Saturday, December 20, 2008

Atheists, Incredulity and Evidence.

eye witness testimony in Gospels

I responded to atheist taunts on a message board, taunts saying "there's no eye witness evdience in the Gospels." So I said there is an proceeded to show how we know that. This elicited two general sort of response. The first is a philosophical denial of the possibility of miracles, plus an assortment of other incredulous statements. All but one responded in this manner. That one, who i call "mr. knowledge" (his real screen name is "Grog") ties the "factual" approach. I place this in scare quotes he's a Jesus myther so what is fact to Jesus mythers? It's as though they leave the knitting gritty to one guy who likes it, and the other just assert their philosophical position is Superior in and of itself without evidence or argument.

I think it's pretty clear that they expect their ideology alone to banish evidence. To make the claim "there's no evdience one would expect that evdience would be important. But time and time again they refuse to argue evdience falling back instead upon their ideological statements.

Here are the arguments I made which are just a summary of things on my website.

summary of evidence for eye witness content in Gospels.

I've given this stuff many many many many times, no one has ever disprove it to any degree.

scholarly cautions:

*I can grant that there are embellishments,

*that we don't know much,

*that we need to know more to have a real historical picture.

But the assert that they are just made up bs and we don't know anything is foolish.

(1) Not written 40 years or more latter: written 18 years latter.

This is arrived at through textaul criticism, but it's a fact. its' a known fact.

there are several sourcesthat predate the Gospels in their current form.

(a) Q
(b) G.Thomas
(c) G. Peter
(d) L
(e) M
(f) PMR (pre Mark readaction)
(g) Passion narrative of the PMR
(h) Paul's saying source
(i) Egerton 2
(j) Gospel of the savior
(k) may others (we have 54 lost Gospels in all)

the point here is that they the material was circulating in written form as early as mid century when lots of eye witnesses were still alive to challenge any major mistakes or lies.

(2) Extra Biblical Eye witness claims

(a) Papias says he learned the story from Aristion and the Elder John and others who knew the Apostles.

(b) Polycap claimed to have learned from the Apostle John

even if he was wrong and he meant the Elder John, he was an eye witness (according to Papias) and probably the last redactor of the Gospel of John and author of the Epistles. at least second and third John. The writing style i think is different between 1st J and 2/3 J.

(3) eye witness claims in the Bible

(a) 1st John claims to have been a eye witness

(b) 1 Peter calims to have been an eye witness.

(4) Gospel of John clearly contains eye witness materiel

John identifies Lazarus as the BD because he calls "the beloved disciple." The fact that only in John do we see intimate portraits of Jesus' life, his emotions, his private circle of freinds who don't pop up anywhere else, this indicates that they had not only eye witnesses but people who knew him closely.

(5) dates pushed back

(a) Mark

Version used by Luke is not the same as that used by Matt. So the fact that there were multiple versions (and the idea of the UR Mracus as been around for over 100 years) lead some scholars to see Marks evolving out of a process that began as eralry as the late 30s.

(b) Matt has been found quoted in the Talmud from a section historically understood to be first century. Thus this pushes back the date of mark (given the assumptions made about copying) to before AD 70.

(6) Probability favors eye witness input given community authorship

(a) oral tradition guaranteed accurate passage of info

Now the assumption that the early story were just wild rumors is totally wrong. The Jews had an oral culture, they had oral traditions. They were supposedly passing down the material in the Talmud since the time of Moses.

In an oral culture they understood how to keep factual knowledge straight and they had good memories because they understood memory techniques and could memorize huge amounts of stuff. Even today we still see in Turkey where bards can memorize the whole Iliad and spit it back word for word. The Jews did this. they memorized the words of their teacher.

(b) Gospels were not written by individuals. but by communities.

this is the consensus now in scholarly circles. See Luke Timothy Johnson

(c) Acts shows us the early church living together in communal situation and it says they studied the scriptures every day. They were looking for verses about Jesus int he : find prophesy and connect it all up to what happened.

(d) Thus they were passing on the story in the community and telling them under controlled conditions and each community probalby had it's own eye witnesses.

that's why John focuses just on MM and Matt has Mary the mother and a whole set of about four women because the John community got MM (which is according to church legend) and the other communities probably had the other women.

There are a couple who actaully do try to aruge with the conept of eye witnesses.

Originally Posted by Iceage View Post
I have to ask where are the eye witness accounts of disinterested parties? It would be like showing up at a crime scene and only have eye witness accounts from one biased side.

you are confused about the nature of writing in late antiquity. they did not have a concept of "first person objective testimony." they did not have a concept of modern courts, science, or proof.

what we have proves that Jesus existed, that the taught that was Messiah and that he was at least believed to have worked miracles and risen from the dead. that's all we need becasue the rest is supplied in our own lives as individuals.

Why no letters home from Roman soldiers talking about the mysterious events. There are original letters from Roman soldiers from the same time period telling mom thanks for the socks. (which is interesting in itself that we have original letters from soldiers but not the Gospels).

most Roman soldiers were illiterate. Cumont proved that Roman solider were impressed enough with Christianity to take it back and make it part of their mithric cult. But any writing form a roman solider is very rare.


Or some "eye witness" accounts from the enemy camp such as a Jewish Pharisee documenting the strange account of resurrection of the Saints.

Jewish writing from the first century that surface in the talmud prove that Jesus existed, and that it was claimed that he worked magic

Quote:Ice age:
Second why would God go though all the trouble of being resurrected and appear only to those of the inside group? Why not appear to Pilate and have a "You want the truth" moment, or Caesar, or the Greeks or the Chinese who could have and would have documented such a strange appearance.

Again I did not bring it up. It was their argument to begin wtih "no eye witnesses."
my answer:

Meta:you are confused about the nature of God. you are thinking as a big man in the sky. That's not it. that's not the nature of God.

My theory of soterological drama accounts for Why God doesn't just hold a press conference.
Quote: Ice Age:
Third "eye witness" of religious events are notoriously unreliable. Consider the "eye witness" account of the Golden Plates of the Mormon affair? Or the 'eye witness" accounts of the appearances of Mother Mary in Europe? Or the accounts of Roman rulers such a Vespasian healing people at the same time period.

Meta:Joe Smith was one guy. the Gospel communities were hundreds or thousands of people. Whole communities putting their testimony in.

Again he's not arguing against the evidence for eye witnesses. He's challenging the idea of thier value a priori once having made the assertion that we don't have any. I should have also pointed out that non religous modern day witnesses are unreliable.

The standard ideologcial argument says miracles don't happen enough. They avoid a strict circular argument by leaving it open ended in a technical sesne (becasue it is a probablity arguent) but in reality that they just assume odds are so totally overwhealming that no miracle will actually happen even though they don't say they can't.

This exchange is from a friend called "Emuse" and he is a freind. He's posted on CARM for a long time:

Quote:Metacrock before
you tell me. you guys are always saying we don't have it. so here it is now you tell me what it proves. what does it prove if we don't have it?

Non Christians present many arguments to counter or challenge the claims of Christianity. Some of those arguments are stronger than others for obvious reasons.With respect to documentation, I don't think that such arguments are very strong. Proximity to events does not seems to validate or negate the claim of a document.
Meta: Not so much in and of itself. But it's a necessary first step if you follow a certain train of argument. You are also overlooking the eye witness factor. The living eye witnesses; more of them the closer to the event.

The main issue is with respect to claims of the miraculous ... and I have covered this before. I have pointed this out before in relation to passages such as this ...
Meta: But that's just an ideological decision. Is' a philosophical objection, not an evidential one. The claim I'm addressing is the one that says "no evidence." you make that claim why get involved?

13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
14They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

15"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"

16Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

Matthew 16:13-16
Even whilst Jesus was alive it was being claimed by others that he was a previously deceased prophet returned from death. Some even claimed that he was John the Baptist who had only recently been killed. The latter claim was popular enough for the disciples to be aware of it and Mark even suggests that it was popular enough for Herod to become aware of ... and embrace!!

14King Herod heard about this, for Jesus' name had become well known. Some were saying, "John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him."
15Others said, "He is Elijah."
And still others claimed, "He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago."

16But when Herod heard this, he said, "John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!"

Mark 6:14-16
In a culture where people had a propensity for inventing miraculous claims, we must proceed with caution, especially when those individuals didn't have the benefits of modern knowledge.

I take the same stance to the apostles claims as I do to the claims of Joseph Smith et al. I assume that a miracle didn't actually take place unless there is good evidence (and it has to be very good) to think otherwise because miracles are statistically unlikely events by definition.

Meta:but to you "bad evdience" is evidence for miracles. period. any evdience for miracles is a priori bad evdience because there can't be miracles. So it's just circular reasoning driven by ideology. That's all you've got!

Quote:Meta (before)
sorry that is circular reasoning. that is not a counter to eye witness evdience. you are assuming that miracles can't happen

False. I said no such thing.
Meta:o come on, you did too! you say it ever time.

I have never said that miracles are impossible .. I have merely said that they are statistically unlikely events so that even where a miracle is claimed it is still more likely that it isn't an actual miracle.
Meta:that's just a ruse. It is a meaningless come back. for any time anyone says anything about miracle out it comes. defacto that is exactly what you are saying. so improbable they will never happen, just to cover yourself you don't say they can't just happen just that hey wont ever.

but there is no evidence you would ever get that you would admit is good. The Xray of the guy's lungs, didn't you say that it's no good unless I actually have the xrays with me?

you don't want to believer, don't worry you never have to

Quote:Meta (before)
accounts of miracles are proof that the account is wrong. But that assume incorrectly. miracles happen. so you are wrong. so you assumption wrong.

Did you miss the part where I said that a miracle was a statistically unlikely event as opposed to an impossibility?

Meta:nothing more than a meaningless way out of the circular reasoning argument. Youuse the probability to dismiss all miracles a priori on the grounds that they are so improbable that this can't be one, but then it's not circular because you left this technicality to get out of it.

But you will never accept even the theoretical possibility of a miracle claim

the proff is your attitude toward evidence above.

Its' just that and nothing more, an ideological assumption!

Which is something we all possess.
Meta:yes but we don't all use it to legitimate circular reasoning.

you can't use that to rule out miracles from an account such as the Gospels. Because the claim prmia faice is that it's an account of the divine so we should expect miracles.

Most, if not all miracle claims have a divine element.

Meta:so? what's the problem?

so what if they are? I'm not mistaken about how fixed up my life.I am not mistaken about how god put me back together after I lost everything. no way I can ever deny the experinces of God that I have had. I can't deny, forget or be mistaken about that.

When I was a Christian I had what I would call some very strong spiritual experiences that resulted in changes to my personality. Those changes (such as the fact that I stopped using vulgar language overnight) were at a deep level and convinced me of my faith for some time. Neither did I force those changes because I felt I had to ... it didn't come out of any sense of obligation.

Meta:I bet nothing invalidated it either. Perhaps that was a degree of change. But I don't know your life or your story. But I"m willing to bet your reasons for chucking it have to do with discovering the Provencal nature of the kind of faith you had and not really having an alternative becasue you were either warned against or didn't know about liberal theology.

am I warm?

In the end I had to face up to the obvious. Those events didn't appear to relate to anything going on outside of my mind and the fact that they had a positive impact did not in and of itself entail that they were real. Telling children that Santa exists has very positive effects on their behaviour and makes the whole experience of Christmas so much more exciting ... but he still doesn't exist!

Meta:that's a totally ridiculous assertion! First of all a positive impact is an indication that it's real and I think its absurd not to see that. In any other case you would say it is. it's the whole theory of trouble shooting.

you never hear "o it works it must be a lie." But the fact is that's exactly what religion is suppossed to do for you (only a milder version). So the fundie element really misled you in that they did not fully expalin what it was all aou were getting the goods.

Secondly, that is exactly what I said. you realized the Provencal nature of it and you just didn't know how to go forward.

nothing more than rationalizing doubt. you are merely gainsaying the evidence for ideological reasons and rationalizing your doubt.

In the same way that we rationalize those things that we believe as well. Are you saying that it is wrong to rationalize things?

Meta:I think you can figure out what's wrong with rationalization. I think you are sharp enough to have heard that term used in that way.

In the end it all just boils down to incredulity. They make the taunts and demand certain kinds of evidence and in the end they can't defend, don't really care, have other reasons for rejecting it and it just doesn't matter.



Kristen said...

Good blog post, Joe. I remember reading C.S. Lewis saying that he knew the difference between the way eyewitness accounts read, and fabricated stories read-- and the gospels read like eyewitness accounts.

J.L. Hinman said...

yea that's true. they are so full of incredulity. They assume Mark made it all up and there was no circulation of testimony before him, but they know full well there was a Q source that was clearly and necessarily circulating before Mark.

They act like Mark just invented fictional realism and the modern novel.

Loren said...

How did CS Lewis figure that out? It does not seem very apparent to me.

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.

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?

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.

J.L. Hinman said...

How did CS Lewis figure that out? It does not seem very apparent to me.

It does to me. the way you do it is read a hell of a lot. If you have enough experince in literature you can see it.

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.

Not the same thing at all. If you check the details like locals titles those guys did not go running around the local area learning all the proper titles as Luke did for Acts. No one would do that.

They also didn't write those "novels" (which aren't really novels) to fool people nor did they fool people. The argument you are making requiers one of two assumptions, both of which are silly:

(1) that Mark said I"m going to fool people by writting the most realistic thing I can and I'm going to investigate the local scene in Jerusalem to make sureI make it very realistic. then that no one said "Jesus? who is he?"

(2) that he didn't do it to fool people but it did anyway.

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?

that is just indicative of not thinking in a literary way. the concentration on "this is not realistic" is missing the piont. The point of including miracles is not to convince people that they really happened. I mean if your assumption that it was written realistically then miracles tossed in to make people think miracles are real that totally ignores the nature of the miracles.

the whole points is not to fool people by realistic writing, but that the miracles mean something. They did not think in terms of proof or scientific evidence or court room evidence. the whole idea of being realistic to impress that it was real was just beyond their way of thinking.

Miracles play a symbolic role in showing people God intent. For example the time when Jesus spits on dirt and makes mud and puts it on the blind guy's eyes. It not because he's trying to get minerals in the dirt, some scientific reason, it's symbolizing that we come from dust, we are God's creation, the power of God can heal us.

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.

that doesn't refute my point about it to any degree.