Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Christian apologist Glenn Peoples & the Insufficiency of Evidence for the Resurrection


Christian apologist Glenn Peoples has finally gotten around to part 2 of his series reviewing atheist historian Richard Carrier's online version of his case arguing that the apostle Paul and the early Christians probably believed in a super-physical resurrection where Jesus got a new and improved body and left his old one behind (and hence no empty tomb as legendarily portrayed in the gospels).  Specifically Peoples is evaluating Carrier's arguments for the general insufficiency of evidence for the resurrection.

Peoples says:
...Carrier is not here giving an argument against the resurrection of Jesus. He is only arguing that if Jesus physically rose from the dead and Christianity is true, God is “stingy” and doesn’t share his revelation with as many people as need it.
It is logically possible for there to be a resurrection of Jesus and for no one in particular to have to know about it.  However, Peoples needs to actually offer a good reason to expect the "morally perfect god" to be stingy in order to properly dislocate the ideas from each other.  Just because there are Christians all over the spectrum on that claim doesn't mean they have a good case for other lesser expectations.

Peoples says:
Carrier thinks that a written sign in the sky (e.g. on the moon) would count as enough to show all humanity that the Christian God exists. But of course, as soon as we introduce the medium of language, we have to say that the sign is not really universal after all. Aside from the fact that not everyone of Jesus’ time was literate, even if they had been, the question arises: Which language should that message have been presented in? And how could people read it if it was on the moon (which in many night skies would not be large enough to read).
It is surprising that James Hale, J. P. Holding, and Glenn Peoples all seem to so easily forget what kind of a god they are supposed to be dealing with especially in light of the proof of concept of the miracle of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13) since such technicalities did not stand in the way.  It's called magic, people.

Peoples says:
Similar problems present themselves for Carrier’s bizarre example of miraculously indestructible Bibles [...]  It is difficult to believe, on reading this, that this is the supposedly sophisticated intellectual case of a PhD historian against Christianity.
Peoples apparently has no problem with many miraculous claims peppered throughout the Christian scriptures, but Carrier's suggestion of an indestructible Bible to show which books are actually from a god finally meets with skepticism?  lol

Peoples says:
...it would not be good enough for the sign to be accessible to Chinese people who lived centuries later... 
...it would consign all those non-Greek speaking people of the ancient world to damnation. 
...they would not get the message to people who lived prior to the writing of the New Testament, nor would they get the message to illiterate people.
Peoples seems to just be digging himself into a deeper hole with his responses.  Jesus clearly favors gospel knowledge over ignorance with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) and yet the Bible indicates that for some bizarre reason Adam and Eve were allowed to have kids who could subsequently be misinformed by their wayward parents.  Yahweh focused on just one nation of Israel in the ancient world while all the others went along their merry evil ways.  And then with the evangelical ignition of Christianity, despite its success as the world's largest religion, still has managed to miss significant portions of the population in the last 2,000 years.  Yahweh is supposedly head over heels for free will and yet apparently doesn't equally value those free will decisions being informed decisions even though we should expect him to.  Lots of excuses can and have been made and Christians are all over the place on the issue, but the hypothesis that Judeo-Christianity is just a successful religion is more probable on these terms than any of those lowered expectations and ad hoc excuses that can get quite elaborately unevidenced (like apologist William Lane Craig's soul shell game where evil souls are all born in ungospeled nations).

Peoples says:
...perhaps [Carrier] would have been open to the realisation that virtually any outlandish fictional scenario he could concoct where God puts on some amazing show for a huge audience would still be subject to someone raising their hand and saying “but what about those people? They would still miss out!”   
Yeah...how about that omnipresent Jesus showing up and talking to everyone.  That was hard.  Moving on...

Peoples says:
At most, the conclusion that Carrier could justify is that God doesn’t meet his standards of generosity. But a Christian like this would be justified in detecting an air of arrogance to this. For Carrier, he might say, is assuming to know not only what he would do if he had Carrier’s existing knowledge plus God’s power. He is presuming to know what he would do if he had God’s knowledge and God’s power, which is to effectively say that he currently possesses God’s knowledge.
Oh here we go...  As I said over on Peoples' blog:
Alas, the standard retort to this is, “why should god listen to you?” or “who do you think you are to know better than god?” etc. as though we are not in a position to have to judge reality as best we can based on what we think we know. In other words, Christians are taking to it from a defensive position [and expecting others to have] to prove something wrong, whereas skeptics are taking to it from the position of needing to make the best positive case for any worldview based on what we know. If metaphysical naturalists took the same dishonest route of Christians, we’d shut down the conversation with something like, “Who do you think *you* are to pretend like you know enough about reality to say it couldn’t have happened by chance?” There may be some truth to that, but if everyone gets to say that kind of thing, that’s gridlock and we’re stuck with agnosticism all around. Which isn’t, btw, Christianity.
See also my FAQ over at the Richard Carrier wiki for a more elaborate version of this answer.

Peoples says:
Of course claims of miracles in other contexts counts as evidence for those miracles, and evangelicals have no reason to say otherwise. How could it not count? Evidence is any consideration at all that makes an event more probable than it would otherwise have been. Therefore, testimony is evidence. It should be clear to anyone that testimony of miracles worked by Vespasian clearly count in favour of such miracles happening – they make them more likely than they would be if there were no testimony of the miracles. But saying that if we allow the possibility of miracles then we have to believe all such testimony is clearly unwarranted. It is akin to saying that if we believe in crime then we have to believe every allegation of crime.  It’s a strange line of argument for a historian to make.
Carrier probably means to say that if we have to believe in this bad evidence for the supernatural, then we have to believe in all bad evidence for the supernatural.  The bottom line is this:  I've never seen any miracles.  And the only human institution qualified to evaluate that type of claim beyond my personal ability to do so (since it's a big world) is the scientific establishment.  And despite the scientific establishment being over half religious and cognitively favorable to such claims, there's no consensus in favor of even a single one of that nature or even an ongoing split debate despite there being numerous opportunities for Bible validating claims to be tested (which have been investigated).  Also, there are obviously many confirmed reasons to expect that humans would generate belief artifacts from their poor command of the human experience.  So until I have what I like to call a Miles Bennett Dyson level experience, I'm going to go with anything ranging from "I don't know" to, "That's probably false."  Maybe miracles happen, but I don't have any good reason to think so.  And I'm in a horrible epistemic position to sort out what they would mean even if they do happen.

Peoples says:
...the naiveté of Carrier’s suggestion that we have to experience events of a certain type ourselves in order to ever be justified in believing that they have occurred is not a tenable stance to take. It is to effectively declare as a matter of principle that any claim that a truly unique event has occurred in history must be dismissed not only as false, but literally impossible.   
I think Peoples is overstating Carrier's case.  Our brains work on past experience and we are always comparing past experience to incoming information to deduce whether we think it is plausible and believable or not.  It is completely reasonable to take our objections seriously or we have literally no way of disbelieving anything we hear about.  It's obviously a fallible process, but guess what epistemology is hard.

Peoples says:
Caesar crossed the Rubicon and invaded Italy, but in spite of prolonged observation of the Rubicon in modern times, no Caesars have ever been observed doing such things.

That's weak.  People do cross rivers and wage wars, so that type of experience is commonplace.  Now if Caesar flew across the Rubicon and shot everyone with death lasers...that would be a horse of a different color, now wouldn't it?

Peoples says:
It’s not that I agree that Carrier has really answered his critics before they offer their criticisms, it’s that Carrier himself simply wheels out arguments (such as this one against miracles) that have been criticised – “already answered,” if you like – many times over in the literature since Hume’s argument was first published, and yet he does not seem interested in going back and reading the literature on the argument against miracles to address those criticisms.
I won't be defending that our experience of the uniformity of nature somehow proves that "violations" of it cannot occur.  Carrier does not make that case either, even though Peoples seems to assume Carrier does because his comments vaguely resemble Hume's.

Peoples says:
Of course! If dead people rose all the time as part of the ordinary, observed course of nature, then the fact that Jesus rose from the dead would not be miraculous or significant.
So if we had good evidence that miracles occur, that would mean Yahweh was doing it wrong!  Evidence = bad.  Seems legit.  lol

Peoples says:
Lastly, the absurdly prejudiced characterisation of the writers of the Gospels as – for want of better terms – ancient dummies so stupid that they just didn’t know that dead people stay dead – is characteristic of the worst type of historical ignorance coupled with arrogance. Whatever scientific knowledge the authors of the New Testament might have lacked, they certainly knew that dead people do not just get up and walk away! So the quality of the witnesses as ignorant or living in a “backwater” country is really not a factor here.
lol, I always have to chuckle at this when apologists complain about skeptical prejudice since the gospel of Mark (Mark 6:30-38; 6:51-52; 7:18; 8:1-4; 8:15-21; 9:10) actually does portray the disciples as just that stupid.  Actually arguably stupider than that.  They can't seem to figure out that Jesus can do magic tricks despite being in his presence and watching him doing them over and over again.  He continually chastises them for just how dull they are.  This doesn't really even make any sense from a skeptical perspective at face value since it is just really bizarre.  However Carrier's review of Dennis MacDonald's "The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark" does seem to give a good explanation of why this would be.  Regardless, if we take the gospels as basically true, we have to accept that the disciples were really stupid.  Additionally, see Carrier's "Kooks and Quacks of the Roman Empire: A Look into the World of the Gospels" for the historical perspective justifying skepticism of our sources (as opposed to literary opportunism of Mark).

Peoples says:
But does the Gospel of John depict Thomas as rational and wise for refusing to believe until he had made direct observation? Not at all. Recall that when Jesus has shown himself alive again to Thomas, he chides him in John 20:29- “Do you believe because you see me? How happy are those who believe without seeing me!” It is strange then, to see Carrier preface this comment with “above all.” 
What's strange is seeing Peoples think he is improving his case by appealing to the fact his source-books reprimand interest in evidence and instead favor credulity!

Peoples says:
The Jewish community, its diversity notwithstanding, did not teach that the Messiah would die for our sins and then be resurrected. The Jewish hope was that the Messiah would claim David’s throne and wield political power, making Israel great.  [...]  Not only do we know that first century Jews were strongly opposed to religious syncretism, then, we also know that even if they had been so inclined, there just aren’t good candidates in the pool of myth and legend that would readily have been morphed into a Jewish Messiah who was crucified, died, was buried and resurrected three days later.
In another place, Carrier says:
Religious syncretism is the process of combining ideas from several sources, often the most popular or useful ideas in the air, into a new whole, making for a new religion. All religions are produced this way. Christianity therefore certainly was as well (it would go against all prior probability to claim otherwise, and against all the evidence as well). Judaism had a prominent component of sacrifices atoning for a nation’s entire sins, a belief in the holy spirit making Jewish kings into the sons of god (see Not the Impossible Faith, chapter 9), and a tendency toward ascetic denigration of sexuality. Paganism had a prominent component of dying-and-rising savior gods, who likewise offered ways to cleanse their followers of sins and thus procure them entry into paradise–not necessarily by their death, but always in some way, and in many cases through baptismal rituals long predating Christianity’s adoption of the same or similar ritual (see The Empty Tomb, p. 215, n. 210); and pagans had many traditions about virgin born sons of god. Note what happens when you combine the Jewish side with the pagan: you get Christianity. This is actually almost certainly what happened, and thus should not even be in dispute.
And as Carrier describes in his first debate with Mike Licona, it may have been just the right innovation contrary to what everyone else was doing that allowed Christianity to succeed.  Other Jewish sects expected some military force that would never happen, and Christianity somehow invented a heavenly temple and a new sacrificial system that the Romans could not touch.  So having an unfalsifiable alternative that satisfied similar spiritual yearnings of the time would make perfect sense.  

Peoples says:
Now, it’s true that after the resurrection of Jesus, Paul declared that Jesus had risen from the dead “according to the Scriptures.” 
Ah ha!  And yet this forces Peoples to belittle the connection:
What Scriptures did Paul have in mind. The reality is that there is precious little in the Old Testament to suggest any such thing. 
...go back into the Old Testament with this conviction and find allusions and parallels to the resurrection of Jesus there. 
The question is not whether or not people with knowledge of Jesus’ death and resurrection could, in principle, find references in the Hebrew Scripture that they could attach to the resurrection of Jesus. 
There is not a single Jewish source in the first century world to suggest any such reading of the Scripture.
And with that Peoples seems to be saying that the whole Jesus as Messiah and Old Testament prophecy thing is a huge retconning/tea-leaf-reading sham.  Good job.

Peoples says:
The view that the disciples literally invented the resurrection of Jesus out of nothing and then went around proclaiming him as risen – knowing full well that this was a lie – and ultimately being willing to suffer and die for this deception, has virtually nothing to commend itself.
You'll have to show me where Carrier argues that.

However, it is a little narrow-minded to think there aren't religious people who fervently believe in their core doctrines and yet find no problem selling the general public a more elaborate tale that they think helps promote their basic spiritual values.  And these people might also be willing to be martyred for it aside from the pious fraud they thought was perfectly justified.  The fallacy of the modern Christian apologist is to assume that the apparently lesser, more modest beliefs (whatever those may have been) were not just as valid to them as the more elaborate beliefs they passed on to later Christians.  There have been all sorts of religious people throughout the ages and we can't necessarily be sure what type we are dealing with based on their propaganda thousands of years in hindsight.


Carrier's entire argument (a good hundred pages) on this topic can be found in chapter 5 of the skeptical anthology "The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave."  Note, what he argues there is compatible with his new case in the forthcoming mythicist book, "On the Historicity of Jesus" as he explains here in the Spiritual Body FAQ.


The Nerd said...

Even as a Christian I wondered why miracles didn't still happen, and why all the promises Jesus made about us doing works in his name never came true. Now it's quite obvious to me why that is the case. If miracles really still happened, the question of "do miracles happen?" would be moot.

Ben Schuldt said...

And just remember, when apologists try to remove all cause for expecting any kind of serious evidence...you're supposed to pretend like you don't notice, okay?

Edward T. Babinski said...

Yahweh/Jesus, never change. Miraculous demonstrations of their pre-eminence and authority are the same yesterday. . . and. . . tomorrow (in the far flung past and future). But just not the same today.

Heck the time between "testaments" was only a couple hundred years. But it's been two thousand years since the last "testament," so maybe it's time we started lighting some thermo-nuclear candles to light Jesus' way back to earth? Our God has gone AWOL.

Yup, the "New" Testament is now about five times older than the "Old" Testament was when the "New" Testament was first written.

Glenn Peoples said...

So here's a derisive comment about "magic." There's a constant stream of missing the point, where I was showing the flaws in Carrier's specific argument (of why an indestructible Bible or writing on the moon would not have the effect that he imagines), and the blog author here seems to mistakenly respond to that criticism by saying that I am making excuses for why God didn't make his existence clearer. Yet this just makes the same error that Carrier made, to which I responded already.

In regard to miracles, the author appears to think that simply re-stating Carrier's skepticism is an adequate way to address my treatment of that skepticism. The author tries (without explanation) to distance Carrier's argument against miracles from that of Hume in spite of it being essentially the same. Anti-intellectual treatments of "Ah ha!" and remarks about teas-leaf reading generate the depressingly familiar impression of the rants from the sidelines that one sees all too often from Carrier's own fans.

This is simply not a serious criticism.

Andy Semler said...

So... do I get to see a miracle now? (If you'll pardon the wicked and adulterous nature of such a question.)

WOE said...

Glenn, I cannot hope to compete with your powers of prejudice that can note a buzzword and a joke and subsequently fail to find any distinctive or relevant material to interact with. I could spend a great deal of time carefully enumerating and summing up all the arguments you've carelessly glossed over, but anyone with reasonable powers of reading comprehension already would have figured you out by now from having read my post in contrast to your comment. It's not like I failed to interact with anything of substance in your original post. Why should we believe in Christian magic again over and above a competing naturalistic hypothesis? Why should we accept your irresponsible standards of evidence or the Bible's credulous, mystical standards of evidence over Carrier's appeal to the moral primacy of communication? No idea. Your skills of apologetic denialism are truly a marvel of epistemic poverty.