Dismissing the “Fact” of the Resurrection in a Single Sentence

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In a perfect analogue to the grand assertions of every cult and religious fiction, not one of the astonishing claims regarding the life of Jesus – the Herodian slaughter, the great census, the heavenly star, the many miracles, the raising of Lazarus, the great earthquake, the hours of darkness, the rending of the temple veil, the hordes of walking dead, the mass post-mortem sightings, or the ascension – was recorded by a single contemporary outside of the faith tradition.

~ Jericho

~

Comments

  1. Matt, there must be several trillions of events that have never been recorded, even events in your own life. What makes you think if the particular events you bring up were real events that they would be recorded elsewhere? Keep in mind the estimated literacy rate was ~10% and you need a strong motivation to preserve history which can be glossed over selectively. Also, suppose you had extra sources for a miracle, would that really be sufficient for you to believe? No! You could just as easily say it was interpolation or say that 2 independent sources are arbitrarily insufficient.

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    • This is the difference, my good man, between believing something is true because it is well substantiated And factual and believing something is true because you wish it to be so.

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    • Brandon but here you are not being truthful. The historians record many things, actually several things. To tell us that these claimed of Jesus they didn’t consider recording is to be involved in what we call special pleading.
      If for example I may ask, what became of the zombies? Are they still among us?

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      • Mak, exactly so. Same with hours of darkness. Richard Carrier does a thorough analysis on this. Arguments from silence are entirely legitimate, on the condition that a historical or evidential record would be expected on such an event. We expect tomes of evidence for a global flood, which is not there. We expect pagan and Jewish records of some of the events surrounding the life of Jesus, because they are big events – and we have nothing. There are events notable enough that we should not get silence, and if we do, it points to embellishment in our hero chronicles as the most likely explanation.

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        • Matt, I agree there are places where we can admit arguments from silence but not when the book claims a zombie apocalypse. It isn’t possible that not one disinterest historian couldn’t find time to mention it.
          Oh, and the killings, I mean it is not always a monarch orders the killing of babes just because he is threatened however way you think of it.

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          • Mak, you misunderstand- – I entirely agree with you. There are some people who mistakenly think that arguments from silence are always invalid, which isn’t true. You are entirely correct – these events would be expected in the historical record. The fact that they are missing is a major problem for bible believers. Killings, zombies, darkness, veil, etc.

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      • Mak, what I think is more complex and doesn’t fit the category of special pleading. Suppose you were a historian in the first century, consider two possibilities. 1) You heard about Jesus or 2) you actually witnessed Jesus work a miracle.

        1) Would you believe your source? Would you write it down? And, what are the odds it will survive 2000 years? I think there’s a low probability that all three of these would come true. How many historians do we even know about from the first century? The only I can think of with proximity to Jesus did write something about Jesus!

        2) If you actually witnessed Jesus’ miracles (which would be difficult in itself because he tried to keep them on the DL) I think there are a few things that could happen. You might not think much of it since this is pre-science age. Or, you might be blown away, then just forget about it while you wrote your magnum opus. Or, you wrote something down but it wasn’t good enough to survive into history such as Josephus. Or my personal favorite: it may be that every single historian that witnessed Jesus work a miracle contributed to the Gospels, and this is why there is no extrabiblical sources.

        The point is, there is no reason for us to require that there be extrabiblical sources for things like miracles.

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        • Brandon, you seem to be moving the goal posts here. Matt’s mini-post listed many more extraordinary events other than the miracles that Jesus is said to have done while alive during his ministry. I’ll italicize them for you:

          the Herodian slaughter, the great census, the heavenly star, the many miracles, the raising of Lazarus, the great earthquake, the hours of darkness, the rending of the temple veil, the hordes of walking dead, the mass post-mortem sightings, or the ascension

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          • Oops, italics don’t show in blockquotes. So:

            the Herodian slaughter,
            the great census,
            the heavenly star,

            the great earthquake,
            the hours of darkness,
            the rending of the temple veil,
            the hordes of walking dead,
            the mass post-mortem sightings,

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            • Ratamacue0, I can specifically address these points:

              -the Herodian slaughter: plausible but no proof either way, relies on an argument from silence
              -the great census: again plausible but no proof either way, relies on an argument from silence
              -the heavenly star: could be comet or supernova
              -the great earthquake: isn’t there geological evidence for an earthquake around 30AD?
              -the hours of darkness: could be dark clouds, no need for nighttime darkness
              -the tearing of the temple veil: possible but no proof either way, relies on argument from silence
              -the hordes of walking dead: appears to be apocalyptic literary device that would be well-received by ancient Jews
              -the mass post-mortem sightings: Jesus did not appear openly in public but rather to specific groups of people, this is how all of Jesus’ miracles were performed as well

              If an argument from silence is not corroborated by other evidence, it amounts to speculation. My guess is as good as yours as his as hers.

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              • @Brandon,

                You have to be serious, or its just not worth people’s time to respond and interact. Arguments from silence are not intrinsically fallacious (you may be confusing them with arguments from ignorance). I suggest Wiki on both. Arguments from silence can be quite sound, or entirely off base, all depending very heavily on the particulars… which I already stated. Apologists may enjoy dismissal as a tactic. That doesn’t mean it will fly here.

                Carrier:
                “Historians routinely rely on Arguments from Silence: when something isn’t said or attested, we conclude it didn’t happen. Such reasoning is often challenged with the quip “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” But the truth is, absence of evidence is evidence of absence— but only when that evidence is expected . You also sometimes hear the axiom “you can’t prove a negative,” but that’s also false. Negatives are often quite easy to prove and we prove them all the time. In fact, logically, every positive claim entails a converse negative claim, thus merely in the act of proving a positive we have always proven a negative; often a great number of them.”

                Carrier, Richard C. (2012-04-03). Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus (pp. 117-118). Prometheus Books. Kindle Edition.

                Garraghan:
                “To be valid, the argument from silence must fulfill two conditions: the writer whose silence is invoked in proof of the non-reality of an alleged fact, would certainly have known about it had it been a fact; [and] knowing it, he would under the circumstances certainly have made mention of it. When these two conditions are fulfilled, the argument from silence proves its point with moral certainty.”

                Garraghan, Guide to Historical Method, § 149a. See also Shafer, Guide to Historical Method, p. 77; Gottschalk, Understanding History, pp . 45– 46; and Neville Morley, Writing Ancient History (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), pp. 67– 68.

                .

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              • @Matt and Ratamacue0

                Matt, I really do take this seriously, I hope nothing I’m saying comes off as flippant. I do agree with you that an argument from silence can be valid. I should be more careful to include this caveat. By what criteria is an argument from silence valid? Garraghan almost gets it in his quote, but doesn’t go far enough. Moral certainty is less than reasonable certainty. For an argument of silence to be valid, you need to know that you have looked in every possible place that you are saying it’s absent from.

                If you apply this criterion to historical method, for an argument of silence in a text to be valid, you need to prove the following:
                -That the author plausibly would have had knowledge of the questionable event
                -That the author plausibly would remember the event
                -That the author plausibly would have reason to mention the questionable event (i.e., it wasn’t outside the radar of interest, it was relevant to what s/he was writing)
                -That the author plausibly would have less reason to not mention the questionable event (i.e., that the author was not afraid of being cut down for criticizing a tyrant)
                -That the subsequent copiers would not edit this part out (i.e., there might be a reason to edit out undesirable parts of history if an editor has a particular bias)

                -B

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              • @Brandon,

                You’ll have to forgive my foot tapping, but this sort of positional whiplashing makes discussion… difficult. Your words:

                “If an argument from silence is not corroborated by other evidence, it amounts to speculation. My guess is as good as yours as his as hers”

                What you’ve just posted, probably after consulting sources again I’m guessing, is direction shifting with pretense that you were not saying what the quote above reflects. Whenever an argument from silence is valid, it is valid because there is an absence of evidence where such absence is inexplicable except for fabrication/mistaken record. Your first quote says that an argument from silence must be accompanied by evidence, which is entirely not an argument from silence. Your new quote… well, I’ll waste no more time on this.

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              • Matt, I’m not consulting any sources on arguments from silence, everything I’ve said here is my own naïve thinking. I will admit, I was too dismissive at first, so please forgive this oversight. I’m trying to think things through just like everyone else.

                My goal in engaging you and other atheists is not to prove you wrong or rationally inferior. We’re all on an intellectual journey learning from each other. When I see arguments that I do not think can deliver I try to shift things back to the state of agnosticism. I’m definitely not here to just reactively say things. With that said, I gladly invite and accept your criticism and corrections.

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              • Fair enough. Up to you of course, but you could reconsider the prior question from ratamacue0.

                But to give this a dimmer hue, I will lay an additional factual burden on the table: Josephus. We know that JoJo was willing to document supernatural events. Chariots in the clouds. Heavy gates opening themselves. A range of signs and omens. He reported these honestly- they were reported to have happened, but he made no absolute claims that they did. And he spoke of Jesus followers, so the movement was known his radar. And yet, nothing about the miraculous events we are interested in. There were other historians from that time, but I’m not too familiar with their details. The point is, the arguments from silence have sturdy legs, based on the particulars of the records we have, any on the sheer number claimed versus the zero recorded elsewhere.

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              • Brandon,

                Matt beat me to the punch in noting that arguments from silence can be valid. I will add:

                -the heavenly star: could be comet or supernova

                I’m not sure if we should be dealing with your speculation here, or just looking for a citation by a disinterested contemporary to verify this happening.

                In any case: I believe the supernova is out, since that would just appear above, like a star. (Right?) Remember, this thing is supposed to be leading the wise guys to a specific building.

                A comet could move through the sky. Would a historian document it? Such that we’d expect to find it? And how would that direct people to a certain place (specific building) on earth?

                -the great earthquake: isn’t there geological evidence for an earthquake around 30AD?

                Citation needed.

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              • Ratamacue0, I responded to you and Matt above. I agree that an argument from silence may be valid under stringent circumstances. As far as the “heavenly star” goes, I am merely speculating.

                Regarding the earthquake, here is the published article supporting a 33AD earthquake:
                http://www.academia.edu/6108262/Quake_Article.

                In case that link does not work it is by Jefferson WB et al. “An early first-century earthquake in the Dead Sea.” International Geology Review. 2011. Just google it and you should have full access to the text.
                -B

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              • Yes, yes. Now, I’m not going to do the work here – you tell me why this doesn’t shift either my original “dismissal” quote, nor help your case. It only takes about 5 minutes of contemplation…

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              • The link works, I tested it. Just scroll down when you click the link.

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              • Matt,

                Regarding the question of the validity of these arguments from silence: do we have specific works of specific contemporary-ish historians in which we’d expect to find some of these items, if they happened?

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          • @ratamacue0,

            Concur. But get used to it. Apologetics is out of business without goal post shifting and double standards of evidence/argument vs. other faiths. The bright lights of inquiry are reserved for others.

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        • In the book am currently reading, Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, Plutarch records what poets said about some of the men he is writing about, describing their head sizes, their manner of speech, height and so much more. Are you implying it is only the bible that could have survived 2K years or what is your point in asking if something would have survived while we have very many pieces of literature surviving from longer than that. This is a pure case of special pleading.
          And while we are at it, what is a miracle? If we can get this agreed on maybe we could come to a solution why they were not recorded.

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          • Mak, I am not saying that the bible is the only book that can survive 2000 years! Not at all! I’m well aware of the vast array of ancient literature that has survived. I merely point out the difficulty in generating something that has a chance of survival.

            Regarding miracles, I don’t precisely know what they are. I do not require supernatural forces for miracles. Many of them are simply improbable events that have religious significance. However, there are things like turning water into wine which appear to require some outside tinkering, not supernatural, rather an ability to transform the quarks of water into the quarks of wine. But, if you can light the fuse of the Big Bang, this molecular transformation is child’s play.

            I seem to get the question often, if you reject the supernatural, then how do accept miracles like this? I just don’t know what you mean by supernatural. It’s a category that you are imposing on it, a category not found in scripture that was invented maybe around the year 400AD. What does it mean? Why do I need it?
            -B

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            • Brandon, it seems your interest is far from engaging in reasonable debate and I simply have no time for that. To imply that the story of Jesus needs to be given special treatment because it is old is simply ridiculous. You are not going to write here that the fishermen who followed him thought it worthwhile to record the slaughter of babies while other historians writing at the same time or shortly after didn’t think such act worthy of record or that these were the only ones that couldn’t survive history!

              Improbable events with religious significance like the ascension of Romulus? Do you take it that the story of Romulus as narrated in the Lives by Plutarch has a religious significance? And if yes what is it?

              As to the wine story, I have a lot to say about it. First which moral teacher goes to a place where people are already intoxicated, knowing that alcohol impairs judgement, and then gives them more alcohol? He calls his mother woman! Where is the respect! There is no way this absurdity could have happened. It is embellished by the gospel authors. Why you even think it is a miracle, whatever miracles are, worth mentioning in a debate with reasonable people is beyond me.

              I haven’t in this thread mentioned anything supernatural. So why ask me about supernatural? Well you say in your response that a miracle is something improbable that have a religious significance. If these events have a naturalistic explanation, they can’t be miracles. So you may need to give an example of one such event

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              • Mak, we seem to have communication problems! I’m not making any special pleas for the Gospels. I’m saying that these arguments from silence are invalid. They do not deliver, so I’m arguing for agnosticism rather than the truth of Christian theism. Does that make any sense?

                I could comment on the water-to-wine story and Romulus and the definition of miracle and so on, but I think the more important point of discussion relating to Matt’s OP is that these arguments from silence have not been shown to be valid. Check out the dialogue above with Matt and Ratamacue0.

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              • Well it seems you have changed tact. You can have it your way.

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    • Brandon, considering how great and loved (adored, even) Jesus apparently was, has it ever crossed your mind how remarkably odd it is that we don’t have a single physical description of him, let alone a drawing, or even a piece of graffiti in his honour?

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      • John, wow, that sent me down a whole rabbit trail.

        I’ve often thought about the voice of god. The things he supposedly tells people, if taken in composite, more or less just reflect them, not a single outside source with consistent properties. The same is true of “what does the voice of god sound like?” It doesn’t usually sound like anything, but at bottom usually just amounts to feelings or senses of some sort.

        Nothing regarding the question of god’s voice paints a portrait that there really is information coming from an external spiritual reality.

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        • Great point. Gods voice sounds remarkably like my own voice… Mmmmm….

          But on to Jesus; wouldn’t you think there’d exist a single physical description? I mean, these people adored the fella, right, yet absolutely no reference to what he looked like was made by anyone. A simple rendering would be natural, too, i think. Even some graffiti. We’re led to believe they graffiti’ed fish symbols everywhere, so why not a rudimentary image of the man himself?

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          • I agree completely. Height. Weight. Eye color. Hair color. Big nose. Bad teeth. But like the female protagonist in Twilight, he is amorphous enough that we can all project our own favored images onto him.

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            • I forget the document, the historian Michael Wood noted it, but the Persians made a physical description of Alexander, although they did add two devils horns growing out from his temple. They said he was short and stout, had gorgeous hair (and horns), was lightning fast on his feet, and rode his horse (Bucephalus) like he was physically attached to it.

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      • John, you haven’t seen the Indian Jesus? He is tall with a halo over his head and I think he goes shirtless 🙂

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      • John,
        Jesus didn’t approve of graffiti. 🙂
        I agree though, the author’s disinterest with physical appearance is strange to us. . . wait! Here it is:

        “I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters.” (Rev 1:13b-15) 😀

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        • The murmurs of a mad man holed-up in a cave 😉

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        • While this is supposed to be a description of Jesus I’m….ambivalent.

          Here’s this fantastical, detailed description of what he will look like based on a vision-whether that vision be a daydream, a hallucination from mental illness or some mushrooms, or the cheese he ate that night before bed. But no mention by any of those who supposedly ran with him about what he looked like in human form.

          This also oddly sounds like an embellishment of the Transfiguration.

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          • Another log for the fire: it odd how much of the New Testament was written by Paul, a man that had never met Jesus on earth. It was all visions from heaven there too. And heck, we still have people that would clean the same thing for themselves today. What makes Paul different?

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            • What makes Paul different? Easy! He was clearly an effective religious salesman who sold “his” product to the northern Jewish diaspora. I don’t know how they concluded it, i haven’t read the report, but one of the principle findings of The Acts Seminar was that there was never a church in Jerusalem. The early church sprung up in modern day Syria and Turkey, and that points straight to Paul.

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              • You have a link on that?

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              • This is Neil Godfrey’s take on it. If you don’t already follow his blog, do. He’s considered one of the best “amateurs” out there, and even Carrier quotes him.

                http://vridar.org/?s=The+Acts+Seminar

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              • Thanks!

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              • This is the relevant bit, but the rest is a wealth of Wohao.

                5. Jerusalem was not the birthplace of Christianity
                The Acts Seminar has shown through multiple studies that the entire Acts narrative of Christian beginnings in Jerusalem (Acts 1-7) has little historical value. This is a significant challenge to most theories of Christian origins. (p. 3)

                [Godfrey’s notes] I look forward to the day when more scholars (for similar methodological reasons) will conclude that Christianity itself did not originate with a handful of followers of Jesus being persuaded that their “Gospel/historical Jesus” had been resurrected. Can we hope that some will take the studies of the Acts Seminar on this point and continue to follow through and apply the methodology to that next question?

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              • Just scrolling through the comments (well worth a read) and came across this elaboration.

                Peter Kirby
                2013-11-23 02:46:47 UTC – 02:46 | Permalink

                I can’t tell from these quotes that any of the writers in this book or participants in this seminar conclude that “Jerusalem was not the birthplace of Christianity.” Does this represent your own interpretation, or is it their claim?

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                Neil Godfrey
                2013-11-23 03:25:36 UTC – 03:25 | Permalink

                It is the unambiguous claim of the Seminar. My header should have been in quotation marks. On page 3 this is listed as the third point of “The Top Ten Accomplishments of the Acts Seminar”:
                Jerusalem was not the birthplace of Christianity, contrary to the story Acts tells in chapters 1-7.
                In the discussion of the question of the historicity of the opening chapter (p. 27f), we are told that the Seminar “devoted multiple papers and discussions to this section of Acts” because of its significance for the origins and overall plot and theology of Acts, and the way this section has “dominated reconstructions of Christian origins from early times until the present.”

                Luke’s “only historically reliable resource is Paul”, we read, and for the setting of Jerusalem the commentary points to Galatians (with its reference to apostolic pillars in Jerusalem) as one of his sources for this setting. (Mark’s account of the flight to Galilee they see as more plausible. “Jerusalem would have become a dangerous place for Jesus’ followers in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ execution.”

                On pages 44 and 45 there is a “cameo essay by Milton Moreland” titled Jerusalem in Myth and History that I hope to discuss in a future post. Of Acts’ account of early Christians in the city of Jerusalem it says,
                Yet this account is historically problematic on many counts. The early audiences and the author of Acts had no firsthand experience of the physical setting of Jerusalem. Once the city was completely destroyed in 70 CE, the city was in ruins and mostly uninhabited during the decades in which Acts was written and first read. . . . The author and audiences of Acts did not know the city as an active place of veneration; rather, Jerusalem was a site of mythic imagination that was claimed and envisioned by authors who used this (ruined) site as a powerful narrative setting.

                Dennis Smith concludes on page 30,
                Luke’s entire Jerusalem origins narrative, from the resurrection appearances to the command to stay in Jerusalem to the distinctive events in Jerusalem, is built on a Lukan fiction, constructed to lay a foundation for the apologetic story he will tell in the rest of Acts.
                Luke’s narrative is said to contradict all other stories relating to origins. It contradicts the evidence that the earliest evidence points to Christianity beginning in diversity, not unity.

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              • Thanks again for posting this John. I’m going to look at this more.

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            • We won’t even get started on the fact that the author of Revelation is likely not the same author of the Gospel of John. Or that the Gospel of John author is likely the same author as I John, but possibly not II & III John. And we don’t know if any of them were even called John except the one that was exiled to Patmos. The one that was exiled to Patmos may or may not have been the Apostle John.

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          • Ruth,
            John of Patmos himself said this was his vision! He agrees with you!

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    • Dear Naive One, you don’t have a good grasp of what nitpicking civil servant mentality recordkeepers the Romans were. Many of the things mentioned only in the NT are things that would be extremely important to the Roman record keepers. Hours of darkness in the middle of the day? Building destroying earthquakes? Strange bright stars that moved? These things would definitely be noted! Don’t forget, things like this could damage the tax base of an area. Money, now we’re talking important!

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    • Greg says:

      Naivethinker, of course many minor events would not be mentioned by historians of the day, but accounting for the total silence on the major ones Matt lists is another matter. The rate of literacy is not the point, since there were many literate laymen and historians who did record many less earth shattering events. So the absence of any secular confirmation of the resurrection of Jesus, let alone “many saints” coming out of their graves and walking around, or the earthquakes, etc are problems for those claiming these were credible historical events.

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      • Hi Greg,
        Saints coming out their graves appears to be apocalyptic language in Matthew. But, let’s take for example, the earthquake. Suppose we had a first century natural philosopher that took special interest in earthquakes and recorded their occurrences. Suppose this natural philosopher did not record any in Jerusalem from ~25-35 AD. That would be evidence that there was none. Otherwise, you have to make several assumptions about historians in order to say that their silence is evidence that it didn’t happen. I listed those assumptions in a comment above and bolded them. Also, I provided geological evidence for an earthquake in 33 AD published in peer-reviewed journal.

        Ultimately, for an argument from silence to work, it must be validated in some way. If you walked into the ER with stomach pain, the doctor would not just say, “Well, you have no evidence for a heart attack, therefore you have no heart attack.” WRONG! The doctor must assess the situation and to rule out a heart attack, there are validated tests that must come back negative (serial cardiac enzymes and EKG). The idea is that an argument from silence only works under stringent circumstances. These circumstances have not even come close to being met for first century historians.
        -Brandon

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        • That paper – which I did look through – does not say that the earthquake occurred in 33AD:

          The early first-century seismic event has been tentatively assigned a date of 31 AD with an accuracy of ±5 years. ~ Williams

          Incidentally, let us assume that it actually did happen that year. That means that we still have a 1 out of 8,760 odds that it happened during the hour of Jesus’ death. The minute of his death? 1 out of 525,600. C’mon, this is rudimentary. But this happened sometime in a 10 year bracket: that makes it between 1 in 90 thousand and 1 in 5 million. On the high end, that means you’re looking at 1/1000th of 1%.

          That is why, in order to claim that quake as confirmation, you need some written record that ties the earthquake that happened in 31AD +/- 5 years to the actual Passover in 33AD. Or you have nada.

          And even if you do, there remains an additional hurdle… you must demonstrate that the quake was not simply a known event with which they absconded, writing it into the story after the fact. How many spiritual interpretations were put on the Asian tsunami? This is a very old tact.

          The gospel writers, some 40+ years later, said, “yeah, that was the year of the big quake, wasn’t it?” And then the response, “well, sure, don’t you know? It happened at the very hour Jesus died!” And so on.

          Even the author concedes this as one explanation, in the ABSTRACT:

          Plausible candidates include the earthquake reported in the Gospel of Matthew, an earthquake that occurred sometime before or after the crucifixion and was in effect ‘borrowed’ by the author of the Gospel of Matthew, and a local earthquake between 26 and 36 AD that was sufficiently energetic to deform the sediments at Ein Gedi but not energetic enough to produce a still extant and extra-biblical historical record.

          You have nada on top of nada here Brandon. You’re a smart guy. If you would but try on your critical thinking glasses again. This is “duh” quality nonsense…

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          • Matt, the accuracy of the date 31 plus/minus 5 years does not necessarily make each day of a 10 year span equally likely to be the day of the earthquake. The authors say:

            Assuming a worst case scenario that the entire masked varve count is due to varve-counting errors, 7.1% of the 62-year interval between 31 BC and 31 AD amounts to 4.4 years. Rounding up, this means that for any given earthquake between 31 BC and 31 AD, the dating possesses an accuracy of at least [plus/minus] 5 years.

            If we assume that the varve-counting error is normally distributed like many measurements in science, then the 31 BC date is most likely and as we move forward or backward, the dates become less and less likely. The only days that have a 1% chance would be at the tail-ends of the bell curve.

            So, we have Matthew and a geological record that are consistent, and not a single validated argument from historical silence to go against this. Why argue against this? It’s not like an earthquake is necessarily miraculous.

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            • Oh, I concur entirely on a normal distribution. Now, what you need to do is take the net percent contained in a one-day interval on that Gaussian curve, 2 years after mean… what does that come to? Because until and if you can find something to connect that event to that day, that’s the weight of this “evidence”. And I think you know that.

              The simple fact is that our best evidence today says that the quake happened two years too early. That’s the data talking.

              There are at least two good explanations on the table: (1) This is Matthew’s quake, (2) Matthew was importing a quake from “around that time” and tradition from 45 years later thought that it happened the same year, same weekend, etc.

              On what basis are you adjudicating? The evidence supports both contentions quite equally. That means the consequent probabilities cannot be said to favor hypothesis (1). And we know on the weight of myriad cases that religions have a strong propensity to adopt natural disaster and claim them to mean something on their side. This background evidence sets a higher than normal bar on the evidential demands, pushing the scales in favor of hypothesis (2). Further, the evidence we actually do have points to a date two years too early, again toward (2). But worse, the conjunction with a high holiday of Passover makes the likelihood higher than normal that it would be an event co-opted by other sects and be recorded. We have neither, so that suggests that it is less likely that it happened on a high holiday than a normal day, toward (2) again. And finally, NONE of the grand events from that weekend per Matthew are recorded, suggesting that this was more garnish on the story, toward (2).

              If you’re seriously going to contend that the likelihoods are in favor of verifying proof, I think you’re not really following the data.

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              • I agree that options 1) and 2) are equally likely. And, at the moment I have no reasonable way to adjudicate the matter because I need more evidence. I don’t think your arguments for 2) hold up very well. The first argument relies on the assumption that the author of Matthew is anything like “other religions”. What other religions started in ancient Israel around 30AD? If none, then how can we compare Christianity to “other religions” without arbitrarily making coincidental connections meaningful? Your remaining arguments are invalidated arguments from silence. I will humbly admit that I agree in you saying that because the alleged earthquake happened around Passover that it was more likely to be recorded. However, going from “more likely” to validation is just not that easy because you still have to make so many assumptions about historians and the survivability of documentation.

                Do you value Occam’s razor? A reduction in assumptions is generally favored in rational discourse. So, making these assumptions about historians and the survivability of documentation to run your argument from silence should be disfavored.

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              • Brandon,

                Sorry dude, but I just can’t waste any more time on this one. I see nothing in your response to move us away from the simple fact that our best evidence says that the nearest big earthquake was two years too early, much less in the same month/week/day/hour. I entertained the consequents for argument’s sake, but there isn’t a way to overcome the priors here.

                I really suggest you study Bayesian methods for vetting competing hypotheses. Simple discussions here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayesian_inference#Probability_of_a_hypothesis

                Much more extensive with applications to historiography here: http://www.amazon.com/Proving-History-Bayess-Theorem-Historical/dp/1616145595

                You seem to being playing Lloyd from Dumb & Dumber, happy to take that odds-against-it “so you’re telling me there’s a chance.” But following the evidence doesn’t work that way. And in this case, the evidence is simply against you. Earthquake didn’t happen then.

                Your problem is that running these gambits simply cuts your credibility. Hate to say it, but I don’t think the folks that hang here are under any hopes that you’re a guy who follows the weight of evidence, at least not at this point. You play the game of “can’t prove me absolutely wrong”, not the more noble aim of “what is really the best probable explanation here?” It’s your choice, but you buy it on the back of your credibility.

                And its apparent that – even if you were to concede the earthquake – you would in all likelihood give it the Apocalyptic Jailbreak in the same breath, just like the walking dead. I’m kinda surprised you haven’t done that already. And why not? Just put the darkness, the quake, the walking dead, etc., all in that envelope, and claim apocalyptic immunity. Easy. Don’t have to worry about the evidence vs. Matthew any more.

                It has become rather tedious, your approach.

                Like

              • Matt, I know I’m testing your patience here, but just two more things! BTW I love the Dumb and Dumber reference! 🙂 One thing I am confused about is where you are getting the 2 year difference figure. I understood scholars to date the crucifixion from 30-33 AD. So, there is no two year difference that I am aware of.

                And, since you have studied it do you mind me asking, how can we objectively and non-arbitrarily assign probabilities to historical explanations? Or, let’s make it even easier: what’s the numerical probability that the Big Bang occurred?

                Like

              • I must leave you to hunt your own answers man. If you come back with a more serious assessment in the future, perhaps I’ll spend the time again. I just can’t take your questions all that seriously at this point.

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              • Matt am surprised it has taken you so long to realize that Brandon is interested in obfuscation. No rational arguments. You guys have herculean patience

                Like

              • Yeah, well, mea culpa. I think perhaps I was waiting for another case so clear cut that it left no doubt.

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      • Greg, one more thing. You used the term “secular confirmation”. Secular is a modern category. In fact, the documents that make up the New Testament are not necessarily squeezed into the opposing categories of church/secular. They are simply documents that survived and were much later canonized. We have examples of texts that were not canonized and there are clear reasons why they were not (i.e., gnostic gospels). The main two reasons are that these documents are written far too late (second century) and not evidently not by eyewitness testimony.

        We do have examples of extrabiblical sources for certain New Testament events (i.e., Jesus’ crucifixion, James’ martyr). We shouldn’t call them secular though. They are extrabiblical. At least one of these in Josephus was probably embellished later by Christian scribes but appears to have originally contained a reference to Jesus. The possibility of embellishment and interpolation makes everything much more difficult.

        Like

  2. Is that package of awesomeness yours? I ask, because i’m going to file it away fro future use and should have the appropriate source.

    Like

  3. I never thought of it that way. It does seem that something so huge would be recorded in secular history all over the place.

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    • Alice, yep. The issue is whether records would or would not be expected. Or physical evidence. There are many places in the OT where events happen that are large enough that we really should expect physical evidence, and we get nada. The same with historical records in the Old and the New. There are events notable enough that we should not get silence, and if we do, it points to embellishment in our hero chronicles as the most likely explanation.

      The truth is that we don’t have anything on Jesus from anyone really. Josephus talks briefly about it, but largely about Jesus’ followers and what they believe. We really don’t learn anything about Jesus from this record. Basically, he was really small time, and the big events surrounding his life don’t seem to be historically defensible – i.e., should not be claimed as historically factual – at all.

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      • Greg says:

        Not only is the Josephus passage not very enlightening about Jesus, but there is considerable evidence that it was a forged, later insertion.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Having spent a bit of time looking at this, it seems more likely to me that there was a historical core to the passage, which was doctored by later Christian scribes. Some historians have proposed which parts are which.

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  4. And again, an overall observation: Christianity is *no different* than the other religions. They all develop their proofs and doctrines in hermetically sealed bottles, cloistered little communities of yarn spinning. None are believed because there is some type of solid evidential reason to justify doing so. And if there WAS sufficient evidence, well, that simply would not be faith any more, would it?

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  5. Though not stated nearly so eloquently nor succinctly this is what started me down the rabbit hole in the first place. Just one simple question: is there anything outside of the Bible that testifies to any of that? The best I could come up with was Josephus…and we all know how that went down.

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    • And, yes, there are a lot of things that have happened throughout history which haven’t been recorded BUT one would think that the walking dead would rate as something to be recorded. Wouldn’t that have freaked somebody literate out enough to have gone straight home and penned it? Like Mak said, where did they go?

      Like

    • Ruth, yeah, the JoJo scandal is a bad sign for Christian honesty.

      Like

  6. Let’s not forget one of the best verses in the bible that just reminds me of a high school student rushing to finish a paper for his English class, John 21:25 –

    “Jesus did man other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

    Like

    • Nate, yeah,just a blanket awesomeness clause.

      Like

    • Greg says:

      The passage is also evidence of a falsehood or at best major exaggeration, since it’s hardly credible that the zillions of books that the world could hold would not be enough to record all the noteworthy things Jesus did. And if we can’t trust the final comments of the writer, it hardly improves the credibility of everything else he wrote.

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  7. Matt, Brandon made a note above to literacy rates. This is an oft proffered Christian excuse. It’s also bogus. Here, i did a post on it all for your future reference.

    http://thesuperstitiousnakedape.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/jesus-christ-just-not-worth-a-sheet-of-paper-9/

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    • Yeah! I recollected that piece of yours.

      But ultimately, his argument doesn’t hold even if the literacy rates were 3 to 10%… all the important people were in town, so the literate folks were there. It was Passover. Jewish and pagan authorities were all there for a front row seat. Nada on darkness, temple veil, earthquake, walking dead, post death appearances, etc. And on the birth, nada on the census or the Herodian slaughter.

      Its all special pleading to say that we wouldn’t have records of a single solitary event.

      And either way, Christianity is still on the same footing as every other mythology, cult, or false religion. “Baseless like us”, would be an acceptable mantra.

      Like

      • You see, it’s because of this that i really don’t understand why the majority of scholars today still fall in the camp of saying Jesus was real. There is nothing external, and where there is something it’s a forgery. Police don’t plant “evidence” if their case is strong, right?

        I’m with Carrier on this. Mythicism is where OT scholarship was 50-odd years ago. No one wants to come out today, but soon they will, and then the floodgates will open.

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        • I’m ok with Jesus being a real small timer, mythologized by legend, all inside the cloistered community. But the documentation is so lousy that I don’t think the mythicist view can be soundly defeated. I also think it will increase in subscription over the next decade or two.

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          • “I’m ok with Jesus being a real small timer, mythologized by legend, all inside the cloistered community.” I came to this understanding also. Messiahs were on every street corner, a first century version of TV evangelists, most myths have some oddball kernel of truth/reality at their base. So it follows, there was probably some guy named Jesus (pick your ancient Hebrew/Aramaic version of the name) and, like so many others, may have gone afoul of the Roman authorities and gotten crucified for his efforts. It’s a common story. On the other side of the coin, I can well imagine his followers seeing him after his execution, think about all the people who still find Elvis!

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        • I’m with Carrier on this. Mythicism is where OT scholarship was 50-odd years ago. No one wants to come out today, but soon they will, and then the floodgates will open.

          I am watching with great interest.

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  8. It fascinates me why a christian would even want to come and hang out on a site populated almost exclusively by atheists, most of those being deconvertees who merely wish to share ( largely) among themselves information that highlights the fallacious and corrupt nature of religion;
    If the comments of these transient visitors truly reflected a willingness to engage in an effort to uncover the truth of the nonsense they have been indoctrinated with one could possibly understand.
    However, ( in my experience) they don’t, and they relish the opportunity to reel off nonsensical arguments in defense of their ridiculous beliefs as if the deconvertees they are addressing have not heard every single damn argument in the book and believe the mere appearance of a Christian will prompt a heartfelt cry of “Thank god, I am saved…. again! .

    In actual fact, all they achieve – sorry Brandon – is to come across looking like the Village Idiot.

    In such cases, maybe someone such as Mr. T had the best response to these people….

    “Shuttup, fool!”

    and merely end up coming across as the Village Idiot.

    Like

    • Well, in Brandon’s defense, he is a reconvert so his situation is perhaps different from a run of the mill believer. However, your point about deconverts being adept with the lines of argument is certainly true. I think that gents like Licona and Craig have given believers the unfortunate impression that the evidence is on their side. It isn’t.

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      • I know Brandon’s story, Matt which makes his continual asinine comments even more bizarre.

        People like Licona and Crag have demonstrated aptly that even without the bible they would still ”believe”, and in Craig’;s case, he has stated that if proof were provided it was all a lie what would he do – (paraphrase) ”pray to god”‘.

        There is no integrity with a person like this…or Licona.

        Like

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