Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Davis and the FAQs

I will "officially" begin work on my sponsored book On the Historicity of Jesus Christ next Monday (May 26). I've already begun writing and spent a few related days at the library, but the big push starts next week.

This will put on hold a revision of the FAQs for my chapters in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave. These have been up for years now, though not many people know they exist, since they haven't been catalogued anywhere but at the very bottom of my Naturalism as a Worldview page (and more recently in the margins of this blog), and on the official website for the book set up by Jeff Lowder--though not many people even know that exists, either (see: The Empty Tomb Official Companion Website).

As of last week I was half-way through an update of these FAQs. So I have posted the updated pages now (see Richard Carrier's FAQs). There are many additions planned, but you can at least benefit from those completed so far. The most notable update is a reference and link to my response to renowned Christian scholar Steven T. Davis, who published a respectable critique of The Empty Tomb in the journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, Philosophia Christi, two years ago (so far the only critique in print worthy of a reply). I've had my response to this up now for nearly two years, but since it isn't catalogued anywhere (not even on my FAQs--until now), very likely few even knew of it.

Since this may be news to many of you, I invite everyone who is interested to read it, especially if you've read The Empty Tomb and are wondering about the Christian response (apart from the lambaste of hacks and demagogues), but even those who haven't read Empty Tomb might be able to follow along and gain something from my reply. See: Stephen Davis Gets It Wrong (2006).


Solon said...

Seeing as you repeatedly censor your blog and delete posts, how can we know how many comments you've censored or edited on any one thread?

Isn't there supposed to be some warning above the posting area:

"I only pretend to be interested in philosophy and debate, so don't waste your time here. I'm petty and vain and I will censor things I disagree with or that make me look bad."

Agnostics_R_Us said...


Right now we can certainly tell someone is petty and vain. lol Did you have something intelligent to say about the response to Stephen Davis or were you just going to try to poison the well with accusations? If it's the latter, it's no wonder you get deleted. If Carrier is such a coward and a Nazi, what is the point of posting a comment that will just get deleted again? Is there some method to your madness, I'm missing?


Pikemann Urge said...

Solon, my understanding is that Carrier will delete posts which are too off-topic or are otherwise venting. I wish more YouTube users would approve comments. The world would be a better place without retards hurling abuse at each other.

Agnostics_R_Us said...

Is David for real? I went to that site (watched the kooky videos and everything)...and either someone is very deluded (as there appears to be no substance to anything said there) or it is some kind of satire site. Poe's law?

Agnosis00 said...

I was wondering what (Dr.) Carrier thought of Dale C. Allison's 'Resurrecting Jesus.' I hope this is not too off topic, but there was supposed to be a reaction to this work by William Lane Craig, Stephen Davis, Gary Habermas, and Mike Licona at the EPS meeting and then Allison was supposed to respond at the SBL meeting in 2007, with the material to be collected into Philosophia Christi later on. Does anyone know any more information about this?

Richard Carrier said...

Solon: That's your last irrelevant, harassing post I will allow. FYI, I do not know of any way to "edit" the comments of others even if I wanted to. I can only delete them. Which is why I have set a policy and stick to it. All you have to do is follow the rules of polite, rational discourse. It's not hard. Even for someone stuck in Asia.

Agnostics_R_Us: Just FYI, I deleted that weird spam from the mysterious "David" you were talking about. That guy has been spamming my other comments sections and my email box with this bizarre stuff. I'd assume it was a joke if it was actually funny. It looks rather like something a paranoid escaped-from-the-nutchatch schizophrenic would send from a public library computer that he scared some poor schoolgirl away from with his wide-glazed eyes, loud babbling about goats, and five layers of dirty urine-stinking coats. But maybe that's just my memories of New York slipping through.

Agnosis00: I've not read Allison's book. Since it came out in 2005 it doesn't address Empty Tomb. Craig has a predominately favorable response to it on his website, though he criticizes a lot, of course, because he doesn't like Allison's equivocating skepticism.

From Craig's review I suspect I'd find some of Allison's treatment bizarre and borderline crankish, and the rest just the usual apologetics already answered in ET. But I recognize nothing like rational or sound reasons for or even against belief in the resurrection of Jesus in what Craig reports of some of Allison's views--it's almost like looking at a report about some sort of medieval alien literature where people write a hundred pages explaining their deep concerns that the resurrection might be impossible because cabbages can't have souls, but we should believe anyway because resurrection makes our breakfast cereal taste better--i.e. a whole other kind of discourse I don't get at all.

The rest of it, which is at least familiar (like his seven arguments for or against there being an empty tomb) is such old cud I can't imagine what in it could cause a stir. Except maybe his use of Bayes Theorem (which always gets everyone's panties in a bunch, as Craig's do in this review).

Craig there says the panel papers you mention will appear in PC. They haven't yet, but these things do typically take an inordinately long time. In the meantime, anyone who has read both ET and Resurrecting Jesus closely enough to note if Allison presents any facts or arguments not already answered in ET, please let me know, mention what exactly and the page numbers, and I'll add those items to my future FAQ update to-do list.

Agnostics_R_Us said...

I assumed you would.

graduatestudentinquiry said...

I recently graduated from a well known seminary with a Master's in Theology and am now asking serious questions about my faith. I want to say thank you for your precision in argumentation and I eagerly await the publication of your new book.
I recently had an intense exchange with one of my friends who is completing a Ph.D. in philosophy at Notre Dame and the problems with theism as becoming apparent. My next issue is the resurrection. I basically agree with you on what you've said, however there is one lingering problem concerning Paul's statement about the appearance of the resurrected Jesus to a crowd of 500. I am not convinced by your response on this question but I wonder if your argument can be buttressed by the apparitions of Mary at Fatima. On October 13, 1917 it was reported that there was a crowd of 70,000 gathered to witness the miracles at Fatima. A number of those in attendance reported seeing the sun move across the sky and that it started to hurl toward earth and return to is position. The miracles at Fatima has led to the erection of shrine in its honor. (see: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/portugal/fatima-shrine-of-our-lady-of-fatima.htm). Do you think that this is a instance of mass hallucination?

Richard Carrier said...

graduatestudentinquiry said... I wonder if your argument can be buttressed by the apparitions of Mary at Fatima...Do you think that this is a instance of mass hallucination?

I don't think it's a pertinent example either way. I don't know enough about the facts of the case to assess whether illusion, hallucination, delusion, or fibbing and exaggeration were active there (probably some of all the above), but it is certainly not comparable to what Paul is claiming, except in the vaguest terms.

Closer analogies should come from actual ecstatic cults. Certain Seventh Day Adventist and Santaria sects produce group trance states in which they see apparitions and hear voices. I don't know too many of the particulars in those cases, but Philo claims much the same of the Therapeutae in Paul's time, and Luke's account of the Pentecost ecstasy looks very much like this.

Personally, however, I think odds favor textual corruption. The agreement, with but a few minor spelling mistakes, with Luke's Pentecost narrative is too strong. Combine that with the fact that that is the only such mass appearance in Christian tradition and thus the only reference to the event Paul could be speaking about (unless the event he means somehow was completely and utterly forgotten by all Christians forever, which seems bizarre if it was anything spectacular enough to concern us), and there is little reason to prefer, as explanation of the text, an otherwise forgotten mass hallucination of a walking-talking Jesus (this becomes all the more likely if you conclude, as I do, that none of the appearances Paul is talking about involved a walking-talking Jesus rather than lights and voices).

Second to that is the fact that the text has almost certainly been tampered with. The material in 1 Cor. 15:3-8 combined makes no actual sense from the pen of Paul (he never elsewhere shows any knowledge of a "twelve" or even Disciples at all, and it would be a strange thing to say anyway--it is inexplicable why James and all the Apostles wouldn't have seen Jesus until after 500 random Christians did, Paul only knows of Apostles and never elsewhere makes any distinction between them and Disciples, textual tradition in Luke actually places this James in the twelve (e.g. Luke has no knowledge of any James being the brother of Jesus, and the only James Paul knows about is one of the three pillars in Galatians 2:9, who was one of the twelve according to all the Gospels), and so on).

In short, there are so many problems with the text, that even if you can explain some of them away, explaining all of them away starts to look like special pleading. Probabilities dwindle for any such case. There must have been meddling. And if the passage has been dinked with, the appearance to 500 might likewise be suspect (i.e. not actually from Paul's hand).

This doesn't mean the whole thing is an interpolation (as Price has argued). Though that is possible (and statistically more probable than any supernatural miracle), I think the core of the appearance list is Paul's (in fact this would actually better explain the strangeness of the passage than a wholesale interpolation would), and that it has simply been modified in various ways (both deliberately and accidentally).

But even if you can somehow confidently reject all that (and I don't think anyone who rejects it can do so confidently, at least without resorting to a hypocritical double-standard methodology or some sort of mild delusion), we still don't know what Paul was told those five hundred saw (much less what they actually did see--or whether all actually saw anything rather than merely claimed to, or whether there were really five hundred to begin with--who counted? did someone take affidavits? were they systematically interviewed and their reports collated and compared? in what detail? by whom? why did no dossier of such reports survive? and while we're asking, who had the time to cross-examine five hundred people? and why is it that Paul is the only extant Christian author who ever heard of any of this?).

Do I believe five hundred people can get themselves into a religious ecstatic trance and see lights and hear voices and thus under the guidance of charismatic leadership become absolutely convinced they were beholding their God Jesus speaking and appearing from heaven, in the same manner Luke describes in Acts for Paul, and separately for the Pentecost vision? Yes. Ordinary science confirms this is possible. And nothing more than this would be needed to generate the vague claim in 1 Cor. 15.

The odds of this rise considerably if the early Christians were schizotypal, which I believe is highly likely (the evidence in Paul's letters alone is convincing enough).

Paul Crowley said...

These detailed arguments on the historicity of Jesus and the evidence concerning the resurrection are fascinating, but...

what's the short argument?

I'm sure that you agree that one does *not* need to have this level of familiarity with this material to confidently reject Christianity. What is the short counter to one who would advance evidence for the resurrection as proof of the existence of God?

Richard Carrier said...

Paul Crowley said... What's the short argument? I'm sure that you agree that one does not need to have this level of familiarity with this material to confidently reject Christianity. What is the short counter to one who would advance evidence for the resurrection as proof of the existence of God?

There is a difference between arguing Jesus existed and arguing he was raised from the dead (we're only talking about the latter here), and there's a difference between arguing "Jesus rose from the dead, therefore God exists" and arguing "we can know Jesus rose from the dead whether there is a God or not" (and we're again only talking about the latter here).

You may have experienced the fact already that there is no "short answer" that doesn't simply lead to more claims and questions, which always end up in a stalemate of professional ignorance, unless you are an expert.

For example, the shortest answer is that we wouldn't trust documents like we find in the New Testament in any other area of our lives. End of story. But then the advocates get all hot under the collar and wail a thousand protests. So all that answer does is begin the debate, it doesn't end it.

Ultimately, any line of debate ends with you either not knowing what the underlying facts are or having to acquire "this level of familiarity" with the material to know.

Nevertheless, you are correct: you don't need to know what the underlying facts are (until they start lying and you don't know what's true and what's a lie--at least until you catch them lying, then you know you needn't believe them ever again). As a layman, all you really need is to discard all the evidence you don't trust, then list all the evidence you trust, and ask yourself if it persuades you. You may still end up wrong, but at least you know what has to happen to change your mind: someone has to convince you to add or subtract from either list. And one item that has to go on either list is which experts you trust: us or them (or neither).

For example, suppose you say we don't know who wrote the Gospels and whether we can trust these guys, and then a Christian retorts with a load of references to books and articles and renowned scholars "refuting" you on these points. Well, what then? Either you check all their references or you don't. If you don't, they'll accuse you of sticking your head in the sand. And if you do, you won't know whether or what to trust in any of these references without considerable expertise. So what can you do?

Likewise if you reply by supplying your own list of references and experts, and saying they have theirs, you have yours, stalemate, then they'll pick at your references, claiming this or that is wrong. What then? You'll have to check. But how do you do that without considerable expertise?

And so on.

At some point you have to decide what's even worth the bother anymore. Consider, for example, moon landing deniers. You can cite your experts against theirs, but eventually they will claim things against your experts whose refutation will require expertise in such complex fields as planetary physics and astronomical photography and so on. Instead of endlessly debating them and researching everything until you're basically a lay expert in each field, at what point do you just refuse to even listen to these nuts anymore? They'll accuse you of sticking your head in the sand, and you'll just tell them to go blow.

So ask yourself: at what point do you just tell Christians to go blow? However you answer that question is also the answer to the question you're asking me.

So to finally answer your question with that in mind:

If you follow the usual lines of debate to any reasonable lay point, the shortest answer to why I don't believe in Christianity (and you shouldn't either), which, IMO, will end the debate with any honest and reasonable person, is my essay Why I Am Not a Christian (2006).

But you may find even that doesn't shut them up. Nor anything will. So you have to decide when to stop and settle with what you personally know at that point, and then tell everyone to bugger off.