Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Testing Gullibility Claims

In recent days, John Loftus has been posting here on the subject of the alleged gullibility of ancient people. Paul Manata has made some good points in response, and I want to recommend, again, a resource I mentioned earlier. Glenn Miller has a good article on this subject that addresses the claims Loftus is making, including some of the Biblical material Loftus has cited. Miller goes into a lot of detail. If you don't have time to read all of it, though I'd recommend reading all of it, then at least read the list of summary conclusions at the close of the article. If you want further information on any of the conclusions, use the Ctrl F feature to search the article for whatever you're interested in. Miller makes many points that Loftus and other critics of Christianity repeatedly neglect. While Loftus often makes vague assertions without any supporting evidence, Miller goes into a lot of detail. Notice that Miller cites scholars who specialize in these areas confirming his conclusions. Scholars of ancient history don't think it's sufficient to dismiss what ancient sources said with a vague reference to how gullible ancient people allegedly were.

Just as people like John Loftus can emphasize the supernatural beliefs of ancient people spanning hundreds of years, combine all of those beliefs together, ignore or underestimate all qualifying data, and conclude that ancient people were too gullible for their testimony to have much significance, we could do the same with the modern world. Ignore the modern educational system. Ignore the work done by scientists, historians, and other scholars. Ignore the motives modern people would have to investigate truth claims. Just emphasize all of the supernatural beliefs of modern people (consulting psychics, belief in ghosts, belief in reincarnation, etc.), combine all of those beliefs together, ignore or underestimate all qualifying data, and conclude that twenty-first century people are too gullible for their testimony to have much significance.

Remember, the issue here isn't whether twenty-first century people have some advantages over first-century people. In some ways, they do. Similarly, in some ways forty-first century people will have advantages over twenty-first century people. They'll probably have better technology, more advanced methods of research, etc. We don't conclude that forty-first century people therefore can dismiss what twenty-first century people reported by making vague references to the alleged gullibility of twenty-first century people.

Remember, also, that not all of the supernatural elements of Christianity depend on accepting the testimony of ancient Christian sources. Prophecy is an example. If you acknowledge something as basic as the historicity of Jesus' crucifixion, you're acknowledging the plausibility of His fulfillment of highly unusual passages in the Old Testament (Psalm 22:16, Isaiah 53:4-6). If you acknowledge a basic fact like the timing of Jesus' death, you're acknowledging that His death occurred within a narrow window of time that would fulfill Daniel's 70 weeks prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27). If you acknowledge a basic fact like Jesus' historical influence on Gentile nations, you're acknowledging His fulfillment of the Old Testament expectation of an ultimate servant of God who would become a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6-7, 52:15). Facts such as Jesus' death by crucifixion, the timing of His death around 30 A.D., the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D., and Jesus' influence on the Gentile world are widely accepted facts, acknowledged even by atheists, agnostics, and other people who are far from holding a Christian worldview.

But even as far as the claims of the ancient Christians are concerned, we have to evaluate charges of gullibility on a case-by-case basis. Does the apostle Paul's educational background suggest gullibility? Does his background as an enemy of Christianity suggest gullibility in believing Christian claims? Does his former position as a religious leader of Israel around the time when Jesus and the apostles were alive suggest that Paul would have been ignorant of arguments against Christianity? Does Paul's practice of traveling around the world and initiating discussions with philosophers, religious leaders, and other people he disagreed with suggest that he never saw his beliefs challenged and never had to give any defense of those beliefs? When we read a passage like 1 Corinthians 15, in which Paul acknowledges that Christian faith is worthless if he's wrong about the resurrection, in which he refers to hundreds of other witnesses who support his testimony, in which he's following the lives of those witnesses so closely that he knows what portion of them are still alive or dead (1 Corinthians 15:6), does such evidence suggest that Paul was highly gullible? Or does it suggest that he was significantly discerning?

It's easy for somebody like John Loftus to make vague charges of gullibility. It's something else to go into the sort of detail Glenn Miller has gone into, the sort of detail I've outlined above.

2 comments:

  1. It's just interesting to me that Christians must argue that ancient people were not as superstitious as they really were, and then they have to downplay our knowledge today, arguing that science isn't solid enough. Do you use a computer?

    And I can't think of a properly interpreted OT prophecy that unequivicably pointed to the nature or mission of Jesus that wasn't misapplied to him, or that wasn't based upon a nebulous hope of theirs. The so-called messianic psalms, if interpreted correctly by the grammatical-historical method, and not through midrash or pesher, were merely psalms of hope and anguish from the writer's perspective alone.

    And as far as the superstitious people in the Bible goes, I have done a unique analysis of the Bible in my book (my longest chapter) and found superstitions everywhere. That is, taking the Bible at face value, as you might do, I document the various superstitions among those people. I will post something on our blog from my book today to show you the kind of superstitiousness there is in the people of the Bible. Just ask yourself, is there anything like that in today's world? I'll share only one incident...there are many many many more of these. Here goes....

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  2. John Loftus said:

    "It's just interesting to me that Christians must argue that ancient people were not as superstitious as they really were, and then they have to downplay our knowledge today, arguing that science isn't solid enough. Do you use a computer?"

    In order for you to demonstrate that I've "argued that ancient people were not as superstitious as they really were", you would need to demonstrate how superstitious ancient people were and demonstrate that I've underestimated that superstition. You've done neither. And what did I say about science? What did I say about "science not being solid enough"? Solid enough for what? And how does my use of a computer contradict what I argued? It doesn't. Your comments are too vague and don't have much relevance to what I said.

    You write:

    "And I can't think of a properly interpreted OT prophecy that unequivicably pointed to the nature or mission of Jesus that wasn't misapplied to him, or that wasn't based upon a nebulous hope of theirs. The so-called messianic psalms, if interpreted correctly by the grammatical-historical method, and not through midrash or pesher, were merely psalms of hope and anguish from the writer's perspective alone."

    We don't need "unequivocal" evidence. A probability is enough. I gave a few examples of fulfilled prophecy, and only one of them was a psalm. Thus, you haven't even attempted to interact with most of what I cited. And the one psalm I mentioned, Psalm 22, can't be identified with any event in David's life. When were David's hands and feet pierced while people cast lots for his clothing?

    You write:

    "I will post something on our blog from my book today to show you the kind of superstitiousness there is in the people of the Bible. Just ask yourself, is there anything like that in today's world?"

    John, I read the article at your blog, and it's another example of how irrational and inconsistent you've been. Above, you ask me "is there anythinhg like that in today's world?" Yet, at your blog, you compare the people of Ephesus to "Militant Muslims with their guns in the air and shooting off round after round". By your own admission, there are people in today's world who are comparable to those people in Ephesus in Acts 19. Does the existence of militant Muslims today prove that there aren't other people who are more discerning? No, and neither does the existence of the Ephesians of Acts 19 prove that everybody in the ancient world, or even a majority, had the same mindset.

    The early Christians weren't behaving in the same manner as the Ephesians of Acts 19. They weren't making claims about a god nobody had seen taking actions that nobody had witnessed. Rather, the early Christians were claiming that God became a man and performed miracles before many witnesses who were still alive, were named, and could be consulted. They also argued for the fulfillment of detailed prophecies that had been fulfilled before witnesses who were still alive and could be consulted. And the leaders of the church performed miracles that could be verified. Not only did the early Christians not behave in the same manner as the Ephesians of Acts 19, but they also made claims of a radically different nature. Your comparison has multiple flaws.

    I gave you examples of evidence we have for the apostle Paul's credibility. You ignored those examples and chose instead to discuss one group of non-Christians in Acts 19. The book of Acts also mentions other people who behaved in other ways. The events you mentioned in Acts 19 aren't representative of the early Christians. To ignore the evidence I've cited and ignore what's documented by Glenn Miller in the article I linked to, while citing Acts 19 as a demonstration of your assertion, is absurd.

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