Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Atheist Incredulity: Historical Accuracy and Eyewitnesses

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Loren the skeptic makes comments on the previous post (below) and they have gotten me thinking. The comments revolve around the skeptical ideas about the Gospels as exercises in realistic fiction in the first century, and the refusal to atheists to deal honestly with evidence. To the statment Kristen makes that C.S. Lewis points that one can tell if an eye witness account is realistic or not, Loren asks:


How did CS Lewis figure that out? It does not seem very apparent to me.
That comes with the experience of reading. One clue to look for is the unreliability of the witnesses. Eye Witnesses also contradict in little ways; one says the bandit wore a green shirt, the other says he wore a black shirt. If all of witnesses say exactly the same thing one must suspect collusion. If witnesses are quoted they talk like real people. I am sure that doubting Thomas profession of faith: "my Lord and my God," is poetic license. A real guy would probably say "O wow man, I guess you are real." But then the use of poetic license doesn't mean the incident didn't happen or he didn't say anything. But the fact of it is did not have the kind of litterary mentality that would allow them to write a realistic novel for the purpose of spreading some cultish ideas that didn't really happen. The idea that would think "I'll write soemthing that rvery realistic and seems to be froma roving camera persective and includes of historically accuate material" would never occur to them. that assumes the persective of a documentary on film, it assumes travel and it assumes knowledge of maps, and the ability to understand a wide veriety of local custums all of which were unavaible to anyone in late antiqutiy.

Loren has heard the argument that they did not have modern novels in that day and in response she says:



Furthermore, some people had written more-or-less realistic novels in the Greco-Roman world -- consider Chariton of Aphrodisias's novel Chaereas and Callirhoe and Apuleius's The Golden Ass.
The problem here is these are not novels in the modern sense and their sense of "realism" is not comprable to modern realism. But the assumptions skeptics make about this sort of realism as reflected in the Gospels (by that they mean the use of historical places and historical people) is based upon assumptions that come from being modern readers and would not occur to anceint people. For example there's more to realism than just not having miracles, or having things happen in the way they usually happen in life. The idea of realism as a modern writing style in novles came about in the ninteeth century it was very much related to scientfici view ponits. It was a reflection science and scientifci understanindg. It includes a lot more than just not having miracles or more than having real place names. It's a world view, it's a way of looking at the world. In it's latter developments it inculdes psychological insights such as stream of conscousness.

Arguments have been made such that Stephen Neil observes that all the details of Acts are accurate right down to the titles of local office holders. He remarks that this is something that is extremely hard to get right. The first thing people get wrong is the local title of an office holder. The fact that Luke always gets them right shows that he was there. He did travel in that area. No one in late Antiquity would think to go traveling in the area and absorbing local color just to get the titles right in a story. No one did that, no one would do it. No one would think to question it because most people did not travel boradly, they did not have modern conveience and theyd di not have reference books to look it up in, and you can see this in mideval paintings where all the basic facts about middle east are wrong; people often wear mideval hair stles and colothing in such paintings even though they are suppossed to be in the middle east in the first century, becasue they didn't have any way to know how far off they were.

They did not have a scientific undestading of nature, so they did have a realistic wrting style that reflected pscychological insight or any real eason to reflect realistically the way nauturalistic process work. The assumptions the atheists are making are partly wrapped up in assuing that the realism is to make the miracle believeable. But no one would think that way at the time. No one one question miracles on the gorunds that they didn't happen, or that they were improbable. They did actualy qustion miracles. The idea I'v seen atheists state that ancient people were stupid and supersticious and would never question miracles, is not only false but a contradiction to the previous assumption about reailsm. But it is not true that they never questioned miracles. They did concern themselves with "did this really happen? Is it a trick." Many wonder workers were expossed. Tacistus has a hobby of exposing false resurrections. But they diud not doubt themon scientific grounds or upon the grounds that "we never see this happen." They were just sharp enough to know that there are tricks and to wondef "is it real."

On the other hand they did not have a cocnept of modern scietnfic proof. The basic question "are miracles possible becaues they are unscientific" would never occur to them. Thus there is no point in writting reailstically for that reason. It's not an attempt to make miracles seem plausible because they didn't frame the qeution of miracles in that way. They did not have a concept of modern scientific proof. Now Largen makes a statement that tells me this her way of thinking, that she equates realism with naturalism (which is a modern tendency and they would not think of it in the firrst century):

I will, however, concede some less-than-realistic features of the latter one. In it, the central character gets turned into a donkey after meddling with some sorcery, and after several misadventures, he has a vision of Isis who reveals to him how to become human again. But is that any more unrealistic than all those miracles that Jesus Christ had allegedly worked?


She's talking about the "novel" the Godlen Ass. This tells me she is equating natuarlism wiht realism because he calls miracles "unrealistic" so she is thinking that things that violate scientific probablity are less realistic than the norm of our perceptions that such things don't happen. That was not the norm of perception for the ancinet world, they did not think in terms of mathemtical probablity. They woudl not reule out miracles on the grounds that "this doesn't happen enough." so they would not equate miracles as unrealistic nor realistic writting with a lack of miracles.

In making this assumption about naturlism = realism, miracles = unrealistic, they are missing the point of miracles. The atheists want to deal with them in a framework of modern scientific thinking,a and they project that back onto the atittude of the ancients. But this would not occur to the ancients. They would think of miracles in terms of the meaning of the event. Its' an omen, a sign, a portent. It has it's own meaning, it's as though nature itself is a book and we read it in a literrary sense. So Jesus heals the sick, they would not ask "do we ever diseases remitting naturalistically?" They would say "he did this to show us that God can heal our problem, so he can heal sin too." They would not say "this is unrealistic because it doesn't happen enough." so the bita bout the swin run over the cliff and die, they would say "this is a sign that thsoe who reject the law of God will come to a bad end of their own blindness and her instrict of sin." Something like that. They would realte the meaning of the event itself to some grand desing of meaning in a larger sense and in a litterary sense (because the use of symoblism in literature is a hold over form that kind of thinking). They would not think about it in terms of naturlism.

She closes her comments by stating:

And as to Q, it was a collection of sayings, and such a collection need not imply a single originator. I've seen similar sort of skepticism about Aesop, the supposed teller of Aesop's Fables.
As far as that point is related to incredultiy concerning Jesus' statements it's basically coming from Dourghty and the Jesus mythers. When all you have is incredulity you don't think ctirically. Now there is a huge difference in Aesop (and Homer and all such cases) and the Q source as sayings of Jesus. The difference is that Aesop's fables reverberated around the ancient world for some time. Homer was about a thousand years old even in Christ's time. I'm sure there were many Homers becuase the Illiad travaled through many countires over many centuries, and it reflected two sides, the Hitite's who backed Troy and the Greeks, who destoryed Troy. The Q source circulated for a brief time, about twenty years by the time it was written and began to be incorportated into the early versions of the Gospel writtings. This is not enouh time for multiple authors. The assertion is based upon Jesus myther assumptions anyway which are totally destoryed in my critique of Doherty's Evolution of Jesus. One of the major assumptions is that the alledged stoic nature of these sayings marks them as Greek origin and ties them to an older history. But as several scholars point out (again in the same prevously linked essay) there is nothing particularly stoic per se about them. These sayings could be stoic they could be said by almost anyone.

Atheists have no real ability to confront the evidence. They contradict themselves on eye witnesses, first taunting that the Gospels are not eye witness testimony, then when one proves that they are, stating that eye witnesses get it wrong and don't matter. They can't confront the fact of historical accuracy in the Gospels, trying to dismiss eye witness testimony with modern assumptions about ancient writers. Historical accuracy and eye witness testimony is not absoulte proof. You can call it "weak" but it has to be taken as part of a cumuliative case. But when all you have is arguemnt form incredulity (I refuse to believe no matter what) then proof and evidence don't matter. We should stop caring about the taunts of evidence and eye witnesses because atheists don't really care about them anyway. They will always fail to undestand the evidence becuase one cannot think critically when one has nothing but blanket incredulity. But the Christian whose faith is floundering needs to grow past the need for "absolute" proof and seek God on the existential level. The real issues of faith are not about proof, we are not as a species capable of real objectivity. We really need to understand the direct phenomenological (first hand experince) of God's relaity, not merely theoretical evidence.

2 comments:

Loren said...

Eye Witnesses also contradict in little ways; one says the bandit wore a green shirt, the other says he wore a black shirt. If all of witnesses say exactly the same thing one must suspect collusion.
So you are claiming that the Gospels contain errors? Please tell us what you think are the biggest errors in the Gospels.

Furthermore, the test for plagiarism is word-for-word copying when the writers could have used different words to describe the same events. Look at how different journalists write about the same events; they will agree, but in different words. That is what's behind the common conclusion that Matthew and Luke had copied off of Mark -- there are extended word-for-word matches.

Also, why are Chaereas and Callirhoe and The Golden Ass not novels in the modern sense? They look like novels to me.

And while there were certainly skeptics in ancient times, they had a LOT to be skeptical about. Richard Carrier has a nice discussion of Kooks and Quacks of the Roman Empire: a look into the world of the gospels.

You state toward the end that Jesus Christ's miracles were really theological lessons -- does that make them fictional allegories? Does it mean that if you went back in time in a time machine with a video camera and followed JC around, you would not see anyone healed and you would not see pigs being stampeded into a nearby lake?

And how would concern with such a question be any different from bragging about all the details that Acts allegedly gets right?

J.L. Hinman said...

Eye Witnesses also contradict in little ways; one says the bandit wore a green shirt, the other says he wore a black shirt. If all of witnesses say exactly the same thing one must suspect collusion.
So you are claiming that the Gospels contain errors? Please tell us what you think are the biggest errors in the Gospels.


Yes, did you not know I'm not an inerrantist?

Furthermore, the test for plagiarism is word-for-word copying when the writers could have used different words to describe the same events.

we know that's redaction. please try to learn something about textual criticism if you are going to criticize texts.


Look at how different journalists write about the same events; they will agree, but in different words. That is what's behind the common conclusion that Matthew and Luke had copied off of Mark -- there are extended word-for-word matches.


they don't go through a process of redaction. Its' not a good idea to place modern expectations upon writers of late antiquity.

Also, why are Chaereas and Callirhoe and The Golden Ass not novels in the modern sense? They look like novels to me.


take a class on the novel at an upper level of college and you'll get in great detail why. As I explained in my piece they do not have modern concepts of realism, they can't because it involves scientific understanding. you yourself observed that there are also unrealistic things in the Golden Ass. that's just one aspect, but it's enough for now.

And while there were certainly skeptics in ancient times, they had a LOT to be skeptical about. Richard Carrier has a nice discussion of Kooks and Quacks of the Roman Empire: a look into the world of the gospels.

Tacitus hobby was exposing resurrections but the never even tried to expose Jesus resurrection.

your arrangement is guilt by association. you are saying some wonders and miracles were hoaxes, therefore all are hoaxes. that's a fallacy.


You state toward the end that Jesus Christ's miracles were really theological lessons -- does that make them fictional allegories?

not necessarily. They derived lessons from everything back then.


Does it mean that if you went back in time in a time machine with a video camera and followed JC around, you would not see anyone healed and you would not see pigs being stampeded into a nearby lake?


No

And how would concern with such a question be any different from bragging about all the details that Acts allegedly gets right?

Gospels were like sermons. they took material from the community that has been circulated and told in communal meals and gatherings as oral tradition, and arranged it in order and embellished it to answer questions and speak to concerns of the community at the moment.

this is why miracles are arranged in order to present lessons. but you can do that with real events. Its' just a matter how they are told and the material is arranged.