Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Comic-strip 4

"It seems there's also plenty of literature challenging or questioning that proposition."

True, this is well-trodden ground. Both sides have stock arguments and counterarguments which they can whip off the shelf at a moment's notice.

"I presume you're referring to God. How do you know God is omniscient? OK, I imagine the Bible says so and you believe the Bible. If so, does the Bible give any proof? Or does it just quote the Lord himself? I would think proving omniscience is impossible (unless you're omniscient yourself!) and so it can only be an article of faith."

Okay, but you're shifting ground. This was not your original objection. Your original objection was as follows:


I was responding to your original objection, in which you contended, as a matter of principle, that God would be unable to give us advice unless he had a personal experience of what we were going through.

My reply is that this doesn't follow if God were omniscient, while the objection confounds the content of knowledge with a particular mode of knowledge--knowledge by acquaintance.

Whether there is such a God is a separate question which is bound up with apologetics in general. There are a couple of theistic proofs which would bear on this issue.

i) There are versions of the alethic argument in Augustine and Aquinas according to which truth is a property of a belief, which presupposes a believer. But human believers come and go. Human believers are finite in what they know, whereas the scope of all truths of reason and truths of fact is infinite. So you need a timeless mind of infinite scope to ground the continuity and identity of truth.

ii) In addition, there is the argument from sufficient reason, a la Leibniz, according to which some intelligent agent had to choose which of the infinity of possible worlds to actualize.

"Moral superiority? Hardly. People being condemned to eternal damnation because they didn't accept the "true religion"! I don't see any justice there."

No, they are damned because they are sinners. I've explained this several times now. What's the hang-up?

"I thought our belief in natural law was also, if not primarily, the result of scientific inquiry and validation. We don't believe in gravity because someone 400 years ago said it exists - it's something that can be scientifically proven."

i) This is still an argument from historical testimony, the testimony of scientific observers--past and present.

ii) Scientific proof presupposes observation.

iii) In addition, we need to distinguish between a scientific law as a description of what happens, and a scientific theory which attempts to explain the underlying cause of the phenomenon.

Belief in gravity is, in the first instance, a matter of observation and testimony.

On top of that you have various theories of gravity. Newton's. Einstein's. Witten's.

Belief in gravity doesn't depend on any particular theory. It's just a disguised description by which we label a certain phenomenon.

As to the Drange piece:

"First, it is generally conceded that the accounts of the resurrection were not actually written down until more than thirty years after the alleged event had occurred and that, prior to being written down, they were, in effect, rumors or stories which had been spread orally throughout the region. It is easy for such rumors to become embellished over time. Changes tend to occur in oral messages, even when their conveyers make every effort to pass them on accurately."

i) Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman cultures were not illiterate or preliterate cultures. That is why we have the gospels. That is why we have the NT letters. The theory of oral transmission has no evidentiary basis in the 1C Roman Empire, and, indeed, runs flat contrary to what we know of the Roman Empire.

ii) Also, Drange seems to be assuming that men who wrote about the empty tomb and risen Lord were not the same men who saw the empty tomb and risen Lord. But once you drop the wedge between orality and literality, there is no reason to assume that.

iii) Moreover, most historians are not eyewitnesses to the events they report. They rely on the observations of others. Yet we don't disbelieve them on that account.

iv) Thirty years ago I was in high school. I remember very well any number of things that happened in high school. And even if I didn't attend that particular high school, I could find out by interviewing those who did.

"Second, the event in question is supernatural or miraculous in character. That in itself makes it an event which calls for something more in support than just reports by a handful of alleged eyewitnesses. By analogy, if the explosion and burning of the Hindenburg Zeppelin were claimed to be followed by its miraculous reappearance out of nowhere, say, the next day, then historians would need far more than just some alleged eye-witness reports before they would include such an event (as an actual event, not merely a reported one) in their history books. Even if the alleged eyewitnesses were to show their complete sincerity, say, by passing lie-detector tests, that would still not sway historians. The event could still be some sort of mass hallucination or the product of the power of suggestion (as has been suggested in the case of the astronomical miracle at Fatima, Portugal in 1917)."

i) This is, indeed, a value-laden question. If you think that miracles can't happen or don't happen, then you think the Christian must overcome this presumption. If you think that miracles can and do happen, then there is no presumption to overcome.

At the very least, the unbeliever must defend his presumption rather than taking it for granted, just as the Christian must argue his own case. Each side has its own burden of proof. The onus is not on the theist to the exclusion of the atheist.

ii) Drange is comparing a miracle to a fluke or freak event. That's a category error. Miracles are purposeful events, not anomalous events.

iii) Drange has to postulate multiple mass hallucinations of the Resurrection for each individual appearance, since Jesus appeared to different observers at different times. How likely is that?

iv) The power of suggestion is scarcely relevant since the disciples didn't expect Jesus to rise from the dead. Indeed, if this is relevant at all, then it would be an argument for, rather than against, the Resurrection, given their expectation to the contrary.

"Third, those who wrote the accounts of Jesus's resurrection were not reporters or historians. They were all motivated to win converts to their new religion, which was at that time a kind of Judaic cult. Even Luke, who says, "I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning" (1:3), was not a neutral investigative reporter, but a proselytizer for Christianity (mainly to the Gentiles). That is another fact about the writings which tends to cast doubt upon their objectivity and accuracy."

This is a silly objection. Winston Churchill was a historian. Among other things, he wrote a history of W.W.II. He was no impartial observer. This is a classic case of history written by the winners. He was giving his side of the story.

Yet should this cause us to doubt his objectivity or accuracy? He knew more about W.W.II than any other man alive.

Elie Wiesel wrote a history about his experience as a child in the Nazi death camps. He was no impartial observer. Yet should this cause us to doubt his objectivity or accuracy?

It isn't enough to say that the Gospel writers were all motivated to win converts. That's true.

But the real question is, what made them believers in the first place? Did something happen to them? Did they see something? Their faith is founded on their personal experience of the events in which they participated.

"Fourth, the alleged resurrection appearances were only to Jesus's followers, not to his opponents. If the whole purpose of the resurrection had been for God to convey to the world the truth of the gospel message, as suggested in Mt 12:38-40, or at least the information that there is such a state as an afterlife, as suggested by St. Paul in 1Co 15:12-19, then the event was very badly staged. "

This is another silly objection. The event wasn't "staged." God isn't Cecil B. Demille.

i) Like most any historical event, it was localized in time and place. Hence, the witnesses to the event were the witnesses you'd expect to be available for an event in this time and place. Anything else would be wholly artificial and unhistorical.

ii) There is also a vicious circularity to the claim that Jesus only appeared to his followers, and not his opponents. Followers before or after the Resurrection? Opponents before or after the Resurrection? Were a former opponent to witness the risen Christ, he would likely become a follower.

"Fifth, the Biblical accounts of the resurrection are not consistent and that tends to cast doubt on them. They contradict one another regarding such matters as how many women went to Jesus's tomb, whether it was still dark out, whether Mary Magdalene told people about the tomb, whether she went back to it with them, whether there was just one angel there or two, whether the angels were inside of the tomb or outside, whether they got there before the women and disciples, and what they looked like, whether there were guards at the tomb, whether Peter went there alone, whether Jesus appeared first to him (1Co 15:3-5), whether he appeared at all to Mary Magdalene, whether he appeared to her at the tomb, whether she was then alone, whether she recognized him immediately, and whether it was after the disciples were told, whether Peter went to the tomb before or after the others were told and whether he was alone, whether Jesus appeared specially to two disciples, whether they recognized him immediately, whether he later appeared to the others as the two were speaking or afterwards, whether he scolded the others for not believing the two, whether he appeared to the disciples just once or three times, whether the first appearance was in Galilee, whether they all recognized him immediately, whether he ascended to heaven right afterwards, whether he ascended from Jerusalem (Mark), Bethany (Luke), or Mt. Olivet (Acts), and whether he appeared to the Twelve, to over 500, and then specially to James (1Co 15:5-7)."

i) Drange employs a very sloppy definition of a contradiction. A contradiction would only ensue if one author said that only such-and-such was the case at the same time and place while another author said otherwise.

But in a fluid event like the Easter appearances, with different people cycling in and out at different times or places, there is no contradiction in reporting one detail, but omitting another. Imagine a friend describing a cocktail party, with various people coming and going hither and yon. There is no way to relate everything that happened that night in a straight-line because there are too many things happening at once, or overlapping, or happening in more than one location. No halfway intelligent reader assumes that a narrative sequence is identical with a historical sequence, for the series of events is not, in fact, strictly serial. What we have, instead, are multiple paths, by turns convergent, divergent, or parallel, leading to and away from the central event.

Smaller incidents within larger incidents. Simultaneous incidents as well as successive incidents.

ii) The gospel writers face the same literary challenge as any historian. Writing is unilinear. Severely unilinear.

You can only use one word at a time, and one word followed by just another word. You can't very well write about everything at once.

But history is not unilinear. You are having to juggle several different agents acting at different times and places. The only way to do this is to sacrifice unilinearity for picking and choosing who and what to talk about, with shifting scenes and viewpoints, as you shuttle and shuffle people, places, and events back and forth in a way that best balances thematic unity with chronological continuity.


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