Friday, October 23, 2020

Randi's Million Dollar Challenge And The Eisenbud Challenge

James Randi did some good things, and he ought to be getting some positive coverage in the context of his death earlier this week. But the coverage has been far too positive, which is unsurprising in light of the media's biases. You can read our archive of posts on Randi here. While the media give so much attention to Randi's Million Dollar Challenge, keep in mind his failure to meet a challenge in the other direction:

Nevertheless, with his usual bluster, Randi accepted a $10,000 challenge (a considerable sum in those days) to duplicate the Serios phenomena and make good on his claim.

Of course, confidence is easy to feign, and Randi does it routinely in his role as magician. He also cleverly takes advantage of the occasional high-profile case he successfully exposes as fraudulent, by publicizing those successes and creating the impression that he's a generally reliable guide when it comes to the paranormal. So Randi's dismissal of the Serios case was all it took for those already disposed to believe that Serios was a fake, and it was probably enough even for those sympathetic to parapsychology but unaware of Randi's dishonesty....

What the TV audience never learned was that when the show was over and Randi was pressed to make good on his wager, he simply weaseled out of it. To keep that side of the story under wraps, Randi prohibited publication of his correspondence on the matter. That was undoubtedly a shrewd move, because the letters show clearly how Randi backed down from his empty challenge. However, Randi's original letters now reside in the library at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and researchers, finally, can easily confirm this for themselves. When Serios's principal investigator, Jule Eisenbud, died, I was assigned the task of going through his papers. I collected all the material relevant to the Serios case and deposited it in the Special Collections section of the UMBC library. (This includes correspondence, the original photos and film, and signed affidavits from witnesses.)...

But there's no documentary evidence of Randi having even attempted to duplicate the Serios phenomena under anything like the conditions in which Serios succeeded, much less evidence of his having actually pulled it off....

In fact, the history of parapsychology chronicles some remarkable examples of dishonest testimony and other reprehensible behavior on the part of skeptics....

Skepticism is just as glib and dishonest now as it was in 1882 when the British SPR [Society for Psychical Research] was founded. In fact, despite sensible and careful dismantling of the traditional skeptical objections, the same tired arguments surface again and again. And those arguments all too easily mislead those who haven't yet heard the other side of the story or examined the evidence for themselves.

(Stephen Braude, The Gold Leaf Lady [Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2007], 22, 34, 126)


See my post here about how other magicians have misled people about the paranormal.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Letters Of Gold

"Are ye ashamed to be corrected? This is the vice of the proud. It is, forsooth, a degradation for learned men to pass from the school of Plato to the discipleship of Christ, who by His Spirit taught a fisherman to think and to say, 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.' The old saint Simplicianus, afterwards bishop of Milan, used to tell me that a certain Platonist was in the habit of saying that this opening passage of the holy gospel, entitled, According to John, should be written in letters of gold, and hung up in all churches in the most conspicuous place. But the proud scorn to take God for their Master, because 'the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.' So that, with these miserable creatures, it is not enough that they are sick, but they boast of their sickness, and are ashamed of the medicine which could heal them. And, doing so, they secure not elevation, but a more disastrous fall." (Augustine, The City Of God, 10:29)

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Gospels' Agreement About James And Corroboration Of Other Sources

In a post yesterday, I discussed agreements among the early sources regarding the apostles. Some evidence that's often neglected in that context is what the gospels tell us about Jesus' brother James.

I've discussed their material on him elsewhere. Something I don't believe I've discussed here before, though, and it's something that doesn't seem to get much attention in general, is James' position in the lists of Jesus' siblings in Matthew 13:55 and Mark 6:3. Notice that the two lists are different, and there are some differences in the surrounding context, so it's not just a matter of Matthew's copying Mark, Mark's copying Matthew, or both's copying some other source. What I want to focus on here, though is how they list the names of Jesus' brothers in a different order, yet agree in putting James first. As I've mentioned before, the order in which names appear in a list can be determined by a wide variety of factors. James could be listed first because he was the oldest brother of Jesus. Or it could be because he was the most prominent for whatever other reasons. Or it could be both. Maybe James was the most prominent, which was partly because he was the oldest and partly because of one or more other factors. Whatever the cause of his being listed first in both documents, that's consistent with his prominence elsewhere. He's prominent in Acts, much more prominent than the other siblings listed with him in Matthew 13 and Mark 6. He's the only sibling of Jesus mentioned by name in the resurrection appearances discussed in 1 Corinthians 15. He's the only brother of Jesus mentioned in Galatians 1-2 and the only one named anywhere in Paul's letters. Jude identifies himself in connection with James (Jude 1), but James sees no need to appeal to a relationship with any of his brothers in his letter. This sort of greater prominence James had, in comparison to his brothers, is corroborated by the passages in Matthew 13 and Mark 6.

Several years ago, I wrote an article addressing why the gospels don't include any reference to the resurrection appearance to James. I said that the best explanation for their not including the appearance to James is a desire to be consistent with their previous focus on Jesus' earliest followers and a desire to honor those earliest disciples. You can read the article just linked for a further discussion of that subject and others that are related. I want to note here, though, that since one of the gospels that doesn't include the appearance to James is Luke, there's an implication that Luke wanted to honor Jesus' earliest disciples above individuals like James in the manner I just described. That's significant in light of the fact that some people deny that Luke viewed James as an unbeliever during Jesus' public ministry. I've argued that Luke 8:19-21 probably alludes to his unbelieving status. But even if we didn't have that passage, or even if my view of it is wrong, I think the absence of any reference to the resurrection appearance to him is best explained if he was an unbeliever in the relevant timeframe. Even if I'm wrong about both of these matters, the meaning of the Luke 8 passage and the absence of the appearance to James, there has to be some reason why all of the gospels don't mention that appearance. And that's further common ground they have about James.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

How Much The Early Sources Agree About The Apostles

In a recent post on Peter's prominence in the New Testament, I mentioned a significant similarity in how Matthew 14:29 and John 21:7 portray Peter. When people discuss agreements among the gospels and other early Christian sources, agreements about Jesus get the most attention, for good reason. But there are many agreements on other matters as well, including about other individuals. Peter is a good example, and I provide some illustrations in my post linked above (his impulsiveness, his outspokenness, etc.).

But something else should be noted, which doesn't get as much attention, and it's illustrated in the passages in Matthew 14 and John 21 mentioned above. Notice that the passages not only portray Peter behaving so similarly, but also agree about the behavior of the other disciples. They're more reserved, more hesitant to act, or however you'd put it. That's also reflected in another passage I cited in my earlier post, John 20:6. John refrains from entering the tomb, but Peter goes in. There are many examples of agreements like these in the gospels, Acts, Paul's letters, etc. That's a problem for skeptical views that involve less common ground among the early Christian sources, higher levels of carelessness, and so on.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Simplest Explanation For Peter's Prominence

There are many places in the New Testament in which Peter is prominent for reasons that are obviously of a non-papal nature. I'll start with some examples in the gospels of Matthew and John that are striking in how similar they are, despite appearing in such different contexts. When Peter leaves the boat he's in and enters the water in Matthew 14:29 and John 21:7, while the other disciples remain in the boat, he does so because of the nature of his personality, not because he's a Pope. Similarly, Peter's entering the tomb, while John remains outside, in John 20:6 is best explained by Peter's personality, not a papal office. And so on. Peter was outspoken, impulsive, rash, and so forth, so that he would often stand out for reasons other than a papacy. There's no reasonable way to deny that Peter's prominence in the early sources is due partly to such personal traits.

And that's a problem for Roman Catholicism. Since Peter's personality explains his prominence so well, no papacy or any other concept of a similar nature is needed to explain that prominence. All other things being equal, we prefer simpler explanations. Simplicity isn't the only criterion we take into account, but it is one of the criteria we consider. Why seek a second explanation for Peter's prominence when the first one is sufficient?

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Help The Liconas

Mike Licona and Nick Peters have done a lot of good work in apologetics over the years. Here's a GoFundMe page to raise money to help Allie Licona Peters, Mike's daughter and Nick's wife.

The New Testament In The Earliest Centuries

It's common to allege that the twenty-seven-book New Testament canon we have today doesn't first appear in the historical record until around the middle of the fourth century, in Athanasius. But it probably was advocated in multiple locations prior to that time, including in Origen more than a century earlier.

Even if it's recognized that the canon dates earlier than Athanasius' letter, it's commonly suggested that the process leading up to the origination and popularizing of that canon was unusually large and complicated and should motivate us to look for a source like an infallible church to adjudicate the situation for us. However, what stands out about the origins and popularizing of our New Testament canon isn't how unusually difficult the process was, but rather how unusually easy it was. See here for a further discussion of the subject.

And you can go here to find several other articles on issues related to the canon (mostly the New Testament, but also the Old).

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Andrew Before Peter

Several years ago, I wrote a post responding to the popular Roman Catholic claim that Peter is always mentioned first in lists of the apostles. Something that I didn't mention there is that Papias lists several of the apostles in the early second century, and he places Andrew before Peter (in Eusebius, Church History, 3:39:4).

Saturday, October 10, 2020

The Pauline Papacy In Ephesus

Nearly 20 years ago, I wrote a list of 51 proofs of a Pauline papacy and Ephesian primacy. The reasoning Catholics use to argue for a Petrine papacy and Roman primacy can also be used to argue for similarly ridiculous conclusions about Paul and Ephesus. I didn't include any material on 1 Timothy 3:15 in my list, but in light of my recent post discussing the relationship between that passage and Ephesus, my list could have included that passage. Other material could be added as well, like some of Ignatius' comments in his letter to the Ephesians.

Thursday, October 08, 2020

The Pillars Of Roman Catholicism

An easy way to remember some of the problems with Catholic ecclesiolgy is to think of how scripture uses the metaphor of a pillar in a couple of passages.

I recently discussed 1 Timothy 3:15, where the church (whatever concept of the church you think is in view there) is referred to as a pillar and support of the truth. As I mentioned, we normally think of a structure being supported by multiple pillars, not just one, which suggests that the church isn't the only pillar. F.J.A. Hort referred to the absurdity of "a building, standing in the air supported on a single column" (cited in William Mounce, Pastoral Epistles [Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000], 223).

Another relevant passage that uses the pillar metaphor is Galatians 2:9. It's doubtful that people would have been grouping Peter with other apostles as pillars of the church and naming him second, after James, if he was thought of as a Pope. Remember, Catholics are the ones who place so much emphasis on the alleged significance of Peter's being a foundation of the church in Matthew 16, which is similar to the pillar concept in Galatians 2:9. It's highly unlikely that the early Christians believed that Peter was such a unique foundation of the church, the infallible ruler of all Christians, including the other apostles, yet perceived him as described in Galatians 2:9.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

What To Make Of 1 Timothy 3:15 And Catholic Claims About It

Roman Catholics often cite 1 Timothy 3:15 in support of their view of their denomination. But:

- The context makes it more likely that Paul is referring to the local church than that he's referring to a worldwide denomination, like the Roman Catholic Church. He's writing to Timothy about the latter's work in Ephesus (1:3).

- What we read about the Ephesian church elsewhere, such as in Acts 20:17-38 and Revelation 2:1-7, suggests that there was no assurance that the Ephesian church would remain faithful, have an unbroken succession from the apostles in perpetuity, or any other such thing. In Acts 20, Paul expects wolves to come in among the Ephesian leadership and calls on them to remember the teaching they'd received from Jesus and Paul. He says nothing of an assurance that they'll maintain the faith or how they can look to the infallible church teachings of their day, in addition to remembering the teaching of the past. Even an apostolic church as prominent as Ephesus, one that had the principles of 1 Timothy 3:15 applied so directly to it, could also be addressed in the terms of Acts 20 and Revelation 2.

Sunday, October 04, 2020

The Justification Of The Reformation

Reformation Day is coming up later this month. Here's a collection of resources addressing many topics relevant to the Reformation. Some links have been added to it since last year (a third post on sola scriptura; a post on prooftexts for Catholic Mariology; see the comments section of the thread on the papacy for a couple of links that were added there; a post on ecclesiology; a fourth post on development of doctrine; a third post on the assumption of Mary).

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Enfield Miscellany (Part 4)

(For an explanation of what this series is about, see part 1 here. Parts 2 and 3 can be found here and here. I'll be citing Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's Enfield tapes below. I'll use "MG" to designate a tape from Grosse's collection and "GP" to designate one from Playfair's. MG88B refers to tape 88B in Grosse's collection, GP70B refers to 70B in Playfair's, and so on.)

Unknown Precedent

One type of event to look for in paranormal cases is something that has precedent, but only in a context unknown to the people involved in the event. The precedent adds credibility to the claim that the event occurred, and the ignorance of the precedent on the part of those involved in the event undermines the notion that the event was faked based on that precedent. I noticed some incidents in the Enfield case that seem to meet those criteria.

Peggy Hodgson reported experiencing a sensation like a cat sitting on her feet and the bottom of her legs (GP5A, 4:44, especially 5:59). I've come across a similar report, but only briefly and in passing in a summary of a haunting case that occurred in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (Alan Gauld and A.D. Cornell, Poltergeists [United States: White Crow Books, 2017], approximate Kindle location 3236). Gauld and Cornell refer to how a woman in the case reported "a feeling as if a cat were curling round her feet". In the Enfield case, on the tape cited above, Peggy refers to "a cat sitting on you…on your feet, [unintelligible] your legs". In all the books I've read on paranormal topics, articles I've read, podcasts I've listened to, etc., I don't recall anybody other than the woman cited by Gauld and Cornell and Peggy Hodgson reporting such an incident. And it seems extremely improbable that somebody like Peggy would have come across the obscure incident briefly mentioned by Gauld and Cornell or have been significantly influenced by somebody else who came across it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Christianity And Living Agent Psi

I've posted an Amazon review of Stephen Braude's recent book. The review repeats some of what I've said here, but also adds some comments on other subjects, such as the evidence Christianity provides for life after death.