Saturday, September 16, 2006

Anonymous Gospels?

"the knowledge of a widely recognized collection of the four Gospels which is used in worship is certainly substantially older than Irenaeus...Evidently Clement [of Alexandria] took it for granted that the collection of four Gospels was based on recognized church tradition and was unchallenged, since he does not have to defend it anywhere...Nevertheless the fact remains that it is utterly improbable that in this dark period, at a particular place or through a person or through the decision of a group or institution unknown to us, the four superscriptions of the Gospels, which had hitherto been circulating anonymously, suddenly came into being and, without leaving behind traces of earlier divergent titles, became established throughout the church. Let those who deny the great age and therefore basically the originality of the Gospel superscriptions in order to preserve their 'good' critical conscience, give a better explanation of the completely unanimous and relatively early attestation of these titles, their origin and the names of authors associated with them. Such an explanation has yet to be given, and it never will be. New Testament scholars persistently overlook basic facts and questions on the basis of old habits....Another comment on the name Matthew: apart from the first Gospel, to which he gives his name, Matthew plays no role in primitive Christianity. He appears only in the lists of apostles. He is only mentioned rather more frequently at a substantially later date in apocryphal writings on the basis of the unique success of the Gospel named after him. That makes it utterly improbable that the name of the apostle was attached to the Gospel only at a secondary stage, in the first decades of the second century, somewhere in the Roman empire, and that this essentially later nomenclature then established itself everywhere without opposition. How could people have arrived at this name for an anonymous Gospel in the second century, and how then would it have gained general recognition?...a recognized authority and not an anonymous Gentile Christian, i.e. a Mr. Nobody in the church, stood behind it [the gospel of Mark]...nothing has led research into the Gospels so astray as the romantic superstition involving anonymous theologically creative community collectives, which are supposed to have drafted whole writings." (Martin Hengel, The Four Gospels And The One Gospel Of Jesus Christ [Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2000], pp. 14, 16, 55, 71, 80-81)

"Marcion, on the other hand, you must know, ascribes no author to his Gospel, as if it could not be allowed him to affix a title to that from which it was no crime (in his eyes) to subvert the very body. And here I might now make a stand, and contend that a work ought not to be recognised, which holds not its head erect, which exhibits no consistency, which gives no promise of credibility from the fulness of its title and the just profession of its author." (Tertullian, Against Marcion, 4:2)

See also here and here.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The presence of the past

Bill Curry said:

“Well Matthew claims the earth shook and the rocks split. Don’t you think that numerous saints rising from the dead and visiting a major city would cause some historian to take note? Again I am not saying it is impossible that none would, but the apparent implausibility certainly this enters into my assessment.”

1.I can think of at least one historian who did take note of this event. He goes by the name of St. Matthew.

2.Since Jerusalem was dominated by the religious establishment, which was hostile to Christ, is there some reason to expect that a Jewish writer unsympathetic to the Messianic claims of Jesus would, in fact, record this vindicatory episode for posterity?

After all, the unspoken assumption of Curry’s objection is that we can discount Matthew since Matthew is a sympathetic source. We can only trust a hostile witness.

But, by definition, a hostile witness would be disinclined to report an incident unfavorable to his own cause.

3.Assuming, for the sake of argument, that someone like Josephus corroborated this event, unbelievers routinely discount the reported miracles in Josephus—just as they discount the Testimonium Flavianum.

4.Finally, Curry fails to draw an elementary distinction between what was written and what was preserved.

As Martin Hengel has pointed out:

“The basic problem in writing a history of early Christianity lies in the fragmentariness of the sources and haphazard way in which they survived. However, this situation hampers not only research into the origins of our faith, but also the study of ancient history generally, in both the political and the cultural and religious spheres.

“What we know is largely dependent on often quite chance circumstances…Our knowledge is even more fragmentary when it comes to the fortunes of individual areas and provinces. How very little we really know about Syria in the 1C BC and the 1C AD, above all about the religious atmosphere prevailing there in that period, or about Judaea under the Roman prefects between AD 6 and AD 41 (which is even closer to the heart of the NT scholar)! Our knowledge of the Roman province of Judaea (which in the meantime had become independent) in the period between the Jewish War of AD 66-74 and the Bar Kochba revolt (AD 132-135) is even slimmer…What is true of Syria can be said to b even more true of tiny Palestine…Here our knowledge is essentially based on what rats and worms happen to have left on the scrolls in the caves of the wilderness of Judaea.

“We have already seen that our lack of sources is often due to the fortuitous and apparently external circumstances. Another factor is the whole complex of problems associated with the nature of books in antiquity and the transmission of ancient texts. The writing and reproduction of books was a much more wearisome business than it is today. As a rule, for technical reasons alone, an author was compelled to keep his material within strict limits. He had to make careful plans in advance so that his work would be the right length, since there was comparatively little room on papyrus scrolls and they were very expensive indeed, given the wages earned by the majority of the population. By and large, only rich people could afford a large number of books.

“A further problem is the copying and handling down of early historical works, where chance, external difficulties of transmission and various questions of content have all contributed to the destruction and reduction of sources. Hardly any of the great historical works of the Hellenistic and Roman period have come down to us unabbreviated. Extensive gaps in the text and abbreviation in the form of summaries are the rule here.

“I need mention only the three most important Greek historians of the Hellenistic and Roman period in this connection. These were Polybius and Diodore, each of whom wrote a history of the world in forty volumes…and Dio Cassius…whose History of Rome extended to eighty books. WE have only about a third of Polybius’ work, with the first five books in their entirety; sixteen books of Diodore, and some very fragmentary excerpts; while from Dio Cassius we have books 36-60, fragments of books 78 and 79, and some very abbreviate summaries from the Byzantine period.

“The 144-voume history of the world written by Nicolaus of Damascus, a friend of king Herod, who composed his work in Jerusalem, ahs been lost completely—presumably, like most ancient histories, because of its excessive length.

“However, even smaller works did not escape unscathed. Of the sixteen books of Tacitus’ Annals, which are fundamental to our knowledge of Roman history in the 1C AD, books 7-10 are missing. They are important for the history of the NT period as they covered the years 37-47 and also dealt with the situation in Judaea under Tiberius and Caligula. Of the sixteen books of his Histories, about the period from the death of Nero to Nerva, we have only books 1-4 and the beginning of 5 with its notorious anti-Semitic account of the Jews and the conquest of Jerusalem,” Acts & the History of Earliest Christianity (Fortress 1980), 3-7.

Evidence For The Miracles Of Jesus

I just posted a couple of messages on the New Testament Research Ministries board on the subject of evidence for Jesus' miracles. For those who are interested, here's the thread.

Salus populi suprema lex

A letter from a friend, with my interlinear commentary:

“The 5th anniversary of 9-11 is a good occasion to look at where things stand.”

Wow! If I didn’t know better I’d almost suspect that you were not Bush voter!

“-- Bin Laden, Al-Zawahiri, and Mullah Omar are still at large, Al-Qaida has not been destroyed. (Yes, there have been some successes too - the killing of Zarqawi and some other top Islamic terrorist figures.)”

One reason they’re hard to nab is because they play cat-and-mouse on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. So unless you think the US should invade and occupy Pakistan, I don’t know what else you think we should be doing to apprehend UBL & Co.

I would add that Al-Qaida is a threat to the free world generally, and so it’s not as if the US has the sole responsibility for catching Bin Laden and his lieutenants. What is Russia doing to hunt down and capture UBL? Or China? Or France? Or Germany?

“ -- Iraq is a total shambles as a result of the US invasion, a Sunni-Shia civil war is raging, suicide bombings are a daily occurrence, civilian infrastructure is still in bad shape.”

Actually, I don’t know that Iraq is in a total shambles. Most of the bad new comes from Baghdad. Naturally the capital is a great symbolic importance.

But Olympia is the capital of WA. Yet Seattle is far more important to WA than Olympia.

“ -- Over 2,500 US soldiers have been killed in Iraq, and over 40,000 Iraqi civilians (acc. to”

It may well be that Iraq simply isn’t worth the investment of blood and treasure. However, surrender would be a costly option as well.

“ -- Bush has openly admitted that Saddam had nothing to do with 9-11, yet invading Iraq was the main response to 9-11.”

This is a straw man argument. I’ve never seen any direct quote from Bush or any member of his war cabinet attributing 9-11 to Saddam Hussein. This is an urban legend.

“-- No WMDs were found in Iraq yet their alleged presence was the main justification for invading Iraq. For this alone, Bush should have been impeached and removed from office, in my humble opinion. (But of course, deceiving the American people about this is nothing compared to deceiving them about an affair with an intern!)”

1. This is well-trodden ground. Two bipartisan investigative bodies have cleared the Bush administration of willful deceit:

a) Joint Inquiry Into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001: Report, Together With Additional Views, December 2002

b) The 9/11 Commission Report

2.The official causus belli is contained in the Congressional War Resolution, which contains no fewer than 25 reasons for invading argument:

To single out WMD is another urban legend.

The WMD argument came into relief when Bush went to the UN, since that was the only leverage with the UN.

“ -- Anti-Americanism has risen sharply around the world since the invasion of Iraq, in sharp contrast to the outpouring for support for the US just after 9-11. Anti-Americanism in the Middle East is at an all-time high, boosted recently by US support for Israeli barbarism in Lebanon.”

This is a circular argument. Anti-Americanism is feuded by slanted, anti-American coverage in Al-Jazeera, the Beeb, NYT, and so on and so forth. It’s an anti-American effect of an anti-American cause.

“ -- Islamic terrorism outside the US has continued to be a serious menace: major bombings in Bali, Madrid, London, Jordan, India, Egypt, plus scores of smaller-scale attacks.”

Islamic terrorism has been going on for decades, prior to 9/11, against American and non-
American targets alike. Here are just a few highlights:

1968: The first Arab-Israeli hijacking, as three members of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijack an El Al plane to Rome.

1970: As part of the Dawson's Field hijackings, PFLP members attempt to hijack four aircraft simultaneously. They succeed on three and force the planes to fly to the Jordanian desert, where the hijackers blow up the aircraft after releasing most of the hostages. The final hostages are freed in exchange for seven Palestinian prisoners. The fourth attack on an El Al plane by two people including Leila Khalid is foiled by armed guards aboard.

1972: The Munich Massacre. The Munich massacre occurred during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany, when members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage by the Palestinian terrorist organization Black September, a group with ties to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization[1]. The terrorists killed eleven Israeli athletes and one German police officer. Five of the eight hostage-takers were killed by police during an abortive rescue attempt. The three surviving captured hostage-takers were later released by Germany, following the hijacking of a Lufthansa airliner.

1976: The Palestinian hijack of Air France Flight 139 is brought to an end at Entebbe Airport, Uganda by Operation Entebbe: Israeli commandos assault the building holding the hijackers and hostages killing all Palestinian hijackers and rescuing 105 persons, mostly Israeli hostages; three passengers and one commando are killed.

1977: A Palestinian hijack of a Lufthansa airliner Landshut during its flight from Palma de Mallorca to Frankfurt is ended in Mogadishu when German commandos storm the plane. Three hijackers are killed and 86 hostages are freed.

1978: Two Arab guerrillas seized a plane in Cyprus. Egyptian commandos flew in uninvited to try to take the plane. Cypriot troops resisted and 15 Egyptians died in a 45-minute battle.

1979: Iran Hostage Crisis.

1981: Assassination of Egyptian President.
Soldiers who were secretly members of the Takfir Wal-Hajira sect attacked and killed Egyptian President Anwar Sadat during a troop review.

1983: Bombing of Marine Barracks, Beirut.
Simultaneous suicide truck-bomb attacks were made on American and French compounds in Beirut, Lebanon. A 12,000-pound bomb destroyed the U.S. compound, killing 242 Americans, while 58 French troops were killed when a 400-pound device destroyed a French base. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.

1983: Bombing of U.S. Embassy in Beirut.
Sixty-three people, including the CIA's Middle East director, were killed and 120 were injured in a 400-pound suicide truck-bomb attack on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon. The Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.

1984: Lebanese Shi'a hijackers divert a Kuwait Airways flight to Tehran. The plane is taken by Iranian security forces who were dressed as custodial staff.

1984: Kidnapping of Embassy Official.
The Islamic Jihad kidnapped and later murdered Political Officer William Buckley in Beirut, Lebanon. Other U.S. citizens not connected to the U.S. government were seized over a succeeding two-year period.

1985: Lebanese Shi'a hijackers divert TWA Flight 847 from Athens to Beirut with 153 people on board. The stand-off ends after Israel frees 31 Lebanese prisoners.

1985: Palestinians take over EgyptAir Flight 648 and fly it to Malta. All together, 60 people died, most of them when Egyptian commandos stormed the aircraft.

1985: Airport Attacks in Rome and Vienna.
Four gunmen belonging to the Abu Nidal Organization attacked the El Al and Trans World Airlines ticket counters at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci Airport with grenades and automatic rifles. Thirteen persons were killed and 75 were wounded before Italian police and Israeli security guards killed three of the gunmen and captured the fourth. Three more Abu Nidal gunmen attacked the El Al ticket counter at Vienna's Schwechat Airport, killing three persons and wounding 30. Austrian police killed one of the gunmen and captured the others.

1985: Egyptian Airliner Hijacking,.
An EgyptAir airplane bound from Athens to Malta and carrying several U.S. citizens was hijacked by the Abu Nidal Group.

1985: Achille Lauro Hijacking.
Four Palestinian Liberation Front terrorists seized the Italian cruise liner in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, taking more than 700 hostages. One U.S. passenger was murdered before the Egyptian government offered the terrorists safe haven in return for the hostages' freedom.

1985: TWA Hijacking.
A Trans-World Airlines flight was hijacked en route to Rome from Athens by two Lebanese Hizballah terrorists and forced to fly to Beirut. The eight crew members and 145 passengers were held for seventeen days, during which one American hostage, a U.S. Navy sailor, was murdered. After being flown twice to Algiers, the aircraft was returned to Beirut after Israel released 435 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners.

1986: 22 people are killed when Pakistani security forces storm Pan Am Flight 73 at Karachi, carrying 400 passengers and crew after a 16-hour siege.Pan Am Flight 73 was hijacked on September 5, 1986, by four armed men from the Abu Nidal’s organization.

1986: Berlin Discothèque Bombing.
Two U.S. soldiers were killed and 79 American servicemen were injured in a Libyan bomb attack on a nightclub in West Berlin, West Germany. In retaliation U.S. military jets bombed targets in and around Tripoli and Benghazi.

1986: Aircraft Bombing in Greece.
A Palestinian splinter group detonated a bomb as TWA Flight 840 approached Athens airport, killing four U.S. citizens.

1988: Pan Am 103 Bombing.
Pan American Airlines Flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, by a bomb believed to have been placed on the aircraft by Libyan terrorists in Frankfurt, West Germany. All 259 people on board were killed.

1988: Naples USO Attack.
The Organization of Jihad Brigades exploded a car-bomb outside a USO Club in Naples, Italy, killing one U.S. sailor.

1988: Kidnapping of William Higgins.
U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel W. Higgins was kidnapped and murdered by the Iranian-backed Hizballah group while serving with the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organization (UNTSO) in southern Lebanon.

1991: Singapore Airlines Flight 117 hijacked by individuals claiming to be members of the Pakistan People's Party. Elite Singapore Special Operations Force members stormed the plane, killing all four hijackers and freeing all 118 passengers and 9 crew in an operation lasting just 30 seconds. None of the passengers and crew were hurt.

1991: Attempted Iraqi Attacks on U.S. Posts.
Iraqi agents planted bombs at the U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia's home residence and at the United States Information Service (USIS) library in Manila.

1993: Attempted Assassination of President Bush by Iraqi Agents.
The Iraqi intelligence service attempted to assassinate former U.S. President George Bush during a visit to Kuwait. In retaliation, the U.S. launched a cruise missile attack 2 months later on the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

1993: World Trade Center Bombing,.
The World Trade Center in New York City was badly damaged when a car bomb planted by Islamic terrorists exploded in an underground garage. The bomb left 6 people dead and 1,000 injured. The men carrying out the attack were followers of Umar Abd al-Rahman, an Egyptian cleric who preached in the New York City area.

1994: Air France Flight 8969 is hijacked by four GIA (Groupe Islamique Armé) terrorists planning to crash into the Eiffel Tower. After the execution of 3 passengers, GIGN commandos storm the plane killing all hijackers and freeing all passengers.

1995: Saudi Military Installation Attack.
The Islamic Movement of Change planted a bomb in a Riyadh military compound that killed one U.S. citizen, several foreign national employees of the U.S. government, and over 40 others.

1996: Hemus Air Tu-154 aircraft was hijacked by the Palestinian Nadir Abdallah, flying from Beirut to Varna.

1996: Paris Subway Explosion.
A bomb exploded aboard a Paris subway train as it arrived at the Port Royal station, killing two French nationals, a Moroccan, and a Canadian, and injuring 86 persons. Among those injured were one U.S. citizen and a Canadian. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but Algerian extremists are suspected.

1996: Red Cross Worker Kidnappings.
In Sudan a breakaway group from the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) kidnapped three International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) workers, including a U.S. citizen, an Australian, and a Kenyan. On 9 December the rebels released the hostages in exchange for ICRC supplies and a health survey for their camp.

1996: PUK Kidnapping.
In Iraq, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) militants kidnapped four French workers for Pharmaciens Sans Frontieres, a Canadian United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) official, and two Iraqis.

1996: Khobar Towers Bombing.
A fuel truck carrying a bomb exploded outside the US military's Khobar Towers housing facility in Dhahran, killing 19 U.S. military personnel and wounding 515 persons, including 240 U.S. personnel. Several groups claimed responsibility for the attack.

1996: Zekharya Attack.
Unidentified gunmen opened fire on a car near Zekharya, killing a dual U.S./Israeli citizen and an Israeli. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) was suspected.

1996: West Bank Attack.
Arab gunmen opened fire on a bus and a group of Yeshiva students near the Bet El settlement, killing a dual U.S./Israeli citizen and wounding three Israelis. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but HAMAS was suspected.

1996: Dizengoff Center Bombing.
HAMAS and the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ) both claimed responsibility for a bombing outside of Tel Aviv's largest shopping mall that killed 20 persons and injured 75 others, including 2 U.S. citizens.

1997: Murder of U.S. Businessmen in Pakistan.
Two unidentified gunmen shot to death four U.S. auditors from Union Texas Petroleum Corporation and their Pakistani driver after they drove away from the Sheraton Hotel in Karachi. The Islami Inqilabi Council, or Islamic Revolutionary Council, claimed responsibility in a call to the U.S. Consulate in Karachi. In a letter to Pakistani newspapers, the Aimal Khufia Action Committee also claimed responsibility.

1997: Empire State Building Sniper Attack.
A Palestinian gunman opened fire on tourists at an observation deck atop the Empire State Building in New York City, killing a Danish national and wounding visitors from the United States, Argentina, Switzerland, and France before turning the gun on himself. A handwritten note carried by the gunman claimed this was a punishment attack against the "enemies of Palestine."

1997: Egyptian Letter Bombs.
A series of letter bombs with Alexandria, Egypt, postmarks were discovered at Al-Hayat newspaper bureaus in Washington, New York City, London, and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Three similar devices, also postmarked in Egypt, were found at a prison facility in Leavenworth, Kansas.

1998: U.S. Embassy Bombings in East Africa.
A bomb exploded at the rear entrance of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, killing 12 U.S. citizens, 32 Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs), and 247 Kenyan citizens. Approximately 5,000 Kenyans, 6 U.S. citizens, and 13 FSNs were injured. The U.S. Embassy building sustained extensive structural damage. Almost simultaneously, a bomb detonated outside the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing 7 FSNs and 3 Tanzanian citizens, and injuring 1 U.S. citizen and 76 Tanzanians. The explosion caused major structural damage to the U.S. Embassy facility. The U.S. Government held Usama Bin Laden responsible.

1998: Somali Hostage-takings.
Somali militiamen abducted nine Red Cross and Red Crescent workers at an airstrip north of Mogadishu. The hostages included a U.S. citizen, a German, a Belgian, a French, a Norwegian, two Swiss, and one Somali. The gunmen were members of a sub-clan loyal to Ali Mahdi Mohammed, who controlled the northern section of the capital.

1999-2000: Pakistan based terrorists hijack Indian Airlines Flight 814 and divert it to Kandahar. After a week-long stand-off India agrees to release three jailed Pakistani terrorists in exchange for the hostages. 1 hostage was stabbed to death and his body thrown on the tarmac as a "warning attack".

2000: Manila Bombing.
A bomb exploded in a plaza across the street from the U.S. Embassy in Manila, injuring nine persons. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front was likely responsible.

2000: Attack on U.S.S. Cole.
In Aden, Yemen, a small dingy carrying explosives rammed the destroyer U.S.S. Cole, killing 17 sailors and injuring 39 others. Supporters of Usama Bin Laden were suspected.

2000: Kidnappings in Kyrgyzstan.
In the Kara-Su Valley, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan took four U.S. citizens hostage. The Americans escaped on August 12.

2001: Philippines Hostage Incident.
Muslim Abu Sayyaf guerrillas seized 13 tourists and 3 staff members at a resort on Palawan Island and took their captives to Basilan Island. The captives included three U.S. citizens: Guellermo Sobero and missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham. Philippine troops fought a series of battles with the guerrillas between June 1 and June 3 during which 9 hostages escaped and two were found dead. The guerrillas took additional hostages when they seized the hospital in the town of Lamitan. On June 12, Abu Sayyaf spokesman Abu Sabaya claimed that Sobero had been killed and beheaded; his body was found in October. The Burnhams remained in captivity until June 2002.


And this list doesn’t even begin to include all of the suicide bombings in Israel:

“ -- Iraq has become a terrorist training ground and breeding ground, and a rationale for homespun Islamic terrorism in the UK and elsewhere.”

1.Oh, come now. Was the thwarted plot to assassinate the Canadian Prime Minister and bomb the Canadian Parliament due to Canada’s hawkish foreign policy and slavish support of the Iraq War?

2.Every nation is responsible for its own self-defense. It’s rather patronizing to blame this on the US.

The EU and UK are responsible for their own Muslim citizens. They’ve allowed this situation to fester for years now.

“-- Iran is stronger than ever, and more respected and influential than ever in the Middle East. A tough stance on nuclear enrichment, powerful Shiite allies in Iraq, backing for Hezbollah in Lebanon. Saddam's overthrow helped to boost Iran's position.”

True, but Iran is a separate problem demanding a separate strategy.

“Israel's war crimes in Lebanon and its failure to crush Hezbollah have further strengthened Iran's hand.”

What are you referring to? The past or the present? Israel’s alleged complicity in the Sabra and Shatila Massacre? Or the staged Qana atrocity in the recent war?

The Lebanese gov’t is responsible for forming a political alliance with Hezbollah. It ought to form a military alliance with Israel to expel Hezbollah from Lebanon.

Hezbollah uses the civilian populace as a human shield, and the populace is a willing accomplice. There’s a lot of popular support for Hezbollah.

There’s no way for Israel to defend herself against missile attacks without killing civilians in the process. That’s the fault of Hezbollah, the Lebanese gov’t, a complicit civilian population, Syria, and Iran.

“America's reputation has been severely tarnished by Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, rendition, secret prisons, the Patriot Act. Abusing prisoners, holding prisoners without charges, curbing civil liberties -- in the name of freedom and democracy.”

1. Again, this is a circular argument. America’s reputation has been tarnished by hostile coverage on the part of media outlets that think the US is the enemy rather than the jihadis.

2.It’s schizophrenic to blame the US for allegedly torturing prisoners while also blaming the US for transferring prisoners to other countries which torture prisoners because they’re prepared to do all the nasty things that we are unwilling to do. Which is it?

If we’re prepared to torture prisoners, then why would we farm out the dirty work to a second party?

3.And why isn’t the reputation of countries which do engage in systematic torture similarly tarnished? Why doesn’t Al-Jazeera or the Beeb or the NYT shine the same spotlight on those regimes and express the same moral indignation?

4.What provisions of the Patriot Act do you take exception to?

How would you say the provisions of the Patriot Act compare with French and British surveillance of domestic terrorism? Has the reputation of those countries been similarly tarnished?

5.You’re using a criminal paradigm, as if terrorism should be treated like shoplifting. As if an unlawful combatant should enjoy the status of a POW (name, rank, serial number); as if a terrorist, even a foreign national, should be treated like an American citizen, free to plead the Fifth Amendment.

Well, that’s not my paradigm. I subscribe to the old Ciceronian adage that the common good is the highest law (“Salus populi suprema lex”).

The only purpose for having laws is to protect us from our enemies, not to protect our enemies from us.

This is a war, involving counterintelligence to forestall future attacks, dry up sources of funding, and track down the jihadis.

“ -- The billions of dollars thrown down the Iraqi drain means considerably reduced government resources to rebuild New Orleans and help evacuees return. Much of New Orleans is still in ruins, half its pre-Katrina population is still spread around the US. One of America's most distinctive cities has been gutted to a large degree. (But even if Iraq hadn't taken place, it's doubtful the Bush regime would have responded properly to Katrina.)”

1.Why do you think the Federal gov’t is responsible for rebuilding New Orleans? Why should middle class taxpayers who, even with a double income, can’t afford to send their kids to college, pick up the tab for New Orleans?

Do you trust Mayor Nagin with our money? I don’t.

Why doesn’t Bill Gates rebuild New Orleans? What about other filthy rich liberals like Ted Kennedy, George Soros, and Teresa Kerry? Can’t they cut a private check to help out Katrina refugees?

2.And assuming, for the sake of argument, that the Federal gov’t is responsible for New Orleans, we could always subsidize the repairs by, say, eliminating the Dept. of Education or the ATF; or by defunding the UN; or by privatizing Amtrak, the Postal Service or Social Security, and then redirecting all those wasted budgetary resources to the Gulf Coast.

“ -- No terrorist attacks have taken place in the US since 9-11, but the US death toll in Iraq is approaching the 9-11 death toll. America's failure to single-mindedly pursue Bin Laden and Al Qaida mean that they remain a serious threat to the US and other countries.”

Do you really think Bin Laden is orchestrating all these attacks from a cave in Afghanistan?

The Gospels As Historical Accounts

Bill Curry has written a reply to my response to him that I posted Wednesday. He writes:

"Ironically, I agree that legend has not 'prevailed' over the core historic tradition in case of the Gospels. I think the core that has been preserved is the fact that there was an apocalyptic prophet named Jesus who claimed to be the messiah who was crucified."

You're telling us that you accept some of what was widely believed about Jesus early on, but much more was widely believed than what you mention. Concepts such as Jesus' performance of apparent miracles, the empty tomb, and the disciples' belief that they saw Jesus risen from the dead, for example, were widely accepted early on and were considered foundational to the movement.

You write:

"However, I don’t think that Craig (or White) have demonstrated their claim that legend doesn’t typically overcome core historic fact within three generations."

I understand that you reject their position, but I don't think you've given a sufficient explanation as to why you reject it. I haven't given much thought to what the outer limit ought to be for the number of generations. I don't know about "within three generations", but I do accept the general principle applied within one generation at the least. If a generation is defined as a unit as small as 30 or 40 years, for example, then I would accept at least two generations. One of the primary issues is how long eyewitnesses and contemporaries were still alive.

You write:

"Even more significant they have not shown that a surviving report within 50 years of the reported event is evidence for historicity."

I don't know why you're framing the issue in that manner. I don't think people like William Craig have ever argued that "a surviving report within 50 years" alone is sufficient to prove historicity. But the earliness of the report is one significant factor among others. You cited Craig's appeal to A.N. Sherwin-White, and that argument involves more than the earliness of a report.

You write:

"What was striking to me is that Herodotus recording of the temple of Delphi’s defense of itself (within 55 years of the recorded event) didn’t serve to qualify the statements that Craig makes."

Are you suggesting that what Herodotus reported was a core fact that prevailed? I doubt that people had much interest in it. The issue here isn't whether any false reports can exist early on. Craig's argument is more nuanced than that.

Even if we were to conclude that Herodotus or some other source offers an exception to the principle Craig advocates, the principle is still generally applicable. I haven't done the research of Herodotus and other relevant sources that A.N. Sherwin-White did, but I consider the general principle Craig is deriving from him credible, even if we were to conclude that some exceptions exist.

You write:

"The legendary developments associated with the events at Roswell seem to be about a perfect match for the timelines of the gospels."

Again, the issue Craig was addressing was the prevailing of core facts. The claims about Roswell that you're objecting to are widely disputed. They haven't prevailed. They also differ from the gospel accounts in many other ways.

You write:

"It seems extremely unlikely that such earth shattering events [Matthew 27:45-54] would have been unmentioned by Seneca, Pliny, Josephus, and other historians of the era."

That's a different issue than what you initially raised. The readers should understand that I've been composing my responses based primarily on the issues you've chosen to address. The portion of William Craig's work that you quoted only represents a fraction of the evidence he cites, and I would cite a lot of other evidence as well. If you want to expand the discussion into other considerations, then you're going beyond the original discussion and would need to take Craig's other evidence into account as well.

I don't know why all of the events you're referring to above would be "earth shattering" or why you'd expect each of the sources you've named to mention the events. None of those sources attempted to record every earthquake that occurred, for example, and none of them would have wanted to give much attention to any purported supernatural event associated with Christianity. Josephus refers to Jesus as a miracle worker, but doesn't go into detail. He would have been in a position to know some details, but he wasn't a Christian and didn't desire to further the Christian cause. Julius Africanus refers to attempts made by non-Christian sources to explain the darkness at Jesus' crucifixion, so the darkness didn't go unmentioned. Pliny the Elder rejected the supernatural, so I don't know why you'd expect him to mention events that had supernatural associations. It's not something we should expect. He didn't attempt to document all purported natural events, much less did he attempt to include all purported supernatural occurrences. All of these writers were selective in what they addressed, and we don't know that they had access to all of the data in question anyway. Even many Christian sources who had access to the New Testament documents would discuss Jesus' life and other relevant subjects at length without mentioning some of the supernatural elements of the gospels. Even Christian sources who knew of these reports were selective in discussing them.

We see much the same with purported natural events. An example is the life of Paul. We know from his writings, the ones accepted as authentic across the scholarly spectrum, that Paul traveled widely, was involved in many highly public events, claimed supernatural power and was believed by others to possess such power, was one of the foremost leaders of early Christianity, etc. Yet, none of the earliest extant non-Christian sources mention Paul. On the selectivity of ancient sources on other issues, Craig Keener writes:

"Without immediate political repercussions, it is not surprising that the earliest Jesus movement does not spring quickly into the purview of Rome’s historians; even Herod the Great finds little space in Dio Cassius (49.22.6; 54.9.3). Josephus happily compares Herodotus’s neglect of Judea (Apion 1.60-65) with his neglect of Rome (Apion 1.66)." (A Commentary On The Gospel Of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999], p. 64, n. 205)

Of all the events mentioned in the passage you've cited from Matthew 27, the darkness probably had the most potential for being seen by non-Christians as something supernatural that was associated with Christianity. (We don't know how many non-Christians, if any, saw the people who rose from the dead.) And the darkness was discussed among non-Christian sources. When Josephus, the Talmud, and other non-Christian sources make general references to Jesus as a miracle worker, magician, etc., we don't know what details they had in mind, but the events of Matthew 27 (in part or in whole) might have been included. See also J.P. Holding's comments here.

You write:

"Now Jason is presenting why he thinks why it is sensible for the chief priest to need Judas."

No, that's not what I said. What do you mean by "need"? If Judas offered to help them accomplish their ends in exchange for money, he would be helping them without their needing him.

And what do you think they needed him for in the gospel accounts? In your last article, you mentioned their alleged need of Judas to identify Jesus, but none of the gospels make that claim.

You go on to raise other objections to the accounts of Judas' betrayal, which means that you're going beyond your original argument. I think you realize that your original objection wasn't sufficient.

You write:

"Before accepting Judas’ help, it must be kept in mind that Judas could have potentially betrayed the chief priest as well. This is all the more likely since he was known to be a member of Jesus’ inner circle."

What danger would be involved for the religious leaders? How would Judas betray them? They were in high positions of authority. They had influence with government officials and could produce the sort of armed force that accompanied Judas to Gethsemane. Besides, the early movement surrounding Jesus wasn't known for carrying out deceptive campaigns like the one you're imagining. Betrayers like Judas are unreliable in the sense that they're betraying another person, but that unreliability doesn't prevent people from using betrayers to accomplish something. If you know that you have something the betrayer would want, you can trust him to do something to get what he wants, even if you wouldn't want to have him as a friend. This happens a lot in life.

You write:

"The information Judas was providing doesn’t seem to me to have that much value relative to the risk incurred. Keep in mind that there were many who had debated Jesus and would have are able to identify him. To think that they were all unavailable seems implausible."

What risk are you referring to? And where do the gospels claim that nobody other than Judas would have been available? They don't. What the gospels tell us is that the religious leaders were becoming increasingly concerned about Jesus, yet they knew that He often had crowds around Him, and they wouldn't have known where He was at all times. The gospels also tell us that Judas was looking for an opportunity to do what he did. Jesus was away from the crowds at night, at a time when the religious leaders were especially concerned about Him, and Judas took advantage of the opportunity. The religious leaders didn't need Judas, but he offered to help when they wanted it, it didn't cost them much, and they probably found the concept of getting Jesus through one of His disciples appealing. The betrayal by Judas is widely reported early on by credible sources (in all four gospels, in Paul without Judas' name, etc.). I see no reason to reject it.

You write:

"If Mark were using Homeric epic as inspiration, it is not surprising that he would write that account regardless of what it did to the believability of his account."

Mark was a first century Jew writing a Greco-Roman biography. He was writing in a context in which God was believed to give revelation through historical events, and the early Christian community was highly concerned with historical information and eyewitness accounts in particular. We know how other sources around Mark's time interpreted his work. They didn't interpret it as a non-historical account "using Homeric epic as inspiration". And eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles (and Mark) were still alive when Mark was first being interpreted. Mark himself probably didn't die upon finishing his gospel. He would have been alive for a while to correct any misconceptions.

See the critiques of Dennis MacDonald here, here, here, and here. See also David Wood's comments here about Richard Carrier's inconsistencies in appealing to the work of MacDonald. Elsewhere, Wood comments:

"Many times, MacDonald has to strain and contort the text to find his parallels, especially when he comes to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. In the Iliad, Hector’s body is burned and his tomb holds his remains forever, while Jesus body is resurrected three days later. Resurrection is mentioned three times in the Iliad; twice regarding its impossibility and once as a metaphor for Hector’s survival [avoidance] of certain death. Moreover, Mark differs in many ways from Homer. In order to account for this, MacDonald claims that 'Mark hid his dependence by avoiding Homeric vocabulary, transforming characterizations, motifs, and episodes, placing the episodes out of sequence, and employing multiple literary models, especially from Jewish scriptures' (170). In other words, MacDonald is claiming that all of the characteristics the historian would look for in order to show a borrowing are absent because Mark changed everything intentionally to keep from being detected!" (note 16 here)

Robert Rabel notes how MacDonald goes back and forth, from one work to another, trying to find parallels, paralleling Jesus with one figure at one point and with another figure at another point:

"As Mark approaches his account of Jesus' death, he switches from the Odyssey to the Iliad as his primary source. Jesus imitates Achilles in his predictions of his imminent death (Chapter 17), but otherwise he resembles Hector: both meet violent deaths (Chapter 18) and have their corpses rescued for burial -- by Priam in the Iliad and Joseph of Arimathea in Mark (Chapter 20). Finally, the young man at the tomb on Easter morning in Mark is said to imitate -- or rather 'emulate' (166) -- Elpenor from the Odyssey (Chapter 21)....Chapter 19 ('Hydropatetics') finds Jesus walking on the water in imitation of the god Hermes, who flies over the water in both the Iliad and Odyssey....According to MacDonald, Mark based the death of Jesus on the death of Hector and then conflated the Iliad with the Odyssey by weaving in elements from the tragic story of Elpenor. Turning these tragic stories into a climactic tale of resurrection, Mark is supposed to have transvalued Homer, performing 'a remarkable demonstration of literary dexterity'(167). This argument relies upon the most procrustean and reductive methods of interpretation....One can discern literally hundreds of close parallels between the Iliad and, say, Clint Eastwood's hero's tale Unforgiven."

Bill, do you actually find this sort of speculative paralleling convincing? I don't, and neither does modern New Testament scholarship.

You write:

"Jason has not (yet) disputed my assessment of the initial implausiblity of the resurrection."

It wasn't my intent to interact with everything you've written relevant to the resurrection. I was using your article as an illustration of how putting bad numbers into Bayes' Theorem produces bad results. I've addressed issues such as initial probability in other contexts, such as in my discussions with your brother on Greg Krehbiel's board last year. I've also posted a large amount of material on other subjects relevant to the resurrection at Triablogue. See also Steve Hays' recent posts on initial probability and other relevant issues, as well as his recent book on the resurrection.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Altar Boyz N da Hood


DJP said:

He asked my question. Am I getting this right -- he is insisting that he knew the Gospel, and now has turned his back on it for Rome, knowingly and deliberately?

I'm wondering: if that is not apostasy, what would be? Or what am I missing? Sincerely?

Do we have different estimates of the Gospel? or of Rome? or of apostasy?
9/13/2006 5:43 PM

Dave said:

Hi Steve,

In the position you are in, it was wise to use evasive humor. If you continue to admit that I may still (possibly) be in a state of grace and refuse to apply the word "apostate" (and all the unsavory aspects that conjures up) to me, then you have to deal with your less charitable mates like DJP and no doubt many other fans of yours who think like he does.

If you change your mind, then I believe you will have to struggle with a great deal of cognitive dissonance and explain how an apostate unregenerate person can write all the stuff that I write, much of which even you would agree with, including, e.g., my strong defenses of the Bible just last night in responding to Ed Babinski on the "last days" / false prophecy issue.

So either way, you'd be in the hot seat, now that your mythical scenario of my allaged former blissful ignorance and superficiality was shown to be precisely that: blissfully ignorant and superficial.

I don't fit into the category you thought I was in. And I know that gives you pause, because you are a thoughtful person, and know better than to make the silly quick judgments of folks like djp (who couldn't even comprehend my half-jesting reply) and travis, etc.

You may not admit this publicly, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist . . . even this little crack of sorts gives me hope that you can reason your way out of the morass of self-defeating anti-Catholicism some time in the not-too-distant future.


It’s always possible that I’ll disappoint both sides in this debate, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

I’m not saying anything I haven’t said before in more general terms.

1.I draw a distinction between a credible profession of faith and a saving profession of faith.

I don’t think that a Catholic qua Catholic can render a credible profession of faith.

But this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for a Roman Catholic to be saved. It’s possible to find the gospel in Catholic tradition because it’s possible to find near ‘bout anything in Catholic tradition.

Catholic tradition is so diverse that it’s a theological buffet, and different Catholics are drawn to different strands of its far-flung tradition.

You have the Augustinian and Jansenist tradition (e.g. Pascal). You have the mystics. You have the church fathers. You have the Scholastic theologians. And so on and so forth.

Catholicism is like the hood. Many children are lost to the hood. It would be very imprudent to raise your kids in the hood.

Still, there are some kids who manage to escape the gang violence and drug culture.

I warn people away from Catholicism the same way I’d warn a parent away from the mean streets of the hood. It’s perilous and foolhardy to go looking for the Gospel in the Church of Rome. Still, God in his providence can save an individual despite the unpromising surroundings.

2.Even at its best, you’ll never find the unadulterated gospel in Catholic tradition.

Still, one doesn’t need to be a perfect theologian to be saved. John and Charles Wesley, Dwight Moody, and Billy Graham, to name a few, profess a very flawed theology, but I don’t doubt their salvation on that account.

2.I also draw a distinction between the laity and the clergy. Someone like Rahner, Raymond Brown, or Benedict XVI is going to be far more self-consciously consistent about his theological commitments than the average layman.

There are Catholic laymen who, because they’re involved in group Bible studies with their Evangelical friends and coworkers, end up with a personal theology that is more Evangelical than their church.

3.Apropos (2), many Evangelical immigrants to Rome bring along a certain amount of contraband theology stashed away in their luggage.

As I’ve observed in the past, they are often far more conservative than cradle Catholics or the clergy. Indeed, they’re often at odds with their adopted denomination.

So guys like Dave Armstrong and Scott Hahn present an artificially Evangelicalized version of Roman Catholicism.

Consider Hahn’s use of covenant theology to defend and explicate Catholic dogma. This is clearly a carryover from his Presbyterian past.

He’s grafting elements of one theological system onto elements of an opposing theological system.

So they end up with a sterile hybrid theology that isn’t consistently Catholic or Protestant.

4.The reason that an apologist like Hahn is successful in bringing Evangelical fence-straddlers over to the Rome fold is precisely the because he has erected an Evangelicaloid bridge between the two traditions.

When Evangelicals read about his version of Catholicism, it looks uncannily familiar. A family resemblance. They’ve seen it before. The shock of recognition. A long lost son. Twins separated at birth. This is what we always believed!

5.When they present Catholicism, the outside surface of the door has a heavy coat of Evangelical paint, while the inside surface of the door has a Catholic coat of paint.

Kind of like the Gingerbread house in Hansel and Gretel—with Evangelical icing, sprinkles, gum drops, M&Ms, marshmallows, and candy canes on the outside, along with a yummy aroma from the chimney.

6.I’m on record as stating that the Catholic church is an apostate denomination.

But apostasy is a matter of degree, and it’s possible to be saved in an apostate denomination.

One could argue that the CRC, ECUSA, PC-USA, and ELCA are apostate denominations, but not every member thereof is an apostate.

It is prudent to belong to an apostate denomination? Is it prudent to raise your kids in such a denomination?

Dude, chillin’ in wit ma popish homiez in da hood be hazardous to ma spiritual health and wellbein’.

Jon Curry's Refuted Arguments

Jon Curry is now posting on Dave Armstrong's blog, repeating false claims about early Christian eschatology that I and others have already answered. For example, in his first response to Dave, Jon writes:

"The other question is, where are these scoffers getting this notion that an end times prophecy has failed?"

As I explained to Jon repeatedly, we know from 2 Peter 3:9 that Peter was responding to a charge of slowness of fulfillment, not failure of fulfillment. It's the same sort of objection we see in the Old Testament, as I documented in my discussions with Jon on this blog. I also gave Jon examples of the early Christians referring to the possibility that there would be future generations before Jesus' second coming. When sources like Peter and Clement of Rome respond to the objection that God is slow in fulfilling His promises, but don't address any charge that a generational promise had failed, the best explanation for that situation is that the early Christians never claimed that Jesus was certain to return within His generation.

Jon often ignores evidence against his assertions, even after the evidence has been given to him repeatedly. For those who didn't read my earlier discussions with Jon on these eschatological issues, see here, for example. Other responses to Jon that I've written can be found by searching the archives.

Are Reformed Baptists Reformed?

I was sent this series of posts from a number of people who have asked me to comment on them. I normally would not like to address material such as this, but because it was brought to my attention (and because the issues raised are potentially divisive) I'll offer a few quick remarks:
Why Baptists Are Not and Will Never Be Reformed

I know it is a harsh title for the overwhelming group of "Reformed" Baptists that attend Ligonier Ministries every year. I confess at one time I endorsed that label during the familiar transitional stage that most if not all my friends have experienced. However, after considerable analysis of the Reformed tradition and Reformed Theological distinctives it is imperative that we maintain this sharp line between Reformed and Baptist. For at least one simple reason: to cloud the issues is to make our Reformed heritage cloudy.
I think it is rather interesting that Mr. Brito (the author) speaks of the Reformed heritage (in those words) here, but then later applies the label 'Reformed' in such a narrow and monolithic sense that he ignores the diverse heritage which makes up the term.
Though I wish that the whole world would embrace the Reformed tradition I acknowledge that different contexts affect ecclesiological, eschatological, and sacramental views. As a former Baptist I am deeply indebted to all my background for their sincere commitment to the Scriptures. I have learned much from them and still do (believe it or not John MacArthur does make some valid points sometimes and of course in greater proportion so does Piper). However, the issues at stake are deeper. Our ecclesiology is abundantly different and our sacramentology also distinguishes us immensely from our brothers and sisters.
The issues that are 'at stake' here are not 'deeper' but peripheral. They are not central to an essentially Reformed understanding, but find their place on the circumference.
These are just two examples; many more could be listed. But if our structure, leadership, connectionalism is different from Baptists (referring to ecclesiology) this will highly differentiate our approach to the church. And further, if our understanding of community life and covenantal life differ (sacramentology) our experience of the bread and wine take on an emphatic distance from our Christian friends.
This is all true, but beside the point. The question isn't whether or not Baptists and Presbyterians are different, but whether they are both Reformed. We aren't free to apply our own definitions to historic terminology. Most Presbyterians would reject Mr. Brito's narrow definition of 'Reformed,' as some already have done so explicitly.
Some will forthrighly accept this distinction, but others will affirm that our differences are nothing more than nuances.
The extent of the differences is certainly important, but what is more important is accuracy in definitions. The extent of the differences matters only as much as the scope of the definition allows. So whether or not Mr. Brito views the differences as major or minor is, again, beside the point. What he needs to provide is an historically based definition of the word 'Reformed' which allows him to hold to his contentions.
...When this happens, a church can be in a Reformed denomination, it can belong to a strictly Reformed presbytery or even teach TULIP at Sunday School, nevertheless it ceases to be wholeheartedly Reformed.
This is an assertion, not an argument.
...Continuing now my infamous discussion on why Baptists should never consider themselves Reformed I would like to offer a few observations. I will be borrowing some ideas from Paul Owen at Communio Sanctorum.
When Paul Owen is cited as one of your sources, you might want to rethink your position. This is not because of the person of Paul Owen, but the position of Paul Owen. Is it not telling that Mr. Brito must find support, not from R.C. Sproul or Ligon Duncan, but from Paul Owen? Is Paul Owen 'Reformed' according to Mr. Brito's position? Is Paul Owen's exegesis of John 6 or Acts 13 Reformed exegesis (even in the broad sense)?

Mr. Brito goes on to argue that Calvinistic Baptists fail to embrace all of the tenets of the well-rounded worldview of Calvinism. But he tells Baptists nothing which they do not already know. Unless Mr. Brito defines a Calvinist as 'one who embraces everything which Calvin taught,' which would be an a-historical definition, his comments are true but irrelevant.

In the third part of his series, Mr. Brito addresses issues that are neither distinctively Baptist nor distinctively Presbyterian. So his arguments here cut both ways, to all who call themselves Reformed. But even here he once again fails to give us a basis for the scope of his definition. He can highlight differences all he wants, but unless those differences, given the definition of Reformed, necessarily contradict what it means to be Reformed, his statements are again true but irrelevant.

The fourth and last part of his series is much like what precedes it, failing to provide a single historical basis for the scope of his definition. This last post opens the door to an endless discussion of issues that I would rather leave unaddressed. I'll just quickly point out that his transition from the sacraments to the secularization of the church is a non-sequitur.

In short: in defending the Reformed heritage Mr. Brito fails to take into account the heritage. Yes, he tells us much of some Reformed distinctives, but little of how those distinctives played out into the broader realm of church history. There really is no benefit to his statements. What is a name, anyway? If his point is that Baptists do not agree with all of the distincives of historical Reformed theology, then he tells us nothing new. So there is not much to gain from his contentions, other than an alteration in terminology, and the potential to increase division in the body. This should be avoided, not at all costs, but at least at the minimal cost of abandoning your narrow and a-historical understanding of what it means to be Reformed.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

An Interview with Sam Harris

A friend sent me a copy of an interview with Sam Harris. Below is my reply.


I've not read the book although I have read a number of articles and/or interviews of Harris.

Harris is a critic of the postmodern multicultural "tolerance" which treats Islam in particular, and religion in general, as above criticism. Something he shares in common with Christopher Hitchens.

It is ironic that so many members of the Far Left turn a blind eye to the threat posed by radical Islam--or even defend it at every turn.

As to the interview itself, I'll venture a few comments:

"But where people think there is a profound difference between being a Christian, a Muslim, or a Jew, I think those identities are intrinsically divisive. Devout Muslims generally think that the Christians are all going to hell, and devout Christians return the favor. And the difference between going to hell and going to heaven for eternity really raises the stakes in their disagreements with one another."

"It’s that your neighbor believes something that is so metaphysically incorrect, he’s going to spend eternity in hell for it. And if he convinces your children that his beliefs are valid, your children will spend eternity in hell. Muslim parents are genuinely concerned that their children’s faith is going to be eroded, either by the materialism and secularism of the West, or by Christianity. And, obviously, our own fundamentalist communities in the West are similarly concerned. So if you really believe that it matters what name you call God, religion provides far more significant reasons for you to fear and despise your neighbor."

This is one of those pat sociological theories that is extrinsic to the people-groups it purportedly describes. I don't think that Harris is actually listening to the parties concerned. Instead, he runs the phenomenon through a preconceived grid of his own devising.

Contemporary Catholicism is pretty universalistic. If he read JP2 or B16, he'd know that. The fear of hell is not driving the Catholic conscience, that I can see.

Rather, Vatican II codified the view of Rahner that God's saving grace can be exemplified in non-Christian cultures.

The Eastern Orthodox tradition is also quite sympathetic to universalism.

By contrast, conservative Evangelicalism continues to affirm Christian inclusivism and the doctrine of hell.

But by the same token, conservative Evangelicalism is also opposed to coercive conversion inasmuch as its theology stresses the supreme importance of genuine conviction and personal faith as opposed to nominal adherence and dead formalism.

The paradox, then, is that the religious traditions that are more autocratic (Catholicism, Orthodoxy) are much weaker in their anxiety over the fate of non-Christians, whereas the religious traditions which are much more concerned about the fate of non-Christians are also distinguished by their individualism.

As to Islam, I can only speak as an outsider, but in my reading and observation I think that Harris' analysis is off target with respect to jihadism as well. It seems to be motivated by other factors such as an autocratic cultural mindset, a strong sense of ethnic identity and group loyalty, as well as a triumphalist eschatology which has been frustrated by historical realities.

I don't see that Muslims are as doctrinally oriented as Harris thinks they are. It's a religious shame culture. As long as you go through the motions and don't buck the system, that's fine.

"I can be even more inflammatory than that. If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion."

I'm not bothered by his inflammatory rhetoric. This is more likely to offend members of the Religious Left--with its cultural relativism and pluralism--rather than the Religious Right

"I think more people are dying as a result of our religious myths than as a result of any other ideology."

To say the least, this is a very undiscriminating claim.

"Even Christian fundamentalists have learned, by and large, to ignore the most barbaric passages in the Bible. They’re not, presumably, eager to see people burned alive for heresy. A few centuries of science, modernity, and secular politics have moderated even the religious extremists among us."

This is quite simplistic and fairly ignorant. To begin with, you have Protestant traditions like the Lutherans, Anabaptists, and Baptists who, as a matter of theological principle, draw something of a disjunction between OT ethics and NT ethics.

Moreover, the Baptist and Anabaptist traditions typically favor church/state separation. Once again, that's a point of principle with them, and not an assimilation to modernity.

To some extent there has been a backlash because many otherwise apolitical evangelicals feel that they have been increasingly disenfranchised by the liberal elite establishment. But their default setting is apolitical.

"Not necessarily. Look at what’s going on in Western Europe: some societies there are successfully undoing their commitment to religious identity, and I don’t think it is being replaced by anything. Sweden, Denmark, Canada, Australia, and Japan are all developed societies with a high level of atheism, and the religion they do have is not the populist, fundamentalist, shrill version we have in the U.S."

To my knowledge, the decline of Christian affiliation in Europe has been accompanied by a rising interest in the occult and alternative religions.

"Whereas if you’re going to be a Christian and worship Jesus to the exclusion of every other historical prophet, you have to accept that he was the Son of God, born of a virgin, and so on. And I would argue that those beliefs are unjustifiable, no matter what the results of Christian practice are."

If that's what he would argue, then where's the argument?

"But no culture in human history ever suffered because its people became too reasonable or too desirous of having evidence in defense of their core beliefs."

This is one of those truisms that almost everyone would agree with. The unspoken insinuation is that Christians are irrational--being shackled by their blind faith.

It's clear that Harris has never bothered to interview the people he talks about or read their apologetic literature. There are plenty of Christian intellectuals he could have consulted. But that would get in the way of his stereotype.

"No, I don’t think I’m in the same camp with them at all. They have a great fear that unless we believe the Bible was written by the creator of the universe, we have no real reason to treat one another well, and I think there’s no evidence for that whatsoever. It’s just fundamentally untrue that people who do not believe in God are more prone to violent crime, for instance. The evidence, if anything, runs the other way."

This is a typical caricature of the argument. The argument is not that unbelievers are immoral. Rather, the argument is that secularism lacks a worldview which is sufficiently robust to underwrite personal and social ethics.

Moreover, this is not merely a Christian characterization of the opposing position. For there are secular philosophers who admit that secularism is unable to warrant moral absolutes.

"If you look at where we have the most violent crime and the most theft in the United States, it’s not in the secular-leaning blue states. It’s in the red states, with all their religiosity. In fact, three of the five most dangerous cities in the United States are in Texas. Now, I’m not saying that we can look at this data and say, “Religion causes violence.” But you can look at this data and say that high levels of religious affiliation don’t guarantee that people are going to behave well. Likewise if you look at UN rankings of societies in terms of development — which includes levels of violent crime, infant mortality, and literacy — the most atheistic societies on the planet rank the highest: Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark. So there is no evidence that a strong commitment to the literal truth of one’s religious doctrine is a good indicator of societal health or morality."

Several problems here:

1. It fails to separate out religious profession from religious participation. While there may not be much statistical difference between a mere profession of belief (in answer to a phone survey) and one's behavior, there is a statistical correlation for those who act on their stated faith in terms of church attendance and the like.

2. The comparison selects for the religious demographic while ignoring the racial or economic demographic. There is, for example, a correlation between crime and dropout rates or single motherhood.

And it's absurd to suggest that violent gang-bangers or crackhead moms who prostitute themselves to support their drug habit are acting out their Christian conditioning.

3. There is also a circular quality to what he counts as enlightened or decadent. Obviously, his secularism will, in turn, color his value judgments regarding what constitutes a morally advanced or ethically backward culture.

From a Christian standpoint, a culture which legalizes same-sex marriage, no-fault divorce, child pornography, abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia, while lowering the age of consent and dispensing free cocaine to drug addicts is not morally advanced, but morally retrograde.

So he's failing to engage the argument. Instead, he assumes what he needs to prove.

Error In, Error Out

In recent months (since last year in Jon Curry's case), Jon and Bill Curry have been arguing against Christianity with appeals to Bayes' Theorem. I and others have mentioned that the results we get from Bayes' Theorem are only as good as the numbers we put into it. Bill Curry's latest article on the subject is an illustration.

He cites two pieces of evidence relevant to an evaluation of Jesus' resurrection, one in support of the resurrection and one against it. The one cited in support of it is the argument about the shortness of time between Jesus' life and the Christian claims about Jesus, an argument about how long it takes for unhistorical accounts to develop. The example cited against the resurrection is the supposed unhistorical nature of the need for Judas to guide people to Jesus when He was arrested (Mark 14:44). Bill concludes:

"It seems to me that this datum [Mark 14:44] would weigh against the resurrection perhaps a little more than the first datum [the shortness of time between the life of Jesus and the Christian claims about Him] supported the resurrection."

Anybody interested in detailed responses to the material Bill cites from Richard Carrier can consult Steve Hays' recent book, J.P. Holding's material in response to Carrier, the Christian CADRE's relevant material, or Glenn Miller's, for example. In this article, I'll note just a few of the problems with what Bill is arguing.

On the issue of the shortness of time between Jesus' life and the Christian claims about Him, Bill cites examples of people believing purportedly false claims about recent events. But who denied that people sometimes believe false claims about recent history? It seems that Bill doesn't understand the argument he's attempting to answer.

In Bill's quote of William Craig, Craig (who's citing A.N. Sherwin-White) uses the word "prevail". He's referring to widespread acceptance of an account. He isn't saying that there aren't any individuals or groups that accept unhistorical accounts of recent history. Rather, he's arguing that an unhistorical account isn't likely to be widely accepted early on if it's a claim that was of significant interest to people (a "core" fact). Thus, Bill's use of examples like Roswell and Benny Hinn are insignificant. The accounts of Roswell and Benny Hinn that Bill considers unhistorical were widely opposed early on. They didn't "prevail", to use Craig and Sherwin-White's term. And there are many "core" facts (what William Craig was addressing) about Roswell and Hinn that are widely accepted and that Bill himself wouldn't dispute. For example, both Benny Hinn's supporters and his critics agree that he exists as a historical figure, that he's a male rather than a female, that he professes to perform miracles, etc. People disagree over other claims about Benny Hinn, but there are many core facts about him that have been widely accepted while he's still living and while eyewitnesses and contemporaries of his life are still living. It's highly unlikely that such early, prevailing core beliefs about him would be false. (For a discussion of the differences between Jesus and Benny Hinn, see my article here.) William Craig's argument is more nuanced than what Bill interacts with. For a more lengthy explanation of Craig's argument and how it's commonly used by Christians, see here.

The examples Bill cites against Craig's argument fall into one of the following categories: they were widely disputed early on, they were of so little consequence that we would have no reason to expect much early interest in their historicity, or they occurred in a context in which we don't know much about how people reacted to the claims. Christianity originated in a significantly different context. The early enemies of Christianity disputed concepts such as how Jesus performed His apparent miracles and how Jesus' tomb became empty, but they agreed that Jesus performed apparent miracles and that His tomb was empty. When such facts are so widely accepted early on among both Christians and their enemies (enemies who were far from apathetic about the religion), it's highly unlikely that such a situation would be brought about by means of the development of a legend.

Bill acknowledges that "maybe legendary development typically takes longer" than the time between Jesus' life and the Christian claims about Him, but he goes on to conclude that the earliness of the Christian claims is only of "marginal" value. No, earliness is of major significance, even though we can't be sure that all early accounts are entirely correct. The earliness of the accounts is far more significant as evidence for Jesus' resurrection than Mark 14:44 is as evidence against the resurrection.

He asks why Judas would have needed to identify Jesus when He was arrested, since Jesus was such a public figure. But how do we know that all of the people with Judas had seen Jesus before? We don't. They were going to arrest a man at night, and they were expecting other people (Jesus' disciples and perhaps others in the area) to be with that man. Since people might flee once the arrest was being attempted (as Jesus' disciples did), and since they would want everybody (not just the people who knew what Jesus looked like ahead of time) to know which man needed to be arrested, and since Judas would know the relevant details (how Jesus was dressed, where He tended to go, etc.) better than others would, it would be helpful to have somebody who could quickly single out the man who needed to be arrested. To conclude that Mark's gospel is significantly unhistorical, on the basis of Judas' coming along to identify Jesus, is absurd. To then go on to argue that this element of Mark's gospel carries more weight than the earliness of the Christian claims about Jesus is likewise absurd.

Jon and Bill Curry need to do a lot more work on the numbers they put into Bayes' Theorem. If you put unreasonable numbers in, you'll get unreasonable results.

Another open letter to Dave Armstrong

I'm dying to know if I must now be classed as an apostate because I wasn't an emotive, superficial, anti-intellectual ignoramus as an evangelical (first three words your own descriptions). Does this not prove deliberate rejection of Gospel Truth, as James White maintains?

In Him,

Dave Armstrong


Well, Dave, I’m just dying to answer your question, but when I asked the Archangel Michael about your prospects last Saturday night over a glass of beer down at WallyGators, he swore me to silence, forewarning me that this was privileged information which he would only divulge on condition that I kept mum about your eternal perdition…uh…I mean…destiny. So you can’t expect me to burn my celestial sources. Otherwise I’d lose all my best contacts.

Moreover, to leak classified information about the secret decree would result in my demotion from the seventh sphere to the fourth. As a student of Dante, I’m sure you appreciate what’s at stake.

But I promise to put in a good word for you the next time I see Beatrice.

RTS Recommended Reading List

RTS Recommended Reading List:

Future students often ask, “What books should I be reading while preparing for the seminary journey?” The most important reading for any seminary student is the Bible. Next to this, familiarity with the Westminster Confession of Faith is helpful because it summarizes the tradition out of which our faculty teach. Additionally, RTS faculty members have put together a list to direct you in this aspect of your preparation.

Many of the books listed below are required reading for courses taught at all RTS campuses. Most emphasize historic doctrines of grace, scriptural authority, true piety, and a biblical view of church and ministry. These form the theological foundations of RTS. Other works serve as comparison readings for healthy theological dialogue from within our tradition. Read these selections. You will be challenged to devote your entire life to serving God’s kingdom with: A mind for truth. A heart for God.

IBible Content and Interpretation
A. Essential Reading
  1. God's Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible, Vaughan Roberts
  2. Reading the Bible with Heart and Mind, Tremper Longman III
  3. According to Plan: the Unfolding Revelation of God in in the Bible, Graeme Goldsworthy
  4. Playing by the Rules, Robert H. Stein
  5. Survey of the Bible, William Hendricksen
B. Further Reading
  1. Christ of the Covenants, O. Palmer Robertson
  2. He Gave Us Stories, Richard Pratt, Jr.
  3. Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, Christopher Wright
  4. Let the Reader Understand, Dan McCartney & Charles Clayton
  5. The Progress of Redemption, William Van Gemeren
C. Advanced/Comparison Reading
  1. Biblical Theology, Geerhardus Vos
  2. Introduction to the Old Testament, Raymond Dillard & Tremper Longman III
  3. The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses, Vern Poythress
  4. Introduction to the New Testament, Carson, Moo, and Morris
  5. The Coming of the Kingdom, Herman Ridderbos
  6. New Testament History, F.F. Bruce
  7. Hermeneutics, Authority and Canon, Carson and Woodbridge
  8. Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation, ed. Moises Silva
IISpiritual Growth and Calling
A. Essential Reading
  1. The Call, Os Guiness
  2. Called to the Ministry, Edmund Clowney
  3. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson
  4. Confessions, St. Augustine
  5. Grow in Grace, Sinclair Ferguson
  6. Pray With Your Eyes Open, Richard Pratt, Jr.
  7. If God Already Knows, Why Pray?, Douglas Kelly
  8. Born Free, Steve Brown
  9. The Lord's Prayer, Derek Thomas
B. Further Reading
  1. Studying Theology As A Servant of Jesus, John Frame
  2. The Godly Man's Picture, Thomas Watson
  3. The Disciplines of Grace, Jerry Bridges
  4. The Way of Life, Charles Hodge
  5. Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan
  6. The Ascent Psalms, Derek Thomas
  7. Cry of the Soul, Dan Allender
  8. The Pleasures of God, John Piper
C. Advanced/Comparison Reading
  1. Holiness, J.C. Ryle
  2. The Religious Life of Theological Students, B.B. Warfield
  3. An Introduction to Theological Studies, William Cunningham
  4. Finding the Will of God, Bruce Waltke
  5. Decision Making and the Will of God, Garry Friesen
  6. The Enemy Within & Through the Looking Glass, Chris Lundgaard
  7. A Resilient Life, Gordon MacDonald
  8. The Devoted Life, Kelly Kapic & Randall Gleason
IIISystematic Theology
A. Essential Reading
  1. Knowing God, J.I. Packer
  2. Salvation Belongs to the Lord, John Frame
  3. Concise Theology, J.I. Packer
  4. The Fabric of Theology, Richard Lints
  5. Putting Amazing Back into Grace, Michael Horton
  6. The Christian Life, Sinclair Ferguson
  7. Summary of Christian Doctrine, Louis Berkhof
  8. Introductory Essay to John Owens' The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, J.I. Packer
  9. Perspectives on the Word of God, John Frame
B. Further Reading
  1. Foundations of the Christian Faith, James Boice
  2. Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, B.B. Warfield
  3. The Infallible Word, ed. by Stonehouse/Woolley
  4. Redemption Accomplished and Applied, John Murray
  5. Studies in Theology, B.B. Warfield
  6. Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms
C. Advanced/Comparison Reading
  1. Institutes of Christian Religion, John Calvin
  2. Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof
  3. Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem
  4. A New Systematic Theology, Robert Reymond
  5. The Holy Trinity, Robert Letham
  6. The Doctrine of God, John Frame
  7. The Atonement, Leon Morris
  8. Adopted By God, Robert Peterson
IVPhilosophy and Christian Thought
A. Essential Reading
  1. Building a Christian World View (Vol. 1-2), W. Andrew Hoffecker and Gary Scott Smith
  2. Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy, Jostein Gaarder
  3. The Christian Mind, Harry Blamires
  4. The Universe Next Door, James Sire
  5. World Views in Conflict, Ronald Nash
  6. God and the Philosophers: The Reconciliation fo Faith and Reason, Thomas V. Morris
B. Further Reading
  1. The Gravedigger File, Os Guiness & Nick Butterworth
  2. Longing to Know, Esther Meek
  3. The Way of the World, Craig Gay
C. Advanced/Comparison Reading
  1. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn
  2. Reason Within the Bounds of Religion, N. Wolterstorff
  3. Ideas Have Consequences, Richard Weaver
  4. Lectures on Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper
VChurch History
A. Essential Reading
  1. Church History in Plain Language, Bruce Shelley
  2. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Mark Noll
  3. Church History, Volume 1: From Christ to Pre-Reformation, Everett Ferguson
  4. A Religious History of the American People, Sydney Ahlstrom
  5. The Story of Christian Theology, Roger Olson
  6. Historical Theology, Alister McGrath
B. Further Reading
  1. Augustine of Hippo, Peter Brown
  2. The Thought of Thomas Aquinus, Brian Davies
  3. Luther, Heiko Oberman
  4. Calvin: A Biography, Bernard Cottret
  5. Jonathan Edwards: A Life, George Marsden
C. Advanced/Comparison Reading
  1. The Early Church, Henry Chadwick
  2. Early Christian Doctrines, J.N.D. Kelly
  3. Christianity & Western Thought, Volume 1, Colin Brown
  4. Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages, R.W. Southern
  5. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine (5 vols.), Jaroslav Pelikan
  6. The Medieval Theologians, G.R. Evans
  7. A World History of Christianity, Adrain Hastings
VIContemporary Western Culture
A. Essential Reading
  1. Engaging God's World, Cornelius Plantinga
  2. Christ and Culture, H. Richard Niebuhr
  3. No Place for Truth, David Wells
B. Further Reading
  1. Culture Wars, James D. Hunter
  2. Resident Aliens, Stanley Hauerwas & William Willimon
  3. A Primer on Postmodernism, Stanlye Grenz
  4. Postmodern Times, Gene Veith
  5. Pop Culture Wars, William Romanowski
  6. Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Mark Noll
  7. The Struggle for America's Soul, Robert Wuthnow
C. Advanced/Comparison Reading
  1. The Culture of Interpretation, Roger Lundin
  2. Total Truth, Nancy Pearsey
  3. The Sensate Culture, Harold O.J. Brown
A. Essential Reading
  1. Every Thought Captive, Richard Pratt, Jr.
  2. God in the Dock, C.S. Lewis
B. Further Reading
  1. Apologetics to the Glory of God, John Frame
  2. Christian Apologetics, Cornelius Van Til
  3. Why I Believe in God, Cornelius Van Til (available online)
C. Advanced/Comparison Reading
  1. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, John Frame
  2. Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought, John Frame
  3. Van Til's Apologetic, Greg Bahnsen
  4. Five Views of Apologetics, ed. Steve Cowan
VIIIMissions and Evangelism
A. Essential Reading
  1. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J.I. Packer
  2. Right With God, John Blanchard
  3. Powerful Evangelism for the Powerless, C. John Miller
  4. Tell the Truth, Will Metzger
B. Further Reading
  1. Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper
  2. Christian Mission, John Stott
  3. An Introduction to the Science of Missions, J. Herman Bavink
  4. The Pastor-Evangelist: Preacher, Model, and Mobilizer for Church Growth, Roger Greenway
  5. Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns, D.A. Carson
  6. The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society, Lesslie Newbigin
  7. Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours?, Allen Rolland
C. Advanced/Comparison Reading
  1. Perspectives on the World Christian Movevment, Ralph Winter
  2. Mission in the Old Testament, Walter Kaiser
  3. Gospel and Mission in the Writings of St. Paul, Peter T. O'Brien
  4. God's Missionary People, Charles Van Engen
  5. A Heart for Mission: Five Pioneer Thinkers, Ron Davies
  6. What In the World is God Doing?, C. Gordon Olson
IXTask of Preaching
A. Essential Reading
  1. How To Talk So People Will Listen, Steve Brown
  2. The Supremacy of God in Preaching, John Piper
B. Further Reading
  1. Between Two Worlds, John Stott
  2. Biblical Preaching, Haddon Robinson
  3. Preaching with Purpose, Jay Adams
C. Advanced/Comparison Reading
  1. Christ-Centered Preaching, Bryan Chapell
  2. Preachers and Preaching, Sam Logan
  3. Preaching Christ in All of Scripture, Ed Clowney
  4. Preaching for Revitalization, Michael Ross
XPastoral Ministry and Leadership
A. Essential Reading
  1. Jesus Christ Disciplemaker, William Hull
  2. Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders
  3. Working the Angles, Eugene Peterson
B. Further Reading
  1. Shepherding God's Flock, Jay Adams
  2. The Reformed Pastor, Richard Baxter
  3. The Work of the Pastor, William Still
C. Advanced/Comparison Reading
  1. The Christian Ministry, Charles Bridges
  2. The Making of a Leader, Robert Clinton
  3. The Unnecessary Pastor, Eugene Peterson
  4. Pastoral Theology, Thomas Oden
XIChristian Counseling
A. Essential Reading
  1. The Care of Souls, David Benner
  2. The Healing Path, Dan Allendar
  3. Inside Out, Larry Crabb
  4. Telling Secrets, Frederick Buechner
  5. Connecting, Larry Crabb
B. Further Reading
  1. Bold Love, Dan Allender & Tremper Longman III
  2. The Cry of the Soul, Dan Allender & Tremper Longman III
  3. Finding God, Larry Crabb
  4. The Gospel According to Job, Mike Mason
  5. The Sacred Romance, Brent Curtis & John Eldredge
  6. Sacred Thirst, M. Craig Barnes
  7. A Tale of Three Kings, Gene Edwards
  8. When God Interrupts, M. Craig Barnes
  9. The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen
C. Advanced/Comparison Reading
  1. Ministry in the Image of God, Stephen Seamands
  2. The Myth of Certainty, Daniel Taylor
  3. The Awakened Heart, Gerald May
  4. Yearning: Living Between How It Is and How It Ought to Be, M. Craig Barnes
XIIOther Titles
A. Essential Reading
  1. Truth in All Its Glory: Commending the Reformed Faith, William Edgar
  2. How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler & Charles Van Doren
  3. Chosen by God, R.C. Sproul
  4. Designed for Dignity, Richard Pratt, Jr.
  5. God Has Spoken, J.I. Packer
  6. The Church, Edmund Clowney
B. Further Reading
  1. Give Praise to God, Ligon Duncan & Derek Thomas
  2. With One Voice: Discovering Christ's Song in Our Worship, Reggie Kidd
  3. Creation and Change, Douglas Kelly
  4. The Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther
  5. Plan of Salvation, B.B. Warfield
  6. Created in God's Image, Anthony Hoekema
  7. The Glorious Body of Christ, R.B. Kuiper

Turning, twisting in the wind

JC: I understand that Steve is not saying that we must know the resurrection with absolute certainty with no possibility for being wrong.

Several clarifications are in order:

1.There’s a difference between knowing something and proving it. Likewise, there’s a difference between the relative certainty of the raw evidence, and the relative certainty of an argument that attempts to capture and formalize the evidence.

2.I have never said that we cannot “know” that Jesus rose from the dead. But in making a case for what we know, we may resort to probabilistic arguments.

3.The case for the Resurrection is a many-layered affair with direct and indirect arguments.

As I’ve said many times before, probability is a comparative concept. Everything cannot be uncertain. Degrees of certainty are relative to some fixed frame of reference.

So the fact that varirous arguments, taken in isolation, may fall short of certainty, does automatically mean that the overall case for the Resurrection is uncertain.

4.Jason will have to speak for himself, but I believe that when Jason gets into these debates, he brackets the argument from religious experience, since that is inaccessible to an outsider, and confines himself to common ground arguments.

But if you were to ask Jason why he is a Christian, the argument from religious experience would figure in his answer.

So his personal reasons are broader than the reasons he chooses to give in apologetic dialogue. He limits himself for discussion purposes.

And I agree with this basic distinction. So when we talk about degrees of certainty, we must also distinguish between a Christian’s individual level of certainty, which is intransmissible, and the degree of certainty which his arguments attain.

JC: What he and you would say is that the resurrection hypothesis must exceed the 50% threshold, with the sum total of the other naturalistic alternatives being less than that. So what I mean by "certain" is that it is head and shoulders above the other alternatives. Maybe 5 other plausible alternatives are at 10%.


1.I don’t think that either Jason or I would say this. To my knowledge, Jason is noncommittal on BT.

As for me, I regard the attempt to quantify historical evidence as fatuous. For the most part, historical evidence is a question of psychological probabilities—the probability that the witness is telling the truth.

That is not something we can attach a number to. Rather, it’s an intuitive judgment. Is the reader a good judge of character? How does the author come across?

So I reject the way in which Curry’s attempts to frame the issue.

Sure, the resurrection has to be more probable than not, but the mathematical apparatus is misguided.

2.I also don’t regard the resurrection as a hypothesis.

3.In addition, one can evaluate the naturalistic alternatives on two different grounds:

i) We can evaluate each naturalistic alternative on its distinctive merits, or lack thereof.

ii) And/or we can evaluate the naturalistic worldview which underwrites any naturalistic alternative.

Indeed (ii) is directly germane to the assignment of prior probabilities.

JC: For me, I'm comfortable not being certain what really happened. Maybe I'd assign a .0001% chance that the resurrection occurred, 1% chance of a stolen body, 1% for twin, 10% for real man with a lot of legendary growth, 20% for Early Doherty style myth, 20% chance the facts are unknown to us because the relevant evidence has been lost, etc. Not knowing what actually happened is an acceptable state of affairs for me. Not so for Steve.

SH: This is disingenuous. He is comfortable with how it didn’t happen as long as it didn’t happen. He can afford to be indifferent to the various ways in which it might not have happened because he doesn’t believe that it ever happened, so that, assuming the resurrection as a nonevent, it isn’t terribly important how you account for a nonevent.

But his nonchalance is not transferable to the operating assumption, or his naturalistic outlook on life.

JC: Murders are rare, but resurrections are even more rare. Orders of magnitude more rare. We are all aware that murders happen every day. Some of us know people that have been murdered. None of us know anyone that has been resurrected. None of us have ever heard a credible report of a resurrection in our lifetime. Probably we all agree that there has not been a resurrection for at least a little less than 2000 years. I think it's been quite a bit longer.

SH: That was not the point of my illustration. My illustration took for granted the occurrence of the murder.

The question, rather, was whether the multiplication of hypothetical and contradictory explanations count against the guilt of the estranged wife (now widow).

If that’s the position you’re going to take, then we could never convict anyone of murder since one can dream up an indefinite number of alternative scenarios, and if you assign a cumulative probability to these alternatives, then they will incrementally outweigh the probability that the accused was guilty of the crime, even if the evidence of guilt were absolutely overwhelming.

This consequence is clearly irrational.

JC: Because of this the value for the initial probability you would use in Bayes' Theorem for a resurrection would be substantially lower than that for murder. Orders of magnitude lower.

SH: Even if we accepted BT as our operating framework, it’s simplistic to assign prior probability on the basis of relative frequency alone.

JC: But murders involve intelligent agents. And murders are still rare. The initial probability for the report of a murder (this is the value that represents only your background assumptions about murder, not the positive evidence for a given murder) would be pretty low as well. Since we are certain that many millions of murders have occurred in recorded history and equally certain of zero resurrections, the initial probability for the resurrection of Jesus must be lower by at least 6 or 7 orders of magnitude. Now, let's plug that in to Bayes' Theorem and see how it affects things. Here's Bayes' Thoerem as layed out by my brother in his post on ESP.

SH: This is a very confused and question-begging claim.

1.It’s precisely because a murder, like the Resurrection, involves personal agency, that there’s a lot more to the calculation than the sheer mathematical variables.

Suppose the killer goes to the high school prom. Suppose there are 1000 students at the prom.

Does this mean that the victim has only a one in a thousand chance of being murdered?

That might be true if the murder were purely random.

But suppose the killer plans to kill Bobby because Bobby stole the killer’s girlfriend?

Does Bobby still enjoy a one in a thousand chance of being murdered? Hardly!

Bobby is the intended target.

2.To say that “we are equally certain of zero resurrections” assumes what it needs to prove.

JC: Since P(resurrection) is 6 or 7 orders of magnitude lower than P(murder) you can see that this means the numerator is likewise 6 or 7 orders of magnitude smaller for an evaluation of the resurrection than an evaluation of a murder. Correspondingly, if you have a certain value for the denominator and it affects your result in the case of murder, you can have a value 6 or 7 orders of magnitude smaller in a resurrection analysis and it would affect the result in the same way. Hence 1 in a million matters in the case of a resurrection, but not necessarily so for the case of a murder.

SH: Which, as I just explained, is irrelevant to the case at hand.

JC: So your more outlandish theories become relevant when discussing a resurrection but these might be irrelevant in the case of a murder. Sorry, but when you make an extraordinary, outlandish claim, then extraordinary outlandish theories become good enough as a refutation.

SH: Other issues aside, observe the equivocation of terms.

Curry has defined “extraordinary” as rare. So let’s plug that definition into his criteria:

When you make a claim about a rare event, then rare alternative explanations become as good enough as a refutation.

Now, I ask the reader: does this make much sense?

I don’t believe in X because X would be a rare event, and rare events are overwhelmingly improbable.

And it’s sufficient to refute an improbable event by postulating a lot of other improbable alternatives whose combined improbability is even more improbable, by several orders of magnitude, than the improbability of the original claim.

JC: No, that's not what I'm saying. I am saying that a supernatural explanation must start with a presumption against it. It has a taller hurdle to get over. This doesn't mean that the naturalistic explanation "reigns supreme." It just means the naturalistic explanation has less of a burden.

SH: So what comes out of BT depends on what goes into BT. It is not BT itself that assigns the prior probability value to naturalism or supernaturalism. That’s a separate argument.

So it’s not BT which creates the presumption.

JC: In my view that is reasonable. When people report events that have occurred we automatically assume those events have a natural explanation. Whether we're talking about ordinary events (I bought gas yesterday, I had a ham sandwich yesterday) or claims of extraordinary events (Benny Hinn healed Evander Holyfield and raised the dead to life in Ghana).

SH: Note yet another fatal equivocation, as between a “natural” explanation and “naturalistic” explanation.

A supernatural worldview doesn’t deny that ordinary events are generally the result of natural causes.

That, however, is completely different from assuming that ordinary events imply or presuppose a naturalistic outlook.

Indeed, one argument for supernaturalism is that nature is not a se. Yes, you may be able to account for a local effect by reference to a second causes, but how do you account for global condition of causality itself? Why is there a world with natural forces?

JC: I'm not ruling out the supernaturalistic explanation from the start. I'm saying that I start by assuming it is extremely unlikely. That's the nature of supernatural claims. If they weren't extraordinary and rare they wouldn't have any force as far as persuading us to follow a religion.

SH: This assumes that God is inevident apart from the evidence of a supernatural event.

But natural theology would argue to the contrary. We can infer the existence of God from ordinary events just as well as we can from extraordinary events.

JC: I'm saying I agree with Professor Davis. I'm saying that a resurrection is a highly unusual and extraordinary event. Though not necessarily false, it must shoulder a significant epistemological burden. I've shown it with illustration, with math, and yet you just keep denying it. There isn't much else to say.

SH: Illustrations like what? Comparing the resurrection to alien abductions?

But that doesn’t show how the resurrection must assume the burden of proof. As I said before, it’s an argument from analogy minus the argument.

The math is irrelevant because the math only kicks in after the assignment of a prior probability value.

JC: Again, mutually exclusive hypothesis do count against a particular hypothesis. Look at the denominator in Bayes' Theorem that I provided above in my resonse to Jason. It consists of mutually exclusive hypothesis. I'm not making this up here. This is not my thoery. It's not something I invented. It's a standard way to evaluate various claims. If you don't like it that's not my fault.

Yes, you and others have repeated the same mistake that I've corrected many times. Look at the equations I provided Jason. The denominator contains any number of mutually exclusive hypothesis. This is not something I'm making up to prove Christianity false. This is not my theory. This is Bayes' Theorem. If you think the equations are wrong and you're a really smart mathematician and can offer corrections to the equation then make an argument.

SH: Several problems here:

1.Suppose we have ten mutually exclusive alternative theories to the resurrection. On the most charitable reading possible, at least nine of these theories must be false.

Since they contradict each other, they can’t all be true. At best, only one could be true, while all could be false.

So the question is how a set of admittedly false alternative explanations count against the truth of the resurrection.

2.As Steven Davis points out, we have to take personal agency into account. If a car dealer has a 1000 cars, then, mathematically speaking, you could say that there’s only one chance in a thousand that any particular car will sell.

But suppose that I, as a prospective buyer, am uninterested in most of the makes and models on the lot. So they were never in play in the first place. That’s not a live option.

Suppose, instead, that I go to the dealership knowing exactly what I want, and there is only one car on the lot that answers to my exact specifications.

Are the odds one out of a thousand that I’ll buy that car? Or is there a 100% certainty that I’ll buy that car?

3.What Curry is doing is sleight of hand. It’s all a question of where you distribute the evidence. How much to you plug into the background information, to create the initial presumption, and how much do you save for later to overcome the initial presumption.

It isn’t the Bayesean apparatus that determines the outcome, but certain preliminary judgment calls.

Does theism figure in the background knowledge? Does Messianic prophecy figure in the background knowledge?

4.Suppose I’m an unbeliever. If so, then I naturally regard a miracle as unlikely.

However, that may merely be a default position, due to my inexperience. There may be no positive evidence for my presumption. Just a lack of evidence for the supernatural or paranormal in my personal observation.

Do I need extraordinary evidence to overcome my presumption? No. All I need is some evidence. I have no contrary evidence which must be overcome.

Suppose I experience something miraculous or paranormal. That may be all it takes.

And this happens in real life. Consider, for example, the conversion of Jerome Hines, the American opera singer, who had been an atheist— tutored in math, chemistry, and physics.

This is My Story, This is My Song (1969) ISBN 0-8007-0313-8

5.As I pointed out before, there are a number of internal difficulties with BT. Curry chose to duck that issue by claiming that “Really, I'm not trying to prove anything about Bayes' Theorem. I raised it, but my purpose is not to get into a debate about the validity of it.”

But at this stage of the argument he is clearly using BT to justify his position, in which case he needs to justify BT in relation to the problems I cited.

He also needs to interact with the quote from Coady, which his also chose to dodge. This is quite germane to the assignment of prior probability values.

6.One reason that some of us are unimpressed with Curry’s appeal to BT is that we don’t regard Curry as an authority on BT—especially when there are experts in the field (e.g. Stephen Davis, John Earman, Timothy McGrew, Richard Swinburne) who clearly have a very different take on BT than he does.