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I am a former middle and high school science teacher pursuing a doctorate in Science Ed. at George Mason University, with a concentration in cognitive science and the evolution of cognition and learning. Postings on this blog represent my own views, not those of my employer or school. All writing displayed on this page is original work unless otherwise noted, and thus copyrighted.

28 May 2009

Thread from Sandwalk (well..maybe)

If you were part of that discussion, or have something to add, feel free to continue it here.

I'll have to address responses here, because there's something screwy with the comment box, at least here at work.

@ Eugene> well... here's the thing, I don't actually have to disprove that someone who was dead for 3 days happened to rise again, walk around for a while longer, and then rose bodily into the sky, because the whole idea is preposterous. From the repeated experiences of mankind, it is obvious that this simply doesn't happen, so the burden of evidence for that is on you... one might think it would be recorded more accurately and closer to the time of occurrence that the canonical gospels (or those that are apocryphal for that matter). I can however, offer evidence that throws the whole scenario into doubt apart from "well, that just doesn't happen". There are several religions from that area, that predate Christianity, that have a deity who is the son a virgin, who also happens to be resurrected and preach salvation: Mithras, Adonis, and Osiris, to claim three that predate Christianity. The myth of Hercules also predates Christianity and shares some of the elements of the story of Jesus. The Norse legends of Odin don't predate Christianity, but hail from a time prior to the introduction of the Christian religion to that part of the world. Are all of those, particularly Osiris and Mithras (whose stories are nearly identical to those of Jesus, and in the same region hundreds of years prior) also true? Or is it more likely that early Christians latched onto existing myths of the time in order to add a certain panache to their forming religion. December 25th, incidentally, was the date of the Roman Feast of the Sun, and the supposed birthday of Mithras, recorded in Roman histories BCE... The theft of ideas is rather obvious if you can look at it unbiased. So what needs to be asked of you is simply this: why is your story more likely to be true than the ones that preceded it or mimicked it?
It can also be demonstrated that there are reasonable, natural, explanations for purported miracles... Lazarus was dead and resurrected? or had goatherds in Palestine 2000 years ago perhaps never heard of a coma, if the event happened at all?

And if a hypothetical claim of super-nature intervening in the workings of nature cannot be ruled out on the basis of the generally observed regularities of the natural sciences or abstract philosophy, the only possible evaluation left is direct examination of the phenomenon to see if it is entirely explicable with reference to purely naturalistic causes.

Correct, science lies fully in the realm of the natural and the observable. Don't neglect that observing the effect of an event is still empirical observation, and can lead to knowledge of the event itself. Science and reason, which is intertwined with science if your a scientist worthy of the name, demand that unnecessary explanations be stripped away. I don't need to hypothesize a creator if I know how, or approximately how, something came about without one. Theistic evolution is exactly that: adding an unnecesssary and logically untenable element to an explanation that stands on its own.
Smijer responded quite well to the god of the gaps argument, so I'll let that lie.

As for what can be empirically disproven, the creation story/stories in Genesis can be demonstrated to be false, Ussher's claim of the age of the Earth is clearly false, and modern day "miracles" are explainable by other means that the supernatural ones, many of which have also been shown to be flat-out hoaxes.

Smijer> When something is that far out of the realm of observation, one has to use reason rather than empiricism. However, defending an idea by saying "well you can't prove it didn't happen is making your stand on some rather shaky ground. He also can't prove it did, and I can easily call into question the validity of the Bible as a historical document, by the age of the writing and the evidence that it has numerous, unrelated authors.
So you define religion, in your sense, as the social aspect? Once you strip away rituals, you're left with a social club. A college fraternity would then be a religion, by your definition, even more so because they still include ritual of some form or other.. all they lack is a professed doctrine in the supernatural.

Eugene Curry
On what basis, then, can one say with any sort of confidence that "[r]eason tells us" that super-nature cannot (theoretically) impinge on the workings of nature?

Because by definition, once something has a measurable impact on the natural world, it can be empirically observed, and is now part of nature.

And given an unbiased historical examination, the resurrection of Jesus proves extraodinarily resistent to naturalistic explanations.

Yes, I agree... however, given unbiased historical examination, the evidence that Jesus even lived, much less did or said anything attributed to him, is debatable. If one chooses, for sake of this discussion, to accept that he was indeed a real person, then we're left with second and third-hand accounts of his deeds, at best. Do you happen to recall the supposed miracles at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917? We had live eyewitnesses for those, and know them to be false, or naturally explainable. Honestly, how reliable would you consider a first century source, which has been transcribed and translated multiple times before reaching you, to be on a topic that was not a matter of your faith? How about if the oldest extant copy was, most definitely, a copy, with items clearly added afterward, and dated from several hundred years after the supposed date of the original manuscript?


Smijer> The comment box is only wonky on my blog, it works on other people's... bizzare, and something I need to resolve. (Although I rarely have commenters to reply to, so it doesn't usually matter).
I understand, and can respect, the idea of using church for a social gathering if that is your only source. That is indeed the reason why many people don't completely leave religion, per se, and the UU churches I've seen are the most tolerable for me by far. I attend a couple of meet-up groups in this area that fill that role, and have previously used my rugby team for that sort of outlet (not a whole lot of thought going on there, to be sure). I'm not one to claim that every aspect of every religion is bad... I do claim that a number of heinous things are done in the name of some deity or other, and the the spurious supernatural claims of religion are exactly that. I'd love a place to sit down with people, play some chess (or air-hockey, or another game of your preference), have a nice intellectual discussion, and possibly drink a few Guiness's... Providing a setting that matches the similar needs of others apart from church involvement is something that will have to come with the growing numbers of non-believers in the country.


Eugene> At the risk of making this incredibly long...

1) extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. 'nuff said. You presume that I wouldn't accept such evidence if it were presented because of my wording, I can assure you (who's opinion on the matter I frankly don't value) that I would. I know my own mind best... Flew's opinion isn't worth a whole lot to me because he's an addlepated, waffling twit; Ehrman's is generally sound and he accepts that there was a historical Jesus (yes, I did more research).
Also, something of which you are likely aware and not considering: just because it's written down doesn't mean it's true.

2) Paul was most certainly evangelising for Christianity, which, incidentally, he stood to gain a great deal from spreading. That doesn't mean that he's outright lying, but it does shed reasonable doubt on his motives. Six of the 13 Epistles aren't accepted as being authored by Paul in the first place, although Corinthians, which you quoted, isn't one of these.

3) Your analogy is off here... It is reasonable to assume that at some point a black man could be president of the US. It is an element of mythology to assume parthenogenesis in primates, because it doesn't happen in nature, but it is a common thread in a number of myths/religions throughout human culture both before and after Jesus. If we're going to discuss ideological biases, is it possible for you, as a Baptist preacher, to view Christianity objectively? Can you really evaluate its claims as if it were, say, Hinduism?

4) Can you prove the resurrection using unbiased sources? Moreover, I'd say the base of your religion is the existence of a deity at all. Thusly, please demonstrate the following:

a)The Universe was created

b)The creation was performed by a deity

c)The deity is interventionist and keeps interfering in the universe

d)The deity happens to be that of an iron-age Semitic people from one region of a small planet circling a star in a galaxy of some 100 billion others, the galaxy being one of some 150 billion others

e)All of this is documented in the "holy book" of that particular set of people

It might also be helpful to your case to demonstrate these auxiliaries:

f)The deity is omni-maximal, i.e. omniscient, omnipotent and omni-benevolent

g)All other creation myths, gods, demi-urges and supernatural beings are false

You agreed that the burden of proof lies with you, I eagerly await your explanations.

5). You're conflating evolution with abiogenesis, and further conflating it with the Big Bang and cosmic development. If I can demonstrate that abiogenesis is possible, which some current experiments are rather close to doing, is your god then reduced to starting the universe and stepping back? Otherwise, it has been conclusively demonstrated that no outside interference is necessary for evolution to occur, so positing a designer is indeed superfluous.

6). I think I mistakenly dealt with this in 1. I don't have serious doubts the man existed, I do have serious doubts that most of what is attributed to him isn't fabricated to make him sound better. My personal view of the historical Jesus is along the lines of Gandhi, or Siddhartha Gautama (without all the nirvana hooey). Rational skepticism of anything, especially something written from an oral history, re-written, and translated as many times as much of the Bible has been would expect numerous errors; The fact that it's also prone to exaggerations and outright mendacity only compounds this problem. You accuse me of not applying skepticism to my own ideology; On what basis should I give more credibility to your particular brand of religion/mythology than someone else's?

to simply say that the traditional super-natural explanation of the early belief in Jesus' resurrection is incorrect is not to provide a naturalistic explanation. One has to actually offer an alternative positive theory. And it is here that the difficulty lies because no positive and comprehensive naturalistic theory withstands scrutiny.

It isn't necessary to provide a plausible alternate hypothesis for something that didn't happen, or can't be demonstrated to have happened. The reason this applies to evolution and not to resurrection is that one is a naturally observed phenomena (the diversityof life on Earth), and one is claimed to have occurred once and only once, and it beyond attempts at empirical observation.

My base position is this, for the resurrection, the existence of any deity, and anything else that lacks evidence: If an entity X is postulated to exist, and no substantive evidence capable of withstanding intense critical scrutiny is present to support the postulated existence of entity X, then the default position is to regard entity X as not existing until said supporting evidence materialises.

Contrary to popular opinion, this is de facto atheism, not agnosticism, and is the stance that many/most atheists with whom I've spoken take.


  1. IST, in the tread over at Sandwalk you said, "Theology is rooted in religion. When religion makes claims about the nature of the physical world, it is stepping into the realm of science, and can be disproven using scientific methods. How many of the bases of religion need to be disproven before it has no reasonable place in a debate about, well, anything. You can't begin a reasonable argument on a false premise." I'd heartily agree that theology is largely rooted in religion.

    But I'm unsure about what you mean you say, "How many of the bases of religion need to be disproven before it has no reasonable place in a debate about, well, anything." Are you implying that the bases of religion have been conclusively disproven? Coming from a Christian perspective I'd say that the ultimate "base" of my religious system is the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as a literal event within history. Has that event been disproven?

  2. ...what you mean *when* you say...

  3. Yes, science can refute certain religious claims. Creationism, for instance. I'm interested to see how you answer Eugene C. above - I personally think reason, applied in light of what we know about the world empirically, makes his belief in the resurrection untenable philosophically. However, it has not, and as far as I know, cannot be empirically disproven.

    We can prove that the dead cannot rise after three days - but his contention is that God makes possible what is naturally impossible. Reason tells us this is not so, but where is the empirical proof? I don't see it. If the religious person posits a singular event that is insulated from empirical investigation by inadequate forensic tools, the question is no longer a scientific one, but a religious / philosophical one.

    And, by the way... while I am firmly atheistic, I am one of those who counts myself in some respects "religious" - I belong to the Unitarian Universalist church, have no belief in anything supernatural, but find a relational religion of fellowship at the UU church. So, I don't think *all* of religion, not subsumed by philosophy, is ugly or indefensible. I do think large chunks of it are.

  4. Not to involve myself in a war with two fronts, but I would like to push back a bit regarding smijer's comment.

    The abstract possibility of "miracles" is certainly a philosophical issue: if there is no such thing that can reasonably be described as "super-nature" then nothing "super-natural" can occur. But this philosophical issue cannot be decided through abstract philosophizing.

    As I think both IST and smijer have conceded in this discussion, the natural sciences are, by definition, only concerned with nature and cannot therefore directly prove or disprove the existence of some sort of super-nature. Additionally, on the more abstract and philosophical level, there doesn't seem to be anything incoherent about the idea that super-nature may exist and may possibly interact with nature. On what basis, then, can one say with any sort of confidence that "[r]eason tells us" that super-nature cannot (theoretically) impinge on the workings of nature?

    And if a hypothetical claim of super-nature intervening in the workings of nature cannot be ruled out on the basis of the generally observed regularities of the natural sciences or abstract philosophy, the only possible evaluation left is direct examination of the phenomenon to see if it is entirely explicable with reference to purely naturalistic causes.

    In the event of an on-going phenomenon (such as qualia, consciousness, or whatever) such an examination could conceivably occur in a controlled evironment according to the canons of science. But in the case of a singular historical event (such as with the resurrection of Jesus) we can only utilize the canons of history. And given an unbiased historical examination, the resurrection of Jesus proves extraodinarily resistent to naturalistic explanations.

    Given this, a positive denial of the resurrection of Jesus can only be maintained on the basis of philosophical a priori. In this case a priori which are affirmed not only in the abscence of evidence, but (to quote Dawkins) "even in the teeth of evidence."

  5. Hi, Eugene. That's a whole new can of worms. Materialism vs whatever metaphysical framework you use. I think Materialism is the only reasonable metaphysics, because I don't see how the supernatural can be meaningfully distinguished from the natural. What property of reality - rightly so called - hides supernatural phenomena in all but handful of distant, historical cases, from our ability to observe it directly, and short of empirical observation what would compel us to accept it?

    Your god-of-the-gaps proposal for compelling belief doesn't work. It would imply that God shrinks each time science makes a new discovery that seemed difficult beforehand. An ever-shrinking God is no God, by any commonly used defintion.

  6. Fortunately, the comment box does still seem to be working on this end.

    --> "well you can't prove it didn't happen" is making your stand on some rather shaky ground.

    Yes - shaky epistemlogical ground. The bigger point, however - no matter how weak that argument is philosophically, it is a true statement of science that "science cannot give a definitive answer on this claim". On that basis, I believe it is improper, and blurs the metaphysical boundaries unnecessarily, to say that to believe this claim is "incompatible with science". That's about the same as saying that "E=mc2 is incompatible with show tunes".

    -->So you define religion, in your sense, as the social aspect?

    The social aspect is among the most important for my "religion" (whether you wish to call it that or not - it is the thing that I care about, not the name of it). My routine also includes a dose of personal reflection, education, some very light philosophical discussion, and communitarian service. It's a syncretic thing with me, and I believe a positive engagement. If I were eligible to join a college fraternity, maybe that would do just as well, or maybe not. But I'm not eligible for that. Church has no onerous eligibility requirements.

  7. IST, I encourage you to investigate some of the claims you have made more critically—skepticism is best used against all claims, not just those of one’s ideological opponents. Of course a short summary of counter-indicators doesn’t amount to a refutation but it’s better than nothing so I’ll offer it here anyway:

    1) I agree that the burden of proof is on the individual who claims that the resurrection occurred… just as it is with any person making any claim whatsoever. But to declare that the claim is “preposterous” may unduly bias any subsequent evaluation. Remember, there have been a number of confirmed phenomena admitted to our understanding of even the natural world which would have been regarded as preposterous by previous generations: general relativity, the indeterminacy of the quantum world, the wave/particle duality of light, etc.

    2) Yes, the record of the resurrection found in the gospels are separated from the event by several decades. That doesn’t strike me as overly tenuous, but it is a fact. However, the gospel accounts are not the only nor the earliest record of the event we possess. The letters of Paul are substantially earlier and 1 Corinthians 15 contains this statement: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” 1 Corinthians was written around AD 55 (25-ish years after the event), indicates that eyewitnesses are still alive, and this passage implies that the information was already in traditional form when it was “handed-on” to Paul at around the time of his conversion in circa AD 35—a mere 5 years after the event. 5 years hardly seems so far removed in time from the event to be inherently unreliable.

    3) The parallels you’ve offered between primitive Christianity and pagan mythology are largely specious. While my claim is that the resurrection is the ultimate “base” of my religious system (per 1 Corinthians 15:14 & 17) and could stand even if the virgin birth was demonstrated to be unhistorical, the stories of Mithra et al. don’t establish that. (Should I assume that America didn’t actually elect a Black president in 2008 because the “mythologies” of 24 and Deep Impact contain Black presidents of the US?) Further, the myths you cite don’t actually align closely with the Christian claims: Mithra wasn’t born as an infant to a virgin mother, he was “born” as a full grown adult to a rock. Osiris was a self-consciously a-historical figure connected with the crop cycle who died and returned to life multiple times. The original hijacking of December 25th by Christians occurs later in history and no more indicates ideological dependency than does the Christian hijacking of Samhain centuries later.

  8. 4) Yes, one can postulate naturalistic explanation that may (or may not) explain some of Jesus’ purported miracles (exorcisms, healings, etc). But, again, Christianity could conceivably stand nonetheless—the resurrection is the sine qua non of Christianity, not the feeding of the multitudes. And when one comes to that sine qua non naturalistic explanations are not forthcoming.

    5) Positing specifically theistic evolution is not adding something superfluous to an otherwise self-sufficient theory. I’m sure that you are aware of the remarkable specificity of the laws of physics and the various constants, all of which are necessary for chemical “evolution” let alone biological evolution. Such specificity calls for an explanation of some sort. The atheist posits a colossal multiverse and the theist posits a divine Mind to explain this phenomena. Therefore the notion of God is either equally as superfluous or equally as meaningful as the idea of a multiverse.

    6) The mere existence of Jesus is not really in dispute among specialists (even the very skeptical: Funk, Crossan, Borg, Flew, etc). The very fact that one would make such a claim indicates that you are already working here with the “loaded dice” of extreme and untenable skepticism—an observation that indicates that your skepticism is perhaps ideologically motivated. The same observation applies to your view of the New Testament’s manuscript tradition. (How do you feel when students question the validity of radiometric dating in an effort to avoid evidence of an utterly ancient universe? Do you think that such skepticism is honest and purely prudential or do you suspect that it’s merely an attempt to avoid the data that calls their young earth creationism into question?)

    smijer, the “fine-tuning” of the physical laws of the universe implies the existence of some sort of super-nature since both God and a multiverse would qualify—God rather obviously and the multiverse as well since it would not be subject to the specific laws of physics with their specific values which our natural sciences are built around.

  9. Eugene, ...
    1) the multiverse is one potential frame among others for a weak anthropic explanation for "fine tuning"
    2) the multiverse is purely hypothetical and no one suggests that we are compelled to accept its truth on non-empirical grounds.
    3) the multiverse is unlike the supernatural in that it impinges on nature only in the most general sense and in such a sense to render it practically (or possibly theoretically) impossible to observe empirically. It is much like the "Deistic God" which suffers few of the rational problems of the standard supernatural program in which God is active in the universe, yet this activity is undetectable by any reliable method. In other words, the multiverse (as other frameworks for the weak anthropic principle) does not beg the question of why we cannot observe it.

    By the way - I know this was addressed to IST & I hate to double team you but in response to
    ---> the resurrection is the sine qua non of Christianity, not the feeding of the multitudes. And when one comes to that sine qua non naturalistic explanations are not forthcoming.

    I have to offer this naturalistic explanation: the accounts of Jesus' resurrection handed down in scripture are incorrect.

  10. smijer, to simply say that the traditional super-natural explanation of the early belief in Jesus' resurrection is incorrect is not to provide a naturalistic explanation. One has to actually offer an alternative positive theory. And it is here that the difficulty lies because no positive and comprehensive naturalistic theory withstands scrutiny.

  11. Eugene, I'm not saying that the supernatural explanation of Jesus' resurrection is incorrect. What I'm saying is incorrect is the tradition we have through scripture that claims he was raised from the dead at all. Incorrect statements in scripture are quite natural.

  12. Alright, I'm getting sucked into this thread. And given the vaugeness of my schedule I have to be careful of that or I just won't get my work done. So this will be my last post; I'll read what you guys say in response but I won't respond to the response. If you want to keep the discussion going we can do it through email (pastor@fbcgh.net) but the pace will be slower.

    smijer, I think that IST's earlier comment is helpful: "observing the effect of an event is still empirical observation, and can lead to knowledge of the event itself." Virtually all critical scholars (including the above mentioned Bart Ehrman) believe that at least some of the apostles really believed that they had seen Jesus alive after his death. Likewise, the great majority of these same scholars also believe that the apostles discovered Jesus' tomb empty shortly after his interment. Additionally, these same scholars believe that Paul experienced an unusual *something* that he interpreted as a literal meeting with the risen Jesus which caused him to cease persecuting the early Church and become a spokesperson for it. These are all, in a sense, "effects" and they imply a cause or causes. It is this cause (or causes) that must be explained. The traditional Christian theory is that Jesus actually rose bodily from death into some new and previously unobserved sort of "trans-physicality" (to use N.T. Wright's word) and that theory explains the data. A materialist desiring to avoid this interpretation of the data in an intellectually honest way is obligated to posit some alternative naturalistic theory that explains all the available data at least equally well. And, so far, this hasn't been done.


    1) Truzzi's and Sagan's mantra that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof" certainly has an intuitive appeal to it that I feel just as much as the next man. In those dark watches of the night when my faith wavers it's normally this phrase that's bugging me. But as intuitively appealing as it is, as Sam Harris has pointed out with reference to the Monty Hall Problem, intuition cannot always be relied upon in these sorts of probabilistic dilemmas. Consider this scenario: you live in a relatively small community that centers around a casino. The town's only newspaper announces that Joe Blow III won the big jackpot last week. Now as you are reading the paper it suddenly occurs to you that the odds of winning that jackpot were calculated at 10 million to 1. It also occurs to you that in this particular newspaper's 50 year publishing history it has reported on 10,000 events and that the publisher prides itself on only have had to retract one single story in that entire time. Given, then, that the odds that Mr. Blow III actually won the jackpot are 10 million to one and the odds that the newspaper is simply wrong are relatively much greater at 10,000 to 1, should you simply assume that the paper is mistaken? That, in fact, it’s literally 1000 times more likely that the story is false than true?

    2) As you’ve conceded, 1 Corinthians is not among the potentially pseudopigraphical and so the dating I’ve indicated stands. As for Paul’s general honesty, the sincerity of his conversion and faith are not generally contested by scholars. His willingness to clearly differentiate between his own views and those of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 7:10 & 12, his willingness to admit to divisions between Peter and himself in Galatians 2:11, and other details establish this.

  13. 3) I concede that my faith likely influences how I weigh data. But then again, no one is exempt from such biases. As has been said, “There is no such thing as a view from nowhere.” But I’d argue that given my particular biases I am probably more able to give Hinduism (your example) a fairer hearing that a strict naturalist. Because I think that there is such a thing as super-nature and that this thing has interacted with nature I can, in theory, allow that such a thing has happened in India and has influenced the rise of Hinduism. A committed materialist can only deny such a possibility before ever actually looking at the evidence.

    4) You are correct that a belief in a divine Mind is essential to my theology. But the way you have phrased the issue is misleading. I do not need to prove that a divine Mind exists and then subsequently prove that the resurrection is the result of the intervention of this Mind in nature anymore than a quantum physicist must first prove that indeterminacy exists and then subsequently prove that the movement of electrons is indeterminate. In both cases the flow of thought may be reversed: If Jesus rose from the dead then there is presumably a God; if electrons are indeterminate then presumably indeterminacy exists.

    Michael Spencer (one of his articles was recently reproduced on Pharyngula) lays it out in a way that I’d *mostly* support:

    a. It is reasonable that God might exist.
    b. Further, it is reasonable (based on the evidence) that this God who might exist might be personal and therefore have communicated with human beings.
    c. The world's religions are a reasonable place to look for evidence of such communication.
    d. Among those representing the world religions, Jesus of Nazareth seems to hold the consensus as the person most likely to provide convincing evidence of the God who might exist. (Since Jesus is- in some way- incorporated into all major world religions. If all the world's religious leaders were locked in a basement until they could elect only one person to represent the best of their beliefs, I believe Jesus would be the person selected.) [I might quibble with Spencer here.]
    e. The resurrection of Jesus is a reasonable explanation for the existence of Christianity as a distinct belief system from Judaism.
    f. An examination of the various alternatives and existing evidence convinces me that the Resurrection is, in fact, true.
    g. If the Rez is true, then Jesus' statements about himself, God, Truth, Sin, etc. (The Christian worldview) are true by deduction. [I’d say, “are likely true by induction.”]
    h. Based on this conclusion, I relate to the God who I now believe exists through Jesus.
    i. My experience matches what Jesus describes, providing personal verification of the truth of Christianity.
    j. Based on Pascal's wager, I await eventual verification of this conclusion after death, but haven't lost anything if I am wrong.

  14. I would also point out that your sub-points d and g are misleading. However often enthusiastic non-believers decry the apparent arrogance of saying that God not only exists but that He is “this particular God of mine,” that isn’t necessarily Christianity’s position. In Acts 17:28, Paul quotes with approval a line from Aratus’ Phaenomena in which he declares that, as regards God, “We are his offspring” in a diffuse sense. It’s important to note, though, that Aratus was referring to God under the name of Zeus in the original work. It would seem then that early Christian didn’t believe that their God was the complete negation of all other gods but was rather the reality to which other systems also pointed.

    5) You have *almost* understood my point. I do indeed conflate evolution with abiogenesis and abiogenesis with the Big Bang. They hold together as a coherent possibility of entirely natural development: given the specific nature of the universe (matter, energy, time, space) and its laws (the fundamental forces and constants) the emergence of the universe could very well lead inevitably to the emergence of life which could very well lead inevitably to the emergence of complex life and consciousness. It’s entirely possible and an entirely scientific question which I am not competent to address. But even if this is true this doesn’t at all remove design. Specifically because (in this scenario) biology is just complex chemistry and chemistry is just complex physics, if design is present in fundamental physics (which is certainly a possibility considering the anthropic nature of the universe) that design would ramify up the ladder of complexity affecting existence at every point.

    6) I think comparing Jesus to Gautama is really helpful. Gautama did his thing and his teachings were only put into written form in the Pali Canon about four centuries later and he was divinized long after even that. In comparison, Jesus’ teachings were put into written form roughly 20-30 years after his death at the absolute latest. Further, Paul’s letters (e.g. Philippians 2:5-11) again demonstrate (to say nothing of the Gospel According to John) that stridently monotheistic Jews came to regard Jesus as somehow divine after less than 5 or 10 years at the most. Why? The reason given in Romans 1:4 is, again, the resurrection. As for the charge that the New Testament is unreliable because of transmission issues, I think that Bart Ehrman summarized the situation nicely: “The New Testament has much earlier attestation than for any other book from antiquity.” So if the modern critical editions of the Greek New Testament cannot be relied upon as a generally reliable witness to the original documents, then no modern copy of any ancient document can be relied upon and thus we can know nothing about what anyone actually wrote in ancient history. Does your skepticism run that deep?

    There is evidence here. And one can only brush it all aside without working through it on the basis of philosophical a priori that “such things simply do not happen.” But if this is what you choose to do then you are affirming your a priori on the basis of blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the teeth of evidence. And that, as I’ve said, is Dawkins definition of *religious faith*.

  15. Eugene, I'm content with the fact that you believe in the resurrection. I have no desire to talk you out of it. Where we differ is on this point:

    -->"The traditional Christian theory is that Jesus actually rose bodily from death into some new and previously unobserved sort of "trans-physicality" (to use N.T. Wright's word) and that theory explains the data. A materialist desiring to avoid this interpretation of the data in an intellectually honest way is obligated to posit some alternative naturalistic theory that explains all the available data at least equally well."

    1) I do not have to explain those "effects" unless I have a good explanation for them. I'm not obliged to accept whatever explanation is offered unless I provide a counter explanation. That isn't reason - that's bullying. I am free to say that we do not have enough evidence to draw conclusions about the reason for these "effects"
    2) I do have an explanation. That the stories Paul became aware of sometime between ~35 & ~55 AD of Jesus' resurrection were a popular legend, centered on the real person of Jesus but not accurate in the depiction of his resurrection, similar to the reports of Elvis Presley's re-appearance after his death. Unfortunately, we really don't have enough evidence to confirm this, or any other explanation of the appearance of that story in the literature. While either of us is entitled to our explanation (or no explanation at all!), mine has the advantage that the mechanism, namely humanity's error-prone powers of observation and communication, is empirically known to be possible. We do not have any empirical evidence that your explanation is possible. That is why I prefer my explanation.

  16. Eugene> You actually attempted to meet the lemmata a posted, and seem have a better knowledge of science than most theists I've had discussions with. On that, I commend you... David Robertson could take lessons.

    You missed some key points:
    In addressing the first lemma, you state that it is reasonable to assume that God exists, without bothering to bring forth any evidence to support that assertion. Without reliable evidence, the rest of your argument falls with it. You do in fact need to establish that a deity exists and actively participates in the universe in order for said deity to be the cause of Jesus' resurrection. Otherwise, you could conceivably establish the truth of the resurrection and you would still be lacking cause and proof of Jesus' divinity.
    Points d and g are necessary because the Christian god is clearly Yahweh of the Old Testament. Were you to prove the existence of Ra, or Odin, or any of the multitude of discarded deities, we would both have to reasonably adjust our positions.
    Pascal's wager is interesting, in that it also assumes that your omniscient god, who would should clearly be aware of the duplicity of belief solely for the sake of cheating the system, is stupid enough to fall for that ruse. A being capable of creating the universe can also be fooled by a trick most humans can see through? Sad, at best, and certainly not worthy of worship.

    "Jesus is- in some way- incorporated into all major world religions."
    Buddhism, Jainism, and Wicca, amongst others,make this statement false.
    My skepticism of the Bible runs no deeper than my skepticism of the Iliad and the Odyssey; All are works of fiction that incorporate historical figures and events.
    My a priori position is based on an absence of evidence, in which case a null hypothesis (i.e. there isn't a God until it shows itself properly) is the correct rational position. We're going to disagree on that point, first and foremost, because we clearly have different standards of evidence. I see nothing in the universe that points logically to an anthropic principle, nothing and all but the "blind, pitiless indifference" Dawkins cites.
    You have done what I suspect is your best in several places to paint me as the one who is being irrational and biased, without managing to bring forth evidence that logically supports your argument. You can call Sagan's mantra intuitive all you like, that doesn't also make it logically unsound. The little voice that speaks to you in the darkest voids of your doubt is your reason; I have no real hope that you will listen to it more as a result of this discussion, nor I would assume did you hold any real hope of converting me. Thank you for making this a pleasant discussion, and for raising some novel points. I maintain my view of the one you consider divine as a human who had some good things to say (and some not so good. Morality that stems from fear of hellfire is ignoble), and was deified by followers who wished to spread the message, gain power, or both.

  17. I need to find a way to allow blockquotes... this gets a bit ridiculous without them. I also neglected to credit Epeeist from RD.net for the lemmata I borrowed from him. There was no point in re-writing something that was that well done to start with.

  18. It's too bad I didn't find this thread when it was still active (although some basic html would have made it a bit easier to follow). A quick summary of my views on the matter: We know, as a matter of fact, that humans tell stories, exaggerate, misremember the past, and lie. We have countless examples. We are also thoroughly familiar with the reasons that people have for doing this: simple forgetfulness, hallucinations, avoiding punishment or shame, gaining influence, getting what they want, passing the buck, punishing enemies, and getting and holding the attention of an amazed audience. All of these are fully naturalistic hypotheses, compared to the supernatural hypothesis that Jesus rose from the dead. (It's not really supernatural, and wouldn't prove that he was divine or that God exists even if it did happen, but this can be momentarily conceded). Simply put, which explanation, in this instance, is more likely: a) the particular cult of an executed Jewish mystic made up a story about him and believed it, wrongly, to be true, or; b) Jesus rose from the dead and ascendede bodily into heaven. The truth, then, of this extraordinary event was then accepted mainly by--those handed it hereditarily at an early age. There's just something a bit too convenient about that last point.

    As for Pascal, you may insert "The Great Kerflobbenglobben" into his wager and it logically differs not at all: it is an equal reason to believe in absolutely anything at all that the human imagination can construct. Less kindly, you may ask the souls of anyone who was the victim of anything from the strappado to the vaginal pear during the high centuries of hunting witches and other heretics about how harmless the delusional beliefs of Xians were.

  19. Basic html indeed... like figuring out how to allow blockquotes and me having a comment window when I log in at work? If you have any other suggestions, they're quite welcome...

  20. Hi again, just popping in. I know that I said that I wouldn't respond to the response and I’ll abide by that. But as a clarification that might be generally helpful I'd like to address the essential nature of Pascal's wager as it's normally employed by Christians. Pascal's wager is not an attempt to "trick God"; there’s something that rings true about Alan Dershowitz's speculation that "Any God worth 'believing in' would surely prefer an honest agnostic to a calculating hypocrite."

    When employed by thoughtful Christians the wager is more a way of persuading the individual to persevere in faith rather than persuading God to accept the believer. As Pascal noted, "Put the world's greatest philosopher on a plank that is wider than need be; if there is a precipice below, although his reason may convince him that he is safe, his imagination will prevail." While Christians generally think that the evidence for Jesus' resurrection is quite good, the intuitive implausibility of it can sometimes be intimidating. The wager reminds the Christian that even if he's wrong he hasn't really lost anything--that death in such a case would likely only entail oblivion. This eliminates the "precipice" from the Christian's imagination and allows a reasoned evaluation of the evidence to withstand intuitive objections.

  21. Eugene> "popping in" is just fine... it creates a discussion where I had none.
    Noone (read not me, and to my knowledge not other atheists) is claiming that the intent of Pascal's wager is to fool your deity... it is an attempt at self-deception that has the additional effect of doing that.
    You've confounded evidence and intuition throughout the remainder of your explanation. When the bulk of real-world experience leans toward the implausibility of something, that's what we call evidence. The resurrection story in John isn't even the original author! (Ehrman, again)

  22. "Pascal's wager is interesting, in that it also assumes that your omniscient god, who would should clearly be aware of the duplicity of belief solely for the sake of cheating the system, is stupid enough to fall for that ruse. A being capable of creating the universe can also be fooled by a trick most humans can see through? Sad, at best, and certainly not worthy of worship." I'll take your word for it, but I hope you can see how it at least appeared that you felt I was attempting to fool God.

    Would you say that "the bulk of real-world experience leans toward the implausibility of" Hannibal marching elephants over the Alps to the point that the contemporary historical accounts of the event can be disregarded? How about the "the bulk of real-world experience" that tells against subatomic indeterminacy... or wave-particle duality? In any event, the fact that "the bulk of real-world experience leans toward the implausibility of" the resurrection of Jesus is an essential part of the belief: if people rose from death to a bizarre form of physicality as a matter of every-day experience then the fact that Jesus did so wouldn't be particularly significant; it's only its radical improbability that makes it count as support for the Christian faith if it happened.

    C. S. Lewis once commented on this very principle, albeit in reference to a different piece of the Jesus narrative, which is nevertheless helpful here: "[Y]ou will hear people say, 'The early Christians believed that Christ was the son of a virgin, but we know that this is a scientific impossibility.' Such people seem to have an idea that belief in miracles arose at a period when men were so ignorant of the course of nature that they did not perceive a miracle to be contrary to it.

    "A moment's thought shows this to be foolish, with the story of the virgin birth as a particularly striking example. When Joseph discovered that his fiancée was going to have a baby, he naturally decided to repudiate her. Why? Because he knew just as well as any modern gynecologist that in the ordinary course of nature women do not have babies unless they have lain with men.

    "No doubt the modern gynecologist knows several things about birth and begetting that Joseph did not know. But those things do not concern the main point -that a virgin birth is contrary to the course of nature. And Joseph obviously knew that."

    What Lewis says about the ancients awareness of "the facts of life" applies with even greater force to returns from death. The first 400-500 pages of N.T. Wright's big book on the resurrection details this in almost excruciating detail.

    Further, your epistemological position seems to makes belief in *any* claimed unique event impossible--even if it actually did happen!--no matter how much contemporary historical evidence there may be for it. Not to be too snarky, but as others have pointed out in reference to this sort of view, do you not believe that the universe exists then? It's advent is, afterall, ostensibly a unique event.

    As for John, yes, it's pretty obvious that the last chapter of the book wasn't original; it almost advertises itself as a postscript. But even so, to move from this rather obvious fact to a belief that the *entire* resurrection story in John is a later addition is so strange that I'm not quite sure that I understand what you are saying. John 21 is likely a very early addition, but the account of the resurrection begins in John 20 and it's that chapter that includes the discovery of the empty tomb, the appearence to the women, then to the Apostles, and then the episode with doubting Thomas.

  23. I understand why you felt the need to explain Pascal's wager, and regardless of the intent of the wager, it is a sad attempt to fool God. Whether or not that's an intended effect or a side effect, it follows clearly from the logic of the wager itself.
    Your second paragraph is one long failure at analogy, or perhaps you knew that? The events you describe are indeed improbable, but can be thoroughly tested. I accept the validity of Hannibal crossing the Alps on elephants because there is physical historical evidence that he has done so... both in Rome and the remains of Carthage. The resurrection is supported only by the new testament and writing derived from those stories, the veracity of which have been seriously called into question. Have a look at Misquoting Jesus (Ehrman) for more specifics on that if you'd like.. It's available online. Not only is John 21 an obvious insertion, but so is the "woman caught in adultery" in John 7, Luke after 21:38, and the entire resurrection account in Mark. As the later books are clearly based on Mark, this makes the story a bit suspect.
    The virgin birth portion of the gospels is not only explicable by natural means and a blatant plagiarism of earlier religions in the area, it has faults all its own. The original Hebrew for 'virgin' also translates as 'young woman'. Matthew and Luke disagree not only on the events preceding the birth of Jesus, but on his geneaology as well... by nearly 20 generations. Moreover, what is their purpose in establishing the geneology of Jesus through Joseph to David if Jesus was indeed not the physical son of Joseph? The accounts of his birth, life, and death are too widely varied and obviously tampered with to be regarded as a reliable source by anyone who wasn't raised to consider those accounts as infallible. The nearest attempt at offering a historical timeline comes from Luke, in describing the reasons for the travels of Joseph and Mary prior to the birth: Caesar Augustus had conducted a census, at the time when Herod was king in Judea and Quirinius was governor of Syria. No Roman history denotes that census at at all, and one Jewish source has it occurring in 6 AD. Herod died in 4 BC,to further confound that. To further convolute that scenario, Joseph was supposedly asked to return to Jerusalem? The home of an ancestor from 1000 years prior? That's like asking me to return to Normandy for a census, on the one part of my line that can actually be traced back more than a couple hundred years. The Mormons don't even keep genealogical data that well! I'll not even bother with the numerous problems to the narrative caused by the Coptic manuscripts, which are historically as valid as the canonical set, if not moreso due to the period of time during which they could not be mistranslated or intentionally altered. It is rather telling that much of what is purported to Jesus is stated to have been done in order to fulfil prophecy, and that Messianic Judaism manages to exist despite waiting for those specific prophecies to be fulfilled.

  24. I'm curious, what specific "physical historical evidence" do you know of that indicates that Hannibal actually marched elephants over the Alps? Maybe the accounts written by Polybius (70ish years after the event) and Livy (200ish years after the event) and art produced even after that? I can do better than that for Jesus' resurrection.

    For the most part you are correct that the bulk of the documents that testify to Jesus' resurrection are contained in the New Testament. Nevertheless, the reliability of the New Testament documents are not quite so easily disposed of as you continue to imply. "Misquoting Jesus" is an interesting book and I'm glad that I've read it. Though I think it needs to be said that, as Ehrman himself admits, nothing in the book is particularly new or even controversial. In fact, every major textual issue that Ehrman discusses was already discussed in "The New Testament: Its Transmition, Corruption, and Restoration" written by Bruce Metzger, Ehrman doctoral adviser and commited Christian.

    Sure, the Pericope Adulterae is likely spurious, but that's so well known that modern translations of the Bible actually bracket those verses out and state that they are a later addition. But when you say that "Luke after 21:38, and the entire resurrection account in Mark" are later additions to the gospel texts, you're simply mistaken: while Luke 22:43-44 may indeed be a transposition from Matthew (again, noted in many modern translations) the textual originality of the rest of chapters 22 through 24 are not diputed and that includes Luke's description of the resurrection. As for Mark, sure, 16:9 and following is very clearly a later addition combining elements from the other gospels accounts and Acts. But again this is clearly indicated in modern translations and even so the authentic part of chapter 16 still details the discovery of the empty tomb and the declaration of the resurrection (vs. 6) and refers to an appearance to Peter and the disciples that would take place in Galilee (vs. 7). The question of whether Mark originally ended at 16:8 or initially included a longer ending which was subsequently lost and then replaced is still debated in scholarly circles.

    Everything (well... many things) that you say about the birth narratives are true. But I didn't include the Lewis material to argue for the virgin birth but to demonstrate the manifest silliness of saying that whatever the ancients may have believed, modern people can't rationally accept the resurrection because it runs counter to the "bulk of real-world experience". The fact is that a group of first century Jews were just as aware of this "bulk of real-world experience" as 21st century Americans (maybe even more so considering how thoroughly we insulate ourselves from death) and yet they believed it anyway--on the basis of their direct and repeated observations--observations attested to in *very* early tradition preserved 1 Corinthians 15 and likely somewhat later tradition in Matthew, Mark (even the short legit ending), Luke, and John.

  25. Eugene> Well, see, I've actually been to Rome, and seen some of the damage purported to the Punic Wars. Now, after almost 2000 years, that can easily be attributed to something else, but Hannibal did arrive in Italy, with elephants, without evidence of having landed a ship there. If someone finds the remains of a Carthaganian fleet on the Italian coast that has fossilised elephant excrement in it, I'll have to adjust that position. Your entire ergument, whether taken from Lewis or not, can be summarised thus: The resurrection of Jesus is the keystone of the Christian faith, and if I can prove that you have to accept the rest. The New Testament asserts that Jesus was resurrected and also that it is, in itself, true. Despite the fact that you've pointed out inconsistencies in the NT, I accept the NT as a valid historical source, and you should to, so you're being unreasonable. Let me know how badly I straw-manned that in shortening it, but the details you've left in post after post all lead back to that line of thinking.
    You're undoubtedly waiting for an "Oh wow, I've been wrong, I believe!" moment that isn't coming? The essence of our disagreement is that the book you cite as a historical source is not something I consider a valid, reliable historical source of, well, almost anything, without corroborating evidence. I digressed badly on your point from Lewis, and shouldn't have. I think it's manifestly silly for anyone to believe that someone rose from the dead, ancient or modern, without a good deal of evidence that supports that. I offer two naturalistic explanations for the two separate counts of resurrection associated with Jesus: 1) ancient people, however familiar with death, had no idea what a coma was; 2) People make things up, especially when it adds a level of impressiveness to their story, religion, etc..

  26. Summary? Your argument is based on one source, which I don't accept due to all the inconsistencies, copying errors, and outright fabrications present in it. You do accept that, more likely as a matter of faith than evidence, but have tried to present a reasonably coherent argument why I should also accept it. You've done so (mostly) without resorting to snark and word salad textual inanity (although you've fallen to the temptation to do so recently), but neither of us are going to convince the other of anything without a new source. You will undoubtedly say this is because I'm ignoring valid evidence, or being unreasonable, or some other ad hominem that a rational, sceptical person would find insulting or demeaning. Reading your holy book is largely what led me to abandon any faith I once had, coupled with examining what passed for current evidence for a deity as displayed by others around me (My father, to whom I no longer speak over other issues, is and has been a devout Baptist, and I was surrounded by and associated with born-again evangelist Christians of several flavours at university). Were you to find the document on which Mark and the rest are undoubtedly based, uncorrupted, probably along with a secular (or at least non-Christian) source that supports that, I might be forced to pull a Flew. Until then, I continue in honest unbelief for lack of evidence, and you'll continue in belief based on faith (not an insult in this case, that's part of being religious). This debate is going to be utterly fruitless for both of us. Incidentally, stating the Ehrman's work is nothing new does not, in fact, make it false. His advisor was able to maintain his faith throughout discovery of that information, Ehrman (a Christian when he began his career) was not. So what was your point there? Purely a rhetorical question, so that you may refine that argument, as you may well see it again. Consider what you believe about non-Christian faiths, and why you believe it. Your given explanation above is that something happened to cause those beliefs, and leans toward the supernatural explanation. I disbelieve those, as well as Christianity, because all of it can be explained by a simple, natural explanation: ancient people, in the absence of science and a way of knowing things about the natural world, felt a need to explain occurrences in the natural world. If such a position makes it logically untenable to believe in any one off, unverifiable event, so be it. Natural occurrences leave natural evidence (check out the COBE project for the Big Bang, for example), and realistic theories based on those occurrences allow predictions of future events or evidence that should be found. Those theories are still nothing more than the best present explanation of a phenomena, to be altered or discarded with contrary evidence. To imply that one must then take a post-modern nihilist position of "you can't know anything" based on that level of scepticism, as you have previously implied, is patently ridiculous. One cannot reasonably assume that any position that is not mathematically provable is not subject to correction, however. So in final reply to your earlier snark, yes, I believe in a universe, because it's the only way to experience life in a reasonable and enjoyable manner. Whether or not I can prove I exist, to borrow from Hume, assuming that I do is more convenient to experiencing life than not so. Perhaps that's an exception to my scepticism, and I accept that.

  27. To say that your summary of my position is a straw-man is too forceful; I’d merely say that it’s over-simplified and over-confident. So for the sake of clarity, here’s the summary of my position—from the horse’s keyboard as it were: The resurrection of Jesus is the sine qua non of meaningful Christian faith; if it never happened Jesus was (at best) a seriously confused religious reformer, but if it did happen then *some* form of Christianity can stand even if every other miraculous element of the Jesus narratives is legendary (e.g. Arthur Peacocke). For while the resurrection itself would not provide air-tight certainty regarding the larger conceptual framework of the Christian faith, it would nevertheless justify us in very seriously considering that framework and likely adopting some form of it as (as you say) the “best present explanation of a phenomena”.

    The New Testament contains a number of sources (to call the NT “one source” is simply anachronistic) which indicate that subsequent to Jesus’ crucifixion His earliest followers found his tomb empty and really believed that they had encountered Him alive again on multiple occasions both individually and in group settings. (While these sources cannot be harmonized perfectly this is not a fatal objection: eye-witness testimony is often partially contradictory; see “Wittgenstein’s Poker”.) Given the earliness of this information as preserved in 1 Corinthians 15, the fact that most of the sources indicate that women (not normally considered credible witnesses in the culture) were the first to discover the empty tomb, the somewhat altered appearance attributed to the risen Jesus, the clearly bizarre attributes of his risen body (passing through locked doors, etc), the overall incongruity of the resurrection of a single person in the course of history with the preexistent Jewish views of what “resurrection” was all about, and the conversion of skeptics (e.g. James) and even antagonists (e.g. Paul) in response to their own experiences of the risen Jesus, naturalistic explanations seem to fail. (As to the “coma theory”—a variation on the classic “swoon theory”—the 19th century rationalist David Strauss observes helpfully, “It is impossible that a being who had stolen half dead out of the sepulcher, who crept about weak and ill and wanting medical treatment... could have given the disciples the impression that he was a conqueror over death and the grave, the Prince of life: an impression that lay at the bottom of their future ministry.”)

  28. Given, then, the apparent failure of naturalistic explanations of the resurrection and the presence of noteworthy conceptual points surrounding the event such as Jesus’ overtly and self-consciously religious identity, Hebrew exceptionalism (Why *did* the ancient Israelites affirm universal ethical monotheism for so many generations in contradistinction with their neighbors? Why did they say that the one true God of everything loved even the people who they personally hated? e.g. Amos 9:7 & Jonah 4), the global ambitions of the early Christian community, and their belief that Jesus was somehow the consummation of even pagan spirituality (again, Acts 17:24-31), I’m inclined to see the resurrection as part of “something larger” and not just some utterly bizarre fluke that falsifies naturalism but erects nothing definite in its place. Indeed the resurrection leads me to believe (somewhat on faith I confess) that as regards God, the afterlife, and so on, as William T. Newsome has said, “Jesus knows more about that than I do.”

    Now clearly I’ve not been waiting for you to have some sort of profound conversion experience in the comment thread of a blog. (I’ve never even met you but I’ve got to believe that you are tougher minded than that!) Worldviews are big things and big things rarely change over night. Rather, what I’ve tried to do is demonstrate the intellectual and epistemological resiliency of an informed and somewhat critical Christianity. I’ve attempted to demonstrate that while Christianity is often bandied about in naive and somewhat sophomoric ways, it doesn’t have to be. And however much the Jerry Falwells of the Church may dominate the discussion, their somewhat embarrassing rhetoric doesn’t undermine the legitimacy of the thought of men like N.T. Wright any more than the train-wreck Madalyn Murray O'Hairs of atheism invalidate the positions of men like Michael Martin.

    Since this seems like a good place to end the discussion (for real this time) I’ll put my final appeal on the table (or, in this case, the screen). You said, “One cannot reasonably assume that any position that is not mathematically provable is not subject to correction”. I’d encourage you to seriously think about what you wrote there. For while your atheism is not a statement of positive belief (it’s the denial of such a statement) and is therefore not “a religion”, you do seem to be operating on a fairly consistent assumption of naturalism and naturalism *is* a worldview. Now, given that such a worldview (indeed, any worldview) is not subject to mathematical proof, it must be (as you said) “open to correction”. So, might the combined historical evidences of Jesus’ empty tomb, the encounters the disciples believed that they had with a risen Jesus in group settings, and the conversion of skeptics and antagonists on the basis of similar encounters be enough to “correct” naturalism? And if so, what should replace it? Nothing more than a radical openness to metaphysical weirdness; an admission that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies? Or perhaps a tentative system in which the most strongly evidenced supernatural event occupies a central place?

  29. "Given, then, the apparent failure of naturalistic explanations of the resurrection and the presence of noteworthy conceptual points surrounding the event such as Jesus’ overtly and self-consciously religious identity..."

    Here's the best explanation - it didn't really happen.

  30. Doppelganger> Belated thanks for apply Occam... I was granting a bit in the interest of discussion since Eugene was actually avoiding being an ass for most of that discussion, but I certainly agree with you.