March 18, 2009

Whose Miracle?

Posted in Atheism, Personal Experiences tagged , at 10:04 am by Andrew

Over at Evangelical Realism (a great site), Deacon Duncan poses a great question to theists that seems a propos of the recent elf-discussions here:

[A] guy is suddenly decapitated and lies dead on the ground, and an hour later his head magically re-attaches itself to his neck, all his wounds are healed, his spilled blood is replenished, and he walks away unharmed. This time, however, a whole crowd of people shows up to pray for him. Some Catholics are there praying to various saints. The Buddhist monk is there praying to Buddha. Muslims show up and pray to Allah. Mormons show up and pray to a polytheistic Jesus. Pentecostals show up and pray to the Holy Spirit. Asians show up praying to their ancestors. There’s even a few neo-pagans praying to various members of the old pantheons.

Now, the guy gets up and walks away, and each of the pray-ers want to claim their God or god or saint or spirit is responsible. Which of them has a reasonable basis for claiming that it was their deity/entity, and no one else’s, that worked the miracle?

So far, no theists have replied. So, to my Christian readers: what do you think? Do you have a reasonable basis for claiming that it was God, Jesus, the saints or the Holy Spirit (depending on your denomination of Christianity) that worked the miracle?  More importantly:  how would you disprove the identical claims of followers of other faiths?

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23 Comments »

  1. Nathaniel said,

    [H]ow would you disprove the identical claims of followers of other faiths?

    I think it’s curious that Duncan had to make up an example — why not try to give an actual one?

    It makes no sense to discuss these questions in the abstract; there is really nothing interesting to be said until you show us the supposedly “identical claims” of actual followers of actual other faiths. Historically, rival claims (the healings of Vespasian; Mohammed’s journey to heaven; the healings at the tomb of the Abbe Paris; Joseph Smith’s golden plates; the Bab’s brief reprieve) have not compared favorably in evidential attestation to the resurrection of Jesus.

  2. Andrew said,

    Nathaniel: You must be joking. The Book of Mormon is signed by eleven eyewitnesses, ten of whom attest to having personally witnessed the golden plates, and eight of whom say they physically held the golden plates.

    Surely, if that sort of evidence does not “compare favorably” to the evidential attestation of the resurrection of Jesus, then Christians must have at least a dozen signed statements from eyewitnesses, no?

    No. What you’ve got are a handful of cherry-picked, pseudonymous manuscripts of non-eyewitnesses of dubious dating and origin. Oh, and two forged passages in Josephus. And a bunch of stuff from the second century AD and later. Is there anything I’ve missed?

  3. Ben said,

    Nathaniel, he had to make up an example because MIRACLES DON’T REALLY HAPPEN. Duh. So the whole point is: *if* there’s a miracle, who gets the credit?

    I’m not surprised you chose not to answer.

  4. Nathaniel said,

    Ben,

    I’m sorry you missunderstood me. I did not say that Duncan (or Andrew) was under obligation to produce an actual miracle in some non-Christian faith, but rather that they should produce one of the supposedly “identical claims” of actual followers of actual other faiths. Andrew got the point, which is why he brought up the matter of the golden plates.

    Andrew,

    Nathaniel: You must be joking. The Book of Mormon is signed by eleven eyewitnesses, ten of whom attest to having personally witnessed the golden plates, and eight of whom say they physically held the golden plates.

    Surely, if that sort of evidence does not “compare favorably” to the evidential attestation of the resurrection of Jesus, then Christians must have at least a dozen signed statements from eyewitnesses, no?

    I’m so glad you brought this up, since it’s a great example of the sort of case where non-Christians who haven’t done their homework casually assume they have a trump card but it turns out to be exactly the opposite of what they thought.

    Because this matter has been covered thoroughly at the old Maverick Philosopher blog, I’m simply going to cut and paste.

    The eleven witnesses fell into two groups: the group of three (Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris) and the group of eight. The latter group consisted entirely of members of Joseph Smith’s family and Whitmer’s family: Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., John Whitmer, Hiram Page (Whitmer’s brother in law), Joseph Smith, Sr., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel Harrison Smith. …

    In 1829, while the Book of Mormon was being translated at her house, Mary Whitmer, mother of five of the witnesses who were talking about having seen the plates, claimed that she, too, was shown them when she went to milk the cows. She is not considered to be one of the eleven witnesses.

    In a letter written in December of 1838, a decade after he had obtained certificates from the witnesses, Smith deprecated the significance of the three witnesses, saying of them that they were “too mean to mention; and we had liked to have forgotten them.” (Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, vol. 3, p. 232)

    David Whitmer’s testimony regarding his having seen the plates varied from telling to telling. Though he was excommunicated by the Danites as a dissenter and set up his own church, he was in his old age often sought out by Mormon missionaries who asked him to tell the story of his having seen the angel. At times he insisted that had seen the plates “just as plain as I see this bed”; on other occasions, he likened his visions to the impressions of a Quaker when the spirit moves. About the only thing that is clear from his testimony is that he was, in his old age, a celebrity for being the last living witness of the three.

    Oliver Cowdery left the Mormons after losing a power struggle with Smith and confronting the latter over the Fanny Alger affair. Apparently at one point he retracted his story regarding the plates (Times and Seasons, vol. 2 (1841), p. 482) But he was eventually reunited with the LDS leaders after Smith’s assassination and died shortly thereafter.

    Harris later said that he had seen the angel only in “a state of entrancement,” which does not inspire confidence, particularly since Harris also claimed to have seen Jesus in the shape of a deer and the devil in a sputtering candle – “a great one for seeing spooks,” as his friend Lorenzo Saunders reported. (Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents, vol. 2, p. 149) John Gilbert, the typesetter for most of the first printing of the Book of Mormon, reports the following interview with Harris:

    “Martin was in the office when I finished setting up the testimony of the three witnesses,—(Harris—Cowdery and Whitmer) I said to him,—‘Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?’ Martin looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, ‘No, I saw them with a spiritual eye.’” (Memorandum of John H. Gilbert, Sept. 8, 1892, reprinted in H. Michael Marquardt, The Rise of Mormonism: 1816-1844, p. 206)

    The story with the eight witnesses is a bit different, as they never claimed to have seen the angel, just some plates (in a language no one but Smith was able to translate). The statement they signed was written by Smith himself and reads, in its entirety:

    “Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the Author and Proprietor of this work, has shewn unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shewn unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.”

    Though the circumstance of all eight of these witnesses being related to two of the leaders of the sect is more than a little suspicious, I would be willing to entertain the hypothesis that Smith did indeed show them some engraved metal plates. More than that, however, does not follow from their own testimony taken at face value.

    You can read the full discussion here.

    • Andrew said,

      Nathaniel: What you’ve bolded here does not appear materially different from, say, the account of the witnesses at Wikipedia. I don’t think it’s the trump card you think it is, and I was certainly aware of these arguments when I replied to you.

      1. You concede my initial argument, which is that at least the Mormons have verified eyewitnesses who signed statements attesting to the authenticity of the golden plates. Where do we have anything like this in Christianity? To that end, your criticisms of the Eight Witnesses are appropriately skeptical (and clearly correct — I mean, we both agree that Mormonism is a load of hooey). But Christianity doesn’t even have as much as that!

      2. Your principal criticisms of the Three Witnesses are: (a) that Oliver Cowdery temporarily recanted, and (b) Whitmer and Harris gave squidgy accounts of their visions upon cross-examination. I concede point (a) — since I mentioned it in my initial reply — although, to be fair, Cowdery later retracted his retraction. Again, this vastly exceeds anything like what you have in Christianity.

      Point (b) proves the skeptics’ point, not your own. Yes, Whitmer and Harris were squidgy under cross-examination. That’s because people got to actually cross-examine them! Where’s the cross examination of the dude who wrote “Mark” (whoever that is?) Where’s the detailed list of questions asked of Paul to settle once and for all if he saw a bodily resurrected Christ or merely a spiritually resurrected one?

      In other words: if witnesses who testify to limited facts (the Eight Witnesses) or equivocate under cross-examination (the Three Witnesses) are weak, then how much weaker yet is Christianity, which cannot muster even this level of attestation?

      P.S. Take a lesson from the other thread and tone it down on the nonsensical insults (e.g., “..haven’t done their homework”). Nothing is to be gained from acting supercilious here.

      • Nathaniel said,

        Andrew,

        I am sorry that you were offended by my remark about people who have not done their homework. In your initial comment, you mentioned none of the relevant points quoted in the thread I pasted over from Maverick Philosopher — why, then, should I assume that you were aware of them? Surely you are not suggesting that I should assume that you are deliberately hiding negative evidence? That would purchase the suggestion that you are well informed at the price of assuming that you are intellectually dishonest. Despite my substantial disagreement with most of what you write regarding Christianity, I am extremely reluctant to draw that conclusion.

        If you solemnly assure me that, prior to reading my comment in this thread, you were already fully informed of the vagaries and retractions of the testimony of Cowdery, Harris, and Whitmer, fully informed of the fact that the remaining eight witnesses were all members of Smith’s and Whitmer’s families, and fully informed that the statement signed by the eight was written by Smith himself, then I will take you at your word. But that would raise the question of why you did not bring out these points yourself — and would leave me at a loss to answer it.

        But despite this awkwardness, I really am curious now as to whether you were aware of all — or any — of these facts prior to reading my comment.

        In your initial comment, you said:

        The Book of Mormon is signed by eleven eyewitnesses, ten of whom attest to having personally witnessed the golden plates, and eight of whom say they physically held the golden plates.

        Surely, if that sort of evidence does not “compare favorably” to the evidential attestation of the resurrection of Jesus, then Christians must have at least a dozen signed statements from eyewitnesses, no?

        No, for the reasons already given above.

        Point by point, now:

        1. You concede my initial argument, which is that at least the Mormons have verified eyewitnesses who signed statements attesting to the authenticity of the golden plates. Where do we have anything like this in Christianity? To that end, your criticisms of the Eight Witnesses are appropriately skeptical (and clearly correct — I mean, we both agree that Mormonism is a load of hooey). But Christianity doesn’t even have as much as that!

        We have signed statements by the Mormon witnesses that are evidentially worthless, because:

        (a) The four people at the heart of the matter all had much to gain, humanly speaking, from the spread of the new religion,

        (b) One of them (Cowdery) recanted his testimony, not under torture or threat of physical hardship, but because he had fallen out with the LDS leadership,

        (c) Another one of them (Harris) withdrew the intimation that the vision of the plates and the angel was a matter of ordinary seeing, since he saw the angel in “a state of entrancement” and saw the plates “with a spiritual eye,”

        (d) Whitmer’s story varied widely with the telling as to whether the vision of the angel was ordinary vision or ecstatic vision,

        (e) Joseph Smith himself downplayed the significance of the testimony of the three witnesses, and

        (f) The other eight witnesses, all younger members of the families of Smith and Whitmer, said nothing in their own voice but merely signed a statement drafted by Smith.

        Incidentally, a number of the details give above about Harris and Whitmer are not contained in the Wikipedia article you linked.

        You write:

        Again, this vastly exceeds anything like what you have in Christianity.

        How so?

        (a) The initial witnesses to the resurrection stood to gain nothing in comparison to what they stood to lose — and in many cases, what they did lose,

        (b) – (d) There is no record of any of the initial witnesses to the resurrection changing or abandoning his story, though they faced severe persecution for their propagation of a religion that the Jews considered to be blasphemy,

        (e) The early church always insisted strongly on the importance of the testimony of the original witnesses, and

        (f) The very discrepancies in the Easter accounts in the gospels and 1 Corinthians demonstrate that the testimony to the resurrection was not scripted by one powerful figure or restricted to members of the families of those at the center of the new religion.

        In six critical respects, therefore, the signed testimony of the Mormon witnesses is distinctly inferior to that of the Christian witnesses. I submit that this fact undermines your claim that, because the Christians do not have “at least a dozen signed statements from eyewitnesses,” the testimony in favor of the golden plates and the appearance of the angel is superior to the evidence Christians have for the resurrection.

        In my earlier note, I neglected one part of your earlier comment, where you wrote:

        What you’ve got are a handful of cherry-picked, pseudonymous manuscripts of non-eyewitnesses of dubious dating and origin. Oh, and two forged passages in Josephus. And a bunch of stuff from the second century AD and later. Is there anything I’ve missed?

        Yes.

        Let’s start with the claim that the New Testament manuscripts were “cherry-picked.” I’ll be interested to see what evidence you have for that, hoping that it’s not just another recycling of Elaine Pagels’s nonsense.

        Then let’s move on to your claim that the manuscripts were pseudonymous. Do you know of any complete manuscript of any of the four gospels that has no attribution? Or of any historical record of any complete manuscript of any one of the four gospels that claims that the gospel circulated in unattributed form? This is an important point, because the claim that the gospels circulated unnamed has been allowed to circulate largely unchallenged for too long. The hard data do not support this claim. You might want to read what Martin Hengel has to say on this point.

        Moving on, let’s come to the claim that the gospels were written by “non-eyewitnesses.” In two cases — Mark and Luke — the historical tradition actually concurs in this, but in each case the writer was making use of the words or works of those who were eyewitnesses. As for Matthew and John, why think that they were not eyewitnesses? Apart from begging the question by taking their recounting of miracles to be decisive, do you have evidence for this claim?

        You also suggest that the gospels (I must assume that these are what you are talking about) are “of dubious dating and origin.” There are certainly scholarly disagreements regarding the dating of the gospels, but the primary arguments for a late date (after A.D. 70 for the synpotics) presuppose that Christianity, as a supernatural religion attested by miracles, is false. Again, without begging the question, you really do need to supply some evidence for this.

        You then refer to “two forged passages in Josephus.” Since you are touchy about the suggestion that you have not done your homework, I will simply ask: have you even tried to take a look at the scholarly consensus of Josephus specialists regarding those two passages, or are you depending entirely here on the work of non-specialists and online crackpots?

        Your concluding line — “And a bunch of stuff from the second century AD and later” — suggests that you are unaware of the significance of the creed embedded in 1 Corinthians 15. Neither the dating nor the origin of that epistle is a matter of serious scholarly debate.

        There is also the Nazareth Inscription, which is well explained as the rump of an Imperial Rescript regarding the cause of the Jewish troubles in Rome, but which is otherwise difficult to account for. I would not want to lay great stress on this, but it is another piece of evidence in favor of a key piece of the Christian account. You might want to contrast Richard Carrier’s discussion with that by Clyde Billington.

  5. anselm said,

    The scenario in this post reminds me of the discussion between Craig and Ehrman in their debate on the resurrection, where Craig pointed out that the proper interpretation of a miracle depends on its religio-historical context. For the resurrection, the miracle can be viewed in the context of God vindicating Jesus of Nazareth’s radical claims to be the Son of Man and Messiah. In the scenario here, though, we are given no religio-historical context, and without that interpretation of the miracle is impossible.

    • Nathaniel said,

      Anselm,

      Agreed: discussion of an abstract example is beside the point.

      On the other hand, if we’re allowed to contextualize it, then there is a simple answer:

      “The miracle is almost certainly due to the prayers of the Christians, since independent evidence shows that Christianity is very probably true.”

      But all the work here is being done by that independent evidence. So why not ditch the imaginary case and talk about the actual evidence?

  6. Michael said,

    Andrew,

    Can you define “miracle” for me?

  7. Andrew said,

    Nathaniel: I remain puzzled by your reply. The fact is that we have signed statements from eyewitnesses testifying to the golden plates, and nothing like that in Christianity. That’s what I said in my opening response, and nothing you’ve said contradicts that.

    Indeed, you argue:

    We have signed statements by the Mormon witnesses that are evidentially worthless, because:

    Which, of course, concedes my point. Show me the signed statements for Christianity, and we can argue whether they are of more or less evidentiary value than those in Mormonism. But you can’t — because Christianity doesn’t even have the statements!

    Do you honestly not get this? It’s the difference between a murder suspect with an alibi full of potential holes (Mormonism) or one with no alibi at all!

    Your specific arguments against the Mormon witnesses also misstate the case that the testimony is “evidentially worthless”:

    (a) The four people at the heart of the matter all had much to gain, humanly speaking, from the spread of the new religion,

    Manifestly not true, as even Wikipedia will tell you. Martin Harris and David Whitmer were excommunicated from the Mormon church and never recanted their testimony. They would have had everything to gain from exposing the falsehood and nothing to gain from hiding it.

    (b) One of them (Cowdery) recanted his testimony, not under torture or threat of physical hardship, but because he had fallen out with the LDS leadership,

    And then he recanted his recantation. I agree the evidence is equivocal on this point and identified it as such in my very first comment.

    (c) Another one of them (Harris) withdrew the intimation that the vision of the plates and the angel was a matter of ordinary seeing, since he saw the angel in “a state of entrancement” and saw the plates “with a spiritual eye,”

    And again, it’s obvious that you’re aware of the scholarly debate as to whether Paul saw a physically resurrected Christ or a spiritually resurrected one, which exactly parallels this criticism. The only difference is that we have subsequent, non-Mormon interviews with Harris that bring out this detail — where are the non-Christian interviews with Paul?

    You also ignore that the evidence for a “spiritual vision” by Harris is equivocal and Harris himself denies it.

    (d) Whitmer’s story varied widely with the telling as to whether the vision of the angel was ordinary vision or ecstatic vision,

    Again: the scholarly debate over Paul. The only difference is that we actually have non-Mormon records.

    (e) Joseph Smith himself downplayed the significance of the testimony of the three witnesses, and

    And we have nothing at all written by Jesus! You’ve scored another own goal, I’m afraid.

    (f) The other eight witnesses, all younger members of the families of Smith and Whitmer, said nothing in their own voice but merely signed a statement drafted by Smith.

    Now you’re really reaching. Attorneys draft affidavits for their clients all the time, and that doesn’t diminish the value of the attestation. I agree with you that we should be suspicious of these kinds of statements (what with me not being a Mormon and all), but to jump to the conclusion that the statements are “evidentially worthless” imposes a standard on Mormonism that you wouldn’t dare impose on Christianity.

    As to the NT evidence, that’s a matter for another post — but again I see that you prefer hyperbolic rhetoric (“Elaine Pagels’s nonsense” … “without begging the question” … “non-specialists and online crackpots” … “suggests that you are unaware” and so on) to actual argument.

    • Nathaniel said,

      Andrew,

      I appreciate the time you’ve taken to engage with my six points. All the same, I find the replies you put forward completely unconvincing.

      You quote me:

      (a) The four people at the heart of the matter all had much to gain, humanly speaking, from the spread of the new religion,

      To this you reply:

      Manifestly not true, as even Wikipedia will tell you. Martin Harris and David Whitmer were excommunicated from the Mormon church and never recanted their testimony. They would have had everything to gain from exposing the falsehood and nothing to gain from hiding it.

      Your reply here makes no sense. At the time that they gave their initial statements, Cowdery, Harris and Whitmer were all in good standing. The fallouts came later.

      You seem to be trying to support a different point – that Harris and Whitmer continued to stick by their stories even when they were out of favor indicates that they had motives other than the rather crass ones that immediately to mind. This is unconvincing, since both of them waffled in their testimony, as documented above. But it is beside the point as far as a critique of my point (a) is concerned.

      On to the next point:

      (b) One of them (Cowdery) recanted his testimony, not under torture or threat of physical hardship, but because he had fallen out with the LDS leadership,

      You respond:

      And then he recanted his recantation. I agree the evidence is equivocal on this point and identified it as such in my very first comment.

      Actually, in your very first comment, timestamped March 18, 2009 at 12:42 pm you said just this:

      Nathaniel: You must be joking. The Book of Mormon is signed by eleven eyewitnesses, ten of whom attest to having personally witnessed the golden plates, and eight of whom say they physically held the golden plates.

      I can find no mention of Cowdery’s recantation in anything you’ve written in this thread prior to my post timestamped March 18, 2009 at 2:31 pm, that is, after I had already drawn Cowdery’s recantation to your attention.

      Again, you quote me:

      (c) Another one of them (Harris) withdrew the intimation that the vision of the plates and the angel was a matter of ordinary seeing, since he saw the angel in “a state of entrancement” and saw the plates “with a spiritual eye,”

      You respond:

      And again, it’s obvious that you’re aware of the scholarly debate as to whether Paul saw a physically resurrected Christ or a spiritually resurrected one, which exactly parallels this criticism. The only difference is that we have subsequent, non-Mormon interviews with Harris that bring out this detail — where are the non-Christian interviews with Paul?

      Actually, Paul consistently describes his seeing as a physical one, though obviously there were some differences between it and the encounters of the other apostles with the risen Jesus – which is a bit of a sore spot with him. In the opinion of every professional New Testament scholar with whom I have discussed the matter, Richard Carrier’s attempted reinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 15 is simply hopeless.

      You also ignore that the evidence for a “spiritual vision” by Harris is equivocal and Harris himself denies it.

      That is to say, Harris contradicts himself regarding the nature of his experience. And this is supposed to make him a better witness than the Christian witnesses, because they didn’t contradict themselves …?

      Back to quoting me:

      (d) Whitmer’s story varied widely with the telling as to whether the vision of the angel was ordinary vision or ecstatic vision,

      And your reply:

      Again: the scholarly debate over Paul. The only difference is that we actually have non-Mormon records.

      Of the angelic vision? Produce them. Or did you mean of Christianity? Give us an argument that if Christianity were true, we should have expected more than we have; then we’ll have something to discuss.

      You quote me:

      (e) Joseph Smith himself downplayed the significance of the testimony of the three witnesses, and

      Then you give a particularly odd response:

      And we have nothing at all written by Jesus! You’ve scored another own goal, I’m afraid.

      I’m just not following your argument. Are you suggesting that we would be more likely to have a document purporting to be written by Jesus if the resurrection had really happened than if it had not? What possible reason would you have for thinking that? Or are you claiming that if we had a document that purported to be written by Jesus, that would make the case for the resurrection stronger? Again, why think a thing like that? Either way, this is a non-starter.

      Again, quoting my sixth point:

      (f) The other eight witnesses, all younger members of the families of Smith and Whitmer, said nothing in their own voice but merely signed a statement drafted by Smith.

      You reply:

      Now you’re really reaching. Attorneys draft affidavits for their clients all the time, and that doesn’t diminish the value of the attestation. I agree with you that we should be suspicious of these kinds of statements (what with me not being a Mormon and all), but to jump to the conclusion that the statements are “evidentially worthless” imposes a standard on Mormonism that you wouldn’t dare impose on Christianity.

      It is one thing for an attorney to draft an affidavit for a client; it is another thing altogether for the defendant to draft the affidavits for his own witnesses, who all also happen to be younger members of his own family. It’s beginning to sound like Chicago politics … not a good sign. (You’ve never done any defense attorney work for the mob, by any chance?)

      Finally, you write:

      As to the NT evidence, that’s a matter for another post — but again I see that you prefer hyperbolic rhetoric (”Elaine Pagels’s nonsense” … “without begging the question” … “non-specialists and online crackpots” … “suggests that you are unaware” and so on) to actual argument.

      Come now. You gave a tendentious summary of what the Christians have, as you see it; I responded in terms certainly no more loaded or abrasive than your own. You offered no arguments, just assertions; is it fair for you to chide me for failing to write up arguments against every off-the-cuff remark you make that I think is false?

      Regarding begging the question, surely you will agree that it is desirable for both Christians and unbelievers to avoid circular reasoning.

      If you were stung by the reference to “non-specialists and online crackpots,” that may suggest that you really are relying on Earl Doherty and Richard Carrier and have not actually looked at what professional Josephus scholars and classicists think about the Testamonium Flavianum in Antiquities 18 and the James passage in Antiquities 20. That would also explain why you opine that these passages are forgeries.

      But maybe I’m wrong; maybe you really have looked into this more deeply. So here’s a proposal. If you are aware of any living professional Josephus scholars – or professional classicists, or professional historians of the first century – with current academic affiliations in those disciplines, who think that both of these passages are wholesale forgeries (and that is the only way I can reasonably interpret your earlier reference to “two forged passages in Josephus”) then please, for the sake of informing us all, name them, tell us where they teach, and point us to their writings. (Charles Guignebert, who is sometimes cited by the Josephus-skeptics in this connection, died in 1939.) If you find any living, credentialed, currently academically employed, professional scholars in any of those three fields who maintain the wholesale forgery position for both passages and have written a defense of that position in English, French, German, Spanish, or Italian, then if I haven’t encountered it before, I will read it. Deal?

  8. Andrew said,

    Nathaniel, let’s try that again, okay? It’s obvious to me that you’re a smart guy, and I’d like to think we can have a productive exchange here. I do think your overall approach is reflective of many of the “aggressive apologists,” and it turns me off. So let’s try and do this in a productive way.

    Go ahead and take a look at the mission statement of this blog. I am unconvinced by the arguments for Christianity. If you have good ones, I’d love to hear them and see if they’re convincing.

    On this thread, you offered the argument that the evidence for the resurrection is better than the evidence for the Mormon golden plates story. This (a) is kind of a strange argument, since I’m not a Mormon, and obviously there are plenty of things I think are better evidenced than the golden plates and yet I don’t believe those, either. But (b) to my satisfaction at least, I think the reverse is true — the evidence for the Mormon golden plates is better than the evidence for the resurrection in terms of contemporaneous, validated, real eyewitnesses.

    So here’s what I would ask: give me one argument for the resurrection. Not a parade of hurled elephants. And do so to convince me, not sneer at me. Avoid characterizing liberal Christian scholars; show, don’t tell.

    And if you do that, I’ll devote a thread to it and we can discuss your best/favorite argument.

    Deal?

    • Nathaniel said,

      Andrew,

      I like the spirit of this suggestion very much. The only part that is not, I think, really feasible is the suggestion that I — a non-specialist — summarize something that others have taken hundreds of pages to work out. I’m happy, however, to point to some places where I think a responsible presentation of such an argument can be found. As you say in the inaugural posts on this blog, you’re looking to evaluate the best arguments, not the weakest or most popular ones.

      I think the fullest recent statement of the argument is N. T. Wright’s argument in The Resurrection of the Son of God, but that defies not only brief summary but also brief treatment.

      A much older but still surprisingly good book is William Paley, A View of the Evidences of Christianity. A modern defender of the resurrection would want to supplement Paley’s case in various ways, but there is a lot of good material in there even as it stands.

      A very substantial treatment can be found in William Lane Craig, Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. This is not just the popular version Craig uses in debates: he gives a great deal more detail here. I would be very interested to see what you would make of Craig’s version of the argument for the resurrection.

      Another work in the same vein is Stephen T. Davis, Risen Indeed? Supplement that with the historical material discussed in Habermas, The Historical Jesus and some of the references in Davis’s footnotes, and you have the makings of a serious case.

      You could try to go through one or more of these works chapter-by-chapter. But I have what I think may be an even better idea. Why not extend this invitation to a fellow attorney on the other side of the issue? I’d suggest that you make contact with Christopher Price over at Christian Cadre and offer to have a friendly debate on the subject. He’s already got a good bit of material online, which would mean that everyone can read it (not just those who have access to good libraries or unlimited slush funds for buying used books).

      I’d be very happy to participate in a discussion like that and very interested to see how two attorneys marshall their respective cases.

    • Nathaniel said,

      Andrew,

      Just one further comment, on this:

      I do think your overall approach is reflective of many of the “aggressive apologists,” and it turns me off.

      If you think I’m aggressive, you should read some of J. P. Holding’s stuff! Seriously, when you wrote:

      What you’ve got are a handful of cherry-picked, pseudonymous manuscripts of non-eyewitnesses of dubious dating and origin. Oh, and two forged passages in Josephus. And a bunch of stuff from the second century AD and later. Is there anything I’ve missed?

      … you successfully pushed my buttons, both because I consider virtually everything you’ve said here to be demonstrably false and because of the supercilious tone. Quand on l’attaque, il se defend. I’d be happy to continue the discussion on a higher plane.

  9. Andrew said,

    Okay, the N.T. Wright book is 740 pages (and that’s just book 3!), and the Craig text to which you link is $150. Neither one of those seems ideal for a chapter-by-chapter treatment here.

    What about Craig’s Reasonable Faith? It’s 17 bucks in paperback and seems directed to educated laypersons. I could also examine the Davis, but both your comment and Jeff Lowder’s review at Amazon seem to indicate that the work is incomplete as a stand-alone apologetic.

  10. Anselm said,

    “Reasonable Faith” is good, but only 3 chapters (I believe) deal with the resurrection; the remainder covers other apologetics topics. You might try “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” by Habermas and Licona, although they use the dreaded “minimal facts” approach :)

  11. Anselm said,

    Another one I meant to mention is “The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition” by Boyd and Eddy, which has been highly acclaimed in the apologetics community and received this blurb from Robert Price:

    “I am gratified that my friends and colleagues Paul Eddy and Greg Boyd have taken my work as seriously as they have in this comprehensively researched book. I urge any reader of my books to read this one alongside them!”–Robert M. Price, Center for Inquiry Institute

  12. Nathaniel said,

    I second Anselm’s suggestion of Boyd and Eddy, but in this case, there is a choice by the same authors that is quite a bit shorter and a little broader in scope: Lord or Legend? (2007). It’s just $3 on Amazon. I’d be glad to see a serious discussion of this or of The Jesus Legend. Take your pick!

    I continue to think that inviting Christopher Price from Christian Cadre to uphold the Christian side of the discussion would make for a very interesting conversation.

  13. Nathaniel said,

    I second Anselm’s suggestion of Boyd and Eddy, but in this case, there is a choice by the same authors that is quite a bit shorter and a little broader in scope: Lord or Legend? (2007). It’s just $3 on Amazon. I’d be glad to see a serious discussion of this or of The Jesus Legend. Take your pick!

    I continue to think that inviting Christopher Price from Christian Cadre to uphold the Christian side of the discussion would make for a very interesting conversation.

  14. Andrew said,

    Nathaniel: if you want to invite Price over here, I would welcome his input. I am not presently interested in a formal debate. From what I’ve skimmed of his writings, I think I would enjoy conversing with Price, although I am skeptical of some of the company he keeps on the CADRE webpage (e.g., metacrock, J.P. Holding).

    • Nathaniel said,

      Andrew,

      I don’t know Price at all; I just thought that it would be interesting to see two attorneys frame their respective cases. I agree about the tone that Holding lapses into sometimes; that puts me off as well. I don’t know anything about metacrock.


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