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April 04, 2013

Comments

I think you have touched on a vital topic when it comes to apologetics - "What counts as evidence?"

This does not solve the problem though because even if we agree that circumstantial evidence should be used, what counts as circumstantial evidence?

For example, could not lots of circumstantial evidence be given for various Marian apparitions? Or how about alien abductions? I'm not saying that Christianity has the same true value as these reported phenomena. But I do wonder why the circumstantial evidence for Marian apparitions would be rejected by most protestants and alien abductions by most people? Does the circumstantial evidence for these things not count? Or does it not count as circumstantial evidence?

I have a similar question with regard to answered prayer. What counts as evidence for answered prayer? What about in other religions? I welcome your thoughts on these topics/questions.

Circumstantial/direct is a pointless distinction when it comes to examining evidence. Waste of time to discuss it. Unless you have to because of court tradition.

What counts as evidence of any hypothesis, H is anything call it E - that is more likely 'given' or 'on' or 'assuming' H than it is 'irrespective of' or 'ignoring' H.

Of course, E usually needs evidence itself. False things are not evidence for anything.

Our confidence in H has to be in proportion to our confidence in the evidence as a whole.

Of course this chain has to end somewhere; we ultimately make assumptions - hypotheses accepted (to some degree) without evidence - and upon our confidence in those rests our confidence all our conclusions.

RonH

I guess that the assumption on the circumstantial vs. direct distinction is that the probability of the evidence given the denial of the hypothesis is much higher in the case of circumstantial evidence.

The probability that under optimal conditions (good light, lack of duress etc.) I see Jones shoot Smith given that Jones does not shoot Smith is pretty low.

The probability that I see Jones enter a room where I had just seen Smith alive and unharmed, hear a bang and then see that Smith has been shot and Jones standing over him with a smoking gun in his hand given that Jones did not shoot Smith is still pretty low, but much higher than the prior case.

But I agree Ron, in principle, it all comes down to how the probability calculations work out.

Of course, in some cases it is dreadfully difficult to work out the probabilities. One obvious reason for this might stem from the difficulties involved in assigning initial probabilities. But the complexity of the calculation could make 'best case' pure Bayesian reasoning utterly intractable.

In those sorts of cases distinctions between direct and circumstantial evidence may be relevant. Knowing how to build a circumstantial case might be important. And so on.

WL,

Hey, we find some agreement. What a pleasure! :)

There is no question that probabilities can be tough to come by. Using rough ones and allowing for the fact that they are rough is more rational than punting.

Further: We should treat the direct/circumstantial distinction like bad language - something to know so you can understand what people are saying sometimes but something to avoid spreading.

Spread Bayes instead - to the legal system in particular.

------------

And one more thing: No method of arguing or reasoning that conflicts with Bayes can be rational. Conclusions at odds with Bayes are, by definition, more likely to be wrong.

A method that ignores Bayes is little better.

Some good news: Many of the methods we use do line up with Bayes.

Some bad news: Using one method that lines up with Bayes while ignoring numerous others is not much use.

RonH

So, basically you want to redefine "evidence" so that you will have some? Shouldn't there be actual direct evidence in your life at some point? Especially on a matter as serious as eternal life.

...When investigating cold cases, it's makes perfect sense to start out with circumstantial evidence, because that's all that's left (assuming no eye witnesses). The best that circumstantial evidence can do is to give the cold case investigator something to actually investigate. In order to get a conviction, he's going to need some sort of hard evidence, especially in a cold case.

Jason Blue,

You talking to me?

I was addressing the OP

God really has fallen down on the job, hasn't he? Like he just doesn't care about true craftsmanship anymore. Used to be he was happy to shower pillars of fire from the sky to roast sacrifices upon demand, push bears onto children to murder them for bad-mouthing his prophet, institute huge, obviously supernatural plagues, or flash around resurrections and takings-up into the sky. Used to be he'd happily feed multitudes with manna or multiplied bread and fishes or wine, or send bolts from the blue to strike nay-sayers dead or insane. Nobody could possibly doubt because he was right there up in your grill ALL THE TIME. Or, at least, that's what his purely unbiased and obviously divinely-inspired book says (and we know it's unbiased and divinely inspired because...). Right?

Nowadays the only way you can really see evidence is by looking so crosswise at minor coincidences that it sort of, in the right light, if you squint just enough, might possibly be somewhat more than just sheer coincidence. And you take it as a positive, as something you are *proud* of, that you are so eager to believe and so aware of how little evidence you have that you've relaxed all common-sense standards for proof so you can somehow shoehorn it into making sense. That is simply repellent to me. I wouldn't use those standards to buy a car or a house or start a new diet or pick a college, and (hopefully) neither would you. Really, the worst part is that the "evidence" Christianity has isn't even circumstantial. It's pseudo-science and revisionist history for the most part, and a good deal of bald-faced, flat-out lies and distortions. If it were even circumstantial, that might be one thing, but it doesn't even hit that level.

By the standards you've outlined, astrology, Wicca, homeopathy, and pretty much any conspiracy theory on Freep could be taken as true. I'm sorry, but you have not made a convincing case for why I should relax my standards and make a special exception for religion, especially one like yours.

PS: I'm not an atheist. I'm not even agnostic. I'm just not a Christian. It's not a binary either/or, "atheist" or "Christian" with nothing in between, you know. Billions of people fit that description. Can you please keep that in mind? Because the way you used the word "atheist" sounds like you're using it as a dismissive, arrogant-sounding insult. Makes it hard to take you seriously when you're so busy setting up false dilemmas and strawmen.

Shaughnessy, the point of the post is that it's not "relaxing standards" to consider circumstantial evidence. In fact, this kind of evidence is perfectly legitimate when investigating events that happened in the past.

Jason, Jim's point is that he prosecutes cases where there is only circumstantial evidence. (In fact, he just got a conviction on circumstantial evidence in the last month.) Circumstantial evidence is evidence, which is what the instructions to the jury (quoted above) point out. "Neither is entitled to any greater weight than the other." Jim's book has a great illustration that explains how this works. No one is alive today who saw Jesus rise from the dead, but that doesn't mean there aren't several legitimate lines of evidence that point to that conclusion.

Amy, if you are too be convicted of a crime, don't you think that you would demand some sort of actual evidence, like DNA? Circumstantial evidence has to be the worst kind of evidence, the kind that falsely imprisons people, the kind that is not necessary in a strong case, especially in a case that would determine your condition eternally!

But the bigger question for me to you would be...Do you see any non circumstantial evidence in your own life that Christianity is true? I'm not counting feelings or emotions as evidence. Any person of any faith or non faith can have those. If so, what is that evidence?

Amy, I understand what you're saying and want you to understand, in turn, that you are indeed relaxing your standards when you demand that people follow your religion on the basis of far less than they would demand to follow, say, your favorite politician or your favored diet. That's unfair and intellectually dishonest.

I don't think you understand in the least what evidence even is. Christianity has *NO* evidence. And heck, it isn't even lucky enough to suffer from total lack of evidence: it also suffers from contra-indicating evidence. Every piece of evidence we *do* have relating to the Bible negates its claims. The Bible itself suffers from logical fallacies like circular reasoning (it's true because it says it's true!) and obvious well-poisoning and other sorts of emotional entrapment and manipulation. Christianity has fake science like "intelligent design." It has fake history like Barton's BS. It has gossip that is uncorroborated in any contemporary sources. It has a startling similarity to other risen-god-man myths of its day. It has never had a single documented, verified miracle to its name. Its followers are a hotbed of hypocrites and fakes. By the standard you have set, "Star Wars" is a documentary and LARP handbooks are travel guides.

Perhaps you'd like to think again about just what you're calling "circumstantial" evidence, because none of what I've described Christianity as having actually qualifies. In the real world, circumstantial evidence is stuff we can see and hold that really happened: phone records showing the defendant was in the area vs. someone *seeing* the defendant in the area. Diary entries showing the defendant hated the dead person vs. the defendant saying, on video, that he did. IP records. Shell casings. Numerous witnesses who've heard the defendant making relevant statements. YOU HAVE NONE OF THIS. No record of Jesus' life at all or his trial; no writeups of the zombie uprising after his death; nothing about his home town to indicate it even existed at the time; numerous errors in chronology.. I mean, I've got to say this again: even under the idea of circumstantial evidence, Christianity falls flat. It hasn't even got *THAT*.

That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without fear.

Amy, if you are too be convicted of a crime, don't you think that you would demand some sort of actual evidence, like DNA?

You're still missing the point. Circumstantial evidence is actual evidence, as every judge is required to point out. I recommend Jim's book to you, and for anyone else reading this comment thread, this is a perfect example of why you need to understand what Jim explains about how circumstantial evidence works.

Shaughnessy, we have records from witnesses, we have letters, we have disciples of the disciples who wrote letters, we have pre-biblical creeds written by witnesses within a few years of the resurrection, etc. We have explanations of many of these things on our website, and we point to other places that do so on our blog. This lecture is just one example. It's all available when you want to consider it.

Amy, you are the one missing the point...and dodging the real question, twice now. I'll try one more time.

What is the evidence in your life?

To answer your other point, I never disputed that circumstantial evidence is evidence. It is. It is just the weakest kind. Surely you have to admit that? And if you admit that, then why would a God who controls your eternity ONLY provide the weakest evidence? Why not come right out today and show himself instead of requiring his believers to rely on ancient dubious manuscripts.

In response to the lecture you posted, I suggest that you consider the overwhelming opinion of those actually qualified in ancient history and literature. They almost universally agree that the earliest gospel (Mark) was written no sooner than 70 AD. A critical examination of how the bible was written shows any reasonable person that it is very far from the type of document you think it is.

"Do you see any non circumstantial evidence in your own life that Christianity is true?"

Jason, how about one's personal testimony & experience? Seems to me that my knowledge of what happened to me is about as personal and "real" evidence as I can find. (By the way I'm not trying to be snarky, but genuinely asking.)

It's not a "feeling" or "emotion" which you discount. It is the real deal, a life changed.

Darth Dutch

"In response to the lecture you posted, I suggest that you consider the overwhelming opinion of those actually qualified in ancient history and literature. They almost universally agree that the earliest gospel (Mark) was written no sooner than 70 AD."

Another question - do these experts not also use only circumstantial evidence to come to come to their conclusions?

If actual/hard/real evidence is what one must have, how does one study history and especially ancient history at all? If someone has such a low view of circumstancial evidence, then anything more than, say 50-75 years before their birth (assuming those people are still alive) cannot truly be certain since one cannot interview those people.

Again, not trying to be snarky, genuinely asking.

It seems to me that people quite often hold the Bible to an amazingly high standard that they would never hold to other documents, ancient or more contemporary.

Darth Dutch

Darth, Ancient literature analysis is a bit more complicated and scientific than circumstantial evidence gathering, but let's pretend for a moment all their work is that unsubstantiated.

These historians are not responsible for my eternal well being. If they were, I would require them to provide direct and indisputable proof. Wouldn't you?

Jason, how about one's personal testimony & experience?...It's not a "feeling" or "emotion" which you discount. It is the real deal, a life changed.

Darth, plenty of people have similar testimonies from any number of religions and experiences. Personal growth based on commitment to a philosophy is not proof that any particular god exists.

Your god promises very specific things in the bible. For one example, healing.

"...Lay your hands on the sick and they will be healed...Bring you sick to the Elders...Ask anything in my name..."

There are exactly ZERO verified healings in Christiany. ZERO, other than "my back was hurting, you prayed for me, and now it's not". Show me one video or actual medical documentation of any actual healing. It doesn't exist.

Again, if my eternity relies on believing, why would your God make himself so hard to see? Why wouldn't he ever do anything the bible said he would do?

The gospels are anonymously written, and the names of the purported authors weren't affixed until decades later (as indicated from the lack of other sources identifying them as such). Matthew and Luke just take Mark and add their own flavor to it, quoting Mark verbatim and inserting personal, theological viewpoints as necessary. John is wildly different than the Synoptics, and the existence of other non-canonical gospels casts a huge shadow on the veracity of any of them. Lets call a spade a spade here- there is nearly zero corroboration for ANYTHING in the bible, otherwise, Christians would be rubbing our faces in it daily. The gospels (and the rest of the bible) are about as true as Harry potter is in the year 4000.

Amy, you are still missing the point. You don't have circumstantial evidence. You have none at all supporting you and an astronomical amount *against* you.

You wrote:
"Shaughnessy, we have records from witnesses, we have letters, we have disciples of the disciples who wrote letters, we have pre-biblical creeds written by witnesses within a few years of the resurrection, etc."

No. You do not. I hate to be so blunt, but you've all but demanded I be so. You have unsubstantiated rumors from witnesses who were *hardly* unbiased (which is part of what actually constitutes circumstantial evidence; if a witness is clearly biased or has an agenda, the "evidence" is considered tainted and untrustworthy, and boy howdy is that true). You have letters written by people we don't actually have names or confirmed identities for--even most educated Christian scholars don't think Paul wrote a lot of what Paul is supposed to have written, and we have NOT A SINGLE CLUE who wrote the gospels or other letters really. So that's not really circumstantial evidence either. There are no witnesses who wrote anything about Jesus' life or his teachings during his lifetime or anytime shortly thereafter--we have a few shreds about Christians in general, written some 60 years or so after his supposed death. So no court would really accept that sort of testimony either. As for the "disciples of disciples," we have third-hand games of telephone played across continents and centuries--we have references to references to letters that were supposedly written by someone we don't know but which might have possibly talked about this kind of, but of those letters or even of their first-hand mentions, we have none whatsoever. Seems odd that a religion wouldn't have kept better track of these, doesn't it?

But what we do have is a rather lot of damning anti-evidence. No records whatsoever support the idea of there being a religion called Christianity or anything like it in the Jerusalem area in the 1st century. Not a single contemporary--and we've a library worth of written works from the 1st century--mentions Jesus until one much-disputed line in Josephus written a lifetime after Jesus' "death." Not a single person writes of his rock-star entry into the city, not even people charged with keeping track of important news like that. The birthplace is wrong wrong wrong; the census couldn't have happened the way it's posited; no record of the trial either by the Jews or the Romans; lots of issues with the legality of both; no record of the eclipse mentioned or the rising of the dead afterward or the tearing of the curtain at the temple; no record of the miracles afterward or the taking up into heaven. Nothing. Not a word. Not a peep. Not a whisper. You disingenuously dismiss objections to the timeframe involved by calling it "a few years." Sorry, but you are not off the hook there. It was SIXTY PLUS YEARS. Those were not eyewitness accounts; they could not have been, as the eyewitnesses were almost certainly *DEAD* by then. And then there're the troubling similarities between Jesus' story and that of Odysseus and of other risen god-men, and the even more troubling similarity between his teachings and those of earlier Jewish philosophers like Philo (who *was* at the right place at nearly the right time). Even those writing about Jesus in those late-1st-century/early-2nd-c accounts don't really talk about his life or anything specific about him physically; not even Paul does.

Put it all together, and Jesus starts to look like a mythological character, and his religion starts to look wholly manufactured in the 2nd century. If Jesus does exist, then he most certainly, absolutely, positively does not care if there is evidence for his existence or any compelling reason to believe he existed. Perhaps the answer is that his physical existence is utterly irrelevant as far as he'd be concerned.

So.... plenty of contradictory evidence. No solid actual evidence. No solid circumstantial evidence. Plenty of gossip, third-hand accounts, and hearsay contradicted by facts and tainted by bias. And THAT'S your idea of a compelling argument. All you've done, Amy, is completely verify my assertion that Christians have nothing but lies and fake history to back themselves up and must flee in terror from actual reality in order to contort themselves into believing. PLEASE know that if you ever get accused of a crime, I will ask for much better evidence than Christianity has if I sit on a jury facing you.

And Amy, really and truly, you're better off just chirping about how wonderful faith is and not worrying about evidence. You lot aren't actually supposed to care about evidence anyway. It's supposed to be about faith, right? Stop worrying about proof and evidence. The more you question the dogma, the more at risk you are of losing your faith. That's how I shed mine 25 years ago. I'm not sad I did, but if you're really happy where you are, I gently suggest that you not pursue this train of thought.

Shaughnessy, you are so wrong, you're almost right again.

Sam, that's a cute statement, but what specifically is Shaughnessy wrong about?

I've never met an atheist yet who was willing to thoughtfully consider ANY evidence for the claims of Christ and the Bible! Anything I say is dismissed outright, without even an attempt at a fair-minded look at it.

(Proven by the many responses here!)

Mo, I spent the first 38 years of my life as a very sincere and devoted Christian. I have fully considered the evidence from your perspective.

I rarely meet a Christian who is willing to thoughtfully consider ANY evidence that contradicts their beliefs.

Mo, that's because most of them just want to argue. Honestly, any person that I've ever had discussions with all boils down to one thing--they don't want to bend the knee. That's it. They can come at you with all these intellectual arguments, etc. but when all is said and done, the reason they don't want to believe is emotional, not intellectual.

They want to keep living their lives on their terms and their own time table. That's where they have Christianity all wrong! They think it is a bunch of rules and regulations--that's legalism--not Biblical Christianity. To me, being a Christian is an honor and a blessing. The pardon God is giving us is a gift--let me repeat--a GIFT. He asks nothing in return. I say "nothing" because what He does ask of us in return for this gift is nothing in comparison to what we are recipients of.

It blows my mind how people can just walk around saying, "There is no God." If there is no God, then where did everything come from? Why do we intuitively feel that there is something outside of ourselves? Why is everything "just so" in our atmosphere? Why do we laugh? Why do we cry? Why do we love? We're to believe that we are all just a product of chance? That we came from nothing? It's all just one big coincidence? Uh huh and they say Christians believe in myths.

God bless.

John M, you couldn't be more wrong, at least in my case. I was a very happy Christian, and I fully understand the religion vs. relationship concept. I lived and taught and ministered the "grace" message.

You only need a pardon if you buy into the myth that you committed a crime. You have to admit the the concept of "original sin" is ridiculously unfair if it's true. I mean, come on man? :)

...where did everything come from? Why do we intuitively feel that there is something outside of ourselves? Why is everything "just so" in our atmosphere? Why do we laugh? Why do we cry? Why do we love? We're to believe that we are all just a product of chance? That we came from nothing? It's all just one big coincidence?

That's why man created god originally, to explain the unexplainable. Ancient man thought tornadoes, earthquakes, monsoons, etc. were all "god". We know who the exact causes of these events, and it's not "god". As science progresses and answers these questions, man's need to create/maintain a god decreases.

I don't post on Christian debates very often. When I do, it's not for the purpose of arguing. It's for the purpose of hoping that I can set a few people free.

*we now know what the exact causes...

We "don't want to bend the knee" and we leave for "emotional not intellectual reasons".....

I just nearly facepalmed myself into an early grave.

I CANNOT "BEND THE KNEE" TO SOMETHING THAT DOES NOT EXIST.

is it really that difficult to understand? Why don't you bend the knee to Allah? You're just disbelieving Islam for emotional not intellectual, reasons.

Every argument you can use vs the atheist can be used against you in regards to another religion. Your referenced statements are absurd, ridiculous and offensive.

This is so sad.

Look, I get that Christians have to box up dissenters immediately. If we were the real deal and we left, then either we did something wrong, or the message is wrong. So you poke and prod and try to figure out what it was. You imagine all kinds of stuff (and you are free to do so, since you are unburdened by having to actually engage with our messy reality) about us. We didn't do something right. We didn't pray enough, join the right group, talk to the right people. We didn't do it like YOU do it. So we were the ones at fault. The message is jussssst fine. Whew! Your minds are cleared, your spirits at rest. The fact that you are totally wrong about us doesn't really matter compared to your overwhelming need to categorize us in a way that makes you more comfortable. You're happy to lie to yourselves--and to us, right to our faces even--if that's what it takes to make your world smooth and ripple-free again. I find that unspeakably sad. I can't even mock it. It's not in me.

Instead of trying to tell people what they were like and making condescending assumptions about them, why don't you, you know, make like Jesus and actually get to know them?

John M, your god's "gift" is not a gift. It is an extortion racket. It is a threat. A rapist told me once that if I struggled, he would slit my throat. I did not struggle. True to his word, he didn't slit my throat. How much free will did I really have? How wonderful is my rapist for giving me that "free will" to make my decision? Shall I now "bend knee" to him? Certainly not. In the same way, I don't "bend knee" to demonstrably false religions, no, but certainly not to gods who commit genocide, enslavement, torture, and many other war crimes upon humanity. Maybe Christianity is all Satan's idea, you know; it might be God's big trick played upon you all. Are you humane enough to reject it? Or are you just self-serving and greedy enough to accept it? Neat idea..

PS: Remember, not everybody who rejects Christianity is an atheist or agnostic. You guys keep doing that.

Shaughnessy, you've mentioned several times that you're not atheistic or agnostic. Please share with us what you are so we can know you better.

I recommend checking out Gary Habermas and his "minimal facts" method of arguing for the resurrection of Jesus. Some of the claims made in the comments section are flat out wrong, at least from in the eyes of both Christians and skeptics alike-scholars who have made it their lives' work to study the New Testament. Check him out on YouTube. Very interesting stuff from someone who has the credentials and scholarly backing to address these issues.

Shaughnessy McGillicuddy,

Would you consider the documents we do have (admittedly copies of copies of originals) as evidence? Not necessarily persuasive evidence, but evidence all the same? For example, you point out counter-evidence regarding chronologies, the census, the birth, trials, etc….yet aren’t you relying equally upon documents that are copies of copies of copies?

How can we skeptics say our copies of Tacitus, Josephus or Philo (for example) are “evidence” against Christian claims but then state copies of Mark are not “evidence” for Christian claims? Again, I would agree there are factors weighing how convincing one piece of evidence is as to another, but that is very different from saying there is “*NO* evidence.” (your words)

Evidence is submitted in trials all the time that—if true—would necessitate a verdict for a particular party. Yet the jury or judge rules differently. Does that mean those items submitted (whether testimony, exhibits or circumstantial) are no longer evidence? Of course not—just not persuasive evidence.

I agree there is evidence for Christianity similar in medium to evidence for other historical events of the time. Obviously I do not find it persuasive; equally obviously others do. Rather than argue whether there is evidence—would it be more beneficial to review the evidence as it stands?

...When investigating cold cases, it's makes perfect sense to start out with circumstantial evidence, because that's all that's left (assuming no eye witnesses). The best that circumstantial evidence can do is to give the cold case investigator something to actually investigate. "In order to get a conviction, he's going to need some sort of hard evidence, especially in a cold case."

Hear that Jim Wallace? If you listen, you might grow up to be a real cold case detective someday. (sorry, couldn't resist)

DagoodS is correct.

Now, this evidence is persuasive enough to say that something happened in the lives of the eyewitnesses that changed them.

You may not think that this really happened, but writers such as Tacitus point out that the resurrection was a belief of Christians - though he called it the myth - but he tells us that Jesus was executed by Pilate.

The actual question of Jesus rests on the resurrection. So, I also would recommend Gary Habermas and Mike Licona's book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus

I would also recommend watching one of his lectures, you can find it here -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMqertodsVk

Gary is a Christian, but he is also a peer-reviewed scholar.

@ John H - Oh, I know. No matter what evidence is presented, it's not good enough for them.

All these comments illustrate why my original question (and the title of the post) is foundational. "What counts as evidence?"

I have a basic grasp of Bayesian probability, but, as far as I can tell, Bayesian probability does not specify what counts towards prior probability. How do we quantify prior probability. An atheist like Richard Carrier argues that the prior probability of Jesus rising from the dead is very, very low, and thus according to Bayesian probability the probability that Jesus rose from the dead is almost nothing. In contrast, Richard Swinburne, who has academic training in philosophy and logic, argues using Bayesian probability that the probability that Jesus rose from the dead is very high. They compute their prior probabilities differently.

Again the question comes down to what counts as evidence (in Bayesian terms, what is the prior probability)? Could the supernatural ever count as evidence whether direct or circumstantial? If so, what distinguishes claims of Jesus' miracles and resurrection from the claims of Joseph Smith, Mohammed, those who have seen Marian apparitions, and/or those who have been abducted by aliens? I'm still waiting for this discussion.

>> Sorry, but you are not off the hook there. It was SIXTY PLUS YEARS. Those were not eyewitness accounts; they could not have been, as the eyewitnesses were almost certainly *DEAD* by then.

I think a major problem with the line of posts that have developed is an acceptance of a late-dating of the New Testament documents, most to the end of the first century AD. This has been the legacy of secular research into the New Testament documents. After World War One, the German liberal theological universities developed Form- and Redacktiongeschichte critical theories that placed the NT into the second century as completed works. Papyral discoveries and textual criticism led to what I call the first discrediting of radical criticism. We need to see a second discrediting of the notion that the NT Gospels were late first century.

Here is the theory that I have pondered over time. I believe that Mark could well be the first Greek document that is written. But the Apostolic Father Papias (ca. 120 AD)recounted that Matthew authored His Gospel first in Aramaic. This thought, added to the account of the Roman guards' story in Matt. 28: 11-15, plus the general theme of Matthew to argue that Jesus was the Messiah in fulfillment of OT prophecy, presses for an early writing. SM, I too think sixty years is too long to put off debunking a false report. This Matthew document could have been drafted by the mid-40's.

Concurrent with this time is an explansion of the Christian faith among the Gentiles with the conversion of Cornelius (Acts 10). The extension into Hellenistic areas led to a need to offer this Gospel to the non-Jewish. A trait of Mark is its explanation of Jewish ideas and words into Latinized thought. Papias considers Mark to be the penman for Peter, weaving together his stories into a concise collection of stories centered on Jesus' ministry. A Grecianized edition of Matthew depends on Mark's work to be altered to its present Greek, a Mark that Luke borrows from as one of the eyewitnesses he commends in writing his gospel. Such work could have been accomplished in the 50-70's. Particularly since Luke (who had four years to entertain such projects with Paul's interment in Caeasrea and Rome) seemed to close his accounts of Acts prior to 62 AD.

It is a shame that skeptical objections are biased by late-dating. Much of what SMcG has stated would have been more sensible if the Gospels had been written earier. But I have no reason to believe they hadn't been.

@ Matt McAlister -

"I CANNOT "BEND THE KNEE" TO SOMETHING THAT DOES NOT EXIST."

So why are you here? No one is forcing you to read anything at this web site. No one is forcing you to become a Christian. And at least in America, the culture has become so secular that you only "have" to hear Christian-type words at Christmas and Easter.

So why do you rage so much against something that in your view does not exist?

"Why don't you bend the knee to Allah? You're just disbelieving Islam for emotional not intellectual, reasons."

Because I have read the Koran and about the life of Mohammad and I find no evidence for its claims. I also reject its teachings that tell me that unbelievers must convert, submit or die, and its oppressive sharia which brings misery everywhere in the world it is implemented.

These are not emotional reasons.

***

"Every argument you can use vs the atheist can be used against you in regards to another religion. Your referenced statements are absurd, ridiculous and offensive."

That's false, since Christianity makes specific claims (and backs them up with evidence!) that other religions do not and cannot make.

Again, why are you here? Why rage so hard against something you think doesn't exist?

As for how early the Gospels are, they and the book of Acts along with the epistles leave out one significant event in the life of every late 1st century Jew - The destruction of the Temple. This was the Jewish 9/11. Jesus himself predicted it in the Gospels and if I were going to make this up a century later, I would include this event to further my argument that Jesus was the Messiah. But, this event is missing.

Let's camp here for a minute. Imagine you were writing a history of the 21st century in America. Somewhere around 2070, terrorists destroy the white house and most of Washington DC and scatter Americans throughout the world. Do you think you would include that event? Of course you would.

And yet there is not one mention of the destruction of the Temple or of Jerusalem. Conspicuous by absence? Maybe. But you would have to wonder why if these were written late as some of you are claiming that someone wouldn't include something that would seem to further their assertion that Jesus was in fact God in the flesh and that He was raised from the dead and was seen by over 500 people at different times and places over a 40 day period and then was seen by Saul - a person who was just as skeptical as you - 2 years later.

Sorry, just a thought that keeps coming back to my mind.

Heres the real question. I've asked several times with no real response:

What direct evidence in your life (other than thoughts and emotions) supports your claims?

How many of you have seen a person blind from birth healed? Paraplegic person walk? Missing arm grow back?

Not one of you. These miracles always happen in some jungle somewhere where there is no video camera.

If your god is real, why doesn't he ever do what he directly promises? Why are all the "miracles" things that happen with or without belief?

I would suggest you read In Defense of Miracles http://www.amazon.com/Defense-Miracles-Comprehensive-Action-History/dp/0830815287

However, we already have evidence of the greatest miracle ever recorded in The Bible - creation.

Why do we have something rather than nothing? I've never heard one single good explanation based on Big Bang cosmology and the laws of thermodynamics that has ever explained how the universe just appeared out of nothing.

Jason,

If I were to tell you that I personally know someone who had a fractured ankle (confirmed by xray), went to a prayer meeting at our church, then at a doctor's appointment a couple of days later the ankle was fully restored/healed (again, confirmed by fracture), well before the body's ability to self-regenerate & heal, what would you say?

Darth Dutch

He would say you were lying or Mistaken Darth Dutch

"Darth, Ancient literature analysis is a bit more complicated and scientific than circumstantial evidence gathering, but let's pretend for a moment all their work is that unsubstantiated.

These historians are not responsible for my eternal well being. If they were, I would require them to provide direct and indisputable proof. Wouldn't you?"

Jason, you are changing the subject & are actually proving my point. You are holding the Bible to a much higher standard than you would any other book. Does it make claims about your eternal state? Yes, but that has nothing to do with how you should treat it as a historical piece of literature. You're trying to have it both ways here.

Darth Dutch

"(again, confirmed by fracture)"

Oops, meant to say "confirmed by xray". My apologies.

Darth Dutch

"I don't post on Christian debates very often. When I do, it's not for the purpose of arguing. It's for the purpose of hoping that I can set a few people free."

This sentiment is something that has genuinely baffled me whenever I hear it. I understand why a Christian or religious person may want to actively "convert". The belief system states that one's eternal destiny relies on belief in this life.

I have never understood why an atheist or agnostic is so keen on trying to "convert" (for lack of a better word). So I may live my life in a delusional state and "waste" my time here on earth. Who cares? Why do you care so much that I am "set free" to a system of unbelief, especially if I am happy in my current state? The atheistic worldview provides no reason for one to be so caring for their fellow human in this way.

(Jason you may not be an atheist or this may not apply to you personally, in which case it is a general question for those that are.)

Darth Dutch

Why am I on here at all, you ask? That's easy.

Because I dream of a day when this religion is no longer valid. I hope towards a time when it no longer infects the majority of humanity. I anticipate this, knowing it will happen in time. But for now, if by my engaging can make one christian stop and think about what it really is they're subscribing to, then ive helped in some small way. America is the most christian nation on earth- for you to act like it's just SOO secular is a joke. I'd like to see exactly how secular you feel it is when you're NOT in the majority. You'll see things very different, I promise you.

I don't rage against a being that has as much likelihood of being real as a Queen of Sloths on Europa. I rage against the people perpetrating the madness. Well, I don't "rage" as you put it- do you really think that engaging someone in debate in an online forum is "rage"? Sheesh. Melodramatic much? You have obviously not applied the exact same standards to Christianity that you have applied to Islam. Refresh my memory- what is your #1 most undeniable proof for christianity (your flavor)?

You have no evidence. Otherwise, christians wouldnt be telling the world that it has to be taken on "faith" as Paul would say. Paul would have said, "Look at the evidence guys! Its so obvious!" BUT he didn't mention hardly a detail of the supposed life of this religion's central character. Kind of odd, isn't it? Doesn't mention a virgin birth, being from Nazareth, a trip to Egypt, I could go on and on.....The guy who supposedly knew the brother of Jesus, but apparently doesn't know jack about him other than he died, and came back to life (and in a spirit body at that- not corporeal).

Too many red flags to buy into this pile of dung anymore.

"Why do we have something rather than nothing? I've never heard one single good explanation based on Big Bang cosmology and the laws of thermodynamics that has ever explained how the universe just appeared out of nothing."

http://www.amazon.com/Universe-Nothing-There-Something-Rather/dp/1451624468/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1365176642&sr=8-1&keywords=a+universe+from+nothing

Darth, I'm simply holding your god to a tiny fraction of the standard set in your bible. What about the real biblical scale miracles? A documented undeniable one, like a missing limb growing back? It doesnt happen because god is not real or he is a liar.

It's my wifes birthday today, so I won't be able to comment again today. Have a good one :)

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