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Some posts from this summer, mostly on New Testament

Here are a few more posts (with links) that originally went up on Facebook. Most recent of these are on top. I'm putting the content in here, but sometimes there are comments, and I think those are visible if you click on the link, even if you don't have a FB account.

September 10

C. S. Lewis's Liar, Lunatic, or Lord trilemma argument is relevant to the prior probability of the resurrection. This is pretty cool, because it means that it is an independent reason to expect Jesus to rise from the dead. It depends upon an evaluation of Jesus' character as shown in the Gospels, not upon an evaluation of the specific claims by alleged witnesses that he rose from the dead. Of course, like the specific evidence for the resurrection, making the trilemma argument depends upon being willing to argue for the strong reliability of the Gospels. But that's something we can and should be doing.

August 17

Too many so-called “critical scholars” have an unwarranted high prior probability for the idea that the authors made things up without factual warrant. They then also have a very high prior probability for the idea that the authors were trying to do things subtly that one has no reason in the text for thinking they were doing. (This is related to my previous post about the evidential value of casualness.) Once you ratchet up your priors for those propositions so high, then when you come to a claimed undesigned coincidence (UC), pretty much anything will do in your mind as an “answer”! Any just-so story that you can dream up can be used as *supposedly* an undermining response to the claimed undesigned coincidence. But this is not a reasonable or objective way to proceed. The very variety of such just-so stories that one could choose to make shows that it is without any objective epistemic control. Did Mark make this detail up to allude to Psalm 23 or some other passage? Did John supposedly make up the time of Jesus' death to allude to the time when the Passover lambs were killed or to the heat of the day when Jesus was thirsty at Jacob's well? Etc. I wrote Hidden in Plain View (HIPV) and the positive sections of The Mirror or the Mask (TMOM) for people who have enough of a dose of common sense not to do that and hence to be able to see the evidential value of apparently casual explanatory connections.

Obviously one can adopt background assumptions that negate the evidential value of just about anything. That’s how conspiracy theories seem plausible to people, for example. I've come up with some UCs since writing HIPV that I think are even better than some that are in HIPV, but, due to the above causes, they might very well roll off of those deeply embedded in the “critical scholarly” world. I'm not making these arguments primarily for those who are that embedded, though of course it would be nice if they could be awakened from their dogmatic slumber (to use a Humean allusion in a new way). But I’m not betting on that. I'm making the arguments for people whose understanding of real life is more reasonable.

*All* variation in the Gospels can, if one is determined, be seen as invented variation upon "tradition" or as invented riffs on Mark or even as "editing" some source whose content one made up out of one’s head. You have to make the UC argument to people who have not blinded themselves in that way while priding themselves on their blindness.

July 22

Here is Jonathan McLatchie's answer to some attempted criticisms of some undesigned coincidences. An important point that emerges from Jonathan's replies here is that none of Jaros's attempted criticisms manifest some particular way in which "the Synoptic problem" undermines inter-Synoptic UCs. His conjectures are mere just-so stories that either do not actually constitute alternatives to the UC or that leave the coincidence itself merely unexplained. If that method were a real way to undermine a UC, one could do it just as well for any UC, including UCs with John. One could just say that one or the other author was "redacting the tradition" or inventing a fact, or something of that sort. There is nothing *specific* about Jaros's answers from the two-source hypothesis for Synoptic relations that makes his oddly invented theories more probable. To say, for example, that Matthew invented/conjectured that Herod was talking to his servants and added this to the Markan account is just a version of, "Matthew made this up." The fact that one adds to it that Matthew made this up *while* copying Mark in other respects adds no force to the theory! Advocates of UCs have always known that, "One author or the other made this detail up and the two parts just happen to come together by bare coincidence" is the general hypothesis that they are counteracting. Adding that the making up occurred in the course of copying otherwise from another Gospel and that scholars think that the other Gospel was indeed a source does not give the conjecture that one author made something up, guessed, etc., any more evidential force. Indeed, I emphasized repeatedly in Hidden in Plain View and again in my presentation at Defend 2020 that the confirmation of some additional bit of information found only in Matthew is evidence that *on that point* Matthew had factual independence from Mark, *even if* Matthew was using Mark as a source. This point is *still* not being taken into account. When we turn "the two-source hypothesis" into a factual strait-jacket, we are cutting ourselves off from evidence and employing a non-neutral, invidious *version* of "the two-source hypothesis" that is not supported from the facts but is merely a scholarly fashion. Denying that rigid version--namely, that wherever Matthew and/or Luke appear literarily dependent on Mark they have *no* additional factual information--is not being uninformed about New Testament scholarship or denying "the" two-source hypothesis.

July 5

Occasionally I will hear advocates of fact-changing compositional device views (usually not the primary scholars but their followers) refer to the views as "resolving" apparent discrepancies, or words to that effect. This is not accurate. If you say that one or the other author changed the facts and that this is the explanation of an apparent discrepancy, what you are saying is that the apparent discrepancy is real! To say that John moved the day of the crucifixion so that it differs from the day in Mark is, in and of itself, to say that Mark and John contradict each other concerning the day of the crucifixion! A fact-changing device view actually *locks in* the discrepancy as real. It merely puts down a name on top of it, calling it a "device of displacement," for example. It does not resolve the discrepancy or say that there is no contradiction. It says that there is. It's just that the contradiction was (on the theory) created deliberately. If your concern is with errors in the factual information in the document, this does not help at all.

June 20

It's interesting to me that it now seems to be not uncommon for evangelical scholars, apologists, defenders of the faith to declare as if it is a settled fact and no biggie that Jesus' being born of a virgin cannot be verified by the historian. Are we all just happy fideists now when it comes to the Virgin Birth? When did that happen? You want to notice what people think they can say publicly and confidently. This is what they believe their peers will allow them to say without pushback or surprise. I don't think that the statement that the Virgin Birth is something we can know only as Christians (by faith?), not by history, should be one of those uncontroversial statements that everybody just starts repeating as if it's been established.

June 3

An important point that I made in The Mirror or the Mask: The word “perhaps” does not produce an historical free pass. Suppose that an historian, writing about the death of John F. Kennedy, were to say, “Perhaps he was killed by aliens” and were then to consider this possibility solemnly for a paragraph or two, concluding eventually in heavy tones that it appears more probable that Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald than that he was killed by aliens. The fact that he used the term “perhaps” before seriously contemplating the alien hypothesis would not, and should not, prevent astonishment that he would take it so seriously. I bring up this extreme example merely to point out that a scholar’s serious consideration of a hypothesis *is itself an evaluation of plausibility*. Scholars take time to discuss in that manner those hypotheses they consider to be “on the table,” not hypotheses they consider simply silly. If a scholar thinks a hypothesis is completely absurd and is considering it only because it has garnered unfortunate support from misguided people, he will make that clear. If, on the other hand, a scholar lists some small number (two or three, say) of explanations of an apparent discrepancy as "finalists," while leaving out others, that naturally indicates that a filter has been applied and that these "finalists" have some plausibility to them. Scholars should be prepared to take responsibility for such implications, rather than floating extreme examples of invention on the part of the evangelists as if they are reasonably plausible and then, when they receive criticism, attempting to deflect that criticism by saying that they were merely "raising possibilities," as if bare logical possibility is all that they were indicating. This is a highly dubious scholarly practice, a form of the motte and bailey fallacy, and should never be used.

Comments (5)

A little Dearborn news: Catholic priest calls out Antifa/BLM in homily. His pastor apologizes and pulls the video. Thankfully it was saved and uploaded by others: https://youtu.be/oHO1sNfuNOw

Yeah, I think his bishop may have silenced him as well, if I'm thinking of the same one.

Too many so-called “critical scholars” have an unwarranted high prior probability for the idea that the authors made things up without factual warrant.

I get the feeling that these scholars really don't have any good notion how to even think about the "prior probability", and in particular where to start with the starting level.

Actually, now that I think about it, offhand it almost seems to be one of those essentially "not-well-defined" concepts. I might have this wrong, I am just winging it, but roughly speaking, at ANY point you want to start saying "OK, with these starting points, the prior probability of X assertion is...", the opposition can always say "but you are making all sorts of additional unstated assumptions when you do that." Because we almost always DO have all sorts of unstated assumptions: it is impossible to "start from scratch" because, for example, when you start defining, you have to use OTHER WORDS to define. And so on.

Yes, a prior is really just your probability on other evidence. That other evidence may be totally a priori in nature (e.g., Thomistic reasoning about the nature of God or something) or it may be heavily empirical. It's very useful to bring out the things that a person/scholar considers plausible and to get them to say why they think that.

Oh, and hey guys, here's a Youtube link where I talk at length with a Christological heretic who is (as it happens) *way* more reasonable on the issues of Gospel historicity than the literary device theorists. An odd mix, right? That's what makes the discussion (from last evening) so long and interesting. First we talked about the literary device views and found we were agreeing too much, so we switched to debating about whether or not Jesus is God. Enjoy!


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