bookmark_borderDid Jesus Exit? – Part 15

Part of MJH (the Minimal Jesus Hypothesis) is that Jesus was a Jewish male. Jesus was “Jewish” in both senses of the word: he was an adherent of the religion of Judaism, and a male descendant of the Hebrew people, according to MJH.
We saw in Part 14 that Mark represents Jesus as both a follower of Judaism and as a male descendant of the Hebrew people. What aboout Q? Does Q also represent Jesus as a follower of Judaism and as a Hebrew man?
I will use the International Q Project reconstruction and translation of Q to answer these questions:
Q clearly represents Jesus as being a devout follower of the Jewish faith.
Jesus frequently quotes from and makes references to the Jewish scriptures, i.e. the Old Testament:
Jesus quotes Deuteronomy (8:3, 6:13, and 6:16)
in Q 4:1-4, 9-12, 5-8, 13 – The Temptations of Jesus.
Jesus alludes to Isaiah 61:1 in
Q 7:18-23 – John’s Inquiry about the One to Come.
Jesus quotes from Malachi 3:1 in
Q 7:24-28 – John: More than a Prophet.
Jesus makes a reference to the story of Sodom in Genesis (chapters 18 and 19) in
Q 10:10-12 – Response to a Town’s Rejection.
Jesus makes a reference to the story and book of Jonah in
Q 11:16, 29-30 – The Sign of Jonah for This Generation.
Jesus makes references to Solomon, whose life was documented in 1 Kings (Chapter 10), and who was believed to be the author of three OT books (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon):
Q 11:31-32 – Something More than Solomon and Jonah.
Q 12:22b-31 – Free from Anxiety like Ravens and Lilies.
Jesus shows admiration for the prophets of the Jewish tradition in
Q 6:22-23 – The Beatitude for the Persecuted.
Jesus makes positive reference to the patriarchs of Israel who se lives are described in Genesis:
Q 13:29,28 – Replaced by People from East and West.
Jesus references the Noah and the Ark story from Genesis in
Q 17:26-27, ?28-29?, 30 – As in the Days of Noah.
Jesus makes a reference to Abel from Genesis and Zechariah from Chronicles, and to unnamed “prophets” who lived between them (between the pre-historical period covered in Genesis and the end of the Old Testament history books) in
Q 11:49-51 – Wisdom’s Judgment on This Generation.
Comment on a similar passage from the Gospel of Matthew (Matt. 23:35):
…scholars generally understand this as a reference to the death of…Zechariah ben Jehoiada.[4] As Abel was the first prophetic figure killed in the Hebrew Scriptures, and Zechariah ben Jehoiada was the last figure killed in those Scriptures, which conclude with 1 and 2 Chronicles, they represent the full historical scope of prophetic martyrdom.
Jesus refers to “The law and the prophets” which are the major sections of the Old Testament in
Q 16:16 – Since John the Kingdom of God.
Jesus speaks of “the law” of Moses as having authority in
Q 16:17 – No Serif of the Law to Fall.
Jesus speaks of prophets being sent to Jerusalem in
Q 13:34-35 – Judgment over Jerusalem.
Jesus appears to have had some involvement with Synagogues (Jewish houses of worship):
Jesus expected his followers to be brought before synagogues, which implies that they were Jews who would engage other Jews in discussions and debates about Jewish theology and ethics.
Q 12:11-12 – Hearings before Synagogues:
11 When they bring you before synagogues, do not be anxious about how or what you are to say; 12 for •the holy Spirit will teach‚ you in that .. hour what you are to say.
Q 11:?39a?, 42, 39b, 41, 43-44 – Woes against the Pharisees:
?39a? .. 42 Woe for you, Pharisees, for you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and give up‚ justice and mercy and faithfulness. But these one had to do, without giving up those. 39b Woe to you, Pharisees, for you purify the outside of the cup and dish, but inside •they are‚ full of plunder and dissipation. 41 Purify‚ .. the inside of the cup, … its outside … pure. 43 Woe to you, Pharisees, for love the place of honor at banquets and‚ the front seat in the synagogues and accolades in the markets.44 Woe to you, Pharisees,‚ for you are like indistinct tombs, and people walking on top are unaware.
Jesus and the Jewish Temple: Just one reference in Q:
Q 4:1-4, 9-12, 5-8, 13 – The Temptations of Jesus.
Jesus and Passover: No references in Q.
Jesus and the Sabbath: No references in Q.
Jesus was Baptized by a Jewish apocalyptic preacher:
Q 3:2b, 3 – The Introduction of John:
2b John in the wilderness .. 3 all the region of the Jordan .
Q 3:7-9 – John’s Announcement of Judgment:
7 He said to the crowds coming to be‚ baptized: Snakes’ litter! Who warned you to run from the impending rage? 8 So bear fruit worthy of repentance, and do not presume to tell yourselves: We have as «fore»father Abraham! For I tell you: God can produce children for Abraham right out of these rocks! 9 And the ax already lies at the root of the trees. So every tree not bearing healthy fruit is to be chopped down and thrown on the fire.
Q 3:16b-17 – John and the One to Come:
16b I baptize you in‚ water, but the one to come after me is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to take off. He will baptize you in holy‚ Spirit and fire. 17 His pitchfork «is» in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn on a fire that can never be put out.
Q 3:21-22‚ – The Baptism of Jesus:
21‚ … Jesus … baptized, heaven opened ..,‚ 22‚ and .. the Spirit … upon him … Son … .‚
Jesus shared the Jewish belief in a coming Messiah:
Q 7:18-23 – John’s Inquiry about the One to Come:
18 And John, on hearing .. about all these things‚, 19 sending through his disciples, said‚ to him: Are you the one to come, or are we to expect someone else? 22 And in reply he said to them: Go report to John what you hear and see: The blind regain their sight and the lame walk around, the skin-diseased are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised, and the poor are given good news. 23 And blessed is whoever is not offended by me.
Jesus was an advocate of prayer, a practice promoted in the Jewish scriptures and the Jewish faith:
Q 6: 27-28, 35c-d – Love Your Enemies:
27 Love your enemies 28 and‚ pray for those persecuting‚ you, 35c-d so that you may become sons of your Father, for he raises his sun on bad and good and rains on the just and unjust‚.
Q 10:21 – Thanksgiving that God Reveals Only to Children.
Q 11:2b-4 – The Lord’s Prayer.
Q 11:9-13 – The Certainty of the Answer to Prayer.
Jesus believed in Angels, which is a belief promoted by the Jewish scriptures:
Q 12:8-9 – Confessing or Denying.
Q 15:8-10 – The Lost Coin.
Jesus promoted serving and obeying God, a central value of the Jewish scriptures and the Jewish faith:
Q 16:13 – God or Mammon:
13 No one can serve two masters; for a person will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.
Q makes it clear that Jesus believed in the divine inspiration and the historicity of the Jewish scriptures, including not only the Pentateuch (the first five books of the O.T. attributed to Moses), but also the historical books and the books of prophecy in the Jewish religious tradition.
Jesus also believed in angels, and he promoted prayer and obedience to God, which were important Jewish beliefs and practices. Jesus believed in a coming Jewish Messiah. Jesus appears to have been a disciple of John the Baptist, a Jewish apocalyptic prophet and teacher who was clearly a devout follower of the Jewish faith. Thus Q, like Mark, represents Jesus as a devout Jew, as a follower of the religion of Judaism.
In the next post in this series, I will consider the question ‘Does Q represent Jesus as a male descendant of the Hebrew people?’

bookmark_borderWielenberg’s Divine Lies, and McBrayer and Swenson’s response – my comments for feedback


Skeptical Theism and Divine Deception: The McBrayer/Swenson response to Wielenberg


1. Skeptical Theism


Evidential arguments from evil often[i] take something like the following form:


If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.

Gratuitous evil exists.

Therefore, God does not exist


Gratuitous evil is evil for which there is no God-justifying reason. Why suppose gratuitous evil exists? Well, we observe great evils for which we can identify no God-justifying reason. Thus, it is suggested, it’s reasonable to believe gratuitous evil exists.

  Continue reading “Wielenberg’s Divine Lies, and McBrayer and Swenson’s response – my comments for feedback”

bookmark_borderReppert on Theistic Explanation

Victor Reppert has chimed in on my reply to Wintery Knight.

This is always an interesting issue. But does it really make sense to ask of an omnipotent being how they did something. For example, I once beat a Grandmaster in a chess tournament. Now, you might ask how I did that, since as someone whose rating has never gone above expert, you might wonder how I did that. (And the answer isn’t all the flattering, was able to win because my opponent had had entirely too much to drink.) But if I have all power, then the simple answer is that I used the power of omnipotence to get it done.

Since it is at least possible that an omnipotent being occasionally works through secondary causes, the question at least makes sense. For example, if I remember correctly, Richard Swinburne says that God fine-tuned the initial conditions of the universe and the values of the various constants in physical laws of nature, such that intelligent beings like humans would evolve. In one sense, we might say that, on Swinburne’s view, God’s fine-tuning of the universe explains the evolution of human beings. In other words, Swinburne might say, “The explanation for the existence of human beings is that God fine-tuned the initial conditions and constants of the universe in such a way as to cause the evolution of human beings.” Now suppose we ask, “But what explains the initial conditions and constants of the universe?” Suppose Swinburne said, “God used the power of omnipotence to get it done.” That statement may very well be true, but we wouldn’t have an explanation in the sense I have been talking about in my last few posts.
Again, imagine a naturalist responding to a cosmological fine-tuning argument. He says, “there is a naturalistic explanation for cosmological fine-tuning, but we have no idea what it is or how it works. Science hasn’t figured it out yet.” That statement may very well be true, but it hardly counts as an explanation. It’s hard to see how the theist’s “using the power of omnipotence” is any more informative or explanatory than the naturalist’s “there is an answer, but science hasn’t figured it out yet.” At this point, the naturalist can hardly be blamed for comparing the track record of naturalistic explanations to that of theistic explanations and sticking with naturalistic explanations.

bookmark_borderIntelligent Design Arguments and Cumulative Cases

As we saw in my reply to Wintery Knight, he (like many other proponents of intelligent design or ID) propose that there are multiple, independent lines of evidence which favor intelligent design over its alternatives. Here is a partial summary of the evidence ID proponents offer.

  1. “Cosmic Fine-Tuning,” i.e., the initial conditions of the universe and the values of the constants of the fundamental laws
  2. “Biological Fine-Tuning,” i.e., the biological information in the first replicator (origin of life). This is Meyer’s argument in Signature in the Cell.
  3. “Zoological (?) Fine-Tuning,” i.e., the the sudden appearance during the Cambrian period of many new and anatomically sophisticated creatures in the sedimentary layers of the geologic column without any evidence of simpler ancestral forms in the earlier layers below. This is Meyer’s argument in Darwin’s Doubt.
  4. “Biochemical Fine-Tuning,” i.e., the presence of irreducibly complex biological structures such as the bacterial flagella. This is Behe’s argument in Darwin’s Black Box.
How Correct Cumulative Cases Work
To make things simple, let’s pretend there are two facts, F1 and F2, and we want to argue that F1 & F2 combine into a cumulative case for one  theory (H1) over another (H2). How to do? Let’s do this in plain English, taking it one step at a time. The first step should be obvious.
(1) Fact F1 favors theory H1 over H2.
The next step is where I’ve seen a lot of people make mistakes. They will argue:
(2) Fact F2 favors H1 over H2.
The problem is that this approach doesn’t connect or link F1 and F2 in the needed way for a cumulative case. Instead, they should argue:
(2′) Given that fact F1 is true, fact F2 favors H1 over H2.
If both (1) and (2′) are true, then F1 combines with F2 to make a cumulative case for H1 and against H2.
What’s the Problem for Multiple Intelligent Design Arguments?
At this point, someone may wonder, “What’s the big deal? Why can’t intelligent design arguments be combined to follow this pattern?” The problem is that the cosmic fine-tuning argument seems to be at odds with the other arguments, and vice versa.
Let’s assume, but only for the sake of argument, that cosmic fine-tuning evidence is evidence favoring theism over naturalism:
(1) Cosmic fine-tuning favors theism over naturalism.
But observe what happens when we follow the pattern above:
(2) Given that the universe is cosmically fine-tuned for life, the fact of zoological (?) fine-tuning during the Cambrian period is evidence favoring theism over naturalism.
The first half of of this sentence is in tension with the second half. if  Cambrian animal forms are very improbable given the initial conditions of the universe, then that would be evidence against intelligent design in cosmic fine-tuning. If, despite the life-permitting initial conditions of the universe and the values of the constants of the fundamental laws, there is virtually zero probability that life would arise from non-life, new and anatomically sophisticated animals would arise from simpler animals during the Cambrian, or irreducibly complex biological structures would evolve, then that decreases the probability that an intelligent designer fine-tuned the initial conditions of the universe.

Indeed, the laws of the universe are so finely tuned, god “only” has to completely suspend them once or twice every hundred million years, when he suddenly learns that the laws of the universe are tuned so as to make crucial components of biological evolution physically impossible.
It is a clear prediction of the theistic hypothesis that a miracle working god would want to set up a world where he wouldn’t have to constantly perform miracles in order for life as we know it to exist, except for all the times he has to perform miracles for life as we know it to exist.

For more on this problem, see Trenty Dougherty’s and Ted Poston’s, “A User’s Guide to Design Arguments.”

bookmark_borderThe Blue Folders Story: How Not to Defend Objective Moral Values

I think I first heard this story while listening to a debate between Michael Horner and Henry Morgentaler, but since then I’ve seen it or heard it repeated many other times. The story is supposed to illustrate that even people who claim to be moral relativists really do believe that objective moral values exist. Here is how Victor Reppert puts it.

Lewis’s first argument is the argument from implied practice. People are, at best, inconsistent moral subjectivists. He writes:
[quotation of C.S. Lewis snipped]
1. If ethics is subjective, then we should expect people to recognize that actions which they are inclined to think of as “wrong” are only wrong from their point of view.
2. But invariably, people view wrongs against themselves as actions that are really wrong.
3. Therefore moral values are objective and not subjective.
Some examples may help:
1) A student once wrote a paper for a professor defending moral subjectivism. He made extensive use of anthopological and sociological evidence and the paper was well-written. He put the paper in a blue folder and gave it to the professor. The professor returned it with an “F” and said “I do not like blue folders.” The student, of course protested, pointing out all the effort that went into the paper. the teacher replied “Your paper argues that moral values are subjective, that they are a matter of preference?” Yes, replied the student. Well, the grade is an “F” I do not like blue folders. Of course the student could say “But that’s not fair,” but to do so would, of course, compromise his subjectivist principles.

I’ve never underst0od why this story (and others like it) are supposed to defend premise (2). In fact, it seems to me that this story begs the question against subjectivism. To say that a proposition, such as “Murder is morally wrong,” is objective to say that the truth of the proposition is independent of the subjective states (beliefs, attitudes, desires, intentions, goals, etc.) of persons. To say that a proposition is subjective is to say that the truth of the proposition is determined by the subjective states of one or more persons.
Suppose you to go an ice cream store with a friend. You order chocolate and she orders vanilla. Your friend frowns and says, “Oooooh! Chocolate ice cream is gross! Yuk!” You start licking your lips and reply, “Mmmmm.. Chocolate is the best!” I think everyone would agree that the “yumminess” of ice cream is purely subjective. Although it might seem that you and your friend have a disagreement about chocolate, you actually don’t. Since both of you are subjectivists about ice cream, each speaker is simply expressing their preferences about ice cream flavors. When your friend says, “Chocolate ice cream is gross,” she isn’t saying, “There exists a neo-Platonic realm of abstract objects which include the ‘Form of the Best Ice Cream,’ and that Form is vanilla ice cream.” No! She’s simply saying, “I don’t like chocolate ice cream.” The only way the two of you could have a disagreement would for you to argue something like, “No, you like Chocolate,” or for your friend to argue, “No, you hate Chocolate.”
Similarly, in the blue folder story, if the student says, “But that’s not fair,” that doesn’t mean the student is appealing to an objective moral standard. The student, as a moral subjectivist, could simply be saying, “I don’t like unfairness.” Of course, that would simply invite the reply, “So what? I don’t.” A much more charitable interpretation is this: when the student says, “But that’s not fair,” the student is appealing to the professor’s belief in the moral wrongness of unfairness. If the professor believes it is morally wrong to be unfair, then the moral subjectivist student can consistently appeal to the professor’s belief in the wrongness of unfairness without presupposing an objective moral standard. In fact, this would be the case even if both the student and the professor were moral subjectivists!

bookmark_borderScientific Discoveries, Theism, and Atheism: Reply to Wintery Knight

I’m going to offer some comments on a recent post by Wintery Knight. He writes:

When people ask me whether the progress of science is more compatible with theism or atheism, I offer the follow four basic pieces of scientific evidence that are more compatible with theism than atheism. [italics are mine]

The following point is nitpicky, but it’s worth mentioning just because so many non-philosophers, including both theists and nontheists, misuse words like “compatible” and “consistent.” Compatibility is like pregnancy: a person is either pregnant or not. There is no in-between. Likewise, evidence is either compatible with a hypothesis or it’s not. There is no such thing as “degrees of compatibility.” If you want to talk about evidence offering a greater degree of support for one hypothesis over another, then “compatible” is the wrong word to use. You can instead use words like “expected,” “surprising,” or “favors.” For example, “There are four basic pieces of scientific evidence which favor theism over atheism.”

Let’s move on.

Here are the four pieces of evidence best explained by a Creator/Designer:

  1. the kalam argument from the origin of the universe
  2. the cosmic fine-tuning (habitability) argument
  3. the biological information in the first replicator (origin of life)
  4. the sudden origin of all of the different body plans in the fossil record (Cambrian explosion)

I have one more nitpicky point and then a more substantial point. The nitpicky point is that WK has conflated “a piece of evidence” with “an argument about that piece of evidence.” The first two items in his list are not items of evidence, but arguments about items of evidence. The kalam argument is an argument about the finite age of the universe and the cosmic fine-tuning argument is an argument about the life-permitting physical constants. So if WK wants to present a list of evidence, he should correct his list so that the first item just is “the finite age of the universe” and the second item is something like “the life-permitting physical constants.”  (Okay, I said this was a nitpicky point.)
The more substantial point is this. Simply claiming that a Creator/Designer is the “best explanation” hardly amounts to showing that a Creator/Designer really is the “best explanation.” In my experience, many (but not all) people who invoke a Creator or Designer as the “best explanation” fail to show that it is the best explanation. Indeed, some (and this includes WK, at least in the linked post) don’t even try! Instead, they just assume that a Creator or Designer is an explanation.  If, however, the design hypothesis isn’t an explanation at all, then it cannot be the best explanation.
The creation/design hypothesis is, at best, an incomplete explanation.

Item of Evidence Explanation Name Explanation Description
Finite Age of the Universe Creation Unknown. The beginning of the universe is the result of a Creator using an unknown, theistic (directed) mechanism for an unknown purpose.
Life-Permitting Constants of the Universe Design Unknown. The life-permitting constants of the universe are the result of an unknown, theistic (directed) mechanism, designed for an unknown purpose.
Origin of Biological Information Design Unknown. Biological information in cells is the result of an unknown, theistic (directed) mechanism, designed for an unknown purpose.
Origin of Cambrian Animal Forms Design Unknown. Cambrian animal forms are the result of an unknown, theistic (directed) mechanism, designed for an unknown purpose.

In light of all the unknowns in these theistic “explanations,” one can hardly be blamed for concluding that “creation” and “design” are simply explanation names, not actual explanations. Compare to a naturalist saying, “X is the result an unknown, naturalistic (undirected) mechanism operating without a purpose.” It’s unclear why any of these unknown theistic explanations are supposed to be better than their unknown naturalistic counterparts.
But let’s put that to the side. WK summarizes what he calls typical atheist responses to those four arguments.

Atheists will typically reply to the recent scientific discoveries that overtured their speculations like this:

  1. Maybe the Big Bang cosmology will be overturned by the Big Crunch/Bounce so that the universe is eternal and has no cause
  2. Maybe there is a multiverse: an infinite number of unobservable, untestable universes which makes our finely-tuned one more probable
  3. Maybe the origin of life could be the result of chance and natural processes
  4. Maybe we will find a seamless chain of fossils that explain how the Cambrian explosion occurred slowly, over a long period time

I have three replies.
First, I agree with WK that ad hoc, “just so” stories invented to “explain away” the evidence are no substitute for the best explanation. If one hypothesis clearly explains an item of evidence but the second hypothesis doesn’t (and has to invent an arbitrary, extra theory to explain it away), that item of evidence clearly favors the first hypothesis over the second hypothesis. This point applies equally to arbitrary, extra theories postulated by atheists and theists.
Second, there are atheists and then there are atheists. WK may be right that atheist layman typically do make such replies. What is more interesting is what atheist scholars, especially atheist philosophers of religion, have to say in response to these four lines of evidence. WK provides no evidence that each of these responses are typical of atheist philosophers of religion, however. While the multiverse hypothesis has some support among atheist philosophers of religion, I doubt that the majority of atheist philosophers of religion support the Big Crunch/Big Bounce hypothesis. For example, in my experience, atheist philosophers of religion do NOT typically respond to Big Bang cosmology with the response listed by WK. Instead, they argue that the universe is uncaused.
Third, like many other apologists, WK seems to be understating the evidence. Let’s assume, but only for the sake of argument, that each of WK’s four items of evidence favor theism over naturalism. WK fails to mention other more specific facts, facts that, given those four items of evidence, favor naturalism over theism.

General Fact More Specific Fact(s)
Finite Age of the Universe The universe began to exist with time, not in time.
Life-Permitting Constants of the Universe So much of the universe is hostile to life.
The Origin of Biological Information Excluding examples of so-called “complex specified information” allegedly related to intelligent design, all other examples of complex specified information involve a mind dependent on a physical brain.
The Origin of Cambrian Animal Forms 1. The Cambrian era did not include animal forms much more impressive than known Cambrian animal forms.
2. All living animals are the gradually modified descendants of Cambrian animals.

Again, it appears that WK has understated the evidence. And it is only by understating the evidence that he can give the illusion of having justified statements such as the following.

The data we have today says no to naturalism. The only way to affirm naturalistic explanations for the evidence we have is by faith. We need to minimize our leaps of faith, though, and go with the simplest and most reasonable explanation – an intelligence is the best explanation responsible for rapid generation of biological information.

In addition to understating the evidence (or perhaps because of it), WK has also oversimplified the evidential situation. Again, even if we grant that WK’s theistic facts say “no to naturalism,” other, more specific facts say “no to theism.” Once the relevant scientific evidence is fully stated, it’s far from obvious that the general theistic facts outweigh the more specific naturalistic facts.