Monday, September 24, 2018

Swelling reverberations

On his blog, Vincent Torley has posted a massive attack on the Resurrection accounts. This summarizes an even larger, self-published book by autodidact Michael Alter. 

I don't know much about Torley. He is (or was) a contributor to Uncommon Descent. He's a convert to Catholicism (from what, I don't know).

The main problem with Torley's attack is that it's just a basket full of musty chestnuts. Most of these a very stale objections.

I'm not saying old arguments are necessarily bad arguments. Old arguments can be good arguments. 

But these objections have all been discussed in evangelical commentaries, monographs, and periodical articles. I myself have been over this ground, sometimes quoting other scholars and sometimes offering my own explanations. 

Torley's attack is rather one-sided. He seems to be better read in infidelity than in conservative scholarship. And his rosy assessment of liberal critics lacks discrimination.

What one person finds convincing another person may find unconvincing. There's such a deja vu quality to Torley's attack. Right now I don't feel like posting a repetitious rebuttal to repetitious objections. There are so many layers to peel away, and it's all been done before. How many times must we peel the same onion? 

However, I will reiterate one point: the evidence for Christianity isn't confined to ancient documentary evidence. Christianity is a living faith. Christians prayer to Jesus, or pray to the Father in Jesus' name. Countless Christian prayers have been answered. How is a dead Savior answering their prayers? If Jesus was just a man who ceased to exist when he expired, who is answering prayers addressed to and through Jesus?

Likewise, contemporary dreams and visions of Jesus are instrumental in the conversation of many Muslims. How is a dead Savior, a mortal who passed into oblivion 2000 years ago, appearing to them? Same thing with Christian visions of Jesus. For instance:

I'm not saying we should believe every testimony. That needs to be sifted on a case-by-case basis. 

Yet this isn't simply about something that, if it happened, happened in the past, and that's all behind us–but about something that continues to happen as a result of that past event. Supernatural reverberations. And they aren't fading reverberations, but swelling reverberations. The bell rung 2000 years ago gets louder, not softer–filling the earth. 


  1. For what it's worth, here's what Torley has said about himself in the past (c. 2013):

    "Vincent Torley is originally from Geelong, Australia. After obtaining a B.Sc., a B.A. and a B.Ec. from the Australian National University (all at no cost to himself), he worked for several years as a computer programmer in Melbourne, during which time he obtained an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Melbourne. In 1999, he moved to Japan to take up a job as an English teacher, returning to Australia for a year in 2001 to complete a Dip. Ed. in high school teaching before going back to Japan, where he has resided ever since. He obtained a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Melbourne in 2007, while studying in Japan. He currently teaches English in high schools, as well as teaching English conversation and business English. He is married and the father of a seven-year-old son. His personal Web page is at"

    Torley posted his own CV/resume on his website.

    At least in my estimation, Torley often straddles the fence between biblical Christianity and liberal Christianity. (Of course, that's not how he sees it, but how I see it.) For example, broadly speaking: he's a theistic evolutionist, he accepts a universal common ancestor, but he criticizes naturalistic processes to account for it all (e.g. random mutations, natural selection), and he's a strong supporter of ID theory.

  2. Basically all the chronological "problems" have been dealt with in Steinemann's "From Abraham to Paul". The issue of the date of the crucifixion is firmly settled by Steinemann in that book, he shows over and over again how the "day of preparation for passover" simply means friday, and he doesn't stretch the syntax or other silly claims made by Torley via older scholars. Many of his problems with the gospels are based on, "there was this rule, but people never break rules, or make exceptions, therefore this event did not happen in the gospels. Other claims, such as no one being able to be near victims of crucifixion is one I have not heard. Anyway, I don't think Alter's book is as knock down as Torley thinks.

  3. Like Steve says, hoary chestnuts. These kinds of things go back to the deist controversy, and there are ample resources for answering them to the point of showing the documents highly reliable. Torley needs to read more widely on both sides. The mere fact that a book is 900-some pages long and a compendium of many bad arguments, answered long ago, against Christianity, hardly makes it formidable.

  4. I'm amazed that Vincent Torley would be impressed by such bad arguments. For example, it is claimed that the trial of Jesus couldn't have happened that way. Presumably, this is the usual argument based on information contained in much later rabbinic literature. But Judaism underwent a revolution after the fall of the Temple. All sorts of rules were formulated and then codified and this all happened after AD 70. It would be a gross anachronism to apply that to the situation in AD 30. Furthermore, since the authorities were dealing with a volatile situation that had to be resolved quickly, we can't assume that any normal rules would have been followed at the time.

    Another claim is that no one would have been allowed close enough to the cross to hear what Jesus said. In fact, very little is known about the way crucifixions were carried out, and that's because the subject was too distasteful to be discussed. So the claim that Jesus' crucifixion couldn't have happened in that way is completely bogus.

    As far as alleged discrepancies between the Gospel accounts are concerned, we have the usual rubbish. The alleged discrepancies are either completely trivial or not discrepancies at all. But, more importantly, we know that honest accounts from eyewitnesses are likely to contain discrepancies. That is just the way things work. Human memory is fallible. The real question is whether human memory is fallible enough to allow the sceptics to make their case. Suppose you remember winning a fortune on the lottery 30 years ago. How likely is it that your memory is playing tricks on you? And what if all your friends and family have the same memory? There might be all kinds of discrepancies about the exact details, but there could be no mistake about the central fact itself. Remembering the fact that you won the lottery is not like remembering what you had for breakfast on the morning you won the lottery. Peripheral details may be subject to error, but not the central fact.

    David Madison

  5. There is one claim in particular which illustrates how fallacious the whole approach is. Supposedly, it is very unlikely that a Jew would create a symbolic blood-drinking ceremony, as in the Last Supper. Therefore it could not have happened. But Paul, who was a Pharisee, reports that the ceremony occurred. If this is the sort of thing that could not have happened in a Jewish context, then Paul himself would be unable to accept it. And yet Paul reports it with no sign of disapproval.

    In order to assess the argument being made, we don't even have to ask whether the incident actually happened. We just have to ask whether it is the kind of thing that *could* have happened. And the existence of a report that it happened, coming from a first-century Pharisee, is decisive evidence that it is the kind of thing that could have happened.

    The big problem with this sceptical approach is that people are trying to make negative a priori judgements about the first century. It is easy to find evidence showing that certain things *could* have happened in the first century. But it is extremely difficult to find evidence showing that certain things could *not* have happened. In most cases we don't have sufficient understanding of the way things worked in the first century to make that kind of negative judgement.

    David Madison

  6. A skeezy, self-promoting blowhard reality show host could not have become President of the United States in the early 21st century. Must be an interpolation by a later redactor.

    1. That's kind of beautiful, actually, as an illustration.

  7. The idea of a priori history, which apparently is a stock in trade of Michael Alter, is something I have very little patience for. How many things that really happen can be described in such a way as to seem improbable a priori? I could give so many illustrations from my own life that I'd be talking for weeks.