bookmark_borderPressing Your Buttons (from my book Believing Bullshit)

 

PRESSING YOUR BUTTONS

One way in which we can shape the beliefs of others is by rational persuasion. Suppose, for example, that I want someone to believe that Buckingham Palace is in London (which it is). I could provide them with a great deal of evidence to support that belief. I could also just take them to London so they can see with their own eyes that that’s where Buckingham Palace is located.

But what if these kinds of method aren’t available? Suppose I have little or no evidence to support the belief I nevertheless want people to accept. Suppose I can’t just show them that it’s true. How else might I get them to believe?

I might try to dupe them, of course. I could produce fraudulent evidence and bogus arguments. But what if I suspect this won’t be enough? What if I think my deceit is likely to be detected? Another option is to drop even the pretence of rational persuasion and to adopt what I call Pressing your Buttons.

Belief-shaping mechanisms

All sorts of causal mechanisms can be used to shape belief. For example, our beliefs are shaped by social and psychological mechanisms such as peer pressure and a desire to conform. Finding ourselves believing something of which our community disapproves is a deeply uncomfortable experience, an experience that may lead us unconsciously to tailor what we believe so that we remain in step with them. We’re far more susceptible to such social pressures than we like to believe (as several famous psychological studies have shown[i]).

Belief can also be shaped through the use of reward and punishment. A grandmother may influence the beliefs of her grandson by giving him a sweet whenever he expresses the kind of beliefs of which she approves, and ignores or smacks him when he expresses the “wrong” sort of belief. Over time, this may change not just the kind of beliefs her grandson expresses, but also the kinds of belief he holds.

Perhaps beliefs might also be directly implanted in us. Some suppose God has implanted certain beliefs in at least some of us. Our evolutionary history may also produce certain beliefs, or at least certain predispositions to belief. For example, there’s growing evidence that a disposition towards religious belief is part of our evolutionary heritage, bestowed on us by natural selection. But even if neither God, nor evolution, has implanted beliefs in us, perhaps we’ll one day be able to implant beliefs ourselves using technology. Perhaps we’ll be able to strap a brain-state-altering helmet on to an unwitting victim while they sleep, dial in the required belief, press the red button and “Bing!”, our victim wakes up with the belief we’ve programmed them hold. That would be a rather cruel trick. Some hypnotists claim a similar ability to, as it were, directly “inject” beliefs into people’s minds.

Obviously, these kinds of causal mechanism can operate on us without our realizing what’s going on. I might think I condemn racism because I have good grounds for supposing racism is morally wrong, but the truth is I have merely caved into peer pressure and my desire not to be ostracised by my liberal family and friends. If a belief has been implanted in me by, say, natural selection, or by some brain-state-altering device then, again, I may not be aware that this is the reason why I believe. Suppose, for example, that some prankster to programmes me to believe I have been abducted by aliens using the belief-inducing helmet described above. I wake up one morning and find, as a result, that I now very strongly believe I was taken aboard a flying saucer during the night. I have no awareness of the real reason why I now hold that belief – of the mechanism that actually produced the belief in me. If asked how I know I was abducted, I will probably say “I Just Know!”

Isolation, control, uncertainty, repetition, emotion

I’m going to focus here on five important belief-shaping mechanisms: isolation, control, uncertainty, repetition and emotion.

(i) isolation. Isolation is a useful belief-shaping tool. An isolated individual is more vulnerable to various forms of psychological manipulation. If you want someone to believe something that runs contrary to what their friends and family believe, it’s a good idea to have them spend some time at a retreat or remote training camp where their attachment to other ideas can more easily be undermined. Cults often isolate their members in this way. The The cult leader Jim Jones physically moved both himself and all his followers to the Guyanan jungle (where they all eventually committed suicide). Isolation is also recommended by some within more mainstream religions. In the UK, hermetically sealed-off religious schools are not uncommon. Students at the Tarbiyah Academy in Dewsbury, for example, are allegedly taught that

 

‘the enemies of Allah’ have schemed to poison the thinking and minds of [Muslim] youth and to plant the spirit of unsteadiness and moral depravity in their lives. Parents are told that they betray their children if they allow them to befriend non-Muslims.[ii]

A related mechanism is:

 

(ii) control. If you want people to accept your belief system, it’s unwise to expose them to alternative systems of belief. Gain control over the kind of ideas to which they have access and to which they are exposed. Censor beliefs and ideas that threaten to undermine your own. This kind of control is often justified on the grounds that people will otherwise be corrupted or confused. Totalitarian regimes will often remove “unhealthy” books from their libraries if the books contradict the regime. All sorts of media are restricted on the grounds that they will only “mislead” people. Schools under totalitarian regimes will sometimes justify preventing children from discovering or exploring other points of view on the grounds they will only succeed in “muddling” children. Take a leaf out of the manuals of such regimes and restrict your followers’ field of vision so that everything is interpreted through a single ideological lens – your own.

(iii) uncertainty. If you want people to abandon their former beliefs and embrace your own, or if you want to be sure they won’t reject your beliefs in favour of others, it helps to raise as much doubt and uncertainty as possible about those rival beliefs. Uncertainty is a potent source of stress, so the more you associate alternative beliefs with uncertainty, the better. Ideally, offer a simple set of geometric, easily formulated and remembered certainties designed to give meaning to and cover every aspect of life. By constantly harping on the vagaries, uncertainties and meaninglessness of life outside your belief system, the simple, concrete certainties you offer may begin to seem increasingly attractive to your audience.

(iv) repetition. Encourage repetition. Get people to recite what you want them to believe over and over again in a mantra-like way. Make the beliefs trip unthinkingly off their tongues. It doesn’t matter whether your subjects accept what they are saying, or even fully understand it, to begin with. There’s still a fair chance that belief will eventually take hold. Mindless repetition works especially well when applied in situations in which your subjects feel powerful pressure to confirm. Lining pupils up in playgrounds for a daily, mantra-like recitation of your key tenets, for example, combines repetition with a situation in which any deviation by an individual will immediately result in a hundred pairs of eyes turned in their direction.

(v) emotion. Emotion can be harnessed to shape belief. Fear is particularly useful. In George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the regime seeks control not just over people’s behaviour, but, even more importantly, what they think and feel. When the hapless rebel Winston is finally captured, his ”educators” make it clear that what ultimately concerns them are his thoughts:

 

“And why do you imagine that we bring people to this place?”

“To make them confess.”

“No, that is not the reason. Try again.”

“To punish them.”

“No!” exclaimed O’Brien. His voice had changed extraordinarily, and his face had suddenly become both stern and animated. “No! Not merely to extract your confession, not to punish you. Shall I tell you why we have brought you here? To cure you! To make you sane! Will you understand, Winston, that no one whom we bring to this place ever leaves our hands uncured? We are not interested in those stupid crimes that you have committed. The Party is not interested in the overt act: the thought is all we care about.[iii]

The terrifying contents of Room 101 eventually cause Winston to succumb. He ends up genuinely believing that if Big Brother says that 2 plus 2 equals five, then two plus two does equal five. Many real regimes have been prepared to employ similarly brutal methods to control what is going on in people’s minds. However, emotional manipulation can take much milder forms yet still be effective. For example, you might harness the emotional power of iconic music and imagery. Ensure people are regularly confronted by portraits of Our Leader accompanied by smiling children and sunbeams emanating from his head (those Baghdad murals of Saddam Hussein spring to mind). Ensure your opponents and critics are always portrayed accompanied by images of catastrophe and suffering, or even Hieronymus-Bosch-like visions of hell. Make people emotional dependent on your own belief system. Ensure that what self-esteem and sense of meaning, purpose and belonging they have is derived as far as possible from their belonging to your system of belief. Make sure they recognise that abandoning that belief system will involve the loss of things about which they care deeply.

It goes without saying that these five mechanisms of thought-control are popular with various totalitarian regimes. They are also a staple of many extreme religious cults.

Applied determinedly and systematically, these mechanisms can be highly effective in shaping belief and suppressing “unacceptable” lines of thought. They are particularly potent when applied to children and young adults, whose critical defences are weak, and who have a sponge-like tendency to accept whatever they are told.

Note that traditional mainstream religious education has sometimes also involved heavy reliance on many, sometimes all, of these five mechanisms. I was struck by a story a colleague once told me that, as a teenage pupil of rather strict Catholic in the 1960’s, she once put her hand up in class to ask why contraception was wrong. She was immediately sent to the headmaster who asked her why she was obsessed with sex. Interestingly, my colleague added that, even before she asked the question, she knew she shouldn’t. While never explicitly saying so, her school and wider Catholic community had managed to convey to her that asking such a question was unacceptable. Her role was not to think and question, but to passively accept. My colleague added that, even today, nearly half a century later later, despite the fact that she no longer has any religious conviction, she finds herself feeling guilty if she dares to question a Catholic belief. So effective was her religious upbringing in straight-jacketing her thinking that she still feels instinctively that to do so is to commit a thought-crime.

Of course, religious education doesn’t have to be like this, and often it isn’t. An open, questioning attitude can be encouraged rather than suppressed. Still, it’s clear that some mainstream religions have historically been very reliant upon such techniques so far as the transmission of the faith from one generation to the next is concerned. In some places, they still are.

Brainwashing

 

Applied in a consistent and systematic fashion these various techniques add up to what many would call “brainwashing”. Kathleen Taylor, a research scientist in physiology at the University of Oxford, upon whose work I am partly drawing here, has published a book on brainwashing. In an associated newspaper article, Taylor writes that:

 

One striking fact about brainwashing is its consistency. Whether the context is a prisoner of war camp, a cult’s headquarters or a radical mosque, five core techniques keep cropping up: isolation, control, uncertainty, repetition and emotional manipulation.[iv]

Taylor adds in her book that within the discipline of psychology, “brainwashing” is an increasingly superfluous word. It can be a misleading term, associated as it is, with Manchurian-Candidate-type stories of seemingly ordinary members of the public transformed into presidential, assassins on hearing a trigger phrase. As Taylor says, that kind of brainwashing is a myth. Case studies suggest there is

no “magic” process called “brainwashing”, though many (including the U.S. government) have spent time and money looking for such a process. Rather the studies suggest that brainwashing… is best regarded as a collective noun for various, increasingly well-understood techniques of non-consensual mind-change.

The unwitting and well-intentioned brainwasher

Often, those who use such techniques are despicable people with the evil aim of enslaving minds. Edward Hunter, the CIA operative who coined the phrase back in 1950, characterized brainwashing in emotive terms:

The intent is to change a mind radically so that its owner becomes a living puppet – a human robot – without the atrocity being visible from the outside. The aim is to create a mechanism in flesh and blood, with new beliefs and new thought processes inserted into a captive body. What that amounts to is the search for a slave race that, unlike the slaves of olden times, can be trusted never to revolt, always to be amenable to orders, like an insect to its instincts.

Perhaps this very often was the intent so far as the regimes of which Hunter had experience were concerned. However, surely the intent to produce mental slaves is not required for brainwashing. Sometimes those who apply these techniques genuinely believe themselves to be doing good. Their intention is not to enslave but to free their victims from evil and illusion. Yet, despite the absence of any evil intent, heavy reliance on such techniques still adds up to brainwashing. Brainwashers can be good people with little or no awareness that what they are engaged in is brainwashing.

The consenting victim

In the second Taylor quotation above, Taylor says that brainwashing involves various techniques of non-consensual mind-change. That cannot be quite right. Of course, prisoners-of-war don’t usually consent to being brainwashed. But people can in principle consent. In one well-known thriller, the trained assassin at the heart of the film turns out to have agreed to be brainwashed. The fact that he consented to have such techniques applied to him doesn’t entail that he wasn’t brainwashed.

People sometimes willingly submit themselves to brainwashing. They sign up to be brainwashed at a cult’s training camp, say. Admittedly, they will not usually describe what they have signed up to as “brainwashing”. As they see it, even while they are fully aware that the above techniques will be applied to them, they nevertheless suppose they are merely being “educated” – being put through a process that will open up their minds and allow them to see the truth.

Also notice that people are sometimes forcibly confronted with the truth. I might be forced to look at compelling evidence that someone I love has done some terrible deed, evidence that does convince me that they’re guilty. So not only is not all brainwashing non-consensual, not all non-consensual mind-change is brainwashing.

Reason vs. brainwashing

So what is brainwashing, then? What marks it out from other belief-shaping mechanisms? At this point, some readers might be wondering whether what I am calling “brainwashing” is really any different to any other educational method. Isn’t the application of reason to persuade really just another form of thought-control? Just another way of wielding power over the minds of others? So why shouldn’t we favour brainwashing over reason? Particularly if no one is actually being coerced, threatened or harmed?

In fact, there’s at least one very obvious and important difference between the use of reason and the use of these kinds of belief-shaping techniques. Reason is truth-sensitive. It favours true beliefs over false beliefs. Trying making a rational case for believing that New Jersey is populated with ant-people or that the Earth’s core is made of yoghurt. Because these beliefs are false, you’re not going to find it easy.

Reason functions, in effect, as a filter on false beliefs. It’s not one hundred percent reliable of course – false beliefs can still get through. But it does tend to weed out false beliefs. There are innumerable beliefs out there that might end up lodging in your head, from the belief that Paris is the capital of France to the belief that the Earth is ruled by alien lizard-people. Apply your filter of reason, and only those with a fair chance of being true will get through. Turn your filter off, and your head will soon fill up with nonsense.

And yet many belief systems do demand that we turn our filters off, at least when it comes to their own particular beliefs. In fact, those who turn their filters off – those whose minds have become entirely passive receptacles of the faith – are often held up by such belief-systems as a shining example to others. Mindless, uncritical acceptance (or, as they would see it, a simple, trusting faith in the pronouncements of Big Brother) is paraded as a badge of honour.

Reason is a double-edged sword. It does not favour the beliefs of the “educator” over those of the “pupil”. It favours those beliefs that are true. This means that if you try to use reason to try to bring others round to your way of thinking, you run the risk that they may be able to demonstrate that it is actually you that’s mistaken. That’s a risk that some “educators” aren’t prepared to take.

The contrast between the use of reason to persuade, and the use of the kind of belief-shaping mechanisms outlined above, is obvious. You can use emotional manipulation, peer pressure, censorship and so on to induce beliefs that happen to be true. But they can be just effectively used to induce belief that Big Brother loves you, that there are fairies at the bottom of the garden and that the Earth’s core is made of yoghurt. Such techniques do indeed favour the beliefs of the “educator” over those of the “pupil”. Which is precisely why those “educators” who suspect they may end up losing the argument tend to favour them.

I call the application of such non-truth-sensitive belief-inducing techniques – techniques that don’t require even the pretence of rational persuasion – Pressing Your Buttons. Brainwashing involves the systematic and dedicated application of such button-pressing techniques.

Of course, to some extent, we can’t avoid pressing the buttons of others. Nor can we entirely avoid having our own buttons pressed. That fact is, we all have our beliefs shaped by such non-truth sensitive mechanisms. No doubt we flatter ourselves about just how “rational” we really are. And, like it or not, you will inevitably influence the beliefs of others by non-truth-sensitive means.

For example, my own children’s beliefs are undoubtedly shaped by the kind of peer group to which I introduce them, by their desire to want to please (or perhaps annoy) me, by the range of different beliefs to which I have given them access at home, and so on. But of course that’s not yet to say I’m guilty of brainwashing my children. The extent to which we shape the beliefs of other by pressing their buttons, rather than relying on rational means, is a matter of degree. There’s a sliding scale of reliance on non-truth-sensitive mechanisms, with brainwashing located at the far end of the scale. There’s clearly a world of difference between, on the one hand, the parent who tries to give their child access to a wide range of religious and political points of views, encourages their child to think, question, and value reason, and allows their child to befriend children with different beliefs and, on the other hand, the parent who deliberately isolates their child, ensures their child has access only to ideas of which the parent approves, demands formal recitation of certain beliefs, allows their child to befriend children who share the same beliefs, and so on.

The dehumanizing effect of button-pressing

So one key difference between relying on reason to influence the beliefs of others and relying on button pressing is that only the former is sensitive to truth. Button pressing can as easily be used to induce false or even downright ridiculous beliefs as it can true beliefs.

There is also a second important difference worth noting. As the philosopher Kant noted, when you rely on reason to try to influence the beliefs of others, you respect their freedom to make (or fail to make) a rational decision. When you resort to pressing their buttons on the other hand, you are, in effect, stripping them of that freedom. Your subject might think they’ve made a free and rational decision, but the truth is they’re your puppet – you’re pulling their strings. By resorting to button-pressing  – peer pressure, emotional manipulation, repetition, and so on – you are, in effect, treating them as just one more bit of the causally-manipulatable natural order – as mere things. The button-pressing approach is, in essence, a dehumanizing approach.

Conclusion

 

Clearly, a cult that employs full-blown brainwashing at a training camp is a cause for concern. If the beliefs it induces are pernicious – if, for example, followers are being lured into terrorism – then obviously we should alarmed. However, even if the beliefs induced happen to be benign, there’s still cause for concern.

One reason we should be concerned is the potential hazard such mindless and uncritical followers pose. They may as well have cotton wool in their ears so far as the ideas and arguments of non-believers are concerned. They are immune to reason. Trapped inside an Intellectual Black Hole, they are now largely at the mercy of those who control the ideas at its core. The dangers are obvious.

Such extreme examples of brainwashing are comparatively rare. Still, even if not engaged in full-blown brainwashing, if the promoters of belief system come increasingly to rely on button-pressing to shape the beliefs of others, that too is a cause for concern. The more we rely on button-pressing, the less sensitive to reason and truth our beliefs become.


[i] Solomon Asch’s conformity experiments revealed people are prone to denying the evidence of their own eyes if it brings them into disagreement with others (though admittedly this is not quite the same thing as changing what one believes in order to conform). See Asch, S. E. “Effects Of Group Pressure Upon The Modification And Distortion Of Judgment” in H. Guetzkow (ed.) Groups, Leadership And Men (Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Press, 1951).

[ii] The Times, 20th July 2005, p. 25.

[iii] George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1954), p. 265

[iv] Kathleen Taylor, “Thought Crime” The Guardian, 8th October 2005, p. 23.

bookmark_borderOxford University Professor Charles Foster Supports a Craig-Lowder Debate

Oxford University Professor Charles Foster is the author of The Jesus Inquest, a very even discussion of the arguments for and against the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. Foster discusses the arguments in The Empty Tomb extensively in his book.
Foster has stated I would make a worthy debate opponent for WLC.  In his own words:

Richard: you mention that I cite Lowder and Price’s book in my book ‘The Jesus Inquest’, and you infer that I think that Lowder is a serious thinker and a worthy debating opponent for Craig. I’m very happy to confirm that that is indeed my position.

bookmark_borderResponse to Randal Rauser’s response to my response to his shoddy review…

Randal Rauser has responded to my suggestion that his review of my book Believing Bullshit was pretty shoddy (though not as shoddy as Martin Cohen’s in the THES). Go here.
 
Understandable, I suppose. By combining selective quotation, misdirection and quite a lot of bluster, Rauser is quite successful at generating the impression I have been unfair to him.
 
A preliminary point re not responding to Rauser’s entire review. After disclaimers about what follows being nothing personal, Rauser moans that I only respond to 10% of his review. Sure I did. Because it is, to use Rauser’s own description of it, “bloated”.
 
I didn’t cherry-pick which bit to respond to. I just started at the beginning of the review and kept going till I felt I had expended enough effort in terms of hours and word count. Given the way Rauser packs in the muddles, misrepresentations, bad arguments, etc. it took me 2,500 words to unpack what was wrong with just the first 10% of Rauser’s review. I stopped at that point. I thought that pretty reasonable and am sorry if Rauser thinks otherwise.
 
In addition here are another 2,750+ words dealing with Rauser’s defence of just that first 10% of his review. So that’s 5,250 words I have now written (and we know what’s coming next, of course). Looks like full response to Rauser’s review will probably require I write at least 50k words. More than my entire doctoral thesis.
 
So to business. It seems to me Rauser makes three main points re my response, which I have attempted to gloss below (numbered, in bold).
 
1. Rauser claims he didn’t misrepresent me, and did deal with my main argument, re Wykstra-type appeals to mystery (if not in his actual review). Continue reading “Response to Randal Rauser’s response to my response to his shoddy review…”

bookmark_borderGod as a ‘Necessary Being’ – Part 3

Richard Swinburne analyzes the concept of ‘necessary being’ into two implications (COT, p.241-242):
1. It is not a matter of fortunate accident that there is a God; he exists necessarily.
2. God is necessarily the kind of being which he is; God does not just happen to have the properties which he does.

In his simpler and more popular book on God (Is There a God?), Swinburne clarifies these implications further in terms of the concept of ‘essential properties’:
But theism does not claim merely that the person who is God has these properties of being everlastingly omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly free. It claims that God has these properties necessarily–these are essential properties of God.
(ITAG, p.18)
Swinburne also defines this concept for us (see ITAG, p.18). Here is my formulation of Swinburne’s definition:
Definition 3:
Property P is an ESSENTIAL PROPERTY of a thing or a person X if and only if X could not cease to have property P and yet continue to exist.
In a comment on Part 2 of this series, Eric Sotnak points out a serious problem with this definition in relation to ‘necessary existence’. If we treat existence as a property and draw the implication that ‘necessary existence’ equates with having existence as an ‘essential property’, then every thing that exists would have necessary existence, and thus there would be nothing special about God possessing ‘necessary existence’.
I’m not sure how Swinburne would respond to this objection. However, for now, given that there are two parts to Swinburne’s analysis of ‘necessary being’, I’m goin to suggest that existence is not a property, and therefore Swinburne’s discussion about ‘essential properties’ does not apply to the concept of ‘necessary existence’.
That still leaves us with the question of whether part 2 of Swinburne’s analysis makes sense, given his definition of ‘essential properties’.
Before I begin working through a specific example, let me share a key passage from Swinburne that I’m struggling with:
By contrast, theism maintains that the personal being who is God cannot lose any of his powers or knowledge or become subject to influence by desire. If God lost any of his powers, he would cease to exist, just as my desk would cease to exist if it ceased to occupy space. And eternity (that is, everlastingness) also being an essential property of God, no individual who had begun to exist or could cease to exist would be God.
(ITAG, p.19)
Note how Swinburne relates the concepts of ‘eternity’ and ‘everlastingness’ to the concept of existence. By itself that makes perfect sense. If God is ‘eternal’ that implies that God has always existed and that God will always continue to exist. But then being ‘eternal’ or ‘everlasting’ implies existence, and Swinburne’s definition of essential properties does not work with the concept of existence.
Let’s suppose that ‘eternity’ is a property, and that some person P has this property. Can P be eternal on Monday, cease being eternal on Tuesday, and yet continue to exist for the remainder of Tuesday and the next day (Wednesday) as well?
This doesn’t seem to make sense to me. If P is eternal on Monday, that means that P will continue to exist forever. If P will continue to exist forever, then P will exist every day following that Monday. If P ceases to exist the next day, on Tuesday, then P will NOT have continued to exist forever, and the statement “P will continue to exist forever” (made on Monday) will have been dispoved, shown to be false. But that means that it was also false to say “P is eternal” (on Monday). In sum, if there is ever a day where P ceases to exist, then the claim “P is eternal” will be a false claim for any day prior to the day when P ceases to exist.
Now something like resurrection does seem logically possible, so it might be possible for a person to cease to exist for a period of time, and then come back into existence. If this is logically possible, then there is a sense in which ‘P is eternal’ might be correct, even if P later ceases to exist. If P ceases to exist for a period of time, and then P is brought back into existence and then continues to exist forever, without interruption, it is tempting to say that the claim “P is eternal” was correct even though there was a period of time (after that claim was made) in which P did not exist.
This particular complexity can be set aside by means of a definition. The meaning of ‘eternal’ in terms of this being a divine attribute implies that there will be no interruption of existence. In asserting that ‘God is eternal’ the theist means that God has always existed (without interruption) in the past, and that God will always continue to exist (without interruption) forever into the future.
Thus in supposing that a person P is eternal on Monday, in the sense intended when theists use this concept to describe God, it follows that P will also be eternal on Tuesday, and eternal on Wednesday, and so on forever and ever. Once you are eternal there is no going back to being non-eternal, at least not in terms of continuing to exist in the future.
What about the implication of having always existed in the past? Being eternal does not just mean existing forever into the future, it also means having always existed forever in the past.
Suppose again that a person P is eternal on Monday. We have previously determined that P cannot cease to exist on some day in the future, after that Monday, for that would mean that P was not really eternal on Monday. But what about P’s having always existed in the past? Could it be the case that on Monday P had always existed in the past, but that on Tuesday it was no longer the case that P had always existed in the past? Could this property of having always existed in the past go away?
The past cannot change. Let’s assume that this not a matter of physics, but is a matter of logic. Let’s assume that it is logically impossible for the past to change. So, if on Monday it was true that P had existed the previous Friday, then on the day after Monday (on Tuesday) it must still be the case that P had existed on the previous Friday. And if it was true on Monday that P had existed for every previous day back into eternity, then on the day after Monday (on Tuesday) it would still be the case that P had existed on each of those days prior to Monday.
Of course, P might cease to exist on Tuesday morning, and if so then on Wednesday it would be incorrect to say that ‘P has always existed’ since P would not have existed on Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning. But the possibility of P ceasing to exist on Tuesday morning is ruled out, because if it was in fact true on Monday that ‘P is eternal’ then P could not cease to exist on any day after Monday, including Tuesday.
So, it seems to me that if we treat ‘eternity’ or being ‘eternal’ as a property, this is an odd sort of property that one cannot eliminate or get rid of, in the way that one can eliminate or get rid of the property of being dirty or of being hungry. Once a person is eternal, that person will always be eternal; there is no going back.
OK. What about the idea of some person having the attribute of being eternal as an essential property? Does this make sense?
Suppose that there is a person Q who is essentially eternal, who possesses this property as an essential property. That means that Q is not only eternal but, according to the definition, if Q loses the property of being eternal, then Q will cease to exist. Do you see a problem here?
Q cannot lose the property of being eternal, because it is logically impossible for any person to lose the property of being eternal. So, we might as well say “If Q loses the property of being eternal, then Q will turn into a giant fire-breathing dragon”. The antecedent of the conditional statement will always be false, because it is logically impossible for any person to lose the property of being eternal. Because the antecedent is necessarily false, the conditional statement is necessarily true; it is a logically necessary truth.
Thus, it seems to me that ANY person who has the property of being eternal is also a person who has the property of being eternal as an essential property (given Swinburne’s definition above). Thus, there does not appear to be anything special or unique about having this property as an essential property. There cannot be any person who has the property of being eternal, but has this property as an accidental property rather than as an essential property.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderDid Jesus Exit? – Part 11

I will now take a brief break from answering the 44 questions about Mark, Q, M, and L.
For your reading enjoyment, I bring you John Crossan’s brief defense of the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus:
Jesus’ death by execution under Pontius Pilate is as sure as anything historical can ever be. For, if no follower of Jesus had written anything for one hundred years after his crucifixion, we would still know about him from two authors not among his supporters. Their names are Flavious Josephus and Cornelius Tacitus…. We have, in other words, not just Christian witnesses but one major Jewish and one major pagan historian who both agree on three points concerning Jesus: there was a movement, there was an execution because of that movement, but, despite that exectution, there was a continuation of the movement.
(Who Killed Jesus?, p.5)
According to Crossan, the execution of Jesus was an actual historical event, and we can know this with a great deal of confidence, because of the corroboration of two ancient non-Christian sources concerning the execution: Josephus and Tacitus.
I think Crossan needs to read Bart Ehrman’s defense of the existence of Jesus in Did Jesus Exist?, because it might lead Crossan to reduce his confidence in the historicity of “Jesus’ death by execution under Pontius Pilate”:
As a result, even though both the mythicists and their opponents like to fight long and hard over the Testimonium of Josephus, in fact it is only marginally relevant to the question of whether Jesus existed. (DJE, p.66)
The Testimonium is a key passage in Josephus work Antiquities that mentions Jesus and says that Pilate condemned Jesus to the cross.
Ehrman explains why he does not think the Testimonium evidence carries much weight:
Suppose Josephus really did write the Testimonium. That would show that by 93 CE–some sixty or more years after the traditional date of Jesus’ death–a Jewish historian of Palestine had some information about him. And where would Josephus have derived this information? He would have heard stories about Jesus that were in circulation. There is nothing to suggest that Josephus had actually read the Gospels (he almost certainly had not) or that he did any kind of primary research into the life of Jesus by examining Roman records of some kind (there weren’t any). But as we will see later, we already know for lots of other reasons and on lots of other grounds that there were stories about Jesus floating around in Palestine by the end of the first century and much earlier. So even if the Testimonium, in the pared-down form, was written by Josephus, it does not give us much more evidence than we already have on the question of whether there really was a man Jesus.
(DJE, p.65)
If we cannot rely upon the Josephus passages to provide significant evidence for the existence of Jesus, then we also cannot rely upon those passages to provide significant evidence for the crucifixion of Jesus.
Ehrman also is unimpressed by the evidence for Jesus in the writings of Tacitus:
…the information is not particularly helpful in establishing that there really lived a man named Jesus. How would Tacitus know what he knew? It is pretty obvious that he had heard of Jesus, but he was writing some eighty-five years after Jesus would have died, and by that time Christians were certainly telling stories of Jesus (the Gospels had been written already, for example), whether the mythicists are wrong or right. It should be clear in any event that Tacitus is basing his comment about Jesus on hearsay rather than, say, detailed historical research. Had he done serious research, one might have expected him to say more, if even just a bit. But even more to the point, brief though his comment is, Tacitus is precisely wrong in one thing he says. He calls Pilate the “procurator” of Judea. We now know from the inscription discovered in 1961 in Caesarea that as governor, Pilate had the title and rank, not of procurator (one who dealt principally with revenue collection), but of prefect (one who also had military forces at his command). This must show that Tacitus did not look up any official record of what happened to Jesus, written at the time of his execution (if in fact such a record ever existed, which is highly doubtful). He therefore heard the information. Whether he heard it from Christians or someone else is anyone’s guess.
(DJE, p.55-56)
It would be rather ironic if Crossan were to read Ehrman’s case for the existence of Jesus, and as a result begin having some serious doubts about the existence of Jesus.

bookmark_borderResponse to Craig’s crit of my paper on the existence of Jesus

 

A while back, William Lane Craig responded to an argument of mine that was published in 2011 in Faith and Philosophy in a paper called “Evidence, Miracles, and The Existence of Jesus”. (Craig’s response appears on his Reasonable Faith website here).
 
In fact, Craig largely ignores the various arguments in my paper, and focuses instead in refuting arguments it does not contain. If you want to read the paper to check, it’s available here.
 
Richard Carrier has also produced an online breakdown of Craig’scritique of my paper. Worth reading. I reference it a few times below.
 
Below is Craig’s critique with my comments added in bold. 

bookmark_borderDid Jesus Exit? – Part 10

In my previous post on this topic, I argued that we need to answer 44 specific questions in order to come up with fact-based initial evaluation of Bart Ehrman’s Seven Gospels Argument (SGA).
The first question is whether Mark (one of the seven sources that Ehrman points us to) confirms the following attribute claim:
A1. Yeshu’a was a flesh-and-blood person.
Because Mark is the most extensive source of the seven, one would expect that Mark would confirm all or nearly all of the eleven attribute claims involved in the Minimal Jesus Hypothesis (MJH).
In the case of attribute claim (A1), Mark has an abundance of verses that confirm this claim.
There are explicit references to Jesus’ body in Mark
14:8 “…she has anointed my [Jesus’] body beforehand for its burial.”
14:22 “Take; this is my [Jesus’] body.”
15:43 “Joseph of Arimathea…went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.”
15:46 “taking down the body [of Jesus], wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb.”
15:47 “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body [of Jesus] was laid.”
Jesus had a mother, brothers, and sisters (implying that he was born into a family)
3:30-32 “A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him [Jesus], ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’ “
6:2-4 “They said, ‘Where did this man [Jesus] get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? … Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’”
Jesus got hungry
11:12 “he [Jesus] was hungry.”
Jesus produced saliva
7:32-35 “he [Jesus] spat…”
8:23 “when he [Jesus] had put saliva on his [the blind man’s] eyes and laid his [Jesus’] hands on him…”
Jesus ate food
2:16 “he [Jesus] was eating with sinners and tax collectors.”
14:14 “where I [Jesus] might eat the Passover with my disciples?”
Jesus drank liquid
14:25 “I [Jesus] will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day…”
15:36 “and gave it to him [Jesus] to drink…”
Jesus walked
2:14 “As he [Jesus] was walking along…”
10:32 “and Jesus was walking ahead of them…”
11:27 “as he [Jesus] was walking in the Temple…”
Jesus sat down
2:15 “As he [Jesus] sat at dinner…”
4:1 “he [Jesus] got into a boat on the sea and sat there..”
9:35 “He [Jesus] sat down…”
11:7 “he [Jesus] sat on it [the colt].”
14:3 “as he [Jesus] sat at the table…”
Jesus went to sleep
4:37-38 “he [Jesus] was in the stern [of the boat] asleep on the cushion, and they woke him up…”
Jesus had arms
9:36 “taking it [a little child] in his [Jesus’] arms, he said…”
10:16 “he [Jesus] took them up into his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”
Jesus had hands
1:41 “Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him…”
5:23 “Come lay your [Jesus’] hands on her, so that she may be made well…”
6:5 “he [Jesus] laid his hands on a few sick people…”
8:23 “when he [Jesus] had put saliva on his [the blind man’s] eyes and laid his [Jesus’] hands on him…”
10:16 “he [Jesus] took them up into his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”
Jesus had fingers
7:33 “he [Jesus] put his [Jesus’] fingers into his [the deaf man’s] ears.”
Jesus had feet
5:22 “when he [Jairus] saw him [Jesus], fell at his [Jesus’] feet…”
7:25 “she came and bowed down at his [Jesus’] feet.”
Jesus had a head
14:3 “she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his [Jesus’] head.”
15:19 “They struck his [Jesus’] head with a reed…”
Jesus was subject to being beaten and flogged
14:65 “to blindfold him [Jesus], to strike him…The guards took him over and beat him.”
15:15 “after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.”
Jesus was subject to being crucified and killed
8:31 (& 9:31) Jesus predicted that the ‘Son of Man’ would be killed.
10:32-34 “they will mock him [the Son of Man], and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him…”
15:15 “after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.”
15:24 “And they crucified him…”
15:37 “Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.”
As you can see there are many factual details associated with just this one question out of the 44 questions. This is, hopefully, because Mark is the most extensive source of the seven, and there will be fewer relevant details when we examine Q, and presumably even fewer details when we look at M and L.