Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Hallquist-fuzzyh, round three

The debate continues

Second rebuttal: fuzzyh

There is no doubt that our view of reliability should not be blind. We must take an accurate account of what were are looking at. The apostle Paul and his letters have been accepted as reliable by the majority of New Testament Scholarship.

Yes, what we call the Gospel of Mark is anonymous. Do you have any evidence to suppose that our record of the author is wrong? By stating that it was not named until much later, does not necessarily mean that it was given a false name. Furthermore, one might assume that they just made that name up. However, the early church fathers held those gospels in high esteeem.

The analogy of the pit to hell is a very great analogy. Yet, perhaps in a lack of understanding it offers a proof for my exact point. I have no doubt that legends can occur relatively quickly. However, a lasting legend does not occur relatively quickly. The very idea that we today do not think that a hole was dug to hell, is based on the idea we can check the sources. The Gospel of Mark was written early enough to check the sources. Mark could have written legendary materials. However, Mark was written early enough to check sources of the materials and still find a tomb that Jesus was buried in. Based upon that, this analogy does not prove what it was intended to prove and provides a greater analogy to my own view.

My reference to Mark was in 16:7, knowing fully well that 9 through the end of the chapter is probably spurious. As to the contradiction, I'm assuming that you are refering to in Mark where it says that they didn't tell anyone and in Matthew and Luke in which it does say they told others. It seems likely that the women would tell Peter as the person whom they talked to commanded them to tell Peter. The apparent silence then should be understood to be people besides Peter and the disciples. This can be drawn from the context in Mark.


Concerning Hallucinations

Ultimately, the hallucination theory fails because of the body. Even 50 days after the death of Jesus Christ, the Jews still would have known which tomb Jesus would have been buried in. Identification may have been difficult, due to decomposition, but location should have been easy. Unless you assume that he was not buried in a location that was known commonly, or that no one was willing to check the tomb to see if it was really empty, the halllucination fails. There is still a body located within the tomb. The question still remains given the set of facts of the resurrection, which model makes the most sense. A hallucination does not account for an empty tomb, unless of course Jesus was buried in a shallow grave and eaten by dogs. [I don't have the book or newspaper reference to this one.]

Instead, based upon the assumption that miracles don't happen, the conclusion is that a resurrection is impossible. Yet that presupposition is ungrounded. This means that we must used the BEST explanation possible for all the facts.

People hallucinate when they don't expect it. Is an interesting proposition. I certainly have never hallucinated, but I won't rule it out a priori. However, normal people don't hallucinate concerning touching physical things. Hallucinations don't eat fish, etc.

There has been made no effort to deal with the inconsistent fact that Luke was used to refute me, yet Luke expounds a resurrection of Jesus Christ. Either Luke was right in one verse and wrong in another. However, no criteria have been given to demonstrate why Luke was right once and wrong later. Unless of course this is entirely arbitrary. In which case, this debate comes down to arbitrary views and not about any truth.

Second rebuttal: Hallquist

In your first reply, you conceded that we should be skeptical of miracle claims. What do you understand this to mean, in practice? Might it mean not using anonymous sources whose authors aren't identified in other sources until decades after the fact? Might it mean not invoking a miracle if there's a reasonably plausible non-miraculous explanation? If not these, then what?

If you would dispute that we shouldn't postulate a miracle if there's a workable alternative, I have some more questions. If you got an e-mail telling the pit to hell story (before hearing in this thread that it was a legend), would it be reasonable to say, "It could be a legend, but that's not the BEST explanation"? Or, if you met someone who claimed to have psychic powers, and you got a demonstration, would a reasonable verdict be, "Every one of those feats could be performed by trickery, but that's not the BEST explanation"? No, and no. At the very least, we should not accept miracle-claims if a plausible alternative exists.

Beyond common-sense reasons for exerting the skepticism described above, there are the reasons I gave in my opening statement. The main point I see in response to it is "What if, in fact, the resurrection of Jesus Christ was the only miracle?" The claim that there's a God who can work miracles, but only worked one, and did it in a time period when the miracle couldn't be well-documented—that's an inherently suspicious claim. It's much like saying, "What if Uri Geller in fact has psychic powers, and his problem with convincing others is that skeptics really do send out bad vibes that interfere with them?" In response to both "What if"s, my response is "tough."

There's a simple reason why a rotted body wouldn't have stopped the disciples from claiming Jesus was risen: seeing (or thinking you saw) is believing. Susan Clancy did an excellent job making this point when discussing why some people are sure they've been abducted by aliens: "if you had vivid memories of being sucked up into a tube of light, you'd be sure too" (1). It also would not stop converts from believing. It has been noted that on the surface, alleged abductees generally appear sincere, so when they're put on talk shows, the can seem quite convincing to those who do not understand the psychology of such delusions (2). A handful of people who sincerely believed that they had seen the risen Jesus would be a powerful draw for converts. If you argue that a body would at least have deterred some people, fine—Christianity didn't exactly become the official religion of Jerusalem right away.

The problem with assuming that legends would be debunked is that debunkings aren't always as effective as they should be. Many examples could be given, but I'll give just one: The Amityville Horror. It was basically a novel, but it was initially promoted as a true story. A few years later the hoax was confessed under pressure. However, many people didn't get the message. When it came time for the remake of the movie version in 2005, several people involved in the movie explained their interest in the project with reference to the "fact" that the story was true (3).

Here, we need to keep in mind the different historical setting. I'm aware of the Amityville Hoax entirely thanks to two inventions: the printing press and the internet. Neither of those things existed in the first century. There was a much greater reliance on oral tradition, and what writings were produced could only be circulated by copying them by hand. Getting one's views across required considerable effort. Believers would be more willing to exert this effort than unbelievers. It shows in our sources—we have no non-Christian mention of Jesus for the first 60 years after his death, and the earliest known attempt to debunk Christianity (Celsus') is known only through a Christian refutation.

Finally, my use of Luke: as I said in my last statement, we do the best we can using imperfect sources. With such sources for Jesus as we have, there's little basis for assuming everything in them is true, but if an essentially plausible claim is attested in a couple of sources, it stands a chance of being true. For example, taking together Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana, combined with such other references as Lucian's mention of the "bag of tricks" of "the notorious Apollonius," it would be reasonable to think there was such a man, and he was a magician (4). It would not be reasonable to think he had actual miraculous powers.

(1) Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens. p.52
(2) Hines p.201
(3) Benjamin Radford, "The Amityville Horror."
(4) Lucian, Alexander the False Prophet

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