treat a good chunk of political science and everything connected to it in a manner similar to how you treat "religious claims"?

            Instead, the diets, if it exists, seems satisfied with most of humanity not believing.

            It is interesting that you don't seem to have any alternative explanations worth mentioning. That doesn't seem very scientific.

          • Go ahead. I'm not denying that study.

            The alternative is stated in the last paragraph of my original comment.

            Another alternative is that Islam or Judaism is true.

          • Go ahead. I'm not denying that study.

            Your denial or lack thereof is 100% irrelevant to my point. My point is that there is a truth buried amidst a plethora of lies. Yours appears to be that all the lies demonstrate there is no truth buried.

          • I agree. youre the one raising old political science studies.

            if you have some relevant reason to believe in the resurrection, please advance it.

          • youre the one raising old political science studies.

            Ahh, so because the original study was in 1964, it's irrelevant? Perhaps you missed the following:

            LB: And yet, this has been denied in all levels of discourse since then, despite repeated failed attempts to falsify those empirical results.

            ?

            if you have some relevant reason to believe in the resurrection, please advance it.

            That's not what I'm interested in doing. I'm interested in examining the reasoning you put in play:

            BGA: The problem is that we have billions of examples and strong science saying this cannot happen. We also have billions of examples of people being wrong or flat out lying. Especially about religious claims.

            But perhaps you want that to apply to only domains you don't like?

          • I'd say it's completely irrelevant to whether Jesus ressurected.

            I can't speak for the political science academy. I don't disputed what you are saying I dispute the resurrection.

            I don't see your point,what are you disputing in my reasoning?

          • I'd say it's completely irrelevant to whether Jesus ressurected.

            If you're going to put a principle in play, it needs to apply equally to all situations. Otherwise, it is shown to be mere rationalization.

          • The principle I put in play is that when the options are A is impossible and has not been observed before or after, but means some people were honest, and B means the impossible thing didn't happen but people are dishonest or mistaken, B is more reasonable.

            I stand by that principle. It is basically Bayes.

          • A is impossible? When you say that it "has not been observed before or after", surely you mean according to some sort of exacting standards; perhaps you could lay them out, noting that modern science hasn't existed for very long?

          • Yes. Surviving a death is impossible. I can't think of any other meaning of the word death.

            For this issue, let us consider the claim. This must be along the lines that Jesus was crucified, his breathing stopped as did his heart, he was drained of sufficient blood survive. This lasted for at least a day and then he was walking around and speaking cogently. Even on theism this has never happened before or since and is believed with excellent evidence to be as impossible as jumping to the moon.

            Now how likely is it? How likely is it for stories that this happened be true? Compared to the stories being fabricated and or erroneous?

          • David Nickol

            Are you saying it is impossible that the God of Christianity could exist? Because if it's not impossible, then the story Jesus as believed by Christians is possible.

            Of course, I see a problem here, in that if one admits the possibility of an omnipotent God, then one has to admit that basically anything that is not logically impossible is possible. Still, impossible seems like a pretty strong word.

          • I am saying that. In the same way that I'd say it is impossible that David Bowie does a live tour next year.

            But no I'm not saying it is logically impossible. I don't know is if it is physically impossible, though it seems to be.

            But yes I am going to go out on a limb here and say that I believe, when someone dies it is impossible for him to be alive 48 hours later.

            It will take a lot more than ancient anonymous, non independent texts and hearsay to change that belief.

          • David Nickol

            I am saying that. In the same way that I'd say it is impossible that David Bowie does a live tour next year.

            My question was, "Are you saying that it is impossible that the God of Christianity could exist?" I think you are answering whether a person can rise from the dead. I am asking whether it is impossible that the God of Christianity exists.

            It will take a lot more than ancient anonymous, non independent texts and hearsay to change that belief.

            It seems to me there is a difference between saying something is impossible and saying you believe it is impossible. Perhaps I'm nitpicking, but as an agnostic, it seems to me that claiming that it is impossible for God to exist (if that is what you are doing) is just as audacious as claiming that God does exist, or claiming that God necessarily exists.

            I don't really care about David Bowie, but I would hate to hear there will be no Beatles reunion.

          • Surviving a death is impossible.

            Are you under the impression that the information which defines you is anything other than indestructable and [in principle] recoverable?

            For this issue, let us consider the claim. This must be along the lines that Jesus was crucified, his breathing stopped as did his heart, he was drained of sufficient blood survive. This lasted for at least a day and then he was walking around and speaking cogently. Even on theism this has never happened before or since and is believed with excellent evidence to be as impossible as jumping to the moon.

            There are several resurrections recorded in the Bible, although perhaps none other than Jesus where exsanguination occurred. But it seems rather silly to pick that out in particular. Indeed, the NT warns about making too much of resurrection in Rev 13:1–5. You seem to have quite the vested interest in resurrection being impossible. Perhaps that is because threat of permanent death is what gives the State so much power? Hebrews 2:15 talks about Jesus "deliver[ing] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery"; I can see how that would be threatening to some.

            Now how likely is it?

            Given that I do not think reality is fundamentally governed by laws of probability, I'm not sure what the purpose of your question is.

            How likely is it for stories that this happened be true? Compared to the stories being fabricated and or erroneous?

            Let's take Sturgeon's law: "ninety percent of everything is crap". Does that mean that whenever I encounter anything, the probability that thing right there is crap is 90%? Of course not! That is, unless I deprive myself of all useful context. But suppose that I find that the authors of the Bible were quite good at sticking to the truth in matters where humans love to wander. Does this not warrant trust, such that I can discover whether that pattern continues? Or should I always be so skeptical that I never actually take the actions required to see if the pattern continues? Context is very important!

          • David Nickol

            You seem to have quite the vested interest in resurrection being impossible. Perhaps that is because threat of permanent death is what gives the State so much power? Hebrews 2:15 talks about Jesus "deliver[ing] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery"; I can see how that would be threatening to some.

            Are you hinting that Brian Green Adams some kind of PR person for totalitarianism? I think that in general—with some extraordinary exceptions—people who believe in an afterlife are just as fearful of being executed by the state as people who don't believe. Although there were those in early Christianity who eagerly sought martyrdom (somewhat like the suicide bombers of today), it would seem that Jesus himself was not at all eager to be executed.

          • Are you hinting that Brian Green Adams some kind of PR person for totalitarianism?

            No. That is far from the only possibility, and not the greatest probability in my estimation.

            I think that in general—with some extraordinary exceptions—people who believe in an afterlife are just as fearful of being executed by the state as people who don't believe.

            Then I would suggest that there might be [at least] two radically different meanings of the phrase "believe in an afterlife", and we ought not conflate them.

            Although there were those in early Christianity who eagerly sought martyrdom (somewhat like the suicide bombers of today), it would seem that Jesus himself was not at all eager to be executed.

            He may not have been eager, but I think he knew it was necessary. The question is, was the necessity imposed by God or by humankind? I think the answer is largely humankind. We did not want to repent and we definitely did not want to acknowledge full responsibility for our actions. We wanted to scapegoat. And so we got one, one which showed what scapegoating is in all its glory. (I don't claim that this exhausts what Jesus did.)

          • Rob Abney

            those in early Christianity who eagerly sought martyrdom (somewhat like the suicide bombers of today)

            In what way are they somewhat similar? Christian martyrs are unwillingly murdered because they won't deny their faith whereas suicide bombers kill themselves as they murder other people.

          • David Nickol

            Christian martyrs are unwillingly murdered because they won't deny their faith whereas . . .

            Note this excerpt from How the Early Church Viewed Martyrs:

            The belief in the virtue of martyrdom generated the phenomenon of "volunteering," whereby numbers of Christians actively sought persecution and death. In one account, a Roman governor was interrupted in his courtroom by a Christian named Euplus who shouted, "I am a Christian. I want to die." His request was granted. The early church did not advocate voluntary martyrdoms and, in fact, Origen and Clement specifically warned against them. Jesus himself in Matthew's gospel advised fleeing when persecution was imminent. Thus, those who volunteered to die were a small minority.

            I did not imply, although you seem to have taken me to, that all early Christian martyrs were "volunteers." Voluntary martyrdom is a well documented phenomenon in the early church. Exactly how many martyrs were "volunteers" is difficult to know. Although it is claimed the official church discouraged or condemned "volunteering," all martyrs were highly honored. It apparently did not matter after the fact if martyrdom had been voluntary or involuntary. Martyrs were honored simply as martyrs, and no one was considered a lesser hero for having "volunteered."

          • Rob Abney

            That's interesting history, did the church honor volunteer martyrs as saints?
            But even as volunteers there is a huge difference from suicide bombers who murder others by killing themselves.

          • Christian martyrs are unwillingly murdered because they won't deny their faith

            Can you document, using a primary source, one occasion when that happened?

          • Rob Abney

            From last year, Fr Jacques Hamel. http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2016/07/27/fr-hamel-was-martyred-in-odium-fidei-says-archbishop-fisher/

            From the English reformation, Cardinal John Fisher. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Fisher

            One of my favorites, Joan of Arc. I recommend reading the extensively researched book by Mark Twain which he calls "the best book I've written".

          • My apologies. I should have been more specific. By "primary source," I meant a statement either by the perpetrator or someone well enough acquainted with the perpetrator's thinking to know their actual motivations.

            I doubt that Archbishop Fisher has been in conversation with any of the terrorists who did the deed he was commenting on. Cardinal Fisher was obviously killed for his opposition to Henry VIII's political ambitions.

            We do have official statements from the people who killed Joan of Arc. They said they did it because they believed she was a heretic.

          • Rob Abney

            You set the bar high, you want a murderer or a group of murderers to tell us why someone was killed without trying to rationalize their actions.

            If the evil killers of Joan of Arc were found to be lying would that be considered a primary source?
            From Wikipedia: Several members of the tribunal later testified that important portions of the transcript were falsified by being altered in her disfavor. Under Inquisitorial guidelines, Joan should have been confined in an ecclesiastical prison under the supervision of female guards (i.e., nuns). Instead, the English kept her in a secular prison guarded by their own soldiers. Bishop Cauchon denied Joan's appeals to the Council of Basel and the Pope, which should have stopped this proceeding.

          • you want a murderer or a group of murderers to tell us why someone was killed without trying to rationalize their actions.

            What I want, if I wish to determine someone's motivations for any action, is to hear what they have to say for themselves about their reasons.

            You set the bar high

            I have listened for my entire lifetime to people telling me about my motivations for all kinds of things I've done, and I've noticed how often they've been wrong. And, just about as often, I've seen other people being told why they're doing certain things and being ignored when they respond, "No, that isn't why I do that."

            If the evil killers of Joan of Arc were found to be lying would that be considered a primary source?

            Whether a source is primary has nothing to do with the content of their information or its credibility. It has only to do with whether they were in a position to have firsthand knowledge about whatever they reported. Joan's accusers certainly had firsthand knowledge of what they believed she was guilty of. Whether they were honest in stating those beliefs is a separate issue, but you're not suggesting, are you, that they actually thought she was guilty of being a Christian?

            From Wikipedia: Several members of the tribunal later testified that important portions of the transcript were falsified by being altered in her disfavor.

            That is not inconsistent with anything I have said. She was not accused of believing in Christ. She was accused of being a heretic. If she was not actually a heretic, then it's no surprise that some of the evidence against her was fabricated. Nor, if the tribunal knew the charges to be unjust, is it any surprise that they would have falsified some of records of her trial.

          • Rob Abney

            Are you saying that a martyr is created based upon the murderers' motive?
            Joan of Arc was responding to the voice of God, and she would not waver. She performed miraculous actions against the cowardly will of the French and against the violent will of the English. She was commanded through threat of death to stop following the word of God and she would not do it so she was executed. You should read the book by Twain, he wrote it in a matter of fact style with no religious overtones.

          • Are you saying that a martyr is created based upon the murderers' motive?

            That is what the word means in ordinary usage.

          • Rob Abney

            True, but it should be based upon the murderer's true motivation rather than his/her stated motivation. Since most murderers are also liars then we have to have (and we do have) other means to determine the motives.

          • but it should be based upon the murderer's true motivation rather than his/her stated motivation.

            I have said nothing to the contrary.

            we have to have (and we do have) other means to determine the motives.

            If we're interested in the truth, the only means is an analysis of factual evidence. The factual evidence in Joan's case tells me that the people who killed her were motivated by political concerns, not by any hatred of her religious beliefs.

          • Rob Abney

            the people who killed her were motivated by political concerns, not by any hatred of her religious beliefs.

            What is your source for that conclusion?

          • What is your source for that conclusion?

            Everything I've read about her for the past half-century, beginning in 1964 with George Bernard Shaw's preface to his play St. Joan and including Isaac Asimov's commentary on her portrayal by Shakespeare in Henry VI, Part 1.

          • Rob Abney

            Here's the cliff notes intro to Shaw's preface: Shaw sees Joan, ironically, as one of the first Protestant martyrs and as a forerunner of equality for women; Joan was burned as a heretic, thus martyred, for two primary reasons: (1) even though Joan never denied the Church and although she constantly turned to it for solace, she was, in essence, the "first Protestant" because she listened to the dictates of her own conscience and her own reasoning rather than to the authority of the Church; (2) she was "the pioneer of rational dressing for women," yet for this so-called unwomanly and, thus, unnatural act, she was burnt at the stake.
            Is that an accurate representation of the preface? If it is then it seems as if he's taking a polemical position rather than the more factual representation of Twain.

          • then it seems as if he's taking a polemical position rather than the more factual representation of Twain.

            I'm not denying Shaw's polemics. Like Twain, he was writing fiction, and I think anyone who writes fiction has a point to make.

          • Rob Abney

            I think anyone who writes fiction has a point to make.

            True, it's up to the reader to recognize the "motive". It's difficult to know Twain's motive though because he was known to be anti-Catholic and anti-French. Not long after his book was published the Church made Joan a Saint.

          • he was known to be anti-Catholic

            You wouldn't know it from reading that essay. It's really quite sympathetic to the church's point of view.

          • Rob Abney

            what essay are you referring to? I thought we were discussing his book.

          • I'm sorry. I got confused over which author we were talking about. You spoke of Twain and I thought about Shaw. The essay I mentioned was his preface to St. Joan.

          • You should read the book by Twain, he wrote it in a matter of fact style with no religious overtones.

            The book is available online. It's a novel, a work of fiction.

          • Rob Abney

            A great writer researched a voluminously documented event, a short life of an extraordinary human. Its seems to be the nearest anyone could possibly come to telling the true story.

          • Its seems to be the nearest anyone could possibly come to telling the true story.

            You may so judge it. My judgment differs. I don't think mine is an unreasonable judgment, but if you think it is, feel free to show everyone why you think so.

          • I don't know what you mean by information that defines me.

            I don't think information can be destroyed, can it? I'm not sure what you're asking. Same for recoverable.

            I'm not aware of other resurrections in the Bible. Such as?

            If you don't accept probability or a Bayesian analysis of this, then sure this argument won't work. But i don't see how you can reach any conclusions about anything if you don't.

            No I see no reason to trust the authors of the Gopels on the resurrection of Jesus.

            I don't know what you mean by "what matters". But large passages of these texts are clear fabrications for theological purposes, such as the nativity stories, Jesus' trial for example.

            Sure look into this and draw your own conclusions.

          • I don't know what you mean by information that defines me.

            Do you somehow think that who you are is not encoded by physical state? That physical state can be described as information. All time-evolution of state, as far as we know, is unitary, which means that information is neither created nor destroyed. If that is correct, then the information that defines who you are is never destroyed. Instead, it is spread out into the universe. But there is absolutely no reason an agent outside of the universe cannot re-assemble them.

            I'm not aware of other resurrections in the Bible. Such as?

            Examples which come to mind: the boy Elijah raised, Lazarus whom Jesus raised, Jairus' daughter whom Jesus raised, the guy who died because Paul bored him to tears with a nightlong message whom Paul raised. It was rare, but it was not unknown.

            If you don't accept probability or a Bayesian analysis of this, then sure this argument won't work. But i don't see how you can reach any conclusions about anything if you don't.

            Do please explain the underlined. People were reaching conclusions well before probably was understood in a formal way; are you saying that they were all incorrect? Or that they were using probability/​Bayesian inference without knowing it?

            No I see no reason to trust the authors of the Gopels on the resurrection of Jesus.

            Do you see any reason to trust anyone outside of the precise boundaries where [s]he has demonstrated competence? I want to emphasize the strictness of "outside the precise boundaries". I mean to ask whether you think there could possibly be sound reason to trust a person even a tiny bit outside of exactly where [s]he has demonstrated competence.

            But large passages of these texts are clear fabrications for theological purposes, such as the nativity stories, Jesus' trial for example.

            Clear according to whom, according to what scholarly standards which I can rigorously explore?

          • I know what you're getting at. No I would not accept a reconstruction of the matter that makes me up to be a resurrection. Firstly, this is also impossible due to the uncertainty principle. And secondly, it wouldn't be me, because of a lack of continuity, for example if this was possible. It need not wait for me to be dead, it could be done now, would there be two of me? If you then offered to kill the first me and tried to explain I wouldn't really be dying because I had been resurrected, I would not care.

            As for the Bible. I don't believe those stories either. But do you really think these were resserrections? I think the church would disagree with you.

            If you don't pick between options based on your assessment of how likely alternatives are, I don't see how you would reason. Sounds like you reject inductive reason. I definitely think people use Bayesian thinking without realizing it. It's like the one thing I'd agree with Richard Carrier on!

            I don't trust the Gospels because they reek of unreliability and bias. They contain several clearly false stories included to advance a theological view. The authors of the Gospels demonstrate competence in nothing other than writing stories to advance their view of a developing religion.

            Trust isn't about competence it's about credibility and reliability.

            According to Dale Martin in his introductory course at Yale on New Testament studies. For example, it makes no historical sense that Jesus was given a trial or that if he did any of the authors of the Gospels would have been present.

          • Firstly, this is also impossible due to the uncertainty principle.

            You are not given that all state is local, so this isn't necessarily a problem.

            And secondly, it wouldn't be me, because of a lack of continuity, for example if this was possible. It need not wait for me to be dead, it could be done now, would there be two of me?

            See the no-cloning theorem. Now, that supposes that who you are depends on your quantum state, not just your classical state. But so does your thinking that the uncertainty principle applies, here.

            As for the Bible. I don't believe those stories either. But do you really think these were resserrections? I think the church would disagree with you.

            The Bible makes them out to be resurrections. You are welcome to pull arguments from the RCC which states otherwise (although note that I'm not a Catholic). I was never after your belief in those stories; I was showing that "I'm not aware of other resurrections in the Bible." does not mean there aren't any.

            BGA: If you don't accept probability or a Bayesian analysis of this, then sure this argument won't work. But i don't see how you can reach any conclusions about anything if you don't.

            LB: Do please explain the underlined. People were reaching conclusions well before probably was understood in a formal way; are you saying that they were all incorrect? Or that they were using probability/​Bayesian inference without knowing it?

            BGA: If you don't pick between options based on your assessment of how likely alternatives are, I don't see how you would reason. Sounds like you reject inductive reason. I definitely think people use Bayesian thinking without realizing it. It's like the one thing I'd agree with Richard Carrier on!

            I sometimes do employ Bayesian inference. But you wrote as if it were humanity's only lifeline to what is true. (Well, you threw out "probability" very vaguely, so perhaps you allow for alternatives there.) I'm sorry, but I see no reason to believe that, whether from pure logic or the evidence. Can you find an anthropologist who argues that even the least reach peoples of the earth employ Bayesian inference?

            The authors of the Gospels demonstrate competence in nothing other than writing stories to advance their view of a developing religion.

            I have empirical evidence that this what you say is false. More than that, the verses I mention at that link advocate a way to manage conflict between people that I see rarely practiced, whether by Christians or non-Christians. Maybe we're just too dumb and/or evil to appreciate it. I mean, if something doesn't help me get what I want—why bother?

            Trust isn't about competence it's about credibility and reliability.

            Seriously? You don't in any way adjust your trust of a person based on his/her competence [in the relevant areas]?

            For example, it makes no historical sense that Jesus was given a trial or that if he did any of the authors of the Gospels would have been present.

            I've never heard either of these things. Would you be willing to elaborate? That is, can you do something more precise than referencing an entire introductory course?

        • [...] it still is not enough to believe someone survived his own death.

          I'll go further. No amount of evidence, from the [ancient] past, especially testimony, could ever be sufficient for this until we can establish that such a thing is even possible. Without a plausible mechanism for how Jesus returned to life, we have no justification for accepting the resurrection.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            That's begging the question.

          • No it's not! We have never verified that resurrections are even possible. Please, demonstrate a resurrection where the person has been verifiably dead for 36 hours, and then returned to life. Once you do that, I'll accept that resurrections are possible.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Well, if it were two-a-penny, it wouldn't be considered a miracle, now then would it?

          • And yet, no miracles have ever been confirmed to have happened. So which is more likely, that a miracle actually happened, or that people are mistaken about the nature of what they believe?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            But no confirmation would ever be acceptable to those who were not there and even many who were. It's an unfalsifiable a priori act of faith that such miracles are impossible. Instead, they will mutter in their beards incantations of "emergent properties" or "random chance" (as if "chance" were a "thing," with "causal" properties). Or bandy such words as "spontaneous" as if they explained anything. In extremis, I have seen 'em even deny, with Hume and al-Ghazali, the existence of cause itself and place all their money on mere correlation: "It just IS!" a/k/a brutefactism. "Which is more likely," that the capitalist democracies of the West would ally with their sworn enemy, who had slaughtered tens of millions of its domestic opponents, or that they would continue to oppose the USSR throughout WW2? (History is full of improbabilities, so "which is more likely" is not a convincing argument.") Probabilities require an a priori model. Different model, different probabilities.

            In any case, how often has the creator of the universe become man? Even if no other miracle had ever happened, the circumstances just may have been a bit special in such a case. The author of the laws of the universe is quite capable of authoring a footnote.

          • It's an unfalsifiable a priori act of faith that such miracles are impossible.

            Bullshit. It's an a posteriori position because we have no reliable way to verify that miracles actually occur. Every time we've investigate a miracle, and found a cause, the cause has always been a natural one. We've never been able to establish a supernatural cause for anything.

            Now, please stop repeating this tired claptrap that we have some preconceived notion that the supernatural doesn't exist!

            In any case, how often has the creator of the universe become man?

            I don't know. Never as far as I can tell, because I don't even know that there is a creator of the universe! You make a lot of bold assumptions when you ask this question.

            The author of the laws of the universe is quite capable of authoring a footnote.

            What do you mean by this, and how do you know it's true?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Every time we've investigate a miracle,
            and found a cause, the cause has always been a natural one.

            Well, except for those folks who deny causes exist, or who fail to realize that natural causes presuppose that natures exist or fail to realize that if their methods for determining causes only recognize natural causes then only natural causes will be recognized.

            I don't even know that there is a creator of the universe!

            And yet, there the universe is!

            You make a lot of bold assumptions when you ask this question.

            Certainly. This is the case in any case. As I said: probabilities are meaningless without an a priori model. Change the model and the probabilities change.

            What do you mean by [The author of the laws of the universe is quite capable of authoring a footnote], and how do you know it's true?

            Pretty much the same as what I would mean by saying the author of Moby Dick was quite capable of exempting "Ishmael" from the annihilation of the Pequod. Or less dramatically, of any author of "violating" the laws of ENglish grammar. It's prettu much true by definition. The probability vanishes only if you make a priori assumptions about nature.

          • Well, except for those folks who deny causes exist

            Who is denying that causes exist? Certainly not me. We seem to have a very good case for natural phenomena being able to cause things. If you can show me that this is wrong, I'd love to hear it.

            or who fail to realize that natural causes presuppose that natures exist

            And that presupposition is well supported by the evidence. This would be called a basal assumption, and the evidence is that it works. Not so much can be said for supernatural inquiry.

            You're the one who presupposes that the supernatural exists, and I don't understand why people think such a presupposition is justified.

            or fail to realize that if their methods for determining causes only recognize natural causes then only natural causes will be recognized.

            Do you have a reliable methodology to investigate anything outside of nature? Can you do anything here besides bash methodological naturalism?

            And yet, there the universe is!

            So? By the same standard, there is a rock, must have an intelligent creator. If literally everything is created, then how do you falsify the proposition? Do you care?

            As I said: probabilities are meaningless without an a priori model. Change the model and the probabilities change.

            Models are created a priori? I thought models are created based on evidence, and what works. Maybe theists have some interesting new ways to investigate reality that leads to useful results, but I doubt it....

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Who is denying that causes exist?

            Followers of David Hume.

            And that presupposition is well supported by the evidence

            A lot of folks today deny that there are natures or essences. But in any case, the emphasis in my comment was on the presupposition: the natures are logically prior to the causes these natures engender. Things that are above nature, like being itself, or gravity, or energy, etc. are a different order.

            Do you have a reliable methodology to investigate anything outside of nature?

            Mathematics. Aesthetics. Logic.

            Can you do anything here besides bash methodological naturalism?

            I'm not bashing that. It is one of the greatest heritages of medieval Christianity. Ontological naturalism is another matter entirely. It is not at all unusual for someone with a successful technique to suppose that only that which is amenable to that technique is real or worth doing. If the only tool you allow is a hammer, every problem will look like a nail.

            By the same standard, there is a rock, must have an intelligent creator.

            Actually, no. The first issue is whether a rock is a thing; that is a substnatia or ouisia. Then you have to make further argument to get from a rock to an intelligent creator. But surely the fact that Stuff Exists is sufficient to demonstrate there is a cause of existence. If nothing else, Existence Itself must exist logically-prior to anything else.

            If literally everything is created, then how do you falsify the proposition?

            I'm not as enamored of modus tollens as was Popper. If everything is natural, then how do you falsify that proposition?

            Notice, BTW, that you cannot demonstrate the existence of stuff using natural science, because the methods of natural science, as previously noted, presuppose that stuff exists. This begs the question.

            As I said: probabilities are meaningless without an a priori model. Change the model and the probabilities change.
            Models are created a priori? I thought models are created based on evidence, and what works.

            I wrote that the models are prior to the probabilities. Any statement of how likely or unlikely any event may be are necessarily based on the presupposed model, even so simple a model as a mean value.

            "What works" is a tricky proposition, and depends on what you mean by "works." The Ptolemaic model of the world worked extremely well for a great long time. (Unlike, say, climate models, which consistently overestimate temperatures and must be renormed.) Ptolemy was as we would say today the Consensus Science, even though it contradicted Aristotelian physics. But the success of its predictions did not imply that the world was actually constructed as per the model. The Physicists of the time insisted that its epicycles and deferents were not physically real, but only mathematical devices "to save the appearances." (That's why the word for "astronomer" was mathematicus.) When at last the phases of Venus showed the model to be physically impossible, the consensus settled on the Tychonic model instead, which made all the same predictions as the Copernican model plus the Tychonic and Ursine models were not falsified by the lack of stellar parallax or of Coriolis effects the way geomobile models were.

            Of course, nowadays we know that the Newtonian-Keplerian model was truer than any of the other competing models. But it indicates how far we have strayed from the principles of the Scientific Revolution when we start to rely on model outputs rather than on actual data and mathematics.

            interesting new ways to investigate reality that leads to useful results, but I doubt it.

            Keep in mind that data are not self-demonstrating. Any finite set of facts can support innumerable physical theories. So one of the things to contemplate is how one distills the propter quid from the quia, or as we would say, the "physical theory" from the "facts." It's not entirely new, as the Latin terms are meant to suggest. It was part of what Galileo's instructors called the "demonstrative regress," but the bones go back to Aristotle.

          • A lot of folks today deny that there are natures or essences.

            Can you be more specific in what you mean here? Are you talking about some kind of platonic forms?

            Things that are above nature, like being itself, or gravity, or energy, etc. are a different order.

            A few questions. What do you mean by "above nature"? What is "being itself"?

            As for gravity, and energy, I accept them as being part of nature, and I don't know why you seem to think them "above" (whatever this means), or separate from, nature?

            Actually, no. The first issue is whether a rock is a thing

            One could ask the same question of the universe....

            Then you have to make further argument to get from a rock to an intelligent creator.

            Same problem for the universe...

            because the methods of natural science, as previously noted, presuppose that stuff exists. This begs the question.

            I told you that I don't know that the universe has a creator, and your simply responded "And yet, there the universe is!"

            Your statement isn't an argument, it just tries to bluntly assert that "the universe exists, and it must have a creator."

            How do you know this is true, and how do you know that this creator is the God you probably worship?

            Mathematics. Aesthetics. Logic.

            We've discussed this stuff already, and I don't really want to rehash this topic to death. Needless to say, as far as I'm concerned, mathematics and [pure] logic are analytic systems where everything comes from definitions. These tools are only useful because we have information about reality, that we've gathered in other ways.

            I regard aesthetics as a subjective discipline, and

            If everything is natural, then how do you falsify that proposition?

            Who's claiming that everything is natural? I know I'm not. My claim is that if you want to know something about the objective nature of reality, or understand causes, the best tool we have for that is science.

            But the success of its predictions did not imply that the world was actually constructed as per the model.

            Correct. We can never know if our model is absolutely correct to reality, which is why all positions in science are tentative. Anybody who believes that the theories of science are absolute is, quite frankly, an idiot.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Are you talking about some kind of platonic forms?

            No. This may help:
            http://alexanderpruss.com/papers/Forms.html

            A few questions. What do you mean by "above nature"?

            Super = Above; natural = natural. Like Meta-Physics: that which lies behind (or above) physics, the fundamentals required in order to do any sort of physics in any possible universe. For example, Einstein referred to both time and space as "metahysical intrusions" into what he thought should be a purely empirical science; and in his General Theory of relativity declared that "there are no objections of principle against the introduction of this hypothesis [GR], by which space and time are deprived of the last trace of objective reality."

            What is "being itself"?

            In addition to space and time, another metaphysical concept is "being" or "existence" (or if you prefer Latin: esse-nce). In order to do physical science the physical bodies must first-of-all exist. The physics takes this existence for granted, and does not try to explain it. "Be-ing" is simply the Saxon form of "Exist-ence" or "Esse-nce."

            Motion is another example. Physics does not explain motion, but only changes in motion. Motion-as-such is taken for granted as a given of material existence. Sometimes we say that motion is due to momentum, but this only begs the question. "Momentum" is the Latin word for "motion." We can also say that motion is due to "energy," but "energy" is simply a way of saying that something is in motion. Which brings us to...

            As for gravity, and energy, I accept them as being part of nature, and I don't know why you seem to think them "above" (whatever this means), or separate from, nature?

            ...is energy a real mover of things or is it only a mathematical convenience? Is it a cause of motion or an effect of it? Is it the ability to do something or is it the actual doing of it? ... If energy changes states, is there something other than energy responsible for this change?
            https://thomism.wordpress.com/2016/07/30/poorly-defined/

            Whatever physical science claims as an explaination of motion will be either:
            (a) immobile, but a purely abstract or universal entity, such as physical laws; or
            (b) itself in motion

            But
            (a) entities can’t move anything except as ideas in the mind of something or Someone
            (b) entities can’t explain motion but simply take some motion as given and order other motions to it. Either way, we get no explanation of motion.

            Kinetic energy seems to count as some sort of universal cause of change of place, but kinetic energy is not defined in a way that allows us to answer the question. No one can say if it is just a mathematical convenience, a cause of motion, an effect of being in motion, or a dozen other things. Physicists do not even regard it as a scientific question to wonder whether kinetic energy is in motion with the body it moves or whether it caused motion without being in motion, since it cannot be answered using the usual mathematical tools.

            IOW, kinetic energy is either changing place with the body it is moving or it isn’t.
            If it is, it requires kinetic energy to move itself and so ad infinitum
            If it isn’t then change of place is explained by what cannot change place; i.e. an unmoved mover.
            Kinetic energy explains because it transcends the explanandum.

            The first issue is whether a rock is a thing
            One could ask the same question of the universe....

            Precisely. Which is why claims that the universe causes itself are silly. I would regard the universe more as a mereological sum of things along the lines of the Newmanmars. The latter is the sum of {Herald Newman, Mars}. It would be silly to ask what brought the Newmanmars into being; not so silly to ask what brought Newman into being or Mars into being. However, we often take "universe" as shorthand for {X|X exists physically}

            Then you have to make further argument to get from a rock to an intelligent creator.
            Same problem for the universe.

            Which is why the best arguments do not start with rocks but with observations like:
            1. Physical bodies in the universe are changing.
            2. There is an ordering of efficient causes.
            3. Some things come into being and pass out of being.
            4. Certain things are ordered as to better of worse.
            5. There are natural laws.

            Aristotle had an interesting argument:

            1) Motion is necessarily infinite. It goes on and on. In the absence of a mover with infinite actual power, it would be possible for motion to cease. Therefore: the universe requires a mover with infinite power.
            2) It is possible for any finite body to be unable to move another, say one that is bigger or one it fails to be in contact with. Therefore: Infinite power cannot exist in a finite body.
            3) All physical bodies are finite since they are formally defined by their limits or boundaries.
            Therefore:
            4) The universe requires some non-bodily mover with infinite power.

            I told you that I don't know that the universe has a creator, and your simply responded "And yet, there the universe is!"

            To create is to bring into existence; that is, to join an essence to an act of existence. (It is not, for example, to transform matter from one form into another, as when coal is transformed into diamond or an ape is transformed into a man.) Something that does not exist cannot cause itself to exist since something that does not exist can't do diddly-squat.

            how do you know that this creator is the God you probably worship?

            I have said nothing about God, let alone made any claims on his behalf. Baby steps first.

            My claim is that if you want to know something about the objective nature of reality, or understand causes, the best tool we have for that is science.

            Well, science supplemented by mathematics, statistics, and modeling -- depending on the complexity of the system under study; and if you are content with know-what. If you want know-how, you must include engineering. And then stop trying to address problems that are not the metrical properties of physical bodies using the tools for the study of the metrical properties of physical bodies.

          • Well, if it were two-a-penny, it wouldn't be considered a miracle, now then would it?

            Then let's defer any debate over labelling. Do we have good reason to believe that at least one dead person has been restored to life?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            In system auditing, we learn that testimony is more credible if it goes against interest. For example, if someone tells the auditor that they have followed all relevant procedures, he may or may not be telling the truth. But if someone tells you that he did not follow the proper procedure, his statement should be given greater credibility. Hence, when a bunch of people testify that they have spoken and eaten with a man pronounced dead when it is an absurdity in their culture and when such a pronouncement will earn them nothing but hassle and obloquy, their testimony is worth listening to.

            Mr. Newman, above, requires a prior instance before he would credit a subsequent instance; or perhaps a subsequent instance before crediting an earlier one. However, this other instance -- call him Lazarus or the daughter of Yarosh -- would be subject to the same demand, entailing an infinite regress of dead-risings, such as sometimes happened in mortuaries in earlier centuries. Of course, the Late Modern sensibilities are that any such incident would be an incident of not-really-truly-dead, a circularity in the demand for an example. Empirical evidences of bodily deaths have grown ever more subtle over the years. We can nowadays detect animam in those whom even in the scientificalistic 19th century would have been pronounced dead.

            However, the hidden assumption in these cases is that the incident is somehow or other "random" or of low "probability." Yet, probability does not exist in the absence of a model and a priori assumptions. Something that is highly unlikely given the assumption of spontaneity may be much more likely given the assumption of deliberate planning.

          • In system auditing, we learn that testimony is more credible if it goes against interest.

            I learned about testimony against interest a long time ago, without having to take any special courses. It’s always seemed kind of intuitively obvious to me. However, I’m not going to believe someone who affirms X for no other reason than that I can imagine some motivation for them to deny X.

            Hence, when a bunch of people testify that they have spoken and eaten with a man pronounced dead when it is an absurdity in their culture and when such a pronouncement will earn them nothing but hassle and obloquy, their testimony is worth listening to.

            During any investigation, any relevant testimony is worth listening to. Even if the testimony is not credible, regardless of our reasons for disbelieving it, we can learn something useful just from its existence and availability.

            Mr. Newman, above, requires a prior instance before he would credit a subsequent instance;

            I’ll let him speak for himself. I can say on my own behalf that I have never seen a report of any resurrection from a source that I could justify accepting without corroboration.

            Of course, the Late Modern sensibilities are that any such incident would be an incident of not-really-truly-dead, a circularity in the demand for an example.

            I don’t know about “sensibilities,” but modern medical science has established a distinction between clinical death and brain death. Clinical death is sometimes reversible (hence those mortuary incidents you mentioned). Brain death is never reversible as far as we know. Show me a credible account of someone who was incontrovertibly brain dead coming back to life, and you’ll have my attention.

            Yet, probability does not exist in the absence of a model and a priori assumptions.

            Every worldview – yours, mind, everybody’s – rests on assumptions, and every worldview is a kind of model. No useful model makes any probability impossible to estimate. You can always dispute my probability estimates by challenging my worldview or its assumptions. If you cannot do at least that much, then your objection is without rational basis.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            I have never seen a report of any resurrection from a source that I could justify accepting without corroboration.

            And you never will; for no corroboration will ever be sufficient. Of course, if any such thing becomes undeniable, the fallback becomes: "It is a rare but natural event with no spiritual or supernatural significance."

            Clinical death is sometimes reversible ... Brain death is never reversible as far as we know. Show me a credible account of someone who was incontrovertibly brain dead coming back to life, and you’ll have my attention.

            Oh, so the goal posts are over there, not over here! Good to know. And of course, once a case of reversible brain death is found, some further refinement of 'death' will be forthcoming. (See first comment, above.)

          • And you never will;

            That depends. If it never really happens, then of course I'll never see it.

            If it does really happen, then what you're doing is accusing me of being too closed-minded to ever admit seeing it.

            if any such thing becomes undeniable, the fallback becomes: "It is a rare but natural event with no spiritual or supernatural significance."

            First show me an undeniable resurrection. Then you can explain how you know for a fact that no natural explanation is possible.

            Oh, so the goal posts are over there, not over here!

            Just in my lifetime, a few apparently impossible things have become routine accomplishments. The progress of science has moved many goal posts over the past few hundred years. I see no reason to make an exception just to accommodate somebody's religious dogma.

            And of course, once a case of reversible brain death is found, some further refinement of 'death' will be forthcoming.

            And we'll need that refinement, notwithstanding how inconvenient it will be for Christian orthodoxy.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            If it does really happen, then what you're doing is accusing me of being too closed-minded to ever admit seeing it.

            Of the making of ifs ands and buts there is no end, and there will always be another theory to cover matters. When a proposition touches on one's most deeply held beliefs, a certain amount of avoidance is expected.

            I was talking to Billy Ockham the other day, and he said that when a bunch of first century dudes say a guy was dead -- like, you know, the executioners, the women who went to complete the funerary rites -- and some other dudes say against their personal interests and well-being something outrageous and unbelievable to their fellow subjects, that the simplest hypothesis is that they were telling the truth at least insofar as they were able to determine it. Modern hair-splitting is only a way of avoiding their testimony based on nothing more than our personal incredulity. We weren't there.

            Just in my lifetime, a few apparently impossible things have become routine accomplishments.

            This is of course a matter of faith. Thus Science!™ has always done been in the past; so it will always do in the future per omnia saecula saeculorum. But now you rely on the evidence of things not seen.

            I was referring however to the ever-shifting modes of skepticism. "Dead" now means something more than it meant to those who reported death in the first century. It is no longer sufficient that the breathing stops or the heart no longer beats. Now the then-undetectable brain waves must cease as well. But of this there cannot be post hoc evidences, the instrumentation not existing at the time. Thus, your required evidences remain comfortably out of reach.

            "We marvel at something when, seeing an effect, we do not know the cause. And since one and the same cause is at times known to certain people and not to others, it happens that some marvel and some do not."
            -- S, Thomas Aquinas, On the truth of the catholic faith against the gentiles

            The progress of science has moved many goal posts over the past few hundred years.

            Perhaps you mean the progress of engineering? The only thing that science moves is epistemological. If it is possible that a corpse can be reanimated, then it was always possible for a corpse to be reanimated. Why this should be more remarkable than that a corpus possess anima in the first place is hard to grasp. We have numerous examples of misconceptions to indicate that this is not automatic.

          • David Nickol

            It all seems very simple to me. If the "Judeo-Christian" God exists, then of course the most astounding miracles—including the resurrection of the dead—are undeniably possible. If there exists no "Judeo-Christian" God or anything even remotely resembling him, then miracles don't happen.

            The resurrection of Jesus is a matter of faith. Two millennia after it happened, there can be no historical or scientific proof of it. There can be, it seems to me, arguments that, if you already believe in God or the supernatural, then there is enough evidence to make belief in the resurrection a reasonable belief.

            An argument has been put forward here that no slam-dunk, air-tight proof can be made for the existence of God, because then belief would be "forced" in such a way as to violate free will. I think that's nonsense, but one gets the impression some here believe it, and also believe that various logical proofs of God and historical evidence about Jesus are such that people who reject Christianity are willfully and culpably wrong. It seems to me you can't have it both ways.

            In any case, if I am wrong, and if a solid, air-tight case can be made that the resurrection of Jesus is a historical fact, I can nevertheless say that—having read Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?— Carl Olson falls very far from providing evidence that would convince anyone who is not already a believer.

            I had many criticisms of the book, but there is one question I raised that has gone entirely unanswered: What does it mean to say the Gospels are "historically reliable"?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            There can be no slam-dunk, air-tight proof for much of anything outside of mathematics -- and even there, you can quibble about the axioms and postulates. That 1+1=2, as those signs are commonly understood, is "forced" does not violate "free will," since assent to that proposition is not a willful thing -- and you will find people who object even to that proposition based on binary arithmetic or some other quibble. But to prove that Socrates existed or that Hannibal crossed the Alps with elephants or that a miraculous fog enabled Washington to escape Long Island or a miraculous hurricane extinguished the fires that the British set to Washington DC; or that a single Frankish knight popping out of the storm sewer into Constantinople caused the entire Roman garrison to turn and flee... These are highly unlikely miracles indeed, and we have only tenuous testimonies.

            At the very least, we can hold the gospels to standards no stricter than those to which we hold other testaments. There are, for example, three surviving accounts of the murder of Hypatia, and they differ in many important details. So if mutual contradictions entitle us to doubt the reliability of the gospel accounts, why not also the accounts of Hypatia?

            Believe it or not, historians have methods for assessing the reliability of accounts. It is not an either/or thing, but a more/less thing.

          • David Nickol

            Believe it or not, historians have methods for assessing the reliability of accounts. It is not an either/or thing, but a more/less thing.

            But Carl Olson uses none of these methods in Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead? And, as I have noted a number of times, he claims that the Gospels are historically reliable, but he never explains what that means. And reading the book, the impression one gets is that he leans heavily toward the view that the Gospels are inerrant in the sense Evangelicals believe them to be.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            Well, I can only go by the interview above.

            Unlike most other ancient Greek bioi, the gospels were written very shortly after the events they describe -- within living memory of their initial readership. They include shout-outs to witnesses. (If you don't believe me, ask Cleophas about this anecdote; or ask Rufus and Alexander about this other anecdote. They were there.) Accounts include odd personal details -- climbing a tree because one is too short to see over the heads of the crowd; you must be the only person in Jerusalem who doesn't know what was going down the past couple of days; etc., etc.). Where they clash on details they are the very sorts of details that actual eyewitness accounts clash when written down a few years later. (I have two newspaper accounts of the death of my grandfather's grandfather in a railroad accident, each written within a week after the fact, which differ as to the time of day of the accident and the age of the victim. Yet they were in substantial agreement with the oral history passed on by my grandfather.)

            Of course, modern genres of realist fiction or of von Ranke's 19th cent. historiography did not then exist, so one must be cautious. There were no tape recorders; though there were stenographers. And scholars of oral traditions have demonstrated that when events are life-changing they do tend to be remembered accurately, and when there are social means for ensuring accuracy of rehearsing these stories can be preserved for far longer periods than the single lifetime of the gospels. There are Polynesian tales that are recited word-for-word on islands that were long out of contact with one another. (Jan Vansina, "Oral Tradition as History")

          • If it does really happen, then what you're doing is accusing me of being too closed-minded to ever admit seeing it.

            Of the making of ifs ands and buts there is no end, and there will always be another theory to cover matters. When a proposition touches on one's most deeply held beliefs, a certain amount of avoidance is expected.

            If you’ve made up your mind that I’m too pigheaded to face certain facts, I can’t prove you wrong. But the avoidance to which you refer is a universal human trait. Christians have no basis on which to claim that they’re either immune from it or less susceptible to it than the rest of us.

            Modern hair-splitting is only a way of avoiding their testimony based on nothing more than our personal incredulity. We weren't there.

            If you say we have the testimony of people who were there, you need to prove it. I’m under no epistemological obligation to take the church’s word for it.

            Just in my lifetime, a few apparently impossible things have become routine accomplishments.

            This is of course a matter of faith.

            I don’t see how, unless you’re redefining “faith” just to prove a point.

            But now you rely on the evidence of things not seen.

            I am inferring, from evidence that has been seen, that we aren’t justified in believing that an apparent impossibility will be forever actually impossible.

            I was referring however to the ever-shifting modes of skepticism.

            I’m not responsible for how other skeptics have shifted their modes. Mine has shifted only insofar as the older I’ve gotten, the more skeptical I’ve become about all kinds of things, not just religion.

            Thus, your required evidences remain comfortably out of reach.

            That’s just too bad for you believers. Evidence that is unavailable might as well not exist, for all the epistemological good it can do us. Any reasons for its unavailability are irrelevant. If we don’t have it, we can’t use it.

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            the avoidance to which you refer is a universal human trait. ... Christians have no basis on which to claim that they’re either immune from it or less susceptible to it than the rest of us.

            Certainly. I make no such claim.

            unless you’re redefining “faith” just to prove a point.

            "Faith" means what it has always meant. Reliance on trustworthy sources. If you have not witnessed something yourself, then you are taking the account on faith because you hold the source to be trustworthy.

            I am inferring, from evidence that has been seen, that we aren’t
            justified in believing that an apparent impossibility will be forever
            actually impossible.

            Such as rising from the dead? Or is that impossible? But of course, such an "inference" just is an act of faith, and the evidence of things not seen. To modify this to "not yet seen" does not change the act of faith. As they say in the prospectus, "Past performance is no guarantee of future results." That some past impossibilities have been made possible tells us nothing about present impossibilities. You can't prove one thing from another. At least if we go by skeptics like Hume.

          • the avoidance to which you refer is a universal human trait. Christians have no basis on which to claim that they’re either immune from it or less susceptible to it than the rest of us.

            Certainly. I make no such claim.

            Then what was its relevance to our discussion?

          • Ye Olde Statistician

            The presumption that it was all to one side.

          • The presumption that it was all to one side.

            Did you think it was my presumption?

          • If you have not witnessed something yourself, then you are taking the account on faith because you hold the source to be trustworthy.

            I hold some sources to be trustworthy, and some of them more trustworthy than others, but I hold none to be infallible.

          • Your insistence the mechanism be known before phenomenon is acknowledged is a curious one. Suppose that we enforced that on all of humanity's history. Do you think the rise of modern science would have been possible?

          • If you want rational people to accept an explanation, for a historical event, you need to show that your explanation is actually plausible. It's really that simple.

          • You didn't answer my question. I suspect that is because you know if you actually imposed your constraint on all of humanity's history, modern science may never have arisen.

          • Why do you think that? Modern science arose because we want explanations for things! It offers solid evidence that the explanation offered is actually correct, and not just an ad-hoc explanation (like the supernatural)

          • Nowhere did I say that the search for mechanism is a bad one. What I have opened for critique is the following:

            LB: Your insistence the mechanism be known before phenomenon is acknowledged is a curious one.

            I am all for understanding things more and more deeply. So is the Bible:

            It is the glory of God to conceal things,
                but the glory of kings is to search things out.
            (Proverbs 25:2)

            For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. (Mark 4:22)

            The question is whether the mechanism must be understood before the phenomenon is acknowledged. I think that is a very dubious principle. Why? Because I suspect that if humanity had religious practiced it, modern science would never have arisen. So far, you have been unwilling or unable to mount an argument that this suspicion is unwarranted.

            P.S. Do you even know what the etymology is for the term 'supernatural'? You use the word as if it were well-defined; I find that various atheists have radically different definitions of it. So perhaps it would be good for you to rigorously define it.

          • The question is whether the mechanism must be understood before the phenomenon is acknowledged.

            Well you at least need to demonstrate that the phenomenon occurs! We don't know that it does for resurrections!

          • Have you backed down from the following:

            HN: Without a plausible mechanism for how Jesus returned to life, we have no justification for accepting the resurrection.

            ?

          • You have are a bunch of fundamental problems with your resurrection hypothesis:

            1.We don't know that people return from the dead, and all the evidence we have is that people don't return from the dead
            2.We certainly don't even know if Jesus returned from the dead. At best we have unsubstantiated claims, all hear-say, that he did
            3.Even if it can be shown that Jesus returned from the dead, we're still not justified to accept that God resurrected him because we don't know that God CAN resurrect people from the dead.

            At best, should we accept that Jesus rose from the dead, we can only say that we don't understand why it happened. It's an unjustified leap to say that Jesus was/is your preferred god, and the there was some kind of supernatural involvement (whatever that means)

          • Again, have you backed down from the following:

            HN: Without a plausible mechanism for how Jesus returned to life, we have no justification for accepting the resurrection.

            ? I understand you have other issues to raise, but I'm not going to let you splatter the debate floor with falsehoods. It seems like you have conclusions in your mind which you're supporting in a rather ad hoc manner. And yet, that would be precisely a criticism you—or at least your kind—loves to lob at theists.

            After we deal with the quoted text, I'm happy to move on to the other things you have to say. You may find that I do not actually believe as you think I do (see "your resurrection hypothesis").

          • I'll clarify exactly what I mean when I say this.

            We may be able to accept that Jesus returned to life, if you can show that the dead can return to life. Without that bit of evidence we cannot even accept that the phenomenon actually happened. All the counter evidence we have says this is almost certainly impossible.

            On top of that, we may be able to accept the Resurrection™ if you can further show that Jesus was returned to life by God.

            Does this clarify what I meant?

          • We may be able to accept that Jesus returned to life, if you can show that the dead can return to life. Without that bit of evidence we cannot even accept that the phenomenon actually happened. All the counter evidence we have says this is almost certainly impossible.

            Why is there no mention of mechanism here? The following requirements are very different:

                 (A) A phenomenon cannot be acknowledged until some plausible mechanism is posited for it.
                 (B) A phenomenon cannot be acknowledged until it has been observed to happen some number of times before.

            Furthermore, it seems like the scientific revolution would never have happened if folks always had to obey at least (A) or (B).

          • You misinterpreted what I said, and that's why I qualified what I said.

          • You believe I misinterpreted this:

            HN: Without a plausible mechanism for how Jesus returned to life, we have no justification for accepting the resurrection.

            ?

          • The resurrection is the explanation that God returned Jesus from the dead. Explanations need to be justified, and we should only accept explanations when we can come up with a plausible mechanism.

            Jesus actually returning from the dead, on the other hand, would be an acceptable phenomenon when we can show that people can actually come back from the dead. You don't need a mechanism to accept that a phenomenon happens.

            Clearer yet?

          • Your comment here seems to fall into my "had to obey at least (A) or (B)" schema. I thought you were advancing a (C), but then you returned to (B):

            LB: (A) A phenomenon cannot be acknowledged until some plausible mechanism is posited for it.

            HN: Of course it can be acknowledged, if we have good evidence that the event actually happened.

            LB: Ahh. Can there be "good evidence" with neither (A) nor (B) obtaining? What kind of "good evidence" do you think could have been left behind of Jesus' resurrection?

            HN: You don't necessarily need evidence left behind, all you need to show is that the phenomenon happens, and that it was possible in the first century.

            That, of course, is my (B):

            LB: (B) A phenomenon cannot be acknowledged until it has been observed to happen some number of times before.

            Where is there room for a (C) in your requirements?

          • Do you understand the difference between explanations for a phenomenon, and the phenomenon itself, because it doesn't appear that you do? Nor do you seem to understand that accepting an explanation is different from accepting a phenomenon.

            I'll try to make this very simple for you, since you seem to have a hard time with this:
            * God raised Jesus from the dead is the explanation
            * Jesus rose from the dead is the phenomenon
            * Accepting explanations requires showing the details of that explanation
            * Accepting a phenomenon requires you to show that a phenomenon happens, but doesn't require it to be explained

            If you can't grasp this, then I give up. I don't know how much simpler I can explain it. I suppose this is why other atheists have given up on you.

          • Do you understand the difference between explanations for a phenomenon, and the phenomenon itself, because it doesn't appear that you do?

            I am aware of what I call phenomenological matching vs. ontological matching. Does that suffice for you?

            Nor do you seem to understand that accepting an explanation is different from accepting a phenomenon.

            I am aware of hypotheses such as the swoon hypothesis.

            I'll try to make this very simple for you, since you seem to have a hard time with this:
            * God raised Jesus from the dead is the explanation
            * Jesus rose from the dead is the phenomenon

            That was helpful, because I haven't intended "resurrected by God" when I did not explicitly state or imply the underlined. It seems that you have. I'll lay out four options we could have been contrasting:

                 (A) spontaneous reanimation
                 (B) self-reanimation
                 (C) reanimation by an external causal power
                 (D) reanimation by a specific external causal power

            In using the word "resurrection", I have been excluding (A) & (B), speaking of (C), and not making any claims about (D). Your own "rose from the dead" seems like it could include (A) or (B), although perhaps you did not intend either.

            If you can't grasp this, then I give up. I don't know how much simpler I can explain it. I suppose this is why other atheists have given up on you.

            After we clarify this, it might be interesting to see whether I made the logical error or whether you did. In conversations, I find that people (including yours truly) get ideas in their heads which simply aren't supported by the evidence. I also find that people have a habit of not wanting to admit that they themselves did that thing.

          • A) A phenomenon cannot be acknowledged until some plausible mechanism is posited for it.

            Of course it can be acknowledged, if we have good evidence that the event actually happened. When we're talking about Jesus returning from the dead, we have nothing but the say-so of otherwise New Testament authors. I can rightly deny the phenomenon given the vast amount of evidence we have against it.

            (B) A phenomenon cannot be acknowledged until it has been observed to happen some number of times before.

            No, not some number of times. By analogy, do you accept there are alien space ships around Earth because people claim so? We have never confirmed that there were ever aliens, let alone aliens abducting people, yet you can find hundred (more probably thousands) who claim the event took place. Just because people claim an event happened is not necessarily enough to accept than an event happened.

          • Of course it can be acknowledged, if we have good evidence that the event actually happened.

            Ahh. Can there be "good evidence" with neither (A) nor (B) obtaining? What kind of "good evidence" do you think could have been left behind of Jesus' resurrection?

            I can rightly deny the phenomenon given the vast amount of evidence we have against it.

            Unless you believe that what usually happens is what always happens, I doubt this very much. Your objection is almost certainly philosophical, not scientific.

            By analogy, do you accept there are alien space ships around Earth because people claim so?

            I do not believe either way. Unlike some atheists, I do not have a need to go around denying the existence of things and people.

            Just because people claim an event happened is not necessarily enough to accept than an event happened.

            Just because an event ordinarily does not happen is not necessarily enough to accept that it never happened.

          • What kind of "good evidence" do you think could have been left behind of Jesus' resurrection?

            You don't necessarily need evidence left behind, all you need to show is that the phenomenon happens, and that it was possible in the first century.

            Unless you believe that what usually happens is what always happens, I doubt this very much.

            Our null hypothesis is that people don't come back from the dead. Do you have any credible, objective, evidence that people come back from being dead for 36 hours, that would overcome the null hypothesis?

            I do not believe either way. Unlike some atheists, I do not have a need to go around denying the existence of things and people.

            If people who held religious beliefs were completely passive about what they believed, and their religious beliefs didn't have such awful consequences on us here, and now, I would really spend any effort on this. At this point something like 70% of the US is Christian, and a good number are actively looking to break down the barriers between religion and government. It also stands that we have plenty of people who want to use their religion as a basis for absurd laws, when they cannot demonstrate the truth of their beliefs that those laws are based on.

            Honestly, I think you believe something incredibly stupid, and potentially dangerous, not just to yourself, but to people around you, that is not supported by any amount of credible evidence. Having people believe true things, rather than false things, and having a good epistemic basis for their forming beliefs, is important to me.

          • You don't necessarily need evidence left behind, all you need to show is that the phenomenon happens, and that it was possible in the first century.

            Let's move this portion of the conversation over here.

            Our null hypothesis is that people don't come back from the dead. Do you have any credible, objective, evidence that people come back from being dead for 36 hours, that would overcome the null hypothesis?

            Nothing that would satisfy you, as resurrection is not akin to a law of nature. I can point out that the current formulation of QFT has that information is indestructable and I can point out that mitochondria can reverse entropy, but these are a far cry from the entropy increase of the death of a human being being reversible. My strongest response is that I think you're making way too big of a deal of resurrection, making you prey for Revelation 13:3 (see also Mt 24:22–25). I could also point out that the State is most powerful when it can threaten you with permanent death, and many people would like the State to be seen as most powerful.

            If people who held religious beliefs were completely passive about what they believed, and their religious beliefs didn't have such awful consequences on us here, and now, I would really spend any effort on this.

            Have fun defining 'religious' robustly so it is a proper natural kind. May I hazard a guess that your own political ideals are somehow exempt from the category of 'religious'? That they are perfectly 'secular' and thus automagically less dangerous?

            It also stands that we have plenty of people who want to use their religion as a basis for absurd laws, when they cannot demonstrate the truth of their beliefs that those laws are based on.

            Have fun demonstrating the truth of egalitarianism. Unless you don't think egalitarianism is particularly important?

            Honestly, I think you believe something incredibly stupid, and potentially dangerous, not just to yourself, but to people around you, that is not supported by any amount of credible evidence. Having people believe true things, rather than false things, and having a good epistemic basis for their forming beliefs, is important to me.

            Ahh, so you can produce the evidence that what I believe—while not engaging in stereotyping—is "potentially dangerous"? I can certainly see how Mt 20:20–28 would be dangerous to those who wish to Discipline and Punish.

            By the way, do you believe that we live in a democracy, according to the following "folk theory":

            In the conventional view, democracy begins with the voters. Ordinary people have preferences about what their government should do. They choose leaders who will do those things, or they enact their preferences directly in referendums. In either case, what the majority wants becomes government policy—a highly attractive prospect in light of most human experience with governments. Democracy makes the people the rulers, and legitimacy derives from their consent. In Abraham Lincoln’s stirring words from the Gettysburg Address, democratic government is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” That way of thinking about democracy has passed into everyday wisdom, not just in the United States but in a great many other countries around the globe. It constitutes a kind of “folk theory” of democracy, a set of accessible, appealing ideas assuring people that they live under an ethically defensible form of government that has their interests at heart.[1] (Democracy for Realists, 1)

            ?

          • Nothing that would satisfy you, as resurrection is not akin to a law of nature.

            If your explanation involves something outside of nature, it is your job to have a reliable methodology to show that your explanation is correct! It's fairly simple really. If you cannot distinguish between different possible explanations, and hope to have some way to verify a supernatural explanation, you're offering an explanation with no rational reason to accept it. For all I know, if Jesus came back from the dead it may be because he was a Vampire.

            May I hazard a guess that your own political ideals are somehow exempt from the category of 'religious'? That they are perfectly 'secular' and thus automagically less dangerous?

            We have a perfectly good understanding of what religious means, and I don't know what you're trying to get at here.
            Religious>/: to believe, and follow, a religion.
            Religion: the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power(s), especially God or gods.

            Political ideals have nothing to do with superhuman powers, gods, or meaning of life. Politics is about how humans should organize themselves, and their associated governments. While both are philosophical, they are vastly different branches, and certainly not equivalent.

            Have fun demonstrating the truth of egalitarianism.

            Category error. Egalitarianism is an idea, not a objective proposition. unless you want to make a proposition like human lives have less suffering, and have more well being, when egalitarianism is adhered to, there's nothing to "discover" as true about egalitarianism.

            Now, when we look at Christianity, we see that Christianity actually makes real propositions, including:
            * Who I am can/will survive my death
            * God exists
            * Jesus died for the remission of sins
            * What you believe affects what happens to you after you die

            If Christianity was only an ideal like "treat others like yourself", then you'd have something to compare.

            By the way, do you believe that we live in a democracy, according to the following "folk theory":

            It's a reasonable approximate description for the ideal of how democracy works. Do we live in a democracy? Not really, not as long as corporations have the influence that they do.

          • I'll make the definition of 'religion' its own sub-thread:

            We have a perfectly good understanding of what religious means, and I don't know what you're trying to get at here.
            Religious: to believe, and follow, a religion.
            Religion: the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power(s), especially God or gods.

            So godless Buddhism and godless Hinduism is not 'religion'? And what of the behavior below, which manifests much of the terribleness typically associated with 'religion':

            Even if it were true that socialism is the only rational conclusion, this would not explain its dissemination among specific social groups. Modern science, for example, may also be described as the only rational conclusion for certain questions about nature—and yet it took millennia before it came to be established in specific groups in a specific corner of the world. Ideas neither triumph nor fail in history because of their intrinsic truth or falsity. Furthermore, the affinity between intellectuals and socialism is clearly more than a matter of rational arguments. It is suffused with values, with moral passion, in many cases with profoundly religious hope—in sum, with precisely those characteristics which permit speaking of a socialist myth (in a descriptive, nonpejorative sense.) (Facing Up to Modernity, 58)

            The socialist myth promises the fulfillment of both the rational dreams of the Enlightenment and the manifold aspirations of those to whom the Enlightenment has been an alienating experience. Such a promise inevitably grates against its imperfect realization in empirical reality, frustrating and often enraging its believers. This is nothing new in the long history of eschatologies, which is inevitably a history of the psychology of disappointment. (Facing Up to Modernity, 62–63)

            ? Furthermore, I have seen no evidence which indicates that all Christian behavior exhibits such terribleness, which opens up the question as to whether 'religion' is the right [causal?] entity to criticize in the first place. Isaiah Berlin casts further doubt on that idea by pointing toward a likely causal mechanism:

            To frighten human beings by suggesting to them that they are in the grip of impersonal forces over which they have little or no control is to breed myths, ostensibly in order to kill other figments—the notion of supernatural forces, or of all-powerful individuals, or of the invisible hand. It is to invent entities, to propagate faith in unalterable patterns of events for which the empirical evidence is, to say the least, insufficient, and which by relieving individuals of the burdens of personal responsibility breeds irrational passivity in some, and no less irrational fanatical activity in others; for nothing is more inspiring than the certainty that the stars in their courses are fighting for one's cause, that 'History', or 'social forces', or 'the wave of the future' are with one, bearing one aloft and forward. (Liberty, 26–27)

            This certainly matches some religion, but it is not unique to religion. Indeed, if social order is only held together by human power, that could lead to frantic actions which would be deemed unnecessary if a god of a certain character is around. If only half of the world's population needs to be annihilated for permanent awesomeness for thousands of generations thereafter, is that such a high price? It is if a god has provided alternate routes. So the sword really does cut both ways in all of this.

            Now, I'll suggest a definition of 'religious belief' which I argue is a natural kind:

            A belief is a religious belief provided that:

                 (1) It is a belief in something as divine per se no matter how that is further described, or
                 (2) it is a belief about how the non-divine depends upon the divine per se, or
                 (3) it is a belief about how humans come to stand in proper relation to the divine per se,
                 (4) where the essential core of divinity per se is to have the status of unconditionally non-dependent reality.
            (The Myth of Religious Neutrality, 24)

            For clarification on that tendentious word 'divinity', I'll pull from an article Clouser wrote, covering some of this material:

            It should be obvious that this definition does not rule out more than one divinity, does not presume that the divine reality is personal, and allows for many differing ideas both of how all non-divine reality depends on the divine and of how humans can stand in proper relation to the divine. It also leaves out any further description of the nature of the divine beyond its defining characteristics of being the self-existent (unconditionally non-dependent) origin of whatever is non-divine.[2] In this way the definition focuses upon what it means to be divine, rather than on the question as to which idea of what is in fact divine is the correct one. It highlights the fact that while religions hold many conflicting ideas concerning how to further describe the divine reality, they all agree—amazingly—on this idea of what it means to be divine. (A New Philosophical Guide for the Sciences: Ontology without Reduction)

            The final step is to say that nobody holds nothing to be non-dependently real. There is no neutrality when it comes to religion. Unless, that is, you provide an ideological definition so that you can delegitimize ideologies you do not like. William T. Cavanaugh argues that that was precisely what happened, starting in the Enlightenment, in The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict.

            P.S. Your comment contains some HTML errors.

          • If your explanation involves something outside of nature …

            Have fun rigorously defining "nature". You are welcome to consult @jlowder:disqus's The Nature of Naturalism. For some problems with naive definitions, feel free to peruse Randal Rauser's Not even wrong: The many problems with Naturalism. Finally, note that I feel some resonance with Christian Naturalism and Leibniz's theistic case against Humean miracles.

            If you cannot distinguish between different possible explanations …

            I suggest a read of Underdetermination of Scientific Theory and Theory and Observation in Science. There is also my phenomenological matching vs. ontological matching. Finally, there is a crucial difference between the methodological form of Ockham's razor, and the ontological form. Do you recognize this?

            For all I know, if Jesus came back from the dead it may be because he was a Vampire.

            I'm glad to hear you say that. I think way too much is made of solely Jesus' resurrection and solely the miracles he did. One can say that these things really happened, and easily deny that he was on God's side. Failure to understand this is to [perhaps unwittingly] worship raw power.

            Political ideals have nothing to do with superhuman powers, gods, or meaning of life. Politics is about how humans should organize themselves, and their associated governments. While both are philosophical, they are vastly different branches, and certainly not equivalent.

            A great deal of the Bible is deeply interested in "political ideals". If you require convincing of this, see Joshua A. Berman's Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought, Yoram Hazony's The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, and John Milbank's Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason.

            Furthermore, what can be constructed is deeply related to what/​who is true. If some powerful being asserts that he/​she/​it designed reality to operate better when humans interact this way instead of that way, this is an eminently testable claim. It may require serious commitment and radical upheaval of the status quo, but it is testable. Now, we do have the issue about whether truth itself is personal vs. impersonal, but surely you haven't simply assumed a stance on that issue?

            Finally, it is not the realm of science (for now: impersonal truth) where humans have serious problems. We Already Grow Enough Food For 10 Billion People -- and Still Can't End Hunger. It is in the realm of personal investment to build a culture and an identity. It is that realm where bias and prejudice cannot be approximated away or canceled out. In that realm, the smarter people are more resistant to the evidence: Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government. It is that realm where the Bible spends so much of its time. Perhaps this is not a coincidence. Perhaps that realm actually connects—causally!—to how we understand Jesus, his death, and his [alleged] resurrection. But we would have to transgress some taboos active in science to explore this. Are you willing?

            HN: It also stands that we have plenty of people who want to use their religion as a basis for absurd laws, when they cannot demonstrate the truth of their beliefs that those laws are based on.

            LB: Have fun demonstrating the truth of egalitarianism. Unless you don't think egalitarianism is particularly important?

            HN: Category error. Egalitarianism is an idea, not a objective proposition. unless you want to make a proposition like human lives have less suffering, and have more well being, when egalitarianism is adhered to, there's nothing to "discover" as true about egalitarianism.

            Ahh, do you believe that all laws are based 100% on hypothetical imperatives? Because if you don't, then I haven't necessarily made a category error. You may scope this to every law that you think should be a law.

            Now, when we look at Christianity, we see that Christianity actually makes real propositions, including:
            [1] Who I am can/will survive my death
            [2] God exists
            [3] Jesus died for the remission of sins
            [4] What you believe affects what happens to you after you die

            [1] Were you under the impression that "Who I am" is anything other than the information which defines me? Or were you under the impression that information is anything other than indestructable?

            [2] You and I haven't gotten anywhere near being able to discuss that matter in a robust fashion. Before we go there, we have to first establish that on your epistemology, you can knowingly distinguish between what is more true and less true (this is a continuous version of the true/​false dichotomy). That conversation is currently stalled and there is also the problem of distinguishing 'truth' from 'utility'.

            [3] I doubt we could profitably discuss this without some solid common ground, such as Josef Pieper's The Concept of Sin or a few essays in Forgiveness and Truth. For an empirical basis of sin—that is, where secular language does not have equivalent descriptive power—we could look at Alistair McFadyen's Bound to Sin: Abuse, Holocaust and the Christian Doctrine of Sin.

            [4] If the light cone defining you is not a causally closed system, then entropic spreading can be reversed. Only when you include the premise that there is no personal agent who can do that reversing and choose which people to resurrect is your [4] so ludicrous. But I can make any claim ludicrous with the right premise.

            If Christianity was only an ideal like "treat others like yourself", then you'd have something to compare.

            If it were only that, it'd have all the problems of Kant's categorical imperative. Such as: different people sometimes wish to be treated differently. Treating everyone as a bad clone of yourselves in need of being fixed by your awesome righteousness leads to bad places; one could say that the Enlightenment is in large part a rebellion against that human tendency. The opposite extreme of "I am not my brother's keeper" is no better, although it can appear so when the ideal has not been sufficiently realized.

            LB: By the way, do you believe that we live in a democracy, according to the following "folk theory": [excerpt from Democracy for Realists] ?

            HN: It's a reasonable approximate description for the ideal of how democracy works. Do we live in a democracy? Not really, not as long as corporations have the influence that they do.

            Ahhh, then you may wish to examine Converse 1964 The nature of belief systems in mass publics and subsequent literature, nicely summarized in Electoral Democracy (2003) and Democracy for Realists (2016). Were you to take the Bible more seriously, you might have been less inclined to think that we have ever lived in anything like a democracy. You might recognize that if citizens are not sufficiently involved in creating and maintaining a civic ideal, that power will get concentrated. And yet, creating and maintaining a civic ideal is not purely 'scientific', perhaps not even largely 'scientific'. Hmmm, why then is the Bible so harshly criticized for giving science short shrift? Perhaps there is a dogma, so deeply ingrained in our modern consciousness, that even seeing it for what it is requires a great deal of effort. Perhaps there are even powers in play which would be threatened were we to do such work. But no, taking the Bible seriously couldn't possibly threaten the powers that be—could it?

          • Rob Abney

            That's a good point Harold. Which is why God revealed Himself in many ways to "prove" His existence to the Jewish people, then Jesus performed many miracles including bringing people back to life, such as Lazarus only a short time before His own resurrection.
            So He did show that it could be done, and how it could be done, by God.

          • Which is why God revealed Himself in many ways to "prove" His existence
            to the Jewish people, then Jesus performed many miracles including
            bringing people back to life, such as Lazarus only a short time before
            His own resurrection.

            I suppose you're paraphrasing John 21:24-25?

            My question is this. Why were they given better evidence than we get now? They actually got to watch Jesus perform miracles, and we're forced to accept hear-say evidence that these events happened. Why was Thomas allowed to see the holes in Jesus' body, but we're forced to accept the reports that he did?

            Do you see the problem with your line of reasoning?

          • Rob Abney

            They were given good evidence, and it's the same evidence we have been given, but you dont believe their testimony.
            I've recommended this here at SN previously but unbelievers routinely reject even considering attempting it: try praying or meditating with an open mind for several weeks in a beautiful Catholic church. You will begin to see that there are many avenues open to you to help you decide if you believe the witnesses and those who pass the story on from generation to generation. This is a great week to start, the holiest week of the year.

          • They were given good evidence, and it's the same evidence we have been given, but you dont believe their testimony.

            No, actually the disciples had better evidence, as did the people who Jesus (supposedly) directly healed, and helped. We are forced to accept the say-so of people, rather than have direct access to Jesus...

            try praying or meditating with an open mind for several weeks in a beautiful Catholic church.

            First, you seem to assume I was always an unbeliever. That's not the case, and I was a Catholic, although it was a long time ago. I feel no connection to that religion anymore.

            Second, should I do this at a Mormon tabernacle as well? How about a Mosque? Perhaps I should go to a Hindu temple? What do I do if I "feel" something at all of these locations, do that mean all of them are true? Surely both Islam, and Christianity can't both be true, given that they contradict each other.

            Third, how does this address the truth of the proposition that Christianity is true? It seems like a very strange method, as an outsider, to pray for answers, given that I don't believe that anybody else can hear my prayers...

          • Rob Abney

            I recommend it because most of the people who witnessed Jesus were prayerful. And I recommend it so you can have access to more testimony about Jesus through icons, stain glass, music, other sacred art; and it gets you closer to where Jesus told us He would be. I don't recommend that you try the other religions because I'm not trying to explain those, that's your own choice. I also didn't assume that you weren't Catholic, but you don't present yourself as a believer. I am sure that you won't discover the truth about Christianity by arguing about it on the internet but only by getting involved with it enough to experience it and then decide.

          • I don't recommend that you try the other religions because I'm not trying to explain those, that's your own choice.

            If you've offered a method that only works for Christianity, and not for other religions, you're going to have to explain why, otherwise I see this as special pleading.

            I am sure that you won't discover the truth about Christianity by arguing about it on the internet but only by getting involved with it enough to experience it and then decide.

            I ask questions because these conversations are a two way street.

            For me, the minimum I need, in order to convince me that Christianity is true is:

            When somebody can demonstrate that:
            1. That the Christian god Yahweh actually exists
            2. That who I am will survive my inevitable brain death
            3. That what happens to me after death depends on what I believed before I died
            4. That heaven exists, and only believing in Jesus' death and resurrection will get me there
            5. That the central claim of Christianity, that Jesus died, and was raised by God, is true.

            Once they've gotten past these little problems, you would need to convince me that going to heaven is actually a desirable thing. For all I know, heaven may be worse than death, and may be worse than hell.

          • Rob Abney

            I would call it denial of religious plurality rather than special pleading.

            But, I should have said that I invite you to try Catholicism again, I cant really invite you to the other religions.

            I think you can make progress toward answering 1 and 2 by reading many of the articles here at SN.
            #3 also but it is just as much about what you do as what you believe.
            For me #4 & 5 were answered after I resolved 1 & 2 satisfactorily.

            Again, it will help you to be surrounded by beautiful art and music and also friends as you contemplate these issues, but the answer is an interior one not a social one.

          • but the answer is an interior one not a social one.

            When we're talking about beliefs of any kind, social forces are never irrelevant.

          • But, I should have said that I invite you to try Catholicism again, I cant really invite you to the other religions.

            Sorry, I just can't be a Catholic again.

            First, there's the problem of the fact that I don't accept that God exists, whatever it is.

            Second, there's the whole belief in Jesus' divinity, which I cannot accept. From a historical perspective the proposition is completely dubious.

            Third, there are social Catholic doctrines which I find completely absurd. For example, the churches position on contraception, abortion, same sex marriage, divorce, and death with dignity, go strongly against my values.

            Assuming I ever believed in God, most likely I'd become some kind of deist. I don't see how anyone could ever convince me that any form of Christianity is actually true.

          • Rob Abney

            Herald, Which came first for you, dis-belief in God and Jesus or disagreement with Catholic doctrines?

          • The Catholic doctrines drove me away from the church when I was still a believer in Jesus. Once I wasn't going to church anymore, I was able to critically examine my beliefs, as an outsider would.

          • Rob Abney

            How old were you when you began disagreeing with the doctrines? The issues you listed usually become pertinent when people are in their teens and twenties, when sex first becomes the primary motivator!

          • About 13 to 14.

          • Rob Abney

            Keep pursuing the truth, even if it takes a lot of study, argument, and sacrifice. Today we celebrate the re-conversion of St. Augustine who had to study a lot and had to overcome his own vices as evidenced by his plea "Lord, make me chaste, just not yet".

          • most of the people who witnessed Jesus were prayerful.

            That's what the stories say. If you're trying to defend the stories, that's a circular argument.

          • try praying or meditating with an open mind for several weeks in a beautiful Catholic church.

            In order for that to work, I'd need a strong desire to become a believer, would I not?

          • Rob Abney

            No, you would need a strong desire to seek the truth and this is a method that many people have used successfully.

          • I'd need a strong desire to become a believer, would I not?

            No, you would need a strong desire to seek the truth

            So, you're telling me that if I investigate your religion with an open mind and a strong desire to seek the truth, then I will discover that your religion is true?

          • Rob Abney

            I'm telling you that you can find the truth, and you will have the best probability of doing so by accepting the gifts that are available to make that easier.

          • I'm telling you that you can find the truth

            Why should I believe you when you say that?

            I have investigated Christianity to the best of my ability, with a mind as open as I could make it. I believe that the truth about Christianity is that it is erroneous. That is the truth that I think I have found. Why should I think otherwise?

          • Rob Abney

            Because your searching has been incomplete, you have not experientially investigated the Catholic Church. You probably have prejudices against the Catholic Church from your life as a protestant and an atheist that are difficult to personally overcome.

          • You probably have prejudices against the Catholic Church from your life as a protestant and an atheist that are difficult to personally overcome.

            When I was a fundamentalist Protestant, I certainly did have negative views about Catholicism. When I left fundamentalism to become a liberal Protestant, I also left those views behind. After attending a few Catholic masses and studying what the church had to say about itself rather than listening only to its adversaries, I acquired a very favorable opinion of Catholicism. At the same time, however, I was finding it more difficult to sustain my belief in God, and in due course I became an atheist.

            Nothing about my atheism has ever affected my feelings about Catholicism in particular. If anything were to happen to convince me once again that Christianity was true, it is very possible that I would become a Catholic.

          • Rob Abney

            Thanks for making that clear, I was concerned that I overstated my position by using the word prejudice.

          • You're very welcome.

  • Ignatius Reilly

    I must say I'm rather disappointed with the OP and the ensuing conversation. Questionable scholarship and the old scientism conversation again. I might check in again in a couple months.

  • Steven Dillon

    I think one of the more interesting issues that would come up in a dialogue between polytheism and christianity on this subject is the nature of the "supernatural" and of "theism." As this topic has been discussed to date, the notions of the supernatural and of theism which have been utilized have been those developed by monotheists and atheists in reaction to them. But, on polytheism, these are inadequate notions, especially as it holds monotheism itself to be a form of atheism. Many of the things typically taken for granted by apologists on this subject would need to be revisited. I look forward to the time when apologists begin interacting with the rising polytheist movement, and seeing how they adapt their arguments.

  • I wish I could read the book before commenting, but this will have to do for now.

    BRANDON: Does the book assume the historical reliability of the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament?
    CARL OLSON:
    On the contrary, rather than start with such an assumption, the book argues that it is reasonable to take the Gospels seriously as historical documents.

    There are many things that reasonable people can disagree about. I’m prepared to stipulate for the sake of argument that a reasonable person can regard the gospels as historically reliable. What I have never seen any apologist do is argue cogently that I’m being unreasonable if I regard them as historically unreliable.

    BRANDON: But weren't the writers of the New Testament books biased?
    CARL OLSON:
    Yes, of course, if by "bias" we meaning holding to certain convictions and beliefs about what they had witnessed, seen, and heard.

    That is not what people normally mean by “bias,” as I usually understand people when they talk about biased writing. I used to be a journalist. When I heard talk about journalists’ biases, I took it to be an accusation of erroneous reporting, usually the commission of errors of a particular kind. A reporter who denies that accusation is denying having made certain mistakes.

    All ancient historians had a certain “bias”; in fact, all historians have a “bias,” if by that we mean coming from a certain perspective and holding specific beliefs about the subject at hand.

    One of my statistics professors defined “bias” as “any source of error.” There are some universal aspects of human nature that are a constant source of error. To us who are not committed to any notion of scriptural inerrancy, the writers of the New Testament were no less susceptible to error than any other human being. Of course, the possibility of error does not entail the commission of any actual error. It is humanly possible to write a historical narrative that is entirely factual, notwithstanding whatever biases the author might bring to his work. The relevant question is whether I have good reason to believe that the New Testament authors actually accomplished that.

    And so it is no surprise that historians and other scholars end up with such a wide array of understandings of who Jesus was and what he did, but often revealing more, arguably, about themselves than about Jesus.

    Indeed. Albert Schweitzer made that point quite effectively in his Quest for the Historical Jesus.

  • jhnycmltly

    They offered Him sour wine on a hyssop (mild sedative) branch while on the cross (John 19:29). Those fellas in the white robes/Therapeutae, the same fellows seen around Him before His resurrection. He took no time at all to die, compared to the majority, according to accounts, so Him dying an old man in Ireland may hold some water, especially with the DNA evidence.

    • jhnycmltly

      "could be the Earliest image of Jesus as a Theraputae (Physician) in Egypt"

      The above discovery gives a bit of credence to the interpretative discovery of a medical message, found in the Bible.
      Cause and treatment for all disease.
      Which now has been recommended for more diseases than any treatment in history.
      Coincidence?

      "Therapy by taking away: the case of iron"

  • jhnycmltly

    Orrr .. He 'experienced' death.
    " Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Hebrews 2:14) .. interpreted as .. that was His and our 'death', eating of meat, and according to the Heretics the very tenet of His teaching, thou shalt not break the covenant of blood, the same covenant Adam and Eve broke, the covenant between man god and all animals. Thou shalt not kill.

  • I am about halfway through Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead and so far the following has not come up. Perhaps it is addressed later. In any case, I have always wondered why in the Gospel of John (and only there, if I am not mistaken), Jesus bears the wounds of the crucifixion. The Catholic idea of the risen, glorified body is generally that it will be ideal and remarkable, without flaws or imperfections. Yet (Doubting) Thomas is actually instructed to put his fingers in the hole in Jesus's side—not merely to observe a scar but an open wound. What are we to make of that? It is a special manifestation just to convince Thomas, and the risen Jesus does not always and everywhere bear the wounds of the crucifixion, then wasn't it a kind of deception to get Thomas to believe?

    Or is it possible that John's account is not "historical" in the sense of being a journalistic account of "what really happened"?

  • I just a few minutes ago read this passage from Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?

    It is unlikely the guards at the tomb were fabricated since we have good grounds for thinking that the Jewish authorities would have wanted to ensure that Jesus' disciples would steal the body and claim to have witnessed the Resurrection. . . . Of course, if you dismiss Jesus's predictions of the Resurrection as unhistorical, then there is little reason to think the authorities would have expected the disciples to attempt to steal Jesus's body. But we have no reasonable grounds for rejecting the idea that Jesus spoke cryptically about "rising from the dead."

    Only a few pages earlier, we had this question:

    According to the Gospels, Jesus predicted his resurrection. Why shouldn't we see these predictions as providing the basis for later hallucinations of his Resurrection?

    The answer was as follows:

    The Gospels report that Jesus made cryptic statements about his Death and Resurrection, yet the same sources tell us that his disciples didn't understand what he meant. This is more consistent with what the sources tell us about the disciples initial general disbelief when they heard of the resurrection than with the idea they anticipated encountering a risen Jesus. We see in the Gospels that while Jesus told the disciples that he was going to be killed and would rise again, the disciples either pushed back against it (cf Mt 16:21-23) or they pushed it to the side and out of their memory (cf Lk 24:6-8).

    Olson goes on to say that even though it was true that (some) Jews believed in an eventual general resurrection, it was expected at the end of the world. Olson continues:

    Even if Jesus's cryptic predictions did provide the disciples grounds for thinking Jesus would triumph despite his public defeat and humiliation—and we have no evidence that they did—the disciples would likely have situated that triumph at the end of the world, when all the dead would be raised. Only if the disciples had actually encountered the risen Jesus would they have had grounds for altering their Jewish views and acknowledging at least one resurrection before the end of the world—that of Jesus.

    So Jesus had been so cryptic, and/or the disciples had been so uncomprehending, that the thought of the Resurrection (other than at the end of the world) was so far from their minds that they didn't even believe it when it happened. And yet the Roman and Jewish authorities felt the need to post guards so that the disciples wouldn't fake a Resurrection. Where did the Roman and Jewish authorities get the idea that a faked Resurrection was even a possibility? If the followers of Jesus had no thought at all that there would be a resurrection, why did the authorities worry that they would fake one? Are we to imagine that the Roman and Jewish authorities put more credence in the alleged "cryptic" predictions of Jesus than the apostles?

    It seems to me you can't have it both ways. You can't have the disciples/apostles without a clue of even the possibility of a resurrection after three days while at the same time having the Roman and Jewish authorities take precautions that it would be faked.

    • Rob Abney

      From Matthew Chapter 27. The conclusion of the gospel reading for Palm Sunday (today), to packed churches everywhere.

      The next day, the one following the day of preparation,
      the chief priests and the Pharisees
      gathered before Pilate and said,
      "Sir, we remember that this impostor while still alive said,
      'After three days I will be raised up.'
      Give orders, then, that the grave be secured until the third day,
      lest his disciples come and steal him and say to the people,
      'He has been raised from the dead.'
      This last imposture would be worse than the first."
      Pilate said to them,
      "The guard is yours;
      go, secure it as best you can."
      So they went and secured the tomb
      by fixing a seal to the stone and setting the guard.

      What does the historical-critical textual analysis offer for this passage, something like "how could the gospel writer know what was said in Pilate's inner chamber?"
      Fortunately we've been retelling this story from the beginning, and the vast majority of those who hear it understand what it is meant to convey.

      • You have utterly missed my point. I am not making an argument about what the Bible says. I am saying that Olson can't have it both ways. He can't argue that the followers of Jesus, to whom Jesus allegedly made predictions (though cryptic) of his death and resurrection had no idea that the resurrection might take place (not even believing it after it happened!), but the enemies of Jesus were so impressed by the predictions that they suspected the followers of Jesus would perpetrate a hoax to make the predictions come true. Such an interpretation would imply that the chief priests and the Pharisees knew and understood Jesus's alleged predictions better than the apostles.

        What does the historical-critical textual analysis offer for this passage, something like "how could the gospel writer know what was said in Pilate's inner chamber?"

        The New Jerome Biblical Commentary says of Matthew 27:62-66 that

        . . . this and its companion piece (28:11-15) are peculiarly Matthew passages motivated by late apologetics. Matthew had already mentioned a guard (vv 36,54). Here the words are "secure" (three times), "fraud" (twice), and the surprising latinism custodia, "guard" (twice).

        • Rob Abney

          I missed your point, are you saying that Olson is wrong to attribute "no idea" of the resurrection to the apostles? Is your point that he is making a faulty interpretation?

          • Once again, my point is that Olson is making two incompatible claims.

            First, he is claiming to refute the "hallucination theory"—that is, that the disciples had the idea ahead of time that Jesus would rise from the dead, and so even thought it didn't happen, the idea was already planted in their minds, and they hallucinated it. His argument is that the possibility of the resurrection of Jesus simply could not have occurred to them. As first-century Jews, if they believed anything at all about the future resurrection of Jesus, they would have expected it at the end of time. True (according to Olson), Jesus made predictions of his resurrection, but they were cryptic, and the disciples didn't understand them. So even when the resurrection took place, the disciples were incredulous (at first).

            Second, he is claiming that while resurrection was the farthest thing from the minds of the disciples, while the idea didn't occur to them—couldn't have occurred to them—it was so much on the minds of the enemies of Jesus that they requested (and got) guards posted to prevent the disciples from faking a resurrection—faking something that, when it actually happened, they didn't even believe themselves.

            To hold both of these as true requires belief (as Raymond Brown said) "that the Jewish authorities knew the words of Jesus about his resurrection and understood them, while his own disciples did not." It must be explained why, for the disciples, resurrection wasn't a possibility in their wildest dreams, but for the Jewish authorities, it was something so "thinkable" to the disciples that they would try to fake it.

          • Rob Abney

            To hold both of these as true requires belief (as Raymond Brown said) "that the Jewish authorities knew the words of Jesus about his resurrection and understood them, while his own disciples did not." It must be explained why, for the disciples, resurrection wasn't a possibility in their wildest dreams, but for the Jewish authorities, it was something so "thinkable" to the disciples that they would try to fake it.

            We could believe this possible if the authorities, who had been gathering information about Jesus and taking testimony during His "trial" did indeed understand what He was prophesying better than the disciples.

            From Msgr. Charles Pope: "we see that the Lord has consistently tried to teach and prepare them (the disciples) for the difficulties ahead. He has told them exactly what is going to happen and how it will end: not in death, but rising to new life. But even though He has told them over and over again, they still do not understand. Therefore He predicts that their faith in Him will be shaken."

            It could easily be read as non-contradictory.

          • If you want to believe that the Jewish authorities understood Jesus better than, say, the apostles or others who were his constant companions for a year (or two, or three), and heard everything he spoke both publicly and privately, you are perfectly free to believe that. But it seems to me that the words of Jesus on his resurrection, which Olson describes as cryptic, would have been much more comprehensible to his followers than to his enemies.

            Do you think the Jewish authorities, if they understood Jesus better than the disciples, believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah and God incarnate and nevertheless wanted to kill him?

          • Rob Abney

            If you want to believe

            I will stick with reasoning.
            His words were mysterious (cryptic) and not easy to believe, many people still don't believe it.

            The Jewish authorities heard what He said, it doesn't follow that they understood it or believed it, but they had a reason to try to make sure the prophecy wasn't fulfilled. So, no they didn't believe that He was who He said He was and then killed Him anyway.

          • The Jewish authorities heard what He said, it doesn't follow that they understood it or believed it, but they had a reason to try to make sure the prophecy wasn't fulfilled.

            But the followers of Jesus didn't "get" that there was any prophecy. Otherwise, when they were told of the resurrection, why did they not say, "He predicted this would happen"? Or why did they not say, "Now we understand his cryptic words"? In Olson's interpretation, it seems clear that if there was a prophecy, the disciples didn't realize it, but the Jewish authorities did.

            I will stick with reasoning.

            No, your position rests on unverifiable conjecture:

            We could believe this possible if the authorities, who had been gathering information about Jesus and taking testimony during His "trial" did indeed understand what He was prophesying better than the disciples.

            It would be strange indeed if the enemies of Jesus understood him better than his hand-picked inner circle who had been his constant companions.

            Also note that the story of the guards appears only in the Gospel of Matthew. Reasoning requires that when you have four differing accounts of some situation, you compare them to see if they are compatible.

          • Rob Abney

            Olson's interpretation, it seems clear that if there was a prophecy, the disciples didn't realize it, but the Jewish authorities did.

            Yes, he's in agreement with the bible.

            It would be strange indeed if the enemies of Jesus understood him better than his hand-picked inner circle who had been his constant companions.

            You say its strange but you simply dismiss my point about the disciples' faith being shaken and the authorities gathering information.

          • What evidence can you introduce from the Gospels that would demonstrate that (or explain how) the enemies of Jesus among the Jewish authorities understood Jesus better than the disciples? Why would something that was "cryptic" to the disciples have been clear to the enemies of Jesus? If we are treating the Bible as a historical source, point out something in the Bible to support your conjecture.

          • Rob Abney

            59 The chief priests and elders and all the Council tried to find false testimony against Jesus, such as would compass his death. 60 But they could find none, although many came forward falsely accusing him; until at last two false accusers came forward 61 who declared, This man said, I have power to destroy the temple of God and raise it again in three days.

          • Please explain how this demonstrates that the enemies of Jesus understood his teachings better than the disciples.

          • Rob Abney

            The authorities heard enough testimony to know that the only possibility for adoration beyond death was for Him to appear to conquer death. They suspected that the disciples would make it appear that He arose from the dead by moving His body.

            Are you saying that the disciples understood His prophecy so well that they knew that guards could not keep Him from arising? I don't think you're saying that but if you are then I missed your point!

          • I should note that Raymond Brown's remark is basically an aside. He questions the historicity of the guards at the tomb not because it would indicate that the enemies of Jesus understood him better than his followers (although it would), but because the story about the guards contradicts the other three Gospels.

          • Rob Abney

            because the story about the guards contradicts the other three Gospels

            does it contradict or does it have details that the others did not have?
            I would like to read that Fr. Brown book(s), looks very impressive.

          • does it contradict or does it have details that the others did not have?

            That depends. To deny that it contradicts presupposes either (a) the other writers didn't know about it or (b) they knew but judged it to be not worth mentioning. I don't find either supposition credible.

      • What does the historical-critical textual analysis offer for this passage, something like "how could the gospel writer know what was said in Pilate's inner chamber?"

        Here is a fascinating answer to that question from Raymond E. Brown's two-volume work The Death of the Messiah:

        Yet there is a major argument against historicity that is impressive indeed. Not only do the other Gospels not mention the guard at the sepulcher, but the presence of the guard there would make what they narrate about the tomb almost unintelligible. The three other canonical Gospels have women come to the tomb on Easter, and the only obstacle to their entrance that is mentioned is the stone. Certainly the evangelists would have had to explain how the women hoped to get into the tomb if there were a guard placed there precisely to prevent entry. In the other Gospels the stone is already removed or rolled back when the women get there. How can we reconcile that with Matt's account where, while the women are at the sepulcher, an angel comes down out of heaven and rolls back the stone? There are other internal implausibilities in Matt's account (e.g., that the Jewish authorities knew the words of Jesus about his resurrection and understood them, while his own disciples did not; that the guards could lie successfully about the astounding heavenly intervention); but they touch on the minor details of the story. The lack of harmony with the other Gospels touches on the heart of the story, i.e, the very existence of the guard . . . . [boldface added]

        Two points. First, Raymond Brown's detailed analysis of Matthew's account is pages long, and the above excerpt does not do it justice. Second, Brown (see the part I have boldfaced) makes a very similar point to the one I made in objection to Olson's claim that Jesus's resurrection was the furthest thing from their minds after the death of Jesus, but the high priests and the Pharisees were so aware of Jesus's alleged predictions of his resurrection that they requested guards to prevent the apostles from perpetrating a hoax.

  • I think the book presents evidence and arguments demonstrating that
    belief in the Resurrection is not irrational, or anti-historical, or
    "fundamentalist". Faith is different from reason, but it is never unreasonable or illogical; it is supra-rational.

    There's the rub. "Supra-rational" is an undeserved compliment, not a defensible moniker. Christians don't believe the faith of Muslims, Jews, Baha'i, Hindus, animists, Scientologists, neopagans, etc. is above reason. And the same is true of each faith group regarding all the other groups that rely on faith. Anything at all could be believed on the basis of faith; it has no tendency to favor truth over falsehood. That's why I think faith is a vice, and why the author's statement about the book's achievement falls flat.

    But more than that, I think the statement is flat-out wrong. Reason looks to the evidence and apportions confidence in theories accordingly. Faith chooses one theory and gives it extra, unearned confidence. That is to say: faith reaches different conclusions than reason, and is therefore always unreasonable.

    We observe a world in which zero of billions of people have risen back to life after being dead for days. We observe a world in which people invent fiction or are mistaken about events every day. Thus our preliminary assumption about the Jesus story, which all agree was written decades after the supposed events, is that it's fiction or a mistake. To convince a reasonable person otherwise, the evidence would have to overcome that preliminary assumption. But people arguing that the Jesus story was real give in to special pleading on the basis of their faith, citing evidence that would not convince anyone if it were about a historical figure other than Jesus.

    • Rob Abney

      faith reaches different conclusions than reason, and is therefore always unreasonable

      That doesn't really coincide with the way we actually use the word faith, I would guess that Olson is using the Catholic definition that I've quoted below.
      Instead of saying that faith is unreasonable you seem to be implying that faith/testimony is untrustworthy, that you don't believe the witnesses.
      If Catholics deny faith in other religions it is sometimes because we don't believe their testimony but more often because the Catholic Church has much more testimony to rely on.

      It was St. Augustine who gave to the Catholic Church an account of what faith is that has become standard up until our own day (his view is presupposed by Vatican I and II, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and St. John Paul II’s encyclical on faith and reason, Fides et Ratio). St. Augustine, following both the New Testament as well as standard word meanings in ancient Greek and Latin, understood faith as believing something on the word of a witness. The New Testament is full of talk of testimony, of testifying, and of bearing witness to the truth of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, grace and presence. Faith is welcoming this testimony, accepting it, and believing it. Rev. James Brent, O.P.

      • faith as believing something on the word of a witness

        The Catechism says faith is "a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed" [CCC 150, emphasis in original] and references "the definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1: 'Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen'" [CCC 146, emphasis added by me]. So it's clear from those two that James Brent's redefinition adds detail that isn't necessary to fit Catholic usage of "faith".

        In any case, we can use your suggested definition just as easily.

        Reason looks to the evidence and apportions confidence in theories accordingly. Faith (using your suggested meaning) chooses one theory on the basis that somebody said it and gives it extra, unearned confidence. That is to say: faith reaches different conclusions than reason, and is therefore always unreasonable.

        • Rob Abney

          Paraphrasing you,
          Reason: looks to evidence and apportions confidence
          Faith: chooses one theory and gives it extra confidence

          Using the definition I suggested, why does reason "look" but faith "chooses"? What is the extra confidence that faith warrants. And, how does it follow that faith is always unreasonable, what if it comes to the same conclusion?

          • Using the definition I suggested, why does reason "look" but faith "chooses"?

            Those words aren't important to me. You're free to recast the sentences using more consistent terms if you like.

            I can explain my intuitions that lead to selecting those words, if that helps us achieve mutual understanding of each other. I said reason "looks" to the evidence because it's not supposed to pick and choose, but merely accept what is already there to be observed and tested. I said faith "chooses" because it's about any of the "things hoped for" and "things not seen" that one might take a stance of "assurance" and "conviction" toward, and there are infinitely many of those to pick from, only some of which a particular believer does have faith about.

            What is the extra confidence that faith warrants.

            From my perspective, faith doesn't warrant any extra confidence. From the Catechism, "Faith is certain. It is more certain than all human knowledge" [CCC 157]. So Catholicism, at least officially, says that an infinite amount of extra confidence is warranted by faith.

            And, how does it follow that faith is always unreasonable, what if it comes to the same conclusion?

            The conclusion of reason is a level of confidence, whether that level is high or low or middling. On a matter where faith has something to say, reason assigns confidence level X, and faith assigns confidence level X+infinity. These are different levels of confidence, not the same. Therefore they are different conclusions, not the same conclusion.

          • Rob Abney

            Maybe we are talking about two different levels of faith, I have been referring to faith in the testimony of others who have witness to God's revelations. You seem to be referring to faith in the actual revelation, which would add the infinity or from Olson's book, the Supra-rational.

          • I have been referring to faith in the testimony of others who [claim to] have witness to God's revelations

            In the sense you mean it, does that type of faith lead you to greater confidence in the claimed testimony of those people than would be warranted by merely applying reason to their claimed testimony alongside the rest of the evidence?

          • Rob Abney

            To me it seems as if I do employ reason when determining whether to trust their testimony or not. I did not truly trust their testimony until I employed reason to understand that God existed.

      • Instead of saying that faith is unreasonable you seem to be implying that faith/testimony is untrustworthy, that you don't believe the witnesses.

        What I don't believe is that we have any witness's testimony. I understand that the church says we do, but I'm not taking the church's word for it.

        • Rob Abney

          To contradict is to deny the truth of a statement, if I tell you a story but leave out some details am I denying the truth of the story?

          • It depends on why you left those details out.

            By the rules of deductive logic, no, you are not denying anything. By the rules of inductive logic, though, if I reasonably believe you would have mentioned those details had you known about them, then yes, it's reasonable for me to think you are contradicting the story that someone else told that included the details -- especially if I also reasonably believe that you were aware of that other person telling that story with those details.

          • Rob Abney

            Have you ever heard about the guards who were on duty to provide security at the twin towers on 9/11? I haven't, but I'll bet they were there, Google will find such stories. For most people their presence seems insignificant. So leaving them out of a story about that tragedy doesn't diminish the truth of the story.

          • For most people their presence seems insignificant.

            It was insignificant relative to what happened that day. There was nothing that the guards could have done to prevent the hijackings or to prevent the hijackers from flying the planes into the buildings.

            Another difference: Nobody is accusing them of having been asleep when the planes hit the building.

          • Rob Abney

            It was insignificant relative to what happened that day

            That's my point.

            It was also insignificant if they were asleep or not.

          • It was insignificant relative to what happened that day [9/11]

            That's my point.

            You were supposed to be making a point about what happened on the day Jesus allegedly disappeared from his tomb. If there were guards at the tomb, they were not insignificant to whatever happened on that occasion.

            It was also insignificant if they were asleep or not.

            When a guard goes to sleep while on duty, it is never insignificant.

        • Rob Abney

          Why not?

          • What I don't believe is that we have any witness's testimony.

            Why not?

            Because no one has shown me a good reason to believe it.

          • Rob Abney

            No, I mean why not believe the church.

          • No, I mean why not believe the church.

            Because the church employs an epistemology that I can't accept.

          • Rob Abney

            What is the epistemology that you can't accept?

          • What is the epistemology that you can't accept?

            The question-begging kind. The church claims to defend its doctrines with reason, but its arguments assume their conclusions.

          • Rob Abney

            Can you be more specific?

          • I can give an example. The church claims that the canonical gospels record eyewitness accounts of Jesus' ministry, crucifixion, and postmortem appearances to his disciples. Any argument to that conclusion has to presuppose the reliability of church tradition regarding authorship of the gospels. The reliability of that tradition, in turn, presupposes the historical reliability of the gospels.

          • Rob Abney

            The Church isn't interested in proving that the gospels are eyewitness accounts, the Church is interested in spreading the message of the gospels. You seem to be stuck on a sola scriptura premise, thats a reductionism of Christianity.

          • The Church isn't interested in proving that the gospels are eyewitness accounts, the Church is interested in spreading the message of the gospels.

            You didn't ask me what the church was interested in, and I was not trying to tell you what I thought the church was interested in. You asked: "What is the epistemology that you can't accept?" My response was based on what I typically hear from people who try to spread the message of the gospels. Whenever I ask why I should believe that message, I usually get an answer that boils down to: Because we get that message from eyewitnesses.

          • You seem to be stuck on a sola scriptura premise, thats a reductionism of Christianity.

            If you can give me some reason to believe in Christianity that does not depend on trusting what the Bible says about Jesus of Nazareth, I'd be very interested in seeing it.

          • Rob Abney

            If you did happen to believe the bible then you would be believing in the Tradition of the Catholic Church passed on from generation to generation. Jesus' resurrection is a proof of God's existence. That story has been told many ways other than the bible. It is told by the apostles, the disciples, the church fathers, the martyrs, and the saints.
            But nearly as important are the gifts Jesus offered us through the Church, baptism, confession, eucharist, and many people read the bible and never realize those gifts are available.

          • That story has been told many ways other than the bible. It is told by the apostles, the disciples, the church fathers, the martyrs, and the saints.

            I'm aware of that. I'm asking why I should think there is any truth in the story, no matter how it is told.

          • You seem to be stuck on a sola scriptura premise, thats a reductionism of Christianity.

            I might have parroted sola scriptura during my time as a fundamentalist. In the years since, however, it has become apparent to me that Protestants are being disingenuous when they claim to believe in the Bible and nothing but the Bible. They cannot defend their own doctrines without appealing to Patristic writings and traditions.

      • Instead of saying that faith is unreasonable you seem to be implying that faith/testimony is untrustworthy, that you don't believe the witnesses.

        Assuming we even had witness testimony, "no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish."
        -- David Hume

        • Rob Abney

          Why not save time and say "no testimony is sufficient"?

          • Why not save time and say "no testimony is sufficient"?

            I would not say it because I don't agree with it. Regardless of the claim, some testimony can be sufficient and other testimony is not sufficient. There is no algorithm, relevant to all possible situations, for deciding whether to believe a particular eyewitness.

  • I have just finished Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? and I would say it comes nowhere near to answering the question. I do not think anyone who was not already a believer (and a fairly "conservative" one, at that) would find this book satisfying. I feel no need to do any point-by-point critique. It is enough to say that the author seems to feel that once an argument is made that the New Testament is not entirely fictional, any detail from it can be quoted as fact. Andrew G. points out one example based on a quote I posted here. Olson quotes 2 Peter 16 as evidence that the NT authors were fully aware of the difference between myth and reality, and they were dealing with the latter in their writings. Olson says:

    Yet to give just a couple of examples, the second epistle of Peter demonstrates a clear understanding of the difference between myth and verified historical events: "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Pet 1:19).

    Now, here we have 1 Peter 1 and 2 Peter 1:

    Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the chosen sojourners of the dispersion* in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia . . .

    Symeon Peter, a slave and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have received a faith of equal value to ours through the righteousness of our God and savior Jesus Christ . . .

    The problem is that the scholarly consensus is that Peter the Apostle didn't write the two epistles attributed to him. The New American Bible says, for example:

    Yet it is unlikely that Peter addressed a letter to the Gentile churches of Asia Minor while Paul was still alive. This suggests a period after the death of the two apostles, perhaps A.D. 70–90. The author would be a disciple of Peter in Rome, representing a Petrine group that served as a bridge between the Palestinian origins of Christianity and its flowering in the Gentile world.

    For those who trust Wikipedia (as I generally do) here is a link to their article, which states, "Most scholars today conclude that Saint Peter was not the author of the two epistles that are attributed to him and that they were written by two different authors."

    Olson also quotes from the "long ending" of Mark (16:9-20) with no mention that most scholars believe the verses were a later addition to the Gospel written by someone other than "Mark" the Evangelist.

    I personally do not doubt (although many skeptics, agnostics, etc. would disagree with me) that it makes sense for historians to use the New Testament documents, and particularly the Gospels, as "historical" sources. However, it is one thing to establish that the Gospels can be of use to historians and another thing entirely to quote them as if they were fully reliable factual accounts. Olson's approach, despite his arguments about the historical reliability of the New Testament documents is to use the Bible as if all of his readers were "conservative," Bible-believing Christians. For example, he tends not to use the Gospels as four differing accounts but rather uses his own "harmonized" account. As is usual in apologetics, when the account in one Gospel differs substantially from the account in another, this is presented as "proof" of their credibility, since it would be suspicious (the argument goes) if accounts from different source agreed in every detail.

  • How do you regard the New Testament? For example, in an earlier message in this thread, I noted that Raymond E. Brown, a towering figure in 20th-century Catholic biblical scholarship, questioned the historicity of Matthew's account of guards being stationed at the tomb of Jesus to prevent the disciples from removing the body of Jesus and claiming resurrection. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary flatly stated that the story of the two scenes involving the guards "are peculiarly Matthew passages motivated by late apologetics." Can you accept this approach to the New Testament? Or if a story like the one about the guards is in one of the Gospels, do you believe it is a factual account that may not be questioned?

    • Rob Abney

      I regard the NT as stories recorded after having been shared many times through the liturgy celebrations of the Church. I presuppose that the passion stories were told at the anniversary of the events from the very beginning. The stories were told to audiences with vastly different understanding of God and vastly different understanding of Jewish rituals, so the stories emphasize different aspects. And details that seem of utmost importance to one group make no difference in understanding to other groups. The Roman guards are insignificant when compared to Pilate's power that has already been wielded, but Pilate's power and the Roman Empire's power both pale in comparison to the power of God. Does it make a difference to God and angels if there is a guard on duty? No, but it might make a difference to some of Matthew's audience. And as Fr. Brown commented, "Truth conveyed by drama can at times be more effectively impressed on people's minds than truth conveyed by history".
      Tomorrow, Holy Thursday, we will hear John's account of the passion where he will emphasize the need to believe without seeing, because although they had been told numerous times the disciples still did not understand.
      Maybe the point is, we may need multiple sources of testimony to believe this unique event.
      Go to Holy Thursday mass tomorrow, see if you have a different understanding when you experience this story during a beautiful liturgy with sacred art and icons and incense and candles and glorious singing and praying and a church full of people who do believe rather than just reading about it.

  • Here is my Amazon review of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? followed by Carl E. Olson's response:

    1.0 out of 5 stars Will Only Appeal to the Already Convinced
    By David Nicko lon April 11, 2017
    Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase

    This is a book that could only convince the already convinced. Although the author makes some arguments that the New Testament documents are historically reliable, he uses Scripture not as a historian or even a biblical scholar, but as a "conservative," Bible-believing Christian. No attempt is made to explain why the four Gospel accounts of the resurrection do not agree with one another. The author harmonizes what he can and makes do with his own composite account. This does not pretend to be a scholarly work, but it is not so low-level that the question-and-answer format is appropriate.

    Carl E. Olson says:
    This is a review that could only convince the already convinced skeptic. The author makes some broad, even odd, assertions about my book, but does not use any quotes or arguments; he writes as someone who prefers a sloppy ad hominem brush over a thoughtful, reasoned response. His depiction of my "use" of Scripture is very misleading, even disingenuous, as I not only provide dozens of quotes and references from biblical scholar and historians (as well as nine pages of bibliography, most of it of scholarly works), I never assume the inspired nature of the New Testament. In fact, I set that aside and view the Gospels and other NT writings as historical texts only. I do, in fact, discuss differences in the Gospels accounts; I also discuss the deep, internal consistency of the accounts. (For more on the differences, I recommend a new book by Dr. Michael R. Licona titled "Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography", from that bastion of conservative Christian scholarship, Oxford University Press.)

    Two other points: first, I am a Catholic, so I am indeed a Bible-believing Christian. Being "conservative" (in scare quotes!) is just another red herring. Is the reviewer suggesting that only those who don't "believe" in the New Testament should be making arguments for its historical veracity? Secondly, why is the question-and-answer format such a problem? After all, it worked for Thomas Aquinas—and he was far, far brighter than either one of us.

  • I have previously posted my Amazon review of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? and the author's response to it on the Amazon site. I have amended my review with the following. Much of what follows has already been posted in one way or another here on Strange Notions. I do want to emphasize the point that, in my opinion, the author never gives a clear definition of "historical reliability" as it pertains to New Testament documents.

    Among several significant problems I found with the book is the argument in favor of the historicity of the guards at the tomb, attested to only in one Gospel (Matthew). The book says, “It is unlikely the guards at the tomb were fabricated since we have good grounds for thinking that the Jewish authorities would have wanted to ensure that Jesus disciples wouldn’t steal the body and claim to have witnessed the Resurrection.” Yet only a few pages earlier, in trying to refute the possibility that the disciples hallucinated the resurrected Jesus, we have the following: “The Gospels report that Jesus made cryptic statements about his Death and Resurrection, yet the same sources tell us that his disciples didn't understand what he meant. This is more consistent with what the sources tell us about the disciples’ initial general disbelief when they heard of the resurrection than with the idea they anticipated encountering a risen Jesus. We see in the Gospels that while Jesus told the disciples that he was going to be killed and would rise again, the disciples either pushed back against it (cf Mt 16:21-23) or they pushed it to the side and out of their memory (cf Lk 24:6-8).” The argument is basically that the disciples would not have hallucinated a resurrected Jesus because the idea of resurrection was the furthest thing from their minds. If they were expecting a resurrection at all, it would be at the end of time. But apparently what was the last thing on the minds of the disciples was very much on the minds of the Jewish authorities. Fully aware of the idea of a possible resurrection, they allegedly tried to prevent the disciples from staging a fake one. The argument tries to have it both ways. For the disciples, the idea of the resurrection didn’t appear in their wildest dreams. They didn’t even believe it *after* it happened. They completely missed any “cryptic” predictions Jesus made. But the Jewish authorities understood!

    Raymond E. Brown, does seriously question the historicity of the story about the guards in The Death of the Messiah, saying, “Yet there is a major argument against historicity that is impressive indeed. Not only do the other Gospels not mention the guard at the sepulcher, but the presence of the guard there would make what they narrate about the tomb almost unintelligible.” That is his principal concern. He does, however, state: “There are other internal implausibilities in Matt's account (e.g., that the Jewish authorities knew the words of Jesus about his resurrection and understood them, while his own disciples did not . . . )”

    Other works I have read in which the Gospels are evaluated as historical sources use criteria to gauge the degree of confidence we can have in a passage’s historicity. Such criteria are almost entirely absent from Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? Quotes from the long ending of Mark (generally considered to be a later addition by someone other than Mark), and passages from 2 Peter (purporting to be from Simon Peter but generally regarded to have been written after his death) are quoted without any cautions. (See the New American Bible Rev2E on the long ending of Mark and the authorship of the epistles attributed to Peter.)

    One major problem is that the author never explains in any detail what it means to say the Gospels are “historically reliable” or “historically accurate.” Is everything in the Gospels to be taken at face value, even when there are apparent contradictions? Must an effort be made to harmonize, say, the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke, or the four differing accounts of the crucifixion and the resurrection? If there is an instance in the book in which the author opines that a particular incident or saying is unlikely to be historical, I don’t recall it. I mentioned that Raymond E. Brown questions the historicity of Matthew’s account of guards at the tomb. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary characterizes the two scenes involving the guards as “peculiarly Matthean passages motivated by late apologetics." Would Carl E. Olson say these are matters on which faithful Catholic biblical scholars can legitimately disagree, or would he put the New American Bible, The Death of the Messiah, and The New Jerome Biblical Commentary in the same category as the works of Bart Ehrman and the Jesus Seminar? Without any definition of what it means for the Gospels to be “historically reliable,” the reader is left to wonder.

    • Karl Ahlmann

      And Thank God For That.

  • The Observer

    In the white-hot political climate of early 1st Century Judea, the presence of guards at Jesus' tomb makes perfect sense. The Temple authorities were scandalously in bed with the Roman occupiers, and it would be the absence of such a measure that ought to raise eyebrows.

    In any case, to fixate on such a minor detail in such a gigantic story would seem to be a perfect illustration of what Jesus characterized as "straining at gnats". In the Creed, we don't say, "And there were guards at the tomb" but rather "On the third day, He rose again from the dead." Focus, man, focus! (For the record, I believe there was a guard at the tomb. But even if there wasn't... who cares?)

    • In the Creed, we don't say, "And there were guards at the tomb" but rather "On the third day, He rose again from the dead." Focus, man, focus!

      I quite agree that, for believers, it is a trivial matter whether or not there were guards posted at the tomb of Jesus. However, what I have been discussing is not the death and resurrection of Jesus itself, but rather Carl E. Olson's book Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? which I have actually read and which is the topic of this thread.

      Even regarding the book, it is not of much importance whether or not there were guards at the tomb. What is of importance—in my opinion—is that Olson makes two arguments that I find to be incompatible. He argues that for the disciples, the idea of the resurrection was something so alien to their thoughts (and the thoughts at the time) that it wouldn't have occurred to them in their wildest dreams—i.e., their hallucinations. Yes, Jesus made cryptic predictions, but the disciples didn't understand them any more than they would have understood quantum physics. Bodily resurrection didn't exist as a concept for them, except perhaps as something that some expected at the end of the world. When informed of the fact of the resurrection immediately after it happened, they didn't say, "Oh, now we see what he was talking about. He predicted this, but we didn't understand him at the time!' So alien was the concept of resurrection to them that they said, "We don't believe it!"

      But then Olsen argues that the enemies of Jesus (the Jewish authorities) told the Roman authorities, "You know, Jesus said he was going to rise from the dead in three days, so you better post guards, otherwise the disciples might steal the body and claim Jesus rose from the dead.

      The question is, then, why was the idea of resurrection literally unthinkable to the disciples—so far outside of their mental capacity that they wouldn't even have it pop up as hallucinations—yet so easily grasped and accepted by the enemies of Jesus? Are we to conclude (based on Olson's arguments) that the Jewish authorities knew and understood the "cryptic" (Olson's word) predictions of Jesus better than the disciples, who travelled with Jesus and heard his every word, public and private?

      In any case, to fixate on such a minor detail in such a gigantic story would seem to be a perfect illustration of what Jesus characterized as "straining at gnats".

      As I have pointed out, I am "fixating" on the arguments in Olson's book. He devotes significant space to the argument that predictions of Jesus's death would not have been a possible cause of hallucinations of the risen Jesus. They simply didn't comprehend whatever predictions there were of the resurrection even to spark a hallucination of the risen Jesus. The idea of an individual rising after three days in a tomb "did not compute." And yet the enemies of Jesus had no such limitations to their thinking. Of course, they did not believe there would be a resurrection, but they had no trouble at all grasping the concept.

      In the Creed, we don't say, "And there were guards at the tomb" but rather "On the third day, He rose again from the dead."

      Sure. But I am not discussing the Christian creeds. I am discussing a book titled Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? Presumably the author intended for at least some of his readers to be people who did not believe Jesus rose from the dead. Otherwise he could just have written a meditation on one of the Christian creeds.

      • The Observer

        Sorry, but your reply to my posting sounds a lot like Donald Trump insisting he was taken out of context because he put "wiretap" in quotation marks.

        You are clearly obsessing about the guards.

        • It's interesting (but not surprising) to me that a Christian touting the resurrection to a doubter could not even manage to be charitable on Good Friday.

          • The Observer

            I am very glad that you can feel insulted at being compared to our fake president. That's a point in your favor, David!

          • Rob Abney

            David, I'm curious as to why you are so agitated about this one detail. It is a debatable point, although you are presenting it as if it is inconceivable that the two could both be true.
            And rather than just discussing it you decided to leave an Amazon review to warn potential customers to be leary about purchasing the book. You are of course free to do that but it is one of your very few reviews.

          • I think the most important point I have made about Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? is the following:

            One major problem is that the author never explains in any detail what it means to say the Gospels are “historically reliable” or “historically accurate.”

            Almost everything else I have written about the book has been, in one way or another, related to that point. As to why I have written so much here about Olson's apparent belief that the enemies of Jesus knew and understood his "cryptic" predictions of the resurrection better than the disciples, it is simply that you and others have challenged me on the issue numerous times, and I have elaborated and defended my point in response. Note that this is not a matter of whether or not there really were guards at the tomb. It is a matter of the enemies of Jesus expecting a resurrection (albeit a fake one) while the very idea of the resurrection couldn't even have occurred to the disciples, according to Olson.

            I would like to make again the point that I took the trouble to read the book under discussion. Have you, or has anyone else who has challenged what I say? I have also done hours and hours of research to document my criticisms using Catholic sources (The New American Bible, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, and The Death of the Messiah by Raymond E. Brown, one of the most respected Catholic biblical scholars of the past century. I am not a mythicist or an atheist, and I have backed up what I said using "mainstream" Catholic sources. It seems to me that on a spectrum from conservative to liberal biblical scholarship, Olson is significantly closer to the conservative end than the "mainstream" or the center, and he is more aligned with evangelicals than "mainstream" Catholics. But there is nothing wrong with that. It is not as if some Catholics are not allowed to be more conservative than others. Dei Verbum (the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation) reads to me as a conservative approach to Scripture, so Olson can make the case that "mainstream" biblical scholarship (say, as found in The New American Bible) is more liberal than the official Catholic Church permits.

          • The Observer

            I took the trouble to read the book under discussion. Have you, or has anyone else who has challenged what I say?

            I've read the book. I bought it (on July 9, 2016). It's on my bookshelf.

            And by the way, Truth is neither "conservative", "Mainstream", or "liberal" - it's just either true... or not.

          • David Nickol

            And by the way, Truth is neither "conservative", "Mainstream", or "liberal" - it's just either true... or not.

            That's a very interesting insight you have about Truth. It is either true . . . or not. I understand how Truth could be true, but you are going to have to explain how Truth could be not true.

          • The Observer

            Ugh. It's just sloppy writing on my part. My intent was "Truth is either true, or it's not truth," In other words, it requires no modifier.

      • neil_pogi

        quote: ''He argues that for the disciples, the idea of the resurrection was something so alien to their thoughts'' - ancient israelites didn't believe in any resurrection only after the resurrection of Christ. they believe that all resurrections (first resurrection and second resurrection) will take place after the second coming of Christ on earth.

        • ancient israelites didn't believe in any resurrection only after the resurrection of Christ

          The idea of a general resurrection at the end of time was not original to early Christianity but to late (but pre-Christian) Judaism. It was not a new teaching introduced by Jesus. The Pharisees believed there would be a resurrection, although the Sadducees did not. in Matthew 22, the Sadducees lay a trap for Jesus about the general resurrection, but they don't succeed. See also Acts 23:6-8:

          Paul was aware that some were Sadducees and some Pharisees, so he called out before the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees; [I] am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the group became divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection or angels or spirits, while the Pharisees acknowledge all three.

          • neil_pogi

            anyway, the resurrection happened and they all believed it.

  • Happy Easter weekend, y'all on the other side.

    • Rob Abney

      Thanks Ryan, you too!

  • VicqRuiz

    “If you say to a man: "Eighteen hundred years ago the dead were raised," he will reply: "Yes, I know that."

    And if you say: "A hundred thousand years from now all the dead will be raised," he will probably reply: "I presume so."

    But if you tell him: "I saw a dead man raised to-day," he will ask, "From what madhouse have you escaped?"

    -Ingersoll

  • The Saint

    The question is based on a false premise, first you have to establish that such a character actually existed, no evidence exists to prove the Christ character was anything but myth.
    In mythology, there are several deities who were resurrected, and they predate the christ; so we can pose the same question to Osiris. Did Osiris really resurrect?

  • Jack

    Yeah Jesus raised from the dead. I suppose he had better things going on astrally so he didn't give up he was holy and shit, so he raised up and went up a level. Jesus probably had a good reason for being here. Also it probably hurt like hell getting maimed and insulted but old Jesus had a big heart and good spirit so He litterly levitated into the next world leaving us with good ideas like monasteries and cathedrals. It's almost like when you drink a fifth of whisky and wake up the next morning anyway. Buddhists levitate too sometimes. Yes Jesus was definitely from some high court. But a 100 mile radius around his hometown in Israel is desert and semi-arid so it makes one wonder why we should listen to a bunch of robe wearing arabs