The minimal facts argument and teleportation

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Is believing in the resurrection of Jesus as foolish as falling for somebody’s tall-tale about teleportation? Recently James East brought to my attention his short article where he calls into question the “minimal facts” approach to arguing for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. How well does his objection fare? Not especially well, as it turns out.

As I explained some time ago in Episode 42 – and as numerous others have as well (in much more detail than I have) – the “minimal facts” argument starts by setting out only those facts that are widely accepted as historically reliable by a wide range of New Testament critics including many sceptics who themselves certainly do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Those facts typically include Jesus’s execution, his burial, the discovery of the empty tomb, and the sudden and sincere conviction on the part of his disciples that they had seen him alive again and that he had risen from the dead. Facts that are obviously in dispute such as the fact that Jesus did rise from the dead, or that the Bible is inspired – things of that nature that Christians believe but sceptics generally do not – are not brought in as facts to be granted in the argument. The argument provides evidence for those facts.

After covering evidence for those facts, the argument then moves on to a consideration of possible explanatory hypotheses of the facts. The old candidates among New Testament critics typically include: That Jesus merely passed out but did not die, that many of the disciples had a hallucinatory experience in which they saw Jesus alive again, or that the disciples forgot (or did not know) where Jesus was buried.1 As I have offered a defence of the minimal facts argument, I won’t repeat that here. Let’s look at James’s argument now.

James begins with a thought experiment in which he makes a claim about Bob teleporting:

[W]hat if I told you that I saw Bob sitting on a bench at exactly noon (my watch beeped to tell me it had just ticked over to midday), and then the very next second (just after looking up from my beeping watch) I saw him standing on a balcony a full hundred feet away from the bench?  That’s right, I say: I saw Bob teleport!

However, James then claims that even if he had simply fabricated this story, the minimal facts approach would lead us to gullibly believe it anyway:

But what if we applied the Minimal Facts approach to the teleportation story?  The story involves some supernatural elements (the claimed teleportation), but also some natural ones.  You could go and locate the bench and the balcony in question – they’re real places.  You can check the distances involved – yep, about a hundred feet apart.  There’s no way someone could cover that distance in a second.  I also claimed to have seen Bob at the bench, a person I know very well – there’s nothing wrong with my eyes, so I wouldn’t have mistaken his identity, and there’s no reason I’d just make up a story about seeing a guy I see all the time.  There’s absolutely no reason to suspect I’d lie about such a mundane matter.  The same goes for the claim of seeing Bob on the balcony.  I certainly know how to tell the time from a watch, and I gave some pretty clear reasons why I happen to know what the time was to such a degree of accuracy.  You even interview some people – a few people confirm they saw Bob at the bench and balcony at around noon (although perhaps nobody could confirm precisely how many seconds before or after noon it was).

So, after this considered thought, you decide to believe me that I saw Bob at the bench and then, only one second later, on a balcony a full hundred feet away.  Given these “firmly established facts”, what are you to make of the situation?  It’s obvious, right?  Bob must have teleported.  Even though your presuppositions about physics might cause you initially to be skeptical about the possibility, the evidence compels you to believe. Now, is that a sensible way to approach the situation?  I doubt anyone would really think so.

It’s a silly approach, says James, because if he had decided to trick us – to just fabricate the whole story, then of course he would have fabricated the details too. He would have made up a back story, described the situation with sufficient detail to make it sound believable and so on. He wouldn’t just say “I saw Bob teleport!” That wouldn’t fool anyone.

The same is true of the resurrection, says James. Supposing that the resurrection story is the fabrication that he takes it to be, we would expect all the fabricated details to be included in the story – those details that apologists naively call the “minimal facts.”

This is where things started to break down somewhat. In clarifying his position in our discussion about his claims, James said to me that “If the story is a fabrication then we should expect that the minimal facts would be there – whether they are concocted themselves or not.” We should expect that the minimal facts would be there even if the whole story was untrue (and how an actual fact could also be concocted is far from obvious)? This is surely false. If Jesus did not rise from the dead then there is no reason at all why we should expect, say, the empty tomb, or the post-resurrection appearances. Indeed, this statement is the opposite of the central thesis of his article, which claims that “The natural elements of the stories of Jesus’ resurrection are exactly the kinds of natural elements that would have to be fabricated if the resurrection itself was fabricated.” I will act here on the supposition that the article probably represents his more thought-out position, while the comments in conversation likely represent muddled remarks that one can sometimes make when being challenged, where one might often say things that, on reflection, were not really what one meant to say.

Just how good is the above argument? Strikingly poor! Compare the two scenarios: In the teleportation scenario, you have the word of one person supplying literally all of the details. Other witnesses are later brought in to confirm some details – but those details are not at all adequate to support the claim of the one person making the teleportation claim. They saw Bob in one place. They later saw him in another, but they’re not sure of the time lapse (which is, after all, the crucial factor here, since people see people in one place and then in another place all the time). If the minimal facts case supporting the resurrection was like this, it would go something as follows: Jesus was crucified. One person reports that he was buried, and the same person reports that he was alive later, and this person assured his friends that if they were to visit the tomb (although nobody knew where it was so they couldn’t visit it), they would find it empty, and they should take his word that although he never saw fit to reveal himself alive again to anybody but him, and even though there’s no reason why Jewish believers (like all the disciples he’s trying to win over) should have thought that their Messiah would die and rise again, he’s really telling the truth, Jesus is alive again, somewhere, and he’s the Messiah, and the disciples should all go out and start telling everyone, and they shouldn’t back away from the story, even if they’re thrown in prison or threatened with death!

Clearly it is ludicrous to compare these two defences. One of the strengths of the minimal facts argument is the fact of multiple attestation. In his article James comments, apparently negatively, on the fact that the minimal facts are recorded in the Gospels themselves, but this betrays a failure to recognise what the biblical literature is. It is not just one source, like James as an alleged witness to teleportation. In the synoptic Gospels we have at least two sources (depending on which view one takes about the order in which they were written and the sources from which they were drawn). John we have a third source, and in Paul we have an earlier source (and Paul himself reproduces a much earlier formalised statement of belief on this used by other disciples). James does try to avoid this major difference between the two cases by introducing witnesses, but here too it is clear that the analogy breaks down. His few witnesses only claim that they saw Bob before and after, and they are unable to say with certainty whether or not there was enough time for Bob to get to the new location by other means. This hardly compares well to witnesses who genuinely believed (on pain of punishment or even death) that they had seen Jesus alive again after they had seen him publicly executed. Just how many seconds or minutes have passed is an easy thing to forget. Perhaps they weren’t paying attention. However, not remembering that your close friend has just been publicly crucified the next time you see him is another matter altogether! It is important to appreciate that James’s teleportation parallel only works (or rather, he only thinks it works) because James considers the minimal facts to be equally well established in both cases: The immediate reappearance of a man who just disappeared on the one hand, and the minimal facts surrounding the resurrection on the other.

Suggesting in passing that the minimal facts are not well established (as James does in his article by noting the source of these claims) simply fails to interact with the case for the minimal facts, and as such does not need to be addressed. If James thinks that the arguments for the minimal facts fails somewhere, then he is welcome to make his case. That is where the argument should be focused.

James’s argument as a whole is a case of putting the cart before the horse. The minimal facts argument is roughly as follows:

1)      These facts are agreed on as our starting point.

2)      There is a variety of explanations of these facts, including the explanation that Jesus rose from the dead.

3)      All of these explanations fail to have the explanatory scope or power for all of the facts, apart from the explanation that Jesus rose from the dead.

4)      There is no compelling reason to exclude the explanation that Jesus rose from the dead.

5)      Therefore (probably) Jesus rose from the dead.

The truth is, there is no reason to expect these facts to obtain if Jesus did not rise from the dead, and indeed if the above argument works, then all of the facts would not have obtained had Jesus not risen from the dead. This is implied by the minimal facts argument itself. In extremely simplified form, the argument is:

1)      If the minimal facts, then Jesus rose from the dead.

2)      The minimal facts

3)      Therefore Jesus rose from the dead

(I know, I said it was extremely simplified.) This is the logical form known as modus ponens (If A then B. A, therefore B). But of course, premise 1) logically entails the following, if we start with the claim that Jesus did not rise from the dead. This is a modus tollens argument (If A then B. Not B, therefore not A):

1)      If the minimal facts, then Jesus rose from the dead.

5)      Jesus did not rise from the dead

6)      Therefore – not the minimal facts

And this, if spelled out clearly, is James’ position. If the resurrection story is false, he says, then “The natural elements of the stories of Jesus’ resurrection are exactly the kinds of natural elements that would have to be fabricated.” Indeed they would, for if genuine, they are adequate evidence for the resurrection. It is simply not available for James to give himself a back door at the end of his article, tacking on “I’m not claiming to know that these details were fabrications.” If he is not here denying any facts or offering any reason to think that they should not be explained via the resurrection, then all he has left is this rather mundane claim:

Any complete version of the resurrection story would include claims about the minimal facts, regardless of whether the story is true or not

But clearly this claim is compatible with the minimal facts argument for the resurrection, including its conclusion, so how could it serve as a criticism of the argument? I give James more credit than to suppose that he would offer something like that as a critique of the minimal facts argument, for it is not a critique at all. Obviously James does deny that Jesus rose from the dead, so he is logically committed, by this argument, to claiming that at least some of the minimal facts are missing. They are not facts, period. If he wishes to resist this, he can only do so by rejecting 1), namely the claim that the minimal facts provide adequate grounds to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. And without that, he does not yet have an argument. He does allude to a denial of the burial, and to the hallucination hypothesis, but never defends either claim (each of which have been dealt fairly heavy blows in the past), so I cannot analyse his defence of those theories.

The problem with the argument 1-4-6, however, is that the minimal facts argument includes a defence of the minimal facts themselves. This gives us grounds to reject 6), which in turn calls 5), “Jesus did not rise from the dead,” into question.

There is just no getting around it. In order for James’s argument to have any force at all against the minimal facts argument, we must think that the resurrection story is false, thus giving us grounds for insisting that the minimal facts do not obtain after all. But since it is the minimal facts themselves that are defended in the minimal facts argument, the only real options are to argue either 1) that the minimal facts do not obtain, or else 2) they do obtain, but they do not give us a good reason to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. James promises to offer an argument for the latter in the future. Until that happens, the case he has presented offers no challenge at all to the minimal facts argument for the resurrection, for this is an argument that trades entirely on arguments that haven’t yet been offered.

I await the argument with interest.

Glenn Peoples

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  1. The thesis that Jesus’ body was simply lost and not buried is not a candidate at all, since it does not grant one of the minimal facts, namely the burial of Jesus. []
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  • Nick Peters August 8, 2013, 4:39 am

    Also, if he is saying the claims are found in the gospels themselves, he’s getting the minimal facts approach wrong. The minimal facts approach rests on 1 Cor. 15 and Galatians 1 alone. One can go to the gospels for supplements if they want, but the approach does not depend on the gospels.

    Why don’t critics of the minimal facts ever deal with the actual argument?

  • Glenn August 8, 2013, 9:25 am

    Right Nick – as I noted the earliest source is Paul, not the Gospels – and Paul publicly claims to be drawing on a much older affirmation that the disciples used. And yet James only seems concerned with the Gospels, and worse, appears to just treat them as one source!

    Interacting with the minimal facts argument simply requires more effort than that.

  • Jason August 8, 2013, 10:05 am

    Just give me a few minutes with a hot knife and some salt. I’ll make him recant his story of teleportation. 🙂

  • Nick Peters August 8, 2013, 12:17 pm

    The idea to treat them as one source comes from Crossan. It is to say Mark is first and everyone else would be copying him. You could limit any source to one that way with historiography. Just find any event mentioned by two different people. If there’s any difference, the later one has some fabrications, but still there’s one source. Real historiography doesn’t work like that.

    Furthermore, as I was pondering this, it is also the problem of the difference between a miracle and a marvel. Let’s suppose, and grant this is a bizarre scenario, but that something like the X-Men series is true and someone was born with the ability to teleport. Well there could be some facts that if demonstrated to be true, one would have reason to believe that someone teleported. Let’s suppose I had cameras set up at two different locations across town and these cameras had time stamps and were in working order. I see the person in question walk into the scene on camera A. Then, all of a sudden I see him disappear and he shows up in the scene in camera B. Let’s even suppose I have people in both circumstances who are right there to ask questions to confirm his identity or that this is an experiment and I’ve put an artifact in his pocket of sorts and the one who disappears in A had it and the one who shows up in B also has it. Am I justified in believing someone has teleported?

    The problem is James’s claim is also question begging then in that “The minimal facts can’t be true because miracles don’t happen!” Well how do we know that? Of course we could drag out Hume, but if we do, he’ll be bruised and mangled because he’s been beat to death. Keener especially with his testimonial evidence and philosophical chapter in his book has really dealt the death knell to Hume.

    I also agree with Jason. I have reason to not trust James because his whole story here is meant to argue against the minimal facts. Now if he was willing to take the hot knife and salt water and still not change his mind, then I might think there could be something.

    If he doesn’t want to deal with the evidence of the minimal facts, that’s fine, but he needs to make a case as to why the minimal facts aren’t true. He can’t just say “I don’t like the conclusion, therefore they’re not true.”

  • Glenn August 8, 2013, 1:22 pm

    I rather doubt that James has drawn this conclusion about one source by studying what folk like Crossan say. More likely, I think, it’s just a default position of “Well they’re in the Bible, and that’s the biased Christian source.” Of course, this is just to overlook the fact that the books of the Bible were collected together *because* they were the contemporary witness to Jesus.

  • Nick Peters August 8, 2013, 1:25 pm

    Of course he hasn’t and the bias argument is just so lame. First off, everyone who wrote any history back then was biased. There was no such thing as unbiased history. Plutarch was biased. Josephus was biased. Tacitus was biased.

    To be even more pointed, James himself is biased and if biased arguments are to be ditched, then we must get rid of James’s post.

    Also, bias can work to make one want to bend the data, but it can also make one want to make sure the data is as accurate as possible. After all, if you know the most important event in life depends on your getting the story straight, you might want to work a bit harder.

    When I see these guys responding to Habermas and Licona, especially dealing with Licona’s Tour De Force on this, and moving past people like Richard Carrier, I’ll be more impressed.

  • Lothars Sohn August 10, 2013, 6:10 am

    Hey Glenn, thanks for this thoughtful post!

    I’ve some objections:

    “John we have a third source, and in Paul we have an earlier source”

    And how do you know that John used a source independent from the synoptic, let alone a reliable one?
    Most liberal scholars believe that Paul taught a spiritual resurrection, like Dr. Richard Carrier formulated it.
    And even if he didn’t, all this shows is that at the time he wrote 1.Corinthians, there was some sort of resurrection faith in the early church with many visions, but nothing more.

    My position is that in the end we cannot know what really happened.

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

  • Glenn August 10, 2013, 11:21 am

    “And how do you know that John used a source independent from the synoptic, let alone a reliable one?”

    The issue just now is the number of sources. Why they maintained what they do is part of the explanation. The fact is, New Testament – specifically Gospel – scholarship – is virtually unanimous in accepting that John represents a different tradition than that found in the Synoptic Gospels. The best that I can suggest to you is to read up on the distinction between the Synoptic Gospels and John’s Gospel.

    Richard Carrier’s position on Paul’s theology is simply not tenable. Paul’s affirmation that Jesus rose on the third day is tied to the fact that the tomb was found empty on the third day (hardly a spiritual resurrection), and Carrier simply doesn’t understand Paul’s use of the term “spiritual.” Its opposite is not “physical,” but psuchikos, which implies being of this world or age, whereas Jesus’ body was immortal and glorious, the same as what believers will have in the age to come. Paul’s theology of the resurrection was thoroughly Jewish, and was about the body rising from the dead.

    But you’re right – Paul’s writings are not – in the minimal facts argument – taken as automatically true. They show, as you’ve noted, that they early Christians believed that Jesus was alive again and that people had seen him and interacted with him. Remember – the minimal facts do not include the fact that “the resurrection happened.” Rather, they are as follows:

    1) Jesus was executed by crucifixion.
    2) Jesus was buried in a tomb.
    3) A couple of days later the tomb was found empty.
    4) Jesus’ followers had experiences right after that which they believe were meetings with Jesus alive again, risen from the dead.

    To simply say that we cannot know, I think, is to be unreasonably agnostic when we have adequate evidence to make an assessment of what took place. I have defended the argument elsewhere, so I won’t repeat that here, but you’re welcome to check it out.

    (PS, Sorry, but advertising your site isn’t permitted, so the link was removed. You can put a link in the comment field – and you have – and linking to sources of quotes etc is fine. Check the blog policy.)

  • Nick Peters August 10, 2013, 11:32 am

    If I may jump in here, Crossan’s views on this, which are that it’s all from the same source, are definitely a minority. Most often, John’s gospel is seen to use a different source due to the radically different nature of it. No exorcisms or parables, very little on the Kingdom of God, and Jesus’s long discourses. Dale Allison doesn’t even think it’s a good objection in Resurrecting Jesus.

    As for spiritual vs. physical, Glenn is correct. The word does not mean physical. There are some excellent sources on this. One is Gundry’s “Soma in Biblical Greek” which would show that the concept of a non-physical body would be absurd. The second would be pages 404-437 in Michael Licona’s “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.” (Academically, that’s also the best book you can read on the minimal facts approach.) Licona does a study of the word the RSV translates as physical from the 8th century B.C. to the third century A.D. and does not find one time the word is translated as “physical.”

    Also, Paul is a Pharisee who believes in bodily resurrection and shows it in other places like Romans 8 and 1 Thess. 4, letters that are indisputably Pauline.

    Furthermore, were this a spiritual resurrection, it seems that it would not help Paul’s argument as he was arguing against a Greek mindset. That mindset would not have a problem with a spiritual existence after death, such as a shade in Hades, but a literal physical resurrection would be a problem. That Paul engaged shows he was dealing with something outside of the worldview of the hearers and we know resurrection was like that for them.

    In fact, Dale Martin, in his book, The Corinthian Body, affirms Paul is talking about a physical body here, and this is a non-Christian scholar.

  • Glenn August 10, 2013, 2:39 pm

  • Stuart August 10, 2013, 10:32 pm

    It is generally believed that Adolf Hitler committed suicide at the end of the Second World War. But consider the following facts: no body was found. Actually, a body was found but it was burnt beyond recognition. After Hitler’s alleged death there were numerous sightings of him. We can be particularly confident of these facts because they were documented at the time. Surely the best explanation of these facts is that Hitler faked his death and then went into hiding. Unlike the resurrection this theory seems initially plausible. Of course, there is a reason why no one is interested in this theory. Hitler never actually turned up again. The difference is that people are still waiting two thousand years later for Jesus to turn up.

  • Glenn August 11, 2013, 12:24 am

    “Surely the best explanation of these facts is that Hitler faked his death and then went into hiding.”

    Why think that? In hiding? This is ad hoc, since being in hiding has little, if anything, to do with a particular body not being his.

    By contrast, an empty tomb coupled with the sudden belief on the part of Jesus’ friends that they had all seen him alive again makes the explanation that he was alive not ad hoc at all.

    This really is not the kind of thing that can just be brushed off with an off-the-cuff comparison. In order to debunk the minimal facts argument, one must engage with the reasons given for holding that the facts are actual, and then they must seriously engage with the question of possible explanations, which means interacting with the current list of failed explanations. This is not just something that can be blown away with a two or three liner that just popped into someone’s head.

  • Stuart August 11, 2013, 1:20 am

    When I said it was the best explanation I was being ironic. The fact that no recognisable body of Hitler was found and that numerous people claimed to have seen him after his death simply isn’t of any interest. The reason why the so-called facts about the resurrection are of interest is that Christianity became a successful religion. If Christianity had been popular for a while and then died out it is unlikely that anyone would be interested in those facts now.

    You say that Jesus’ friends believed that they had seen him alive after his death. We know that bereavement hallucinations are common. So it isn’t hard to explain how they could have ‘seen’ Jesus after his death. The question is how they would have interpreted this experience. The usual argument is that if they had had this experience they would just have thought they had seen a ghost. There is another possibility.

    If the disciples had thought of Jesus as being a great prophet like Elijah then they might have believed that at the end of his life Jesus would be taken up into heaven as Elijah was. When Jesus was crucified it must have seemed as if that was not going to happen after all. However, it could still happen if Jesus was physically raised from the dead then taken up to heaven. So when the disciples saw Jesus they thought that he was visiting them from heaven. But in order to visit them from heaven Jesus must have been physically raised first. Therefore, the disciples deduced that Jesus had been physically raised; they didn’t actually witness it.

  • Nick Peters August 11, 2013, 2:22 am

    Stuart. Your theory has nothing wrong with it except everything.

    Staurt: The reason why the so-called facts about the resurrection are of interest is that Christianity became a successful religion. If Christianity had been popular for a while and then died out it is unlikely that anyone would be interested in those facts now.

    Reply: This is true which leads to the question, why did it survive? Especially when it was so contrary to the society at the time, gave no temporal benefits, put one on the outs with Judaism and the Roman Empire, and was incredibly capable of being falsified?

    Staurt: You say that Jesus’ friends believed that they had seen him alive after his death. We know that bereavement hallucinations are common. So it isn’t hard to explain how they could have ‘seen’ Jesus after his death.

    Reply: We know that? Reality check. So did they. The ancient world was just as familiar with bereavement hallucinations. Once again, some problems emerge.

    Do we have any evidence that they were grieving? Why not think what Dale Allison suggests that instead, they could have anger? They had been following this guy for years claiming to be the Messiah and the Son of God and He couldn’t even get down off of the cross? They would have seen a point to the priests’ mocking. Why yes. If He is the Son of God, He can get down. He didn’t.

    Second, this also doesn’t explain the group experiences. Mass hallucinations are highly doubted in the literature out there today.

    Third, you would still need to explain what happened to the body. After all, the traditions all say he was buried and anyone would have been glad to go to the tomb and produce anything. Even if there was some body that was barely recognizable, that would have been enough.

    Stuart:The question is how they would have interpreted this experience. The usual argument is that if they had had this experience they would just have thought they had seen a ghost. There is another possibility.

    Reply: Okay. Let’s see what it is.

    Stuart: If the disciples had thought of Jesus as being a great prophet like Elijah then they might have believed that at the end of his life Jesus would be taken up into heaven as Elijah was. When Jesus was crucified it must have seemed as if that was not going to happen after all. However, it could still happen if Jesus was physically raised from the dead then taken up to heaven. So when the disciples saw Jesus they thought that he was visiting them from heaven. But in order to visit them from heaven Jesus must have been physically raised first. Therefore, the disciples deduced that Jesus had been physically raised; they didn’t actually witness it.

    Reply: No he wouldn’t have to be. Samuel could have made a visit without being physically raised. In fact, the apostles had good reason to not believe Jesus was physically taken up to Heaven. HE HAD DIED! There is no record of the death of Elijah and a record of him being physically taken. The apostles would have instead figured God had exalted Jesus in the Heavens and proclaimed a message of exaltation and at the best, spiritual resurrection. We have no record that they ever said such a thing. They went the full deal. Physical bodily resurrection.

  • Nick Peters August 11, 2013, 2:28 am

    I was also just now reading something else and found this for Lothars:

    “And here is where Aslan’s theory must finally give up. Few contemporary scholars – whether Christian, Jewish or non-religious – doubt that the New Testament sources (known as Mark, Q, L and Paul) were written independently of each other: in other words, the authors of these texts did not have access to the writings of the others. Just as few specialists would dispute that all four of these sources portray the message of Jesus as involving a radical ethic of non-violence, inclusivity and love. The source known as Q, dating from around the 50s AD, even contains a story of Jesus’ compassion toward a Roman soldier and his scolding of Israel for not having the faith of this pagan overlord.”

    http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2013/08/09/3822264.htm

    Note that. Few doubt that the sources were independent of each other.

  • Stuart August 11, 2013, 4:03 am

    Nick, are those comments meant to be serious? Are you really asking me to prove that the disciples were grieving? If you don’t think they were grieving the onus is on you to prove it.

    I didn’t say that the disciples had to believe Jesus would be taken up to heaven, I said it was a possibility. You haven’t said anything to show that it wasn’t. In my opinion the chances that the disciples believed that are greater than the chances that a dead man was miraculously brought back to life.

    We simply don’t have any reliable information about what the disciples experienced. We don’t have any first hand accounts and the accounts we do have were written decades later. Therefore we don’t know whether there were any group experiences. There may simply have been a series of individual hallucinations.

    It is naive to think that producing the body would have put a stop to the belief in the resurrection. Jesus was brutally beaten before the crucifixion. Add to that even a few days of decomposition and the body would have been completely unrecognisable. Also, there is no reason to think that the authorities would have taken the idea seriously. If they had wanted to refute the resurrection all they had to do was challenge the disciples to bring the resurrected Jesus before them.

    Using the success of Christianity as an argument for its truth doesn’t work. If you want to use that argument then you must accept the truth of Islam.

  • Nick Peters August 11, 2013, 5:09 am

    Stuart: Nick, are those comments meant to be serious? Are you really asking me to prove that the disciples were grieving? If you don’t think they were grieving the onus is on you to prove it.

    Reply: I didn’t say they were or weren’t. I said anger is a possibility. Note you are the one who said they were grieving. It is yours to show that. My not showing it does not demonstrate that your claim is right.

    Stuart: I didn’t say that the disciples had to believe Jesus would be taken up to heaven, I said it was a possibility. You haven’t said anything to show that it wasn’t. In my opinion the chances that the disciples believed that are greater than the chances that a dead man was miraculously brought back to life.

    Reply: But that wasn’t what they taught. They did not go around saying “Christ was taken to Heaven!” Of course they thought He was eventually, but they said “Christ is risen!” The earliest Christian creed has Jesus being risen. You have asserted a claim that we nowhere find the apostles making. That is your burden to show. Also, by what methodology do you determine the probability of resurrection?

    Stuart: We simply don’t have any reliable information about what the disciples experienced.

    Reply: So you based your account on what you have no information of? Interesting.

    Stuart: We don’t have any first hand accounts and the accounts we do have were written decades later.

    Reply: The minimal facts are not written later. They are based on a creed that can be dated to within 5 years at the latest of the events. That’s even by non-Christian scholarship.

    Stuart: Therefore we don’t know whether there were any group experiences. There may simply have been a series of individual hallucinations.

    Reply: Again, the creed mentions three group appearances. It mentions the apostles, the disciples, and the 500.

    Stuart: It is naive to think that producing the body would have put a stop to the belief in the resurrection. Jesus was brutally beaten before the crucifixion. Add to that even a few days of decomposition and the body would have been completely unrecognisable.

    Reply: Producing a body of some sort would lead to enough probable doubt in the minds of those who were being evangelized. In fact, there’s no denying that the tomb was empty and this was taught right in Jerusalem immediately, the area where it’d be most easy to disprove the claim.

    Stuart: Also, there is no reason to think that the authorities would have taken the idea seriously. If they had wanted to refute the resurrection all they had to do was challenge the disciples to bring the resurrected Jesus before them.

    Reply: The apostles had the answer there. Jesus had ascended after His resurrection as He said He would.

    Stuart: Using the success of Christianity as an argument for its truth doesn’t work. If you want to use that argument then you must accept the truth of Islam.

    Reply: Yes. Because a belief system in Christianity where you got no temporal benefits, faced persecution for your belief, and believed contrary to your society is a one-to-one parallel with a belief system where you were told convert or die, got to go on raids where you got women, wealth, and power, and spread through militaristic means.

    Obviously, there’s no differentiation between systems like that.

  • Stuart August 11, 2013, 6:20 am

    “So you based your account on what you have no information of? Interesting.” I can see that you’re not interested in having a serious discussion. I think it’s likely that some of the disciples had the experience of seeing Jesus after his death. The question is over the exact details of those experiences. I am assuming that there was an original experience of which we have a distorted account. If you not only reject this possibility but reject it with contempt then there is nothing more to say.

  • Nick Peters August 11, 2013, 6:31 am

    Stuart: I can see that you’re not interested in having a serious discussion.

    Reply: You must define a serious discussion as one where you’re not allowed to be challenged to back claims that you make. If you had meant “A discussion where both sides present evidence and challenge one another, yes. I am interested in that kind of discussion. Let’s look at what you said.

    “You say that Jesus’ friends believed that they had seen him alive after his death. We know that bereavement hallucinations are common.”

    This implies that they were in mourning. Now they might have been. I just asked for evidence. A NT scholar like Dale Allison says they could have just as much been angry.

    But then you said

    “We simply don’t have any reliable information about what the disciples experienced.”

    Which tells me you based your account on what you have no reliable evidence for.

    Now on my position, they could have been grieving, angry, or some mixture of both even. It doesn’t matter. On yours, it does.

    Stuart: I think it’s likely that some of the disciples had the experience of seeing Jesus after his death. The question is over the exact details of those experiences. I am assuming that there was an original experience of which we have a distorted account.

    Reply: Okay. When we look at the creed, this is what it says.

    “and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

    So your claim is they had the experience of seeing Jesus but it was distorted.

    How could it be distorted in the creed? It merely says they saw Jesus. Either they did or they didn’t. Since you affirm that they did, then there is no distortion.

    Here are some scholarly citations on the appearances.

    ““We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that . . . he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.” (Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, pg 230).”

    “That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.” (E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, pg 280)”

    “That the experiences did occur, even if they are explained in purely natural terms, is a fact upon which both believer and unbeliever can agree.” (Reginald H. Fuller, Foundations of New Testament Christology, 142)”

    “The only thing that we can certainly say to be historical is that there were resurrection appearances in Galilee (and in Jerusalem) soon after Jesus’s death. These appearances cannot be denied” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” p. 81″

    Stuart: If you not only reject this possibility but reject it with contempt then there is nothing more to say.

    Reply: What contempt? I simply showed you made a case based on what you have said is not reliable. Now if you want to show distortion in the 1 Cor. 15 creed, feel free to try, but since Paul had his enemies at this church who would have wanted to discredit him, it is doubtful he would use an approach that could have easily been shown to be false.

    Ball’s in your court.

  • Stuart August 11, 2013, 7:54 am

    Nick, you are still playing games. There is no disagreement that the disciples experienced something. The question is whether the evidence is reliable enough to guarantee that the experience took a particular form. In other words, did the disciples not just see Jesus but all see him at the same time? The fact that certain claims were made is no guarantee that they are true. Paul’s claim is still made twenty years after the alleged facts. There is no guarantee that the creed didn’t evolve in that time.

    In my first post I made a comparison with stories about Hitler. There were numerous stories about people seeing Hitler after his death. Those stories began circulating very soon after his death. There was one popular story about Hitler living in an underground complex in Argentina. It’s easy for highly fanciful stories to spread widely and quickly.

  • Nick Peters August 11, 2013, 9:05 am

    Stuart: Nick, you are still playing games. There is no disagreement that the disciples experienced something. The question is whether the evidence is reliable enough to guarantee that the experience took a particular form. In other words, did the disciples not just see Jesus but all see him at the same time?

    Reply: Sure looks like that’s what the creed is saying. This is especially the case of appearing to more than 500.

    Stuart: The fact that certain claims were made is no guarantee that they are true.

    Reply: Then do we have any reason to believe that Paul was either A)lying to a congregation where he was already known to have enemies or B) deceived on a position that he was making his most important claim on.

    From Galatians 1, we know that he checked the claims. The word used is even historeo, which is where we get our word history from, which means that an investigation took place. That Paul said some had fallen asleep when speaking of the 500 means that he knew who the people were.

    Stuart: Paul’s claim is still made twenty years after the alleged facts. There is no guarantee that the creed didn’t evolve in that time.

    Reply: Okay. Can you give me any evidence that it was changed? Would not the Corinthian church have known Paul was playing fast and loose with the facts if he was willing to change the main points of a creed just like that? If you want to claim that it was changed, I’ll need to see evidence because NT scholarship has found none.

    Stuart: In my first post I made a comparison with stories about Hitler. There were numerous stories about people seeing Hitler after his death. Those stories began circulating very soon after his death. There was one popular story about Hitler living in an underground complex in Argentina. It’s easy for highly fanciful stories to spread widely and quickly.

    Reply: Did the people have anything to gain from these stories? Also, note that this is in Argentina where the account was safely distant from Germany. That’s a world of difference away. For Christianity, this was a message proclaimed directly in the face of opposition.

  • Glenn August 11, 2013, 9:26 am

    I was going to reply by expressing my surprise that somebody would actually endorse the old theory that the disciples had a shared hallucination, and concluded, not that they must be seeing things, but that Jesus was alive again. For one, it defies everything we know about hallucinations to suppose that the disciples all had the same one, multiple times and under various different conditions. Plus, the fact is that they would have had no expectation of seeing Jesus alive again. You cannot simply assert that this was a series of hallucinations and leave it there. Show that the disciples – all of them – were in circumstances conducive to hallucinations, and also that having hallucinations is likely to actually explain what the disciples maintain took place.

  • Stuart August 11, 2013, 10:37 am

    The funny thing about Christian apologists is that they have a remarkably selective scepticism. It’s amazing how many things an apologist will say are impossible or how many things need to be proved.

    It’s impossible for the creed in 1 Corinthians to have been changed since it was first formulated. Actually, Maurice Casey, for example, thinks it has been changed. It’s impossible for the story about Jesus appearing to 500 people to be invented. Anyone who thinks it was has to prove it. Never mind that Paul doesn’t say how he first heard about the story, whether he has spoken to any of the 500 himself or whether he just heard about it second or third hand, where exactly it happened, when it happened, how long it lasted, what exactly people saw, how well the people who saw Jesus knew him when he was alive etc.

    The one thing that isn’t impossible, of course, is the resurrection itself.

  • Nick Peters August 11, 2013, 1:51 pm

    Stuart: The funny thing about Christian apologists is that they have a remarkably selective scepticism. It’s amazing how many things an apologist will say are impossible or how many things need to be proved.

    Reply: I find this amusing. First off, only one person in this has used the word “impossible” and that’s you. I never said it’s impossible for the disciples to have bereavement hallucinations. I just asked you to demonstrate that they’re hallucinations. I also asked that if you make an assertion, you give a reason for that assertion. Of course, if you don’t think that’s proper, fine. I guess you just want me to take it by faith.

    Stuart: It’s impossible for the creed in 1 Corinthians to have been changed since it was first formulated. Actually, Maurice Casey, for example, thinks it has been changed.

    Reply: Good for him. Feel free to show where he makes the claim that it has been changed and what the evidence is. I’m open to the evidence. I just want to see if it’s good or not.

    Stuart: It’s impossible for the story about Jesus appearing to 500 people to be invented. Anyone who thinks it was has to prove it.

    Reply: Oh it’s possible, but the onus is on the person wanting to go against the historical testimony. Note that I gave my reasons for thinking it. Paul has his enemies at the church who would want to discredit him. If he says something that is notably false or out of line with the apostolic tesitmony, they’ll jump on it.

    Possible does not equal plausible.

    Stuart: Never mind that Paul doesn’t say how he first heard about the story, whether he has spoken to any of the 500 himself or whether he just heard about it second or third hand, where exactly it happened, when it happened, how long it lasted, what exactly people saw, how well the people who saw Jesus knew him when he was alive etc.

    Reply: Nor does he need to. Many ancient historians wouldn’t. Yet Paul does talk about receiving it. It would have been received in Jerusalem and was quite likely then part of what Christians received as a creed to recite. It would come from the apostles themselves and would report facts that would be known to the community. The 500 then would also have been well-known to the people.

    Stuart: The one thing that isn’t impossible, of course, is the resurrection itself.

    Reply: Never said that. I just haven’t seen the good argument against it. Sorry, but incredulity is not an argument.

    Glenn. It’s all yours until Monday. I don’t do debating on Sunday.

  • Glenn August 11, 2013, 3:50 pm

    I don’t plan on debating this. If Stuart’s entire considered case is “put it’s theoretically possible that…” then there’s nothing to discuss. This is an issue to be debated on the evidence or not at all.

  • Stuart August 12, 2013, 10:15 am

    Nick, this may surprise you but I’m not actually trying to prove that Jesus didn’t appear to 500 people. Since the claim is an extraordinary one I am looking to see whether the evidence is sufficient to establish it. That doesn’t necessarily mean extraordinary evidence. If there was a detailed account of how the claim was investigated that would be good rather than extraordinary evidence. But we don’t have even that evidence. That’s why I reject the claim.

  • Nick Peters August 13, 2013, 1:36 am

    How would you find out if 500 people were spoken to? Simple. You’d talk to them. Or, you’d remember being there and everyone seeing it and say “Looks like about 500 people.” Since this happened within a short time of the event, there was no need to go into all the research methodology of contrary accounts. There was only one account.

    When we look at the claim, we have three options.

    1) Paul was lying.

    2) Paul was mistaken.

    3) Paul was telling the truth.

    1 is pretty easy to throw out. There’s no reason to think Paul would lie in a congregation where his reputation was often on the line and where he was wanting to make his strongest case. Also, since others were there who would know apostolic tradition, such as those who said they followed Cephas, then they would be more than happy to call out Paul if he stepped out of line. Note also if he lied, that reputation would spread to other churches.

    Therefore, we’re left with 2 or 3.

    The reality is that Paul and others are closer to the facts than we are. If they say, he appeared to 500 and this is an early claim, then we need to have really good grounds for rejecting it. Just saying “That doesn’t happen” won’t work, because immediately your worldview is then driving the evidence.

    If I came to you and said “The appearance to the 500 happened because the Bible is the Word of God and it cannot lie”, you wouldn’t accept that, and you would be right to not accept that. That’s begging the question of a Christian worldview and using it to make the argument. If I can’t do that with a Christian worldview, why should you get to use your naturalist worldview in the same way?

    Furthermore, if we say Paul was mistaken, then this seems problematic since he was in Jerusalem from time to time, had done investigations, (Historeo) and by his account knew some of the people since he said some have fallen asleep.

    So what grounds are there for rejecting a testimony this early other than “It just doesn’t fit my worldview”?

  • Stuart August 13, 2013, 4:29 am

    Nick, remember that I’m not trying to convince you of my worldview. I’m using my worldview to try to make the best judgements I can. I accept that I might be mistaken but I don’t think I’m being unreasonable.

    What you say about the appearance to the 500 may be compelling but it isn’t a substitute for actual evidence. By evidence I mean evidence that the claim was investigated. I shall now give some reasons for doubting what you say about the claim. Note that I won’t be trying to prove that what you say is wrong, since from my perspective that isn’t necessary.

    First a point about whether or not claims are early. If a claim is early that isn’t necessarily in its favour. As I said before, there were numerous alleged sightings of Hitler very soon after his death. The claims about Hitler didn’t become more fantastic with time, there was an initial burst of stories then they fizzled out. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was an early story about Jesus appearing to a crowd.

    Here’s a true story: after the emperor Nero’s death someone pretending to be Nero gathered together an army of followers and set up on the island of Cythnus. This sent a panic through the whole empire. People thought that Nero was alive. An expedition was sent to the island where the imposter was captured and killed. The interesting thing about this story is that rumours that Nero wasn’t really dead were already circulating. The imposter was able to take advantage of them.

    So what would happen once reports of Jesus’ resurrection started to circulate? Perhaps a charismatic preacher might address a crowd and some of the people in the crowd might believe that the preacher was Jesus. After all, didn’t some people think that Jesus himself was John the Baptist raised from the dead? In general, I don’t think it would be hard for story like that to arise. It wouldn’t have to be deliberately fabricated.

    It’s less likely that Paul invented the story but not inconceivable. Firstly, it wouldn’t be possible to prove that Paul himself was lying. If was he challenged about the story he could simply say that he had heard it from someone else and assumed it was true. In fact, how do we know that that didn’t actually happen? Perhaps the story was rejected. That may be why it isn’t in the gospels. Secondly, Paul may have had enemies in Corinth who wanted to discredit him but they wouldn’t necessarily have wanted to do it in that way. They may have been happy to accept what he said about the appearances but disagreed with him on other issues. Thirdly, it wouldn’t have been easy for people to travel from Corinth to investigate the story anyway.

  • Nick Peters August 13, 2013, 6:09 am

    Hi Stuart,

    I bring up worldview because you have in fact made it a point in objecting to this story because it is miraculous in nature. Still, let’s look at your reasons for thinking the 500 account isn’t legit and see if they hold up.

    Stuart: First a point about whether or not claims are early. If a claim is early that isn’t necessarily in its favour. As I said before, there were numerous alleged sightings of Hitler very soon after his death. The claims about Hitler didn’t become more fantastic with time, there was an initial burst of stories then they fizzled out. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was an early story about Jesus appearing to a crowd.

    Reply: The problem is the stories about the appearances of Jesus never fizzled out. 25 years or so later, Paul is still using them with no indication that they have changed. Paul points to himself as one who has seen the risen Christ indicating that people of such a position would also be sought out. It is undeniable, as Ludemann said, that there were appearances. It is the nature that is under debate. Were they bodily appearances, objective visions, or subjective visions. Ludemann, for instance, equates the 500 to the tongues at Pentecost.

    Stuart: Here’s a true story: after the emperor Nero’s death someone pretending to be Nero gathered together an army of followers and set up on the island of Cythnus. This sent a panic through the whole empire. People thought that Nero was alive. An expedition was sent to the island where the imposter was captured and killed. The interesting thing about this story is that rumours that Nero wasn’t really dead were already circulating. The imposter was able to take advantage of them.

    Reply: And then the story died out. Now you might want to try the twin theory like Cavin has, but we need evidence of this. Jesus’s death had been a fully public event and there is no record of Him receiving medical care and no way He would have survived. David Strauss put to death the swoon theory centuries ago. The Jesus story never died out.

    Stuart: So what would happen once reports of Jesus’ resurrection started to circulate? Perhaps a charismatic preacher might address a crowd and some of the people in the crowd might believe that the preacher was Jesus. After all, didn’t some people think that Jesus himself was John the Baptist raised from the dead? In general, I don’t think it would be hard for story like that to arise. It wouldn’t have to be deliberately fabricated.

    Reply: YOu’re speaking about Herod, who would hardly be representative of second-temple Judaism. But okay, you want to assert someone impersonated Jesus and everyone, even his closest followers, even his brother and his opponent Paul, fell for it. Do you have any evidence that this individual existed?

    Stuart: It’s less likely that Paul invented the story but not inconceivable. Firstly, it wouldn’t be possible to prove that Paul himself was lying. If was he challenged about the story he could simply say that he had heard it from someone else and assumed it was true. In fact, how do we know that that didn’t actually happen? Perhaps the story was rejected. That may be why it isn’t in the gospels. Secondly, Paul may have had enemies in Corinth who wanted to discredit him but they wouldn’t necessarily have wanted to do it in that way. They may have been happy to accept what he said about the appearances but disagreed with him on other issues. Thirdly, it wouldn’t have been easy for people to travel from Corinth to investigate the story anyway.

    Reply: I would think the gospels would not record it because it was unnecessary. That was covered in the oral teaching and the oral teaching would be the greater teaching tool, not the gospels. Also, Christianity had a large growth in the rich and upper-class, the very people who could indeed check it out. Any Jew would also have the chance to check it out going to Jerusalem for the festivals so that’s not a…

  • Stuart August 13, 2013, 6:57 am

    Nick, I think you might have been cut off at the end. Anyway, “stories about the appearances of Jesus never fizzled out.” I think the point is that people’s belief in the significance of the stories never fizzled out. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the evidence for the stories was any greater.

    I’m not arguing that the belief in the resurrection was caused by a Jesus impersonator. Actually, I’m suggesting the opposite. A Jesus impersonator may have been caused by a belief in the resurrection. Let’s assume that the resurrection did actually happen. What would happen once the reports of the resurrection started to spread? Surely a real resurrection would inspire false stories about appearances. All sorts of people would jump on the bandwagon. There would be people falsely claiming to have seen Jesus. There might even by people claiming to be the risen Jesus. Therefore, even if you actually believe in the resurrection you would still have to consider the possibility that the story about the 500 was false.

  • Nick Peters August 13, 2013, 12:24 pm

    Yes. Apparently it did get cut off.

    Stuart: Nick, I think you might have been cut off at the end. Anyway, “stories about the appearances of Jesus never fizzled out.” I think the point is that people’s belief in the significance of the stories never fizzled out. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the evidence for the stories was any greater.

    Reply: It does mean the stories were not disproven the way Nero’s were and this when there would have been people who would have wanted to disprove them.

    Stuart: I’m not arguing that the belief in the resurrection was caused by a Jesus impersonator. Actually, I’m suggesting the opposite. A Jesus impersonator may have been caused by a belief in the resurrection. Let’s assume that the resurrection did actually happen. What would happen once the reports of the resurrection started to spread? Surely a real resurrection would inspire false stories about appearances. All sorts of people would jump on the bandwagon. There would be people falsely claiming to have seen Jesus. There might even by people claiming to be the risen Jesus. Therefore, even if you actually believe in the resurrection you would still have to consider the possibility that the story about the 500 was false.

    Reply: No. I don’t think people would be jumping on the bandwagon. The Christians were a despised people. Also, any claims would have to pass through the apostles and they guarded with suspicion any claims of someone outside the group. This includes when Paul is brought to them in Acts 9 as someone who has truly seen the Risen Jesus.

    You can assert all you want that there were fakes, but note also that this testimony is given exceptionally early. This would be within a certain time. The apostles were with Jesus right up to the time of the ascension and would have known about this appearance and been able to affirm it, which apparently they did. Anyone who was said to be of the number would be capable of being interviewed to see if they knew what they should or not.

    Considering that so many who were upper-class joined the group, apparently, they did. These were the people with the means to check. We can in fact see that the Christians had several wealthy and honorable in their midst due to the fact that so many letters were produced. A poor group could not do that unless they had wealthy patrons supporting them and patrons would not support a group like that that would put them on the outs unless they thought what the group said was true.

  • Stuart August 14, 2013, 12:31 am

    Nick, I think we will have to agree to disagree. I won’t take up any more of your time, except to say best wishes.

    Stuart

  • James (Reasonably Faithless) August 23, 2013, 3:08 pm

    Hi all,

    In case you’re interested, I’ve put up a detailed response to this post on my blog:

    http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless/2013/08/13/more-on-teleportation-a-response-to-glenn-peoples/

    There you’ll see how many of the positions Glenn attributed to me are not positions I hold (worse, positions I specifically said I do not hold).

    I also note that the first few commenters in this discussion made some rather interesting (and false) assertions about other things I supposedly think – eg:

    1) that I “treat [the gospels] as one source”

    2) that my “claim is also question begging then in that “The minimal facts can’t be true because miracles don’t happen!””

    3) that I essentially said “I don’t like the conclusion, therefore [the minimal facts are] not true.”

    4) that I assume the “default position” of “Well they’re in the Bible, and that’s the biased Christian source.”

    5) that I seem unaware that all historical sources are biased, but useful information can still be obtained from biased sources.

    Since these are just unevidenced claims, I don’t need to respond to them in detail. But I thought it worth at least pointing out that they are false.

    Cheers,
    James (Reasonably Faithless).

    PS. Glenn, I hope you’ll make an exception to the link posting rule, for obvious reasons (I’ve put the link in for my name anyway).

  • Glenn August 23, 2013, 6:28 pm

    Hi James, and thanks for stopping by.

    I sometimes see people who think they’ve been misrepresented (and not just by me) because people attribute a view to them, when in fact they have said things inconsistent with that view, or perhaps (as in your case), they have denied holding that view. But in fact it just is not a defence to say “but I denied that.” I can still remember where I claimed that a particular theologian, whether he acknowledged it or not, was committing himself to position X, and I was accused of engaging in the straw man fallacy, because that theologian had made the claim that he didn’t believe X!

    So I’m unmoved by your observation that you denied holding the various positions you refer to. In fact, with respect, I think aspects of your reply aren’t very honest, because you accuse me of attributing to you views that you don’t hold, as though I had somehow not understood you, even when I actually stated in the article that you had included a denial! So it’s not that I was just misunderstanding or mis-stating your view. I was stating that you were arguing in a particular way and that you were also denying doing so.

    You seem to have misunderstood the article. Essentially I go through your piece looking for a decent argument: One that casts doubt on the premises of the minimal facts argument, OR one that shows that the conclusion doesn’t follow (for that is the only way to refute the argument). Each time I proposed an argument, you responded in your piece by saying no no, I’m getting it wrong, that’s not your argument. And then when I said:

    If he is not here denying any facts or offering any reason to think that they should not be explained via the resurrection, then all he has left is this rather mundane claim:

    Any complete version of the resurrection story would include claims about the minimal facts, regardless of whether the story is true or not

    But clearly this claim is compatible with the minimal facts argument for the resurrection, including its conclusion, so how could it serve as a criticism of the argument? I give James more credit than to suppose that he would offer something like that as a critique of the minimal facts argument, for it is not a critique at all.

    you acknowledged that this really is your position after all: Simply that any full account of the resurrection story would include the minimal facts. But of course it would, so how is this a criticism?

    And then it came, in the comments section of the article you have linked to, this was your “key” point (your term) that I wasn’t appreciating:

    The key observation is that the presence of the claimed “minimal facts” in the stories is perfectly compatible with the resurrection being a fabrication, so we should not be particularly impressed that we find the claims in the stories.

    James, as I pointed out – your key point ends up being based on a misrepresentation of the minimal facts argument itself. The MF argument is not that because the resurrection story contains these claims, we should be impressed by that, so maybe it’s true.

    The MF argument supplies reasons for believing that the minimal facts are real and that they are not just claims.

    So as I have pointed out here – which seemed to strike you as misguided – you have not yet offered any considerations that count against the minimal facts argument, and any force that you argument might have would owe to arguments that you are yet to offer: That the minimal fact claims are false, and/or that the minimal facts should not be explained in terms of the resurrection.

    I look forward to seeing these arguments, James.

  • James August 24, 2013, 1:07 am

    Glenn, i think it would be most productive to allow your comments here go through to the keeper. And don’t worry, you’ll see the arguments soon enough. But do you at the very least agree that your whole section at the end (where you discussed modus ponens and modus tolens versions of the argument), where you said “this is James’ position”, is based on the incorrect assumption that I accepted the premise “if the proposed minimal facts are true, then the resurrection is true”?

  • Nick Peters August 24, 2013, 1:12 am

    James, having read what you said about the MF, I am honestly wondering what books you’ve read on it. I know the approach quite well and it looks like you’re not familiar with it.

  • Glenn August 27, 2013, 9:45 am

    James, as I said in the original article and have said a couple of times since (at your blog), if the position that I outlined isn’t your position (and I believe you when you say that it is not), then that just leaves us with the mundane claim that the minimal facts will form part of any complete account of the resurrection story, which is no argument against the MF argument at all.

    The only way that you can think of the claim as non-mundane is to terribly misconstrue the MF argument – as you do. So there’s no real argument from you to analyse yet. I’ll wait for these great arguments that you promise.

  • James August 28, 2013, 2:01 am

    ‘if’ it’s not my position? You couldn’t maybe just admit that you got that bit completely wrong? 😉 (I’ve also explained why it’s not just a mundane point.)

  • Glenn August 28, 2013, 8:37 am

    James, with due respect, I think you are overestimating the lucidity of your initial blog post, and apparently blaming those who waded through it for the results. As I indicated in my Facebook comments, your thoughts were not particularly well organised.

    For example, at one point after comparing the resurrection to a false belief in teleportation you say that the minimal facts of the resurrection story are just the sorts of things that would need to be made up to support a fictional account. Coming from someone who clearly doesn’t believe the resurrection story, this rather obviously reflects your view that the minimal facts aren’t real after all. I realise that you added on that you do not want to say this, but given that the only way to debunk the MF argument is to say that the facts are not real or the conclusion doesn’t follow. So you were either saying something mundane / irrelevant or else you were basing your scepticism on the likely falsehood of the minimal fact claims.

    By attributing the latter argument to you, as I said in this blog entry, I was giving you the benefit of the doubt, giving you more credit than to attribute to you an irrelevant argument.

    You have since said that in fact you really are making this mundane claim after all, which I have accepted. However, in attempting to explain why it is not mundane after all, you – as I showed above – ended up simply misrepresenting the MF argument. So everything has been mopped up, and there is nothing left but to wait for either 1) the falsehood of the minimal fact claims, or 2) the impropriety of explaining these facts in terms of Jesus’ resurrection.

  • James August 28, 2013, 12:18 pm

    Glenn, like I said – you are the only person who has misunderstood anything from that post. Quite a few people have read it and told me it was perfectly clear (I even checked with a couple of friends who are fans of your blog). Only one person has misunderstood it – you – the same person whose first comment about the blog said “you are presenting the hypothesis that the disciples made up the facts”, even though the blog said quite clearly and specifically that I don’t claim to know that or believe it to be the case.

    It’s a bit rich to say that, by falsely attributing (silly) arguments to me (including the assertion that I accept one of the main premises of the MF argument), you are “giving me the benefit of the doubt”. No, you are just misrepresenting me – claiming I said things I not only didn’t say, but said I do not believe – that’s all you did.

    Also, as I said, you might think the main point of the blog is “mundane”, but I hardly do – for reasons I have given several times, so won’t worry about repeating here – even though, as I agree with you, a more substantial critique of the MF method attacks the main premises. It would have been a fine response if you had said “I think James made a fairly mundane point here, but has promised to address the evidence for the proposed “minimal facts”, and discuss the issue of whether they entail the resurrection, in later posts, so there’s really nothing for me to respond to here – I’ll wait to respond to his subsequent posts”. But instead, you told me I was claiming the disciples made up the proposed “minimal facts”, that I accept various premises I clearly stated I did not. So I had to respond to those.

    Also, and I don’t know if this is just informal language, but you keep saying things like “[I must show that] the facts are not real” or “[I must demonstrate] the falsehood of the minimal fact claims”. You do realise I would only have to show that the facts are not adequately supported, right? ie, the burden of proof is not on me to demonstrate that they are definitely false. And I also don’t have to do this for all of them – if even just one is inadequately supported, the argument fails. To show that the compound statement (A and B and C and D) is false, one need not show that all of A,B,C,D are false, but only one of them. This is just De Morgan’s law.

  • Glenn August 28, 2013, 2:58 pm

    “No, you are just misrepresenting me – claiming I said things I not only didn’t say, but said I do not believe – that’s all you did.”

    You can keep saying this, James, but in fact I did say that if you were not saying A, then you must be saying B – but B is silly, so surely you can’t be saying that, and surely you must be saying A (on the basis of your remark that the minimal facts are just the sorts of things that would have to be made up to support a fictional story – if it is fictional). It’s there in the blog article. It’s fair enough for you to say that you don’t like that approach. Maybe it wasn’t the best, and I would be willing to accept that criticism. But to now claim that this is not what I was doing really doesn’t seem reasonable.

    You can say that the alternative, namely, rejecting the resurrection by denying the minimal facts (the argument I attributed to you, rather than the mundane claim), is a “silly” argument, but I don’t think that’s a reasonable description. It isn’t silly at all. On the contrary, it would be a perfectly valid way to criticise the MF argument for the resurrection, namely by attacking its fact claims. It is certainly much less silly than saying “the presence of the claimed “minimal facts” in the stories is perfectly compatible with the resurrection being a fabrication,” since this isn’t an argument against the MF argument at all. It simply misrepresents the argument, something you really have no option but to concede.

    I understand that you have offered an account of why your claim isn’t mundane. There is no need to repeat it. However, I have already explained why this account basically misrepresents the MF argument, and is therefore not a reasonable account.

    You can keep repeating your objection to me attributing “silly” arguments to you because I think they are better than the mundane claim you actually made, and you can keep overlooking the fact that you’ve mispresented the MF argument int he first place. But it’s really a waste of time. Either you can undermine the arguments for the minimal facts and/or undermine the validity of the MF argument, or you cannot. Everything that is happening now is just delaying the presentation of those crucial arguments.

    And yes, naturally I realise (why would I not?) that you do not have to argue against all of the minimal facts. If you can plausibly show that the reasons given for believing in the crucifixion and the post resurrection appearances, for example, are poor, then you will have undermined the MF argument. But until you offer something like this, you will not have given any decent reasons for rejecting it. And contrary to your earlier comment, your doing so would not be “silly.”

  • Nick Peters August 29, 2013, 2:03 am

    I still want to see James’s source on the minimal facts. From what I see, it looks like he really hasn’t read anything on the topic except a few web sites maybe, but no books on the matter.

  • Kenneth August 29, 2013, 6:21 pm

    My 2c: I think the approach you took in this article, Glenn, is not ideal at times because it’s too easy for the target of your critcism, if he’s defensive about hearing criticism (sorry James, honest observation) to latch on to one sentence, overlook what came next , declare “straw man!” and then ignore whatever else you say.

    I agree with your criticisms, but I think this is what has happened here. You noted that James portrays himself as the one original source of the teleportation story. James pounced on that as a straw man, a criticism that overlooks the fact that your article goes on to criticise the manner in which he later appeals to witnesses, a fact he later admits but never retracts his straw man claim. You directly quoted James’s comments that do suggest that the minimal facts were made up and you attribute this argument to James, but you don’t say in the same breath that he adds a disclaimer to say that maybe this isn’t the case. On reviewing your article, you are right that you did propose the mundane claim as a possibility, but you went with the claim that the facts aren’t real because it seemed like a more promising argument. But in doing so you did give James the opportunity to zone in one a sentence and ignore the rest, saying HA that’s not my view so I am ignoring the rest. You’re also right, I think, that in trying to make the “mundane” claim more interesting, James has shown that he either misunderstands or misrepresents the MF argument (I love/hate that acronym). However, by fixating on his perception that you have misrepresented him, he is distracted from what is actually a fatal rebuttal, not acknowledging that his “key claim” misrepresents the argument in question, and now he has an angle to use in distracting others from this fact, too. So you’re right, but I don’t think this was presented in an “idiot-proof” way (and don’t now fixate on THAT, James, the term gets the point across but that does not mean I am calling you an idiot).
    For what it’s worth.

  • James August 29, 2013, 7:03 pm

    Glenn…

    What happened was more like this:

    James: A.

    Glenn: You said B and that’s stupid because of the following 2000 words. Oh, but if you really meant C (which consists of A plus a few other things you said you don’t believe), then that doesn’t say much either.

    Like Kenneth said, your response missed the mark, and left me with a bunch of things to respond to. However, unlike he insinuated, I wasn’t fixating on “one sentence” here and there. Rather, since your main critiques centred on me holding subatantial views that I simply do not (and explicitly said that I do not), the bulk of my reply was responding to things that were simply very wrong.

    Right from the very beginning, and several times during the discussion, I acknowledged that my original post was never meant to be a complete refutation of the MF approach. So I am absolutely not misrepresenting the MF argument (as a few of my Christian friends have told me). I’m not going to rehash this all over again.

    Nick…

    I’d like to know where you draw the conclusion that I haven’t read anything on the topic apart from a few websites. I’d also be interested to know what you have read from critical scholars who do not accept the resurrection. (As it happens, I’ve read and listened to quite a bit, from apologists like Craig, Licona, Habermas, and even our friend Glenn.)

    Kenneth…

    As I said to Glenn somewhere else, I think a perfectly acceptable response to my post would have been to say “I don’t think this presents much of a challenge to the MF approach, so I’ll wait for your promised future posts that address the proposed MFs themselves and critique those then”. However, Glenn replied with a host of inaccurate claims (including telling me that I claimed the disciples made up the minimal facts, that I accept the premise “the proposed MFs entail the resurrection”, etc etc etc). This did give me a lot to address, and you’re right – most of it was quite irrelevant to my original post. However, I think it is quite inaccurate to say that I am just latching onto single sentences. Related to all that, don’t worry, I don’t get fixated on single sentences or terms, and I know exactly what you mean by idiot-proof.

    I also think it is a bit of a stretch to say that I am “defensive about hearing criticism”. Nobody loves having their views criticised, but it is a great way to get closer to the truth, and I have no illusions that everything I say will always be true (though of course that is my aim). I think is fair that I defend my views if I believe the criticism misses the mark, and I will update my views if they are criticised well. I think I have proved this in a fairly major way, as I left Christianity when I felt the evidence was stacking up against it – even though everyone I knew was aware I was a Christian and that this meant admitting I had been very wrong about a lot of things for my whole life – it doesn’t get much more humbling than that.

  • Glenn August 29, 2013, 10:46 pm

    OK James, I think you’re simply repeating now, and as you said, rehashing is bound to be fairly pointless. I’ll just wait for the arguments.

  • Kenneth August 29, 2013, 11:27 pm

    “Like Kenneth said, your response missed the mark”

    Wow. Any questions I may have had about James’s honesty in representing others were just answered. That’s stunning. (Not literally)

  • James August 30, 2013, 12:57 am

    Kenneth, sorry if I misinterpreted your comments (or if “miss the mark” wasn’t the best phrase to use). I was referring to the fact that, as you agreed (or am I wrong again?), Glenn said many things that weren’t really essential, and that didn’t address my argument (or even misrepresented it), and which gave me things I could respond to. Do you know what I mean?

  • Kenneth August 30, 2013, 3:11 pm

    James, as I said, I do agree with Glenn’s criticisms of your argument. The only problem is that it wasn’t idiot proof: It enabled people who didn’t like the criticisms to latch on to the wrong bits and ignore the more useful parts. Again, I agree, as I said, with Glenn’s criticisms. Glenn is right. I’m at work, but will give my brief review of your article, which I have now read a couple of times, later. Hopefully feedback from two people might give you some pause.

  • James August 30, 2013, 5:01 pm

    Kenneth, that’d be great, actually. I’d be happy to hear the thoughts of someone else, especially if you can make it “idiot proof” 🙂

    But just quickly, do you think that the positions Glenn attributed to me are all accurate? Or do you mean something else by agreeing with Glenn’s criticisms?

  • Kenneth August 30, 2013, 9:37 pm

    MF = minimal facts, R = resurrection story

    Background knowledge: James is an atheist who believes that R is fiction.

    Title: James compares R to a fictional event, believing that both are fictional.

    James’s description of the MF case for teleportation: It does not compare well to the MF case for R. Glenn’s explanation of why not seems to work: One person told a story, and other people are brought in later to corroborate it, but even based on James’s description, they can barely do so. I think Glenn is right: being unsure of timing (the crucial factor in the teleportation story) is very different from being unsure whether or not someone was publicly executed and that you have seen him alive again. I find it surprising that James thinks so little of this disanalogy. But the use of the teleportation example is beside the real point of the article.

    The next section, claiming that the teleportation scenario “has an important parallel in the attempts by modern theologians to prove the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus,” does not seem true in light of the observation just made (which Glenn also makes, but I do not think James adequately appreciates).

    The “Could it ever work?” section appears to beg the question. James says that the MF argument could work, if the sources for the MF claims were more believable. This struck me as bizarre – this is the very distinction that proponents of the MF case for the resurrection would say exists between the case of teleportation and the case of R. The fact that James makes these comments supports the suspicion created at the outset that as a person who does not believe in the resurrection, his goal really is to cast doubt on the MFs. He thinks they (or at least some of them) are not facts. But he’s not offering reasons for thinking this. He’s just saying that if the argument for their truth were better, then the MF case would be better. So what’s wrong with them? This is why Glenn (and anyone, I suppose) would interpret these comments as intended to cast doubt on the MF claims as false claims that are used to bolster a fictional story.

    This interpretation is supported next when James says: “The natural elements of the stories of Jesus’ resurrection are exactly the kinds of natural elements that would have to be fabricated if the resurrection itself was fabricated. ” Given that James used an example (teleportation) where (I think) the natural innuendo is that someone is pulling your leg (as a Brit I appreciate the use of the idiom) and given that we know that James thinks that the resurrection story is fictional, the inclusion of this statement appears to top off the cumulative impression: James, who thinks that the resurrection story is a load of cobblers, thinks that the minimal fact claims themselves were likely put together to support it. At this point in my reading, this is the overwhelming impression given. James’s disclaimer that follows, I think, sounds like a formality, essentially saying “But I’m not really saying that this is what I think…” The truth is, when James made his statement that the MF would be fabricated if the resurrection story was fabricated, he is doing one of two things: Either he is just saying that the MF are part of the resurrection story. But as Glenn has said ad nauseum – and rightly so – this is irrelevant and it’s not an argument against the MF argument (not part or all of it). So why would James be doing this? But if he thinks he has an argument against the MF argument then he must be talking about the MF claims being falsehoods because of the falsehood of the resurrection story.

    Here is where Glenn’s description of the argument is relevant. Glenn described the MF argument thus:

    1 If MF then R
    2 MF
    3 Therefore R

    And (and this was the source of James’s angst) this is how he saw James arguing:

    1 If MF then R (And it is true that James does not believe this – But this is not how James is faulting the MF argument here. It is common when rebutting an argument to just let some premises slide when you are not currently criticising them, for the sake of highlighting the premises that you are talking about)
    2 Not R (We know that this is James’s view from the outset, and it was assumed via the comparison to teleportation)
    3 Therefore not MF (on the basis of James’s claim: “The natural elements of the stories of Jesus’ resurrection are exactly the kinds of natural elements that would have to be fabricated if the resurrection itself was fabricated.”)

    Now here’s the thing: I know that James does not accept 1). But his argument has not concerned 1). And here’s the other thing, after reading James’s article, I also see that his real argument is not 1-3. Instead it is the “mundane” claim that Glenn talks about and which I highlighted earlier. But the path taken to make the argument was unnecessarily tortured, and really does at times seem to be arguing as though James was making claim 3 above, on the basis of 2, and not arguing against 1. Moreover, as noted earlier, either James is making an argument or he’s not. Surely he thinks he is, but the alternative to the argument above is actually to not make an argument at all. So I certainly do sympathise with Glenn’s claim that attributing the above argument to James does actually give him the benefit of the doubt – Otherwise he thinks he has offered an argument but has said something that is really empty. Were it not for the fact that James made so many other comments that do, on the face of it, treat R or MF or both as fabrications or falsehoods, his article would not have warranted comment at all (in my opinion).

    James’s closing statement really does misunderstand the minimal facts argument and state his core position at the last minute. “we would be incredibly naïve to draw a positive conclusion regarding the resurrection based on the assumption that we can take the natural claims made in the gospels at face value.” Based on my own reading, that is not part of the MF argument for R. MF proponents do not say that we should simply take the fact claims at face value. James may believe that when the proponents of the MF argument offer reasons for accepting the fact claims, those reasons are inadequate. If he believes this, he should offer reasons for saying so. To say that the MF argument just expects people to believe the claims or take them at face value is a misrepresentation.

    End of my review.

  • Kenneth August 30, 2013, 9:44 pm

    James, when reading and reviewing your article, I did wonder to myself how I might suggest that it could have been done better – in light of your more recent comments about what you really didn’t want to say (i.e. anything at all about anything being untrue or fabricated). So in my mind, I deleted all of that stuff. And I think the teleportation analogy really doesn’t make the argument clearer, s in my mind I deleted that too.

    And what was left, I think, was not sufficiently cogent or solid to constitute a post that anyone would have wanted to post. Not at all meaning to be rude by that, but I did get the feeling that you wrote this on the fly, not planned from start to finish, and as a result it had more and more bits tacked on without one clear unified argument, and had you stripped it right back to that one argument, I think you might have decided not to publish it, but to wait until you had formed the argument that you recognise (and have said) that you need to produce. Because all you would have been left with is something like “If this whole story is untrue, then whoever came up with it would have made up the interesting details too.” And this isn’t even a point worth making on its own, because anyone who uses the MF argument is surely well aware of it. It is true of many stories both true and false – and the difference between the true and false stories in most cases is whether or not there is good evidence for the fact claims made along the way, and yet this is exactly what you seemingly don’t want to talk about.

    Again, just my 2c.

  • James August 30, 2013, 11:46 pm

    Thanks Kenneth, will read over the weekend sometime. One thing – would you mind posting your comments on my blog though, so we can have a conversation about it there? Cheers.

  • Kenneth August 31, 2013, 4:32 pm

    I do read atheist blogs sometimes, but I only comment at some of them (I should add that the same is true of blogs run by Christians). I’m pretty picky. Just as a matter of etiquette, people shouldn’t need to ask me to come and comment at their blog once I’ve read it. I’d comment there if I believed it was warranted (I was trying to think of a gentle way of expressing that).

  • James August 31, 2013, 5:19 pm

    I just mean if you’ve posted some very detailed comments about Blog Post X, and I was going to respond (and perhaps you respond and so on), it would make more sense to do that in the comments section of Blog Post X, right? That’s certainly where I’d prefer to do it – and, if you think your comments argue decisively against it, perhaps you’d want people who read my post to see them?

  • Kenneth August 31, 2013, 5:33 pm

    Please stop asking.

  • Glenn August 31, 2013, 9:01 pm

    Actually, Kenneth’s review draws attention to something that I didn’t note – I noted that when James re-stated his key claim, he ended up badly misrepresenting the MF argument. But as Kenneth noted, that very misrepresentation was there right at the end of the article itself.

  • Nick Peters September 1, 2013, 2:33 am

    This is why I asked to know what James has read on the subject. Based on what I’ve seen, I don’t think he really knows what the Minimal Facts argument really is. The fact that this question has not been answered only confirms my hypothesis.

  • James September 1, 2013, 2:09 pm

    First, just a quick reply to your second post:

    “the difference between the true and false stories in most cases is whether or not there is good evidence for the fact claims made along the way, and yet this is exactly what you seemingly don’t want to talk about.”

    I don’t know why you say I seeminly don’t want to talk about it. As I’ve said dozens of times now, I actually think the evidence is very dubious for some of the claims, and am looking forward to posting about it. I very much want to talk about it, and it’s part of the reason I started the blog in the first place.

    Now, onto your review (which was much better than Glenn’s).

    Re disanalogy of the teleportation example… As you noted yourself, the particular details are beside the point. I mentioned somewhere or other that anyone reading could cook up their own version of the teleportation story so that as many details were shared with the resurrection story – more witnesses, more accurate reports of time from the witnesses, etc etc. (I also commented that the disanalogy works in favour of the teleportation story in many details – eg, the source is still alive, as are the witnesses, the claim was made immediately after the event and we don’t have to rely on written sources from several decades after, the reports are not contradictory, etc etc.)

    Re the “Could it ever work?” section… I’m definitely casting doubts on the MF’s themselves – and I did this quite explicitly all through the article. Indeed, I’ve stated that I would write in the future about why I find some of them dubious.

    Re my statement “The natural elements of the stories of Jesus’ resurrection are exactly the kinds of natural elements that would have to be fabricated if the resurrection itself was fabricated.”… Actually, I agree that the wording was not the best here. When I restated this point in subsequent communications, I added a caveat so that it read something more like:

    “The natural elements of the stories of Jesus’ resurrection are exactly the kinds of natural elements that would need to be in the story in order for it to be seen as even a genuine attempt to convince people – whether the resurrection itself was fabricated or not. Hence, if any of the details were not true, they (or something like them) would need to be fabricated.”

    In other words, I accept that some of the proposed MF’s might be real, or at least based in some kind of historical event (with the crucifixion itself being almost surelyhistorical, in my opinion) – and I did state this in the next sentence of the original post. But what I am saying is that it shouldn’t be any surprise at all that these proposed MF’s are there (and even that various pieces of internal consistency, etc, are there – or else we’d be able to throw the stories out immediately, and we’re not talking about stories that were immediately rejected – not by everyone, anyway). And, if we are relying on internal evidence to verify them (and we can do nothing else, as the events are not supported by anything outside the bible), then we are relying on the testimony of someone who would have to have made any of them up if they weren’t already true. I know it’s a subtle point, and I may not have explained it as clearly as you (or I) would have liked. And I know it might have sounded as if I was saying that the MF approach is to simply believe the natural bits, and let them imply the supernatural bits (not that I think they do imply the supernatural bits). The “face value” statement probably has this effect most of all, and I agree that could have been worded better. Anyway, perhaps one day I’ll try and make the whole thing a bit clearer. (Even CS Lewis’ famous Lord/Liar/Lunatic went through about a dozen revisions until he was happy with it.) But probably best would be to just get around to critiquing the arguments for the proposed MF’s.

    Re this bit:

    “Given that James used an example (teleportation) where (I think) the natural innuendo is that someone is pulling your leg (as a Brit I appreciate the use of the idiom) and given that we know that James thinks that the resurrection story is fictional, the inclusion of this statement appears to top off the cumulative impression: James, who thinks that the resurrection story is a load of cobblers, thinks that the minimal fact claims themselves were likely put together to support it.”

    The inclusion of the (obviously) false teleportation story was not to try and make the resurrection look false. It was meant to show that false stories *should* have all kinds of believable details – the kinds of details whose absence would signify an obvious hoax or mistake. I think the resurrection is probably not true, and I also think some of the minimal facts are probably not true – however, this is not because of my commitment to the falsity of the resurrection but, rather, because I find the evidence for (some of) those claims far from compelling. I also don’t think the natural claims entail the resurrection, as I’ve said. I will argue both those cases in future posts. So it simply isn’t the case that I am “talking about the MF claims being falsehoods because of the falsehood of the resurrection story” – you could *only* draw this conclusion if you believed that I accepted the premise “If MF then R”.

    As you say next, I don’t believe the premise “If MF then R”. I also don’t understand why you think I am faulting the argument in this way. I’m guessing it’s because the contrapositive of that premise is “If not R, then not MF” (where “not MF” is the negation of MF, which is a conjunction of claims – so “not MF” means “at least one of the proposed MF’s is not true”), and this statement sounds something like what I’m saying. But it isn’t what I’m saying. Rather, what I’m saying is “If not R, but someone wanted to convince you of R, and if the MF were not all true, then the rest would need to be fabricated”. If you think it is not the case that I said that clearly in the original blog post, then I won’t blame you for that – but it should at least be clear enough that that is how I am trying to clarify myself now. As I said in the article itself, I don’t think the minimal facts entail the resurrection.

    But, in any case, just because my post “has not concerned” this premise, it doesn’t mean an opponent is free to declare that I accept it. Claiming that someone made an argument they did not make (and said they were not making) is not giving someone the benefit of the doubt. In your post (and in Glenn’s), all kinds of arguments were not there. If I claimed you made one of those arguments, I would not be giving you the benefit of the doubt – I would be misrepresenting you – that’s all.

    TBC…

  • James September 1, 2013, 2:10 pm

    Re “the alternative to the argument above is actually to not make an argument at all”… Surely this is just an obvious false dichotomy. If James was not making argument X, then he mustn’t have been making any argument at all. No comment needed…

    Re “not R”… I don’t actually include this in my list of assumptions when dealing with the resurrection. I have a very strong suspicion that it did not occur. But I *do* think the evidence for the resurrection is poor. And, in any honest investigation of the resurrection, it is silly to go in with assumptions like “the resurrection didn’t happen”, or “miracles don’t happen”, or even “miracles cannot be established historically”. Otherwise, you may as well not be thinking about it at all. If some evidence comes to light that strongly supports the resurrection, I will update my beliefs – I’ve done that before (and had absolutely no desire whatsoever to stop believing that I was going to live forever, that the creator of the universe loved me, etc etc).

    Re my last paragraph… I do actually agree that my statement you quoted doesn’t have the best wording. I hope the things I said surrounding it (and in subsequent discussions) should help make it clear what my position really is (and what I meant to communicate), but “face value” is certainly not the best phrase I could have used. I did explicitly refer elsewhere to the apologists believing that there was good evidence for the proposed MF’s, and I also said I think the evidence for (some of) these is poor (and would spell out my reasons in subsequent posts). So, of course, I think the MF approach rests on what the apologists take to be good evidence for the MF’s. But, in any case, subsequent posts will deal with the evidence. And, whether or not you and Glenn think the teleportation post does anything or not, you can at least look forward to those posts 😉

    (I’d be happy to read anything either of you think is particularly compelling re the MF approach, btw.)

  • Glenn September 1, 2013, 2:21 pm

    But what I am saying is that it shouldn’t be any surprise at all that these proposed MF’s are there (and even that various pieces of internal consistency, etc, are there – or else we’d be able to throw the stories out immediately, and we’re not talking about stories that were immediately rejected – not by everyone, anyway). And, if we are relying on internal evidence to verify them (and we can do nothing else, as the events are not supported by anything outside the bible), then we are relying on the testimony of someone who would have to have made any of them up if they weren’t already true.

    See, each time I call the claim mundane, James says that it isn’t, and claims to have shown why it is not mundane. And now he makes it again – and it matches in exact detail what I said about it.

    This claim really does – as anyone can again see in the above comment – amount to the claim that any complete version of the resurrection story would include the minimal facts because the minimal facts are necessary in order for the resurrection to have happened (or at the very least, some set of facts very similar to them). And this does not challenge any aspect at all of the MF argument.

    I also think James is misconstruing what Kenneth said – which is actually the same as what I said, about this: “If James was not making argument X, then he mustn’t have been making any argument at all.”

    This summary seems to miss the point. The point (or at least, the point I was getting at, and what I think Kenneth likely meant) is not that a person is either making argument X or no argument. The point is that in your blog post there exists the material to make argument X (which is, admittedly, not much of an argument), but no material from which to construct any other coherent argument (for the resulting claim would be mundane and not of any interest).

    But at least there’s something to look forward to.

  • Kenneth September 1, 2013, 3:59 pm

    “Now, onto your review (which was much better than Glenn’s).”

    Thanks – but actually I was making more or less the same points as our host. It looks like I succeeded in making it idiot proof, because you seemed to respond to my review as though you were responding to Glenn’s review but actually appreciating the points it contained. That is part of what I hoped to show.

    To prevent misunderstanding, James: In other words, if you think that my criticisms are any good at all, then you should probably revise your claims about how terrible Glenn’s criticisms are, because they are the same criticisms. It does look to me like when commenting on Glenn’s criticisms, you’re reacting to the person. The shortcoming of Glenn’s article is that it can easily be distorted, and this is what has happened in your replies to it, James. I have said that Glenn’s criticisms are correct, and I note that when I simply presented them, you were prepared to grant that they were not that bad after all.

    I won’t follow up your additional defence of your article. You seem now to be saying what you would have said if you had a chance to go back and write it over again. This may explain why you reacted so strongly to Glenn: His article targeted things you wrote, but they didn’t match up with what was in your mind. Maybe if you had reviewed your article a few times and re-written it, the discussion would have turned out differently. You now see (I think) that Glenn’s criticisms make sense in light of what you actually wrote. Don’t re-write your article here in Glenn’s comments section. My advice is to delete the deeply flawed version at your blog, and wrie a new one along the lines that you now see you should have followed instead. But I’m eager to see any solid arguments against the MF argument that you’ve got, so I will wait for those. I hope they’re not too far away

  • Stuart September 1, 2013, 9:41 pm

    James, I think it would be better if you moved on to the next stage of your argument.

    I would suggest a different way of objecting to the minimal facts argument in principle. Consider an experiment that apparently demonstrates cold fusion. Other scientists replicate the experiment with negative results. The possibility of cold fusion is rejected. Now what if the original scientist objects? He challenges his critics to explain how his experiment produced its results. He says that if they can’t meet that challenge then we must conclude that his experiment, at least, really did produce cold fusion.

    That challenge wouldn’t be considered reasonable. Of course, there is no harm in speculating about what happened in the original experiment, but there is no obligation to prove those speculations, which wouldn’t be possible anyway.

    The strangest thing about the minimal facts argument is the challenge to explain the alleged facts. By all means speculate about what might have happened, but why on earth should there be such a challenge?

  • Glenn September 1, 2013, 10:11 pm

    Stuart, the cold fusion example would be dismissed as it involves empirical disconfirmation of the claim in question. Of course if people had that sort of response to the MF argument for the resurrection of Jesus, we’d know about it by now.

    But more to the point, your use of this comparison suggests a misunderstanding of the MF argument. The cold fusion scenario envisages a person trying to reach an end by a certain method, and then having that method called into question when others fail to reach the same end. If you were to correct the comparison so that it is relevant to the MF argument for the resurrection, it would be more like this: A scientist claims that cold fusion has occurred. He did not create it himself, but he makes a case that if phenomenon A, B, C and D are present, then cold fusion produced them. Other scientists object: “But nobody has ever produced cold fusion before!” he replies: “I know, so this is incredible. But we’ve got A, B, C and D, which clearly point to cold fusion having occurred.”

    Thought experiments are handy, but we have to make sure that they are relevantly analogous.

    Provided an explanation has explanatory power, explanatory scope, is not contrived and is not clearly incompatible with our background knowledge, then it actually is up to those who do not believe it to show what is wrong with it, or to provide a better explanation. Or they could simply bow out of the discussion and say “I don’t wish to know.”

  • Stuart September 2, 2013, 1:28 am

    Glenn, you said, “the cold fusion example would be dismissed as it involves empirical disconfirmation of the claim in question.” That isn’t right. The later experiments don’t prove that cold fusion didn’t happen in the original experiment. They lead us to believe that cold fusion didn’t happen in the original experiment. That belief is based on the assumption that nature is regular. If nature is irregular then it would be quite possible for cold fusion to occur in one experiment and not occur in identical experiments.

  • Glenn September 2, 2013, 5:38 pm

    “The later experiments don’t prove that cold fusion didn’t happen in the original experiment.”

    I never said proof to the contrary. I said empirical disconfirmation. Disconfirmation certainly occurs when conditions arise where we would expect the phenomenon to occur if the purported conditions were sufficient, but the phenomenon does not occur. We do not have any sort of empirical disconfirmation of the resurrection of Jesus, simply because we are unable to recreate the conditions that allegedly existed at the time. Disconfirmation does not prove or disprove a claim, it merely counts against it.

    Additionally – as I noted – the way you described the scenario is noticeably disanalogous on other grounds as well.

  • Stuart September 2, 2013, 8:10 pm

    What if a demon chose to intervene in the original experiment to make cold fusion occur but didn’t intervene in later experiments? Then the original conditions would not have been recreated.

  • Glenn September 2, 2013, 9:03 pm

    Stuart, that is true. I assume there’s a point in there, but even if there’s not, that’s true.

    Of course, if it is true, then the first experimenter has no option but to use a minimal facts style argument (this is different from what you outlined). I outlined how such a minimal facts argument would go in my first reply to you.

  • James September 2, 2013, 9:11 pm

    I made a somewhat similar point in the post linked to in my name. Here’s the excerpt in case you don’t care for the rest (though it adds context):

    “Imagine a group of physicists claim they have observed particles travelling at ten times the speed of light. Their results have been published in a peer reviewed journal. The story goes like this. While performing a routine experiment in which they would have expected the particles to travel at the speed of light or just below, the physicists, who all belong to a certain religion, decided to pray that their God would cause something extraordinary to happen, so the world would know that theirs was the true religion. While the research team was unable to explain their results scientifically, the measurements made by their instruments were indisputable. Other scientists have not been able to replicate the results, but the original physicists don’t find this a surprise at all. Of course the results would not be replicated, as they “shouldn’t” have happened in the first place; it was a miracle after all. Also, they say, their God does not do miracles for just anybody – of course he would not allow such results to be replicated by other physicists who prayed that their false gods would grant them success.”

  • Glenn September 2, 2013, 9:23 pm

    Saying that their results were scientifically peer reviewed (i.e. by people in the scientific community who are not party to the experiment) and that “the measurements made by their instruments were indisputable” does tend to remove the ability to say anything like “and yet of course we shouldn’t believe it happened.” The purpose of peer review is generally to weed out cases that were not tested or measured rigorously enough.

    Also the whole description of them praying ahead of time that God would do something really makes the scenario unlike the resurrection in any interesting way. You really cannot just take a situation that people would have a hard time believing, add religion to it and think that it must be a good parallel to the resurrection.

  • James September 2, 2013, 9:39 pm

    Yeah but don’t forget that peer review is done by…… *other scientists*. Joking aside, in this case, all the analogy is supposed to do is show that, even though you might not be in a position to say what probably happened with the experiment, it is probably more reasonable to suppose something went wrong with it, rather than, say, one of the Hindu gods made some particles travel faster than the speed of light.

  • Glenn September 2, 2013, 10:26 pm

    OK James…. I don’t see how that interacts with my comments at all – but I’m assuming they weren’t meant to. In honesty though, I’m not really that interested in the analogy. I’m just going to wait, on the supposition that your upcoming posts on the Minimal Facts will be interesting. 🙂

  • Stuart September 3, 2013, 3:36 am

    The point of the analogy is that the two things compared share the feature which concerns us. That feature is physical impossibility. Faster than light travel and resurrections are physically impossible. The differences between them aren’t relevant to the point that I’m making. And that point, just to reiterate, is that a challenge to explain an alleged physically impossible event can’t be taken seriously.

    That doesn’t mean that a report of a physically impossible event should just be dismissed. We should do what we can to investigate and explain such events. But if we fail in our efforts to explain such an event we are not obliged to accept the truth of the claim.

  • Glenn September 3, 2013, 10:57 am

    “That feature is physical impossibility. Faster than light travel and resurrections are physically impossible.”

    Surely you can’t mean what this literally says. If Jesus rose from the dead, then this is a physical event. Are you really saying that we can assert at the outset that the event is impossible?

    “The differences between them aren’t relevant to the point that I’m making.”

    But they are important differences that make the scenarios significantly disanalogous.

    “That doesn’t mean that a report of a physically impossible event should just be dismissed.” Actually I would think it should. I suspect that you don’t mean “impossible” here.

    “But if we fail in our efforts to explain such an event we are not obliged to accept the truth of the claim.” Well, “obliged” may be a bit strong. But certainly if the proposed explanation for some established facts has explanatory scope, explanatory power, is not contrived and is not at odds with our background knowledge then – absent any better explanation that has all of those features to a greater degree – a person is surely justified in accepting the proposed explanation.

  • Stuart September 3, 2013, 11:51 am

    Sorry about the “physically impossible”. You could say that they are naturally impossible. Whether they are supernaturally possible would then be another matter. In fact, there is a sense in which you could say that the resurrection, for example, is physically impossible. The physical world, left to itself, could never bring about the resurrection. It could only happen if something outside the physical world makes it happen. In that sense “physically impossible” would be an appropriate term.

    I’ll have to get back to you on your other points.

  • Stuart September 3, 2013, 8:10 pm

    If I was trying to make a distinction between the two examples I would say the following: we can establish that something like cold fusion doesn’t happen by doing enough carefully controlled experiments. If there is one rogue experiment apparently demonstrating cold fusion then it must be due either to experimental error or to a random violation of the laws of nature. We reject the latter possibility.

    What if a man rises from the dead? If it really happened then it would also be a violation of the laws of nature. Or, if you prefer, an interruption of the laws of nature. But this case is different. It isn’t a random interruption of the laws of nature. It’s something that makes profound sense. It’s that something that God has done for a very important reason.

    In fact, you could say that our reason for believing the second example is closely connected with our reason for rejecting the first. We trust God. We trust God to maintain the regularity of nature. If we do an experiment on something like cold fusion properly then God will give us the right answers to our questions. God won’t allow us to be deceived.

    This is a way of thinking that comes naturally to people. Unfortunately it is deeply problematic.

  • thom waters December 12, 2013, 12:12 pm

    Coming late to the discussion and recognizing that the discussion might have ended, but I have a quick comment, actually two.

    1–The real weakness to the Minimal Facts Approach is the nature of these “facts”, many of which might not be facts at all. For example, the creed cited by Paul in I Cor 15 is a statement of those things “believed”. They are not meant to be “facts”, at all. A creed is a statement of things believed. The early nature of such a creed says nothing about the actual veracity of those things “believed”. To say that the Belief was started early is to only state the obvious. The truth claims to the things believed are not addressed. To say that something was “early” is to only state the obvious. And, ultimately, you can say nothing to the actual truth claims to the things believed.

    2–Citing outside sources, that is, non-biblical sources, to support something as a “fact” can be a dangerous step filled with bias and prejudice. Especially is this true when you cite non-biblical sources to support the “fact” that Jesus died by means of crucifixion. None of your non-biblical sources can actually attest to a death by this means. In other words, to say that someone was crucified is distinctly different than to say that someone died by crucifixion. Crucifixion, after all, was a process. It’s not like saying that someone was beheaded. If you can demonstrate than someone was, in fact, beheaded, death is not a question. Crucifixion, however, like a stoning, was a process, which if not carried out to its conclusion might not result in the desired end. We even discover this in Acts 14 with the stoning of Paul. Thus, your “minimal fact” with regard to the death of Jesus by crucifixion is reduced to nothing more than a “belief”. He might have, in fact, died. I’m not saying that he did not die, only correctly pointing out that this is a belief, not a fact. From the New Testament accounts the circumstances that might have allowed for someone to survive such an ordeal seem to have been in place. The body was not left up for days and scavenger animals did not then devour it. The body was removed after only a few hours. We are even told that the method most used to ensure death, the breaking of legs, was not used on Jesus. The question becomes, At what point is survival no longer an option? What is the potential for survival if the victim is taken down after 5 minutes? 10 minutes? 30 minutes? And, so forth. In Mark’s account we even find the disbelief of Pilate to the news that Jesus is already dead. Something more seems to be going on at this crucifixion. Your first “minimal fact” appears to be nothing more than a “belief”. And, if you’re going to suggest that someone was raised from the dead, you better have some compelling forensic evidence to prove a death. There is none to be found in this story. Not even the spear thrust in John’s Gospel can add anything substantial, especially since it is so removed in time from the event, and we find it in no other account. Additionally, when you compare it with the letter I John, it appears to have behind it an anti-gnostic bent trying to demonstrate that Jesus was actually a physical person, not that he died on the cross. Anyone who suggests that seems to be missing the point entirely. When the author states in John 19:35 that his testimony is true that you might also believe, what do you think the author wants you to believe? That Jesus is dead? Hardly. He wants you to know that he has come in the flesh. Compare the entrie passage with I John 4:6-8. Consequently, the account itself of this spear thrust is probably a late addition to what actually took place. In John 20:30-31 we even find evidence of the author’s bias. Your very first “fact” is suspect at best. Remember I’m not saying that Jesus did not die, only pointing out what I feel to be the error of your position. It is a belief, not a fact.

    3–The final weakness to the MFA should be obvious. It presents only those “facts” that it feels argue on behalf of the Resurrection Hypothesis. It conveniently omits those historical “facts”, which when considered as a body of evidence, argue against the proposition. No surprise here. Why should the prosecution present the defense case? Let it be known, however, that there is an entrie body of historical “facts” found within the New Testament documents themselves that argue convincingly against the proposition that one Jesus was raised from the dead. It is precisely for this reason that we have two sides in a trial–that all the evidence can be submitted and weighed. That you present only one side is neither convincing or compelling.

    thanks.

  • Glenn December 12, 2013, 11:56 pm

    “That you present only one side”

    Thom, I apologise if this was lost in translation somehow, but this blog post was a response to somebody else’s blog post – one by James East. If James’ original blog post had actually offered some of the evidence to which you appeal (but you don’t say what it is, which has me curious), then I would have responded to it.

  • thom waters December 13, 2013, 7:34 am

    Glenn,

    Sorry for the misunderstanding regarding this blog post.

    My remarks, however, still stand, especially those related to the somewhat suspicious nature of the “fact” that one Jesus died by crucifixion. That it was believed seems to be obvious. Difficult to have a “resurrection from the dead” if you don’t first believe that the resurrected person was dead. Simply no compelling evidence to prove this to be the case with regard to Jesus. He might have, in fact, died as a result of the crucifixion, but it is more appropriately called a “belief”, rather than a “fact”. So, from the very outset the Minimal Facts Approach finds itself on shaky ground.

    With regard to those historical facts that might argue against the hypothesis, I have always found it interesting that most apologists are simply unaware of such an argument. Interesting, but not surprising. After all, for the most part, apologists like Habermas and others already came to the discussion with a belief in hand and simply went looking for an argument or an approach that seemed to support that belief. That they did so at the exclusion of those things that might argue against the belief makes perfect sense. They were not looking for all “facts”, just those that promoted their own belief or cause. Blinders, one might say, caused them to see only what they wanted to see, even if that meant stretching the factual nature of those things they felt had been discovered.

    Some time ago Michael Licona suggested that the only legitimate arguments against the Resurrection Hypothesis were theological and philosophical in nature. He discounted the actual likelihood of there being any legitimate historical arguments against the hypothesis. I wondered if, in fact, he might be wrong. It was in some respects a challenge that he seemed to be offering for anyone willing to accept it. The response I formulated was a two-fold one. The first of these I have touched on briefly. That was to bring into question the very nature of the evidence or argument presented by those who were making an historical argument on behalf of the hypothesis. With the death of Jesus I have presented just the beginning of that endeavor.

    The second was to discover if there might be, contrary to Licona’s position, an actual historical case in light of “facts” to be made against the proposition. This would be the positive argument to be made by a skeptic. In other words, might it be reasonable to conclude based on historical considerations or “facts” that the Resurrection of Jesus most likely did not occur as believed and promoted by believers and apologists? After all, if such a case could not be made, perhaps it might necessitate my own belief in the Hypothesis, since I had no theological or philosophical prejudices that precluded such a belief. The great claim of the Christian belief was the historical nature of those things believed, and it seemed here that it might be most vulnerable. The search was on, and it took place within the New Testament documents themselves. The result has been an intriguing one. Let me know if you might be interested in a further dialogue. We don’t necessarily have to conduct it on the pages of this blog.

    What I am suggesting is a collection of historical “facts” that are both well documented and that would be accepted by all scholars as actual “facts”, and that when considered as a body of evidence can reasonably lead one to conclude that the Resurrection Hypothesis might not, in fact, be correct or true.

    thanks

  • Glenn December 13, 2013, 6:12 pm

    “Simply no compelling evidence to prove this to be the case with regard to Jesus.”

    Well obviously this blog post was not an effort to set out and defend the minimal facts. However your comments suggest that you are familiar with the minimal facts case and you think that the evidence fails in some way.

    Thus far all you have stated – or so it appears – is that you think the case for the facts is inadequate. But stating where you stand isn’t really an argument. Are you aware of any good criticisms of the minimal facts case. If it’s online, could you link to it?

  • thom waters December 14, 2013, 8:49 am

    Glenn,

    My statement, “No compelling evidence to prove this to be the case with regard to Jesus,” is a specific comment dealing with the death of Jesus and the lack of any substantial historical or forensic evidence to prove his death on the cross to be the case. As I stated before, this is properly a “belief”, not a “fact”. Your comment suggests that you have forgotten or not read by communique on December 12. I think that to be a very good beginning in making a critique to the Minimal Facts Approach. The very first “fact”, as I started to point out, is on thin ice and hardly something that can be established as a “fact”. Correctly stated the first “fact” in the Minimal Facts Approach is this: One Jesus was crucified and it was believed that he died by means of crucifixion. Based on all the evidence at our disposal this is a true statement. That he was crucified seems to be inarguable. We even have non-biblical sources to support this “fact”, although these sources can provide no insight or information regarding a possible death. If you are going to offer an approach that portends to deal with “facts” then it demands great care and consideration when presenting something as such. When Paul cites the creed in I Cor. 15 he is simply stating those things that were believed. That is what a creed is and does. It says, however, nothing about the veracity or factualness to the things believed. Also, that a belief is started early says nothing about its truthfulness either. It only speaks to the early nature of those things believed.

    I think this to be a good beginning to a criticism of the MFA.

    thanks.

  • Glenn September 11, 2014, 11:28 pm

    A very, very late reminder. I offered this challenge to James: “So as I have pointed out here – which seemed to strike you as misguided – you have not yet offered any considerations that count against the minimal facts argument, and any force that you argument might have would owe to arguments that you are yet to offer: That the minimal fact claims are false, and/or that the minimal facts should not be explained in terms of the resurrection.

    I look forward to seeing these arguments, James.”

    He replied on the 24th of August 2013 by saying: ” don’t worry, you’ll see the arguments soon enough.”

    I just wanted to register the fact that over a year later, it appears that these arguments have not appeared at James’s blog. Make of it what you will.

  • James September 13, 2014, 3:46 am

    James is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Please be patient, Glenn – I’m a very busy guy but, as I said, you’ll see the arguments soon enough 🙂

    BTW, do you have a favourite resource that you think sums up the minimal facts argument the best? Maybe something that you have written?

  • Glenn September 13, 2014, 12:50 pm

    James, what I’ve read or listened to on the subject is scattered across a whole pile of shorter pieces. So I tried to bring it all together in a succinct podcast article that covers the main bases: http://www.rightreason.org/2011/episode-042-the-minimal-facts-approach-to-the-resurrection/

    It’s written for oral presentation so it’s not especially detailed. Still, I like it. 🙂 But the go-to names on this subject are Gary Habermas and Michael Licona.

  • James September 14, 2014, 3:56 pm

    Thanks – I’ll have a listen when I can, hopefully soon. There are a lot of things I wish I had time for.

  • James October 20, 2014, 11:52 am

    Hi again Glenn. FYI, the first post in a series on the resurrection is up:

    http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless/2014/10/16/how-not-to-argue-about-the-resurrection/

    I’m not sure how regularly new posts will appear, but I’ll try to devote as much of my bloggable time to it. Cheers.

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