William Lane Craig Answers My Follow-Up Question...Finally!

Back in July of 2007 I asked a question of William Lane Craig about Lessing's Broad Ugly Ditch, which I had previously written about here. This is Craig's answer, seen here. Then later that same month I asked him a follow-up question which he delayed responding to until Kevin Harris asked him on this week's podcast, which can be heard right here.

Based on Lessing's ditch Craig admits that historical evidence does not lead the believer to "certainty." Right that. In fact it's even worse than that. Christian, tell us, what is the probability that your faith is true based upon the historical evidence alone? Be honest. How sure are you that you are right about Christianity? Remember, you must be correct about a whole host of essential so-called historical truths like the incarnation, virgin birth, atonement, salvation, resurrection and so forth. In any debate you've heard on the resurrection, for instance, what would you say the probability is for the winner, even if we grant that the winner is Craig himself? 51% 60% 65% 70%? It's not even close to certainty, is it? The lack of certainty isn't the problem here. The problem is that Christians are called upon to stake their whole existence on a probability of historical evidence, depending on how he or she judges the case. So what is it, Christian? I'm very curious. Do you say that it’s 60% probable the Bible is true? Do you say that it’s 60% probable Jesus bodily arose from the dead? Why not? That’s the best you can say, I think, based upon the historical evidence, and even then I totally disagree. But does a 60% probability demand that you to stake your entire life and all that you do upon it? I think not.

Craig admits even more than this, though. Since people don't have access to the evidence how can they be sure their faith is true? According to Craig, God will not abandon us to the evidence of history or the "accidents of geography." So there must be some basis for these people to believe other than the evidence, he said. Really? How does he come to this conclusion, that there must be some basis other than the evidence to believe? Isn’t this assuming that which he needs to prove? He’s assuming his Christian God to explain away a problem—-the problem of people who do not have adequate evidence to believe—-and that his God would surely not ask them to believe if they couldn’t have access to the evidence. He’s also assuming that he has the correct understanding of the relevant Biblical texts, something which I’ve seen interpreted differently.

So let’s put this into perspective. Craig claims to have access to this evidence but even with this access he cannot know with certainty his faith is correct. An interesting question at this point would be to ask him how probable he thinks Christianity is based solely on the historical evidence he has access to. Again, 60% 70%? Then based on this probability he must also stake his claims about the inner witness of the Holy Spirit on the probability he has properly exegeted the relevant Biblical texts. Again, 60% 70%? Multiplying these two conclusions alone at 70% each, we get an overall probability for his claims of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit at 49% (70% times 70%). Not much of a claim if you ask me, even granting him the strength of his arguments.

Then when asked my follow-up question Craig stumbles a bit. Did you hear it? All he seems to conclude is that this witness reveals that God exists and that a person has assurance she is saved. And that isn’t even an answer, for we still need to know more about this God (a pantheist god, is after all, a God), why we need to be saved, from what do we need saved, how we are saved, what we must do in response to his offer of salvation, and so forth, and so on. He even admits he doesn’t know exactly where the limits are. These limits are “vague” and “ambiguous,” which is so good of a dodge that Sarah Palin would be proud of the way he handled the question!

Even to suggest, as Harris does, that such a witness “starts the regenerative process,” doesn’t help. For Craig affirms he knows the truth of Christianity by this inner witness of the Spirit! If this so-called witness merely starts some process, then how it ends that process isn’t explained! Point in fact, Craig would claim that there are essential propositional truths that someone must believe in to be saved. He would not think a liberal Christian is saved, who does not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, or someone who didn’t believe Jesus was God in the flesh, or someone who didn’t accept the Trinitarian God. These are propositional truths and they are based upon historical claims (who, for instance, would claim to know Jesus arose from the dead purely on philosophical grounds--not even Swinburne!?). For Craig, there are essential propositional truths that when believed make someone a Christian. Why then doesn't Craig say the inner witness of the Holy Spirit reveals all of the essential propositional truths necessary for salvation?

Then he finally turns the tables on me. He chuckles while he says, “Why should he (that is me) be setting the standard as to what [content] God wants to provide?” Again, this all assumes he is correct about everything he argues for, doesn’t it? Who sets the standard? Well, the obvious answer is that the rules of evidence and the reasonableness of argumentation set the standard for what I can believe, and that’s it. If there is a reasonable God he should know what those standards are, otherwise he’s asking us to believe against the standards that reasonable people demand, those that he supposedly created in us. It’s simply not reasonable to believe the inner witness of the Holy Spirit is available to everyone, or that it should be used as an excuse for believing without access to the available evidence. The bottom line is that if the Holy Spirit provides its own sufficient evidence to believe, then it should also provide all of the necessary and essential propositional content to the believer for being saved. That’s something I don’t hear Craig saying, because this very content is derived soley from the probability of historical investigations, and those conclusions can only result in some level of probability.

32 comments:

Jason Long said...

It's good that you finally got an answer out of this guy. His circular reasoning is quite obvious, and I agree with just about everything you state here.

However I question your methodology of saying there is a 49% probability of his claims. Each method is used to test the same conclusion, which should be approached through meta-analysis. If point 1 supported the conclusion 70%, and point 2 supported the same conclusion 70%, the likelihood of the conclusion being correct is 91%. He would have to hit that 30% chance back-to-back, which would only happen 9% of the time.

In the same manner, two tests that yield the same conclusion and pass with 95% confidence would support the conclusion with 99.75% confidence.

Of course, Craig would never admit that the likelihood of a body being resurrected is as close to 0% as any fantasy can be, which would of course destroy any odds based on his alleged evidence and esoteric nonsense.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Jason!

I hate to get involved in such details and maybe someone else can chime in, but if one conclusion depends on a previous conclusion, as I think it does in Craig's case, then the probability that both conclusions are true is simply a matter of multiplying the probabilities of both conclusions, as I said.

Touchstone said...

Two comments.

1) Craig's assertion that the the limits of God's particular being revealed being "vague" I think is an appeal to the "heap problem" -- how many grains of sand must you add to a starting grain to make a "heap"? This is a way to assert that you "know it when you see it", without having to put stakes down and hard criteria in place. And it's true that specifying the number of grains of sand necessary to make a heap is problematic, but that problem obtains from the squishy demands we place on the term 'heap'; if one had to be paid a salary in "heaps" of grains of gold, you can be sure that there would be a lot more specificity on what was and was not qualified as a "heap".

This is a useful analogy, I think because it shows that for Christians, what matters is not the objective measure, a threshold of perspicuity and coherence to clear outside of one's desires, but rather just "finding a heap" of God there that provides the key assurances to hang the rest of the ideology on. God's revelation, like the heap, is a function of the desires of the observer.

2) As for the probabilistic analysis of NT's claims as historically correct, it just defies any such analysis. What is the "plausibility divisor"? All of this hinges on the evaluator granting the resurrection scenario as *plausible*. How does one establish the binary plausibility of that, let alone a probabilistic of Bayesian analysis of that?

It's intractable.

Which is why the "historical claims" just do not stand on their own, and must be buttressed by revelation. And really, not just buttressed, but replaced by revelation, with historical evidence just providing some window dressing to assuage the rational part of the mind that the story isn't completely out in left field (cf. Mormon claims about Nephite and Lamanite civilization for a case where the complete lack of historical veneers seriously undermines rational support for the faith).

All of which to say that the historical issue can only be secondary for Christians. It doesn't make the case, can't make the case, without first making the dubious commitment that there is a God bending and overturning natural law at will in the first place. If you make that commitment, you don't need historical evidence. If you start by looking just at the historical evidence, you'd never get there on empirical grounds (and I think Craig has said, and is saying here, as much).

-TS

Jason Long said...

John, if one depended upon the other, that would be more complex than I could handle. But if they were independent tests on the same conclusion, what I said is correct.

Since Craig's position is incoherent to begin with, there's not much point in debating details. You obviously have a good point that Craig could not answer.

ahswan said...

John, Your statement, "The problem is that Christians are called upon to stake their whole existence on a probability of historical evidence" is incorrect. There may be some apologists who claim this, but I don't think Craig would be one of them.

As Touchstone said, the knowledge of God is first revelatory, then supported by evidence. Both the Old and New Testaments support this concept as well. Knowledge of God always comes from God revealing himself.

That being said, the evidence is more than enough. Revelation is, of course, non-verifiable, which tends to drive atheists crazy. But, that's simply the way it is.

Anthony said...

Revelation is, of course, non-verifiable

If you are referring to the act of revelation then your statement would be true, but if you are speaking of the content of that revelation, specifically the old and new testaments, then I would disagree as that would be verifiable. Hence the reason for my defection from Christianity, having come to realize that the historicity of much of the Bible was nonexistent.

ahswan said...

Anthony, I have to disagree with your statement that "the historicity of much of the Bible was nonexistent." I also disagree that the content of revelation must be verifiable. I am, of course, referring to God revealing Himself. Moses and the burning bush, Saul on the road to Damascus, God speaking to Abraham.

By the way, if you want an interesting perspective on the historicity of the Bible, read "Walking the Bible" by Bruce Feiler, who at the time was agnostic. His whole series is pretty good, and also provides an interesting take on the whole middle East situation.

John W. Loftus said...

ahswan said... God revealing Himself. Moses and the burning bush, Saul on the road to Damascus, God speaking to Abraham.

You were not there, okay? How is the testimony of someone in the past preferable to personal experience when it comes to the strength of the evidence?

It virtually disappears by comparison.

That is Lessing's Broad Ugly Ditch. How you cross over it is what we're talking about. Craig admits we can't do it, apart from the witness of the Spirit, the very thing I question. You see, I haven't had it, and neither have more than two billion other people.

ahswan said...

John, I didn't mean it was "preferable" I just used these as examples of non-verifiable revelation. I claim that God has revealed himself to me, which is to anyone else non-verifiable. The evidence is more than enough to support my own experience.

My own belief is that the evidence, without revelation, does not lead anyone to certainty. So, in a way, I guess I'm agreeing with you once again... ;-)

John W. Loftus said...

ahswan said... I claim that God has revealed himself to me, which is to anyone else non-verifiable.

Mormons also claim a witness in their hearts that their God exists. Is everyone who claims such a thing correct? Why not? What would you say to them? There is a better way to see such claims, ya know, as mere wish fulfillment based on when and where you were born.

And I claim God has not revealed himself to me, along with billions of other people.

ahswan said...

John, I've had many discussions with Mormon missionaries on this point. Whereas there is absolutely no evidence to support Mormonism (in fact, the evidence supports that Joseph Smith was a con artist), there is quite a bit of evidence to support Judeo/Christian claims.

As for God not revealing himself to you, I suppose a Calvinist would respond that you're just not one of the "elect." But, I'm not a Calvinist... I can only go by Paul's opinion in Romans 1. I admit that I'm currently thinking through the issue of special v general revelation, and my opinions are subject to change.

At the moment, my opinion is that even the propensity of evidence is not sufficient without the work of the Holy Spirit. This is purely theological, I know- but, I'm an unapologetic presuppositionalist.

John W. Loftus said...

ahswan, all you have evidence for is that many of the places named in the Bible actually existed (like the Sea of Galilee, the Mount Olives, the Temple, etc), that many of the customs described in it are corroborated by archaelogy, that manuscripts of the Bible can be dated to around the 4th century AD, and that several pagan writers referred to "Christus" and "Christians."

What you don't have is any evidence apart from testimonies that the miraculous events testified to actually took place. And in this sense you have no real evidence at all, not the kind that is based on historical studies to conclude, contrary to my personal experiences, that such things like dead people rise from the dead. I'll go with my personal experiences every time over testimonies from superstitious people in the past.

ahswan said...

"I'll go with my personal experiences every time over testimonies from superstitious people in the past."

That's an interesting perspective. But, I guess that makes you a true modernist. On the other hand, I try to subject my experience to the testimony of the past, and have found it so far to be consistent.

And, we also differ in that I claim to have a personal knowledge of, and relationship with, God. I will, then, see and evaluate evidence differently than you. I could be completely delusional, but being a very rational person by all accounts, I don't think I am.

I do appreciate the dialog, John. You're becoming one of my favorite atheists. ;-)

John W. Loftus said...

ahswan, the most crucial issue is whether we should approach the evidence with faith, as in your case, or skepticism, as in mine. I spent nearly one third of my book arguing for my skeptical control beliefs. Maybe you should check it out.

ahswan said..I do appreciate the dialog, John. You're becoming one of my favorite atheists. ;-)

No, I won't give you a free book! Get your own. ;-)

ismellarat said...

As I've written here before, I can pinpoint the end of my quasi-fundy days to a sudden realization about 13 years ago, that the many hours I'd spent pondering just how to get my fellow Christians to obey their greatest commandment and to show some concern for their many millions of "neighbors" who were falling victim to genocide, had all been for naught.

http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/warstat1.htm

It had hit me that the Anne Franks of this world were going to Hell anyway - so why was I wasting my time?

My singing, clapping, giggling, carefree, rapture-anticipating, video game playing brethren had been right all along to not give a dam.

Guess who I gave the credit to, for assuring me that I wasn't perhaps missing something then.

In my very first head-spinning week of searching for an answer to this stomach turner, I'd stumbled onto William Lane Craig's "No Other Name"

http://www.leaderu.com/offices/billcraig/docs/middle2.html

where he explains that God foreknows who will believe and not believe - and places people in situations where they "freely choose" from limited options to believe what they do.

In other words, the world is full of people who have been virtually precondemned.

The walking dead, if you will.

But that's not all.

William Lane Craig dislikes God's setup as much as you do AND SAYS NO ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN DOES, EITHER.

Read his last paragraph:

"... No orthodox Christian likes the doctrine of hell or delights in anyone's condemnation. I truly wish that universalism were true, but it is not..."

That admission (better save it, in case it disappears) still turns my stomach.

It tells me that most Christians (who don't admit what Craig did) deliberately disbelieve WHAT THEY WOULD AGREE IS "bad stuff", and then go on pretending everything is just wonderful.

It was also pretty unsettling for me to read that someone who many consider to be the world's foremost living apologist believes that God is unjust.

I guess I still "truly wish that universalism is true", and simply hope something's going on beyond this life that will be accepting of people from all walks of life, but I'm not going to kid myself that I have any special knowledge about it.

AdamH said...

Mr. Loftus, I believe you have earlier said that you still consider Dr. Craig a friend.

Considering to the way you have spoken of him, including calling him delusional, I wonder if that is still true?

eheffa said...

Touchstone,

You make some excellent points.

I believe that the metaphorical "Ditch" is real.

On one side we have evidence: Historical & Empirical. On the other side we have Christian faith. You cannot get to the belief side on the basis of the evidence. The evidence actually supports the non-belief argument. (I know. This is an unsupported assertion, but one can write a complete book to support this statement - See Stenger's: "God - A failed Hypothesis")

It seems quite clear that neither Craig or any other Christian would be won to the faith on the basis of the evidence; for that you need to want to believe by the delusional power of the "Spirit" or be influenced at a vulnerable time (childhood or other times..) by the pressure of other evangelistic believers.

All these rationalizations do not eliminate the fact that the Christian faith is fundamentally irrational & not supported by the evidence.

Magical & supernatural activities on the part of the "Holy Spirit" cannot make up for this glaring deficiency.

Craig's smug analysis notwithstanding, I think he essentially says this same thing in his round about way.

-evan

ahswan said...

In some ways, I think the "ditch" discussion is immaterial (pardon the pun). As long as you presume materialism, there's a big ugly ditch and you don't see enough evidence to cross it. However, Christians don't share that presupposition. When considering the evidence in context, the ditch is neither large nor ugly.

To borrow some postmodern language (for which I truly apologize, but it is useful here), the narrative you choose to frame your experience and evidence will determine what you accept as evidence. If we can't agree on the proper framing narrative, discussions of the ditch will ultimately be pointless.

One of the foundational problems of Stenger's book (which has more than it's share of problems) is that he tried to prove that other, broader narrative don't exist from within his own, very restrictive, narrative. I don't think it can be done.

brian_g said...

John

You raised several questions in your post. How much certainty do we have for believing Christianity, when the evidence all boils down to the testimony of others? Is this certainty sufficient to base our entire life on?
I base my entire life on knowledge gained from what other people tell me. When I go to the doctor, I believe him when he tells me to take medicine. I never preform double blind studies to see if the medicine works. When I go to work, I believe the company when they tell me that they will pay me. I believe the news reports that the World Trade Center was attacked, even though I've never seen it for my self. When I read a warning label that says “poison, do not swallow,” I believe it even though I've never tried drinking it, nor have I preformed toxicity studies on rats.
Some of this information passes through several hands before it finally reaches me. My doctor probably has never preformed the required experiments upon which his medical knowledge is based. Some of his knowledge is no doubt based on journals article written by those who actually preformed the experiments. However, much of his knowledge was probably learned in medical school. His teacher probably never preformed the experiments either (they may have done some research, but certainly not most), but based their knowledge on other sources.

I don't see anything irrational in principle with believing other people. In fact, I don't see how one could get along in life with out it. While it's true that we might sometimes be led astray in believing others, the mere possibility of error does not justify the rejecting human testimony as a source of knowledge. I would suggest that the following principle is valid: It is never irrational to believe another person, unless you have some positive reason to doubt them.

You later say that you will trust your experience over personal testimony. I agree that past experience is an important factor in evaluating truth claims. When I look at a case like the resurrection, I see an event that is statistically improbable. All my experience tells me that dead people stay dead. However, from this alone I cannot conclude that the apostles claims were false. When we evaluate the statistical probability of an event, one must weigh the probability of it against the alternative possibilities. How statistically likely is is for someone to falsely claim that a person has risen from the dead? When I consider this in light of my past experience, it is also statistically improbable. It goes against my past experience just a much as a man rising from the dead. So our scale has two very small probabilities weighing against each other. What tips the scale in favor of the resurrection is the fact that there are multiple witnesses. So the probability of them all lying or being mistaken diminishes quickly, leaving the resurrection of Jesus as the more likely option.

John W. Loftus said...

Brian_g, there is so much to say in response. I take it you haven't read my book. Okay, I guess. See this for starters.

Evan said...

John you buried the lede!

The headline should be:

Craig Admits that Christianity is Only Probably True!

brian_g said...

John W. Loftus said...

Brian_g, there is so much to say in response. I take it you haven't read my book. Okay, I guess. See this for starters.

I also feel that there is much that could be said in response. I did read the post you linked to.
If I understand you, then you would agree with my principle that It is never irrational to believe another person, unless you have some positive reason to doubt them. However, you feel that you have positive reason to doubt the NT claims of miracles based on your six points. One of the points (the philosophical case against miracles) I refuted in my previous post.
Do you have anything to say about that before we discuss the remaining 5 points? Do you agree with my principle about believing others?

oli said...

Of course the gaping hole that Craig' believe (that the internal witnessing of god is what saves you and evidence be damned) is that unless god chooses to reveal himself to you, how on earth are you supposed to get saved, the evidence, as Craig all but admits isn't strong enough to do it on reason.
If i die unsaved, god has only himself to blame for my damnation. And since in the examples of Paul, and indeed Craig himself we know that god apparently is revealing himself to some people, he doesn't even have an excuse. Sounds very calvinist to me.
Or of course, its all cobblers and Craig is either deluded or on the gravy train.
I wonder how hard it would be to come out as an atheist for Craig if he lost his faith. Even more than many of the ex-pastors on here, Craig is intimately tied to his faith. How hard would it be for him to leave all the fame and respect behind?
Note that i'm not suggesting that Craig isn't sincere, I hate it when christians assume i am merely hating god, rather than not believing, i won't extend that insult back. But IF he did de-convert, how hard would it be to leave the fold?
How many other people are trapped like this? Some of the de-conversion stories on this blog are pretty heart breaking, how many people must not believe but stay within the church?

Bloviator said...

John,

This all seems to get back to the point you made some time ago about one of your professors in seminary who stated "you can't get to god unless you start with god" or something to that effect.

I have been musing about the collapse of my belief in theism and how peculiar it all seems now. However, the reverse was true until a mere two years ago.

Would you agree that our presuppositions predispose our framing of a worldview to a somewhat narrow constraint? I find that the dialogue I was able to have with believers is becoming less and less possible as I drift farther away from my former frame of reference.

I myself would have retreated to Craig's appeal regarding the 'inner testimony' in any discussion with a non-believer, content with the thought that no one can know my inner being--therefore my inner being, or witness, is beyond critique.

However, now I cringe at the image of my former self, and truly consider that prior point of view delusional (in my case based on a massive fear of death combined with an ego-driven refusal to accept that my existence in and of itself has no ultimate purpose).

Anyhoo, I agree that Craig is most likely sincere in his stance, as was I (and probably yourself), but that his system of belief is more informed by what he WANTS rather than by what actually IS.

Anthony said...

Ahswan said "I have to disagree with your statement that 'the historicity of much of the Bible was nonexistent.'"

You may disagree but it is obvious that you have not dealt with any of the critical issues. Kenton Sparks (an evangelical scholar) in his "God's Word in Human Words" brings up a lot of the critical issues and shows that evangelicals need to deal with them rather than come up with creative ways to get around them. I have not read Feiler's book but as John said it's not enough to mention names of people and places that existed, historical novels do that all the time.

I also disagree that the content of revelation must be verifiable. I am, of course, referring to God revealing Himself. Moses and the burning bush, Saul on the road to Damascus, God speaking to Abraham.

You do not need to disagree because in actually we agree, as I had said, if you are referring to the act of revelation and your examples are exactly that, examples of god's direct revelation. These indeed are not verifiable and hence we can only go by the word of the one who claims to have received such revelation. There have been many who have claimed such revelations from a god, not just the Christian one. If revelation is not verifiable then how do you know that such revelations are not still being received. If someone claims a revelation how do you know if it's from God? What do you do when there are several conflicting revelations?

eheffa said...

brian_g,

I was once a Christian, believing that Faith in Jesus Christ was a rational faith & internally consistent.

I think that in considering the veracity of the Gospel/NT claims of miraculous "historical" events one has to evaluate the quality of the documentation. Anonymous stories such as the Gospel of Mark - written many years after the setting's time-frame and as an allegorical midrash & full of OT scripture cannot be considered a source of verifiable history. The other canonical gospels used Mark as a source & seemingly only embellished & modified the story for their own ends. They are all anonymously authored & likely rather late. The first Christians or third parties to clearly reference these works only appear in the mid second century.

Paul, presumably earlier (but maybe not), writes as if he knows almost nothing of the Gospel Jesus. His Jesus seems to be a celestial Logos figure of a mixed Hebrew scripture & Platonic derivation.

Josephus, our favorite historian of the era, writing in the latter part of the first century, seems to have missed the existence of the Christian movement altogether (apart from the almost certainly interpolated Testimonium Flavium). If the Christian movement was such a potent & rapidly growing movement, why were Josephus and any other Jewish sources seemingly oblivious to their existence?

The Book of Acts, likely written in the second century, has a political agenda of reconciling the Petrine & Pauline traditions and cannot be relied upon as reliable historical account of anything.

So, before we jump in & accept the miracle stories as written, why would we accept the sources of these stories as authentic history? The only way one would ever allow these as admissible evidence is if one already had an a priori commitment to the Christian faith having an historical base.

Could the Christian faith be based on fabrications & fantasies rather than real history? Could it simply be a man-made belief system just like all the others: Mormonism or Islam for example?

I think the answer is pretty clear. We may not ever understand all the details of its early history, but Christianity appears to have no more Godly inspiration than any other man-made religions out there. The quality of documentation is in fact astonishingly poor & not at all in keeping with the standards of its putative author - the supposed creator of the precision of the quantum world of the nucleus & the universe at large.

Alas, it all made sense to believe when one maintained that the NT was written by first person eye witnesses who died for their beliefs. But this is a fantasy & simply not true.

-evan

Anthony said...

brian_g said "It is never irrational to believe another person, unless you have some positive reason to doubt them.

I know you addressed this to John but I wanted to through in my own thoughts.

I think the big question is, do you have a basis for believing what another person says. You list several examples as testimony of another: a doctor, news reporters concerning the 9/11 attacks, a poison label. In each of your examples you had a foundation to believe them. A doctor has gone through medical school and practices medicine daily, news reporters are on the scene with video footage, etc. are all testimony that have a foundation.

Let me give you an example, say you are in a parking lot and someone runs up to you and tells you to run because there are zombies coming up the street. Then several other people run by saying the same thing. You stop and think, what in the world is going on here. Do you just take off running? No, you know that zombies are the thing of horror movies and not reality. Do you believe their testimony? Why not? There were several people who testified of the same thing. The bottom line is that someones testimony is not a case of innocent until proven guilty, but should be at most met with an agnostic attitude until proven trustworthy.

In the case of the biblical writers all we have is their testimony, a testimony of men living in very superstitious times. Men of whose writings have often been found to be historically unreliable.

brian_g said...

eheffa said:
“So, before we jump in & accept the miracle stories as written, why would we accept the sources of these stories as authentic history?”

I'm glad you asked. First, you need a better understanding of source criticism. The canonical Gospels did not merely embellish Mark as you say. Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source, but they also used a source separate from Mark, known by scholars as Q. In addition Matthew and Luke each have unique material to each of their respective Gospels derived from their own source(s). John wrote separately, not using the material from the other Gospels (with perhaps a couple of exceptions). This is the view of just about every scholar.
The generally accepted dating of the Gospels is 70 AD for Mark as the earliest, and John at 90-100 AD as the latest. While this is a long time after the crucification, 40 years for Mark, 60-70 years for John, it is not beyond a human life span. A wittiness to the events of Jesus who was 20 years old would have been 60 when Mark was written, and 80 to 90 when John was written. There would have likely have been a number of original wittinesses when Mark was written, and John would have been written when the last of the wittinesses were dying out.
When we look at the Gospels we need to consider possible sources of bias. This would most naturally be the beliefs and practices of the early Christian church. When we look at the Gospels, there are a number of features which found in several sources, while at the same time being absent from the practices of the early church. For instance, we find evidence of Jesus speaking in parables in just about every stand of Gospel sources (with the exception of John). Even the Gospel of Thomas includes parables of Jesus. Yet when we look at the practice of early Christians, we do not see them explaining their teaching with parables. There are several aspects of Jesus' style of preaching, that are similar in this regard-- in both multiple sources and distinct from the usage in the early church. Other examples include: Jesus' self reference as “son of man,” and his use of “Amen, I say to you” to introduce his teachings. On the other hand we see the absence of many of the most significant doctrines and practice in early Christianity from the teaching of Jesus during his ministry. Examples include: Baptism, circumcision, mission to Gentiles, and clean / unclean foods. I think it's very likely that we don't see these things because Jesus they weren't part of his ministry. So there are a number features of the Gospels (both positive and negative) which suggest that the writers avoided letting later Christian bliefs slip into their portrayal of Jesus. What makes this mores significant is that this trend runs through our different sources material behind the Gospels.

You also said:

Josephus, our favorite historian of the era, writing in the latter part of the first century, seems to have missed the existence of the Christian movement altogether (apart from the almost certainly interpolated Testimonium Flavium). If the Christian movement was such a potent & rapidly growing movement, why were Josephus and any other Jewish sources seemingly oblivious to their existence?

I think you misunderstand interpolation. The Testimonium Flavium is generally believed to contain an interpolation by Christian copyists. This does not mean that scholars through the whole thing out. The reason it is believed to be an interpolation in the first place, is because it includes features that don't sound like Josephus, but instead sound like Christians. However, the text also includes features which sound a lot like Josephus, but not like Christians. This is of course an over simplification.
We must also be careful about an argument from silence. There are many things from this time period, which are attested in only a handful of sources. For example, the Sadducees are only known for the wittings of people who weren't Sadducees and the New Testament documents are one of the main sources.

brian_g said...

Anthony said:

Let me give you an example, say you are in a parking lot and someone runs up to you and tells you to run because there are zombies coming up the street. Then several other people run by saying the same thing. You stop and think, what in the world is going on here. Do you just take off running? No, you know that zombies are the thing of horror movies and not reality. Do you believe their testimony? Why not? There were several people who testified of the same thing. The bottom line is that someones testimony is not a case of innocent until proven guilty, but should be at most met with an agnostic attitude until proven trustworthy.

In the case of the biblical writers all we have is their testimony, a testimony of men living in very superstitious times. Men of whose writings have often been found to be historically unreliable.


What BrianG says:
The problem is that we don't live in a world where several people start screaming "Zombie." It just doesn't happen. I suppose if it did, I would be suspicious on the basis that all stories of Zombies are from sources clearly meant and understood by everyone to be fictional. This is not the case at all with miracles. There are many people who sincerely believe to have wittiness such events. So whatever one thinks of these claims, one cannot a priori reject them as false since they only occur in fiction because this is clearly not the case.

You say that the biblical writers lived in very superstitious times. I think that this claim, while often repeated, is overstated. It's true that they didn't know as much about science as we do today. However, they were quite capable of being skeptical. We see this in the New Testament material. Doubting Thomas, the disciples didn't believe the Women, Paul was so convinced against Christianity that he persecuted the church.

eheffa said...

For brian_g

eheffa said:
> “So, before we jump in & accept the miracle stories as written, why would we accept the sources of these stories as authentic history?”
>
> I'm glad you asked. First, you need a better understanding of source criticism. The canonical Gospels did not merely embellish Mark as you say. Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source, but they also used a source separate from Mark, known by scholars as Q. In addition Matthew and Luke each have unique material to each of their respective Gospels derived from their own source(s). John wrote separately, not using the material from the other Gospels (with perhaps a couple of exceptions). This is the view of just about every scholar.


Yes, I am aware of the "Q" hypothesis.


I have explored this question of the Gospels & their history quite carefully over the last year or so & haven't jumped to conclusions out of mere wishful thinking....

The generally accepted dating of the Gospels is 70 AD for Mark as the earliest, and John at 90-100 AD as the latest. While this is a long time after the crucification, 40 years for Mark, 60-70 years for John, it is not beyond a human life span. A wittiness to the events of Jesus who was 20 years old would have been 60 when Mark was written, and 80 to 90 when John was written. There would have likely have been a number of original wittinesses when Mark was written, and John would have been written when the last of the wittinesses were dying out.

The "generally accepted" consensus needs to be taken with some skepticism. I see that you are well versed in the party line of the standard apologetic arguments. I once parroted these answers with similar confidence...The appeal to scholarly consensus is often used by those wishing to validate a literal or orthodox acceptance of the NT gospels. but surely the presuppositions of these "scholars" need to be examined prior to accepting this consensus at face value . A "majority " of NT scholars would likely include a large cohort of Bible school graduates committed to a literal acceptance of an historical core to these writings. If one can set aside the Sunday school presuppositions, what evidence is there for these early datings? When are these Gospels first referenced by other third parties? What were these supposed alternate sources used by the authors of Matthew, Luke & John. (e.g. There are some suggestions that "Luke" used Josephus' writings as a source).

In other words, if you assume that these anonymous Gospel authors were contemporaries of the "Historical" Jesus one comes up with rather early datings for these books ( a self-fulfilling & circular argument in and of itself) but if one drops this assumption for lack of evidence, what plausible date ranges can we give for these books?

Let's take the book of Matthew as an example. When was it written? What possible date range could one assign for its writing? I'm afraid that traditional consensus supported orthodox dating is simply unsupportable beyond the need & wish to make it so. Possible? - Yes; but established beyond reasonable doubt or even likely? - No. For an entertaining & enlightening examination of this seemingly simple question, see Richard Carrier's article entitled Ignatian Vexation: http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2008/09/ignatian-vexation.html

So if one looks more carefully & drops the contemporaneous assumption, the "terminus post quem" & the "terminus ante quem" for Matthew is probably 70 - 130 CE (& even possibly as late as 170 CE). This question is complicated by poor data & confounding variables but no other extant author quotes from the book later called "Matthew" until 170 CE. If one is not committed to the apologetic necessity of cleaning up the data & insisting on early dates, one has very little good reason to date these gospels so early.

When we look at the Gospels we need to consider possible sources of bias. This would most naturally be the beliefs and practices of the early Christian church. When we look at the Gospels, there are a number of features which found in several sources, while at the same time being absent from the practices of the early church. For instance, we find evidence of Jesus speaking in parables in just about every stand of Gospel sources (with the exception of John). Even the Gospel of Thomas includes parables of Jesus. Yet when we look at the practice of early Christians, we do not see them explaining their teaching with parables. There are several aspects of Jesus' style of preaching, that are similar in this regard-- in both multiple sources and distinct from the usage in the early church. Other examples include: Jesus' self reference as “son of man,” and his use of “Amen, I say to you” to introduce his teachings. On the other hand we see the absence of many of the most significant doctrines and practice in early Christianity from the teaching of Jesus during his ministry. Examples include: Baptism, circumcision, mission to Gentiles, and clean / unclean foods. I think it's very likely that we don't see these things because Jesus they weren't part of his ministry. So there are a number features of the Gospels (both positive and negative) which suggest that the writers avoided letting later Christian bliefs slip into their portrayal of Jesus. What makes this mores significant is that this trend runs through our different sources material behind the Gospels.

This is an interesting observation - the primitive aspects of the Gospels suggesting earlier authorship. On the other hand, have you read the quality of 2nd century apologetics and how ill-informed and oblivious they seem to have been with respect to the gospel stories?...The Christians of the second century don't seem to know much about Jesus until quite a bit later...(~150 +)
(See Earl Doherty's examination of this at: http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/century2.htm)

You also said:
>
> Josephus, our favorite historian of the era, writing in the latter part of the first century, seems to have missed the existence of the Christian movement altogether (apart from the almost certainly interpolated Testimonium Flavium). If the Christian movement was such a potent & rapidly growing movement, why were Josephus and any other Jewish sources seemingly oblivious to their existence?
>
> I think you misunderstand interpolation. The Testimonium Flavium is generally believed to contain an interpolation by Christian copyists. This does not mean that scholars through the whole thing out. The reason it is believed to be an interpolation in the first place, is because it includes features that don't sound like Josephus, but instead sound like Christians. However, the text also includes features which sound a lot like Josephus, but not like Christians. This is of course an over simplification.


Actually I think I do understand interpolation. I have read most of these arguments around the TF from both sides & again, unless you are motivated by the desire to see Josephus verify the existence of Jesus, the whole TF is suspect and cannot be relied upon as a source of anything reliable. It has been tampered with & there is no good reason (apart from the apologists' wish fulfillment) to accept any of it as authentic. Prior to Eusebius ( a self-confessed pious forger) no other author who is aware of the very same passage on Pilate (in Antiquities of the Jews 18) seems to have noted the existence of this important paragraph... (i.e. Justin (mid-2nd century), Irenaeus and Theophilus of Antioch (late 2nd century), Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria (turn of 3rd century), Origen and Hippolytus (early 3rd century), Cyprian (mid-3rd century) Lactantius and Arnobius (late 3rd century). All these authors are familiar with this passage in Antiquities 18 & yet fail to quote the TF - even though it would have helped their argument enormously. See Doherty's careful examination of this question for something you won't get from Josh McDowell & company.
( http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/supp16.htm )

The argument for the TF being a late addition is quite convincing & further strengthens the impression that Josephus had not even heard of this supposedly vibrant & growing sect later called "Christians".


We must also be careful about an argument from silence. There are many things from this time period, which are attested in only a handful of sources. For example, the Sadducees are only known for the wittings of people who weren't Sadducees and the New Testament documents are one of the main sources.

OK fair enough. An argument from silence cannot often beat more positive contrary evidence. So yes, some of this is an argument from silence but it is a significant & deafening silence nonetheless. Without the a priori acceptance of the Christian creeds, I think that one would be very unlikely to come to same orthodox belief on the strength of the evidence alone. Mark is clearly not biography but midrash. The derivative and often contradictory gospels (synoptics) are similarly marred by proselytizing influences and an obvious capacity for inventive editing. John appears to be a second century creation with another whole agenda. (Have you ever considered where Evangelical Christianity would be without this one book? Doesn't it strike you as odd that God would confine his most salient theological revelations about the ministry of Jesus to this one Gospel? Perhaps it isn't so odd because maybe God had nothing to do with the authorship or inspiration of these religious tracts. How would one know?)

I started out re-examining these issues for myself a little over a year ago with a desire to be as open-minded as possible. I tried to avoid the trap of pre-judging the evidence according to where it would lead. I was a committed Christian at the time but after reading more books & articles than I can list, I have come to the conclusion that the Christian faith is a man-made fantasy. Its history is marred by obvious fabrications & glaring deficiencies & contradictions. When I ask myself whether the quality of documentation found in the Bible even hints at divine inspiration it is quite clear that it falls far short of the mark. The creator of the universe would have had to be a precision freak but the putative author of the New Testament was clearly not that same person.

The history of this "historical faith" is its Achilles heel. I believe that It bears all the marks of an elaborate pious fiction.

-evan
>

brian_g said...


eheffa said:
I have explored this question of the Gospels & their history quite carefully over the last year or so & haven't jumped to conclusions out of mere wishful thinking....


And

I started out re-examining these issues for myself a little over a year ago with a desire to be as open-minded as possible. I tried to avoid the trap of pre-judging the evidence according to where it would lead. I was a committed Christian at the time but after reading more books & articles than I can list, I have come to the conclusion that the Christian faith is a man-made fantasy. Its history is marred by obvious fabrications & glaring deficiencies & contradictions. When I ask myself whether the quality of documentation found in the Bible even hints at divine inspiration it is quite clear that it falls far short of the mark. The creator of the universe would have had to be a precision freak but the putative author of the New Testament was clearly not that same person.


I'm glad to hear that your investigating these issues, I hope you continue to do so. I've personally found that there's nothing so intellectually stimulating as reading or hearing those who disagree with me. I think this is what drives my interest in atheism. It seems like I could go on all night watching atheists on YouTube. It seems that the best way of testing my thinking is to hear the opinions of those who think I'm nuts. I find it strange that other people don't enjoy this the way I do. Perhaps I'm an intellectual masochist.

First, let's talk about the dating of the Gospels. The generally accepted dates are not merely the position of bible-thumping fundamentalists protestants. The dates are arrived at using historical skepticism. If I'm not mistaken the Bible thumpers tend to go for dates about 10-15 years earlier then the ones I mentioned. One of the primary reasons for dating the Gospels after 70 ad, is Jesus' prophecy that the temple would be destroyed. This relies on an assumption against miracles. This is not a presupposition of “Sunday school class.” If you look at the texts, in Matthew 24 and Mark 13, do the texts really sound like a prophecy written after the fact? We have several examples of prophecy written after the fact in the Gospels: Jesus' prediction of his death and resurrection and his prediction of Peter's denial. In these other cases there seems to be a very clear match between the prophecy and the fulfillment. In the case of the destruction of the temple, it seems much more vague. One problem is the distinction between the second coming and the destruction of the temple. Do they take place at the same time? Which versus refer to the temple and which to the second coming? What about Jesus' words “this generation will not pass away, until all these things take place.” Try to get a fundamentalist to explain what that means. They will jump through hoops trying to show that “this generation” does not mean the people alive today. I personally take the interpretation that Jesus was referring to the temple and not the second coming; however, I don't think my interpretation is obviously self-evident. The question is why would someone writing a prophecy after the fact, not clear up what Jesus meant by “this generation will not pass away” when the authors were clearly writing after the generation had passed away? This sounds like it would fit much better if the Gospels were written in within the life time of the first generation of Christianity, when there was still hope that Jesus would come back in their life time.



You then say:

This is an interesting observation - the primitive aspects of the Gospels suggesting earlier authorship.


That wasn't my point. One can find evidence of primitive material in later documents. My point was that the Gospel writers and their sources, showed a significant restraint in working there later theology into the stories of Jesus. The fact that this was done across a broad spectrum of beliefs and practices, and that this was done consistently across multiple sources points to their reliability. We also see strong evidence that the style of Jesus was preserved -- “Son of man,” “Amen, I say,” and parables. These aspects are found across a spectrum of sources behind the Gospels, and yet are unique to Jesus. I don't think it's surprising that the early Christians remembered the content of Jesus' message, but the fact that they remembered his style of preaching as well is quite surprising.
Another example of this sort of thing is when Jesus said that “the pharisees strained a gnat and swallow a camel.” There is a pun, which we miss in our English Bibles. We don't even see it in the Greek. We only see it if we translate the Greek back into Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. Gnat and Camel have sound similar in Aramaic: galma and gamla.


On the other hand, have you read the quality of 2nd century apologetics and how ill-informed and oblivious they seem to have been with respect to the gospel stories?...The Christians of the second century don't seem to know much about Jesus until quite a bit later...(~150 +)


I'm not quite sure what you mean. The works known as the “second century apologetics” all wrote after 150 ad. The writers of the first half of the 2nd century are known as the “apostolic fathers.” The apostolic fathers do not make up a large amount of writing. My translation is only 237 pages. Most of them are a short letters addressing a few particular points. With such a small amount of material, we should be careful about what can be learned from what they don't say. While they may not use the phrase, “Gospel of Mark,” they do portray knowledge of Jesus' teachings. I'll give a couple of examples.

The Didache
“Your prayers, too should be different from theirs. Pray as the Lord enjoined in His Gospel, thus: Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, As in heaven, so on earth; Give us this day our daily bread, And forgive us our debt as we forgive our debtors, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One, For thine is the power and the glory for ever and ever.
Say this prayer three times every day.”

“No one is to eat or drink of your Eucharist but those who have been baptized in the Name of the Lord; for the Lord's own saying applies here, 'Give not that which is holy unto dogs.”


The Epistle of Barnabas
“for those men were ruffians of the deepest dye, which proved that he came not to call saints, but sinners.”
(referring to Mark 2:17)

Polycarp
“as Lord has told us, though the spirit is willing, the flesh is week.”
(referring to Matthew 26:41)


I'm going to have to leave it at that for tonight. I have other things to do and it's getting late.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

John L -you said this about biblical biblical evidences"What you don't have is any evidence apart from testimonies that the miraculous events testified to actually took place. And in this sense you have no real evidence at all, not the kind that is based on historical studies to conclude, contrary to my personal experiences, that such things like dead people rise from the dead."

john this shows your self exaltation. You in your wisdom wish to impose a modern standard of historical recording on 1st Century individuals. that's not even how secularists do history. You are trying to create a new historical critical method that NOONE with an ounce of an understanding would accept to begin with.

I listened to the interview and Craige didn't studder or equivocate at all. Whatever you asked (so you say) was certainly not a threat to him...heck it wasn't a threat to me and I'm certainly not a professor.

Regeneration preceeds faith but i don't expect any of you radical and self deluded MN'rs to get that.

Kindergarten news that a person need not know everything about anything in order to participate and benefit from it. even total physical and natural things such as electricity is as such. I don't know for a minute how all circuits work, but i enjoy the benefits everytime I turn on the light switch...What's more I never see electricity, i only see the results of it's presence. The whole argument you make is ridiculous.