Reasons for Joy; In Gentleness, and Respect.

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The election is over, so set the political hyperbole aside.  Whether you like the outcome or fear it, make realistic predictions for what will happen in the next 4 years.  As the years unfold, we can check back and see how you've done. 

Here's a good article that discusses the Anthropic Principle, how it should be used in science, and touches on how it is often misused:

What Can The Simple Fact That ‘We Exist’ Teach Us About The Universe?

The original thread somehow got locked.

Use this tread to post responses to the locked one.

Note that I have replaced my "epistemological principle" with a straightforward logical argument. See my first post, below (right after Tom's)

Choose Your Own Topic / Explaining "lucky to be alive" (FTA Relevant)
« on: April 11, 2020, 02:27:55 pm »
Some instances of "luck" require explanation, while others don't.  I'd like to see if we can identify the features  that distinguish cases in which luck requires an explanations from those that do not.

Consider these two cases:

1. Mary is lucky to be alive! She was on a flight to Detroit, and the plane crashed killing 98 of the 100 people on board.

2. John is lucky to be alive! Had his parents not had sex on that particular day, uniting that specific sperm and ovum - he wouldn't be here.  Here's how many different combinations of sperm and ovum there are between two people: 282,000,000,000,000,000. The same is true of each of his parents, as well as every pair of ancestors throughout biological history. Consider the odds that JOHN would come to be!

Intuitively, Mary's luck needs to be explained, but John's luck doesn't.  Can we make sense of this intuition?  I'd like to propose what the relevant difference is. 

In Mary's case, there were two possibilities: either she would live (be lucky) or die (be unlucky).  We need to explain why she fell on the side of the dichotomy that she did. We would expect her to die, so why did she survive? 

In John's case, there is no such dichotomy.  A non-existent John isn't unlucky, because luck (whether good or bad) applies only to things that exist.  Why? Because there can be no prior expectation that was not met. There can be no prior expectations about things that don't exist.

The relevant difference is this dichotomy. A person 's good luck only needs to be explained if he could have had bad luck; i.e..there is some prior expectation that was not met and there can be none for a non-existent.

Does this seem reasonable? 

Harvey believes the existence of life in our universe implies:

H1: life should be expected.

Obviously, the probability of life in THIS universe is 1. But Harvey says that H1 is a general expectation, with general scope - we should generally expect universes to have life.

Harvey also trusts modelling that has been done, based on current physics, that show that changes in the fundamental parameters of physics would tend to result in universes that are not life permitting. This implies:

T1: life is improbable

Next he claims that we need to explain how H1 and T1 can both be true. Do we? This seems problematic to me. Why should we believe  H1 and T1 are BOTH true?  It seems to me, that if we accept T1 as true, that this falsifies H1, and vice versa.

T1 is a statement about probability. In effect: n possible universes have been analyzed,  m of these are life-permitting. The probability of a life-permitting universe is m/n. H1 is also a statement about probability: for life to be "expected" in universes, it must be relatively high probability. 

Consider the basis for H1: the observation of life in ONE universe (ours). That seems to me a very weak basis for calulating a probability.  Maybe we should believe the theory instead.  But remember it's important to Harvey's case that both  H1 and T1 are true; it is their conjunction that is so difficult to explain.  I felt Harvey was being irrational to insist both H1 and T1 are true. So I suggested the following as a general epistemic principle:

1)  initial hypothesis
2) a theory (developed independently of the hypothesis) that makes a prediction that is inconsistent with the initial hypothesis.

There are 3 possible conclusions from those facts:

1. The initial hypothesis is true and the theory is wrong (the theory is falsified)
2. The theory is correct and the initial hypothesis is wrong (the hypothesis is falsified)
3. Both theory and hypothesis are true, and this must be reconciled.

#3 can only be rational to conclude if both the initial hypothesis and the theory prediction are so well supported that neither can be denied.

Harvey doesn't think this principle is reasonable. He thinks it's so far out, that even the non-theist members of the forum would reject it. So I'd like to hear what you guys think:

Is my principle unreasonable (as Harvey believes)? Is it simply too broad? Can it be improved? Is Harvey right that we should just assume H1 and T1 are both true?

Choose Your Own Topic / Reasonable vs Unreasonable Skepticism
« on: April 01, 2020, 09:44:51 am »
Reasonable vs Unreasonable Skepticism

Theists on this forum often complain about the unreasonable skepticism of atheists.  I expect most would agree that SOME level of skepticism is appropriate (a complete absence of skepticism entails extreme gullibility).  What's the dividing line?

Should premises be accepted if they aren't provably false? Should they only be accepted if they are provably true? 

Yesterday, Orthodox Jew asserted the level of skepticism by atheists is "unwarranted".  Harvey called it, "deny, deny,  deny".  What level of skepticism IS warranted? What's the rational alternative to "deny, deny, deny"? Surely it can't be "accept, accept  accept".

Rush Limbaugh was in the news this week for suggesting America isn't ready for a "gay man kising his husband" as President.  I pondered this from my politically liberal, atheist point of view - and it seems to me that this would imply there is still too much anti-gay prejudice in this country - because homosexuality has no bearing on the intellignce, knowledge, or judgment of that man. 

That said, I''m curious of the perspective of evangelicals.  Could you vote for a gay man based on his merits (assume you agree with his policy views and consider him intellectually adequate) and ignore the fact that he's gay - and in a gay marriage? 

If you're tempted to say no, because he's actively sinning and showcasing this sinful lifestyle, consider Trump.

Is the non-existence of the universe really metaphysically possible?
It seems to me that it's possible that the universe's non-existence is metaphysically impossible.  I'm not saying this is probably true - just that there's at least a very small probability that the universe's non-existence is impossible. 

By "the universe", I'm not referring to the specific form our universe has, with galaxies, planets, the known set of elements and their properties.  It may very well be that the universe might have had a different form due to the randomness of quantum collapse.  e.g. perhaps the fundamental constants could have differed, in which case the universe would be very different (and we wouldn't exist) - but it would still exist.  Given this broad definition of universe, why should we think it metaphysically possible for the universe to not exist? 

Do not assume God exists - obviously if God exists, he could have chosen not to create the universe.  I'm looking for good, neutral reasons to believe the universe's non-existence is truly metaphysically possible.

Choose Your Own Topic / The First Cause argument for Agnostic Deism
« on: September 22, 2019, 02:12:41 pm »
I've been discussing this for years, and no one has ever refuted it.  I started to post it as a response in another thread, but decided it was better to start a new thread to get it more attention.

1. The current state of existence was caused by the prior state. 
2. This implies either there is an infinite causal chain of past states or there was a first cause
3. An infinite causal chain is impossible because that would entail a completed infinity, which is impossible (this is not PROVABLY impossible, but most forum members accept this - as do I.  I can provide a non-deductive argument for it if someone wishes to challenge it).
4. Therefore there is an uncaused first cause (2,3)
5. The uncaused first cause either exists out of metaphysical necessity or it exists by brute fact. (there are no other logical possibilities)
6. A first cause that exists out of metaphysical necessity must be causally efficacious (rephrasing the first part of #5)
7. Both (brute fact) & (causally efficacious necessary existent) are logically possible (neither can be shown to  be impossible)
8. Let LPE(X)= the epistemic principle that logical possibility is insufficient grounds for believing X, so X should be rejected (i.e. logical possibility alone is too weak to justify a belief)
9. LPE(brute facts): we should reject the existence of brute facts because there is no evidence for their existence; there is only logical possibility
10. LPE(causally efficacious necessary entity): we should reject the existence of a causally efficacious necessary entity because there is no evidence for such existing; there is only logical possibility.
11. Therefore our metaphysical analysis must stop with the following justified belief: the first cause is either: (a brute fact) or a (causally efficacious necessary existent). (This proposition is necessarily true, because there are no other possibilities).

In my experience, theists who claim there must be a necessarily existing God stop at #9, and do not consider #10.  That seems irrational.

Does anyone see a problem with the argument? Have I made any conversions? 

Choose Your Own Topic / Aliens and Libertarian Free Will
« on: August 05, 2019, 08:25:48 pm »
Premise: humans have libertarian free will (LFW).

Suppose a family of extra-terrestrial aliens arrives on earth, the last of their kind.  They appear identical to humans in every way: appearance, biology, behavior, etc.   Nevertheless we want to know if they have LFW. How can we determine this?

Suppose the ET alien parents die, leaving their lone infant child in your care to raise as your own.  After a year, we gain absolute knowledge that these aliens do not have LFW (irrespective of your answer to the first question). Does this alter your expectations for his future life?  Will you still teach your adopted alien child to behave morally? Would this be worthwhile or futile?  If you are a Christian, will you raise him as Christian? Can he experience salvation?

*edit* (I'm adding my thoughts and motivation here, because no one has yet figured it out.

Here's my points.

1. it is impossible to know if humans possess LFW.   Human behavior, our thought processes, the acquiring of beliefs, etc are consistent with both possibilities.  We engage in the act of making choices either way, and these choices are influenced by the beliefs we hold.

2. Consider that you (who has LFW) is raising an alien child that lacks LFW.  The world is not deterministic, because humans possess LFW.  The child, even though lacking LFW, can be taught to live a good moral life - or it could learn to be immoral.  The child still has empathy, and can experience love, hate, empathy, pride, and shame.  You can teach the child to behave morally by showing it love, and encouraging him to love others.  You can teach the child to empathize with those who are suffering, and that he can sometimes help alleviate that suffering - and feel good about having done so.  You can teach him to feel shame for doing harm.  During the course of its life, the child could either be a force for good, or a force for evil. The child will make choices that are a products of its beliefs, including the moral beliefs you have taught it.  So of course you should teach it morality.

 Will teaching the child to believe in Christianity and live a good Christian life result in salvation?  How do you know it won't?  Therefore shouldn't you do what is in your power to make it so, even though you can't know for sure?  Irrespective of his personal salvation, wouldn't the world be a better place if the child lives a good Christian life than if he doesn't?

What do the Resurrection arguments of William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas purport to do? Do they purport to provide an argument that ought to convince an open minded individual, or does it merely provide rational support for a Christian’s belief in the Resurrection?  I’ve always assumed the former, but from my discussions with some Christians on this forum, I have the impression they are treating it in the latter way, since their response to my rebuttals often seem to be placing a burden of proof on me to prove one or more of their assumptions are false (e.g. that the Gospels represent eyewitness accounts, or that they were written very early).

If we can’t get on the same page with the framework of the arguments, then we can’t have meaningful discussions, and it makes for frustrating exchanges on both sides.  I’d like to hear the opinions of other Christian members of this forum on this issue. I have listed below the framework that I believe applies to the Resurrection arguments.

1.   For purposes of examining arguments for the Resurrection, define an idealized open-minded person (OMP) to be a hypothetical individual who accepts the existence of God and the possibility of miracles, but no other preconceived beliefs about anything in the New Testament or about any other relevant possible-facts of history (i.e. he neither affirms nor denies any controversial propositions about the past that are relevant to the argument).  He is agnostic to all relevant issues and weighs things fairly. (remember, this is an idealization).
2.   An argument for the Resurrection should be deemed “successful,” if it makes a rational case that ought to convince the hypothetical OMP described in #1. this would need more fleshing out, but it's at least a starting point
3.   An argument should be deemed convincing if, and only if, it is shown to be more likely than not, to be true. i.e. it has to "beat" the principle of indifference.
4.   A successful argument for the Resurrection utilizes only premises that an OMP (as defined in #1) agrees with.  If the argument depends on additional assumptions, the proponent of the argument has to make a successful case for those assumptions.
5.   Open mind regarding miracles: the OMP does not believe miracles impossible, but he also does not prima facie assume every proposed miracle is true.  Stronger evidence is needed for proposed miracles to be accepted as true than for mundane matters to be accepted as true (just HOW strong is a matter that needs more discussion).
6.   Epistemological judgments about what is true should be based on a consistent standard. In particular, historical matters do not deserve a more lenient standard of warrant for belief.
7.   Burden of Proof: When someone claims to have a successful argument for the Resurrection, they are assuming the burden of proof. (conversely, if someone were to claim they could disprove the Resurrection, they would have the burden of proof).
8.   If a proposed argument for the Resurrection does not succeed, this does not prove the Resurrection did not happen.

Question for discussion: does the above represent a reasonable framework for evaluating Craig’s and Habermas’s Resurrection arguments? If not, what should be changed?

*edited* - I previously referred to an OMA=Open Minded Agnostic, but this gave the impression I was referring to someone who was agnostic to God's existence.  OMP better captures the idealization I had in mind.

R. Joseph Hoffman is a historian specializing in early Christian origins.  He has written an article discussing the use of Bayes' theorem as a tool for analyzing history. The first part of his article is a criticism of Richard Carrier's use of Bayes' theorem for proving Jesus didn't exist, but then he turns to a similar criticism of Swinburne's use of it to prove the resurrection. The full article is here.  Here's some selected comments:

  • The current discussion among Jesus-deniers and mythicists over whether probability in the form of Bayes’s Rule can be used in historical research is more than a little amusing.
  • Historical argumentation is both non-intuitive and probabilistic (in the sense of following the “law of likelihood”); but tends to favor the view that Bayes’s excessive use of “prior possibilities”  are subjective and lack probative force. 
  • The fact of the matter, as far as I know, and as I thought anyone would realize is that Bayes’ theorem is a theorem which follows from certain axioms. Its application to any real world situation depends upon how precisely the parameters and values of our theoretical reconstruction of a real world approximate reality. At this stage, however, I find it difficult to see how the heavily feared ‘subjectivity’ can be avoided. Simply put, plug in different values into the theorem and you’ll get a different answer. How does one decide which value to plug in?

    Secondly, is it compulsory to try to impose some sort of mathematically based methodological uniformity on all fields of rational inquiry? Do there exist good reasons to suppose the the methods commonly used in different areas that have grown over time are somehow fatally flawed if they are not currently open to some form of mathematization?

    If this kind of paradigm does somehow manage to gain ascendency, I assume history books will end up being much more full of equations and mathematical assumptions etc. While that will certainly make it harder to read for most (even for someone like me, who is more trained in Mathematics than the average person) I doubt that it would have any real consequence beyond that.”
  • Using Bayesian probability and lashings of highfalutin’ mathematical jargon, Swinburne argues that “it [is] very probable indeed that God became incarnate in Jesus Christ who rose from the dead” (p. 214). His mathematical apologetics for the resurrection boils down to the following argument:

            The probability of God’s existence is one in two (since God either exists or doesn’t exist).
            The probability that God became incarnate is also one in two (since it either happened or it didn’t).
            The evidence for God’s existence is an argument for the resurrection.
            The chance of Christ’s resurrection not being reported by the gospels has a probability of one in 10.
            Considering all these factors together, there is a one in 1,000 chance that the resurrection is not true.

        It’s almost impossible to parody this argument (since in order to parody it, you would have to imagine something sillier – a daunting task!). But let me try:

        The probably that the moon is made of cheese is one in two (since it is either made of cheese or it isn’t);

        the probability that this cheese is Camembert is also one in two (since it’s either camembert or it isn’t); and so on.

I find his argument convincing, but what do you think? 

Consider some argument for God’s existence, which I’ll call: The Gottlieb Argument for God’s  Existence (GAGE) , and let’s assume it is valid, but it may or may not be sound. Alfred is initially an ideal agnostic who is on the fence about God’s existence, essentially 50-50.  Alfred examines GAGE, thinks about the premises and concludes they are true.  This induces him to now believe God exists.

I.    Betty (who may be a theist or atheist, it’s irrelevant) examines the GAGE and realizes that premise 17 of the GAGE  contradicts a fact (T) – Assume T is actually true and Betty’s reasoning about this is sound (i.e. it is a fact that the GAGE is unsound).  Is Alfred, who is unaware of this, justified in believing the GAGE is sound?

II.   What if Betty’s sound reasoning is trivial, but Alfred doesn’t see it simply because he has failed to think carefully about premise 17.  Is Alfred justified in believing GAGE to be sound, or does his failure to think carefully about premise 17 imply he really isn’t justified (e.g. he has not fulfilled a deontological duty?)

III.   Betty approaches Alfred and tells him premise 17 is false, and asks if he’ll listen to her explanation (which is still trivial).  He doesn’t want to hear it.  He and Betty never again discuss it, and Alfred continues to believe the GAGE to be sound. Is Alfred now justified in believing GAGE to be sound?

IV.   Alfred does listen to Betty’s reasoning (still trivial and sound), and he tells her “your reasoning makes sense, and it does seem that premise 17 is false, but I’m sure there must be some explanation for this, but I’m not smart enough to figure it out.  I shall continue to believe GAGE is sound.”  Is Alfred now justified or unjustified in believing GAGE to be sound?

V.   Betty’s reasoning is sound but complex.  Alfred listens to Betty’s reasoning and honestly confesses he just doesn’t understand Betty’s reasoning.  He never makes any effort to understand Betty’s reasoning and continues to believe GAGE is sound for the rest of his life.  Is his continued belief in GAGE’s soundness still justified?

VI.   Alfred listens to Betty’s reasoning which is sound and complex  Alfred honestly confesses he just doesn’t understand Betty’s reasoning. He plans to study Betty’s reasoning in detail when he has time, but in the meantime he continues to believe GAGE to be sound. At this point, is Alfred justified in believing GAGE to be sound?

VII. Alfred listens to Betty’s reasoning which is sound and complex  Alfred honestly confesses he just doesn’t understand Betty’s reasoning. He actually studies Betty’s reasoning, but never quite grasps it for the rest of his life; he dies still believing the GAGE to be sound.  Is Alfred justified in believing GAGE to be sound at the point of his death?

Please explain your answers. 

In a discussion of the Resurrection argument, Jenna Black asked me to comment on this article of William Lane Craig’s. This thread presents my critique.  I tried to be fairly thorough, but this means the post is long – too long to fit within the 2000 word limit for a post, so I’ve broken it up into 2 parts. 

Craig describes his thesis as follows:
Here we confront the very crucial question of the burden of proof. Should we assume that the gospels are reliable unless they are proven to be unreliable? Or should we assume the gospels are unreliable unless they are proven to be reliable? Are they innocent until proven guilty or guilty until proven innocent? Sceptical scholars almost always assume that the gospels are guilty until proven innocent, that is, they assume that the gospels are unreliable unless and until they are proven to be correct concerning some particular fact. I’m not exaggerating here: this really is the procedure of sceptical critics.

The first issue I will bring up is that Craig is not just criticizing the practices of skeptics of Christianity, he’s criticizing the standard practices of historical research.   Historians most assuredly do not treat their sources as “innocent until proven guilty.” The following are excerpts  from a book on the Historical Method:
As we shall discuss further…the status of an “fact” available to the historian is always insecure. …No historian…treats every fact equally. …

Understandably, authors are usually reluctant to acknowledge that they do not have such first hand knowledge, for the revelation diminishes their authority. And rightly so, for the greater the number of intermediaries between the original telling of an event and the version that our source contains, the more chance there is a distortion….

Although no account, nor source, is completely “reliable,” the trustworthiness of an account, at least as a report of events, may vary enormously, depending on a great many factors…[including]:

-What prejudices would have informed the account? People unconsciously bring their assumptions about society to their reports on it, often unintentionally reporting events in ways that simply confirm their own expectations

-Under what outside influences was the source created, especially those of higher authorities? Eyewitnesses regularly shape their recollections to accord with reports from more “authoritative” sources, not out of conscous response to pressure…but out of an unconscious need to conform to the dominant narrative. Many of the “eyewitnesses” to the assassination of John F Kennedy, for example, changed their account about the number of shots they “heard” after the TV news reported other counts.

People-and thus source-lie, of course, sometimes consciously but sometimes unconsciously. Here historians are interested not so much in the lie as in a more subtle form of falsehood, the suppression or shading of knowledge to conform to orthodox opinion.

The Wikipedia article on the Historical Method provides a second source that describes the methodology.

Regarding Craig’s “innocent until proven guilty” guideline, consider some ancient historians: Suetonius wrote that at Munda, Spain, a palm tree sprouted a shoot out of its side that in a few days grew to be bigger than the original tree. Caesar took this as an sign from the gods that he should adopt is nephew Octavius (AKA Augustus) as his heir.  Josephus describes omens that presaged the fall of Jerusalem, such as a cow giving birth to a lamb, and chariots and armored soldiers charging in the clouds.  None of these events can be disproven, but no credible historian accepts them as true.  I’ll delve more into the historical method later, but now let’s examine Craig’s list of five reasons to believe the gospels should be treated as reliable until proven wrong.

Quote from: Craig
1: There was insufficient time for legendary influences to expunge the historical facts. The interval of time between the events themselves and recording of them in the gospels is too short to have allowed the memory of what had or had not actually happened to be erased.
Agreed: the gospels are not “expunged” of historical facts – this would imply no historical fact can be derived from the material. Note that Craig never actually argues that the Gospels couldn’t possibly have any legendary accretion, but based on my engagement with some of his readers – it seems that some take it that way – so I think it’s important to spend a bit of time on this.

 Craig relies heavily on Sherwin-White’s book “Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament,” paraphrasing Sherwin-White as follows: “When Professor Sherwin-White turns to the gospels, he states that for the gospels to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be ‘unbelievable.’ More generations would be needed.” 

First of all, Craig is actually more confident than Sherwin-White.  In a footnote on the last page of his book, Sherwin-White says:

“Mr. P. A. B. Brunt has suggested in private correspondence that a study of the Alexander source is less encouraging for my thesis. There was a remarkable growth of myth around his person and deeds within the lifetime of contemporaries, and he historical embroidery was often deliberate….The pont of my argument is not to suggest the literal accuracy of ancient sources, secular or eccelesiastical but to offset the extreme skepticism with which the New Testament narratives are treated in some quarters”

So Sherwin-White’s work certainly doesn’t support the idea that the Gospels couldn’t possibly include creative invention and embellishment.

Quote from: Craig
2. The gospels are not analogous to folk tales or contemporary "urban legends." Tales like those of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill or contemporary urban legends like the "vanishing hitchhiker" rarely concern actual historical individuals and are thus not analogous to the gospel narratives.
The only problem I have with this is that it implies a false dichotomy: either each Gospel is a “folk tale/urban legend” or its contents should be considered as veridical, or at least “innocent until proven guilty.”  I agree the Gospels contain a core of historical information, but that doesn’t preclude a degree of legendary accretion, which I’ll discuss shortly.

Before considering Craig’s other points, let’s consider the difference between critical and conservative biblical scholarship. A key difference between critical scholars and conservative scholars is that the latter interpret the historical data in a way consistent with their beliefs about Jesus.  On the other hand, critical scholars endeavor to interpret the historical record without preconception*, to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Conservative scholars rationalize the data with the beliefs;  i.e. they provide believers a rational interpretation of the historical data.  The problem with this approach is that their interpretations don't provide a basis for proving the core beliefs, since these are assumed rather than deduced. 

Historiography is the practice of writing history – it’s what historians do.  Writing a history entails developing a coherent narrative of the past based on the raw historical data that is available to them.  A historian creates explanatory hypotheses to explain that data – these become the history that they write.  Some explanatory hypotheses are better than others, and it is in this respect that they are theoretically comparable in terms of inference to the best explanation.   Various historians have proposed criteria to be used in evaluating these, although it’s certainly not an exact science and the process can’t guarantee arriving at truth.  Nevertheless, it’s objective in principle and is useful for evaluating historical claims – what’s right and what’s wrong with them.

*This is not to say that historians lack all preconception: they develop hypotheses along the way, and then attempt to interpret the data based on those assumptions. Nevertheless, these hypothesis originate in the text and on external historical knowledge about the time and place. This is in contrast to conservative scholars who rationalize their Christian beliefs. The obvious objection is that it might be that the hypothesis being “proved” is still tenuous, and they are still just rationalizing. I happen to agree that this can occur – but that simply implies there is no perfectly secure starting place at times.  This is the problem of too little data – historians may still try to do their jobs of writing history irrespective of the quantity and quality of data. This problem just suggests that historical theories should sometimes be taken with a grain of salt.  There can be epistemological difficulties with historical data. The good news is that such difficulties can get dealt with through peer review. Individual’s may still try to rationalize pet theories, but it’s the job of their skeptical peers to call them out on this.

Now let’s consider Craig’s claim that the disciples passed along teachings of Jesus though the memorization:
Quote from: Craig
3. The Jewish transmission of sacred traditions was highly developed and reliable. In an oral culture like that of first century Palestine the ability to memorize and retain large tracts of oral tradition was a highly prized and highly developed skill. From the earliest age children in the home, elementary school, and the synagogue were taught to memorize faithfully sacred tradition. The disciples would have exercised similar care with the teachings of Jesus.

The reference to what was done in Palestine is a bit problematic. This is a theory that was originally proposed by the Swedish scholar Birgir Gerhardsoon in his book “Memory and Manuscript.”  His theory was based on study of the practices of Rabbinic Judaism. The first problem with this is that Rabbinic Judaism wasn’t practiced until after the fall of the Temple in AD70 – so it is anachronistic. The second problem is that there’s no evidence the Jerusalem Church did this.  The Gospels are different, so even if it been done prior to Mark, the practice inexplicably stopped after Mark. Equally important, even if the model had been followed, Gerhardsson himself recognized that changes occurred even in the rabbinic practices.  Primarily for these reasons, the theory has been rejected by most scholars (even the conservative scholar Richard Bauckham rejects it)

So there’s no data to suggest Jesus’ disciples passed on the information in this way, but we can still consider it an explanatory hypothesis, even if it is speculative.  Again, an explanatory hypothesis is intended to explain some historical data. But exactly what data is Craig explaining?  I think it’s clear that he’s explaining how it is that we received such accurate information about Jesus. But this presupposes that the information about Jesus IS accurate.  In other words, it’s one of those rationalizations that conservative scholars do in order to maintain coherence in their beliefs.  And of course, this means it is not an analysis that serves as any sort of evidence that the Gospels are sufficiently trustworthy to accept the far –fetched claims they make.

Of course, even if memorization weren’t practiced, perhaps there could be good reasons to believe the information conveyed in the Gospels is still of utmost trustworthiness because eyewitnesses were around to keep everything honest.  Craig says:
Quote from: Craig
4. There were significant restraints on the embellishment of traditions about Jesus, such as the presence of eyewitnesses and the apostles’ supervision. Since those who had seen and heard Jesus continued to live and the tradition about Jesus remained under the supervision of the apostles, these factors would act as a natural check on tendencies to elaborate the facts in a direction contrary to that preserved by those who had known Jesus.
While it’s reasonable to believe they’d have a strong influence in the Jerusalem church where they were present, there’s no basis for assuming the apostles supervised the tradition about Jesus among the churches of the Greek-speaking world which gave rise to the Gospels that came down to us. It would have been impossible to supervise it very strictly because:

-The Gospels were written in Greek, by educated Greek authors, not in the Aramaic that Jesus’ illiterate* followers spoke.

*Catherine Hezser researched literacy in 1st century Palestine ( Jewish Literacy in Roman Palestine). She estimates that about 3% of the population could read, and the majority of these would have been in the cities and larger towns. Smaller towns and villages would have a literacy of around 1%. These literate people were, again, always the elite of the upper classes. And those who did learn to read, learned how to read Hebrew – not Greek. There are only 2 known Palestinian literary authors from this period: Josephus and Justus of Tiberius; both were upper class and inordinately well educated. 

Mark Chancey (Greco-Roman Cluture and the Galilee of Jesus) reports his studies of the archaeological evidence from around 1st centuray Galilee, and concludes that Gentiles (who spoke Greek) in Galilee were almost exclusively located in the two major citiies, Sepphoris and Tiberias. The rest of Galilee was predominantly Jewish. And since most of Galilee was rural, not urban, the vast majority of Jews had no encounters with Gentiles. Greek was not widely spoken in the area, and there would be essentially no reason for an average person to learn it, so the vast majority of the Jews spoke Aramaic and had no facility in Greek.

- The Gospels were not written in Palestine, where the movement began and the church leadership (Paul’s “pillars of the church”) lived. They were written in Greek speaking territories, which were outside Palestine. 

- The written Gospels that we have were written after most of the eyewitnesses were dead. 

The disciples weren’t the only eyewitnesses, of course. However someone from outside that inner circle would be of more dubious credibility. Even if they were believed, exactly how much of the alleged facts of the Gospels would they have been privy to? 

While it’s not impossible that some of the disciples were still alive, and able to understand what was being said about Jesus (perhaps through interpreters), there’s still the problem that memory is an imperfect record, and even eyewitnesses may be influenced to remember things differently than they actually occurred, as noted here:

 Eyewitnesses regularly shape their recollections to accord with reports from more “authoritative” sources, not out of conscous response to pressure…but out of an unconscious need to conform to the dominant narrative. Many of the “eyewitnesses” to the assassination of John F Kennedy, for example, changed their account about the number of shots they “heard” after the TV news reported other counts. -- a Reliable Sources

It’s also not unreasonable to think that in the telling and retelling of their experiences, the eyewitnesses memories may have changed somewhat over time – as the size of the fish may grow in a fisherman'a retelling his story about a favorite catch.

Finally, suppose eyewitnesses did actually hear an oral gospel that was a bit loose with the facts.  What would be more important to the eyewitnesses – factual elements of the story, or theology?  If they agreed with the theology, would they quibble about the devices used in the story.

Choose Your Own Topic / What is a human being?
« on: May 21, 2015, 12:08:36 am »
Answer: A human being is an entity that has a set of certain properties. 

That's not a full answer because it raises the question: what properties?

IMO, this is a fundamental question that separates pro-life and pro-choice positions.  Everyone agrees it's wrong to kill human beings, so the moral question regarding abortion is whether or not a fetus is a human being when it is aborted. 

For example, if human beings have the property possesses a mind, then a fetus doesn't qualify until it has a brain, and this is a position a pro-choice proponents can take.  Pro-life proponents would deny that human beings necessarily have a mind, so they would not include this in the set of properties of human being. 

It seems to me this is just a matter of opinion, because there is no final arbiter on what ought to be considered a human being.

I'm interested in hearing:
  • what you think are the properties of being a human
  • is there a rationally compelling reason why we should all accept your definition, or do you agree with me that it's opinion?
You may bring up theological properties (e.g. soul) if you like, but recognize that this won't carry any weight with atheists.

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