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« Theological Poet - "Let Me Count the Ways" | Main | Justified in Not Believing? »

July 01, 2009

Comments

>If you're merely saying it "gives someone psychological help," that's not "working," that's just "giving someone psychological help."

Yes, that's what I mean by "working".

>Christianity isn't about psychological help, as Paul makes plain here. "Working" would be doing what it claims to do, i.e., reconcile us to God.

Yes, psychological help is what it's about. It's about psychological help, it's about the illusion of an answer to life, the universe and everything, and in addition, it's about mantaining social order. I would add that this is a non-trivial thing for a social species that requires cooperation between members of the species and that has an awareness of mortality. This is why religions have been created again and again, in all times and cultures.

>I am very interested, if you don't mind too much, to hear what you mean by it "not working" for you.

If you can't really believe it, if accumulates too many inconsistencies, if it constantly disappoints, if the evidence is far short of what is required, if what people tell you doesn't correspond to reality, if it's just too ugly, then it doesn't work.

What you agree with Moreland and Craig about is the general outline of how they proceed after arriving at an upfront probability, such as the likelihood that a particular number was chosen in the lottery. But that's not the issue in dispute in this context. The issue under dispute is whether unprecedented events have an extraordinarily high upfront improbability. I've quoted Moreland and Craig disagreeing with you on that point:

As I said, it's not clear to me what you are arguing. It seemed to me you were arguing that things can be believed without precedent. You asked if I appeal to subjective assessments in order to believe things that had no prior precedent. You talked about how we regularly accept things that have no precedent. You later talked about how my initial post only talked about precedence as if it was the only relevant factor. But since I've acknowledge repeatedly that I agree it is not the only relevant factor and I agree with Craig and Moreland's clarifications I don't understand the point of your argument. You've quoted Criag and Moreland making more than one point and it appears to me that you were disagreeing with them on at least one point.

So I will now take you to be saying that you can understand how on my view it is rational to believe things that lack precedent. Since my position is explained with Bayes' Theorem, and Craig and Moreland likewise rely on Bayes' Theorem to make the same point, this is no longer in dispute.

Now you are arguing about a different point that Craig and Moreland have made. They say that the proposition that God raised a person from the dead is not initially implausible. You quoted them as follows:

"The second problem with Hume's argument is that he incorrectly assumes that miracles are intrinsically highly improbable. With respect to the resurrection of Jesus, for example, there is no reason to think that the hypothesis 'God raised Jesus from the dead' is highly improbable relative to our background information. What is improbable relative to our background information is the hypothesis 'Jesus rose naturally from the dead.' Given what we know of cell necrosis, that hypothesis is fantastically, even unimaginably, improbable....But such evidence is simply irrelevant to the probability of the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead."

I think this is useful because at the end of the day this is another one of our fundamental disagreements, so I think it's useful to lay those bare and just let the reader decide. These are subjective assessments. We're not going to agree, and that's fine. Let anyone else subjectively compare our positions.

Let's consider an example. Suppose the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community approaches you and informs you that the promised Messiah, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, had come to earth and had in fact risen from the dead in confirmation of his salvific claims. We start by considering this claim without reference to the evidence in favor of it. Forget about whether his followers were willing to die for him, whether the reports were eyewitness and early and so forth. Considering this claim based upon background knowledge alone, such as the frequency with which God engages in this type of an action and the fact that this type of claim has been falsely made in the past and the fact that most people that die stay dead I start with a strong presumption that the claim is false. You however would disagree. There is nothing initially implausible about this claim in your view. We accept claims such as a claim that a person is getting married. We should similarly be prepared to accept this claim. After all, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is not claiming that the Messiah rose naturally. They're saying God raised him. So this is quite plausible in your world.

I disagree. These are subjective assessments. Let the reader decide.

You haven't interacted with the articles I linked, and you haven't offered the clarification I asked for.

You've offered many references that include pages and pages of documentation. As I've shown here you have a tendency to provide web links that you claim answer questions that in fact do not. So I'm not going to simply read dozens of pages of text on the off chance that the claims truly are rebutted where you claim they are. You are going to have to be more specific. Better yet, cite the relevant portions right here.

If "extraordinary" is being defined as "unprecedented", then are you saying that unprecedented claims require unprecedented evidence?

No, extraordinary is not defined as unprecedented. Precedence is relevant, but not the only factor. For instance, if a space alien comes to our planet and has never experienced an apple tree, he won't know that apples fall to the ground. So if he sees an apple fall to the ground he may not expect it, but he also knows that he has no knowledge about what apples on trees typically do, so he's open to anything. He has no knowledge that this is what they do, nor does he have any knowledge that this is what they don't do.

Dead bodies are different. In the billion or so deaths that I have first, second, and third hand knowledge of, I have no reliable evidence that any have ever come back to life after being dead for three days (excluding the present case in consideration obviously). I likewise don't know of anyone that has reliable knowledge that this has happened. I do know of false claims of bodies coming back to life, but no true claims. So this would be extraordinary.

You didn't address my points about how you have mistaken notions about subjective assessments vs rational assessments, so I'll assume you concede that point.

The background knowledge wouldn't be limited to information outside of the gospels. The gospels give us information about Jesus' life prior to the resurrection. And other sources give us information about Jesus that would be relevant. I've given examples repeatedly. Jesus was perceived to be the Messiah, He had a reputation as a miracle worker, etc.

You can group the facts in different ways. I'm grouping the gospels as a whole as the evidence in favor of the resurrection claim. So claims about his other miracles are part of the evidence in favor of the resurrection claim. This is how Craig and Moreland are doing it. They talk about cell necrosis and how this is part of our background knowledge about what happens with dead bodies. Background knowledge in this case deals with what we know about what typically happens to dead bodies.

If you want to group it differently, go back to the case of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Suppose the same applies to him. He's regarded as a miracle worker and the Messiah. To me this doesn't mean his resurrection claim is plausible based upon this background knowledge as far as I'm concerned. Apparently you would see it differently.

Or I could argue for my position without running numbers through Bayes' Theorem, just as you haven't been running numbers through Bayes' Theorem to argue for your position on this point.

I'm not the one that has dismissed these type of factors as irrelevant. If I were to say "The fact that people were willing to die for belief in the resurrection doesn't have much to do with the believability of the resurrection" then I think that would ring pretty hollow without offering some sort of demonstration for why it is irrelevant. One way to attempt to show that would be to run the numbers. If you want to do it another way, fine. Assertions don't carry much weight.

The fact that Herod falsely believed that Jesus was John the Baptist in some sense doesn't give me any significant reason to doubt Paul's belief that Jesus rose from the dead, for example.

I don't think I've argued that Paul did not believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

As I said earlier, a belief that God empowered a person to fly a spaceship can be a belief about what probably occurred, without ruling out the possibility of something naturalistic.

I was asking you to compare the initial probability of the claim that a person flew in a spaceship to a claim that a person flew in a spaceship with God's help. What kind of sense does it make to say the later one doesn't rule out the possibility of something naturalistic? If it's with Divine intervention it isn't naturalistic. Again, this is just another way of saying what I said last time and you acted like I hadn't said anything.

For you to respond by saying that a claim set in a religious context can be false is correct, but irrelevant.

You're missing my point. The point is not that a claim can be false in a religious context. It's that all such claims that I know of, whether true or false, are set in a religious context. You seem to think that because it's in a religious context this makes it more initially plausible. How is that the case when they are always set in a religious context, whether true or false?

You're taking one phrase I used out of context in order to give it a meaning it clearly didn't have.

Despite your earlier statement about misidentifying I did think you were saying that the witnesses "were unable to identify" the attacker in the sense that they would not positively identify an attacker. That understanding does more strongly justify the claim you were making. If you say that is not your intention I accept that and withdraw the point.

Ahmed's case doesn't establish that argument.

I don't even need Ahmed's case to establish this. I've already talked about how a single eyewitness to a murder is generally not good enough in court, whereas it is good enough if the question is what you had for breakfast this morning. It can be reliable in one sense and unreliable in another.

Making an analogy to stubble becoming a beard doesn't give us any reason to agree with you.

Sure it does. Have you ever heard of the "Fallacy of the beard". You asked me what qualifies as outrageous. I don't have to provide a precise definition to distinguish an outrageous claim from a non-outrageous claim, just like I don't have to tell you exactly when stubble becomes a beard. I know a beard when I see one and I know stubble when I see it.

Citing Spaghettios turning into rabbits as an example of an outrageous claim doesn't explain why it's outrageous.

Why don't you tell us why it's outrageous. I think we all know that it's outrageous and don't need to have things explained. I'm not going to prove that the grass is green and I'm not going to prove that the sky is blue. If you have a problem admitting that spaghettio's turning into bunny rabbits is outrageous and would need to be justified with extraordinary evidence, fine. Let the reader decide if that's reasonable.

What's the significance of precedent? It's significant because we don't expect the same circumstances to produce different results. But Jesus' life doesn't represent the same circumstances as the life of an ordinary farmer or housewife.

What do you mean? I grant that Jesus, if he existed, had many unique, unprecedented features, just like everyone does. Everyone is a little bit different. Despite these differences, there is much about human life that is the same from person to person. In what way do we know that Jesus is unique such that we would find his resurrection more initially plausible? Seems to me the only things you could point to would involve circular reasoning, but I'll let you explain this in more detail first.

Earlier, I cited an analogy of a man reaching his hand out and catching an apple falling from a tree, before it falls to the ground. If you had never heard of anybody catching an apple like that before, would you consider it extraordinarily improbable that it would happen? No, because you know that humans are capable of doing such a thing, and you can imagine many scenarios in which such a thing would occur.

That's right. We know that apples do fall from tress. We know that humans do catch things that fall. So based upon our background knowledge this is not something that is outrageously implausible. I don't see how this helps your resurrection claim.

If you witnessed the first earthquake, you wouldn't have had any reason beforehand to expect it to happen, but you also wouldn't have had any reason to consider it extraordinarily improbable.

Yes you would. Let's suppose you're a cave man. Never heard of earthquakes or witnessed them. So you set up your cave not knowing you're on a fault line. That's a rational move, because you have no expectation that the ground will move. It's never happened before and you have no experience with it. If you witness it move and your cave crashes down you'll be shocked. Why? Because from your perspective (remember, this is a subjective assessment) this was extraordinarily unexpected. Shock is a reasonable reaction at that point. Or suppose you didn't witness the earthquake. Your wife runs to you and tells you that the cave has crashed down because the earth moved. You might not believe her until you see it yourself. That's perfectly rational based upon the initial implausibility (from your subjective perspective).

You keep repeating phrases like "devoted and superstitious followers" without interacting with the evidence I've cited to the contrary.

As I said, because of your scattershot references and the history I don't think I can be expected to attempt to read and rebut all of your supposed evidence cited. As you also know I've already interacted with your arguments against the claims of superstitious and gullible tendencies of the ancients.

The earliest Jewish and Roman enemies of Christianity had more political power and social status than the earliest Christians. They were willing to persecute the early Christians and write against them, argue against them in public forums, etc. We know that they were willing to do such things because the historical record suggests that they did such things.

I think it's just obvious that generally speaking the devoted followers are more likely to write about someone. I like Ron Paul. I write flattering things about him sometimes. People that don't care about him much don't write much about him. Same is true of any number of people. A lot of people adore Denis Kucinich. He might be a good guy. I don't know much about him. So I don't write much about him, but his devoted fans do.

On the other hand people that really despise Ron Paul will write about him, but I'm not aware of any writings from anyone that despised Jesus while he was alive. We have nothing. This in spite of the fact that the gospels indicate Jesus really was despised by a lot of people. We ought to have something if he was that important a figure, but we don't.

Aside from the fact that you make no attempt to interact with conservative scholarship on those passages

This is about as vague a statement as can be made. Am I supposed to respond to every statement ever made about the text by conservatives? Am I supposed to respond to their claims that it may possibly not be an error when that is in fact irrelevant to my point? I think these posts are long enough without expecting me to interact with every argument ever made from conservatives about this text.

If Matthew developed the account of Mark, that doesn't tell us how reliable Mark is (or Paul, Luke, etc.).

But then that wouldn't be my point, so why bring it up? My point is not to show how reliable Mark is but to point out that even the gospel authors betray an appearance of modifying stories to improve on them, just like we expect with legendary development. This is directly relevant to the question of the probability the evidence would be produced if the claim was false.

Even a passing acquaintance with the documents that form the basis of secular history reveals that the reports of reliable historians, even of eyewitnesses, always display selection and emphasis and not infrequently contradict each other outright. Yet this fact does not destroy or even significantly undermine their credibility regarding the main events they report.

Once again this has nothing to do with my point. My point is not that claims can't be generally reliable even if they contradict in details. I'm talking about the tendency of successive people to improve on the story. This is relevant to the question of whether or not the evidence would be produced if false.

Jon wrote:

"Suppose the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community approaches you and informs you that the promised Messiah, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, had come to earth and had in fact risen from the dead in confirmation of his salvific claims. We start by considering this claim without reference to the evidence in favor of it. Forget about whether his followers were willing to die for him, whether the reports were eyewitness and early and so forth. Considering this claim based upon background knowledge alone, such as the frequency with which God engages in this type of an action and the fact that this type of claim has been falsely made in the past and the fact that most people that die stay dead I start with a strong presumption that the claim is false. You however would disagree. There is nothing initially implausible about this claim in your view. We accept claims such as a claim that a person is getting married. We should similarly be prepared to accept this claim. After all, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is not claiming that the Messiah rose naturally. They're saying God raised him. So this is quite plausible in your world."

Your analogy is incomplete and misleading. I've cited far more evidence for the upfront likelihood of Jesus' resurrection than you mention for the upfront likelihood of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad's resurrection. And I haven't said that there's "nothing initially implausible" about Jesus' resurrection. I'm addressing the overall upfront probability, not whether some elements of that upfront probability are "initially implausible" if considered in isolation. And I've been focused on whether Jesus' resurrection is extraordinarily improbable. You kept comparing Jesus' resurrection to the unlikelihood of a naturalistic change in the properties of water, taken from an analogy made by Arif Ahmed. You used the terms "extraordinary" and "exceptional" to describe the evidence that would be needed. You initially suggested that the lack of precedent for Jesus' resurrection is so significant that you could "dismiss" the idea on the basis of that lack of precedent. You didn't just suggest a minor or moderate improbability, and your reference above to a "strong presumption that the claim is false" is unclear. Are you suggesting something comparable to a naturalistic change in the properties of water, something so significant that you can dismiss Jesus' resurrection on the basis of that upfront improbability?

I raised the marriage analogy in the context of a personal agent choosing to do something he's never done before. The claim that Jesus was resurrected is comparable to a marriage claim in some ways, but not in others.

You write:

"You've offered many references that include pages and pages of documentation. As I've shown here you have a tendency to provide web links that you claim answer questions that in fact do not. So I'm not going to simply read dozens of pages of text on the off chance that the claims truly are rebutted where you claim they are. You are going to have to be more specific. Better yet, cite the relevant portions right here."

The two articles I cited are about the concept that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I wasn't citing the articles because they address that subject along with other subjects. They're entirely about the subject under consideration here. Your claim that I've previously "provided web links that I claim answer questions that in fact do not" doesn't justify ignoring the articles I cited.

You write:

"No, extraordinary is not defined as unprecedented."

Not any longer, since your initial appeal to precedent failed.

And while you tell us, now, that "extraordinary" doesn't mean "unprecedented", you don't tell us what it supposedly does mean. You aren't giving us a justification of the assertion that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. You haven't even sufficiently defined the assertion, much less justified it.

You write:

"If you want to group it differently, go back to the case of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Suppose the same applies to him. He's regarded as a miracle worker and the Messiah. To me this doesn't mean his resurrection claim is plausible based upon this background knowledge as far as I'm concerned."

The more such qualifiers you add ("regarded as a miracle worker", etc.), the better the upfront likelihood that a resurrection would occur. And a Christian would argue for far more than the two qualifiers you mention above, as I have in the past.

Whether you consider a resurrection claim "plausible" is a different issue than whether it's extraordinarily unlikely, along the lines of a naturalistic change in the properties of water. If you had only said that the resurrection is unlikely upfront, I would have disagreed, but I wouldn't have disputed the point to this extent. What I consider more objectionable, and thus have disputed so much, is the idea that the resurrection is extraordinarily unlikely upfront, to the point that it's comparable to a naturalistic change in the properties of water and can thus be dismissed as you dismissed it in your original post in this thread.

You write:

"I'm not the one that has dismissed these type of factors as irrelevant."

I said that the factor under consideration has little significance, not that it's "irrelevant".

You write:

"Assertions don't carry much weight."

I didn't just assert. I explained the differences between a source like Herod and a source like Paul, and I went on to give an analogy concerning American history. That's an argument, not just an assertion.

You write:

"I don't think I've argued that Paul did not believe that Jesus rose from the dead."

You're missing the point. I was explaining the difference between a source like Herod and a source like Paul. I wasn't suggesting that you "argued that Paul did not believe that Jesus rose from the dead".

You write:

"I was asking you to compare the initial probability of the claim that a person flew in a spaceship to a claim that a person flew in a spaceship with God's help. What kind of sense does it make to say the later one doesn't rule out the possibility of something naturalistic? If it's with Divine intervention it isn't naturalistic."

An assertion of a probability doesn't rule out possible alternatives, as I explained earlier. You can believe that it's probable that God acted in a particular context without thereby ignoring the possibility that God wasn't involved.

You write:

"It's that all such claims that I know of, whether true or false, are set in a religious context. You seem to think that because it's in a religious context this makes it more initially plausible. How is that the case when they are always set in a religious context, whether true or false?"

We're discussing events in general in this context, not just events within a religious context, so you're wrong to say that "they are always set in a religious context". Your water example, taken from Arif Ahmed, is less likely to involve a miracle because of its non-religious context. As Moreland and Craig explain:

"A miracle without a context is inherently ambiguous. But if a purported miracle occurs in a significant religio-historical context, then the chances of its being a genuine miracle are increased. For example, if the miracles occur at a momentous time (say, a man's leprosy vanishing when Jesus speaks the words, 'Be clean!') and do not recur regularly in history, and if the miracles are numerous and various, then the chances of their being the result of some unknown natural causes are reduced." (Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview [Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2003], p. 569)

I was addressing whether something like your water example would be more likely to be a miracle if it was set in a religious context like what's described by Moreland and Craig above. A miracle is more likely to occur in a context like Jesus' life than in a context like the one in your water example.

You write:

"I've already talked about how a single eyewitness to a murder is generally not good enough in court, whereas it is good enough if the question is what you had for breakfast this morning. It can be reliable in one sense and unreliable in another."

Asserting that one eyewitness isn't enough "generally" in murder cases doesn't justify your evaluation of eyewitness testimony concerning miraculous events. You still haven't explained why eyewitness testimony supposedly isn't reliable in the latter context.

You write:

"I don't have to provide a precise definition to distinguish an outrageous claim from a non-outrageous claim, just like I don't have to tell you exactly when stubble becomes a beard. I know a beard when I see one and I know stubble when I see it."

The problem isn't just that you aren't giving us a "precise definition". The problem is that you aren't giving us any definition. Are you saying that your judgment on this issue is something that can't be objectively argued, and that you therefore have no objective counterargument to offer if somebody rejects your assertion that a claim is "outrageous"?

You write:

"Why don't you tell us why it's outrageous."

Because you're the one who made the claim. I didn't use that term ("outrageous").

But if you want an explanation of why I would doubt the Spaghettio claim, then see my comments on Joe's analogies involving a man living to the age of 125. I've explained why I would reject the claim. Labeling the claim as "outrageous", and saying that you can dismiss it without even considering evidence such as eyewitness testimony, then refusing to define "outrageous" when asked, doesn't accomplish much.

And if you can't define "outrageous", then how can you define what level of evidence is needed? The term "outrageous" apparently is just a substitute for earlier terms you used, namely "extraordinary" and "exceptional". If outrageous claims require outrageous evidence, then can I just assert that I've provided outrageous evidence and appeal to stubble and a beard when you ask me to justify my assertion?

You write:

"I grant that Jesus, if he existed, had many unique, unprecedented features, just like everyone does. Everyone is a little bit different. Despite these differences, there is much about human life that is the same from person to person. In what way do we know that Jesus is unique such that we would find his resurrection more initially plausible? Seems to me the only things you could point to would involve circular reasoning, but I'll let you explain this in more detail first."

If by "circular reasoning" you mean that you would dispute some of my claims, then how is it "circular reasoning" for me to claim something you would dispute? It's not as though I wouldn't offer any argument to support my claims. I would argue for the conclusion that Jesus was viewed as the Messiah prior to His death, I would argue for His pre-resurrection miracles, etc. I did so in our discussions in 2005, and I've done so many times at Triablogue.

You don't believe that Jesus existed, and you reject the traditional authorship attribution of every New Testament book. That puts you in a tiny minority, and I've argued at length against your positions on such issues, at Triablogue and elsewhere. But most people will grant some of my beliefs related to the upfront probability of Jesus' resurrection.

I'll give a few examples of the issues that would have to be taken into account. The liberal scholar Raymond Brown noted that most scholars think Jesus was a descendant of David (The Birth Of The Messiah [New York, New York: Doubleday, 1999], p. 505). Even as anti-Christian a scholar as Bart Ehrman will acknowledge that Jesus probably was viewed as the Messiah prior to His death (Misquoting Jesus [San Francisco, California: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005], p. 187). Concerning His pre-resurrection miracles:

"all ancient sources which comment on the issue agree that Jesus and his early followers performed miracles: Q, Mark, special material in Mark and Luke, John, Acts, the Epistles, Revelation, and non-Christian testimony from Jewish and pagan sources. (The non-Christian sources attribute the miraculous works to sorcery, which must represent the earliest anti-Christian explanation for Christian miracles.) This unanimity is striking given the conversely unanimous silence in Christian, Jewish, and even Mandean tradition concerning any miracles by respected prophetic figures like John the Baptist….Sanders regards it as an ‘almost indisputable’ historical fact that ‘Jesus was a Galilean who preached and healed.’ Using traditional historical-critical tools, Meier finds many of Jesus’ miracles authentic. Raymond Brown notes that ‘Scholars have come to realize that one cannot dismiss Jesus’ miracles simply on modern rationalist grounds, for the oldest traditions show him as a healer.’ Otto Betz regards it as ‘certain’ that Jesus was a healer, a matter which ‘can be deduced even from the Jewish polemic which called him a sorcerer.’ The miracles are central to the Gospels, and without them, most of the other data in the Gospels are inexplicable. For that matter, there are no contemporary accounts which transform Jewish teachers into miracle workers. Morton Smith thus argues that miracle working is the most authentic part of the Jesus tradition." (Craig Keener, The Gospel Of John: A Commentary, Vol. 1 [Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003], pp. 257-258)

How these scholars view the significance of the alleged miracles varies from case to case. Some consider the alleged miracles supernatural, some offer a naturalistic explanation, and some are undecided. I would argue that the alleged miracles were supernatural, but my point in this context is that an argument has to be made either way. It isn't enough to point out that God hasn't resurrected billions of other people. If Jesus' pre-resurrection life was even what many liberals, atheists, and other non-Evangelical scholars think it was, then Jesus was much different than the average person in ways that are relevant to the likelihood of a resurrection. Even by the standards of non-Evangelical scholarship, Jesus was claiming to be a high-level messenger of God in a religious system that believed in resurrection. That sort of data (and, again, I'm just giving a few examples here) suggests that you need to do a lot more arguing to make your case that the upfront probability of Jesus' resurrection is like the probability of a naturalistic change in the properties of water.

You write:

"Let's suppose you're a cave man. Never heard of earthquakes or witnessed them. So you set up your cave not knowing you're on a fault line. That's a rational move, because you have no expectation that the ground will move. It's never happened before and you have no experience with it. If you witness it move and your cave crashes down you'll be shocked. Why? Because from your perspective (remember, this is a subjective assessment) this was extraordinarily unexpected."

You're not giving us an argument. You're just giving us an analogy in which your conclusions are assumed.

You write:

"As I said, because of your scattershot references and the history I don't think I can be expected to attempt to read and rebut all of your supposed evidence cited."

So, instead of interacting with the material I linked, you offer us vague references to "devoted and superstitious followers". And you don't even interact with the evidence against your position within this thread. My responses to Joe earlier in this thread, in which I discussed the significance of the apostle Paul as a source, for example, aren't from another thread that I linked. They're from this thread. Not only are you ignoring what I've linked, but you're also ignoring some of my relevant comments in this thread.

You write:

"As you also know I've already interacted with your arguments against the claims of superstitious and gullible tendencies of the ancients."

And you repeatedly left the discussions without interacting with my last response to you. You've never cited any evidence for your position that's comparable to the material I cited from Glenn Miller. Miller's article cites a large amount of scholarship and data from primary sources on this subject. (And I've cited more than Miller's material.) In contrast, you keep offering us vague references to the "superstitious and gullible tendencies of the ancients" and examples that don't prove the conclusions you want us to reach.

Even among those who are superstitious or gullible to some extent, a lack of discernment on one issue doesn't necessarily imply a lack of discernment on another. If a witness in a court of law carries a good luck charm with him, we don't conclude that he must be unreliable in his testimony about a crime he witnessed. Earlier, you referred, in an inaccurate and tendentious way, to ancient beliefs related to Genesis 3. But what a person believes about early human history, events he didn't witness and from which he's far removed, doesn't tell us much about his credibility regarding an event he claims to have witnessed. If a man in our day claimed to have witnessed something we would consider miraculous, it would be grossly insufficient to reply by pointing out that he's a young earth creationist.

Saying that ancient people were gullible, superstitious, etc. also fails to address the motives one group of such people would have to argue against the claims of another such group. You consider both Christians and Muslims superstitious, but their superstitions are opposed to each other, and they have an interest in arguing against the historical claims that are made by one another. To say that Saul of Tarsus was a gullible and superstitious man doesn't explain why he would think he witnessed a miracle vindicating a religion he opposed. Saying that ancient Jews and Romans were gullible and superstitious doesn't explain why they corroborated Christian claims that they would have had an interest in denying and which they easily could have denied if the claims were false. Etc.

You write:

"I think it's just obvious that generally speaking the devoted followers are more likely to write about someone."

You're moving the goal posts. You initially said:

"Those that say nothing happened aren't likely to write books about it."

But now you've changed the subject to whether "generally speaking the devoted followers are more likely to write about someone". Those are two different subjects.

You write:

"On the other hand people that really despise Ron Paul will write about him, but I'm not aware of any writings from anyone that despised Jesus while he was alive. We have nothing. This in spite of the fact that the gospels indicate Jesus really was despised by a lot of people. We ought to have something if he was that important a figure, but we don't."

You offer no supporting argument. You just assert your conclusion.

Earlier in this thread, in a portion of the discussion that you perhaps still haven't read, I gave Joe some examples of historical figures in a context similar to that of Jesus who left us with no contemporary documents written in their support or against them (Gamaliel and John the Baptist). Many other examples could be cited from other contexts. Many prominent political leaders of antiquity were despised in some circles. Where are our contemporary writings from such people who despised Herod the Great, Tiberius Caesar, etc.?

Objecting that we don't have more evidence doesn't explain the evidence we have. As I explained in my last response to you, we have a vast amount of data on the beliefs of the early Christians and their opponents. Instead of just suggesting that people in a position to know that Christianity was false might have left no traces in the historical record, you need to address whether such a scenario is probable in light of the evidence.

You write:

"I think these posts are long enough without expecting me to interact with every argument ever made from conservatives about this text."

I didn't ask you to "interact with every argument ever made from conservatives about this text".

You write:

"My point is not to show how reliable Mark is but to point out that even the gospel authors betray an appearance of modifying stories to improve on them, just like we expect with legendary development."

See my earlier citations from Lydia and Timothy McGrew and Craig Keener. If Matthew made a generally conservative use of Mark, then there's an implication of general reliability, as we see in other ancient sources, like the ones cited by Lydia and Timothy McGrew. But you don't think the gospels are generally conservative. You think they're so radically unreliable that you don't even believe that Jesus existed.

You write:

"I'm talking about the tendency of successive people to improve on the story. This is relevant to the question of whether or not the evidence would be produced if false."

If they preserve most of the story, but differ in some details, then the implication would be that what you're criticizing only occurred a minority of the time. But you don't think that the gospels are just wrong in such lesser details.

And you aren't interacting with any of the examples I've cited of more developed material in earlier sources. Paul refers to more resurrection witnesses than any of the gospels. John only names one woman at the empty tomb. Etc.

Furthermore, why assume that a later account shouldn't be more developed? Why wouldn't a later source, knowing what earlier sources mentioned and desiring to supplement them, add to what had previously been reported? He wouldn't have to add anything, and he might even subtract content in some cases, but there's nothing inherently wrong with developing an account.

Wow, you guys are still at it?

Jason, I thought you'd like to hear that you've convinced me. Extraordinary claims do not require extraordinary evidence.

Problem is, now that I've lowered the bar, I can't decide which religion to convert to first. Right now, I'm thinking Mormon, you know, the old-style polygamy Mormonism. I could get into sex with lots of different women. And after all, there's sooo much ordinary evidence that Joe Smith had golden plates.

Or maybe I should go with the Greek gods. They did help the Greeks sack Troy. Pretty convincing.

I liked the stuff about visions, too. Now I know that is true that there really were witches in Salem, MA. Good thing we hung 'em.

Well, that about it really. Just thought that you'd want to know that I've learned a lot and found your arguments compelling.

Your analogy is incomplete and misleading. I've cited far more evidence for the upfront likelihood of Jesus' resurrection than you mention for the upfront likelihood of Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad's resurrection.

The only mention I recall of this "far more evidence" you've cited for the upfront likelihood of Jesus' resurrection is this:

The background knowledge wouldn't be limited to information outside of the gospels. The gospels give us information about Jesus' life prior to the resurrection. And other sources give us information about Jesus that would be relevant. I've given examples repeatedly. Jesus was perceived to be the Messiah, He had a reputation as a miracle worker, etc.

Is that it? Did you say something else? Because if this is it it's also true in my analogy, so what is incomplete and misleading about my analogy?

Are you suggesting something comparable to a naturalistic change in the properties of water, something so significant that you can dismiss Jesus' resurrection on the basis of that upfront improbability?

For practical purposes, yes. I view the resurrection claim pretty much like I would view a claim about water at 600°C. It's so exceptionally and extraordinarily initially implausible based upon our background assumptions that I think it is perfectly rational to dismiss it out of hand. We all act this way with so many claims, like claims about others rising from the dead or other claimed supernatural events that we hear about from devoted followers that it's rational to react the same way to Jesus' claim. Personally I'll still listen to the evidence offered for such claims and consider it only because I find it interesting, but for many others it's not worth even investigating. In my view that is very understandable.

Your claim that I've previously "provided web links that I claim answer questions that in fact do not" doesn't justify ignoring the articles I cited.

I think it does.

I had said:

No, extraordinary is not defined as unprecedented.

You replied:

Not any longer, since your initial appeal to precedent failed.

How is it that it failed? Precedence is very much relevant. Craig and Moreland understand this. The fact that I didn't discuss every aspect of why we believe what we believe in a single post is not a demonstration that the appeal to precedence "failed".

If you had only said that the resurrection is unlikely upfront, I would have disagreed, but I wouldn't have disputed the point to this extent.

Interesting how radically differently we see things from the background assumption perspective. Yeah, I do see it like 600°C water and apparently to you it's not even implausible when you consider it before even looking to the evidence. It isn't at all surprising that you find the evidence persuasive. For you there is very little initial implausibility to overcome.

I said that the factor under consideration has little significance, not that it's "irrelevant".

Craig and Moreland place heavy emphasis on the probability that the evidence would be produced if the claim is false in their lottery example. For them it's a very important factor. I offered evidence related to that factor and you say it has "little significance". I don't know why you expect your opinion to carry weight on this matter. I've talked before about how you seem oblivious to your own biases. Here you're also telling us that you don't regard the resurrection claim as initially implausible based upon our background knowledge. I doubt any skeptic here would think that your opinion that these things have "little significance" matters much.

I didn't just assert. I explained the differences between a source like Herod and a source like Paul, and I went on to give an analogy concerning American history.

You can give an analogy and compare experts to layman, but this in no way demonstrates that in fact Paul is an expert relying on good evidence and Herod is a layman speaking out of ignorance. What you know is that someone told a story in which it made sense to have a character (Herod) that falsely believed a resurrection had occurred. This author gives no indication that they thought this was unusual or irrational. In my view this is directly relevant to the important factor in Bayes' Theorem that Craig discussed. Paul may have been the expert. The gospels may have recorded Herod's views accurately. But this is not actually the data we have. Our data is that we have a claim about Herod believing falsely in a resurrection. You are introducing convenient analogies as if they represented the data we are working with, but they do not.

I was addressing whether something like your water example would be more likely to be a miracle if it was set in a religious context like what's described by Moreland and Craig above. A miracle is more likely to occur in a context like Jesus' life than in a context like the one in your water example.

That is arguably true, but my point is that it's also true that the evidence is more likely to emerge even if false in a religious context. In other words, You must consider P(E/~H). It could conceivably help you with regards to P(H) but it hurts you with regards to P(E/~H). So you must show the combined impact.

And let's remember that the illustration that you use with Jesus saying "Be clean" and the person being healed is not the data we're working with. We don't know that Jesus resurrected in fulfillment of his own predictions for instance. You must keep in mind that what we have is a story that a person was cured when someone said "be clean." We have a story that Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection and fulfilled it. So when you talk about the "religious context" you should focus on the actual data we have. We have data emerging from people that happen to be very religious. That's what I mean by "religious context." You seem to suggest it as if we know that Jesus predicted his death and resurrection, but we do not know this. This is part of what is in dispute. It's not background knowledge.

Asserting that one eyewitness isn't enough "generally" in murder cases doesn't justify your evaluation of eyewitness testimony concerning miraculous events. You still haven't explained why eyewitness testimony supposedly isn't reliable in the latter context.

In my world since miracles are even more initially implausible then murders better evidence is required to establish them. So if a single eyewitness isn't good enough for murders than it follows immediately that they are not good enough for miracles. Is it your position that a resurrection is less initially implausible than a murder?

The problem is that you aren't giving us any definition.

I think you are just being pedantic. Earlier I talked about devoted followers telling fantastical claims about their heroes. You replied: How are you defining "devoted followers", "ready to tell", "fantastical", and "heroes"? Get a dictionary if you don't know what words mean. These are common words used in an ordinary sense. Anybody attempting to understand me knows what I'm talking about. I've used so many examples and discussed it up down and sideways.

The liberal scholar Raymond Brown noted that most scholars think Jesus was a descendant of David (The Birth Of The Messiah [New York, New York: Doubleday, 1999], p. 505).

No skeptic would call him a liberal.

Even as anti-Christian a scholar as Bart Ehrman will acknowledge that Jesus probably was viewed as the Messiah prior to His death

Yes, that could help P(H). Not enough to raise it above a 1 chance in billions in my view, but it's not hurting you. On the other hand (in my view, remember, these are subjective) I think it hurts you on P(E/~H). When a person believed to be the Messiah suffers a crushing defeat the devoted followers don't want to give up and they can come to believe that in fact they were right all along and their beloved has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat despite the fact that this is false. We have history of this.

You quote Keener to the effect that the ancient sources regarded Jesus as a miracle worker. The same reasoning applies.

You're not giving us an argument. You're just giving us an analogy in which your conclusions are assumed.

I don't know how you can say that. You said if you witnessed the first earthquake you wouldn't have any reason to consider it extraordinarily improbable. I merely created a hypothetical that developed your own analogy and it's obvious that the cave man would consider it extraordinarily improbable. He probably wouldn't believe a single eyewitness report, and that's rational. Unless you can show that he's irrational to be shocked or irrational to doubt his wife's report then you are wrong.

They're from this thread. Not only are you ignoring what I've linked, but you're also ignoring some of my relevant comments in this thread.

And of course I have now addressed the irrelevant nature of your analogy about Paul being an expert and Herod a dunce above.

And you repeatedly left the discussions without interacting with my last response to you.

Yes I did. And I've explained why repeatedly and it has nothing to do with the force of your arguments as you already know.

Even among those who are superstitious or gullible to some extent, a lack of discernment on one issue doesn't necessarily imply a lack of discernment on another.

To look to what is "necessarily implied" is to miss the boat entirely. Things don't have to be "necessarily implied" to be rationally believed. Just because only one person in the room of 100 is vegetarian and just because 1 of the 100 people ordered a vegetarian meal, this doesn't necessarily imply that the vegetarian ordered the vegetarian meal. Maybe he's trying meat for the first time. Fine. This doesn't mean it isn't reasonable to conclude that he did.

If a man in our day claimed to have witnessed something we would consider miraculous, it would be grossly insufficient to reply by pointing out that he's a young earth creationist.

I disagree.

To say that Saul of Tarsus was a gullible and superstitious man doesn't explain why he would think he witnessed a miracle vindicating a religion he opposed.

That alone is not intended to explain why he switched religions.

Saying that ancient Jews and Romans were gullible and superstitious doesn't explain why they corroborated Christian claims that they would have had an interest in denying and which they easily could have denied if the claims were false.

That alone is not intended to explain Roman or Jewish corroboration of Christian claims. You shouldn't assume that every point I make is intended to respond to every piece of data you might offer. The fact that the evidence for the resurrection is produced by people that lived in a highly superstitious and gullible environment is very relevant, despite the fact that it doesn't address every related issue.

But now you've changed the subject to whether "generally speaking the devoted followers are more likely to write about someone". Those are two different subjects.

And they are both true.

You offer no supporting argument. You just assert your conclusion.

Are you expecting me to cite evidence for the non-existence of writings critical of Jesus that were contemporaneous with his life?

Where are our contemporary writings from such people who despised Herod the Great, Tiberius Caesar, etc.?

I said generally speaking. Nobody said that everyone despised must have contemporary critical writing against them. I'm simply pointing out that there is selection bias going on here. You say things like "everyone that wrote about Jesus made similar claims." That may be true, but what about selection bias? I think it's obvious that this is a factor.

If Matthew made a generally conservative use of Mark, then there's an implication of general reliability, as we see in other ancient sources, like the ones cited by Lydia and Timothy McGrew.

I'm not addressing general reliability. I use the Abiathar correction in Matthew and the modification to "Why do you call me good" to demonstrate a pattern of improving the story with time. Do you deny that this is relevant to P(E/~H)?

If they preserve most of the story, but differ in some details, then the implication would be that what you're criticizing only occurred a minority of the time.

So? It's as if they're telling us "Most of what I'm writing isn't made up, though some of it is. And you should believe me when I tell you he rose from the dead." That's a tough pill to swallow. If they didn't have any tendencies to improve the story they become more believable.

And you aren't interacting with any of the examples I've cited of more developed material in earlier sources. Paul refers to more resurrection witnesses than any of the gospels. John only names one woman at the empty tomb.

Why would I interact with that when it changes nothing? We have evidence that the story is being improved as time goes by. That's my point and it's relevant to P(E/~H).

He wouldn't have to add anything, and he might even subtract content in some cases, but there's nothing inherently wrong with developing an account.

Nobody said it's wrong. I'm not denying that it could be true even though it fits a pattern that suggests improvement to the story. What I'm saying is that when we see a pattern that fits a legendary development hypothesis, this is relevant. Even though it doesn't "necessarily imply" that it's wrong.

Jon wrote:

"I view the resurrection claim pretty much like I would view a claim about water at 600°C. It's so exceptionally and extraordinarily initially implausible based upon our background assumptions that I think it is perfectly rational to dismiss it out of hand."

You still haven't justified that position. As I explained earlier, we accept many things in life for which we have no precedent, usually on the basis of ordinary evidence, such as eyesight or a news report. A lack of precedent doesn't make something "so exceptionally and extraordinarily initially implausible based upon our background assumptions that it is perfectly rational to dismiss it out of hand". If a lack of precedent doesn't render the resurrection so initially unlikely, then what supposedly does?

You write:

"We all act this way with so many claims, like claims about others rising from the dead or other claimed supernatural events that we hear about from devoted followers that it's rational to react the same way to Jesus' claim."

You're not giving us any reason to agree with your claim that "we all" act that way. I don't act that way, and I know of many other people who deny that they act that way. That's why people often change their beliefs, such as from no religion to a religion or from one religion to another.

We've addressed the supernatural claims of non-Christians many times at Triablogue, such as here, and we haven't argued in the manner in which you're arguing.

You write:

"What you know is that someone told a story in which it made sense to have a character (Herod) that falsely believed a resurrection had occurred. This author gives no indication that they thought this was unusual or irrational."

Why would a gospel author need to explain to his readers that Herod was wrong or that his beliefs were "unusual or irrational"? Authors often mention something without commenting on its correctness, unusualness, or rationality. Do you expect Josephus or Tacitus to make such comments about every event he narrates?

You write:

"Paul may have been the expert. The gospels may have recorded Herod's views accurately. But this is not actually the data we have. Our data is that we have a claim about Herod believing falsely in a resurrection. You are introducing convenient analogies as if they represented the data we are working with, but they do not."

You aren't addressing the distinctions between Herod and Paul that I mentioned. The credibility of a historian who studies American history isn't diminished much by the average person's ignorance of American history. Similarly, Paul's credibility isn't diminished much by Herod's lack of credibility. The two men are significantly different in their closeness to the relevant evidence, the consequences they would have expected to suffer if wrong, etc. Herod diminishes Paul's credibility about as much as your ignorance of the Gettysburg Address would diminish an American historian's credibility on that subject.

You write:

"And let's remember that the illustration that you use with Jesus saying 'Be clean' and the person being healed is not the data we're working with. We don't know that Jesus resurrected in fulfillment of his own predictions for instance."

And your denial of Jesus' predictions wouldn't prevent me or others who disagree with you from arguing to the contrary, as I have in the past. But the significance of the timing of Jesus' resurrection wouldn't depend on Jesus' having predicted His resurrection. Even without such a prediction, it would be significant for a resurrection to occur after a life like that of Jesus. To repeat some examples I cited earlier, it would make more sense for Jesus to be resurrected than for an ordinary farmer or housewife to be resurrected.

You write:

"This is part of what is in dispute. It's not background knowledge."

Background knowledge is often controversial. That's why Christians like Richard Swinburne, Stephen Davis, and Lydia and Timothy McGrew will disagree with a non-Christian like Michael Martin about the prior probability of the resurrection. They don't just disagree about the significance of the facts. They disagree about the facts as well. I was arguing with Joe about such factual issues relevant to the prior probability of the resurrection before you entered this thread. I'm not going to limit myself to the background facts that you agree with me about when responding to your position.

You write:

"In my world since miracles are even more initially implausible then murders better evidence is required to establish them. So if a single eyewitness isn't good enough for murders than it follows immediately that they are not good enough for miracles. Is it your position that a resurrection is less initially implausible than a murder?"

You haven't demonstrated that "a single eyewitness isn't good enough for murders". And a prior probability is judged by more data than how common an event has been. If somebody suggested that a one-year-old child murdered a man who was living thousands of miles away at the time, we would take more into account than how often murders occur. Murders are more common than resurrections, but other factors would be taken into account as well. As I said earlier, I don't deny that a non-miraculous event, like a murder, has a higher prior probability than a miraculous event, like a resurrection, in isolated categories. But the overall prior probability of an event has to take all of the relevant data into account.

You write:

"Get a dictionary if you don't know what words mean. These are common words used in an ordinary sense. Anybody attempting to understand me knows what I'm talking about."

I just took the dictionary off my desk, a Webster's dictionary, and looked up "extraordinary". Here's the first definition given: "not according to the usual custom or regular plan".

Is it "usual" or "regular" for a man like Saul of Tarsus to claim to have seen the resurrected leader of a religious movement he was opposing? No. Therefore, Paul's experience is extraordinary evidence for the resurrection.

But that's not what you're asking for. You aren't using that dictionary definition.

I've repeatedly explained the problematic nature of the phrase "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". You've repeatedly tried to avoid addressing the issue in detail. You tell me that you don't want to read the articles I link. You tell me that what I'm asking you is like asking when stubble becomes a beard. Etc. And now you tell me to look up the word in a dictionary. But looking the word up in a dictionary doesn't resolve the problems with the phrase in question.

You write:

"When a person believed to be the Messiah suffers a crushing defeat the devoted followers don't want to give up and they can come to believe that in fact they were right all along and their beloved has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat despite the fact that this is false. We have history of this."

That's not what normally happens. And even when it does happen, why would people believe that a resurrection had occurred? Why not just redefine the death, so that it's no longer seen as a defeat? Or believe in visions, a resuscitation, an assumption, etc.? Why a resurrection? As N.T. Wright has noted, after studying religious movements in Israel around the time of Jesus' death (the historical data most relevant to Jesus):

"So far as we know, all the followers of these first-century messianic movements were fanatically committed to the cause. They, if anybody, might be expected to suffer from this blessed twentieth century disease called 'cognitive dissonance' when their expectations failed to materialize. But in no case, right across the century before Jesus and the century after him, do we hear of any Jewish group saying that their executed leader had been raised from the dead and he really was the Messiah after all." (cited in Paul Copan and Ronald Tacelli, edd., Jesus' Resurrection: Fact Or Figment? [Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000], p. 183)

You write:

"You quote Keener to the effect that the ancient sources regarded Jesus as a miracle worker. The same reasoning applies."

Keener gave an example of a highly regarded religious leader who didn't have such miracle accounts surrounding him (John the Baptist). And he mentioned non-Christian sources. How would your reasoning about "devoted followers" apply to those non-Christian sources?

You write:

"You said if you witnessed the first earthquake you wouldn't have any reason to consider it extraordinarily improbable. I merely created a hypothetical that developed your own analogy and it's obvious that the cave man would consider it extraordinarily improbable."

Your conclusion isn't "obvious". It's something you assert without arguing for it. Here's the entirety of your original claim:

"Let's suppose you're a cave man. Never heard of earthquakes or witnessed them. So you set up your cave not knowing you're on a fault line. That's a rational move, because you have no expectation that the ground will move. It's never happened before and you have no experience with it. If you witness it move and your cave crashes down you'll be shocked. Why? Because from your perspective (remember, this is a subjective assessment) this was extraordinarily unexpected. Shock is a reasonable reaction at that point. Or suppose you didn't witness the earthquake. Your wife runs to you and tells you that the cave has crashed down because the earth moved. You might not believe her until you see it yourself. That's perfectly rational based upon the initial implausibility (from your subjective perspective)."

Where's your argument that the earthquake would be considered "extraordinarily improbable"? Your cave man account assumes that position, but doesn't argue for it.

You write:

"Unless you can show that he's irrational to be shocked or irrational to doubt his wife's report then you are wrong."

No, I could be agnostic on the point and still reject your assertion that the earthquake should be considered extraordinarily unlikely.

But I've explained why it shouldn't be considered extraordinarily unlikely in the sense in which you're using that term. The significance of precedent is that we don't expect the same circumstances to produce different results. The cave man should know that he's ignorant of much of the relevant data. He only lives in one part of the world. He has significantly limited knowledge of the past. He doesn't know much about the physical elements involved in earthquakes. Unlike your water example that you took from Arif Ahmed, the cave man doesn't have a long history of testing to see if earthquakes naturally occur under the circumstances in question. How would his experience logically lead him to the conclusion that an earthquake would be extraordinarily unlikely?

And, as I pointed out earlier, if we do consider the first earthquake extraordinarily unlikely, and we accept it on the basis of ordinary evidence, such as eyesight or the testimony of other people, then we're accepting an extraordinary event on the basis of ordinary evidence. If the alleged prior extraordinary improbability of an earthquake or some other unprecedented event can be overcome with ordinary evidence, as often occurs in our lives when we accept things that had previously been unprecedented to us, then why can't the same occur with something like Jesus' resurrection?

You write:

"And of course I have now addressed the irrelevant nature of your analogy about Paul being an expert and Herod a dunce above."

I didn't say that Herod is "a dunce", and I didn't suggest that most people are ignorant of some aspects of American history because they're "dunces". You're poisoning the well.

I had said:

"If a man in our day claimed to have witnessed something we would consider miraculous, it would be grossly insufficient to reply by pointing out that he's a young earth creationist."

And you replied:

"I disagree."

And you don't explain why. As I explained earlier, there's a difference between forming a belief about something you've witnessed and forming a belief about the distant past. You aren't interacting with that distinction I made. Instead, you're just telling us that you disagree with my conclusion. Shouldn't you interact with my reasoning cited to support my conclusion instead of just telling us that you disagree with the conclusion?

Not only are beliefs about the distant past different from beliefs about what we've witnessed, but the conditions under which one belief is formed can be significantly different from the conditions under which another belief was formed in other ways as well, even if both beliefs are similar in content. If a man hasn't given much thought to the issues surrounding creation and the age of the earth, whereas he has given a lot of thought to what he considers an experience of witnessing a miracle, then the two beliefs are significantly different in the amount of thought that went into them, despite the fact that they're both beliefs about something supernatural.

That's why near-death researchers, for example, don't spend much time discussing whether the people they're studying believe in young earth creationism or good luck charms, for example. You might as well argue against the eyewitness account of a court witness concerning a natural event, such as an automobile accident, on the basis that he's wrong about a lot of natural events of the more distant past (the history of the automobile industry, the fossil record, the Big Bang, etc.).

You write:

"You shouldn't assume that every point I make is intended to respond to every piece of data you might offer."

I don't have to make that assumption in order to point out that you're not addressing all of the evidence.

You write:

"The fact that the evidence for the resurrection is produced by people that lived in a highly superstitious and gullible environment is very relevant, despite the fact that it doesn't address every related issue."

Since the degree to which the people in question were "superstitious and gullible" is in dispute, it's not enough for you to keep making vague comments like the above. I've cited the work of Glenn Miller and others who have addressed this subject in far more depth than you ever have in any of our discussions. You aren't advancing the discussion. You're just repeating the same vague assertion over and over again while ignoring the arguments to the contrary.

You write:

"Are you expecting me to cite evidence for the non-existence of writings critical of Jesus that were contemporaneous with his life?"

I'm expecting you to interact with the arguments I presented as to the likelihood that your proposed scenario would leave no traces in the historical record.

You write:

"Nobody said that everyone despised must have contemporary critical writing against them."

Here's what you wrote earlier:

"On the other hand people that really despise Ron Paul will write about him, but I'm not aware of any writings from anyone that despised Jesus while he was alive. We have nothing. This in spite of the fact that the gospels indicate Jesus really was despised by a lot of people. We ought to have something if he was that important a figure, but we don't."

You said that we "ought to" have such records for Jesus, since He was "that important a figure". I gave you examples of people who were more prominent in society than Jesus, such as Tiberius Caesar, for whom we don't have the sort of records you tell us we "ought to" have.

You haven't justified your claim that we ought to have such records related to Jesus. Saying that you allow some exceptions to your argument doesn't justify the argument or explain why Jesus can't be an exception.

You write:

"I'm not addressing general reliability. I use the Abiathar correction in Matthew and the modification to 'Why do you call me good' to demonstrate a pattern of improving the story with time."

If something only occurs a minority of the time, then there's a larger pattern of not "improving the story".

You write:

"Nobody said it's wrong. I'm not denying that it could be true even though it fits a pattern that suggests improvement to the story. What I'm saying is that when we see a pattern that fits a legendary development hypothesis, this is relevant. Even though it doesn't 'necessarily imply' that it's wrong."

If the pattern also fits the traditional Christian view, then you're not giving us any reason to prefer your explanation.

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