Monday, July 16, 2012

Thou Shalt Not Commit Logical Fallacies

Whether theist, deist, atheist, or agnostic everyone should read this poster and be aware of the many types of logical fallacies people can commit in their writings and debates. The better one understands them the better they can discover which arguments are fallacious and become able to avoid making them themselves.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Will There Ever Be a Historical Consensus on the Resurrection?

Another post on the resurrection, this one written by apologist Bill Pratt:

If you are a Christian who is waiting for the day when most historical scholars, both Christian and non-Christian, affirm that the evidence does indeed indicate that Jesus was resurrected, I’m afraid you’ll be waiting until the Second Coming, when there will be no doubt.  Why is that?  If, as we say on this blog, the historical evidence for the resurrection is so strong, then shouldn’t every scholar be lining up behind it?

Historical scholar Mike Licona addresses this issue in his book The Resurrection of Jesus:

“Given the prominent role of horizons [i.e., worldview] in every historical inquiry, we can anticipate that consensus opinions will often elude historians....  Unfortunately, rather than an objective and careful weighing of the data, the subjective horizons of historians, especially historians writing on religious, philosophical, political and moral topics, exert the most influence in their final judgments.  Moreover, many members of the audience to whom historians present their research are no less biased.  Accordingly, what is judged as sound and persuasive research to one group may be viewed as inadequate and overly biased by another.”

Licona’s point is straightforward: worldviews (or horizons) of historians exert a strong influence on their interpretations of data.  There may be some historians who can limit that influence, but there are just as many who cannot.  He continues:

“A consensus opinion can be valuable for recognizing objectivity when the group is composed of scholars from all interested camps with the exception of some fringe positions.  Tucker cites agreement among historians of the Holocaust: Jewish and Gentile, German and British, right-wing and left-wing historians agree that there was a Holocaust.”

Here is another important point.  If you have agreement on historical facts from a full spectrum of worldviews, then this is valuable for recognizing objectivity.  However, just because a historical interpretation does not garner assent from a broad spectrum does not indicate that it is not objective.  In other words, consensus across a broad spectrum is a good positive test, but not a good negative test.

With regard to historical biblical studies, Licona offers the following analysis:

“A group exhibiting greater heterogeneity is the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL).  Annual SBL meetings are attended by members of many theological and philosophical persuasions: liberals, conservatives, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, agnostics and atheists, all from numerous countries and ethnic groups from all over the world.  If a consensus opinion is going to be of any value for historians, it must come from such a group.

However, a consensus from even this group is valuable only when all of its members opining on a subject have personally researched that particular subject.  For example, a consensus opinion of all SBL members on a matter pertaining to a recent archaeological find has little value if less than five percent of all SBL members have a significant knowledge of that find and expertise in the field.  Similarly, little if any value should be assigned to those scholars opining on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus who have not engaged in serious research on the matter.”

Licona argues that consensus opinion on the historical Jesus can be valuable coming from a group such as the SBL because of its heterogeneity.  However, he warns that only scholars who have actually studied the subject in depth should be counted toward the consensus.

Given the challenges of historical consensus, especially with regard to the historical Jesus, what should we expect in the future?  According to Licona:

“It is highly unlikely that a consensus will ever exist pertaining to the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. While strong agreement exists regarding a number of “facts” often used as evidence to support the resurrection hypothesis, no consensus will ever exist for the conclusion that the resurrection hypothesis is an accurate description of what actually occurred.

After all, how likely is it that historians who are Muslims and atheists will confess that the resurrection hypothesis is the best explanation or that Christian historians will confess that the resurrection hypothesis is not the best explanation? Yet, either Jesus rose from the dead or he did not; and historians holding one of these positions are more correct than those holding the other.

Because of the uncertainty of historical knowledge, many historical descriptions will never receive a stamp of approval from the consensus of the relevant scholars.  This should not restrain the historian from stating that his or her hypothesis is probably true.”

Licona concludes that a consensus that Jesus was resurrected will elude us for the foreseeable future.  This fact does not mean that Jesus did not rise from the dead, only that consensus across a broad spectrum of scholars is impossible given the major influence of worldviews.  After all, an admission that Jesus rose from the dead would usually entail a radical realignment of the worldview of a non-Christian scholar.  Although this may happen from time to time, it is highly unlikely to happen at a high enough rate to create a consensus.

As Christians, where does this leave us?  I think it means that we are free to point out where there is a positive consensus about the historical facts about Jesus, but we must realize that those facts will only give us a minimal list of true facts.  Beyond the minimal consensus facts, we may argue for additional facts using solid historical criteria, but we should not expect non-Christian scholars to always agree with our arguments.

We also now have an idea why there are such divergent views on the historical Jesus.  Although scholars may agree on a short list of facts, many of them feel free to argue for additional “facts” that suit their worldview.  As lay people reading books written by historical Jesus scholars, we must always be on guard for the author’s worldview nosing its way into the book.

Another implication is that reading historical Jesus works from one side of the philosophical or theological spectrum will never be enough to get a reasonable view of the historical evidence.  Readers must force themselves to pick up works from the other side of the spectrum as well. 

A friend of mine once told me he no longer believed in the historical Jesus of Christian tradition after reading a book by a liberal Jesus scholar.  When I asked if he read works by believing Christians or conservatives, he answered “no.”  He just assumed that the scholar he read had the final word.  As Licona has shown, no scholar has the final word.  We must all engage the evidence for ourselves.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Higgs Boson - The God Particle

Here are a couple articles from the Huffington Post regarding the discovery of the Higgs Boson and it's theological implications.

The first article is written by Karl Giberson author of The Language of Science and Faith and Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution. Here are some quotes from the Giberson's piece:

"The buzz about the discovery of the Higgs Boson reminds us once again that we are progressing in our understanding the deeper features of the world. Such progress can seem like a scientific intrusion onto theological turf. Are we not now claiming that mass is created by the Higgs Field and not by God? Is this not why the new boson is called The God Particle?"

"Discovering the Higgs Boson undermines nothing in theology, however. If anything, its discovery provides more evidence of the deeply rational character of the universe, a topic I explore in more detail in my recent book, The Wonder of the Universe."

The full article can be found here: God and the God Particle

The second article is written by Philip Clayton author of The Predicament of Belief: Science, Philosophy, and Faith. Here are some quotes from his writing:

"When they announced the discovery of physics' most elusive particle this week, scientists didn't overreach. They just did damn good science. The fans and the foes of religion, by contrast, are overreaching on both sides. The quest for the Higgs boson, and its ultimate discovery, neither proves nor disproves God."

The full article can be found here: Does the Higgs Boson Discovery Resolve the Religion-Science Debate?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Jesus Existed

Here is an article written by Craig S. Keener the author of The Historical Jesus of the Gospels.

Contrary to some circles on the Internet, very few scholars doubt that Jesus existed, preached and led a movement. Scholars' confidence has nothing to do with theology but much to do with historiographic common sense. What movement would make up a recent leader, executed by a Roman governor for treason, and then declare, "We're his followers"? If they wanted to commit suicide, there were simpler ways to do it.
One popular objection is that only Christians wrote anything about Jesus. This objection is neither entirely true nor does it reckon with the nature of ancient sources. It usually comes from people who have not worked much with ancient history. Only a small proportion of information from antiquity survives, yet it is often sufficient.
We recognize that most people write only about what they care about. The only substantive early works about Socrates derive from his followers. The Dead Sea Scrolls extol their community's founder, but no other reports of him survive. The Jewish historian Josephus claims to be a Pharisee, yet never mentions Hillel, who is famous in Pharisees' traditions. Israeli scholar David Flusser correctly observes that it is usually followers who preserve what is most meaningful about their teachers, whether the leaders were Buddha, Muhammad, Mormon leader Joseph Smith or African prophet Simon Kimbangu.
Interestingly, however, once ancient writers had reasons to care about Jesus, they did mention him.
Josephus, the only extant first-century historian focused on Judea, mentions both Jesus and John the Baptist as major prophetic figures, as well as subsequently noting Jesus' brother, James. Later scribes added to the Jesus passage, but the majority of specialists agree on the basic substance of the original, a substance now confirmed by a manuscript that apparently reflects the pre-tampering reading. Josephus describes Jesus as a sage and worker of wonders, and notes that the Roman governor Pilate had him crucified. On the cause of crucifixion Josephus remains discreet, but mass leaders were often executed for sedition -- especially for being potential kings. Perhaps not coincidentally, Jesus' followers also insisted, even after his death, that he was a king. Josephus was not a Christian and does not elaborate, but his summary matches other sources.
Writing even earlier than Josephus, Syrian philosopher Mara bar Sarapion claimed that Jesus was a wise Jewish king. Tacitus later reports on events from 31-34 years after Jesus' ministry, associating Roman Christians with him and noting that he was executed under Pontius Pilate. These and other sources provide only snippets, but they address what these sources cared about. By comparison, Tacitus mentions only in passing a Jewish king on whom Josephus focused (Agrippa I); nor was Tacitus interested even in Judea's Roman governors. Tacitus's mention of Pilate in connection with Jesus' crucifixion is Roman literature's only mention of Pilate (though Pilate appears in Josephus and an inscription).
From Jesus' followers, who were interested, we naturally learn much more. Fifteen to 30 years after Jesus' ministry, Paul wrote much about Jesus, including an encounter that Paul believed he had with the risen Jesus probably within a few years of Jesus' execution. Rightly or wrongly, Paul staked the rest of his life on this experience. Other early Christians also preserved information; some 30-40 years after Jesus' ministry, Mark's Gospel circulated. Luke reports that "many" had already written accounts by the time Luke writes. Luke shares with Matthew some common material that most scholars think is even earlier than Mark. Only a small minority of figures in antiquity had surviving works written about them so soon after their deaths.
What can the first-century Gospels tell us? Certainly at the least they indicate that Jesus was a historical figure. Myths and even legends normally involved characters placed centuries in the distant past. People wrote novels, but not novels claiming that a fictitious character actually lived a generation or two before they wrote. Ancient readers would most likely approach the Gospels as biographies, as a majority of scholars today suggest. Biographies of recent figures were not only about real figures, but they typically preserved much information. One can demonstrate this preservation by simply comparing the works of biographers and historians about then-recent figures, say Tacitus and Suetonius writing about Otho.
What was true of biographies in general could be even more true of biographies about sages. Members of sages' schools in this period typically preserved their masters' teachings, which became foundational for their communities. Memorization and passing on teachings were central. Oral societies were much better at this than most of us in the West today imagine; indeed, even illiterate bards could often recite all of Homer from heart. None of this means that the Gospels preserve Jesus' teaching verbatim, but by normal standards for ancient history, we should assume that at the least many key themes (e.g., God's "kingdom") were preserved. Indeed, many of the eyewitnesses (such as Peter) remained in key leadership positions in the movement's earliest decades.
One significant feature of these first-century Gospels is the amount of material in them that fits a first-century Galilean setting. That setting differs from the Gospel writers' own setting. The Gospel writers updated language to apply it to their own audiences, but they also preserved a vast amount of information. This is merely a sample; specialists devote their lives to the details.
Yet, valuable as examining such historical evidence is, we must return to where we started. Logically, why would Jesus' followers make up a Jesus to live and die for? Why not glorify real founders (as movements normally did)? Why make up a leader and have him executed on a Roman cross? To follow one executed for treason was itself treason. To follow a crucified leader was to court persecution. Some people do give their lives for their beliefs, but for beliefs, not normally for what they know to be fabricated. Jesus' first movement would not have made up his execution or his existence. How much they actually remembered about him is a subject for a future post.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Common Resurrection Theories

When studying the New Testament as a historical document, that is, when not looking at it as a book of faith but merely a 1st century collection of writings, New Testament historians disagree about some things concerning the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Some of these disagreements are because of philosophical bias’ one direction or the other. For instance, if a person studies history with a naturalistic worldview which a priori (i.e. before the facts) dismisses any possibility of the supernatural, then they will never conclude from historical investigation that a miracle has occurred because they have decided ahead of time that miracles don’t happen. On the other hand theists can be biased too and may be quick to believe reports of miracles because their worldview allows and even expects them to occur.
Even so, despite the personal bias’ of every individual, there are some things that New Testament Historians almost universally agree upon when it comes to the death and resurrection accounts of Jesus. Here are a handful of the most widely accepted facts that scholars from KJV Only Fundamentalists to Atheist/Agnostic scholars agree upon. These historical facts can be explored further in the book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Mike Licona and Gary Habermas. My intention in posting is only to present some of the common theories regarding the resurrection. There are more theories and I could go much more in-depth in each one of the following but I will try and keep it brief and just lay out a few points regarding each theory in conjunction with what historians and scholars have come to regard as facts.
1. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and died somewhere between 30-33 A.D.
2. The tomb where Jesus was buried was found empty.
3. Jesus’ disciples genuinely believed that they saw Jesus risen from the dead.
4. Saul of Tarsus (later known as the apostle Paul) was an enemy of the church but became one of its biggest promoters after seeing what he believed was the risen Jesus.
5. James, the half-brother of Jesus, was a skeptic during Jesus’ 3 years of ministry but became a leader in the Jerusalem church.
6. The disciples went from fearful for their lives to boldly proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection even under pang of death.
There are other facts that I could mention but these will be sufficient for my point. When historians are investigating the past and trying to ascertain what really did and didn’t occur they start with determining the facts they can know with a high probability of certainty and then they put forth scenarios which account for the known facts. A good theory is one that accounts for all of the facts without forcing any of them to fit and is not ad hoc, that is, the theory is plausible given what we know. An ad hoc position is one that may fit all the facts but it leaves a person scratching their head as to why we ought to think that this is actually what happened.
When we say a theory is plausible, for example, if you come across a tree that has fallen in the woods, and the tree and area around it are all scorched, what might you conclude? You could conclude that an alien spaceship crashed, knocking over the tree and when it exploded it burned the tree and the surrounding area. This theory would fit with all of the facts and doesn’t force any of them, but it does seem less plausible than another theory, namely, that the tree was struck by lightning, caught fire and fell over. Given that both theories make sense of the facts at hand, they are both at least possible, but the evidence and our wider experience it is more likely the latter theory which is true since we know that trees are struck by lightning all the time but there is no documented proof of aliens space ships.
So, when it comes to the facts that historians agree upon concerning the events of Jesus supposed death and resurrection, the question is this “What theory best explains all of the facts?” The following is a list of some of the more popular theories put forth to explain the historical facts regarding the resurrection of Jesus. Licona and Habermas go into more detail regarding these theories and more. This is not a comprehensive list but from my readings these seem to be the most popular theories. I fully admit that there may be a better explanation for the facts that is still unknown to us at this time. Nevertheless, here are a few:
1. The “Swoon” Theory
This theory suggests that perhaps Jesus didn’t really die at all. Perhaps after Jesus was beaten so severely and hung upon the cross for a number of hours his pulse and respiration became so low as to be undetectable and he was presumed dead. After he was taken off the cross his body was prepared for burial with spices and wrapped and he was laid in the tomb. After being in the tomb unconscious for a few days perhaps the coolness of the tomb and having some rest revived Jesus. Jesus then walked into town and appeared to his disciples who believed him to have risen from the dead.
Well, how does this do when compared against our facts? Right off the bat it fails in that it denies fact #1, that Jesus was crucified and DIED on the cross. Scholars are convinced that Jesus actually died for good reason. Josephus reports that 3 of his friends were being crucified and per his request they were removed from the crosses and given the best medical care available and yet 2 of them died anyway. The cross was a brutal torturous way to kill people and it was good for what it was designed, namely, providing painful and sure death. Nothing indicates that Jesus was taken down before the job was done, nor was he given medical attention. Jesus was taken down because the roman soldiers charged with assuring the death of those being crucified was certain he was dead.
Furthermore, does this really pass the test on fact #3 that Jesus’ disciples believed they saw him risen from the dead? Imagine, were this theory true, what Jesus would have looked like. As he staggered into town and made it to where the disciples were, when they saw him would they say to themselves “Look, the risen Lord!” or would they have said “Oh my goodness, quick get a doctor, Jesus barely survived a crucifixion!” A broken, doubled over in horrendous pain, not sure if he’s going to pull through this, Jesus, is not exactly the portrait the disciples painted. Such a happening would hardly explain the disciples going from fearful for their life to boldly proclaiming a risen and glorious Jesus who holds the keys of life.
2. The “Twin” Theory
This theory states that Jesus really did die on the cross, but Jesus’ secret twin brother took his place afterwards. This is a conspiracy theory on the grandest scale, is it not? Depending on how this supposedly played out there are some major questions and problems here. One question is this, how wide is this conspiracy? If it’s a familial conspiracy, that is, if only Jesus, his twin brother, his mother and brothers and sisters knew the plan, then they would have had to fool the disciples. But imagine getting to know a person intimately for 3 years and then replacing that person with a look-alike. The likelihood that the disciples would buy that he was the resurrected Jesus seems low.
Furthermore, how would Jesus’ twin be unknown to everyone? This conspiracy would have had to been born at the same time Jesus and his brother were. The twin would have had to have been hidden away so that no one knew of him from the get go. And then comes the question of “why?” Why would anyone want to pull off this scheme? It got Jesus killed who apparently volunteered to die for the sake of this plan, and it got many other people killed as well. It gave no one riches, the twin didn’t get to lead anyone since he disappeared after 40 days so it wasn’t about glory. This theory just doesn’t make sense and it is very ad hoc and leaves us with way more questions than it does answers. It also fails fact #2 that the tomb was found empty. What became of the body of Jesus when his brother took over?
3. The “Wrong Tomb” Theory
This theory suggests that the disciples went to the wrong tomb and found it empty and mistook it for Jesus having been raised from the dead. This theory fails facts #3 #4 #5 and #6 because it accounts for none of the appearances that the disciples believed they saw, nor Saul’s conversion, nor the conversion of James and is hardly fuel for the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection unto death by martyrdom. If all that happened was they found an empty tomb that they mistakenly thought was Jesus’ this would hardly lead to the conclusion that he was risen from the dead but rather a lot of confusion as to what happened to Jesus’ body. It would not have provided that transformative charge needed to propel the message of the resurrection.
4. The “Hallucination” Theory
This is probably the most common theory expressed today by scholarly circles that reject bodily resurrection of Jesus (such as Richard Carrier and John Dominic Crossan). This theory states that Jesus really died on the cross and was buried but the grieving disciples experienced a hallucination of the risen Jesus that they genuinely believed to be him and this is what changed their behavior and caused them to preach their message even unto death. This view has better explanatory power than some of the other theories do however it still fails on several counts.
This view still doesn’t adequately explain the empty tomb, where did the body go? Furthermore it doesn’t explain why Paul would have hallucinated seeing Jesus because he was not grieving his loss, rather, he was quite pleased that they killed that heretic and was going about the business of suppressing his followers. The biggest problem yet, however, is that hallucinations rarely occur (if at all) in large groups. Even in cases where a group of people hallucinate because of the use of drugs, they do not hallucinate the same thing. Just as people sleeping next to one another don’t share dreams, neither do people share hallucinations, they are personal experiences in the minds of individuals. Groups of people have hallucinated together things like UFOs or the sun swirling around in the sky but the accounts from the differing individuals are not always the same. Yes the group hallucinated a UFO but to some it was silver and to some it was black, to some it flew straight up into the sky and to others it slowly made it’s way across the sky until it was out of view. With Jesus though the appearances were all the same. A bodily resurrected Jesus who communed with many people at once including all 11 disciples. Not one disciple recanted that he had witnessed Jesus alive again. The earliest accounts of Jesus’ resurrection state that he was seen by individuals, small groups, as many as 500 at once and all at different times and places. Another problem that Biblical scholar NT Wright points out is that all these sightings of Jesus were clearly described as bodily sightings and not visions, manifestations, or ghost like apparitions. So the hallucination theory also fails to meet all the facts and it runs into some very real problems practically speaking.
5. The “Spiritual Resurrection” Theory
In this theory Jesus is said to have risen from the dead spiritually and now lives in the hearts of believers but he was not raised bodily. This view fails all but our 1st of the 6 facts. This theory, a favorite of Liberal theologians, doesn’t answer why the tomb was found empty, nor does it adequately explain the fact that the disciples, the half-brother of Jesus and an enemy of Jesus all claimed to have seen Jesus risen from the dead in a physical body. What caused the fearful disciples to lose their fear and go boldly preaching until they were dragged through the streets, ran through with swords, thrown off buildings and crucified themselves? Was it just that they believed that Jesus was living in their hearts now that he died and the spirit of his message now was in their heart? Again, this is contrary to the facts we have, it is not the best explanation of the data we have.
6. The “God Raised Jesus from the Dead” Theory
In this view Jesus really died on the cross and on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead. This makes sense out of all of the given facts, it is not forced and it is not ad hoc, that is, given the context this theory makes a lot more sense than all of the other proposed theories do. Jesus had preached for three years prior to his death and had predicted that the Messiah must suffer and die and that God would raise him from the dead. Given that Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection, and given the facts that we know, this theory is the best theory we have. Jesus rose from the dead and was seen by many eye-witnesses both friend and foe, believer and unbeliever. It radically changed the disciples and Saul of Tarsus and James his doubting half-brother.
While it is true that this view assumes that God exists, this is not a non-evidenced assumption. There are many good arguments and evidences for God’s existence (e.g. Cosmological Argument, Fine-Tuning, Life from non-life, The existence of consciousness, etc.) and, in fact, since Jesus said that God exists and would raise him from the dead, his resurrection is itself a powerful argument for God’s existence.
So then, from the perspective of historical inquiry and investigation, the bodily resurrection of Jesus does seem to be the best explanation given all of the accepted historical facts provided you allow for the possibility that God does exist. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Resurrection of the Son of God Review

This is a review of a book I'm currently reading, the review was written by Brian Auten of Apologetics 315. Thought I'd share it though as so far the book has been great but also extremely deep. It's a tough read but so far it's been worth it.

The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright can be considered the quintessential book on the resurrection. In this massive tome, Wright covers every aspect of what resurrection was understood to be in the ancient world. He provides a full historical profile, describing the beliefs of Judaism, paganism, and the surrounding culture. From this landscape, Wright shows how the historical account of the resurrection of Christ fits into the big picture. 

The author clearly defines what resurrection is and is not. Resurrection is not the afterlife; it is not life after death, or mere resuscitation. Resurrection is when someone dies and then, after a period of death (or what he calls "life after death"), comes back to their resurrected body in this life once again. Using numerous examples from the religious beliefs of the day, Wright shows us that no one outside of Judaism believed in resurrection. The narrow definition of resurrection quickly silences any claim that the Christian understanding of resurrection could have been borrowed by a Pagan religious belief in a dying and rising god. The resurrection of Christ was altogether original in manner and form.

The author deals with the historical evidence surrounding Christ’s resurrection appearances, the empty tomb, and the rise of Christianity. The combination of the aspects of Jesus’ unique life, teachings, subsequent death, burial and resurrection all coalesce into a strong case that Jesus was truly the Messiah. What would make the early Christians even believe that Christ was the Messiah? Wright argues that: "…the only possible reason why early Christianity began and took the shape it did is that the tomb really was empty and that people really did meet Jesus, alive again…though admitting it involves accepting a challenge at the level of worldview itself, the best historical explanation for all these phenomena is that Jesus was indeed bodily raised from the dead."

What caused this belief in the resurrection of Jesus? Wright suggests that the combination of the empty tomb and the appearances of the living Jesus together necessitate such a conclusion. The author points out that the fact that people do not ordinarily rise from the dead is itself part of early Christian belief, not an objection to it. 

The book as a whole is one large cumulative case for the Lordship of Jesus Christ, based entirely upon the vast and substantial evidence surrounding this central point in history. There is no other plausible explanation for the rise of the Christian faith than the veracity of the resurrection of Christ. Perhaps a greater miracle would be the rise of Christianity without the resurrection!

The Resurrection of the Son of God is recommended as reading for the serious student, as its sheer length and detail would overwhelm the casual reader. However, for those looking for the most scholarly depth on the historicity of the resurrection, this is it.