Monday, January 02, 2006

The confutation of atheism-8

Jason Engwer has responded to Dave's latest salvo:

You've attributed comments to me that I didn't write, your responses are once again highly unreasonable, and you keep making claims that warrant documentation without giving us that documentation. When you quote Justin Martyr, for example, it isn't sufficient to give "Justin Martyr" as your source. You've done this sort of thing repeatedly, here and elsewhere. You don't have much familiarity with the original sources or modern scholarship, and you repeatedly present your side of an argument without apparently having given any other perspective much thought.

I've read everything Justin Martyr wrote. Have you? I know what sort of parallels he cites in pagan mythology, and the similarities are far too vague to carry the weight you're claiming for them. We know what content these mythologies had. We're not dependent on Justin Martyr for all of our information. If Justin thinks one similarity or another is significant, we can make judgments case-by-case about whether we agree. You need to be specific rather than just quoting general comments made by Justin Martyr. Tell us what specific parallels you have in mind and what specific significance you think they have.

From my reading of Justin Martyr, I would agree with J.P. Holding's assessment:

"[Richard] Carrier appeals to Justin Martyr's retort that Christians 'propound nothing new or different' when they proclaim Jesus' resurrection, as reason to suppose a lack of distinction between resurrection and pagan ideas of rising again. Our answer to Tom Harpur recently, who abused this quote in the same way, is just as relevant here: Please note, as a reader of ours once said of this passage, that Justin Martyr is making these stretches to try to justify Christian belief by making it sound similar to what pagans (who ridicule it) believe in the first place. Strangely enough, it is the pagans themselves who don't appear to be recognising these similarities. This destroys any contention by Carrier of recognizable similarities. If the pagans didn't recognize it, and Justin had to perform these stretches of analogy to create parallels, how likely is it that they are genuine?" ( )

Though Dave didn't give us a source for the quote of Justin Martyr in his latest post here, I know what he's citing. It's chapter 21 of Justin's First Apology. In that same chapter, Justin goes on to mention some differences between Christianity and paganism:

"And what kind of deeds are recorded of each of these reputed sons of Jupiter, it is needless to tell to those who already know. This only shall be said, that they are written for the advantage and encouragement of youthful scholars; for all reckon it an honourable thing to imitate the gods. But far be such a thought concerning the gods from every well-conditioned soul, as to believe that Jupiter himself, the governor and creator of all things, was both a parricide and the son of a parricide, and that being overcome by the love of base and shameful pleasures, he came in to Ganymede and those many women whom he had violated and that his sons did like actions. But, as we said above, wicked devils perpetrated these things."

Yes, Justin says that Christianity and paganism are similar in that they both believe in some concept of sons of gods. But that's a vague parallel without much significance, and Justin goes on to mention differences between Christianity and paganism. Your emphasis on Justin's phrase "no difference" is misleading, since anybody reading the context can see that Justin was saying that there's no difference in one vague sense, whereas there are differences on other issues. Would you explain to us how the fact that pagans believed in some form of sons of the gods, for example, is significant evidence against Christianity?

Elsewhere, after noting some vague similarities between paganism and Christianity, Justin goes on to mention some differences:

"I confess that I both boast and with all my strength strive to be found a Christian; not because the teachings of Plato are different from those of Christ, but because they are not in all respects similar, as neither are those of the others, Stoics, and poets, and historians. For each man spoke well in proportion to the share he had of the spermatic word, seeing what was related to it. But they who contradict themselves on the more important points appear not to have possessed the heavenly wisdom, and the knowledge which cannot be spoken against. Whatever things were rightly said among all men, are the property of us Christians." (Second Apology, 13)

I don't see how any of this does anything significant to help your argument, Dave.

You go on to say:

"God appeared as a man many times in the Old Testament"

He did appear sometimes, but only briefly, as a grown man, and without people having expected it. N.T. Wright comments that “no second-Temple Jews known to us were expecting the one god to appear in human form” (The Resurrection of the Son of God [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2003], p. 573).

Richard Swinburne writes:

“It is indisputable that there was no Jewish expectation that God would become incarnate. Pagans believed that their ‘gods’ had taken human form from time to time; but their ‘gods’ were lesser gods with limited powers, not God, omnipotent and omniscient. There simply was no precedent, Jewish or pagan, for expecting an incarnation: God almighty truly taking a human nature. And that again is reason for supposing that the first Christians were not reading back into history something which they expected to occur.” (The Resurrection of God Incarnate [New York: Oxford University Press, 2003], p. 115)

Furthermore, not only were Gentiles not expecting God incarnate, but the concept even repulsed them. This is seen, for example, in Celsus, a second century pagan critic of Christianity:

"This assertion [the incarnation], says Celsus, 'is most shameful and no lengthy argument is required to refute it' (c. Cels. 4.2). God is not the kind of being who can undergo mutation or alteration. He cannot change from the purity and perfection of divinity to the blemished and tarnished state of humans." (Robert Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them [New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1984], p. 102)

Dave goes on to say:

"the only thing going for the 'she was still a virgin after conception' is the question begging reliance on Matthew and Luke, who records in this case are the very question at issue."

I've already given you, on the NTRM boards, a large amount of evidence for the reliability of Matthew and Luke. At one point, you argued against the significance of Luke's historical accuracy by saying that he may have taken notes as he traveled with Paul. But I fail to see how such a scenario does anything other than hurting your case. If Luke was so careful to take notes, then we have good reason to trust him, and we know that at least one of the people he met was a member of Jesus' immediate family (Acts 21:18). Luke would have had access to reliable information on Jesus' childhood. I don't know of any Christian who claims that we can prove the virgin birth in the same manner in which we can prove something like Jesus' resurrection, but testimony from a reliable source like Luke, who was in contact with Jesus' immediate family, is significant.

Dave continues:

"Second, you should realize that failure to be an exact parallel doesn’t suddenly mean there’s no borrowing. The very fact that Jews, as you said, wished to be seen as unique, would argue that the Christian Jews would also, if they did indeed borrow, make sure that Jesus wasn’t a perfect mirror image of the pagans."

In other words, your argument is unfalsifiable.

But why should we think that the Jews merely wanted to "be seen" as different? They were different before they came into contact with these pagan mythologies, and they continued to be different afterward. It wasn't just an appearance. They were actually different, and they had a low view of paganism. It's not as if they thought highly of pagan mythology.

Dave goes on:

"I see no evidence that Jesus fulfilled the OT or was ever predicted for that matter, in the OT."

Well, let's start with two of the most basic Messianic expectations. The Messiah would be a son of David, and the Messiah would have great influence over Gentile nations, including Gentile rulers, despite being Jewish. Regarding Jesus' Davidic descent, Craig Keener writes:

“there is little doubt that Jesus’ family historically stemmed from Davidic lineage. All clear early Christian sources attest it (e.g., Rom 1:3); Hegesippus reports a Palestinian tradition in which Roman authorities interrogated Jesus’ brother’s grandsons for Davidic descent (Euseb. H.E. 3.20); Julius Africanus attests Jesus’ relatives claiming Davidic descent (Letter to Aristides); and, probably more significantly, non-Christian Jewish polemicists never bothered to try to refute it (Jeremias 1969: 291). Jesus’ relatives known in the early church seem to have raised no objection to the claim of their family’s background (Brown 1977: 507)….B. Sanh. 43a, bar., may preserve a [non-Christian Jewish] tradition that Jesus was of royal lineage (unless it suggests connections with the Herodian or Roman rulers, or that he was about to take control of the people; both views are unlikely).” (A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], p. 75 and n. 9 on p. 75)

We know that genealogical records were kept (D.A. Carson, The Expositor's Bible Commentary: Matthew, Chapters 1 Through 12 [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1995], p. 63).

Concerning Jesus' influence over the Gentile world, do you deny that many hundreds of millions of people in the world today are Gentiles who profess to be Christian, and that many Gentile nations have had Christian leaders?

If you're going to claim that Jesus didn't fulfill any Old Testament prophecies, let's begin with these two and see what case you have.

Dave continues:

"I fail to see how any of this refutes my 'present is key to past' principle. Your professor wouldn’t even be able to compile his notes for that lecture nor could you even know what college you are supposed to be attending let alone what class you should be sitting in, if you reject 'the present is the key to the past'. Sounds like pretty solid criteria to me."

As we've told you already, believing that the supernatural is possible doesn't require a rejection of physical laws. God can intervene in a world that operates with physical laws, much like we as humans can intervene when an apple is falling from a tree by reaching out our hand and catching it. We prevent gravity from bringing the apple to the ground, even though it would fall to the ground if left to itself. You're burning a straw man, as you often do.

Dave continues:

"What I think rules them out is the fact that naturalistic explanations for your miracle-data have more evidential force."

Here we have another example of Dave's self-contradictions. Earlier, in another thread, Dave said that a naturalistic explanation only needs to be possible. He said that he's justified in rejecting a claim of something he considers supernatural even if there are thousands of witnesses to it. But now, instead of appealing to mere possibility, he says that the naturalistic explanation would have to "have more evidential force". This is one of the difficulties in interacting with Dave. Which of his contradictory positions do you interact with, and how do you figure out just what argument he'll use from moment to moment?

Dave says:

"Again, cite one biblical example and I’ll show you why."

Tell us what naturalistic explanation of the resurrection appearances of 1 Corinthians 15 is better than the Christian explanation. Remember, if you appeal to hallucinations or some other psychological disorder, you must document that the data we have is consistent with what we know about that psychological disorder, and you have to explain why your naturalistic theory is preferable.

Dave goes on:

"Yes, the fact that something is improbable DOES influence me to first deny it until I can interview the claimers to have a better idea of the place the miracle-claim originated."

That's not what you argued earlier. You didn't just say that you wanted evidence before believing something. You repeatedly said that you automatically reject all miracle claims, that we have to have a prior resurrection before we believe any resurrection account, etc. You aren't being consistent. But you act as though your latest revisions are what you've been saying all along.

Dave continues:

"I accept naturalistic explanations because I find them to be 'NOT BAD', thus 'GOOD', not simply because they are 'POSSIBLE'."

First of all, why should we accept an explanation just because it's "not bad"? That doesn't make sense. What we look for is the best explanation, not just one that's "not bad". And here's what you said earlier:

"If 6,000 people swore on a stack of bibles that they saw someone walking on water, I would rest upon the confirmed physical laws to laugh in their faces. Am I wrong for using uniformity of physical laws to discount thousands of eyewitnesses to a single event which they further interpret as a miracle?...I've never seen a bad naturalistic explanation for any alleged miracle, that's why I refuse to include miracles as part of true history. When you come up with the kind of miracle evidence that I cannot find a naturalistic explanation for, NOW you are talking the possibility of miracles."

You said that you only needed "a naturalistic explanation", and you gave us an example of "6,000 people" experiencing hallucinations or other psychological disorders. You said that you would "laugh in their faces" on the basis of nothing more than what you know of physical laws. Yet, now you claim to be doing research into each miracle, accepting naturalistic theories only if they better explain the data. Again, as I told you on the NTRM boards, you're either a really poor communicator or you aren't being consistent, if not both.

Dave said:

"You have thousands of eyewitnesses to the appearance of Mary in Fatima Portugal, and you don’t believe ONE of them because you say they have seriously misinterpreted the evidence."

You need to get specific. Tell me what it is about the Fatima reports that convinces you that 1.) they're false and 2.) they're comparable to the accounts of Jesus' resurrection. Remember, as Steve has told you repeatedly, we as Christians have no need to dismiss all claims of the supernatural, and we need you to be specific when you cite alleged parallels to Christian miracle claims. Vague comments like the one quoted above won't do.

Dave writes:

"And yes, videotapes don’t count, because rising from the dead could be easily faked outside of rigously controlled scientific conditions that make the natural explanations impossible."

Would you explain how a faking of Jesus' resurrection would be done? Remember, your naturalistic explanation must account for the empty tomb, the wounds in Jesus' resurrection body, His ability to walk through walls and perform other supernatural actions in that body, the conversion of the apostle Paul, etc. And you have to tell us how your naturalistic theory better explains the facts than does the Christian view.

Dave writes:

"Indeed, now that you mention videotapes, how WOULD a video 'prove' that somebody resurrected from death after being dead for most of three days? What, somebody climbing out of grave captured on video?"

I said that the resurrection was on tape, not just somebody walking out of a grave. We could extend it to having people video tape everything, from the moments before His death to the resurrection itself. Even if all of that happened, with thousands of witnesses and no detectable altering of the tapes, you could still offer a possible naturalistic explanation. The issue should be what explanation is best, not whether a naturalistic explanation is possible. But, in this latest post of yours, you seem to have acknowledged that fact. You've changed your position again.

What we're now waiting for is for you to stop making vague references to mass hallucinations and other psychological disorders and to start addressing the specific historical data and the specific relevant psychological data. My guess is that you aren't prepared to do it. You're largely making these things up as you go along, hoping that vague references to Justin Martyr's comments on paganism, Marian apparitions, etc. will mislead us into thinking that you're more knowledgeable than you actually are.

Dave concludes:

"The readers should know, also, that Jason E’s latest arguments in this thread are largely repetitions of what he argued earlier. He was refuted in the earlier discussions, but he keeps repeating himself over and over. Convinced? I didn’t think so."

You've repeatedly responded to us in that manner, but you're overlooking the fact that different people have different degrees of credibility. The fact that we say something doesn't mean that it would be equally credible coming from your keyboard.

# posted by Jason Engwer : 1/02/2006 9:12 AM

Dave Wave writes:

"Straw-man, I don’t argue that miracles don’t happen simply because I’ve never seen them. Go back and read my arguments. I said that their true occurance as reported has lower probability than do the naturalistic explanations of the same."

That's your latest argument, and you probably got it from reading my citations of William Craig. But you weren't using that argument earlier. Here's what you wrote on the NTRM boards a few days ago:

"to be plausible, he [Jesus] would have to have been resurrected, which I don't think is plausible, since historical reconstruction cannot occur unless one uses the present to interpret the past (principle of uniformity), which rule of historiography automatically excludes all allegations that would require suspensions of the known physical laws." ( )

"Do you have any non-controversial established cases of resurrection from the dead, so that I might stop seeing Jesus' resurrection as impossible and at least grant that it was within the realm of possibility?" ( )

But now you're telling us that we don't need any prior resurrections, that you examine miracle claims case-by-case, and that any naturalistic explanation must better explain the historical data. You began by ruling out all miracle claims with philosophical presuppositions. Now you've changed your approach. What will your approach be the next time you post? Who could possibly know?

Dave goes on to repeatedly miss Steve's point and misrepresent what Steve said. For example, Steve said:

"Fifth, you continue to the absence of evidence as if that were positive evidence for the impossibility of a given phenomenon. That is a completely invalid leap of logic."

And Dave replies:

"You now just contradicted your own statement from before in which you said: 'Lack of evidence for the existence of something is sufficient reason to disbelieve in its existence.' Well, does lack of evidence justify a denial, yes or no?"

So, Steve makes a comment about impossibility, and Dave responds by equating impossibility with lack of belief. But you can think that there's insufficient evidence for something without considering it impossible. Dave has ignored the context, in which Steve was replying to Dave's earlier comments about the alleged non-existence and impossibility of miracles. When Steve says that he would want evidence for something before believing it, Dave equates that comment with his own comment about concluding that miracles never happen. But the two aren't equivalent.

Then there's Dave's misrepresentation of sola scriptura:

"Could it be that your belief about the bible being totally sufficient for all things in life, left you very little reason to pursue other ancient religious miracle-claims?"

Who ever defined sola scriptura in such a way that "all things in life", including the truthfulness of "ancient religious miracle-claims", are completely addressed in scripture?

Then Dave goes on to make many other false arguments, including a repetition of the claim that pagan mythology involves virgin births, even when it's been explained to him that the pagan myths involve sexual intercourse and other significant differences from the Christian account.

Dave doesn't know much about the issues he's discussing. But he keeps writing anyway.

Before finishing this post of his that I'm responding to, Dave once again changes his standards in mid-discussion:

"I don’t care if the whole world swears that the true god is a flying pig who gives birth to talking crayons, the natural laws and their uniformity put the lie to it safely and automatically."

If natural laws disprove a miracle report "safely and automatically", then why has Dave claimed at other points that he doesn't reject miracle reports automatically, and that he accepts naturalistic explanations only if they better explain the historical data from case to case? If what Dave means is that naturalism is always the best explanation, regardless of the historical evidence cited for a miracle claim, then what's the significance of saying that he looks for the best explanation of the historical data? He's already decided, before examining the historical evidence, that naturalism offers the best explanation. Apparently, all that Dave is doing is assuming naturalism at the start, then defining his terms in such a way that only a naturalistic explanation of an event can be considered the best explanation.

# posted by Jason Engwer : 1/02/2006 10:16 AM


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