bookmark_borderThe Resurrection of Dr. Sean George – Part 2: Littlewood’s Law

Dr. Sean George claims that God raised him from the dead.
I have prepared a PowerPoint presentation called “The Resurrection of Sean George” which contains lots of relevant information and skeptical points about Dr. Sean George’s miracle claim.  Here at The Secular Outpost,  I plan to present my main objections to his miracle claim.
The following is a summary of Dr. Sean George’s alleged resurrection:

 
One of my primary objections to this miracle claim is that there are millions of cardiac arrests in the world each year, so we should expect for there to be some very rare outcomes of cardiac arrests to occur each year.  A one-in-a-million outcome to a cardiac arrest should be expected to occur at least once or twice each year.  Therefore, if Dr. Sean George’s outcome was a one-in-a-million outcome, then it is unreasonable to conclude that it was a miracle, because we would reasonably expect such outcomes to occur somewhere in the world once or twice each year, even if there is no God and there are no miracles.

 
(This data is from: Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2019 Update
A Report From the American Heart Association, Chapter 17, “Incidence”).
The population of the USA is about 4% of the world’s population.  Since about half a million cardiac arrests occur each year in the USA, there must be millions of cardiac arrests in the world each year.  If, for example, cardiac arrests in the USA constitute 10% of the cardiac arrests in the world, then there would be about five million cardiac arrests in the world each year.
An estimate from a 2007 medical journal (Journal of Electrocardiology) article shows that my back-of-the-envelope estimate is not far off the mark:
Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of global mortality, accounting for almost 17 million deaths annually or 30% of all global mortality. In developing countries, it causes twice as many deaths as HIV, malaria and TB combined. It is estimated that about 40-50% of all cardiovascular deaths are sudden cardiac deaths (SCDs) and about 80% of these are caused by ventricular tachyarrhythmias. Therefore, about 6 million sudden cardiac deaths occur annually due to ventricular tachyarrhythmias. The survival rate from sudden cardiac arrest is less than 1% worldwide and close to 5% in the US.  (from an abstract for the article “Global public health problem of sudden cardiac death.”   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17993308 , emphasis added)


NOTE:  “Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is a sudden, unexpected death caused by loss of heart function (sudden cardiac arrest).”


  • 40% of 17 million is: 6.8 million
  • 50% of 17 million is:  8.5 million

So, there are between 6.8 million and 8.5 million sudden cardiac deaths in the world each year.  If SCDs represent 99% of cardiac arrests (because 1% of people with a cardiac arrest survive), then there are between 6.9 million and 8.6 million cardiac arrests in the world each year, or 7.75 million cardiac arrests (plus or minus .85 million).
My skeptical objection here is basically an application of Littlewood’s Law:

 


“The law was framed by Cambridge University Professor John Edensor Littlewood, and published in a 1986 collection of his work, A Mathematician’s Miscellany. It seeks among other things to debunk one element of supposed supernatural phenomenology and is related to the more general law of truly large numbers, which states that with a sample size large enough, any outrageous (in terms of probability model of single sample) thing is likely to happen.”  (“Littlewood’s Law, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Littlewood%27s_law )


Given the above information, the only thing necessary to dismiss Dr. Sean George’s miracle claim, is to show that the outcome of his cardiac arrest had at least one chance in ten million of occurring.  Since, about 8 million cardiac arrests occur in the world each year, we should expect to see such a rare outcome about once every year or two, even if there is no God, and there are no miracles.
To Be Continued…

bookmark_borderBelief in Miracles – Part 1: Summary

I was invited to be a speaker at the NW Miracles Conference, thanks to Bob Seidensticker who suggested to the conference organizer that I could represent a skeptical viewpoint on the question “Is it ever reasonable to believe miracle claims?”
I came prepared with a PowerPoint presentation called “Belief in Miracles”, but because of time constraints and concerns about switching back and forth between different speakers with different PowerPoints, I had to rely on my memory of the contents of the PowerPoint, with a little help from the paper copy of the PowerPoint that I brought with me to the conference.
Here is a summary of the main points I had planned to make at the conference:

 
I did manage to remember and express most of these points, so my time and effort preparing the PowerPoint was not wasted.  However, because of the limited amount of time available, I was not able to make all of these points, nor was I able to make them as clearly and in as much detail as I would have liked.
So, I’m planning to take my time making these skeptical points fully, clearly, and in more detail here at The Secular Outpost.
 

bookmark_borderRepost: Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence (ECREE), Part 2: Is ECREE False? A Reply to William Lane Craig

(This article was originally published on this blog on June 21, 2012. I am reposting because William Lane Craig recently tweeted a link to a video in which he objects to ECREE.)
In my last post, I offered a Bayesian interpretation of the principle, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” (ECREE). William Lane Craig, however, disagrees with ECREE. In a response to philosopher Stephen Law, Craig wrote this.

This sounds so commonsensical, doesn’t it? But in fact it is demonstrably false. Probability theorists studying what sort of evidence it would take to establish a highly improbable event came to realize that if you just weigh the improbability of the event against the reliability of the testimony, we’d have to be sceptical of many commonly accepted claims. Rather what’s crucial is the probability that we should have the evidence we do if the extraordinary event had not occurred.3 This can easily offset any improbability of the event itself. In the case of the resurrection of Jesus, for example, this means that we must also ask, “What is the probability of the facts of the empty tomb, the post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection, if the resurrection had not occurred?” It is highly, highly, highly, improbable that we should have that evidence if the resurrection had not occurred.
————
[3] See the very nice account by S. L. Zabell, “The Probabilistic Analysis of Testimony,” Journal of Statistical Planning and Inference 20 (1988): 327-54.

I agree with Craig that it would be incorrect to “just weigh the improbability of the event against the reliability of the testimony.” I also agree with Craig that “the probability that we should have the evidence we do if the extraordinary event had not occurred … can easily offset any improbability of the event itself.” I disagree with Craig, however, regarding his interpretation that ECREE requires that we ignore that probability. This can be seen using Bayes’s Theorem (BT).
Let B represent our background information; E represent our evidence to be explained; H be an explanatory hypothesis, and ~H be the falsity of H. Here is one form of BT:
BT
As I argued in my last post, an “extraordinary claim” is an explanatory hypothesis which is extremely improbable, conditional upon background information alone, i.e., Pr(H | B) <<<  0.5. And “extraordinary evidence” can be interpreted as the requirement that a hypothesis’s explanatory power is proportionally high enough to offset its prior improbability (the “extraordinary claim”). Here I offer an even more precise definition.
It follows from BT that H will have a high epistemic probability on the evidence B and E:
BT2just in case it has a greater overall balance of prior probability and explanatory power than its denial:
BT3Thus, we can somewhat abstractly define “extraordinary evidence” as evidence that makes the following inequality true:
BT4With that inequality in mind, let’s return to Craig’s objection to ECREE. Here again is the relevant portion of his objection:

Probability theorists studying what sort of evidence it would take to establish a highly improbable event came to realize that if you just weigh the improbability of the event against the reliability of the testimony, we’d have to be sceptical of many commonly accepted claims. Rather what’s crucial is the probability that we should have the evidence we do if the extraordinary event had not occurred.

It seems, then, that Craig’s objection to ECREE is based upon an interpretation of ECREE which requires that we only consider the “extraordinary claim,” i.e., Pr(H | B). If that interpretation is correct, then I will join Craig in rejecting ECREE. But is it correct?
In mathematical notation, “the probability that we should have the evidence we do if the extraordinary event had not occurred” is Pr(E | B & ~H). But now consider again the inequality used to define extraordinary evidence.
BT4
The expression, Pr(E | B & ~H), is literally right there, in the numerator on the right-hand side. It appears, then, that Craig’s objection is based upon a misinterpretation of ECREE. For the same reason, Craig’s reason that ECREE would cause us “to be sceptical of many commonly accepted claims” is therefore misplaced.
I could be wrong, but I suspect there are two factors which contributed to this misinterpretation. First, many skeptics have used ECREE in connection with (or as support for) Hume’s argument against miracles. While I’m inclined to agree with John Earman that Hume’s argument is highly overrated–i.e., it may be the case that BT does not provide Hume with the support many skeptics think it provides–this is not of obvious relevance to ECREE. ECREE, like BT, is not dependent on Hume.
The other factor which may have contributed to the misinterpretation is the definition of “extraordinary claim;” Craig may disagree with the criteria skeptics have used to determine whether a claim is extraordinary. I think it is helpful to use probabilistic notation to clarify the issue. Again, I proposed that an “extraordinary claim” is an explanatory hypothesis which is extremely improbable, conditional upon background information alone, i.e., Pr(H | B) <<<  0.5. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that definition is wrong. Instead, define an “extraordinary claim” as any explanatory hypothesis H which has a prior probability below some number x, i..e., Pr(H | B) < x, where x can be any real number between 0 and 1. Here’s the point. X can be any real number between 0 and 1. It doesn’t matter which value one chooses, since BT can accommodate all probability values. In terms of calculating the final probability of H, Pr(H | E & B), we use the same formula–BT–regardless of whether H is an extraordinary claim. From a mathematical perspective, it makes no difference whatsoever whether we label a claim “extraordinary” or “ordinary.” We can use BT to assess the epistemic probabilities of both types of claims.

bookmark_borderDebate: External Evidence for Jesus – Part 5A: Five Principles

Joe Hinman’s fifth argument for the existence of Jesus is presented in three sections:
5A. Historical Methods
5B. Big Web of Historicity
5C. Jesus Myth Theory Cannot Account for the Web
I will comment on, and raise objections to, points in each of these three sections, but this post will only cover part of the section on “Historical Methods”.  Specifically, I will cover the five high-level principles of historical investigation proposed by Hinman in his discussion of “Historical Methods”.
5A. Hinman on Historical Methods: Five General Principles
Hinman advocates the following five general principles of historical investigation:
P1. The document, not the people, is the point.
P2. Supernatural content does not negate historic aspects.
P3. What people believed tells us things, even if we don’t believe it.
P4. Everyone is biased.
P5. The historicity of a single persona cannot be examined apart from the framework.
 
Hinman’s first principle of historical investigation is this:
P1. The document, not the people, is the point.
I don’t know what (P1) means, and Hinman’s discussion of this idea does not make it any clearer.  Hinman’s discussion of (P1) makes a number of assertions that are interesting and worth thinking about, but I will comment on those more specific points in my next post on “Historical Methods”.  I won’t criticize what I don’t understand, so Hinman needs to clarify this principle before I will attempt to evaluate it.
The second principle put forward by Hinman is a bit clearer:
P2. Supernatural content does not negate historic aspects.
A comment by Hinman provides further clarification of (P2):
Historians do not discount sources merely for supernatural contents.  Even when they don’t believe the supernatural details, they don’t just deny everything the source says.
This is certainly a true point about how historians work, and I have no problem with the basic point.  However, there are some qualifications that I would add to this principle.
First, the Gospels don’t just have a few “supernatural details”.  They are filled with supernatural beings and events, from start to finish.  Here are a few supernatural elements from the beginnings of two Gospels (Matthew and Luke):

  • An angel visits Mary to tell her that she will become pregnant by the power of God, not by the usual biological process of sexual reproduction (Luke 1:26-38).
  • Mary miraculously becomes pregnant without first having sex with a man (Matthew 1:18-25).
  • An angel appears to some shepherds near Bethlehem to announce the birth of the Messiah, when Jesus is born there (Luke 2:1-20).
  • A multitude of angels appear to the shepherds and praise God (Luke 2:1-20).
  • A star indicates to some wise men from the East that a great king has been born in Palestine (Matthew 2:1-12).
  • The same star miraculously guides the wise men to the specific house where Mary and the baby Jesus were staying (Matthew 2:1-12).
  • Joseph, the husband of Mary, has a dream in which an angel warns him to take Mary and the baby Jesus away from Palestine, and Joseph follows this warning thus saving the baby Jesus from being killed in a mass slaughter of infants in Bethlehem by king Herod. (Matthew 2:13-23).

We have at least seven supernatural events surrounding the birth of Jesus in just the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke.  After that the miracles and supernatural events just keep on coming:  Jesus turns water into wine, Jesus heals the blind, the lame, and the deaf.  Jesus raises dead people back to life.  Jesus walks on water, calms a huge storm with a command, and feeds thousands of people with a few fishes and a few loaves of bread.  Jesus is levitated to the top of the temple by the devil and argues with the devil.  Jesus is transfigured and has a conversation with Moses and Elijah.  Jesus reads people’s minds.   Jesus miraculously causes huge collections of fish to congregate in the nets of his disciples.  Jesus dies and then comes back to life less than 48 hours later.  He then walks through a locked door, instantly vanishes from sight at will, and is able to levitate himself up into the sky.
The Gospels do not just contain a few “supernatural details”.  They are filled with supernatural beings (angels and demons and spirits) and supernatural events (miraculous healings, resurrections, mind reading, and nature miracles like levitation, walking on water, and controlling the weather).
Second, the supernatural elements in the Gospels are often essential to the stories related in the Gospels.  If we strip out all of the supernatural beings and events from the birth narratives, for example, there is not much left over.  If 75% of the assertions in the birth narratives are fictional, then why believe the 25% that remains?
It is possible that the very minimal historical claim “Jesus was born in Bethlehem” could be true, but given the general unreliability of the birth narratives (due in part to their being filled with supernatural beings and events), this also casts doubt on the tiny bit of historical “information” that remains after stripping out all of the clearly fictional B.S.  Given that Christians believed that the Old Testament predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, and given that most of the other assertions in the birth narratives are historically dubious, we ought to be very skeptical about the claim “Jesus was born in Bethlehem” even though this claim does not, by itself, involve any supernatural elements.  It might represent prophecy that was used to formulate “history”.
What remains of the story of Jesus at the wedding in Cana if we delete his miracle of turning water into wine? Not much: Jesus went to a wedding in Cana. What remains of the story of Jesus walking on water on the sea of Galilee if we remove the walking on water part?  Not much: Jesus went in a boat with some of his disciples on the sea of Galilee. What remains of the transfiguration story if we remove the part about how Jesus began to shine like a bright light and if we remove the appearance of Moses and Elijah?  Not much: Jesus prayed with some of his disciples on a mountain top.  In a few stories the supernatural beings or events might be a detail that can be ignored, but in many cases the supernatural being or event plays an important role in the story, so that removing the supernatural element guts the story or seriously changes the meaning of the story or makes the story illogical and incoherent.
As David Friedrich Strauss argued long ago in The Life of Jesus, the attempt of skeptics to strip out all of the supernatural elements of the Gospels while still maintaining the basic historicity of the Gospel accounts makes no sense.  It makes far more sense to admit that Gospels are filled with legends and myths and fictional stories, and that only a few bits and pieces here and there, at best, are factual and historical.
Third, the assertion of this principle borders on a STRAW MAN fallacy.  There is the suggestion here that Jesus skeptics doubt the historicity of the Gospels ONLY because the Gospel stories contain supernatural elements.  Skeptics do NOT doubt the historicity of the Gospels ONLY because of there are a few supernatural details in them, nor do skeptics doubt the historicity of the Gospels ONLY because the Gospels are filled with supernatural beings and events.
Take the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke for example.  They include many supernatural elements, both supernatural beings (angels), and supernatural events (virgin birth, a star that guides people to a specific location).  These supernatural elements are one reason for doubting the historicity of these stories, but there are other reasons as well.  The Gospels of Matthew and Luke use Mark as a primary source of information about Jesus, but there is no birth story in Mark.  When Matthew and Luke follow the narrative framework in Mark, they generally agree with each other, but when they provide birth stories, their stories contradict each other, indicating that when they depart from the information in Mark, at least one of the two Gospels provides a fictional birth story, and perhaps both birth stories are fictional.
There are also some historically improbable details in both accounts beyond the supernatural elements.  The census in Luke is historically improbable for various reasons.  The slaughter of the innocents story in Matthew is historically improbable.  The relocation of the holy family to Egypt is historically improbable.  The fact that both Matthew and Luke place the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem in accordance with an alleged messianic prophecy, casts doubt on the historicity of that key shared claim between the two birth stories.
So, the rejection of the birth stories as legends or myths is not based ONLY on the fact that these stories are filled with supernatural elements.  There are other good reasons that point to the same conclusion.  Similar reasoning applies to skepticism about other parts of the Gospels.
Hinman’s third principle of historical investigation is a bit vague:
P3. What people believed tells us things, even if we don’t believe it.
I’m not sure what Hinman is getting at here, but taken straightforwardly, this principle seems obviously correct.  Using an historical document to determine what early Christians believed about God or Jesus “tells us things”, even if the historian rejects some or all of those beliefs.  At the very least, this tells us what early Christians believed about God or Jesus!  
This information about the beliefs of early Christians can also help historians to better analyze and evaluate particular Gospel stories and passages.  If early Christians believed that Jesus lived a perfectly sinless life, then historians could anticipate and look for places where the Gospels of Matthew and Luke modify some story or passage from Mark in order to make Jesus appear to be sinless, and to the extent that historians do find such modifications of Mark by Matthew and Luke, this provides further evidence that early Christians believed Jesus was sinless and also provides evidence that Matthew and Luke alter information from their sources to make the story or quotation fit better with their theological beliefs or the theological beliefs of their early Christian readers.
One of the things that the Gospels tell us is that early Christians were gullible and superstitious, at least if we assume that early Christian believers read the Gospels literally.  They believed in astrological signs, in angels, in demons, in demon possession, in the devil, in faith healing, in prophetic dreams, in levitation, in mind reading, in spirits of the dead, in raising the dead, in prophecy.  They believed all of these things without demanding strong evidence for claims of such events; they believed such things on the basis of hearsay and testimonial evidence,  on the basis of contradictory reports in the canonical Gospels, and without conducting serious skeptical investigations into the facts.  This is an important fact about early Christians that we can learn from reading the Gospels.  We can learn of the gullibility of early Christian believers even if we reject some or all of the beliefs that they formed in gullible and uncritical ways.
We can also learn that the early Christians were either not particularly good at logical and critical thinking or else were generally ignorant about the contents of the OT, because they were not skeptical about Jesus being a true prophet and the divine Son of God in spite of the various contradictions between Christian doctrines and the teachings of the Old Testament (e.g. OT: God rewards those who obey his commandments with wealth, health, peace and happiness in this life, but provides only a dark and miserable afterlife for good and evil people alike.  NT: God allows people who have faith in him and Jesus to suffer poverty, disease, hunger, and persecution in this life, but will provide a life of eternal bliss to those people in the next life.)
That early Christians were not particularly good at logical and critical thinking is also supported by their acceptance of various logical contradictions within Christian theology (e.g. For God so loved the world that God planned to send most humans to suffer torture in hell for all eternity).  Of course it is possible that a few early Christians were bothered by such contradictions, but not enough were bothered so that there would be apologetic points on these issues built into the Gospels (or the letters of Paul).
That early Christians were not particularly good at logical and critical thinking is also supported by their apparent acceptance of unclarity of Jesus’ teachings and the teachings of Paul on central issues (e.g.  “What must I do to be saved?”  Protestants disagree with Catholics on the answer to this fundamental question, and Protestants disagree with each other on the answer to this fundamental question.  These disagreements between various Christian denominations are the result of the unclarity and inconsistencies in the teachings of Jesus, in the teachings of Paul, and inconsistencies between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Paul.).
We can, however, also learn things that help the case for an historical Jesus.  If the Gospels and other early Christian writings show that Christians viewed the crucifixion of Jesus as something that was very shameful, then that could provide evidence in support of the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus.  Why invent a story about the death of Jesus that is so shameful?  I don’t necessarily accept this argument from embarassment, but it is an example of how knowledge about the beliefs of early Christians can be used in support of the historicity of Jesus or of a particular event in the life (or death) of Jesus.
The fourth principle that Hinman advocates is quite brief:
P4. Everyone is biased.
Based on Hinman’s discussion of (P4) and (P5) it appears that this principle is given in part as a reply to an objection about an alleged bias of scholars on the issue of the historicity of Jesus.  Here are two plausible claims about NT scholars along such lines:

  • The vast majority of NT scholars have a significant bias in favor of the historicity of Jesus.
  • Most NT scholars have a strong bias in favor of the historicity of Jesus. 

So, one question to keep in mind is whether (P4) provides a strong reply to such criticisms about NT scholars.
The principle (P4) is a bit vague and ambiguous.  Here are a couple of different possible interpretations of (P4):
P4a. Everyone has a bias on some issue or other.
P4b. For any given theory, everyone is either biased in favor of the theory or biased against the theory.
Principle (P4a) is no doubt true, but it is insignificant and unhelpful in this context, because it leaves open the possibility that some people have a bias when it comes to the issue of the historicity of Jesus and other people do NOT have a bias on this issue.  Because (P4a) leaves this possibility open, it does not help us any in dealing with this particular issue; it fails to provide a strong reply to the above criticisms about NT scholars.
Principle (P4b) on the other hand, would certainly be of some significance to the issue of the historicity of Jesus, but, alas, (P4b) is a very broad generalization that is clearly false.  So, principle (P4b) is of no use, and fails to provide a strong reply to the above criticisms of NT scholars, because (P4b) is false.
We could try to rescue (P4b) by narrowing the scope to focus exclusively on the issue of the historicity of Jesus:
P4c. Everyone is either biased in favor of the historicity of Jesus or is biased against the historicity of Jesus.
But (P4c) is still somewhat dubious.  The issue of the historicity of Jesus is more controversial than many other issues, but controversiality is based on the feelings and attitudes of people in general, and there are almost always exceptions to such general psychological phenomena.  In other words, although most people have strong feelings about this issue, it seems fairly certain that there are at least a few people who don’t have strong feelings or opinions about the historicity of Jesus.  So, in order to rescue the (P4c) in terms of truth, we would need to either qualify the degree of bias that is being asserted or revise the quantification in terms of the proportion of people in scope:
P4d.  Everyone is either biased at least a tiny bit in favor of the historicity of Jesus or biased at least a tiny bit against the historicity of Jesus.
P4e.  Most people are either significantly biased in favor of the historicity of Jesus or significantly biased against the historicity of Jesus.
These generalizations are at least plausible.  However, (P4d) leaves open the possibility that some people (e.g. NT scholars) have a strong bias in favor of the historicity of Jesus, while other people (e.g. Jesus skeptics) have only a tiny bit of bias against the historicity of Jesus.  This would clearly not help Hinman’s case for the existence of Jesus, and fails to provide a strong reply to the above criticsims about NT scholars.
Also, (P4e) leaves open the possibility that some people (e.g. NT scholars) have a strong bias in favor of the historicity of Jesus, while a few people (e.g. Jesus skeptics) have no significant bias on this issue.  Again, this would not be of help for Hinman’s case, and fails to provide a strong reply to the criticisms of NT scholars.
I have considered a number of different possible interpretations of principle (P4).  The principle is false or dubious on some of those interpretations, and on the interpretations where the principle is true or plausible, it is either insignificant and unhelpful or appears to be of no help to Hinman’s case, and fails to provide a strong reply to the above criticisms of NT scholars.
If Hinman wants to continue to advocate this principle, he needs to clarify it in terms of the quantification of the portion of people who are being characterized and he needs to clarify it in terms of the scope of issues to which it applies, and he needs to clarify it in terms of the degree of bias that is being alleged (because there is a big difference between a strong bias and a very tiny bit of bias).  Principle (P4) cannot be rationally evaluated unless and until it is re-stated in a much clearer and more specific form.
As with (P4), the final principle is in need of clarification:
P5. The historicity of a single persona cannot be examined apart from the framework.
What matters in this context is whether this principle applies to (or is correct in terms of) the issue of the historicity of Jesus, so we can focus on this instantiation of (P5): ”
IP5. The historicity of Jesus of Nazareth cannot be examined apart from the framework.
The term “the framework” is unclear and vague.  However, based on Hinman’s discussion of this principle, this phrase appears to refer to the view or theory that Jesus existed, that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood historical person.  Given this understanding of “the framework”, the principle is still ambiguous.  Here are two different possible interpretations:
IP5a. The historicity of Jesus of Nazareth cannot be examined apart from assuming that Jesus of Nazareth was a flesh-and-blood historical person.
IP5b. The historicity of Jesus of Nazareth cannot be examined apart from examining the issue of  whether Jesus of Nazareth was a flesh-and-blood historical person.
Principle (IP5a) clearly involves circular reasoning.  If one simply assumes that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood historical person, then one begs the question of the historicity of Jesus.  So, we must reject (IP5a) because it is an unreasonable and illogical principle.
Principle (IP5b), on the other hand, is completely and undeniably true.  But it is true because it is a trivial and uninformative tautology.  The question of the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth just is the question of whether Jesus of Nazareth was a flesh-and-blood historical person.  So, this principle is of no significant help or use (other than to clarify the question at issue for those who are ignorant or confused).
There is one other interpretation, which seems both plausible and significant:
IP5c. The historicity of Jesus of Nazareth cannot be examined apart from treating this question as a question about which framework or theory among available alternatives best accounts for all of the available evidence (e.g. the theory that Jesus was a flesh-and-blood historical person vs. the theory that Jesus was just a myth).
Because this interpretation is both plausible and significant, the Principle of Charity indicates that this is the best interpretation, at least of the possible interpretations considered so far.
I have no objection to (IP5c).  However, it is obvious to any intelligent and informed Jesus skeptic that (IP5c) is true, and intelligent and informed Jesus skeptics usually think and argue in keeping with (IP5c).  G.A. Wells, Earl Doherty,  Robert Price, and Richard Carrier all accept this principle and they all think and argue in keeping with this principle, at least most of the time.  So, emphasis on this principle appears to me to be bordering on a STRAW MAN fallacy.
Jesus skeptics do NOT argue that because this or that Gospel story is historically problematic, therefore Jesus is just a myth.  The case against the historicity of Jesus is much broader than that and deals with a wide range of evidence both from the NT and from external (non-biblical) historical sources. Emphasis of this principle is a way of suggesting that Jesus skeptics and Jesus mythicists are idiots who don’t think and argue in keeping with this principle, but that suggestion is false and slanderous.  There are some stupid and unreasonable Jesus skeptics, but the major published Jesus skeptics accept (IP5c) and generally conform their thinking to this principle.

bookmark_borderWhy Nobody Should Believe that Jesus Rose from the Dead

First of all, extradordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but there is only weak evidence that Jesus rose from the dead:

    1. The evidence that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem and died on the cross on the same day he was crucified is weak.
    2. The evidence that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem less than 48 hours after he was crucified is weak.
    3. IF the evidence that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem and died on the cross on the same day he was crucified is weak and the evidence that Jesus was alive and walking around in Jerusalem less than 48 hours after he was crucified is weak, THEN the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead is weak.
    4. IF the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead is weak, THEN it is unreasonable to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

THEREFORE:

5. It is unreasonable to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

Nobody should believe that Jesus rose from the dead, because there is insufficient evidence for the claim that Jesus rose from the dead.
The problem with the claim that “Jesus rose from the dead” is not just that the evidence for this claim is weak.  There is also good reason to believe that Jesus did NOT rise from the dead: Jesus was a false prophet.

  1.  Jesus was a false prophet.
  2. IF Jesus was a false prophet and God exists, THEN God exists and God would not have raised Jesus from the dead nor allowed some other being to raise Jesus from the dead.
  3. IF Jesus was a false prophet and God does not exist, THEN God does not exist and we don’t know of any existing person who could have raised Jesus from the dead.
  4. EITHER God exists OR God does not exist.
  5. IF God exists and God would not have raised Jesus from the dead nor allowed some other being to raise Jesus from the dead, THEN Jesus did not rise from the dead.
  6. IF God does not exist and we don’t know of any existing person who could have raised Jesus from the dead, THEN Jesus is not the incarnation of God and it is unlikely that Jesus rose from the dead.

THEREFORE:

7. EITHER Jesus did not rise from the dead OR Jesus is not the incarnation of God and it is unlikely that Jesus rose from the dead.

If somebody claimed that “God raised Hitler from the dead” we would have good reason to disbelieve this claim, because God, if God exists, would not raise such an evil person from the dead.   The fact that Hitler was evil and insane did not stop people from following Hitler as if he was a prophet from God.  So, raising Hitler from the dead would have  just confirmed the already widespread delusion that Hitler was a leader who ought to be followed and obeyed.  God would not raise Hitler from the dead, because Hitler was evil and because doing so would have involved God in a great deception.
Jesus was not evil or insane like Hitler, but Jesus promoted worship of, and obedience to, a person who was very much like Hitler, and thus Jesus was a false prophet.  Jesus promoted worship and obedience to the deity known as Jehovah (or Yahweh), and Jehovah was as evil and as insane as Hitler.  Thus, God (if God exists) would never have raised Jesus from the dead nor allowed some other being to raise Jesus from the dead, because that would involve God in a great deception. God being perfectly good and perfectly just would not be involved in encouraging people to accept the view of a false prophet that they ought to worship and obey the evil deity named Jehovah (or Yahweh).
It is clear that Jesus was a false prophet, because Jesus encouraged his followers to worship and to obey Jehovah, and Jehovah was an evil person.  It is clear that God, if God exists, would never raise such a false prophet from the dead, nor would God allow some other person to raise such a false prophet from the dead.  Therefore, we can be confident that EITHER Jesus did not rise from the dead, OR Jesus was not the incarnation of God and it is unlikely that Jesus rose from the dead.

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 14

Here is my main objection to William Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus:
In order to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, one must first prove that Jesus died on the cross. But in most of William Craig’s various books, articles, and debates, he simply ignores this issue. He makes no serious attempt to show that it is an historical fact that Jesus died on the cross.  For that reason, Craig’s case for the resurrection is a complete failure.
Here is WLC’s main reply to my objection:
The reason that I personally have not devoted any space to a discussion of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is that this fact is not in dispute. This historical fact is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars. 
Craig supports this point by giving examples of biblical scholars who express great confidence in the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus and Jesus’ death on the cross: Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.  In Parts 2 through 8 of this series, I argued that the example of the biblical scholar Luke Johnson fails to support his point.  In Part 9 of this series, I review the context of my discussion about the views Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.
In Part 10, I argued that Robert Funk was not as certain about Jesus’ death on the cross as Craig claims.
In Part 11, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of John imply that gospel to be completely unreliable, and that this by itself casts significant doubt on the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
In Part 12 and Part 13, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew imply that events and details about the arrest, trials, or crucifixion of Jesus found in Luke or Matthew that correspond to events or details found in the Gospel of Mark do NOT provide corroborating evidence to support the historicity of those events or details, and that any unique events or details (that go beyond what the authors of Luke and Matthew borrowed from the Gospel of Mark) are very unreliable.
Given these skeptical implications of Funk’s specific beliefs about the Gospels of John, Luke, and Matthew, the ONLY canonical Gospel that could posssibly provide significant evidence for the arrest, trials, and crucifixion of Jesus is the Gospel of Mark.
In this post, we shall see that the Gospel of Mark is viewed as an unreliable source of information about Jesus, and that the Passion Narrative in Mark is even more dubious and more unreliable than the rest of the Gospel of Mark, based on Robert Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about this Gospel.  Therefore, the canonical Gospels fail to provide solid evidence for the claim that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
The Gospel of Mark has many of the same basic problems as the other Gospels, according to Funk in his book Honest to Jesus (hereafter: HTJ):

  • It was not written by one of the original disciples of Jesus  (HTJ, p.116)
  • It was not written by an eyewitness to the life or death of Jesus (HTJ, p.50)
  • It was written between 70CE and 80CE, forty to fifty years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus (HTJ, p.38)
  • Most of the sayings and teachings ascribed to Jesus in Mark are not from the historical Jesus (HTJ, p.41)

Funk and the Jesus Seminar examined all of the sayings attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, and many of these sayings were judged to be probably unhistorical.  I looked at the Jesus Seminar evaluations of these sayings from chapters 4, 5, and 6 of the Gospel of Mark and they judged 34 verses to be black or gray, and 16 verses to be pink, and 0 verses to be red (see The Five Gospels, pages 54-67).  The colors can be interpreted as follows (The Five Gospels, p.36):
red: Jesus undoubtedly said this or something very like it.
pink: Jesus probably said something like this.
gray: Jesus did not say this, but the ideas contained in it are close to his own.
black: Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition.
Thus out of a total of 50 verses from chapters 4, 5, and 6 of Mark, only 16 of those verses were judged to be such that “Jesus probably said something like this.”  The remaining 34 verses were judged to be either probably or definitely NOT something that was said by the historical Jesus.  This means that the Jesus Seminar judged that only 32% or about one out of three verses in these chapters of Mark were probably historically correct (i.e. verses that were categorized as pink), and that about two out of three verses (in these chapters) were probably NOT historically correct (i.e. verses that were categorized as gray or black).  In other words, the Gospel of Mark is very unreliable in terms of the sayings and teachings that it ascribes to Jesus.
Given the specific skeptical beliefs of Funk about the Gospel of Mark, and given the view that the Gospel of Mark is very unreliable in terms of the sayings and teachings attributed to Jesus, one would rationally and objectively infer that the Gospel of Mark is probably also very unreliable in terms of the actions attributed to Jesus and the events related to the life and death of Jesus.
The Jesus Seminar has also investigated the specific actions and events portrayed in the Gospel of Mark, and evaluated the historicity of those actions and events.  It should come as no surprise that the Jesus Seminar determined that the Gospel of Mark was also very unreliable concerning claims about the actions of Jesus and the events related to his life and ministry.
I looked over the evaluation of the “acts of Jesus” by the Jesus Seminar in the first 13 chapters of the Gospel of Mark, prior to the Passion Narrative (see “Inventory of Events” in The Acts of Jesus, pages 558-561) .
The Jesus Seminar evaluated 64 different acts or events from those chapters and judged that 20 of them were either red or pink.  The remaining 44 acts or events were judged to be either gray or black.  Here are the meanings of those color categories (The Acts of Jesus, p. 36-37):
red: The historical reliability of this information is virtually certain.  It is supported by a preponderance of evidence.
pink: This information is probably reliable.  It fits well with other evidence that is verifiable.
gray: This information is possible but unreliable.  It lacks supporting evidence.
black: This information is improbable.  It does not fit verifiable evidence; it is largely or entirely fictive.
Thus, according to the evaluations of the Jesus Seminar, only about 31% of the events in Chapters 1 to 13 of the Gospel of Mark are probably true or correct (i.e. were categorized as either red or pink) and that about 69% of the alleged events in those chapters of Mark are probably not true or correct (i.e. were categorized as either gray or black).  This confirms the previous reasonable inference that the Gospel of Mark is also very unreliable concerning the actions of Jesus and the events in his life.
Given all of the above skeptical assumptions and conclusions about the unreliability of the Gospel of Mark, one would rationally and objectively infer that the Passion Narrative (hereafter: PN) found in this Gospel was also very unreliable.  Thus, it should be no surprise that Robert Funk has a very skeptical view of the PN in Mark.  In fact, Funk appears to believe that the PN in Mark is even LESS reliable than the rest of this Gospel:
The use of tales that circulated in oral form prior to Mark ceases with the beginning of Mark’s account of the passion, which reaches its climax, of course, with the arrest, trial, and crucifixion.  Most of these elements are products of Mark’s narrative imagination, although he may be drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances.  (HTJ, p.131)
Since Funk believes that the PN in Matthew and Luke is based primarily on the PN in Mark, his skeptical comments about the PNs apply to the PN in Mark:
The story of Jesus’ arrest, trials, and execution is largely fictional; it was based on a few historical reminiscences augmented by scenes and details suggested by prophetic texts and the Psalms. (HTJ, p.127)
So, Funk believes that “most of these elements” in Mark’s PN are “products of Mark’s narrative imagination” and that scenes and details in Mark’s PN were “suggested by prophetic texts and the Psalms.”
Funk throws a bone to believers in saying that the author of Mark “may be drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances”; he does not say that the author of Mark is certainly drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances; he also does not say that the author of Mark is probably drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances.  This implies that the author of Mark MIGHT NOT “be drawing on historical reminiscence in a few instances” and that the entire PN in Mark might well be purely a product of the author’s “narrative imagination”.
Not only was the author of Mark not an eyewitness to the events of the PN, but most of Jesus’ disciples fled after his arrest and thus were not present for the alleged crucifixion of Jesus:
Most of Jesus’ followers fled during or after his arrest, but a few, especially the women, Mary of Magdala in particular, may have witnessed the crucifixion.  We do not know how their memories came to inform the creation of a passion narrative many decades later, if indeed the narrative reflects any eyewitness observation at all. (HTJ, p.220)
Notice that there are two layers of doubt expressed here:  (1) there might have been no followers of Jesus who were eyewitnesses of the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, and (2) even if there were a few followers of Jesus who were alleged eyewitnesses of the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, the PN in Mark might not reflect any observations or testimony from those eyewitnesses.
Funk has serious doubts about the historical reliability of the story of the Last Supper, which is reported in Mark 14:12-26:
The words spoken by Jesus at the last supper…do not fit with the Passover celebration. …The breaking of the bread and the common cup were elements introduced into the meal by Christian interpreters who took it as a memorial to the death of Jesus rather than as a reminder of the exodus. …The counterpart in Mark 14:22-25, in which Jesus speaks of his own body and blood as a sacrifice, is thus not a part of the original passion story.  (HTJ, p.226)
Funk doubts that there was a Jewish trial, which was reported in the PN of the Gospel of Mark (14:53-65):
It is entirely probable that the trial before Jewish authorities was a fiction.  (HTJ, p.220-221)
Funk doubts that there was a Roman trial, which was reported in the PN of the Gospel of Mark (15:1-15):
It is not likely that a Roman trial was held.  (HTJ, p.221)
 
As previously noted, Funk believes that many of the details in the PNs were derived not from memories or stories from eyewitnesses, but from the Old Testament and other sacred texts:
Many details of the passion story were suggested by the Psalms, particularly Psalms 2, 22, and 69.  Other sources include prophetic texts such as Isaiah 53 and Zechariah 9-14, together with stories of David (2 Samuel 15-17) or the suffering righteous martyr (Wisdom of Solomon 2 and 5).  Christian scribes searched the Greek scriptures diligently for proof that Jesus had died in accordance with God’s will. (HTJ, p.232)
Examples of this are given by Funk (HTJ, p.232-233) :
Casting of lots for the clothing of Jesus [see Mark 15:24] was inspired by Psalm 22:18…
Crucifixion between two theives [see Mark 15:27] was based on Isaiah 53:12…in conjunction with Psalm 22:16…
Striking, insulting, and spitting on Jesus [see Mark 14:65 & 15:16-20 & 15:29-32] were prompted by Isaiah 50:6….
Disrobing and rerobing in mock coronation [see Mark 15:16-20] were prompted by Zechariah 3:1-5.
Funk approvingly references John Crossan’s very skeptical views about how the PNs were thoroughly shaped by Jewish scriptures:
In his brilliant study, John Dominic Crossan has shown that virtually every detail connected with the passion was based on some scripture.  That prompted him to conclude: We know virtually nothing about the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus other than the fact of it.  The stories of the arrest in the gospels are themselves fictions; we only infer that he was arrested because we know he was executed.  About the trial, or trials, we have no historically reliable information at at all. (HTJ, p.233)
Funk appears to agree with Crossan that “We know virtually nothing about the arrest, trial, and execution of Jesus other than the fact of it.”
Thus, Funk has serious doubts about the stories and details in the PN of the Gospel of Mark concerning the Last Supper, Jesus’ arrest, the Jewish trial, the Roman trial,  and many of the details related to Jesus’ alleged crucifixion.
In addition to fictional events and details generated on the basis of the O.T. and other sacred writings, Funk points to other events and details in Mark’s PN that are fictional:
In addition to events and details suggested by scripture, the passion story contains a number of pure fictions. Judas Iscariot the betrayer [see Mark 14:17-21 & 43-46] is in all probabilty a gospel fiction. (HTJ, p.234)
Joseph of Arimathea [see Mark 15:42-47]is probably a Markan creation. (HTJ, p.234)
Barabbas (son of “Abba,” the Father, or “son of God”) in Mark 15:7 is certainly a fiction, as is Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus in Mark 15:21. (HTJ, p.235)
It is clear that not only does Funk believe that the Gospel of Mark is in general very unreliable, but that Funk believes that the PN in the Gospel of Mark is even more unreliable than the rest of this gospel.  The PN in Mark is filled with fictional characters, fictional events, and fictional details, according to Funk.
Therefore, because the Gospel of Mark was the ONLY canonical gospel that could possibly provide solid evidence for the crucifixion of Jesus and for the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, given Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about this Gospel, and particularly about the extreme unreliability of the PN in the Gospel of Mark, one cannot rationally conclude that it is highly probable that Jesus died on the cross, and that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, at least not on the basis of the canonical gospels.
Given Funk’s skeptical beliefs and views concerning the unreliability of the canonical gospels, great confidence in the historical claim that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross is rationally unjustified.
===================
UPDATE  (3/3/16):
I took a look at the Jesus Seminar evaluation of the historical reliability of the PN in the Gospel of Mark.  The Jesus Seminar divides the PN in Mark into 18 events.  It categorized 3 of these events as gray, and 15 of them as black.  It categorized 0 of these events as red, and 0 of these events as pink.   Thus, according to the Jesus Seminar 0% or 0 out of 18 events in Mark’s PN provide information that “is probably reliable”, and 100% or 18 out of 18 of the events in Mark’s PN provide information that is either unreliable or  improbable.  Clearly, the Jesus Seminar judged the content of Mark’s PN to be  extremely unreliable, and to be significantly LESS reliable than the contents of Chapters 1 through 13 of the Gospel of Mark, in terms of the events described in those chapters.
However, the Jesus Seminar also evaluated a few “Core Events” in the PN of the Gospel of Mark more favorably (as pink or red), including the crucifixion of Jesus and the death of Jesus.  So, I plan to examine  (in a future post) those judgements of the Jesus Seminar about “Core Events” in Mark’s PN.
 

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 13

In Part 10, I argued that Robert Funk was not as certain about Jesus’ death on the cross as Craig claims, and I pointed out that three of the seven groundrules proposed by Funk for investigation of the historical Jesus are skeptical in nature, showing that Funk has a generally skeptical view of the historical Jesus.
In Part 11, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of John imply that gospel to be completely unreliable, and that this by itself casts significant doubt on the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
In Part 12, I argued that Funk’s specific skeptical beliefs about the Gospel of Luke imply that events and details about the arrest, trials, or crucifixion of Jesus found in Luke that correspond to events or details found in the Gospel of Mark do NOT provide corroborating evidence to support the historicity of those events or details, and that any unique or added events and details that go beyond what the author of Luke borrowed from the Gospel of Mark are very unreliable.  
So, we can toss the Gospel of Luke aside as being of no signficance in terms of providing evidence for the historicity of the events or details concerning the alleged arrest, trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.  That is to say, IF one accepts the various skeptical beliefs and views that Funk has about the Gospel of Luke, THEN this Gospel can provide no significant support for the claim that Jesus was crucified, nor for the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
In this and future posts, I will point to some other specific skeptical beliefs and views held by Robert Funk, especially in his book Honest to Jesus (hereafter: HTJ), in order to show that confident belief in the death of Jesus by crucifixion would be unjustified for Funk, based on his skeptical views about the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  Specifically, in this post I will argue that based on specific skeptical beliefs and views of Funk, the Gospel of Matthew must be viewed as very unreliable (although not quite as unreliable as the Gospel of John).
First, the author of the Gospel of Matthew was not one of the original disciples of Jesus (HTJ, p.116), nor was the author of this gospel an eyewitness to the ministry or the crucifixion of Jesus (HTJ, p.50), according to Funk.
Second, the Gospel of Matthew was written about 80-90 CE, according to Funk (HTJ, p.125), so it was written about fifty to sixty years after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, when any eyewitnesses of the crucifixion would already be dead.
Third, the Gospel of Mark was Matthew’s primary source of information about Jesus (along with the Sayings Gospel Q), and the author of Matthew used Mark as the narrative framework for the Gospel of Matthew (HTJ, p.38).  Thus, when Matthew agrees with Mark on some event or detail, this does NOT provide corroboration for Mark’s account, because the agreement is presumably based upon the use of Mark as a source by the author of the Gospel of Matthew.
Fourth, the Jesus Seminar’s evaluation of Matthew’s historical reliabilty concerning the words and teachings of Jesus is low, and Funk apparently agrees with the assessment of the Jesus Seminar (HTJ, p.41).
I have checked the evaluations by the Jesus Seminar of the words and teachings of Jesus in chapters 4, 5, and 6 of the Gospel of Matthew (The Five Gospels by Robert Funk, Roy Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar, pages 133-152), and only three in ten verses or sayings of Jesus were marked as red or pink (meaning that they probably trace back to the historical Jesus).  So, according to the Jesus Seminar, the Gospel of Matthew is correct only about 30% of the time, when this Gospel attributes words or sayings to Jesus (at least in those early chapters of Matthew).   Thus, the Gospel of Matthew is very unreliable when it comes to the words or sayings of Jesus, in the view of Funk and the Jesus Seminar.
If the Gospel of Matthew was composed by a non-eyewitness who was writing fifty to sixty years after the alleged crucifixion, and if the Gospel of Matthew is very unreliable when it comes to reporting the words or sayings of Jesus, then it would be unreasonable to expect the Gospel of Matthew to be historically reliable in reporting other historical events and details about the life or death of Jesus.  Given these background assumptions in the thinking of Funk, one would expect the Gospel of Matthew to also be very unreliable in reporting other historical events and details about the life or death of Jesus.
Furthermore, when we look at the stories and details that are unique to the Gospel of Matthew, that go beyond what the author of Matthew borrowed from the Gospel of Mark, then we find that Funk views those aspects of Matthew as usually being fictional or non-historical, confirming the above inference that the Gospel of Matthew is very unreliable, at least concerning any stories or details it provides that go above and beyond what was borrowed from the Gospel of Mark.
First,  the Gospel of Mark begins with Jesus’ baptism, but Matthew adds the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem to the narrative framework borrowed from Mark (HTJ, p.42).  According to Funk, Jesus was probably born in Nazareth and the birth story in Matthew is just a legend which assigned Bethlehem as Jesus’ birthplace in order to fulfill an ancient prophecy (HTJ, p.33).  So, the Gospel of Matthew begins by adding a fictional story about Jesus’ birth to the previously existing narrative in the Gospel of Mark.
Second, the Gospel of Mark ends with the discovery of the empty tomb, and there are no stories in Mark about the risen Jesus appearing to any of his disciples.  Again, the Gospel of Matthew adds new events and details to the end of the narrative framework borrowed from the Gospel of Mark.  In Mattew 27:51-54, an earthquake is added to the account of the opening of the tomb from the Gospel of Mark.  This is a “mythical element” added by the author of Matthew, according to Funk (HTJ, p.26).
The Gospel of Matthew also adds the story of the bribing of the guards (who had previously been guarding the tomb of Jesus) by the priests and elders (Matthew 28:11-15).  Funk believes that the guarding of the tomb, which is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew but not in Mark or Luke, is “a Christian fiction designed to ward off the criticism that Jesus’ disciples stole his body.”  (HTJ, p.236).  Thus, Funk must also believe that the story of the bribing of those fictional guards is also a fictional story.
The Gospel of Matthew also adds two  stories about appearances of the risen Jesus, thus going beyond the narrative framework provided by Mark.  Matthew 28:9-10 reports that Jesus appeared to three women who had gone to the tomb on Easter morning and who left after finding the tomb empty.  Funk rejects the historicity of the empty tomb story: “…the empty tomb does not reflect the historical memory of an actual event.” (HTJ, p.259).  Thus, Funk must also reject the historicity of an appearance of the risen Jesus to three women as they were walking away from the empty tomb.  The Jesus Seminar comments on this passage that “Since the empty tomb tale is probably Mark’s invention, the appearance to Mary at the tomb also has a dubious basis.” (The Acts of Jesus, p.475).  The Jesus Seminar marks this passage as black, meaning “This information is improbable. It does not fit verifiable evidence; it is largely or entirely fictive.” (The Acts of Jesus, p.37).
Matthew 28:16-20 reports an appearance of the risen Jesus to his gathered disciples in Galilee.  Funk does not explicitly reject the historicity of this appearance, but he does explicitly reject the historicity of the words attributed to Jesus in that story: “The great commission, as it has been termed, was of course composed by Matthew.  It does not stem from Jesus.”  (HTJ, p.261).  If the author of Matthew invented the words of Jesus for this event, then it is reasonable to suspect that other aspects of this passage are also fictional.  Did all eleven disciples really experience an appearance of Jesus at the same time? Probably not, according to the Jesus Seminar (The Acts of Jesus, p. 484).  Did some of Jesus’ disciples experience an appearance of the risen Jesus on a mountain top in Galilee?  Funk makes comments that suggest this location was likely invented by the author of Matthew (HTJ, p.261. See also The Acts of Jesus, p.484). The Jesus Seminar also evaluated this  entire passage, not just the words of Jesus, as black, and comments that “In any case, Matt 28:16-20 is a composition created by Matthew; it probably does not rest on historical reminiscence…” (The Acts of Jesus, p.485).
On Funk’s vew, the additional details and events added by the author of Matthew to the end of the Markan narrative framework are fictional.  The Gospel of Matthew thus begins by adding a fictional birth story to the front-end of Mark’s account, and various fictional details and stories to the back-end of Mark’s account, according to Funk and the Jesus Seminar.  This confirms the already reasonable and justified view that the Gospel of Matthew is very unreliable, at least in so far as it provides stories or events that go beyond what it borrows from the Gospel of Mark.
Third, the Passion Narrative in Matthew follows the Gospel of Mark for the most part, but it adds two stories not found in Mark (The death of Judas: Matthew 27:3-10, and the guard at the tomb: Matthew 27:62-66).  According to Funk and the Jesus Seminar, these additions are probably fictional (HTJ, p.226 & 236. See also The Acts of Jesus by Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar, p.257 & 265).
Fourth, the author of the Gospel of Matthew also, most unfortunately, added some details to the story of the trial before Pilate that was borrowed from the Gospel of Mark, details which were intended to shift blame for the death of Jesus away from Pilate and the Romans and onto the Jewish people:

  • Pilate’s wife has a dream and warns Pilate against condemning Jesus (Matthew 27:19)
  • Pilate washes his hands at the trial and proclaims “Don’t blame me for this fellow’s blood, Now it’s your business.”  (Matthew 27:24)
  • The Jewish crowd then proclaims its own guilt for the killing of Jesus: “So, smear his blood on us and on our children.”  (Matthew 27:25)

The Jesus Seminar judged all of these added details to be fictional, marking the passage as black:
At this point Matthew makes another fateful addition to the Markan story: He has Pilate wash his hands as a way of declaring his own innocence in the death of Jesus…. Thus Matthew has further aggravated the tragic fiction…by having Judeans embrace collective guilt for themselves and their children, although many of them had been followers of Jesus and many others probably knew little or nothing about him.  The blame that was supposed to last only for two generations has been extended by Christians for two millennia.  Matthew has blatantly exonerated Pilate, the truly guilty party…  (The Acts of Jesus, p.260)
Thus the author of Matthew not only invented fictional details to exonerate Pilate and the Romans from the death of Jesus, but also invented fictional details to cast the blame for Jesus’ death on his fellow Jews, which helped to bring about two thousand years of Christian anti-semitism, and the slaughter of millions of Jews by German Christians.
So, according to Funk and the Jesus Seminar, when the Gospel of Matthew adds new or unique stories or details that go beyond what it borrows from the Gospel of Mark, the additional events or details are usually fictional or non-historical.  Therefore, based on Funk’s skeptical views, the Gospel of Matthew is very unreliable, at least when it adds new or unique stories or details that go beyond what the author of Matthew borrows from the Gospel of Mark.
Since the author of the Gospel of Matthew used the Gospel of Mark as a primary source, events and details about the arrest, trials, or crucifixion of Jesus found in Matthew that correspond to events or details found in the Gospel of Mark do NOT provide corroborating evidence to support the historicity of those events or details, and since any unique or added events and details that go beyond what the author of Matthew borrowed from the Gospel of Mark are viewed by Funk as being very unreliable, we can toss the Gospel of Matthew aside as being of no signficance in terms of providing evidence for the historicity of the events or details concerning the alleged arrest, trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.
That is to say, IF one accepts the various skeptical beliefs and views that Funk has about the Gospel of Matthew, THEN this Gospel can provide no significant support for the claim that Jesus was crucified, nor for the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
Given Funk’s skeptical views, one must set aside the Gospel of John as being completely unreliable, and one must also set aside the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew as being useless to corroborate specific events or details in Mark’s Passion Narrative, and one must set aside the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew as being too unreliable to provide additional information (going beyond the accounts in the the Gospel of Mark) about events or details related to the alleged arrest, trials, crucifixion, and death of Jesus.

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 11

Here is my main objection to William Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus:
It is not possible for a person to rise from the dead until AFTER that person has actually died. Thus, in order to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, one must first prove that Jesus died on the cross. But in most of William Craig’s various books, articles, and debates, he simply ignores this issue. He makes no serious attempt to show that it is an historical fact that Jesus died on the cross.  For that reason, I’m convinced that Craig’s case for the resurrection is a complete failure.
Here is WLC’s main reply to my objection:
The reason that I personally have not devoted any space to a discussion of the death of Jesus by crucifixion is that this fact is not in dispute. This historical fact is not one that is controversial among biblical scholars. 
Craig supports this point by giving examples of biblical scholars who express great confidence in the historicity of the crucifixion of Jesus and Jesus’ death on the cross: Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.  In Parts 2 through 8 of this series, I argued that the example of the biblical scholar Luke Johnson fails to support his point.  In Part 9 of this series, I review the context of my discussion about the views Luke Johnson and Robert Funk.
In Part 10 I argued that Funk was not as certain about Jesus’ death on the cross as Craig claims, and I pointed out that three of the seven groundrules proposed by Funk for investigation of the historical Jesus are skeptical in nature, showing that Funk has a generally skeptical view of the historical Jesus.
In this post I will point to some more specific skeptical beliefs and views held by Robert Funk in order to show that confident belief in the death of Jesus by crucifixion would be unjustified for Funk, based on his skeptical views about the historical Jesus.
Although Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar look beyond the four canonical gospels for data about the historical Jesus, the four canonical gospels are still our primary souce of information about Jesus, especially about his alleged arrest, trial(s), crucifixion, death, and burial.  If the four canonical gospels provide historically unreliable information and stories about Jesus, then we simply cannot be certain that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross on the day he was crucified.  We also cannot conclude that it is highly probable that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross on the day he was crucified, if the four canonical gospels are historically unreliable sources.
Funk clearly views the Gospel of John as a highly unreliable source of information about the historical Jesus:
For all these reasons [see pages 125-127], the current quest for the historical Jesus makes little use of the heavily interpreted data found in the Gospel of John.  (Honest to Jesus, p.127)
For one thing, Funk and the Jesus Seminar have examined every word attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John, and there is only ONE SINGLE SENTENCE attributed to Jesus in the entire Gospel of John that the Jesus Seminar thought was probably from the historical Jesus:
A prophet gets no respect on his own turf.  (John 4:44, The Five Gospels, p.412)
So, according to the Jesus Seminar, not only does the Gospel of John fall short of providing reliable information about the words and teachings of Jesus, but rather it is a very reliable source of FALSE information about Jesus.  Almost all of the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John were marked as “black” by the Jesus Seminar, meaning:
black:  Jesus did not say this; it represents the perspective or content of a later or different tradition.  (The Five Gospels, p.36)
In layman’s terms, the Gospel of John’s accounts of the words and teachings of Jesus are bullshit.  They are almost completely fictional.  Since, the Gospel of John is filled from start to finish with fictional accounts of what Jesus said and taught, we have very good reason to believe that the other aspects of this Gospel are also historically unreliable and are in most cases fictional.
Funk puts the nail in the coffin of the Gospel of John, with the following comment:
The crucifixion of Jesus must have been a disappointment to his first followers.  It certainly frightened them, to judge by their response.  With his arrest and crucifixion they fled from Jerusalem, returned to Galilee, and resumed their humble lives as fishermen and peasants. (Honest to Jesus, p.40)
According to the Gospel of John, Jesus’ disciples remained in Jerusalem after Jesus was crucified, and the risen Jesus appeared to the gathered disciples, minus doubting Thomas, in Jerusalem on Sunday two days after his crucifixion, and he appeared to them again in Jerusalem a week later, with doubting Thomas present (John 20:19-29).  Thus, Funk believes that two very important stories about Jesus in the Gospel of John, namely two of his resurrection appearances to his gathered disciples, are FICTIONAL stories.
So, according to Funk and the Jesus Seminar, almost all of the words and teachings attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John are FICTIONAL and unhistorical, and according to Funk, two very important stories in the Gospel of John about Jesus’ resurrection appearances are also FICTIONAL and unhistorical.  This gives us good reason not only to have doubts about information in the Gospel of John, but to infer that other events and details in this Gospel are probably FICTIONAL and unhistorical too.
Furthermore,  our degree of certainty about the death of Jesus on the cross depends to a significant degree on historical claims that are supported ONLY by the Gospel of John.  Specifically: (1) the use of nails in the crucifixion of Jesus (as opposed to binding Jesus to the cross), and (2) the alleged spear wound to Jesus’ side.  Since these important details about the crucifixion are only provided in the Gospel of John, Funk’s view that the Gospel of John is historically unreliable seriously undermines the case for Jesus’ death on the cross (especially his death on the same day that he was crucified).
So, Funk’s skeptical view of the Gospel of John could BY ITSELF provide sufficient reason to have serious doubt about the claim that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, and thus make it very difficult, if not impossible, to establish that it is very probable that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
However, Funk’s skepticism about the Gospel accounts is not limited to the Gospel of John, so there are futher reasons that cast significant doubt on the claim that Jesus was crucified and that Jesus died on the cross on the same day that he was crucified.

bookmark_borderTen-Year Plan: Revised Scope

I am going to start my Ten-Year Plan this year.
However, I have decided to EXPAND the scope of the project; I will attempt to eat the whole enchilada, so ten years might not be enough time.  I wrote a previous post (offsite) on my Ten-Year Plan.
The question at issue:  Is Christianity true or false?
Here is the overall logic that I plan to use to do my evaluation of Christianity (click on image for a clearer  view of  the chart):
Evaluation of Christianity
 
Although it might require more than ten years to complete the writing of the series of books that will be needed to fully investigate each of the four questions,  I might be able to do a first pass of the four questions in less than ten years.  Perhaps I can do a first pass of one year per question, and try to sketch out my views on all four questions in just four years, and then I could go into greater depth and detail on the four questions for the following seven or eight years.
Note that even if the arguments of Christian philosophers and apologists win the day on each of the four questions, it does not follow that Christianity is true.  What follows is only that a few of the central beliefs/doctrines of Christianity would be true (i.e. God exists; Jesus exists; Jesus rose from the dead; Jesus is God incarnate.).
There are other important Christian beliefs that are not included in those beliefs.  For example: humans have souls; humans are sinful and in need of salvation from divine judgement; the death of Jesus on the cross made it possible for God to forgive our sins; faith in Jesus is sufficient for salvation and to obtain eternal life; the Bible is the inspired Word of God; the Holy Spirit is a separate person from Jesus and from his Father God; the Holy Spirit is God, etc.

bookmark_borderResponse to William Lane Craig – Part 8

I have one final objection to raise against Luke Johnson’s use of the “method of convergence”.  I have been using the phrase “the devil is in the details” to summarize a number of problems with, or objections to, Johnson’s use of the “method of convergence” to establish some key claims about Jesus.  But there are some specific DETAILS about the alleged crucifixion of Jesus that I have not yet mentioned but that represent more such details that raise doubt about the claim that “Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.”
First of all, we don’t know how crucifixion CAUSES a person to die.  There are various theories, of course, but it would be unethical to put those theories to a full scientific test, because it would be unethical to crucify human beings and to carefully observe their deaths in order to answer this historical/medical question.  However, one popular theory is that crucifixion kills a person by asphyxiation, but actual scientific tests of crucifixion (where subjects were strapped, not nailed, to crosses) have indicated that, contrary to the asphyxiation theory, people can breathe without difficulty while hanging from a cross.  The subjects, of course, were only attached to the crosses for a few minutes, not for several hours, so the asphyxiation theory has not been disproved, but it has been cast into doubt.
Because we don’t know how crucifixion causes death, we can hardly be certain that it caused Jesus to die in a matter of just a few hours (Jesus was crucified around 9am according to the synoptic Gospels and around noon according to the Gospel of John.  The  Gospels agree that Jesus was buried before sundown on the day he was crucified, around 6pm, so his apparent death would have been sometime in the late afternoon, between 2pm and 5pm).  If Jesus had been on the cross for several days, that would make his death highly probable because people usually died after three or four days.  But since Jesus was allegedly on the cross for between about three hours (noon to 3pm) and eight hours (9am to 5pm), the fact that he was hanging from a cross for a few hours is not sufficient to confidently conclude that he died on the cross.
One important detail is the use of NAILS.  Most paintings and sculptures of the crucifixion show Jesus as nailed to the cross, but the synoptic Gospels do not mention hammers, hammering, nails, or nailing.  The synoptic gospels only say that Jesus was crucified, and crucifixion was often carried out by binding the victim to the cross, without using nails.  The Gospel of John also does not mention hammers, hammering, nails, or nailing in the description of Jesus’ crucifixion.
However, in the story of Doubting Thomas, which is found ONLY in the Gospel of John, we are told that the risen Jesus had marks in his hands/wrists from nails.  Since nails are mentioned ONLY in the Gospel of John and in the dubious story of Doubting Thomas which also occurs ONLY in the Gospel of John, the evidence for the use of nails in Jesus’ crucifixion is weak and questionable. (Note: The Doubting Thomas story says nothing about nail wounds in Jesus’ feet, only in his hands.)
If Jesus had been bound to the cross rather than nailed to the cross, then that would mean that instead of having a serious wound in each hand/wrist and in each foot/ankle, he would have had no serious wound in each hand/wrist and no serious wound in each foot/ankle, meaning that four of the serious wounds traditionally believed to have been inflicted on Jesus, might be fictional rather than factual.  If  Jesus had been bound rather than nailed to the cross, this would significantly reduce the probability that he would die after just a few hours of hanging on the cross.
One other very important wound that Jesus allegedly received while on the cross is the SPEAR WOUND to his side.  The story of the spear wound, however, is found ONLY in the historically dubious Gospel of John.  None of the synoptic Gospels record this event, and none of the other Gospels ever mentions a wound in Jesus’ side.
Furthermore, there is good reason to suspect that this spear wound incident was created on the basis of an O.T. prophecy, which is specifically mentioned in the Gospel passage that relates this story (John 19:36 & 37):
36. These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.”  
37. And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”
The author of this Gospel might have accepted these scripture passages as divinely inspired prophecy which MUST be fulfilled, and on this basis INFERRED that Jesus MUST have been stabbed with a spear while on the cross, and then created the story about the spear wound, without any thought or intent to deceive the readers of this Gospel, being fully confident in the inspiration of the O.T. and in his interpretation of these ‘prophetic’ passages.
I, however, am quite confident that the O.T. was NOT inspired by God, and even if it were inspired by God I have no good reason to trust or rely upon the interpretation of these O.T. passages by an unknown first-century Christian author.  Since there is a good chance that the story was created on the basis of the O.T. passages, there is a good chance that the spear-wound story is fictional and false.  If the spear-wound story is fictional and false, then one of the most serious and important wounds traditionally believed to have been inflicted on Jesus was NOT actually inflicted on Jesus.   If there was no spear-wound to Jesus’ side while he was hanging on the cross, then that would significantly reduce the probability that Jesus would die after just a few hours on the cross.
Within the general constraints of the Gospel accounts, but allowing for some dubious details to  be fictional, it is quite possible that Jesus was merely tied to the cross (not nailed), that he hung from the cross for just a few hours (from noon to 3pm), and that there was no serious spear-wound inflicted on Jesus while he was on the cross.  Given that we simply do not know how crucifixion causes death (other than by dehydration, starvation, and exposure over a period of days),  the fact that Jesus was crucified fails to show that the death of Jesus on the cross is highly probable.
These are all details concerning the alleged crucifixion of Jesus:
How many hours was Jesus on the cross?  
How was Jesus attached to the cross?  
If nails were used, were they used only for his hands or only for his feet or for both hands and feet?  
Was Jesus stabbed with a spear while he was on the cross?  
If so, where on his body did the spear penetrate?  
If Jesus was stabbed with a spear, how deep and how wide was the spear wound?
If Jesus was stabbed with a spear, were any vital organs seriously damaged by this? 
None of these details are known.  We can only formulate educated guesses in order to answer these questions.  But the probability that Jesus would have died on the cross on the same day he was crucified depends to a large degree on the answers to these questions about the details of Jesus’ alleged crucifixion.
As Luke Johnson repeatedly and correctly points out, when it comes to such details, we cannot rely upon the Gospels to provide solid historical evidence:
A careful examination of all the evidence offered by outsider and insider sources justifies making certain statements about Jesus that have an impressively high level of probability.
Such statements do not concern details, specific incidents, or the sequence of events.
(The Real Jesus, p.111-112)
Johnson is skeptical when it comes to the DETAILS provided by the Gospels, but we must acknowledge that “the devil is in the details”.
In order to determine the probability that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified, we need to answer questions of a detailed nature, such as the questions I have outlined above about the details of Jesus’ crucifixion and wounds.  I agree with Johnson that we cannot confidently rely on the Gospels when it comes to such details, but the implication of this is that we are NOT in a postion to confidently conclude that it is highly probable that Jesus died on the cross on the same day he was crucified.
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Here is an INDEX to posts in this series.