bookmark_borderIn Defense of Dwindling Probability – Part 2

I see that Plantinga’s skeptical argument refers to “Dwindling Probabilities” rather than “Dwindling Probability”.  Sorry about my failure to get the name of this topic quite right.
I should mention that I did not learn about this sort of skeptical argument from the Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga.  I learned about the Multiplication Rule of probablity in high school math, and then again in one of many courses on logic and critical thinking that I took in college and as a graduate student of philosophy.
Although I enjoyed learning about basic probability calculations in a Critical Thinking class at UCSB (esp. from The Elements of Logic by Stephen Barker, Chapter 7, 5th edition), the significance of the Multiplication Rule did not fully register with me until (I think) I read a skeptical argument by a Christian bible scholar: Robert Stein.
In his book Jesus the Messiah, Stein makes a skeptical argument about scholarly attempts to reconstruct the historical development of Q, a hypothetical source that most N.T. scholars believe was used by the authors of the Gospel of Luke and of the Gospel of Matthew.  Stein notes eight different hypotheses required in order to arrive at such a reconstruction of the history of Q.  Then Stein suggests estimated probabilities for each of the first five of the eight hypotheses, and argues that the probability that all five of those hypotheses is true is equal to the multiplication of the probabilities of those five hypotheses:
In other words, if the probability of the first five hypotheses were (1) 90 percent, (2) 80 percent, (3) 60 percent, (4) 50 percent, (5) 40 percent, the possibility of the fifth being true is .90 x .80 x .60 x .50 x .40, or a little more than 8 percent!  (Jesus the Messiah, p. 40)
Stein is a little sloppy here, and he appears to contradict himself.  He seems to be saying that the probability of the fifth hypothesis being true is 40 percent and also saying that the probability of this hypothesis being true is a little more than 8 percent.  But I think what he means is that the probabilty of the fifth hypothesis being true GIVEN the relevant facts AND the truth of the previous four hypotheses is 40 percent, and I think what he means is that the probability of the fifth hypothesis being true GIVEN only the relevant factual data is a little more than 8 percent (because the truth of the conjunction of the previous four hypotheses is NOT certain, but is actually somewhat improbable).
In any case, this skeptical argument presented by Stein inspired me to make use of the Multiplication Rule of probability in constructing skeptical arguments.
Richard Swinburne has raised some objections to Plantinga’s “Dwindling Probabilities” argument, and I am going to state and clarify those objections, and respond to each objection in relation to my example of “Dwindling Probabilities” presented in Part 1 of this series of posts.
Swinburne presents one primary objection, and then presents two more objections.  Swinburne’s primary objection is stated early in his essay on this issue:
Now, strictly speaking – as Plantinga acknowledges, but takes no further – P(G/K) is the sum of the probabilities of the different routes to it.   G might be true without some of these intermediate propositions being true.  
First, let me explain the meaning of P(G/K).   Read this as “The probability of G given K.”
G means:
The central elements of  Christian doctrine are true.
(e.g. God exists; Jesus rose from the dead; Jesus’ death on the cross atoned for our sins; etc.).
K refers to:
The totality of what we know apart from theism.
So P(G/K) means:
The probability that the central elements of Christian doctrine are true GIVEN the totality of what we know apart from theism.
One “route” to G is to establish the authority of the teachings of Jesus, and the reliability of the Gospel accounts of the teachings of Jesus.  If one could show that the teachings of Jesus are a reliable source of theological truths, and that  the Gospel accounts of the teachings of Jesus are accurate and reliable, then one could establish the probable truth of many or most Christian doctrines on the basis of the teachings of Jesus as presented in the Gospels.
So, one could break this line of reasoning down into various components, assign probabilities to each of the components, and then multiply the probabilities to arrive at a probability for G, for it being the case that the central elements of Christian doctrine are true:
1.  God exists.
2. Jesus existed.
3. Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem about 30 CE, assuming that Jesus existed.
4. Jesus rose from the dead, assuming that God exists, and that Jesus existed, and that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem about 30 CE.
5.  God showed approval for Jesus’ claims about himself by raising Jesus from the dead, assuming that God exists and that Jesus rose from the dead.
6.  The Gospel accounts of the words and teachings of Jesus are accurate and reliable accounts, assuming that Jesus existed.
7.  Jesus claimed to be a prophet who was a reliable source of truth about God and theological matters, assuming that Jesus existed and assuming that the Gospel accounts of the words and teachings of Jesus are accurate and reliable accounts.
8.  Jesus’ teachings about God and theological matters are a reliable source of truth, assuming that God showed approval for Jesus’ claims about himself by raising Jesus from the dead and assuming that Jesus claimed to be a prophet who was a reliable source of truth about God and theological matters.
9.  The central elements of Christian doctrine are true, assuming that Jesus’ teachings about God and theological matters are a reliable source of truth and assuming that the Gospel accounts of the words and teachings of Jesus are accurate and reliable accounts.
None of these claims is certain.
A careful and rational evaluation of this line of reasoning would require assigning probabilities to each of these claims.  There is some probability that God exists, and some probability that Jesus existed, and some probability that Jesus was crucified (given that he existed), and some probability that Jesus rose from the dead (given that he existed and was crucified), etc.
Even if we assign a high probability to each of these claims (such as .8 or .9), when we use the Multiplication Rule of probability to determine the probability of G, the claim that the central elements of Christian doctrine are true, the probability will be fairly low.  For example, suppose that we assign a probability of .9 to each of the first four claims.  In that case the probability of the conjunction of these four claims would be: .9 x .9 x .9 x .9 =  .81 x .81 = .6561  or about .7  which is not exactly a high probability.
If we assigned a probability of .8 to each of the first four claims, then the probability of the conjunction of those claims would be:
.8 x .8 x .8 x .8 =  .64 x .64 = .4096 or about .4 which is clearly NOT a high probability.
Swinburne’s objection is that there may be other “routes” to the ultimate conclusion that G is the case, and if this is so, then we have to add the probability of arriving at G from other routes to the probabilty of G based on the particular route described above.
Let’s consider a simpler example to make Swinburne’s point more clearly:
1.  It will (probably) rain this afternoon.
2. If it rains this afternoon, then your lawn will (probably) be wet this evening.
Therefore:
3.  Your lawn will (probably) be wet this evening.
Neither premise of this argument is certain.  We coud assign a probability to each premise and use that to calculate the probability of the conclusion.  Supose that there is an 80% chance of rain this afternoon, and if it rains this afternoon, there is a 90% chance that your lawn will be wet this evening.  We could calculate the probability of the conclusion (3) by multiplying .8 x .9  to get:  .72.  Thus, the probability of (3) appears to be about .7 based on these assumptions about the probability of the premises.
However, there could be other “routes” or ways that your lawn could become wet:
4. Your lawn sprinkler system will (probably) turn on and water the lawn for an hour this afternoon.
5. If your lawn sprinkler system turns on and waters the lawn for an hour this afternoon, then your lawn will (probably) be wet this evening.
Therefore:
3.  Your lawn will (probably) be wet this evening.
We could assign probabilities to each of the premises in this argument to arrive at a probability for the conclusion.  Suppose that the sprinkler system is fairly reliable, and has been set to water the lawn for an hour each afternoon.  In that case, we might assign a high probabililty of .9 to premise (4), and a probability of .9 to premise (5).  We could calculate the probability of conclusion (3) by multiplying .9 x .9 to get:  .81.  Thus, the probabilty of (3) appears to be about .8 based on these assumptions.  But this is a different probability than what we arrived at based on the previous argument.  Which probability is correct?  .7 or .8?
If both arguments apply on the same day to the same lawn, then NEITHER estimate is correct, because the probabilty that (3) will be true would be higher than either estimate, since there are TWO DIFFERENT WAYS, each of which has a significant probability, that your lawn could become wet this afternoon.
Presumably the operation of the sprinkler system would NOT affect the weather, and thus NOT affect the chance of rain.  However, if it rains, that could affect the operation of the sprinkler system.  Some sprinkler systems can detect rain or detect moisture in the soil and adjust the watering schedule based on that data.  A sprinkler system might be designed to cancel the scheduled watering for the afternoon if it starts to rain early in the afternoon.   So, with some sprinkler systems, rain in the early afternoon would reduce the probability of the scheduled afternoon watering to nearly ZERO.  But if the scheduled watering begins early in the afternoon, that would have no impact on whether it would rain later that afternoon.
But suppose the sprinkler system has a simple timer and no mechanism for detecting rain.  In this case the sprinkler system which is set to water the lawn each afternoon, will turn the sprinklers on whether it rains that afternoon or not.  In that case, we could reasonably assume that these two different ways of making your lawn wet, operate INDEPENDENTLY of each other, and thus both of the above calculations of the probability of (3) would be too low, because each calculation assumes that there is only ONE WAY for your lawn to become wet, when there are actually (at least) TWO WAYS for this to occur.  Rain is one ROUTE for making your lawn wet, but a sprinkler system is another different ROUTE for making your lawn wet.
One ROUTE for showing central Christian doctrines to be true, is through the resurrection of Jesus as evidence for the authority (reliability) of the teachings of Jesus about God and theological matters.  But other ROUTES are possible,  as Swinburne points out, so the probability of the truth of central Christian doctrines does NOT rest exclusively on the ROUTE through the resurrection of Jesus as evidence for the authority (reliability) of the teachings of Jesus.  In order to arrive at an accurate probabilty of G, one must take into account any and every ROUTE that contributes some degree of probability to G.
My response to this objection in relation to my example of dwindling probabilities in the previous post is that there is ONLY ONE ROUTE (that has a probability higher than ZERO) to the claim “Jesus died on the same day he was crucified” in my probability tree diagram.  So, although I agree with Swinburne’s point and his logic, this point has NO RELEVANCE in relation to my particular example of dwindling probabilities.
There is some relevance to Swinburne’s point, however, if one uses my example probability tree diagram as part of one’s thinking about the resurrection of Jesus. The claim “Jesus died on the same day he was crucified” reflects the standard Christian view or scenario about the death of Jesus. According to the Gospels, Jesus died on the cross on the same day that he was crucified (which is somewhat unusual – crucifixion was intended to be a slow, long, drawn-out, and painful death).  But it is possible that Jesus rose from the dead, even if he did not die on the day that he was crucified.
Jesus might have been barely alive when removed from the cross, the soldiers mistakenly believing that he was already dead, and Jesus might have been placed in a nearby tomb, again by someone who mistakenly believed he was already dead, and then Jesus might have survived that Friday night and died in the cold, dark tomb early on Saturday morning, but came back to life on Sunday morning about 24 hours later.
This would still count as rising from the dead, and would still be more-or-less in line with Christian belief and doctrine. Therefore, it is not absolutely required that “Jesus died on the same day he was crucified” in order for it to be the case that “Jesus rose from the dead”. So, there is this alternative ROUTE or WAY that the resurrection could have occured, and in order to accurately assess the probability of the resurrection of Jesus, the probability of this alternative ROUTE must be added to the probability of the standard ROUTE, where Jesus dies on the same day that he was crucified.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderIn Defense of Dwindling Probability

One claim involved in the case for the resurrection of Jesus is this:
D.  Jesus died on the same day he was crucified.
The truth of this claim depends on the truth of some prior claims:
E.  Jesus existed.
C. Jesus was crucified.
A probability tree diagram can illustrate how claim (D) involves dwindling probability (for a better view, click on the image):
Dwindling Probability                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               There is ONLY ONE PATH that results in a probability greater than ZERO for claim (D).  I will not argue for the correctness or accuracy of the probability estimates used in the diagram.  These numbers are for the purpose of illustration, to show the way dwindling probabilty works.
Let’s say that our basic stock of historical facts is f.  These facts would include the contents of the canonical Gospels, plus “outsider” sources, plus “insider” non-narrative sources, plus non-canonical Gospels/narrative sources related to Jesus.
The first green branch indicates that the probability that Jesus existed, given our basic stock of historical facts is .8 :
P(E/f) = .8
The second green branch indicates that the probability that Jesus was crucified, given our basic stock of historical facts PLUS the existence of Jesus is .8:
P(C/f & E) = .8
The third green branch indicates that the probability that Jesus died on the same day he was crucified, given our basic stock of historical facts PLUS the existence of Jesus PLUS the crucifixion of Jesus is .8:
P(D/f & E & C) = .8
The probability that Jesus died on the same day he was crucified given our stock of historical facts is equal to:
the probability of Jesus existing given our historical facts TIMES the probability of Jesus being crucified given our historical facts and the existence of Jesus TIMES the probability of Jesus dying on the same day he was crucified given our historical facts and the existence of Jesus and the crucifixion of Jesus.
P(D/f)P(E/f) x P(C/f & E) x P(D/f & E & C)
Based on the probability estimates in the above diagram, we can fill in the numbers:
P(D/f) = .8 x .8 x .8 = .512  or approximately .5
Although at each branch the probability was high (.8), multiplying the three probabilities together reduces the probability of claim (D) to about .5 which is NOT a high probability.

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 7

I have another objection to raise against Luke Johnson’s use of the “method of convergence” to support the reliability of the Gospels or the “historical framework” of the Gospels (emphasis added by me):
As I have tried to show, the character of the Gospel narratives does not allow a fully satisfying historical reconstruction of Jesus’ ministry. Nevertheless, certain fundamental points on which all the Gospels agree, when taken together with confirming lines of convergence from outsider testimony and non-narrative New Testament evidence, can be regarded with a high degree of probability.  Even the most critical historian can confidently assert that a Jew named Jesus worked as a teacher and wonder-worker in Palestine during the reign of Tiberius, was executed by crucifixion under the prefect Pontius Pilate, and condintued to have followers after his death.  These assertions are not mathematically or metaphysically certain, for certainty is not within the reach of history.  But they do enjoy a very high level of probability.    (TRJ, p.123)
This paragraph contains a common logical fallacy concerning probability.   This logical fallacy is of great practical importance as well as theoretical importance.  In the field of project management, one important practical application of logic and probability is that of constructing realistic, accurate, detailed schedules, and evaluations of the probability that a project will be completed on time.
There is a common tendency to overestimate the probability of completing a project on schedule.  One reason for this tendency is the failure to apply the logic of probability by committing a particular logical fallacy.  For example, lets say that we have a very simple and short project that consists of just five tasks, with a one-week duration for each task.  Suppose that each task has a very good chance of completing on schdule, specifically, each task has a probability of .8 completing in the planned duration (being completed in one week or less).  Furthermore, suppose that these tasks must be worked in a particular order, and one task must be completed before the next task can be started.  Project managers create charts to display the logic of project schedules, and the chart for this simple project would look like this:
Simple Gant Chart
Suppose that this project had to complete in five weeks in order for the project to make a profit.  What is the probability that the project will complete on time?  Because each task in the project has a high probability of being completed in one week (or less), it is tempting to infer that there is a high probability that the project as a whole will complete on time, in five weeks (or less).  But this is a logical fallacy.
Although each individual task has a high probability of being completed in the planned duration (of one week), this does NOT mean that the entire project has a high probability of being completed in the planned duration (of five weeks).  If just one of the tasks takes longer than estimated, that could make the whole project take longer than planned.  The probability that this project will complete in five weeks (or less) is NOT .8, but rather approximately  .8 x .8 x .8 x .8 x .8 =  .64 x .64 x .8 =  .32768  or aprox. .33  or one chance in three.  In other words, it is more likely that this project will fail to complete on time than that it will complete on time.
This common logical fallacy concerning the probability of a chain of tasks completing on schedule is a particular form of the more general fallacy known as the FALLACY OF COMPOSTION:
What is true of the part is not necessarily true of the whole.  To think so is to commit the fallacy of composition.  
(With Good Reason, 4th edition, by S. Morris Engel, p.103)
Reasoning of the following form is invalid:
1.  It is highly probable that A is the case.
2. It is highly probable that B is the case.
3. It is highly probable that C is the case.
4. It is highly probable that D is the case.
Therefore:
5. It is highly probable that A and B and C and D are the case.
But in the paragraph quoted at the begining of this post, it appears that Luke Johnson reasons this way:
1. It is highly probable that claim (A) about Jesus is true.
2. It is highly probable that claim (B) about Jesus is true.
3. It is highly probable that claim (C) about Jesus is true.
4. It is highly probable that claim (D) about Jesus is true.
Therefore:
5. It is highly probable that claims (A) and (B) and (C) and (D) about Jesus are all true.
This is clearly a bit of fallacious reasoning.  Such bad reasoning about probability is tempting and quite common, but it is still bad reasoning, and Johnson appears to be encouraging his readers to engage in such fallacious reasoning about the probability of claims about Jesus.  In the paragraph quoted at the start of this post, Johnson appears to be encouraging his readers to commit the fallacy of compostion, and to reason from the high probability of individual claims about Jesus to the high probability of  conjunctions of serveral claims about Jesus.
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 6

In Part 4 of this series, we saw that in a table (presented by Johnson in The Real Jesus) listing seventeen different claims about Jesus that are based on the Gospel accounts (and allegedly supported by various other “outsider” and “insider” writings), that about half of those claims were trivial, vacuous, or very vague, so that the evidence from “outsider” and “insider” writings supporting these claims is worthless or insignificant in relation to confirming the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts or the “historical framework” of the Gospels.
Then we began to focus in on two of the most significant claims in Johnson’s list:
13. Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
15. Jesus was crucified (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter)*
In Part 5 of this series, we saw that Johnson’s view that claim (15) is supported by converging lines of evidence from FIVE different writers  (consisting of three “insiders” and two “outsiders”) in addition to the Gospels, does not hold up when we look into the details behind this claim.  It turns out that two of the “insider” writings and both of the “outsider” writings fail to provide any significant support for the historical reliability of the Gospels or for claim (15), leaving us with only ONE “insider” writer (Paul) to provide support for the Gospel claim (15).
Now we need to look into the details about the alleged converging lines of evidence for claim (13).
In this case there is only ONE “insider” source, namely the letters of Paul.  But there are, as with claim (15), two “outsider” writers that supposedly back up claim (13).
One of the “outsider” (non-Christian) sources in the famous Testimonium passage from Josephus in his work Antiquities.  But as previously discussed, this passage was tampered with by Christian copyists, so what we actually have here is evidence showing it to be somewhat probable that Josephus wrote that “Pilate condemned him [Jesus] to the cross.”  Furthermore, even if we assume that Josephus wrote this sentence just as it reads now,  this passage still fails to provide any significant support for (13), because Antiquities was composed about 93 CE, more than two decades after the Gospel of Mark was written.  Thus, there is at most one good “outsider” source that supports (13).
The second “outsider” source that Johnson points to is the Annals by the historian Tacitus:
Christus…suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate...
(from Annals 15.44, quoted in The Real Jesus, p.115)
The problem is that Annals was written even later than Antiquities:
…the account [in Annals] of Nero’s persecution of Christians after the fire in Rome given by the historian Tacitus (early second century) contains valuable evidence concerning Jesus…   (The Real Jesus, p.115)
 So this information about Jesus in Annals is probably dependent on the Gospel of Mark or on some other Gospel, as Bart Ehrman has pointed out:
…the information [in Annals] 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)…  (Did Jesus Exist? p.55-56)
Ehrman gives the date of composition of Annals as 115 CE (Did Jesus Exist?, p.54).  If Annals is worthless as evidence that Jesus existed, then it is also worthless as evidence that Jesus appeared before Pilate.  Thus references to Jesus in Annals do NOT provide any significant support for the historical reliablity of the Gospels or for the “historical framework” of the Gospels, or for claim (13).  We are thus left with ZERO good “outsider” sources that support claim (13), and only ONE “insider” source: the letters of Paul.
When we look for references to “Pilate” in the New Testament outside of the Gospels and Acts (a companion volume to the Gospel of Luke), we find only ONE such reference:
1 Timothy 6:13-14 (New Revised Standard Version)
 13 In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you
14 to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
The problem is that most scholars do NOT believe that 1 Timothy was written by Paul, and most scholars date this letter to near the end of the first century or the beginning of the second century:
In varying ways the factors just listed have contributed  to a situation where about 80 to 90 percent of modern scholars would agree that the Pastorals [which includes 1 Timothy] were written after Paul’s lifetime, and of those the majority would accept the period between 80 and 100 as the most plausible context for their composition.  (An Introduction to the New Testament, by Raymond Brown, p.668)
While a small and declining number of scholars still argue for Pauline authorship [of the Pastoral letters], most prefer to see the author’s modesty and his admiration for Paul behind his pseudonymity; he was passing on Pauline  tradition and the credit was due to Paul rather than to him.   (The Oxford Bible Commentary, p.1220)
Thus the Pastoral Epistles provide important evidence for the ongoing life of churches at the turn of the first century A.D.  (Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, p.1430)
The world of the Pastoral Epistles is more readily explicable in the light of 1 Clement, the Acts of Paul, and the Letter of Polycarp than from Paul’s career.  A probable date is ca. 100-125.  (Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, p.1015)
Most scholars now conclude that these letters [1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus] were not written by Paul, but by someone writing after Paul’s death who, following a custom of his time, borrowed Paul’s name and adapted Paul’s theology to bring an authoritative word to bear on a crisis emerging in the second-century church.  (HarperCollins Bible Commentary, revised edition, p.1137)
Since most scholars believe that 1 Timothy was composed near the end of the first century or the beginning of the second century, references to Jesus and Pilate in 1 Timothy are worthless for providing any significant support for the historical reliability of the Gospels, or for the “historical framework” of the Gospels, or for supporting claim (13).
Once again, we find the devil lurking in the details.  The ONE “insider” writing that Johnson points to in support of claim (13) is no good, and both of the “outsider” sources that Johnson pointed to in support of claim (13) are also no good.  So, on closer examination there are not THREE additional sources that back up claim (13) but ZERO.
At this point, it is becoming fairly obvious that Johnson’s case for it being highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is CRAP.
His case began with an anology about agreements and disagreements between ten eyewitness accounts, but this analogy is both misleading and dubious, because there are NO EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS either of the life of Jesus, or of the death of Jesus, or of the burial of Jesus, or of the Easter Sunday appearances of Jesus.
Next Johnson provides a list of seventeen key claims from the Gospels that he thinks can be supported by various “outsider” and “insider” sources to confirm the “historical framework” of the Gospels.  But at least half of those seventeen claims were trivial, vacuous, or very vague, making them worthless for use in confirming the “historical framework” of the Gospels.
When we focus in on two of the most specific and significant of the seventeen claims, we find that claim (15) which supposedly was supported by FIVE good sources outside of the Gospels is supported by ONLY ONE “insider” source (the letters of Paul), and we find that claim (13) which was supposedly supported by THREE good sources outside of the Gospels is supported by ZERO good sources.  Johnson just cannot seem to get anything right.
Yes, Johnson is clearly a learned and accomplished biblical scholar, but it appears to me that his religious prejudices are fully operational in his reasoning on this issue, because his argument is CRAP from start to finish.  If we apply Johnson’s method of convergence with intelligence and with accurate factual assumptions, the result is NOT that the crucifixion of Jesus and his death by crucifixion are shown to be highly probable, but that these events are shown to be somewhat probable or moderately probable.  For some reason, Luke Johnson finds such a weak conclusion too difficult to swallow, so he exaggerates and distorts the evidence to try to make the outcome more congenial to his beliefs and desires.
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – INDEX

The well-known Christian apologist Dr. William Lane Craig has read at least two of my posts from 2014 criticizing his case for the resurrection of Jesus, and he responded to some of my objections:

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/establishing-the-crucifixion-of-jesus

Here are the blog posts of mine that Dr. Craig addresses:

https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2014/05/23/the-failure-of-william-craigs-case-for-the-resurrection/

https://secularfrontier.infidels.org/2014/06/01/an-open-letter-to-dr-william-lane-craig/

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 After discovering (completely by accident) that Dr. Craig had read and commented on my blog posts, I have written a number of posts responding to his comments and objections.  
Here are my responses, so far:
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In Part 1 of this series, I argued that although I do not consider myself to be a scholar, I do have an extensive background in philosophy that qualifies me as being a well-informed intellectual (BA in philosophy from Sonoma State University, MA in philosophy from the University of Windsor, and completion of all requirements for a PhD in philosophy, except for the dissertation, at UC Santa Barbara).
In Part 2 of this series, I responded to the main point made by William Craig, which he stated up front, at the beginning of his response to my criticism of his case for the resurrection of Jesus:

The reason that I personally have not devoted any space to a discussion of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is that this fact is not in dispute.  This historical fact is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars.

My main response to this point by Craig was this: many biblical scholars do not believe that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified.”   But Craig believes it to be an historical fact that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, so his background assumptions are very different from the background assumptions of these more skeptical biblical scholars.  Because of this difference in background assumptions, the judgment of such skeptical scholars that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is irrelevant to Craig’s case for the physical resurrection of Jesus.
In Part 3 of this series, I began to develop my second main response to Craig’s point about the death of Jesus by crucifixion being uncontroversial among biblical scholars.  Since Craig pointed to Luke Johnson as an example of a biblical scholar who has great confidence in this historical claim about Jesus, I have focused in on the thinking of Johnson behind his view on this matter. We saw that based on Johnson’s skeptical view of the Gospels, the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ alleged trial by Pilate and crucifixion by Roman soldiers is NOT sufficient to firmly establish the historicity of these events, but that confirmation from various “outsider” (non-Christian) and “insider” (Christian) non-narrative writings can, according to Johnson, make these two claims highly probable.
In my post called Note to Dr. William Lane Craig, I thank him for reading and responding to my criticisms of his case for the resurrection, point him to the first two posts in this series (which reply to his comments and objections), and make the following comments to Dr. Craig:
I hope that you will someday take the time to read these additional posts, and respond to them.  If it makes any difference, these posts are written with a more respectful tone, in part to show my appreciation for your taking the time to read and respond to some of my previous skeptical posts. 
In Part 4 of this series, we saw that Johnson’s “method of convergence” is justified by an analogy with an example where ten EYEWITNESS accounts of an event have some agreements and some disagreements.   Since there are NO EYEWITNESS accounts of the life or the death of Jesus, this analogy is both misleading and dubious.
We also saw that in a table  (presented by Johnson in The Real Jesus) listing seventeen different claims about Jesus that are based on the Gospel accounts and supported by various other “outsider” and “insider” writings, that about half of those claims were trivial, vacuous, or very vague, so that the “evidence” from “outsider” and “insider” writings supporting these claims is worthless or insignificant in relation to confirming the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts or even the “historical framework” of the Gospels.
Then we began to focus in on two of the most significant claims in Johnson’s list:
13. Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
15. Jesus was crucified (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter)*
Claim (15) in particular is supposed to be highly probable, because it is supported by multiple “insider” writers as well as multiple “outsider” writers.  However, on closer examination we discovered the devil hiding in the details: the dating of Hebrews and 1 Peter are such that they might well have been composed AFTER 70 CE, after the Gospel of Mark was written.  Thus, neither Hebrews nor 1 Peter can reasonably be considered to be GOOD “insider” sources of information about Jesus, since they might well have been written AFTER the account of Jesus’ alleged trials and crucifixion in Mark was circulating among Christians, and thus they would NOT be independent sources of information about Jesus.  We were left with just the letters of Paul as the only “insider” source to confirm the crucifixion of Jesus.
In Part 5 of this series, I continue my examination of Luke Johnson’s “method of convergence” as applied to two of the more significant claims from his list of claims about the historical Jesus:
13. Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
15. Jesus was crucified (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter)*
By examining the details concerning the two “outsider” writings that Johnson puts forward in support of the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus, we see that both of the writings are worthless as far as providing any significant support for the historical reliability of the Gospels or for the “historical framework” of the Gospels.  This means that out of the five writers (consisting of three “insiders” and two “outsiders”) that Johnson claimed support claim (15), only ONE (Paul) has the potential to provide some support for the reliability of the Gospels or for the “historical framework” of the Gospels, and that this is not sufficient to make claim (15) highly probable.
In my post on Luke Johnson and the Resurrection of Jesus  I make a correction to a mistaken claim about Luke Johnson’s view of the resurrection contained in my first main response to William Craig, and argue that the point of my objection still holds up in spite of this mistake.
In Part 6 of this series, I continue my examination of Luke Johnson’s “method of convergence” as applied to this claim:
13. Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
I argue that the THREE sources (outside of the Gospels) that Johnson points to as additional support for claim (13) are worthless for providing any significant support for the reliability of the Gospels, or the “historical framework” of the Gospels, or for claim (13).
Luke Johnson’s  case began with an anology about agreements and disagreements between ten eyewitness accounts, but this analogy is both misleading and dubious, because there are NO EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS either of the life of Jesus, or of the death of Jesus, or of the burial of Jesus, or of the Easter Sunday appearances of Jesus.
Next Johnson provides a list of seventeen key claims from the Gospels that he thinks can be supported by various “outsider” and “insider” sources to confirm the “historical framework” of the Gospels.  But at least half of those seventeen claims were trivial, vacuous, or very vague, making them worthless for use in confirming the “historical framework” of the Gospels.
When we focus in on two of the most specific and significant of the seventeen claims, we find that claim (15) which supposedly was supported by FIVE good sources outside of the Gospels is supported by ONLY ONE “insider” source (the letters of Paul), and we find that claim (13) which was supposedly supported by THREE good sources outside of the Gospels is supported by ZERO good sources.  Johnson just cannot seem to get anything right.
In Part 7 of this series, I raise another objection to Luke Johnson’s reasoning about the historical Jesus in his book The Real Jesus:
… it appears that Luke Johnson reasons this way:
1. It is highly probable that claim (A) about Jesus is true.
2. It is highly probable that claim (B) about Jesus is true.
3. It is highly probable that claim (C) about Jesus is true.
4. It is highly probable that claim (D) about Jesus is true.
Therefore:
5. It is highly probable that claims (A) and (B) and (C) and (D) about Jesus are all true.
This is clearly a bit of fallacious reasoning.  Such bad reasoning about probability is tempting and quite common, but it is still bad reasoning, and Johnson appears to be encouraging his readers to engage in such fallacious reasoning about the probability of claims about Jesus.  …Johnson appears to be encouraging his readers to commit the fallacy of compostion, and to reason from the high probability of individual claims about Jesus to the high probability of  conjunctions of serveral claims about Jesus.
In Part 8 of this series, I make a final point about how Luke Johnson’s skepticism about the details in the Gospels undermines the view that it is highly probable that Jesus died on the same day he was crucified.
These are all details concerning the alleged crucifixion of Jesus:
How many hours was Jesus on the cross?  
How was Jesus attached to the cross?  
If nails were used, were they used only for his hands or only for his feet or for both hands and feet?  
Was Jesus stabbed with a spear while he was on the cross?  
If so, where on his body did the spear penetrate?  
If Jesus was stabbed with a spear, how deep and how wide was the spear wound?
If Jesus was stabbed with a spear, were any vital organs seriously damaged by this? 
None of these details are known.  We can only formulate educated guesses in order to answer these questions.  But the probability that Jesus would have died on the cross on the same day he was crucified depends to a large degree on the answers to these questions about the details of Jesus’ alleged crucifixion.
As Luke Johnson repeatedly and correctly points out, when it comes to such details, we cannot rely upon the Gospels to provide solid historical evidence to establish such details:
A careful examination of all the evidence offered by outsider and insider sources justifies making certain statements about Jesus that have an impressively high level of probability.
Such statements do not concern details, specific incidents, or the sequence of events.
(The Real Jesus, p.111-112)
Johnson is skeptical when it comes to the DETAILS provided by the Gospels, but we must acknowledge that “the devil is in the details”.
In order to determine the probability that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, we need to answer questions of a detailed nature, such as the questions I have outlined above about the details of Jesus’ crucifixion and wounds.  I agree with Johnson that we cannot confidently rely on the Gospels when it comes to such details, but the implication of this is that we are NOT in a postion to confidently conclude that it is highly probable that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
In Part 9 of this series, I review the context of my discussion about the views Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.
I have finished my discussion of Luke Timothy Johnson’s views on the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, and I will begin my discussion of  Robert Funk’s views on the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus in the next post, after a brief review here of the CONTEXT of this series of posts (i.e. my main objection to WLC’s case for the resurrection, and WLC’s main response to my objection). 
In Part 10 of this series, I argued that Funk was not as certain about Jesus’ death on the cross as Craig claims, and I pointed out that three of the seven groundrules proposed by Funk for investigation of the historical Jesus are skeptical in nature, showing that Funk has a generally skeptical view of the historical Jesus.
In Part 11, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of John imply that gospel to be completely unreliable, and that this by itself casts significant doubt on the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
In Part 12 and Part 13, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew imply that events and details about the arrest, trials, or crucifixion of Jesus found in Luke or Matthew that correspond to events or details found in the Gospel of Mark do NOT provide corroborating evidence to support the historicity of those events or details, and that any unique events or details (that go beyond what the authors of Luke and Matthew borrowed from the Gospel of Mark) are very unreliable.
Given these skeptical implications of Funk’s specific beliefs about the Gospels of John, Luke, and Matthew, the ONLY canonical Gospel that could posssibly provide significant evidence for the arrest, trials, and crucifixion of Jesus is the Gospel of Mark.
 

bookmark_borderViolence Against Religion?

Victor Reppert posted this on his Dangerous Idea blog under the title “Why Not?”:
 
“OK, suppose you think that religion really does harm, and we really have to do what we can to stamp it out. Most of us don’t have the opportunity to help establish or eliminate religion by the use of violence. But suppose an opportunity arises. Through a violent act, we can, as we see it, greatly decrease the influence of religion on the world. Now what do you do? Do you say “No, violence is wrong, we have to let the God delusion die of other causes. The end does not justify the means.” or do we say “OK, yeah, we’re doing violence, but this is how we vastly decrease the influence of religion on the world. The end does justify the means.” The Grand Inquisitors, the prosecutors at the Salem Witch Trials, the Crusaders, etc. all thought that they were doing good and promoting the kingdom of God.  In Tolkien’s writings, the moral fate of many of the characters depends upon their willingness or unwillingness to use power (such as the power of the Ring) to do what they perceive to be good. What possible reason do we have for believing that atheists, especially of the Dawkins variety, would resist the use of power and even violence to promote atheism if the opportunity would arise? I can’t think of a single one.”
 
Philosophers enjoy the freedom to imagine farfetched scenarios: Mr. Truetemp, who can always tell us the ambient temperature to the degree, but who has no idea how he has this information; Tom Grabit, the library kleptomaniac; Fake Barn County, where everybody puts up fake barn façades; the woman kidnapped by music lovers and used as life-support for a world-famous violinist; and all sorts of people in the paths of runaway trolleys. Good fun. Victor’s scenario is another of this genre. No matter how much a virulent anti-theist hates religion, he would be hard put to come up with a realistic plan to use violence to suppress religion. But with respect to such philosophical reveries, reality has nothing to do with it. Indeed, their purpose is to propose counterfactual situations in order to see what would hold “in principle.”
Still, it would be good to reflect on what history (which does have to touch base with reality) has to say about the efficacy of violence in affecting religious influences. Many religions have tried to suppress the influence of other religions with violence—with decidedly dismal results. Christianity did pretty much suppress the practice of paganism in Europe for a long time (or at least move it underground; it is now coming back). But the Thirty Years’ War was an abysmal failure for all involved. Seventy years of official atheism in Russia, backed by the Gulag, did not extirpate Orthodoxy. Quite the contrary.
The bottom line, as John Locke observed in A Letter Concerning Toleration, is that force can change behavior, but it cannot change the heart. In other words, physical threats can make a hypocrite, but not a convert. In fact, as Tertullian said sagely, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Dungeon, fire, and sword, in addition to being cruel, have the additional defect of inefficiency. Among other things, religion is an idea, and the only effective way to fight an idea is with another idea. When combatting an idea, the pen is not only mightier than the sword; it is the weapon that works. What made the Reformation successful where previous revolts had failed? Unquestionably much of the success of Luther and the other reformers was their enthusiastic use of the printing press.
If people in the Western world are less obsessively and reflexively religious than they were a few centuries back (and I think we are), then to what do we owe this change? Karen Armstrong says that current secularism in European cultures is something unique in history. What brought about this momentous change? Surely, as much as anything else, it was ideas—The Enlightenment, modern natural and social science, and secular philosophies and ideologies, like Marxism, pluralism, relativism, and so forth. Any account of the rise of secularism would have to mention the intellectual influence of Hume, Voltaire, d’Holbach, Kant, Paine, Mill, Darwin, T.H. Huxley, Feuerbach, Strauss, Nietzsche, Freud and others. The commitment to combatting religion with ideas therefore enjoys the endorsement of reality.
Is it, in principle, possible to imagine scenarios, however farfetched, that would sanction violence against religion? Well, yeah, I guess I could imagine some. Suppose the worship of Moloch, complete with child sacrifice, became popular again. Would violence against such a religion be justified? Sure. So what?
In the current horrific situation, the absolutely pressing issue is, what will be effective against extremist violence in the name of religion? It is essential to realize that the violent Islamists are not mad dogs, as candidate Ben Carson just characterized them. They do not attack us because they “hate our freedom” as George W. Bush put it (and who then energetically abridged that freedom). Behind Islamic extremism is ideology, an ideology very cleverly packaged to be attractive to angry, disaffected young Muslims. This ideology is spread via slick propaganda on the Internet and with networks supported by social media. This is not your father’s terrorism; it is savvy, smart, and hip to the latest technology.
To fight today’s terrorism, we will certainly need to meet violence with violence, but we cannot rely on police or military action, of any degree, to solve the problem. In a column in today’s Houston Chronicle, right-wing pundit Charles Krauthammer charged that U.S. airpower is conducting only seven strikes a day against ISIS. OK. Step it up to 70 or 700. Shoot, indulge the fantasies of Republican chickenhawks and send in the Marines! Sure, our boys will kill lots of those crummy ISIS bastards (and good riddance), but that will not solve the problem. In the long run, it may only make it worse. What is needed is a counter-narrative, a potent ideology that is just as smartly-packaged and cleverly-propagated as the terrorist doctrine.
What sort of ideology would that be? Maybe, recalling the saying about wisdom coming “from the mouths of babies,” someone like Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai could show the way. She is the Pakistani teenager shot in the head by a fanatic because of her activism for the education of girls in Islamic countries. Perhaps a message that emphasizes education, democracy, economic advancement, and the empowerment of women could appeal to idealistic young Muslims even more than an ideology of hate appeals to the angry ones. Nonviolent activism can draw very broad support, as Gandhi showed in India and M.L. King, Jr. in the U.S. Sometimes an appeal to the better angels of our nature actually works.

bookmark_borderSilence from the three Nazi, I mean GOP, Presidential Candidates

If a presidential candidate attended a NAZI rally to try to get some votes, and if the leader of the rally spewed hate-mongering rhetoric about working towards a “final solution” for the “Jewish problem” in the USA, do you think the mass media would be interested in reporting this event?  Do you think the mass media would ask some pointed questions to that presidential candidate?

  • What if three GOP presidential candidates attended a conference hosted by a religious nutcase who advocates the death penalty for homosexuals? (I seem to recall that the Nazis sent homosexuals to death camps along with millions of Jews).  
  • What if the religious nutcase spewed his hate-mongering ideas at that very conference from the stage on which he interviewed those three GOP candidates?  

Do you think the mass media would be interested in reporting this event?  Do you think the mass media would ask some pointed questions to these GOP sociopaths who pretend to be normal human beings?  Apparently not.
Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and Mike Huckabee all attended a conference hosted by the religious nutcase Kevin Swanson, who during the conference spewed his hate-mongering ideas from the stage on which he also interviewed those three sociopaths who are in the running to be the next president of the U.S.A.
It appears that Cruz, Jindal, and Huckabee have no interest in apologizing for the moral equivalent of attending a NAZI rally to try to get a few more votes from right-wing idiots:
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GOP Candidates Really Don’t Want To Talk About ‘Kill The Gays’ Conference

SUBMITTED BY Miranda Blue on Wednesday, 11/18/2015 2:50 pm
A couple of weeks ago, we reported extensively on a conference in Iowa organized by extremist pastor Kevin Swanson, at which three Republican presidential candidates joined Swanson on stage shortly before he went off on a series of rants about how the biblical punishment for homosexuality is death, Harry Potter is bringing God’s judgment on America, and how if your gay child gets married you should show up to the wedding covered in cow manure.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow ran a segment on the conference, but other than that, as a number of commentators have noted, the media has been strangely silent on the Republican candidates’ participation in this event.
Today, Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu reports that she reached out to the campaigns of the three candidates, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal (who has since dropped out of the presidential race), and found them rather reluctant to talk about it.
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For more details:
http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/gop-candidates-really-dont-want-talk-about-kill-gays-conference
http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/gop-confab-ends-call-execute-gays-who-dont-repent-send-queen-elsa-back-hell
http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/maddow-calls-out-gopers-kill-gays-rally-appearance

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 5

Although biblical scholars who are more skeptical about the Gospels (than Evangelical Christian biblical scholars) do sometimes make general statements about the crucifixion and death of Jesus on the cross being highly probable, when we look into the details of their views about the Gospels and about the stories about Jesus being crucified, we see that they don’t  actually have adequate grounds for their confident judgments that Jesus’ crucifixion and death on the cross are firmly established historical facts.
I am in the middle of examining Luke Johnson’s “method of convergence” and his application of this method to some key claims about Jesus from the Gospels. 
In Part 3 of this series, we saw that based on Johnson’s skeptical view of the Gospels, the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ alleged trial by Pilate and crucifixion by Roman soldiers is NOT sufficient to firmly establish the historicity of these events, but that confirmation from various “outsider” (non-Christian) and “insider” (Christian) non-narrative writings can, according to Johnson, make these two claims highly probable.
In Part 4 of this series, we saw that Johnson’s “method of convergence” is justified by an analogy with an example where ten EYEWITNESS accounts of an event have some agreements and some disagreements.   Since there are NO EYEWITNESS accounts of the life or the death of Jesus, this analogy is both misleading and dubious.
We also saw that in a table  (presented by Johnson in The Real Jesus) listing seventeen different claims about Jesus that are based on the Gospel accounts and supported by various other “outsider” and “insider” writings, that about half of those claims were trivial, vacuous, or very vague, so that the “evidence” from “outsider” and “insider” writings supporting these claims is worthless or insignificant in relation to confirming the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts or even the “historical framework” of the Gospels.
Then we began to focus in on two of the most significant claims in Johnson’s list:
13. Jesus appeared before Pontius Pilate (Paul)*
15. Jesus was crucified (Paul, Hebrews, 1 Peter)*
Claim (15) in particular is supposed to be highly probable, because it is supported by multiple “insider” writers as well as multiple “outsider” writers.  However, on closer examination we discovered the devil hiding in the details: the dating of Hebrews and 1 Peter are such that they might well have been composed AFTER 70 CE, after the Gospel of Mark was written.  Thus, neither Hebrews nor 1 Peter can reasonably be considered to be GOOD “insider” sources of information about Jesus, since they might well have been written AFTER the account of Jesus’ alleged trials and crucifixion in Mark was circulating among Christians, and thus they would NOT be independent sources of information about Jesus.  We were left with just the letters of Paul as the only “insider” source to confirm the crucifixion of Jesus.
Claim (15), however, is also supported by two “outsider” writers, according to Johnson.  So, let’s take a closer look at the evidence from those “outsiders”.  Here, again, we will find the devil lurking in the details.
Johnson points to the famous Testimonium Flavianum passage (from Antiquities 18.3.3), composed by the Jewish historian Josephus.  The paragraph-length passage includes this sentence:
And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him [Jesus] to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so.  (quoted in TRJ, p.114)
The first thing to note here is that Josephus was NOT an eyewitness to the life of Jesus, nor to the trial of Jesus before Pilate, nor of the crucifixion of Jesus, as Johnson clearly admits:
The biggest deficiency in the outsider accounts concerning Jesus is that…they are not the result of direct observation.  The outsiders are either observing the movement that was associated with Jesus after his death, or relating what they have heard about the movement; what they say about Jesus in connection with that movement must therefore have been filtered through either other observers or the accounts of insiders as they were related to others.  (TRJ, p.113)
So, at best, an outsider account provides non-eyewitness testimony in support of Gospel accounts which are also written by non-eyewitnesses (who do not identify which events or details, if any, are based on testimony of eyewitnesses).
The second thing to note about this passage in Antiquities is that this very paragraph was tampered with by Christian copyists, as Johnson himself points out:
The passage clearly contains Christian interpolations, and many critical scholars formerly regarded the entire passage as spurious.  (TRJ, p.113)
Johnson goes on to state that scholarly opinion about this passage has recently shifted:
Recent scholarship, however, …has been more favorably disposed toward the hypothesis that the passage contains the nucleus of a passage about Jesus written by Josephus himself.  (TRJ, p.114)
Given just what Johnson says about scholarly views on this passage, it seems clear that it is, at best, only somewhat probable that Josephus wrote the sentence quoted above.  Many scholars formerly believed the whole passage was inserted by a later Christian copyist.  Even though scholars are now “more favorably disposed toward the hypothesis” that part of this passage is from Josephus, that does NOT make it certain that the hypothesis is correct.  At best is it moderately probable  (say, a probability of  .7 ) that the hypothesis is correct.
But EVEN IF the hypothesis is correct, that does NOT imply that the specific name “Pilate” appeared in the original, nor that the phrase “condemned him to the cross” was in the original.  Those could still be pieces inserted by a later copyist EVEN IF part of this passage about Jesus was from the original text written by Josephus.  Thus, if it is moderately probable that parts of this paragraph were written by Josephus, it would only be somewhat probable (say, a probability of  .6 ) that the specific details we are interested in were written by Josephus.  Rather than having evidence consisting of a claim by the Jewish historian Josephus that Jesus was crucified by order of Pilate, what we have is evidence that makes it somewhat probable that Josephus made this claim.
But on closer examination, even if Josephus did indeed write the sentence in question this passage is worthless as evidence to provide some significant support for a Gospel claim about Jesus.   In making an historical case for the existence of Jesus, the biblical scholar Bart Ehrman tosses aside this famous passage from Antiquities:
My main point is that whether the Testimonium is authentically from Josephus (in its pared-down form) or not probably does not ultimately matter for the question I am pursuing here.  Whether or not Jesus lived has to be decided on other kinds of evidence from this.  And here is why.  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 his 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 most 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…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.  (Did Jesus Exist? p.65)
To be more specific, the Gospel of Mark was composed about 70 CE, so stories circulating about Jesus in the last decade of the first century would probably have included events and details that derived from the Gospel of Mark (or one of the other canonical Gospels), including events like Jesus being on trial before Pilate, and like Jesus being crucified by Roman soldiers.
Just as we tossed aside the “insider” accounts of Hebrews and 1 Peter because they might well have been composed AFTER 70 CE, and AFTER the Gospel of Mark, so we ought to do the same with every reference to Jesus by Josephus in Antiquities, because that work, as Johnson himself admits, was composed about two decades AFTER the Gospel of Mark:
Josephus was a participant in and observer of the events leading to the disasterous war against Rome in 67-70 C.E., and wrote the Antiquities close to the end of the first century.  (TRJ, p.113)
Because Antiquities was composed many years after the Gospel of Mark began circulating among Christians, it cannot be used to provide any significant support for the historical reliability of the Gospels or for the “historical framework” of the Gospels.
The second “outsider” writing that Johnson points to for support of claim (15) is even more pathetic than Antiquities.  Johnson quotes from The Passing of Peregrinus written by Lucian of Samosata:
…whom they [Christians in Palestine] still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced a new cult into the world.  (The Passing of Peregrinus 11-13, quoted in TRJ, p.116)
Lucian of Samosata was born nearly a century after the traditional date for the death of Jesus, so obviously Lucian could NOT have been an eyewitness to the life or the death of Jesus.  The Passing of Peregrinus was written not too long after 165 CE, probably about 170 CE, so Lucian wrote this satire on the life of the cynic philosopher Proteus Perigrinus a full century AFTER the Gospel of Mark was composed and began to circulate.    Therefore, any references to Jesus in The Passing of Peregrinus are worthless for providing any significant support for the historical reliability of the Gospels or for the “historical framework” of the Gospels.
In fact, this work by Lucian of Samosata is so late that in his case for the existence of Jesus, Ehrman does not even bother to quote from, or even to mention, this work when discussing non-Christian sources of information about Jesus:
I start with a brief survey of sources that are typically appealed to as non-Christian references to Jesus.  I will restrict myself to sources that were produced within about a hundred years of when Jesus is traditionally thought to have died since writings after that time almost certainly cannot be considered independent and reliable witnesses to his life but were undboutedly based simply on what the authors heard about Jesus, probably from his followers.  (Did Jesus Exist?, p.50)
Just as we tossed aside Hebrews and 1 Peter because they might well have been written AFTER 70 CE, and just as we have tossed aside Antiquities because it was clearly written AFTER 70 CE, we very definitely ought to also toss aside The Passing of Peregrinus because it was written a full century AFTER 70 CE, a full century AFTER the Gospel of Mark was composed and began to circulate.
Let’s review what we have discovered from looking into the details of Johnson’s “method of convergence” as applied to claim (15).
We started out with three “insider” authors, and two “outsider” authors providing confirmation of claim (15), in addition to the four canonical Gospels.  It was because of there being multiple “insider” and multiple “outsider” writings that support claim (15) that Johnson concluded that this central Gospel claim was highly probable.
But as we look into the details of this argument, we find that there is, at most, just ONE good “insider” author who confirms (15) NOT three “insiders”, and there are ZERO good “outsider” writers that confirm (15).  Given Luke Johnson’s skeptical view of the Gospels, we cannot assign a high probability to (15) just on the basis of the Gospel accounts of the alleged crucifixion of Jesus.  But instead of having FIVE different  writers, consisting of three “insiders” and two “outsiders”,  who confirm this element of the Gospels, the devil in the details shows that we actually have ONLY ONE good “insider” source, the letters of Paul, and NO good “outsider” writings, to support the Gospel accounts on this point, and that does not seem sufficient to make claim (15) highly probable.
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.

bookmark_borderLuke Johnson and the Resurrection of Jesus

In my second post responding to William Craig on his point that the death of Jesus on the cross is uncontroversial among biblical scholars, I focused in on the first two biblical scholars that he gave as examples: Robert Funk and Luke Johnson:
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Many Biblical Scholars Do NOT Believe that Jesus was Alive and Walking Around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday
It is interesting that the first two examples of biblical scholars that Craig points to are scholars who DON’T BELIEVE that Jesus rose from the dead.  More specifically, neither Luke Johnson nor Robert Funk believe that Jesus PHYSICALLY rose from the dead.  So, neither Johnson nor Funk believe that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified.”  Funk makes it clear that he does not believe that Jesus PHYSICALLY came back to life:
The Jesus Seminar decided not to duck this issue [of whether Jesus rose PHYSICALLY from the dead]: The fellows reached  a fairly firm consensus: Belief in Jesus’ resurrection did not depend on what happened to his corpse. They are supported in this by the judgment of many contemporary scholars.  Jesus’ resurrection did not involve the resuscitation of a dead body.  About three-fourths of the Fellows believe that Jesus’ followers did not know what happened to his body. (HTJ, p.259)
Luke Johnson is more vague and less straightforward (than Funk), and it is harder to pin down his beliefs about the resurrection,  but in his book The Writings of the New Testament (revised edition, Fortress Press, 1999: hereafter: WONT) he seems to hold a view that is similar to that of Funk and the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar…
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My statement that “neither Luke Johnson nor Robert Funk believe that Jesus PHYSICALLY rose from the dead.” is wrong.  While this is a true statement about Robert Funk, it is a false statement about Luke Johnson.
My belief that Johnson rejected the traditional Christian view that Jesus PHYSICALLY rose from the dead was based on reading what Johnson says about Jesus’ resurrection in The Real Jesus (especially, Chapters 4, 5, 6 and the Epilogue) and in The Writings of the New Testament (revised edition, especially Chapters 4 and 5).  Although Johnson did not explicitly state that he rejected the traditional Christian belief in the PHYSICAL resurrection of Jesus, he did say many things that seemed to point in that direction.
However, Joe Hinman objected that I had misunderstood Johnson’s views and pointed me to Johnson’s book Living Jesus.  I found that on pages 11 through 22 of Living Jesus,  Johnson provides a clearer explanation of his views about Jesus’ resurrection, and Johnson makes it clear there that he believes Jesus PHYSICALLY rose from the dead.  So,  I have to conclude that my interpretation of his views in The Real Jesus and in The Writings of the New Testament was mistaken.
You can read the relevant passages on the Google Books preview of Living Jesus.
Although my description of Johnson’s view of Jesus’ resurrection was mistaken, this does NOT show that my objection was wrong.
First of all, the main point of my objection is that many biblical scholars who judge the death of Jesus by crucifixion to be nearly certain or highly probable DO NOT BELIEVE that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after he was (allegedly) crucified.”  This generalization can still be true, even if Luke Johnson doesn’t fall into this category of biblical scholars.
Second, although Luke Johnson does believe that Jesus PHYSICALLY rose from the dead, he DOES NOT BELIEVE that this is an HISTORICAL FACT.  Johnson repeatedly asserts that the resurrection of Jesus transcends history and is not subject to historical investigation or historical proof or historical disproof.  So,  Jesus being alive after the crucifixion is NOT an HISTORICAL FACT that can be considered and weighed in the careful and objective historical judgments made by an historian.  Therefore, for Luke Johnson, unlike for William Craig,  Jesus being alive on Easter Sunday is not an historical fact that can operate as historical evidence against the historical claim that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross the same day he was crucified.  So, my original objection holds.
Furthermore, although Luke Johnson believes that Jesus’ physical body was transformed into a new supernatural resurrection body at some time and at some place after the crucifixion,  it does NOT follow that Johnson believes that “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after he was (allegedly) crucified.”
In fact, although it is hard to be certain, it seems to me that Johnson’s skeptical views about the Gospels, and particularly about the empty-tomb stories and the appearance stories in the Gospels, are such that  Johnson has significant doubts about the accuracy of the time and place of Jesus’ appearances to his gathered disciples, despite the clear indications in the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of John that such appearances occured in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday.
My impression is that Johnson has significant doubts about the Gospel claims that Jesus appeared to his gathered disciples in Jerusalem and on Easter Sunday.  Thus, Johnson might well doubt, or even reject, the key historical claim for which Craig strenously argues, and which was the focus of my objection: “Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after he was (allegedly) crucified.”

bookmark_borderJesus End: The Formal Possibilities

There is often discussion of the resurrection apologetic here at SO. Some newcomers to the conversation may be put off by the complexity of it all. In hopes of providing a user-friendly introduction to the context of the debates, I offer the following:
Innumerable scenarios could be and have been advanced about the fate of Jesus of Nazareth. Even in ancient times there were many different accounts. For instance, the Gnostic Basilides’ scenario was that Jesus was not crucified, but someone else. Basilides said that it was Simon of Cyrene, who was compelled to carry the cross for Jesus and was mistakenly crucified in his place. Remember hapless Simon the next time that you think that you are having a bad day. Recent times have seen additional scenarios like the “Passover Plot.” Also, we have seen the development of the “mythicist” view that Jesus was never crucified for the very good reason that he never existed. With a bit of imagination, indefinitely many other scenarios could be added. There has to be someone who has proposed that Jesus was a space alien and was whisked away by a UFO before dying on the cross.
Given the potentially unlimited possible scenarios, it might be helpful to offer an exhaustive and mutually exclusive list of the formal possibilities, which could then serve as a classification scheme for all actual and possible scenarios. That is, any scenario will necessarily fit into one of the categories established by these possibilities. We may set up this framework of possibilities by asking four questions which could be answered yes or no in sequence. A “no” answer at any point ends the questioning process because the following questions just would not arise:
 
1) Did Jesus of Nazareth exist? That is, did there exist an actual human being who could reasonably be identified with the Jesus of the Gospels?
No: Stop
Yes: Go to question 2.
2) Was this person publicly crucified by the Roman authorities in the vicinity of Jerusalem circa 33 CE?
No: Stop.
Yes: Go to question 3.
3) Did this person die on the occasion of his crucifixion?
(Note: “Die” here means really die, i.e. be in a state of brain death and not of mere clinical “death.” Further, “on the occasion of his crucifixion” means that he died from some cause between the time of his crucifixion and the time of his burial.)
No: Stop.
Yes: Go to question 4.
4) Did this person return to life, rising from the dead shortly after his crucifixion?
No: Stop.
Yes: Stop.
The formal possibilities are therefore established by the yes/no answers given to these questions. The possible answers are given below. Each category or type of answer is identified by a letter A through E.
A: 1, N.
B: 1, Y; 2, N.
C: 1, Y; 2, Y; 3, N
D: 1, Y; 2, Y, 3, Y; 4, N.
E: 1, Y; 2, Y, 3, Y; 4, Y.
The mythicist view would fit category A. The mythicist denies that there was any actual person whose life was similar enough to the Jesus of the Gospels to be identified as that person. By denying that Jesus ever existed, the question of his crucifixion, death, and resurrection simply does not arise. Category B would be the one for Basilides’ story. Yes, Jesus existed, but he was never crucified. Perhaps some luckless individual was crucified in his place. C would be the category for the “Passover Plot” type conspiracies of the sort attributed to Jesus in the book by that name authored by Hugh J. Schonfield. In this story, Jesus planned his crucifixion and burial but expected to survive and later be rescued from the grave. However, things went wrong when the Roman soldier speared him in the side. D would be the view of many unbelievers (like yours truly) and biblical scholars such as Gerd Lüdemann. Someone actually existed who did enough of the things attributed to him by the Gospels to count as a historical Jesus of Nazareth. He was crucified, dead, and buried (whether in an identifiable tomb or not), but did not rise again. Finally, E, of course, is the standard Christian view that Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried, and rose again shortly after—on the morning of the third day according to tradition.
These are the formal possibilities. Clearly, none should be ruled out a priori. To which category does the truth likely belong? Well, of course, that cannot possibly be meaningfully addressed here. I will just list each below and give what I think are its advantages and disadvantages.
A (1, N):
Advantages: You have an advantage over the standard apologetic which nearly always assumes that Jesus actually existed. By denying the existence of Jesus, the whole discussion is shifted to a new basis. Further, Christianity is a historical religion. It claims that certain things happened in the course of history. If the Buddha had never existed, there could still be Buddhism. However, Christianity is necessarily false if Jesus never existed. Paul says “…if Christ be not raised your faith is in vain…(I Corinthians, 15: 17). Clearly, if Jesus never existed then he never rose from the dead and Christians’ faith is in vain. Anyone who, for any reason, does not like Christianity might find attractive the idea that the whole thing has no more basis than a religion that worshipped Sherlock Holmes.
Disadvantages: There is a heavy burden of proof here. Mythicism often draws the reaction of gaping incredulity from unbelievers as well as from believers. Part of the problem is the sheer epistemic inertia encountered when trying to dislodge a historical assumption nearly 2000 years old. However, there is still a very considerable burden of proof even if that inertia can be overcome. The burden is to show that Jesus belongs in the category of, say, Hercules rather than Socrates. The mythicist view will face the theoretical challenge to articulate and defend its criteria for historicity. This will not be easy. Such criteria do not seem clear even among professional historians, who often have disputes over the historicity of individuals. Mythicism will also face a plethora of claimed counterexamples of this sort: “What about X? There is more evidence for the existence of Jesus than for X, but everyone admits that X was historical.” Certainly, mythicism might meet these challenges, but the argument will be long, complex, tedious, and likely rancorous.
B (1, Y; 2, N):
Advantages: The advantages here would be chiefly ideological. Some doctrines, such as Gnosticism and Islam, will find it objectionable to suppose that the supernatural Son of God or a holy prophet would die an ignominious death on a cross.
Disadvantages: Surely there is something Monty-Python-esque about this scenario. At best, there seems to be no way it could ever rise above the status of a scenario. It is hard to imagine what evidence would support it unless, e.g. we were to discover memoirs written by Jesus in his old age laughing at the suckers who thought that they had crucified him. Don’t wait around.
C (1, Y; 2Y; 3, N):
Advantages: A successful “Passover Plot” type scenario (one not spoiled by the officious Roman guard with his spear) would seem to offer a straightforward naturalistic, non-miraculous explanation of how the resurrection narrative got started. If Jesus had appeared alive after his crucifixion, maybe people would have thought that he had been raised from the dead. Maybe. Or maybe it would have been perceived as the cheap trick it was.
Disadvantages: Any “Passover Plot” type scenario will face the problems that conspiracy theories always face: Explanations will be complex, contrived, and based upon numerous gratuitous assumptions. Objections will be dismissed with ad hoc excuses and bluster. Rhetoric will often substitute for evidence, and what evidence there is will be spun until it is dizzy. In the end, the only people who will be convinced are crackpots and ax grinders. There are other scenarios, like one I somewhere read by Clockwork Orange author Anthony Burgess. Burgess speculates that Jesus was only clinically dead, and that when the women came on Easter morning to take care of the body, they found him alive. This is slightly more credible than a Passover Plot, but still ranks as a speculation and does not explain why the followers of Jesus would not have interpreted it as what it was—a burial alive—rather than a miraculous resurrection.
D (1, Y; 2, Y, 3, Y; 4, N):
Advantages: There is not nearly so heavy a burden of proof as that borne by the mythicist. You do not have to defend what many will perceive as an inordinate degree of skepticism. Rather, you can just accept the results of standard, mainstream, critical biblical scholarship. You can also follow accepted historiographic norms by treating the records of Jesus and his career just as you would any other accounts from ancient documents, say the Histories of Herodotus. If you take a Bayesian approach, you are also given considerable latitude in setting your priors for events like resurrections. Like Hume, you can impose a considerable burden of proof on a miracle claim and draw upon far more resources than Hume had in criticizing such claims. For instance, we now have a great deal of information from psychology, cognitive science, and folklore studies about how tall tales get started, spread, and become entrenched.
Disadvantages: Since I endorse this alternative, I think that objections against it can be overcome. However, among the prima facie objections are those that demand a satisfying naturalistic account of the post-mortem appearances of Jesus. Apologists such as Peter Kreeft, SJ and Ronald Tacelli, SJ devote a great deal of effort to debunking the hallucination theory. I have argued elsewhere (The Empty Tomb, ed. by Jeff Lowder and Robert M. Price) that this attempted debunking fails badly, but no naturalistic explanation in terms of hallucinations, false memories, urban legends, etc. will seem satisfying to many minds (and not just fundamentalist minds). Surely, it seems, something remarkable seemed to happen, something that requires a remarkable explanation. Defenders of naturalistic explanations of the resurrection stories might therefore find themselves in the position of Cassandra, i.e. being right but not being believed.
E (1, Y; 2, Y, 3, Y; 4, Y):
Advantages: Well, of course, the faith of two billion people turns on this. The Easter event, that Jesus rose from the dead, has to be a core Christian claim. I know that some theologians, such as Paul Tillich, say that the resurrection occurred “outside of history.” As far as I can tell, this means “It didn’t really happen.” But I think St. Paul was right. If Christ is not risen (really risen, not just metaphorically or symbolically), Christian faith is in vain. There has to be an occurrence in which the divine definitively intervenes into nature and history. There has to be something that only God could and would have done, an unmistakable suspension of the mundane by divine power. Without that Christianity is just gas. Well, that is a bit strong. A thoroughly “demythologized” Christianity might still have appeal due to the personality and teachings of Jesus. His eschatological ethics (“the first shall be last,” etc.) might still appeal even without the eschatology. But Christianity, construed in anything like its traditional sense, would be false.
Disadvantages: The chief disadvantage is the same as the chief advantage, namely, that a miraculous intervention is claimed. That is, there must have been a physically impossible event that nevertheless occurred, and, further, we have to be able to know that it occurred. Knowing that it happened is the really problematic condition. An event is proclaimed that, in just about any other context, everyone, including Christians, would say is impossible and in no degree believable. That is, excluding supernatural intervention, a resurrection from the dead is an event that we all agree would be maximally improbable and minimally credible. An event that is merely extraordinary cannot do the job; it has to be a miracle. The apologetic task of defending the resurrection claim will therefore involve two jobs: In Bayesian terms, the prior probability of God’s existence cannot be allowed to drop too low, otherwise the prior probability of a physically impossible resurrection will be very low. Further, the “Bayes factor” must be addressed, the ratio of p(e/~h) to p(e/h). In practice, this means that the likelihood that the testimony for the resurrection would exist even if the resurrection did not occur cannot be too high. If it is likely that we would have the Gospel accounts of the resurrection even if there were no resurrection, the testimony will lack credibility. Needless to say, performing these tasks, in the face of determined skepticism, will not be easy.
It is clear from the above that the only options I take seriously are A, D, and E. The other two are hard to see as anything other than a joke or a fantasy. Further, I presume that A will always be a minority view among unbelievers since it bites off considerably more than the skeptic needs to chew. Principled unbelief does not need to deny the historicity of a wandering rabbi of the first century who said and did some of the things attributed to him in the canonical Gospels. Such can be conceded, a least for the sake of argument. The core issue, as I indicate above, is how to account for the claims of Jesus’s postmortem appearances. I think that they are accounted for in much the same way that we account for UFOs and alien abductions, sightings of Bigfoot, homeopathic “cures,” and the innumerable visions, epiphanies, theophanies, visitations, possessions, hauntings, and so forth reported in all cultures throughout history.