bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 10

Here is my main objection to William Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus:
It is not possible for a person to rise from the dead until AFTER that person has actually died. Thus, in order to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, one must first prove that Jesus died on the cross. But in most of William Craig’s various books, articles, and debates, he simply ignores this issue. He makes no serious attempt to show that it is an historical fact that Jesus died on the cross.  For that reason, I’m convinced that Craig’s case for the resurrection is a complete failure.
Here is WLC’s main reply to my objection:
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. 
Craig supports this point by giving examples of biblical scholars who express great confidence in the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus and Jesus’ death on the cross: Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.  In Parts 2 through 8 of this series, I have argued that the example of the biblical scholar Luke Johnson fails to support his point.  I will now argue that the same is true of the biblical scholar Robert Funk.
Craig quotes a part of a comment by Robert Funk:
In fact, the death of Jesus is so well established that according to Robert Funk, who was the co-chair of the Jesus Seminar, the crucifixion of Jesus was “one indisputable fact” that neither the early Christians nor their opponents could deny.
The footnote for this quoted three-word phrase is rather vague:  “Robert Funk, Jesus Seminar videotape.”  The Jesus Seminar was in operation from 1985 to 1998, so a Jesus Seminar videotape could have been produced anytime in that fourteen-year window.  I have little hope of locating the particular Jesus Seminar videotape that this quote was taken from, so I have no way to either confirm the accuracy of the quote or to determine the meaning of the three-word phrase in the context of what Funk was talking about at that point.  I do not find this to be convincing evidence that Funk believed that the crucifixion of Jesus is a certain or nearly certain historical fact.
Furthermore, based on Funk’s comments in his book Honest to Jesus (published in 1996, hereafter: HTJ), it seems to me that although Funk believes that it is probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross, Funk believes that this claim is less than certain, and that there can be reasonable doubt about this claim:
There is nothing in the Christian story, so far as I can see, that is immune from doubt.  The crucifixion of Jesus is not entirely beyond question….We do not know for a fact that he was buried.  His body may have been left to rot on the cross, to become carrion for dogs and crows….Even the existence of Jesus has been challenged more than once and not without justification.  We should begin by admitting that all of these myths and legends may rest on nothing other than the fertile imagination of early believers. (HTJ, p.219-220)
The crucifixion is NOT “beyond question” according to Funk.  Even the very existence of Jesus as an historical person is NOT beyond question according to Funk.
This openness of Funk to doubt about the crucifixion of Jesus is in keeping with Funk’s general skepticism.  In Chapter 1 of Honest to Jesus, Funk proposes seven ground rules for the quest of the historical Jesus.   Three of Funk’s seven ground rules clearly support a skeptical outlook in the study of Jesus:
Rule One
Human knowledge is finite.  It is fallible, limited, subject to correction.  If it were not, study and learning would be unnecessary.  This applies, willy-nilly, to the Bible, to the pope, to ecclesiastical bureaucrats and contemporary preachers alike.  And to scholars. (HTJ, p.24)
 Rule Five
In spite of the sciences, impressive methodological advances, and the knowledge explosion, we still cannot be certain that we can tell the difference between illusion and reality.
Aspects of what we think we see and hear, of what we believe we know, are almost certainly illusory.  The social world we inhabit as human beings was created for us by our historical and social contexts and by our own imaginations.  We are products, to a greater or lesser extent, of our own creative activity….One consequence of this arrangement is that we are constantly being deceived….illusion and error are a part of the human condition.  (HTJ, p.26)
Rule Seven
No matter how many illusions we dispel, no matter how firm the conclusions we reach this time around, we will turn out to be wrong in some way, perhaps in many ways, down the road.  Someone, somewhere, sometime will have to come along and correct our mistakes while adding their own. (HTJ, p.26)
Given this skeptical outlook, it is no surprise that Funk is open to doubt about the crucifixion of Jesus and even to doubt about the existence of Jesus.  Funk rejects the view that the existence of Jesus and the crucifixion of Jesus are beyond question.
It is not merely this general skeptical outlook that casts doubt on the crucifixion, but a number of specific skeptical assumptions held by Funk that cast significant doubt on the crucifixion of Jesus and the on the claim that Jesus died on the cross.  I will argue that if one accepts Funk’s various skeptical assumptions, then one cannot rationally conclude that it is nearly certain that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross.
Before I discuss Funk’s specific skeptical assumptions, however, I would like to touch on another aspect of Funk’s general viewpoint:  his cynicism.  I appreciate Funk’s cynicism.  Though Funk believes in God, and has some sort of very liberal belief or faith in Jesus, he is a kindred spirit, as far as I am concerned.   I appreciate Funk’s skepticism and his cynicism.
My own skepticism, I believe, arises out of cynicism, at least in part.   I suspect the same is true for many other skeptics, and it appears to me that Funk’s skepticism might also arise out of cynicism, at least in part.  So, I would like to share a few selected quotes that reflect Funk’s cynicism.
In the Prologue of Honest to Jesus, Funk lists ten of his personal convictions.  Two of them embody cynicism about human thinking:
8. I believe in original sin, but I take original sin to mean the innate infinite capacity of human beings to deceive themselves.
9.  I have come to see that the self-deception inherent in “original sin” prompts human beings to believe that what they want is what they are really entitled to and what they will eventually get–things like unending life in another world and absolute justice in this.  I doubt that it will work out that way.  (HTJ, p.11)
Funk experesses cynicism about his own conversion experience (and about other Christian believers):
…in the exuberance of youth, I thought it extremely important to hold the correct opinions.  I didn’t really know what the correct opinions were, but friends and others around me seemed to know, so I embraced theirs when I could understand them and sometimes when I couldn’t.  Among them was the good confession.  In response to prompting, I said Jesus was my personal savior.  Nobody explained to me what that entailed.  It has taken me several decades to get even a hint of what it could mean.
Most of us cling to opinions received secondhand and worn like used clothing. … (HTJ, p.4)
Funk experesses cynicism about Americans in general:
I am happy to report that I am the victim of a good education.  I would undoubtedly have grown up opinionated, narrow-minded, and bigoted like many Americans, but I had the misfortune, or the good fotune, of having excellent teachers. (HTJ, p.4)
Funk experesses cynicism about Christian ministers:
I started out to be a parish minister but soon learned that passion for truth was not compatible with that role.  In self-defense I became a scholar. (HTJ, p.5)
Funk expresses cynicism about churches and seminaries:
In Jesus as Precursor, a book I wrote while teaching in the Divinity School, I concluded that theologians should abandon the cloistered precincts of the church and seminary  where nothing real was on the agenda.   I soon followed my own advice.
The longing for intellectual freedom drove me out of the seminary and into a secular university. … the university had become my church and learning my real vocation. (HTJ, p. 5)
… I discovered that by and large what my students learned in seminary did not get passed on to parish memebers; in fact, it seems to have little or no bearing on the practice of ministry at all.  I was chagrined to learn that I was investing in an enterprise with no prospect of return. (HTJ, p.6)
Funk expresses cynicism about universities and academia:
The University of Montana taught me another hard lesson:  universities are much like churches, replete with orthodoxies of various kinds, courts of inquisition, and severe penalties for those who do not embrace mediocrity and the teacher’s union.  Preoccupation with political trivia and insulation from the real world eventually pushed me to abandon that final sanctuary.  (HTJ, p.5)
…my academic colleagues and I were trapped in a perpetual holding pattern dictated to us by a system of rewards and sanctions in the university.    That system prevented us, or at least discouraged us, from entering the public domain with learning that mattered.  In their book, The Social Construction of Reality, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman define intellectuals as experts whose specialized knowledge is not wanted, is not even tolerated, by the general public.  (HTJ, p.6)
Funk expresses cynicism about the general level of knowledge about religion and the Bible:
In our time, religious literacy has reached a new low in spite of our scholarship, in spite of the remarkable advances in research and publication our academic disciplines have made. (HTJ, p.5-6)
Jesus is a topic of wide public interest, and the ancient gospels are the subject of profound public ignorance. (HTJ, p.7)
All of this cynicism from Funk is found in the short Prologue of Honest to Jesus, and there is much more of this cynicism expressed in Chapters 1, 2, and 3, but I will spare you from any further cynical comments, and move on (in the next post) to taking a closer look at a number of specific skeptical assumptions held by Funk.
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.
 

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 9

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).

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Excerpts from my post

The Failure of William Craig’s Case for the Resurrection:

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[…]
According to the Christian apologist Norman Geisler:
Before we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that He really did die.
(When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook on Christian Evidences, p.120)
After making this common-sense point, Geisler then proceeds to lay out eight points in support of the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross”(the title of this sub-section of the Chapter “Questions about Jesus”).
Geisler’s case for this claim is made on pages 120, 121, 122, and the top of page 123. There is a large illustration on page 121, so there is less than half a page of text on that page. There is another illustration on page 122, so there is only about a half page of text on that page. In total, the eight points represent a little less than two full pages of text. This is a childish and pathetic case for the death of Jesus, but at least Geisler made an effort to prove that Jesus actually died on the cross, and at least Geisler admits that he bears the burden of proof on this question.

[…]

Amazingly, in a 420-page tome that is dedicated to nothing but the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, Craig somehow manages to do a worse job than the childish and pathetic efforts of Norman Geisler, even though Geisler was making his case in a 300-page book that covers more than a dozen different topics in Christian apologetics.

In the first 347 pages of Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus Craig discusses in detail the N.T. evidence that he thinks is relevant to the question ‘Did Jesus rise from the dead?’. In the final 70 pages (p.351-420), Craig assesses the evidence. The assessment is divided into three chapters:

Chapter 9: The Evidence for the Empty Tomb
Chapter 10: The Evidence for the Resurrection Appearances
Chapter 11: The Origin of the Christian Way (i.e. belief in the resurrection of Jesus)

There is no chapter devoted to the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross.
There is no subsection devoted to the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross.
There is not even one page devoted to the evidence for Jesus’ death on the cross.

[…]

Craig has participated in a number of debates on the resurrection. In his debate with Gerd Ludemann, did Craig present evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross? No. In Craig’s debate with John Crossan, did Craig present evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross? No. In Craig’s debate with Bart Ehrman, did Craig present evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross? No.

[…]

Geisler came up with eight points in support of the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross” in his 300-page handbook on Christian apologetics (When Skeptics Ask), but Craig does not even attempt to prove the death of Jesus on the cross. The closest he comes to this in Reasonable Faith, is on page 279, where Craig lists three objections to the Apparent Death Theory. Only the first objection concerns evidence for Jesus’ death:

1.It is physically implausible. First, what the theory suggests is virtually physically impossible. The extent of Jesus’ tortures was such that he could never have survived the crucifixion and entombment.

There you have it. That is Craig’s case for the death of Jesus, as given in his handbook on apologetics. Geisler gives us eight points in four pages, and Craig gives us just two scrawny sentences: one sentence stating his conclusion, and one sentence stating his reason. Unbelievably, Craig makes a case for the actual death of Jesus on the cross which is weaker and even more pathetic than the childish and pathetic case presented by Geisler.
[…]
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 An excerpt from my post

An Open Letter to Dr. William Lane Craig:

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[…]
Finally, you and I agree that a key question to consider, before taking a stand for or against Christianity, is this: Did God raise Jesus from the dead? And an essential part of what one needs to think about to answer that theological question, is to think about these historical questions:
1. Did Jesus actually die on the cross on Good Friday? 
2. Was Jesus alive and walking around unassisted on Easter Sunday (after Good Friday)?
Unfortunately, you and your fellow apologists have failed to deal with Question (1) in an intellectually serious way.
Dr. Norman Geisler has clearly spelled out a fundamental principle on this matter:
Before we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that He really did die. (When Skeptics Ask, p.120).
I believe that Geisler is correct. This seems like common-sense to me. It is not possible for a person to rise from the dead until AFTER that person has actually died. Thus, in order to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, one must first prove that Jesus died on the cross. But in most of your various books, articles, and debates, you simply ignore this issue. For that reason, I’m convinced that your case for the resurrection is a complete failure.
You do make a brief attempt in The Son Rises to make a case for the death of Jesus on the cross (p.37-39). But you make dozens of historical claims in just a few paragraphs and offer almost nothing in the way of actual historical evidence to support those claims. This “case” is crap. I know it is crap, and you know it is crap. It is a joke to even use the word “case” to describe the five paragraphs filled with unsupported historical claims. Geisler does a better job than this in his general handbook of apologetics (When Skeptics Ask, p.120-123). But, to the best of my knowledge, your pathetic “case” for the historicity of the death of Jesus simply reflects the general intellectual laziness of Christian apologists concerning Question (1). You are not alone.
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An excerpt from the INDEX article for this series of posts:

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[…]
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.
[…]
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In Parts 2 through 8, I have discussed Luke Johnson’s views about the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, arguing that Johnson does not think that the claim that Jesus was alive on Easter Sunday can be established as an historical fact on the basis of historical evidence.   Johnson does believe that Jesus rose from the dead, but his belief in Jesus’ resurrection is based on religious experience and is NOT based on historical evidence.
So, Johnson does not share the assumption that it is an established historical fact that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem on Sunday, less than 48 hours after Jesus was (allegedly) crucified. Thus, Johnson’s judgment that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is IRRELEVANT to Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus, because Johnson rejects a crucial background assumption held by Craig, the assumption that it is an established historical fact that Jesus was alive and walking around on Easter Sunday, less than 48 hours after being crucified.
Furthermore, I have argued that Johnson’s skeptical views about the Gospels make it so that his “method of convergence” fails to show that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross the same day he was crucified.  Given Johnson’s skeptical assumptions, his high level of confidence that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is not rationally justified.  Johnson’s conclusion that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is the result of faulty reasoning and factual mistakes, and it seems likely that these flaws in Johnson’s thinking are the result of religious/theological BIAS in favor of Christian dogma, and thus reflect a failure to analyze and evaluate these issues logically and objectively.
In the next post of this series I will begin to develop a similar critique of the views of Robert Funk about the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.
 

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 8

I have one final objection to raise against Luke Johnson’s use of the “method of convergence”.  I have been using the phrase “the devil is in the details” to summarize a number of problems with, or objections to, Johnson’s use of the “method of convergence” to establish some key claims about Jesus.  But there are some specific DETAILS about the alleged crucifixion of Jesus that I have not yet mentioned but that represent more such details that raise doubt about the claim that “Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.”
First of all, we don’t know how crucifixion CAUSES a person to die.  There are various theories, of course, but it would be unethical to put those theories to a full scientific test, because it would be unethical to crucify human beings and to carefully observe their deaths in order to answer this historical/medical question.  However, one popular theory is that crucifixion kills a person by asphyxiation, but actual scientific tests of crucifixion (where subjects were strapped, not nailed, to crosses) have indicated that, contrary to the asphyxiation theory, people can breathe without difficulty while hanging from a cross.  The subjects, of course, were only attached to the crosses for a few minutes, not for several hours, so the asphyxiation theory has not been disproved, but it has been cast into doubt.
Because we don’t know how crucifixion causes death, we can hardly be certain that it caused Jesus to die in a matter of just a few hours (Jesus was crucified around 9am according to the synoptic Gospels and around noon according to the Gospel of John.  The  Gospels agree that Jesus was buried before sundown on the day he was crucified, around 6pm, so his apparent death would have been sometime in the late afternoon, between 2pm and 5pm).  If Jesus had been on the cross for several days, that would make his death highly probable because people usually died after three or four days.  But since Jesus was allegedly on the cross for between about three hours (noon to 3pm) and eight hours (9am to 5pm), the fact that he was hanging from a cross for a few hours is not sufficient to confidently conclude that he died on the cross.
One important detail is the use of NAILS.  Most paintings and sculptures of the crucifixion show Jesus as nailed to the cross, but the synoptic Gospels do not mention hammers, hammering, nails, or nailing.  The synoptic gospels only say that Jesus was crucified, and crucifixion was often carried out by binding the victim to the cross, without using nails.  The Gospel of John also does not mention hammers, hammering, nails, or nailing in the description of Jesus’ crucifixion.
However, in the story of Doubting Thomas, which is found ONLY in the Gospel of John, we are told that the risen Jesus had marks in his hands/wrists from nails.  Since nails are mentioned ONLY in the Gospel of John and in the dubious story of Doubting Thomas which also occurs ONLY in the Gospel of John, the evidence for the use of nails in Jesus’ crucifixion is weak and questionable. (Note: The Doubting Thomas story says nothing about nail wounds in Jesus’ feet, only in his hands.)
If Jesus had been bound to the cross rather than nailed to the cross, then that would mean that instead of having a serious wound in each hand/wrist and in each foot/ankle, he would have had no serious wound in each hand/wrist and no serious wound in each foot/ankle, meaning that four of the serious wounds traditionally believed to have been inflicted on Jesus, might be fictional rather than factual.  If  Jesus had been bound rather than nailed to the cross, this would significantly reduce the probability that he would die after just a few hours of hanging on the cross.
One other very important wound that Jesus allegedly received while on the cross is the SPEAR WOUND to his side.  The story of the spear wound, however, is found ONLY in the historically dubious Gospel of John.  None of the synoptic Gospels record this event, and none of the other Gospels ever mentions a wound in Jesus’ side.
Furthermore, there is good reason to suspect that this spear wound incident was created on the basis of an O.T. prophecy, which is specifically mentioned in the Gospel passage that relates this story (John 19:36 & 37):
36. These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.”  
37. And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”
The author of this Gospel might have accepted these scripture passages as divinely inspired prophecy which MUST be fulfilled, and on this basis INFERRED that Jesus MUST have been stabbed with a spear while on the cross, and then created the story about the spear wound, without any thought or intent to deceive the readers of this Gospel, being fully confident in the inspiration of the O.T. and in his interpretation of these ‘prophetic’ passages.
I, however, am quite confident that the O.T. was NOT inspired by God, and even if it were inspired by God I have no good reason to trust or rely upon the interpretation of these O.T. passages by an unknown first-century Christian author.  Since there is a good chance that the story was created on the basis of the O.T. passages, there is a good chance that the spear-wound story is fictional and false.  If the spear-wound story is fictional and false, then one of the most serious and important wounds traditionally believed to have been inflicted on Jesus was NOT actually inflicted on Jesus.   If there was no spear-wound to Jesus’ side while he was hanging on the cross, then that would significantly reduce the probability that Jesus would die after just a few hours on the cross.
Within the general constraints of the Gospel accounts, but allowing for some dubious details to  be fictional, it is quite possible that Jesus was merely tied to the cross (not nailed), that he hung from the cross for just a few hours (from noon to 3pm), and that there was no serious spear-wound inflicted on Jesus while he was on the cross.  Given that we simply do not know how crucifixion causes death (other than by dehydration, starvation, and exposure over a period of days),  the fact that Jesus was crucified fails to show that the death of Jesus on the cross is highly probable.
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:
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.
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.

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.
====================
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/

==========================================

 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:
==========================================
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_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.”