Above is a Turkish news photo I include completely without any sort of context. Out of curiosity, how do readers interpret something like this? An illustration of Muslim women’s docility? An image of Muslim women remaining devout and yet claiming a place in the public sphere? That it’s annoying that people behave like religious sheep in the 21st century? That it’s a wonderful picture of human cultural diversity? …?
The Brain and the Meaning of Life, by Paul Thagard (one of my favorite philosophers of science), is worth a look.
It’s intended for a more popular audience, so it doesn’t have citations in the text or detailed arguments for his positions that could convince critics. It’s a book that is, however, nicely expressive of a naturalist position without being a fully-fleshed out defense. I especially like how he uses ideas concerning inference to the best explanation to reject both religious claims to revelation and traditional philosophical claims about insight-from-the-armchair into deep conceptual necessities.
Like science, evidence-based philosophy is never a finished project, and I hope to see metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics evolve further in step with scientific developments. Unlike the quick fixes offered by faith and a priori reasoning, naturalism requires patience and tolerance as scientific theories and evidence fallibly develop. Faith-based thinking should increasingly be understood as a cultural tradition stemming from motivated inferences that can be defused by recognition of how love, work, and play can suffice to meet human needs. (p. 229)
Liberal religious figures baffle me when they make true but irrelevant pronouncements concerning how science does not strictly imply that their God is a fiction. But credit where it’s due—at least they don’t shit all over science like conservative God-botherers are wont to do. Take, for example, David Barton, the “historian” much favored by the Religious Right, who says things like
There is science and there is science that is falsely so-called. See, the Bible doesn’t have trouble with science, but it’s talking about beware of the stuff that’s falsely called science. There’s a lot that masquerades in the name of science.How do you know false science? False science leads you to a certain end. What is that end? That it undermines your faith. So a good definition of false science, at least based on the Bible verse, science that undermines faith is false science and science that’s wrongly used it false science.God’s into science. He created everything. He’s the great botanist, He’s the great zoologist, He’s the great every one of those things. He knows better than anyone else because he made it all. But when science takes you to a position that causes you to doubt your relationship with God, causes you to doubt the Bible … that’s called false science.
Bring me a bucket.
Next week I’ll be traveling to give a couple of talks in Norway and Sweden. As always, I expect the conversations aside from the public presentations will be interesting. I want to ask my hosts about the Scandinavian reputation for deep secularity, the way that for example a sociologist such as Phil Zuckerman portrays Nordic societies as pretty decent places in the absence of any dominant organized supernatural religion, though a kind of cultural religion remains.
One reason is that I’ve run into some skepticism expressed about such accounts, motivated by a background in current thinking about the cognitive basis of belief in supernatural agency. People such as Robert McCauley have argued for some time, and quite persuasively, that such belief comes very naturally to ordinary human brains. The corollary tends to be that we should be surprised if large groups of people (aside from almost borderline-autistic populations such as academics) go without supernatural beliefs.
What, then, of the alleged secularity of some Western European countries, especially the Scandinavians? Is it, perhaps, not quite what it is cracked up to be?
I don’t know what I can get out of individual conversations that I can’t get out of the relevant literature, but I figure it still is a good idea to get some insiders’ points of views.
The literature on science and religion is dominated, on the religious side, by a desire for establishing consistency between science and (possibly reinterpreted) religious beliefs.
(1) Christians have no objections to the material evidence produced by science. There are shapes of life forms in the rocks. But faithful Christians must reject the secular interpretive framework imposed on the rocks, which is what leads to unacceptable conclusions such as an old earth and the falsity of special creation. Christian belief has internal resources, which make sense within the framework of faith, to interpret the material evidence another way. We propose that the fossils are deceptions produced by Satan, who is ever trying to undermine our confidence in God as our Creator.
This view involves a massive rejection of science as practiced in a secular environment. But in a backhanded way, it also asserts compatibility. If we had good reason to believe in a deceptive Adversary, a Revealed story of salvation and so forth, we could very well interpret fossils very differently in such a context. Note also that there is no rejection of material evidence.
(2) Christians have no objections to the material evidence produced by science. There are shapes of life forms in the rocks. But faithful Christians must reject the secular interpretive framework imposed on the rocks, which is what leads to unacceptable conclusions such as an old earth and the falsity of special creation. Christian belief has internal resources, which make sense within the framework of faith, to interpret the material evidence another way. We propose that the fossils were deposited during Noah’s Flood. Indeed, we can show that it is possible that a worldwide flood, if it happened just the right way, could have produced the available material evidence. Furthermore, a supernaturally initiated Flood can solve other puzzles. For example, we have no objection to the basic physical phenomenon of radioactive decay. But such a massive catastrophe as Noah’s Flood also invalidates assumptions that go into radiometric dating. Radioactivity does not prove an old earth: the clocks are all messed up due to catastrophic events secular science has not accounted for.
This seems nearly as radical as the Satan scenario in (1). But it is nowhere near as categorical a rejection of science. People who fancy themselves “creation-scientists” often put a lot of detailed work into developing their “creation model.” Creationism is, in fact, not at all a rejection of science. It is an attempt to achieve consistency between science—a highly valued enterprise—and traditional doctrines.
(3) Christians have no objections to the material evidence or even the theories produced by science. Evolution happened: life forms are related by common descent. But faithful Christians must reject the secular interpretive framework imposed on evolution, which is what leads to unacceptable conclusions such as the lack of divine creative activity in the history of life. Christian belief has internal resources, which make sense within the framework of faith, to interpret evolution another way. We propose that God guided evolution, that mutations are not blind. Quantum randomness, in fact, opens a door for divine action that does not violate any of the natural laws that God Himself decreed.
This is a much more liberal point of view. It’s much friendlier toward science as it stands. It incorporates a very strange and wholly unsubstantiated claim—that what physicists think is random is in fact not random—but there is enough difficulty in directly testing such a claim that it still seems superficially compatible with the state of play in modern science.
(4) Christians have no objections to anything produced by science. Evolution happened exactly as scientists think it did: life forms are related by common descent, and blind selection-and-variation is responsible for complex adaptations. But faithful Christians must reject the secular interpretive framework imposed on evolution, which is what leads to unacceptable conclusions such as that God did not create life. Christian belief has internal resources, which make sense within the framework of faith, to interpret evolution another way. We propose that God used unguided evolution to accomplish his purposes, including the fashioning of moral agents such as human beings. God also wanted to achieve maximum autonomy—and eventual free will—in his creations. To do this, God had to set in motion an evolutionary process, including its aspects that to us look unguided, wasteful, and prone to generate immense suffering.
On the face of it, such a theology is fully compatible with everything in science, contributing mainly a metaphysical gloss on top of the story of evolution. The “God” invoked here does no explanatory or predictive work, but generic theism is vague enough about the purposes of God that just about anything can be interpreted to be the unfolding of some divine purpose or other.
Now, such theological responses as (1)-(4) usually get discussed in terms of their degree of compatibility with science, with (4) as the best and (1) the worst. But I tried to present them here in a way that emphasizes what I think is a deep similarity between all of them. All are examples of motivated reasoning, in that their God is an external imposition on science due to prior commitments, not a concept brought up to explain genuine puzzles about evolution. (1) is a ridiculous conspiracy theory involving all sorts of hidden motivations, but so is (4).
If so, I think that on an intellectual level, there are occasions where those of us approaching such debates from a scientific perspective should treat sophisticated theologians on the same level as their creationist counterparts. Cheap consistency with science means nothing—we should demand that theological stories about divine intentions solve some genuine puzzles, contribute to some real explanation. Otherwise, we should not take them seriously. Just like creationists, we should limit our engagement and dialogue with even more liberal theologians. It just encourages the bastards.
If two events or states of affairs are independent, then the probability that both will occur is equal to the multiplication of the probabilities of those two events.
If p is an event (or state of affairs) that is independent of an event (or state of affairs) q, then:
P(p & q) = P(p) x P(q)
But if p and q are dependent events, then the probability formula is a bit different:
P(p & q) = P(p) x P(q/p)
Suppose p is ‘getting heads on coin toss 1’ and q is ‘getting heads on coin toss 2’. Assuming that the outcome of coin toss 1 has no influence on the outcome of coin toss 2, we can conclude that p and q are independent events, and use the first, simpler formula above:
P(p & q) = .5 x .5 = .25
But if p is “It will rain in Seattle today” and q is “The streets in Seattle will get wet today”, then the truth or falsehood of p has an obvious influence on the truth or falsehood of q, namely if p is true, then it is virtually certain that q will also be true. Since these are dependent events, we must use the second, more complex formula to calculate the probability of the conjunction of the two claims:
P(p & q) = P(p) x P(q/p)
Since it is virtually certain that q is the case given the assumption that p is the case, P(q/p) is approximately equal to 1.0, so the probability that both p and q are true is about the same as the probability that p is true.
In arguments where two or three premises work together to support the conclusion, each of the two or three premises must be true in order for the argument to work and provide rational support for the conclusion. We can thus determine the probability that all two or three premises are true by using one of the above probability formulas. But we should use the simpler probability formula (where the probability of each event/premise is multiplied with the probability of the other premise(s) only if the events/premises are independent.
One example of mistaken multiplication of probabilities occurs in arguments about Jesus allegedly fulfilling Old Testament prophecies:
Stoner [Peter Stoner] says [in Science Speaks] that by using the modern science of probability in reference to eight prophecies…”We find that the chance that any man might have lived down to the present time and fulfilled all eight prophecies is 1 in [10 to the 17th power].” That would be 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000.(Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, revised edition, p.167)
McDowell does not bother to provide Stoner’s calculations, but I strongly suspect that the probability of each of the eight predictions was multiplied together to get the tiny probability mentioned above. If so, then Stoner mistakenly applied the simple formula for determining probability of a conjunction of events. The problem with using the simple formula is that it assumes that all of the events are independent from each other, but this is not the case with the eight prophecies:
1.The messiah will be born at Bethlehem (based on Micah 5:2).
2. The messiah will be preceded by a messenger (based on Malachi 3:1).
3. The messiah will enter Jerusalem on a donkey (based on Zechariah 9:9).
4. The messiah will be betrayed by a friend (based on Psalms 41:9).
5. The messiah will be sold for 30 pieces of silver (based on Zechariah 11:12)
6. The 30 pieces of silver [received from the ‘sale’ of the messiah] will be thrown in the house of God and then used to buy a potter’s field (based on Zechariah 11:13)
7. The messiah will be silent before his accusers (based on Isaiah 53:7)
8. The messiah’s hands and feet will be pierced when he is executed along with criminals (based on Psalm 22:16 and Isaiah 53:12).
Obviously, if (6) is true, then (5) must also be true, because (6) presupposes the truth of (5). So, if the probability of (5) applying to a randomly chosen person was, say, one chance in a billion, it would be a mistake to multiply that probability times the probability of (6) in order to get the probability that both (5) and (6) were the case. Rather, the probability of both (5) and (6) being true is simply the probability of (6) being true, because if (6) were true, then (5) would automatically and necessarily also be true.
There is also an obvious relationship between (1) and (3). Someone who was born in Bethlehem will have a pretty good chance of also being a person who enters Jerusalem on a donkey, as compared with someone who was born in San Francisco, Paris, or Tokyo. Bethlehem is located only about five miles from Jerusalem while San Francisco is about 7,400 miles from Jerusalem. Being born just a few miles away from Jerusalem makes it somewhat likely that one will at some point enter Jerusalem on a donkey (especially if one lives in a period of history when donkeys were a common mode of travel).
What is that chance that some randomly chosen human being will (in his/her lifetime) enter Jerusalem riding a donkey? Out of the billions of people who are alive right now, only about 800,000 live in Jerusalem. But lots of people visit Jerusalem, so perhaps millions of people will enter Jerusalem each year. Only a small fraction of the visitors will ride donkeys as they enter the city. Most will ride a car, bus, truck, motorcycle, or bicycle. In a decade, I would guess that no more than a million people ride into Jerusalem on a donkey (in modern times). In a century, no more than 10 million would do so. In one century perhaps 10 billion people will be born and live, so a rough ratio would be 10 million out of 10 billion, or one million out of one billion, or one out of a thousand. That seems a bit high, but let’s just go with that rough estimate for purposes of illustration.
We cannot take the small probability that a randomly chosen person would enter Jerusalem on a donkey (.001) and simply multiply that times the probability that a randomly chosen person would have been born in Bethlehem in order to arrive at the probability that some random person would satisfy both (1) and (3). A person who was born in Bethlehem has a much greater chance of riding a donkey into Jerusalem than just a randomly selected human being. Such a person might well have one chance in a hundred of riding a donkey into Jerusalem (probability =.01) or possibly even one chance in twenty of doing so (probability =.05).
Finally, there is another obvious relationship between (5) and (4). Jesus was not literally ‘sold’ for thirty pieces of silver. He was ‘sold out’ for thirty pieces of silver (or some amount of money). He was, that is, betrayed for a sum of money. If Jesus was betrayed for a sum of money, that makes it somewhat likely that he was betrayed by a friend, for a friend is often in a position to betray one, while strangers and others are not so often in such a position. In any case, the truth of (5) makes it probable (or certain?) that Jesus was betrayed, which is part of the way towards (4) being true, thus (5) increases the likelihood of (4). These are not two independent events.
Side note: In my view some of these eight predictions are false (or probably false). Nails were probably
not used in Jesus’ crucifixion, in which case Jesus’ hands and feet were not pierced. If nails were used, they might have only been used on his feet (such as with the one and only example of the bones of a crucified man found in Palestine), or only used on his hands and not his feet. Furthermore, if nails were used to attach Jesus’ arms to the cross, most scholars believe that he would have been nailed through the wrists, in which case his hands would NOT have been pierced. In my view Jesus was probably not born in Bethlehem, but rather in Nazareth. Many NT scholars doubt the historicity of the birth stories found in Matthew and Luke. Although Judas might have accepted a bribe to betray Jesus, I doubt that anyone other than Judas and the person who gave the bribe knew how much money and how many silver coins were involved. In that case it is very unlikely that the bribe was exactly 30 pieces of silver. The gospels themselves clearly indicate that Jesus spoke when he was accused, both in the (alleged) Jewish trial, as well as when he was (allegedly) tried by Pilate, so the claim that Jesus was silent before his accusers is false (or probably false). If Jesus did ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, there is a good chance that he did so precisely in order to satisfy prediction (3), which would nullify whatever assumed tiny probability was assigned to that prediction by Peter Stoner in his calculations.=================
So, the point of this discussion is simply to highlight an important qualification in the use of multiplying probabilities of premises: If the event or state of affairs of one of the premises has some causal or logical relation to an event or state of affairs asserted in one of the other premises, such that the truth of one premise would have a significant impact on the probability of the other premise, then one cannot simply multiply the probabilities of the premises in order to determine the probability that all of the premises are true.
One key factor determining the probability that Jesus actually died on the cross is the probability (or improbability) of the following claim:
(NTC) Jesus’ hands (or arms) and feet were nailed to the cross.
Crucifixion does not necessarily involve nailing the victim to a cross, and the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion don’t indicate how Jesus was attached to the cross. Binding the victim to the cross was more common than nailing. Furthermore, nails were probably used for crucifixions when there would be no guards keeping watch over the victims, but the three synoptic Gospels indicate that Roman soldiers crucified Jesus and then remained at the site of the crucifixion, thus making the use of nails even less likely in this case. The Fourth gospel agrees that Roman soldiers crucified Jesus, but is unclear about whether they remained at the site of the crucifixion.
It usually took days, not hours, for a crucified person to die, but Jesus was only on the cross for a few hours. Since the use of nails in crucifixion would cause the victim to die more quickly, the claim that Jesus’ hands (or arms) and feet were nailed to the cross (NTC) is an important part of the case for the belief that Jesus died on the cross.
1. Crucifixion does not necessarily involve nailing the victim to a cross.The Oxford Companion to the Bible has an article on ‘Crucifixion’ by Otto Betz. The article begins with a definition:
Crucifixion. The act of nailing or binding a person to a cross or tree, whether for executing or for exposing the corpse.(Oxford Companion to the Bible, p. 141)
Evangelical NT and Jesus scholar Craig Evans describes crucifixion this way:
Jesus was put to death by crucifixion, a form of execution practiced in late antiquity, whereby a person was tied or nailed to a pole or cross. To be crucified is, literally, to be “staked.”(Jesus, The Final Days, by Craig Evans and N.T. Wright, edited by Troy Miller, p. 28)
The Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible has an article on ‘Crucifixion’ by John Donahue:
A particularly horrible mode of punishment by which a person (or sometimes the corpse of an executed victim) was nailed or bound to a cross…or to a stake or tree.
Crucifixion (from Lat. crux, “cross,” and a form of the verb figere, “attach” or “fasten”) was widely practiced in antiquity.(Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, edited by David Freedman, p.298)
The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels has an article “Death of Jesus” by Evangelical NT scholar Joel Green. Here is a comment from the article about the use of nails in crucifixion:
In the Roman world, however, the form of crucifixion was apparently more uniform: it included a flogging beforehand, and victims often carried the crossbeam to the place of crucifixion, where they were nailed or bound to the cross with arms extended, raised up, and perhaps seated on a sedicula, or small wooden peg (Hengel 1977, 22-32).(Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall, p. 147)
2. The Gospel accounts of the crucifixion don’t indicate how Jesus was attached to the cross.
Evangelical NT scholar Gerald Borchert also comments on the use of nails in crucifixion:
The way the hands and legs were fastened was normally either by tying the limbs with ropes or by fastening the limbs with nails. None of the crucifixion stories in the Gospels actually indicate how Jesus was attached to the cross…
(The New American Commentary, Volume25B, John 12-21, p.263)
3. Binding the victim to the cross with ropes was more common than nailing.Evangelical NT scholar Craig Keener discusses how victims of crucifixion were attached to the cross:
Executioners usually tied victims to the cross with ropes but in some cases hastened their death by also nailing their wrists…(The Gospel of John, Volume 2, p.1136)
Evangelical NT scholar Darrell Bock comments on how Jesus was attached to the cross:
The cross [of Jesus] stood about seven feet high and, since the crossbar was either at the top or just below on the vertical pole, looked like a T or a t . He [Jesus] would have been held on the beam by rope or by nails, though the latter was less frequent.(Jesus according to Scripture, p. 385)
If tying a victim to the cross was more common than nailing, then the prior probability that Jesus was nailed to the cross is less than .5. A reasonable estimate of the prior probability that nails were used in Jesus’ crucifixion is
.3 or .4.
But NTC claims more than just that nails were used in Jesus’ crucifixion. It claims that nails were used to attach Jesus’ hands (or arms) to the cross, AND that nails were also used to attach Jesus’ feet to the cross. In some crucifixions, nails were used for attaching the hands or arms but not the feet, and in some crucifixions nails were used for attaching the feet but not the hands or arms. So, the prior probability of NTC is even lower than .3 or .4. A reasonable estimate of the prior probability of NTC being true would be: .2 (based on the assumption that about half the time when nails were used, they would be used on both the hands (or arms) and the feet of the victim).
Note that in the one and only case of physical evidence of a crucified Palestinian man, who was crucified in the first century, nails were used to attach his feet to the cross, but apparently not used to attach his hands or arms to the cross. (See “Death of Jesus” by Joel Green in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, p.147-148).
4. Nails were probably used for crucifixions when there would be no guards keeping watch over the victims.Evangelical NT and Jesus scholar Ben Witherington comments on the motivation for the use of nails in crucifixion:
The reason for the nails seems to be the prevention of escape, for in noncelebrity crucifixions or during a war there would frequently not be a guard, and often persons lived for a good while, sometimes long enough to be taken down from a cross, especially under cover of darkness. The cross would sometimes be only a few feet off the ground, allowing friends to approach the victim and attempt a rescue.(The Gospel of Mark, p.395)
5. The three synoptic Gospels indicate that Roman soldiers crucified Jesus and then remained at the site of the crucifixion.
MARKIt was nine o’cloc
k in the morning when they [‘the soldiers’ see v.16] crucified him [‘Jesus’ see v.22].(Mark 15:25, NRSV)At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice…(Mark 15:34, NRSV)Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. …Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last…(Mark 15:37-39, NRSV)
A centurion …was a professional officer of the Roman army after the Marian reforms of 107 BC. Most centurions commanded 83 men despite the commonly assumed 100…
MATTHEWAnd when they [‘the soldiers of the governor’ see v. 27] had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him.(Matthew 27:35-36, NRSV)
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice…(Matthew 27:45-46, NRSV)
Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn n two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. … Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified…(Matthew 27:50-54, NRSV)
LUKESo Pilate gave his verdict that their [‘the chief priests, the leaders, and the people’ see v. 13] demand should be granted [for Jesus to be crucified]. …and he handed Jesus over as they [‘the chief priests, the leaders, and the people’] wished. As they [unclear reference] led him [Jesus] away, they [unclear reference] seized a man, Simon of Cyrene…and they [unclear reference] laid the cross on him [Simon], and made him carry it behind Jesus.(Luke 23:24-26, NRSV)
Commentary on the unclear reference of ‘they’ in verse 26 by NT scholar John Nolland:
Does Luke want us to understand that Jesus is in Jewish or Roman charge at this point? In strict grammar, the ‘they’ who lead Jesus out to execution ought to be those who have called for his execution, and Luke has certainly wanted to emphasize the Jewish desire for this outcome (v 25). But the natural reading of vv18-25 leaves the crucifixion in Pilate’s realm and therefore in Roman hands. Also the continuing Lukan text provides no encouragement for viewing the execution proceedings as in any sense in the hands of the Jewish people or leaders. Since already in vv 14, 18 Luke has shown a certain carelessness about grammatical antecedents, it seems best to retain the consistency of the Lukan picture by assuming the same level of grammatical carelessness here…(Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 35c, p.1136)
Side comment: It is a bit hard to believe that the very words of Luke’s gospel were inspired by an all-knowing being, when the carelessness of Luke’s grammar helped to contribute to the view of the Jews as ‘Christ killers’ which in turn led to the murder of six million innocent men, women, and children in the 20th century. Wouldn’t an omniscient deity have been aware of the potential for future prejudice of Christians against Jews, and thus helped Luke to write grammatically correct sentences in order to avoid promoting such prejudice?
As hinted by Nolland’s commentary, Roman soldiers continue to be a part of the crucifixion scenes in Luke, thus confirming Matthew’s claim that the soldiers remained near the cross to watch over Jesus and the other men crucified with him:
Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him [‘Jesus’ see v. 28]. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals…. And they cast lots to divide his clothing.(Luke 23:32-34, NRSV)
While it might be conceivable that Pilate would hand one despised public figure over to a Jewish crowd to be killed, it is very unlikely that he would hand over the execution of various other condemned criminals who have violated Roman law, to be executed by an unruly Jewish crowd. Plus the casting of lots to divide Jesus clothing is something that the gospels of Mark and Matthew have Roman soldiers do, and that action makes more sense if we are talking about Roman soldiers. Thus, this passage implies that the crucifixion was carried out by Roman soldiers in Luke’s view.
Luke has the Roman soldiers remaining on location after Jesus is attached to the cross:
The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine…(Luke 23:36, NRSV)
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.”(Luke 23:44-47, NRSV)
An officer of the Roman soldiers is present at the alleged death of Jesus in the afternoon, again confirming the view that Roman soldiers remained at the site of the crucifixion to ensure that nobody attempted to rescue Jesus or any of the other crucified persons.
As with the other Gospels, Luke has Joseph of Arimathea request Pilate for the body of Jesus:
This man [Joseph of Arimathea – see verses 50 & 51] went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.(Luke 23:52, NRSV)
If Luke believed that Pilate had handed Jesus over to ‘the chief priests, the leaders, and the people’ (mentioned in Luke 23:13) for them to carry out the crucifixion, then it would make no sense for Luke to have Joseph go to Pilate for permission to remove the body of Jesus from the cross. If Jesus was crucified by Jews, then Joseph would have gone to the chief priests for permission to remove the body. So, this verse about Joseph of Arimathea implies that Jesus was crucified by Roman soldiers and that Jesus was still in the custody of those soldiers on the afternoon of the crucifixion.
6. The Fourth gospel agrees that Roman soldiers crucified Jesus, but is unclear about whether they remained at the site of the crucifixion.
When it comes to the crucifixion of Jesus, John use of the pronouns “them” and “they” is even more problematic than Luke’s:
…He [‘Pilate’ see v. 13] said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They [‘the Jews’] cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emp
eror.” Then he [‘Pilate’] handed him [‘Jesus’ see v. 13] over to them [‘the chief priests’ and/or ‘the Jews’] to be crucified.(John 19:14-16, NRSV)
Unlike the Gospel of Luke, I suspect that verse 16 intentionally refers to ‘the chief priests’ and ‘the Jews’ in order to portray ‘the Jews’ as evil Christ-killers. The Gospel of John is sometimes called the ‘Gospel of Love’ but it is really the gospel of hatred and anti-semitism, or more accurately, the gospel of anti-Judaism.
Near the close of the first century, the Jewish followers of Jesus were being excommunicated from Jewish synagogues, and the Gospel of John reflects the anger and hatred of Christian believers towards ‘the Jews’ who were kicking them out of their religious communities. This anger and hatred is then projected back into the words and teachings of Jesus, so that, for example, there is no mention of the following loving teachings of Jesus in the gospel of John:
Love your enemies.Pray for those who persecute you.Turn the other cheek.Forgive others, so that God will forgive you.Do not be angry with your brother.Be merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful.Do for others what you would have them do for you.
Judge not, lest you be judged.
Remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your neighbor’s eye.
Instead of Jesus preaching love, tolerance, mercy, and forgiveness, we get the nonsensical picture of Jesus, a devout Jew, going into an angry tirade against ‘the Jews’:
They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are indeed doing what your father does.” They said to him, “We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot accept my word. You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies….Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God.” The Jews answered him…(John 8:39-48, NRSV)
These are not the words of the preacher of love, tolerance, mercy and forgiveness. These are the angry and hateful expressions of Christian believers who were being excommunicated from Jewish congregations several decades after Jesus was crucified. Here is a footnote on 8:44 from my HarperCollins Study Bible:
This harsh language indicates the intensity of the conflict between the Jewish Christian community for which John was written and the synagogue authorities…(The HarperCollins Study Bible, NRSV, p.2030)
Side comment: Thus, the “gospel of love” was a significant contributing factor in the murder of millions of innocent human beings in Nazi Germany, because the angry anti-Judaism of John evolved into the hateful anti-semitism of Germans in the twentieth century. Again, I don’t see how an omniscient person could be unaware of the potential for the angry anti-Judaism of the words attributed to Jesus in the Fourth gospel to generate prejudice and hatred between Christian believers and Jews. This is a good reason to doubt the divine inspiration of the Fourth gospel.
Nevertheless, the Fourth gospel also indicates that Jesus was actually crucified by Roman soldiers, not by ‘the Jews’:
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. …(John 19:23, NRSV)
One comment in the Fourth gospel suggests that at least some of the soldiers left the crucifixion site and returned later to finish off the victims:
…they [‘the Jews’ see v. 31] asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him [‘Jesus’ see v.30].(John 19:31-32, NRSV)
The Fourth gospel does not explicitly state that all of the Roman soldiers left the site of the crucifixion, and even if that is what the author intends to imply by the above passage, the opposing accounts of the synoptic Gospels would outweigh the less reliable claims of the Fourth gospel. So, it is very likely that at least some of the Roman soldiers remained at the site of the crucifixion, and could thus prevent any attempt at a rescue of the crucified men. Thus, there would not be the standard motivation for the use of nails in this case (i.e. to prevent rescue of a crucified person while the victim was left unguarded).
7. It usually took days, not hours, for a crucified person to die.The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels has an article “Death of Jesus” by Evangelical NT scholar Joel Green. Here is a comment about crucifixion from the article:
Among the torturous penalties noted in the literature of antiquity, crucifixion was particularly heinous. The act itself damaged no vital organs, nor did it result in excessive bleeding. Hence, death came slowly, sometimes after several days…(Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall, p. 147)
Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible has an article on ‘Crucifixion’ by John Donahue. This is a comment from the article about how long it takes for crucified people to die:
Often crucified people lingered for days, and death came ultimately from loss of blood or asphyxiation.(Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, edited by David Freedman, p.299)
Evangelical NT scholar Craig Blomberg comments about how long it took for a crucified person to die:
Death [by crucifixion] usually proceeded very slowly, often over a period of several days… Jesus died unusually quickly…(Jesus and the Gospels, p.346)
Evangelical NT scholar James Brooks discusses how long it took for a crucified person to die:
Death usually came slowly as a
result of exposure and exhaustion. Inasmuch as no vital organ was damaged, it often took two or three days for the subject to die…(The New American Commentary, Volume 23, Mark, p.256)
James Brooks comments on Mark 15:44 (“Pilate was surprised to hear that he [Jesus] was already dead…”):
Pilate was surprised because it often took two or three days for crucified persons to die.(Mark, p.266)
Evangelical NT scholar William Lane comments on Mark 15:44:
He [Pilate] was surprised, however, that Jesus was already dead. Since contemporary records show that crucified men often lived two or three days before dying, there was something extraordinary about the rapid death of Jesus.(The Gospel According to Mark, p.579)
Evangelical NT and Jesus scholar Craig Evans comments on Mark 15:44:
Bultmann is probably correct that the draft of Mark used by Matthew and Luke did not contain this material [vv 44-45], which may have been added later to explain how it was that permission would have been given to take down a crucifixion victim the very day that he had been crucified—indeed, after hanging on the cross only a few hours. After all, those crucified normally suffered for days.(Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 34B, Mark8:27-16:20, p.516)
Evangelical NT and Jesus scholar Craig Evans on how a crucified person can take days to die:
Normally crucifixion victims were left to die, however long that took (sometimes several days).(Jesus, The Final Days, by Craig Evans and N.T. Wright, edited by Troy Miller, p. 31)
Evangelical NT and Jesus scholar Joel Green comments on how long it took for crucified people to die:
Bound or nailed to a stake, tree, or cross, the victim faced death with all organs intact and with relatively little blood loss. As a consequence, death came slowly, sometimes over several days…
(The Gospel of Luke, p.810)
8. The use of nails in crucifixion would cause the victim to die more quickly.Evangelical NT scholar Craig Keener discusses how victims of crucifixion were attached to the cross:
Executioners usually tied victims to the cross with ropes but in some cases hastened their death by also nailing their wrists…(The Gospel of John, Volume 2, p.1136)
Evangelical NT and Jesus scholar Ben Witherington comments on the use of nails in crucifixion:
Nails were often used for crucifixion, and of course this means of impaling a person on a board also caused blood to flow and so hastened death. In all probability what Jesus was expected to carry was the crossbar of the cross, which, once one was impaled on it, was dropped into a slot in the vertical beam which was already set in the ground. At that point the person’s feet would be secured either with nails or ropes.(The Gospel of Mark, p.395)
Evangelical NT scholar Craig Blomberg comments about how flogging and the use of nails could result in a quicker death for a victim of crucifixion:
Death [by crucifixion] usually proceeded very slowly, often over a period of several days… Jesus died unusually quickly, perhaps because of his previous flogging and perhaps because of the use of nails rather than ropes.(Jesus and the Gospels, p.346)
Note that since the question at issue for us is ‘Did Jesus die on the cross?’ one cannot assume that Jesus died on the cross and then infer that his hands and feet were nailed to the cross. That would beg the question at issue. The reasoning has to go in the other direction. First one must determine whether NTC is true (or the degree of probability of NTC) and then one can use that as part of the basis for drawing a conclusion about whether it is true that Jesus died on the cross (or to determine the degree of probability that Jesus died on the cross).
Yesterday I was at REASONFEST 2012 at Lawrence, Kansas, where the organizers had set me up to debate whether Islam and science can coexist.
It was a strange experience. My opponent, a Muslim social scientist called Leila Chahine, turned out to be more of an illustration of my thesis than anything else. From creationism to science-in-the-Quran apologetics, she endorsed all the stereotypically conservative Muslim pseudoscientific nonsense. She kind of made my point for me; I should have turned my time over to her.
Oh well, I don’t think much of these sorts of debates anyway. If it were up to me, I’d set up not a formal debate but a discussion between people who are close enough to each other to have lots of common ground but yet have some interesting disagreements.
How many premises are there in your argument, jeesh? Are you aware that even if there are only 5 premises in your argument, and we grant them an .8 likelihood, that your conclusion is only .33 likely to be true! I am guessing that your argument is even longer though which makes it all the more improbable.
January 19, 2012 3:24:00 PM CST
I agree with the underlying principle in K-Dog’s comment: skepticism is a two-edged sword that cuts away at both the beliefs with which a skeptic disagrees and also at the skeptics own or favored beliefs. If one uses a strong or strict criterion for determining whether the claims of one’s opponents are ‘known’ or ‘probable’, then the same criterion should be applied to one’s own claims and beliefs. Double-standards are contrary to the aims of critical thinking.
One question at issue is whether the sort of skeptical reasoning I use about specific historical points (e.g. ‘Did the apostle John write the Fourth gospel?’) can be applied to my own argument against the resurrection of Jesus to show that my argument is weak. But I think there are probably some interesting points of logic and epistemology lurking in the background here, so I don’t want to focus exclusively on the objection to my argument against the resurrection of Jesus.
One important point of logic is that premises can support conclusions in different ways. Specifically, sometimes premises provide independent support for a conclusion, while in other cases, two or more premises work together to provide support for a conclusion. In deductive reasoning, premises often work together to support a conclusion:
1. Socrates is a man.
2. All men are mortal.
3. Socrates is mortal.
If (1) is false, then (2) does not by itself provide support for the conclusion, and if (2) is false, then (1) does not by itself provide support for the conclusion.
But premises in deductive arguments can also provide independent support for a conclusion:
4. Socrates is a man, and all men are mortal.
5. Socrates died, and anyone who has died is mortal.
6. Socrates is mortal.
Premise (4) provides support for the conclusion all by itself, and premise (5) also provides support for the conclusion all by itself. If premise (4) is false, premise (5) still supports the conclusion, and if premise (5) is false, premise (4) still supports the conclusion.
Inductive arguments often involve premises that provide independent support for the conclusion:
7. John had pancakes for breakfast on Monday.
8. John had pancakes for breakfast on Tuesday.
9. John had pancakes for breakfast on Wednesday.
10. John had pancakes for breakfast on Thursday.
11. John had pancakes for breakfast on Friday.
12. John had pancakes for breakfast on Saturday.
Each premise in this argument provides some independent support for the conclusion. Premise (7) provides some support for the conclusion, even if all the other premises are false. The same goes for premise (8). The cumulative force of all the premises being true is, in this case, greater than the force of just one or two premises being true, but each premise provides a part of that force.
The use of the multiplication of probabilities in skeptical critiques of arguments works best on deductive arguments in which the premises work together to support the conclusion, such as the first deductive argument about Socrates above. If the probability that Socrates is a man is .9. and the probability that all men are moral is .9. then we can conclude that the probability that Socrates is mortal is .81 or (sticking to one significant digit) about .8, because .9 x .9 = .81.
In the case of the inductive argument about John eating pancakes for breakfast, we cannot simply multiply the probabilities of the premises together. Suppose that each premise had a probability of .8 of being true. In that case it is likely that most of the premises are in fact true, and the conclusion would still be made probable (more probable than not) in that case. But if you simply multiplied the probabilities of the premises, that would yield a probability of .32768 or (sticking to one significant digit) about .3, which would mean the conclusion was improbable. Multiplying probabilities does not work in this case, because each premise provides some support for the conclusion, independent of the other premises.
However, there can be more than one argument for the same concusion. For example:
13. Socrates died.
14. Anyone who has died is mortal.
15. Socrates is mortal.
This is an argument for the same conclusion as the first deductive argument above for the mortality of Socrates. Suppose that the probability of (13) was .8, and the probability of (14) was 1.0 (because it is an analytic truth), so the probability of the conclusion (based on this argument) would be .8.
But now we have two separate arguments for the same conclusion. So, intuitively, although each argument by itself makes the probability of the conclusion .8, the combination of these two arguments would make the probability of the conclusion something greater than .8.
Thus, an important question to ask, when multiplying probabilities of premises is:
Are there other important arguments that also need to be considered and weighed along with the argument currently under consideration?
To be continued…