Yes, Jesus was buried in a Tomb – A Response to Paulogia

Estimated Reading Time: 30 Minutes

Paulogia published a video responding to the recent debate I had with Jim Majors on the historicity of Jesus’s burial in a tomb, and I felt it necessary to respond for two reasons. First, a lot of the information is still fresh in my mind, and second, I am baffled by how resistant non-mythicist atheists are to such a basic claim that Jesus was buried in a tomb. This is not a miraculous claim and it is consistent with the background knowledge. But apparently, this is the hill they are ready to die on. 

Paulogia decided to go through my opening statement (skipping some sections) and respond accordingly and I’ll issue my response to his claims. As always, I respect Paul and will try to be fair. He offered valid and well thought out arguments that should have come up in the debate but did not. 

The first thing he does is bring up a source I used by Larry Overstreet which says “…local administration, the administration of justice as between the natives of the provinces, and many other tasks were in general simply left to the political organs of the subject people.” (1)

Paul then cites what follows, “One significant exception to this was jurisdiction on matters involving capital punishment which was revered to the procurator.” This is true, but again, that hardly contradicts the point I am making throughout my opening statement, which is that these issues were decided by local rulers, like Pilate. I even quote from the Digesta later in my opening statement that specifically talks about capital punishment and how it was decided by each local ruler or procurator. No where did I say in my opening statement that Jesus was not executed under Pilate’s orders. So Paul seems to be making a molehill into a mountain here and over-exaggerating the point I was making here.

My point was just establishing the background knowledge that not everything was done the same way in every province; things could change depending on the specific rulers and the various customs of each province. Just because we can see that in Ephesus crucified victims were left on crosses, that doesn’t mean this is necessarily how things were done in Judea under the procurators/prefects there.

After this, Paul says, “I think it’s abundantly clear, as seen in the nine sources we skimmed over earlier, that leaving the bodies on the crosses, having them eaten by birds and animals, and ultimately indignantly tossed in a ditch was a significant portion of the deterrent strategy of the Roman interest. The punishment did not end at the point of death.”

No one denies this was the standard practice Rome preferred, but that doesn’t mean you get to make a conjecture that this is always how it was done. For example, Josephus says that after Jerusalem was taken he begged General Titus to take down three former companions who were condemned to die by crucifixion (Life of Flavius Josephus, 75). Because it was the standard Roman practice to leave bodies on crosses, should we say Josephus made this account up just to make Titus appear merciful? As far as I am aware, the overwhelming majority of historians do not think Josephus made up this story. As I cite in my opening statement, Philo records that in Egypt bodies were taken off crosses on the birthday of the emperor (Flaccus 83). Even Bart Ehrman doesn’t imply Philo fabricated this event. I note other examples in my opening statement as well. 

So if Paul thinks it is okay to imply the Gospels are wrong when they record Jesus was taken down and buried because it was not the standard Roman practice, does he also think these other sources (like Philo) are wrong? Surely, he should apply the same skepticism to all the other sources I mentioned that demonstrate that, at times, crucified victims were buried. But let’s go one step further, why not apply that same skepticism to the sources Ehrman brings up that say crucified victims were left on crosses without being buried? How does he know they are not exaggerating or just making things up? Horace (Epistles 1.16.48) and Juvenal (Satires 14.77-78) are writing poetry, not necessarily historical accounts, and only reference crucifixion themes in passing. Artemidorus (Dream Book, 2.53) is talking about someone’s dream, not an actual crucifixion. The Satyricon of Petronius is talking about a third-hand account of a specific event for which we have no corroboration (Sat. of Petr. 112). Why does he take their word on what happened to their crucified victims, but not Mark’s? It seems like special pleading.

Perhaps the charge of special pleading is unfair at this point, but Paul seems to solidify my suspicion in the next section of his video. Right after this, he addresses my use of the passage in Philo which speaks of crucified victims being allowed to be buried in Egypt on the birthday of the emperor. Paul says, “I think Mike is missing the point here that this was a noteworthy exception on a special celebration. Absent documentation, to speculate that what in one province was a noteworthy exception, would have been just common practice in another province, is just speculation.”

There is so much to say about this, but I’ll try to be brief and only note two very important observations. First, appear that Paul just takes Philo’s word on this. Why? It goes against the standard Roman practice, like Jesus’ burial, so why doesn’t Paul apply the same standard and say Philo must be wrong? Why does this skepticism only apply to the Gospels? As my followers are aware, I am constantly pointing out that the Bible is not treated like other ancient works. Well, this is an example of where the excessive and unnecessary skepticism applied to the Gospels is not applied to other works, like Philo.

Second, this reveals a pretty clear double standard and I cannot believe Paul doesn’t hear himself. Remember, he began his video by noting he is in agreement with Ehrman when he cites five sources from outside of Judea that show crucified victims were left on crosses, and from those sources, Paul thinks it is more likely that in Judea Jesus would not have been allowed to be buried. So he uses sources, like Horace or Juvenal, and infers from their accounts that Jesus’ crucifixion was probably the same. However, if I practically do the same thing and cite Philo to show the Romans did, at times, allow crucified victims to be buried, well Paul says that “is just speculation.” So how is this not a double standard? If all I am doing is speculating, then that is all Paulogia and Ehrman are doing as well. You can’t have it both ways.

Paul then addressed the passage in Josephus, which reads, “…the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun.” (Jewish War 4.5.2)

He does the one thing he should not do, which is to list Ehrman’s objections to using this passage to show crucified victims were allowed to be buried in Judea. This is because Paul is fully aware that I know about these objections and I am ready to address them. The objections Ehrman and Paul present against this passage are basically that (1) it is about when the Jews battled the Idumeans and not Roman victims of crucifixion, (2) Josephus is whitewashing things (meaning he is biased), (3) this passage is about a generation or so after Jesus, (4) during a war, it isn’t likely the Jews would have crossed enemy lines to bury crucified victims, (5) and Josephus refers to them as malefactors instead of political insurgents.

I’ll go through these one at a time:

  1. Josephus makes a general claim in this passage. He doesn’t say that during this one war the Jews decided in this specific instance to bury bodies. He speaks of it as a standard practice that makes them better than the Idumeans (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). In “Against Apion”, Josephus also speaks of Jewish law and says, “We must furnish fire, water, food to all who ask for them, point out the road, not leave a corpse unburied, show consideration even to declared enemies.” (Against Apion 2.211; cf. 2.204). So the implication from Josephus is that burying the crucified was the standard custom that Jews did when able.
  2. You don’t get to just dismiss something merely because you think they are biased. We need more than that. I could do this with Horace, Juvenal, or the dream interpreter, Artemidorus. Imagine if I dismissed Josephus because he didn’t agree with Luke on the census of Quirinius. If we can just dismiss Josephus when it is convenient, why cannot I do it on the census issue? It is strange Ehrman gets to just say Josephus was biased when it is convenient. I agree Josephus was biased, as were the New Testament authors, Tacitus, Livy, Paulogia, and Bart Ehrman. Everyone is biased, but that doesn’t mean what they say is necessarily wrong or inaccurate. Archaeological data supports Josephus on this issue (2), as I went over in my opening statement. So I fail to see why Josephus must be inaccurate here just because he also has biases. We need more than just the mere assertion of bias. Everett Ferguson sums up the issue nicely, “These biases are to be expected and generally it is easy to discern Josephus’ special pleading in contrast to the facts. With proper allowance made for his special interests and recognition that he was sometimes misinformed, the reader will find Josephus an invaluable resource not to be neglected.” (3) E. P. Sanders says, “…wherever he [Josephus] can be tested, he can be seen to have been a pretty fair historian.” (4)
  3. I addressed this in my opening statement. I said, “Well, how convenient that he can dismiss any source that doesn’t speak of burial practices that didn’t happen under Pilate himself. But that is fine, if it comes to that in this debate we can limit ourselves to sources that only speak of burial practices under Pilate and the only sources are the gospels.”
  4. It is true that it is unlikely Jews would have crossed enemy lines during a war to bury crucified victims. So what? As I said, Josephus seems to be speaking as if Jews did this as a general rule (Deuteronomy 21:22-23), which demonstrated how much better he thought the Jews were than the Idumeans. This also cuts against Ehrman’s argument that is specifically about one time regarding the war with the Idumeans. If it is unlikely to happen during wartime, it is more likely referring to standard practices during peacetime, or whenever the Jews were able (Josephus, Against Apion 2.211; cf. 2.204).
  5. The word, “καταδικη” is a very general term, just referring to someone who was condemned. This is reading way too much into a word that was meant to be very general, as is the passage in Josephus. He is just saying if someone was condemned (in the general sense) and crucified the Jews would take them down and bury them. In no way does this word only refer to types of criminals, leaving out political insurgents. 

Finally, I want to reiterate a point from the debate––how do they know Jesus was crucified for insurrection or for being a political insurgent? Well, they have to go on what the gospels say, since non-Christian sources do not confirm it. So they are okay with accepting the crime from the gospels, but not the burial? This really seems like special pleading. Now if we had a 1st-century source that said Jesus was buried somewhere else or not buried at all, then you could make that argument. But such a thing cannot be used in this instance. 

Paul then addresses the archaeological data which show crucified victims could be buried. He says, “It’s about relative frequency, so two examples of the exception does not really affirm anything.” I don’t think Paul realizes the gravity of these two examples. The fact that we have found two is a lot. In reality, we should have found zero, especially if the burying of crucified victims rarely happened. Finding two means it is likely this happened often. The reason is that most crucified victims would leave no traces of crucifixion, even if they were properly buried. Dale Allison notes many crucified victims were tied up rather than being nailed, and so we would not recognize them as having been crucified (5). If they were nailed to a cross, it is likely the nails would not have been buried with the victims, as early sources suggest the nails were prized because they were thought to be able to have magical healing properties (R. Meir, m Šabb. 6:10; Lucan 6.547; Pliny the Elder, Nat. 28.46).

Jodi Magness, an expert on Jewish burial practices, writes “…the means by which victims were affixed to crosses usually leave no discernable traces in the physical remains or archaeological record.” (6)

Bryon McCane says, “If there had not been a knot strategically located in the wood of Yehohanan’s cross, the soldiers would have easily pulled the nail out of the cross. It never would have been buried with Yehohanan, and we would never have known that he had been crucified. [So] it is surprising that we have identified even one.” (7)

Paulogia, unfortunately, made an error I need to point out. When he says the date of the Yehohanan burial box is around 600 BC that is off by 600 years because it dates to the first century. I have no clue where he got this information from and he does not provide a source, but it is wildly off. To quote from the original 1970 paper, “It is possible, therefore, to place this crucifixion between the start of the first century A.D. and somewhere just before the outbreak of the first Jewish revolt.” (8)

As I noted in the debate, in the past decade evidence for another crucified victim has been verified (9). The last Hasmonean king appears to have been crucified and then allowed a proper burial. So the fact that we have been able to find two, given how rare such a find should be, supports the notion crucified victims were being buried more often than skeptics realize. Paul is making the same mistake John Dominic Crossan made on this issue.

Next, Paul says something I feel is out of context. I noted the crucified victims were from the same general time period. Paul responds with “…and same general time period is a rather generous description of these finds when Mike is wanting to narrow everything down to the time and place of the rule of Pilate.”

First Paul, is going off the mistake that the Yehohanan burial box dates to 600 BC, which we corrected above. Second, the reason I did that was because I noted in my opening statement it was a response to Ehrman who set that standard. To quote myself, “Now this is important because I was shocked to read one of Ehrman’s replies to Craig Evans on this exact issue.  Evans brought up the fact that Josephus says all the procurators after Agrippa abstained from interfering in the customs of the country, and Ehrman replied and I quote, ‘But Agrippa 1 ruled Judea over a decade after Jesus.  The “procurators who succeeded” him were later. This passage is not talking about what was happening under the rule of Pontius Pilate during the days of Jesus.’ Well, how convenient that he can dismiss any source that doesn’t speak of burial practices that didn’t happen under Pilate himself.  But that is fine, if it comes to that in this debate we can limit ourselves to sources that only speak of burial practices under Pilate and the only sources are the gospels.”

Notice what I said was in response to Ehrman, so I think it is uncharitable for Paul to divorce that from the context of my statement. Plus, in my opening statement, I am establishing background knowledge, which is basically to point out the idea that a crucified victim could be buried was not so improbable and a lot of supporting evidence is available which shows this. 

Finally, from here we move to evidence specific to Jesus’ burial. I noted the evidence is the gospels, and Paulogia, predictably, plays his “for the Bible tells me so” jingle. I knew I would not make it through this video without hearing it. Well played, Paul.

But on a more serious note, this seems to be another example of special pleading. Remember, he believes Jesus was crucified for being a political insurgent, but how does he know that? Well, “because the Bible tells him so.” As long as he continues to believe Jesus was executed for being a political insurgent, he only believes it because the Bible tells him so, and oddly enough, that seems to be enough to convince Paul.

He then compares the idea of taking the gospels at their word to believing the kids’ show Mister Rogers, which is an unfair example since the gospels are most likely Greco-Roman biographies (10) and Mister Rogers is a kids’ show. My point is simply there is nothing in the background knowledge or in the accounts themselves that suggest the Gospels are in error when they say Jesus was buried in a tomb, but for the skeptic, it seems the Bible is always questionable until proven innocent (unlike other ancient sources, but more on this later).

Moving on, Paul brings up an issue with Mark and John not being independent sources, which is fine, I have no problem saying John knew of Mark. But I wonder if he would apply this same logic to Livy and Polybius on the account of Hannibal? Livy used Polybius as a source (11), does that mean Livy just copied Polybius and is unreliable in speaking of things Polybius does not? Why not treat John and Mark in a similar fashion? As Craig Keener says, in talking about other Greco-Roman biographies, “Although classicists approach ancient historical biographies critically, most of them do not handle them as dismissively as some of the more skeptical NT scholars have handled the information in the Gospels.” (12)

Next, Paul cites a paper to respond to my quote from Dale Allison. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul cites a creed that says Jesus was buried. Dale Allison says, ”The verb θάπτω means ‘bury’ and would hardly be used of the unceremonious dumping of a criminal into an unmarked trench as dog food: that was not a burial but its denial.” (13)

Paul responds by citing a paper (14) on how the word is used in Greek sources, like the Septuagint and later Jewish works, and suggests it can refer to being buried in a trench grave. There is a lot to say about this, but I’ll only hit on the main points. First, notice what Allison said. The word would not refer to “dumping” of a criminal in an unmarked trench. It means “buried,” not left on the cross to rot, and not left out for dog food, as Crossan suggested. The word used in 1 Corinthians 15 suggests a proper burial, not a disgraced one. The Romans didn’t properly bury criminals, so the word alone implies it is unlikely the Romans buried Jesus in the disgraceful manner they preferred. 

Second, the five sources earlier that Paulogia (and Ehrman) refer to are a direct denial of any burial for crucified victims––where they were left on crosses for days and picked apart by wild animals. The sources within Keddie’s paper are still referring to honorable burials, where a body was covered, not left on a cross, and not thrown into a trench uncovered for dogs to pick through. For example, in referring to one example, Keddie says, “The text specifies that Jonah buried her himself while traveling – a reasonable task for a trench grave, but not a rock-cut tomb.” (15) That sounds very much like a proper and honorable burial, where someone took care to bury his mother, not leave them out to disgrace them.

I am not sure if Paulogia misunderstood Keddie, or if I am missing Paul’s point, but Keddie is in no way referring to Roman practices of discarding bodies of criminals. A trench grave within this paper refers to a proper burial by someone of the lower class:

“The majority of the Jewish non-elite population in Early Roman Palestine was buried in trench or cist graves. Unlike rock-cut tombs, trench graves did not impose an obvious mark on the ancient landscape or the archaeological record. It is for this reason that the simple trench graves at Qumran have been called ‘Essene,’ ‘sectarian,’ ‘heterodox,’ and ‘deviant,’ as have trench graves discovered elsewhere. These graves, however, likely represent the common burial practice of those near and below subsistence level.” (16)

So the burial practices Keddie refers to do not support the Roman practice of disgracefully discarding the bodies of criminals, or where one is left on a cross to rot. The word still most likely refers to a proper burial, whether they are buried in a tomb or a trench, which was Allison’s point, and my point as well.

Next, in response to me noting that there are no competing traditions as to what happened to the body of Jesus, Paul says, “This is an argument from silence. For all we know there were dozens of competing traditions that simply didn’t survive to modern-day.” This is not an argument from silence and it misses the point. When it comes to other sources, like Livy or Josephus, we rarely throw them out and posit something that is not attested. We go on what is most probable based on attestation. Paulogia would rather posit something for which we have no evidence––a speculative idea that Jesus was not placed in a tomb, despite having no attestation for this hypothesis. We don’t do this with the friends of Josephus that Titus took down from crosses and posit that Titus refused Josephus, just because we presuppose it was more likely (Life of Flavius Josephus, 75).

Also, an argument from silence is actually when someone dismisses a claim or and event based on a lack of statements in historical sources but is mentioned in others. An actual example would be to discount Suetonius’ account of the Jews being expelled from Rome under Claudius (Divus Claudius, 25) because Josephus falls to mention it. To note there are no sources that say something else happened to the body of Jesus is not an argument from silence, for the same reason, it is not an argument from silence to note we have no sources that say ancient Egyptians visited the Americas. Some fringe groups have suggested it may have happened. It is an argument from silence to dismiss their claim because there is evidence or attestation to it?

Imagine if someone told Paul they thought Thomas Jefferson was a spy for the Spanish Crown. Would it be an argument from silence to say there are no sources that support such a theory? Of course not, because we rarely posit something for which we have zero attestation. However, for some odd reason, when it comes to the Bible, there seems to be a double standard, and we can posit all sorts of theories for which there is no textual evidence.

Next, Paul takes issues when I noted the prophecy of Isaiah 53:9 would better fit if Jesus was thrown into a mass grave for criminals. He draws attention to it also saying that he had to be buried with the rich, and that shows they would have had reason to invent Joseph of Arimathea. Paul is making the same mistake fundamentalists make, which is reading too much into vague lines in the Old Testament. It doesn’t say the messiah had to be in a tomb, let alone a rich man’s tomb. It just refers to being with a rich man at his death. That is so vague it could fit with multiple things. Here is the verse in different translations:

“His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:9 NASB)

“And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:9 ESV)

“I will appoint evil men for His burial and rich men for His death, because He committed no lawlessness nor was deceit found in his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:9 LXX, Orthodox Study Bible)

As you can see, the verse is vague. All that would have been needed to make this verse fit is a rich Sanhedrin member burying Jesus in a grave on some field, being consistent with Deuteronomy 21:22-23. Perhaps they could have said Jesus was buried in a rich man’s field, or that Jesus was buried in a field next to a rich criminal. There are multiple ways you could make it work, and that’s why I don’t put a lot of emphasis on prophecy. However, this also demonstrates the Christians did not need to invent the tomb story, as skeptics constantly argue.

Now before moving on, we also need to note Paul doesn’t really add any additional evidence to his case that Jesus was not buried in a tomb. He just tries to respond to my arguments that Jesus was buried in a tomb and explains why he is skeptical. He notes ancient sources need to meet a burden of proof, but doesn’t specify what that burden is. If Paul cannot give any additional reasons to doubt that Jesus was buried in a tomb, I fail to see why we should doubt this non-miraculous claim, for the same reason we don’t doubt that Titus permitted 3 of Josephus’ friends to be taken off their crosses and to receive medical care. As Tessa Rajak said, “as long as what Josephus tells us is possible, we have no right to correct it.” (17)

In other words, if we are to doubt something in the writings of Josephus we ought to have a reason to. Scholars do doubt many things that Josephus claims, but that provide reasons to doubt those specific things.

Why can’t we apply this to the gospels? If we have a reason to doubt the tomb, let’s hear it. The mere conjecture from skeptics that Rome would not have allowed this is mere speculation that has no attestation. My opening statement in the debate explained that the background knowledge is consistent with Rome allowing a burial in this case, and all our sources on Jesus’ death support this notion.

__________________________________________

 

Paul then decides to address some things in an earlier video I did on the criterion of embarrassment. He made a challenge that the criterion of embarrassment is not used outside of New Testament studies, so I made a video that included 5 examples. Paul begins by being very honest and states he now accepts there is the use of the criterion of embarrassment outside of the New Testament studies, and that honesty needs to be noted. Paul deserves respect for saying this.

Paul takes issue with my argument in the video that there is excessive and unnecessary skepticism about the Bible, and he asked what specifically that is. So to answer him––denying Jesus was buried in a tomb is a good example, since there is nothing miraculous about that particular claim, and it is consistent with the background knowledge. Another example is the overuse of the criterion of double dissimilarity, where some very liberal scholars will only accept a saying of Jesus if it is dissimilar from the early church and the Jewish background, which is absurd. Are we to believe that Jesus, who was a Jew, would never say things that were consistent with other Jewish works? Since the church is founded on the teachings of Jesus, why wouldn’t some of the things Jesus said be reflected by his followers? As Paul Eddy and Gregory Boyd say, “Thus, most skeptical Jesus studies that focus on assessing the authenticity of individual sayings do not end by demonstrating the general unreliability of the Gospels. Rather, they begin by assuming it.” (18)

Paulogia then responds to a quote from that video from scholar Darrell Bock on whether or not the criterion of embarrassment is used outside of New Testament studies. Bock said in my video, “Why would it be? Those works do not work in this kind of a sociological context with this kind of skepticism.”

Paul responds with, “Is Dr. Bock suggesting that Christianity is in a unique position needing to employ subpar tactics because the most reliable tools of history aren’t sufficient to vindicate what he deems to be the word of God.” The exact opposite is true. Bock and other conservative scholars want the New Testament to be treated like we treat Josephus or Tacitus––innocent until proven guilty. We don’t doubt something in Josephus unless we have reason to do so. We don’t doubt Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps unless we have reason to do so. 

Craig Keener makes a similar point. He says, “Although Tacitus denounces Tiberius whereas Velleius Paterculus adores him, no one doubts that both provide valuable information for us about Tiberius. Nor, because Tacitus eulogizes his father-in-law, Agricola, or Suetonius emphasizes moral lessons in his biographies, do we dismiss most of the evidence that they provide.” (19)

Why can’t we do the same with the gospels––treat them as historical sources unless we have reason to doubt them? N. J. McEleney says historians should accept “the word of the reporter unless he has reason not to do so.” (20)

Paulogia notes he applies skepticism to Josephus at times, which I do not deny. I agree Josephus made errors and scholars point them out, but we are arguing there is an excessive and unnecessary amount applied to the New Testament. What we want is for scholars to look at Josephus and the Gospels in the same way––don’t doubt something unless there is a good reason to do so. As I have argued, there is no sufficient counter-evidence that suggests we should be skeptical of the entombment story. The point is that we can find specific examples (as I have done throughout this blog) where a standard applied to the gospels is not applied elsewhere. I am not saying scholars do not debate over sections of Josephus or other ancient works, but (again) as Craig Keener notes, “Although classicists approach ancient historical biographies critically, most of them do not handle them as dismissively as some of the more skeptics NT scholars have handled the information in the Gospels.” (21) So I am not the only one saying there is a double standard applied to the Gospels.

Paul says, “Why don’t you hold all claims as questionable until you have corroboration?” Because if we did that, we would immediately throw away so much knowledge we have of the ancient world. How far does Paul take this? Does he doubt a story from a friend about an event from his childhood even if Paul never seeks out corroboration? Do we really question everything we hear, or do we tend to intuitively apply the principle of charity and trust sources unless we have reason to not do so? And what if we do have corroboration? Would Paul immediately accept that? If we found an ancient letter that dated to 33 AD which spoke of the resurrection of Jesus, would Paulogia accept it because it is now corroborated in his view?

I am genuinely curious because I have no idea why he would suggest something is always questionable until corroborated. There are so many examples from history I can think of that are not corroborated, but which we tend to accept as innocent until proven guilty, like the event in Satyricon of Petronius (Sat. of Petr. 112), where a roman soldier guarding bodies on crosses falls in love with a grieving widow. Both Paulogia and Ehrman use to say crucified victims were left on crosses, even though it is not corroborated.

Paul also says, “We should always apportion our confidence to the evidence available, and further balanced with the impact to our lives if we should happen to be wrong.” I do not disagree and I am not saying anything otherwise. I don’t understand why he thinks that. The problem is when it comes to someone like Polybius, we don’t just become skeptical for no reason. In many cases, Polybius’ own attestation is enough evidence. Historians do doubt some things in Polybius’s account but they always offer a reason for doubting it. They don’t say the burden is on the proponent of Polybius to show why we should trust him. Instead, it is standard practice to apply the principle of charity, or the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. I am really not sure if or why Paul would disagree with this. Does he doubt everything until he has a reason to trust it? Why can I not trust Josephus on his account of the Jewish war and only doubt specific sections if I have a good reason to do so? One’s doubt ought to backed by a reason for that doubt. Doubt is not the default setting.

Paul ends this video with attacking other Christians who just trust everything the Bible says, but I am not doing that, and I am instead advocating we treat it like we treat other ancient sources. So are the Christian scholars I cite. They are not like the fundamentalists Paul is referencing. Mike Licona, for example, expresses skepticism about some of the details in the gospels, because he suspects there is spotlighting, reorganizing, and summarizing going on (22). I am in agreement with him for the most part. For me personally, Chris Hansen has convinced me Job is not a historical account, I think it is an ancient epic, somewhat similar to a parable of Jesus. I am more confident that Jesus existed than I am Abraham existed. I don’t see that as a problem, as I am more confident Donald Trump is the current president than I am that Confucius existed. I can accept all these beliefs, even though my confidence is higher for some beliefs than it is for others. I don’t need to have equal confidence for them all.

Paul then concludes with this, “While the schools where the Bible is taught require teachers and students alike to sign statements of faith that the Bible is without error, what demonstration could I see that Christians are evaluating the scriptures as they would other ancient documents? Show us what intellectually honest evaluation looks like. Lead by example.” 

This comment is uncalled for. It is nothing more than poisoning the well and guilt by association. He is responding to my arguments, even though I never have advocated for this fundamentalist view. I respect Paul, but this is a low blow that I know he is above (and I don’t even need corroboration). Furthermore, why not read some of the scholars I cited, like Craig Keener, Mike Licona, or Paul Eddy? They do lead by example and they offer that evidence. Licona says in his book on the resurrection that if we found the body of Jesus, he would doubt Christianity (23). Craig Keener, in his “The Historical Jesus of the Gospels”, notes the differing levels of confidence we have for certain things Jesus said and did (24). It really feels like Paul is implying Christan scholars have not done this. Perhaps he needs to stop worrying about what he hears in the fundamentalist circle he came from and start reading what Christian scholars say.  

Furthermore, even if he is right and Christians accept too much of what the Bible says without question, that doesn’t give skeptics a pass to apply excessive and unnecessary skepticism to the Bible.

In conclusion, I respect Paul, but he offers no reason why Mark, the other Gospels, and Acts 13:29 are wrong when they say Jesus was buried in a tomb. His skepticism on this is excessive and unnecessary. I prefer to hold to methodical neutrality, and since there is no reason to doubt these passages, I do not. Nonetheless, I appreciate the conversation as always. 

 

Notes:

 

  1. Overstreet, R. Larry. “Roman Law and the Trial of Christ.” Bibliotheca Sacra, vol. 135, no. 540, 1978, pp. 323–332. 540. https://www.academia.edu/41207214/Roman_Law_and_the_Trial_of_Christ
  2. Yoel Elitzur, “The Abba Cave: Unpublished Findings and a New Proposal Regarding Abba’s Identity,” IEJ 63 (2013): 83–102; Magness, Jodi. “What Did Jesus’ Tomb Look Like?” The BAS Library, 5 Nov. 2015,                                                                                                                baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/32/1/7.
  3. Ferguson, Everett. Background of Early Christianity. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987, p. 457.
  4. Sanders, Ed Parish. Judaism, Practice and Belief: 63 BCE – 66 CE. SCM Press, 1998, p. 8.
  5. Allison, Dale C. Resurrecting Jesus: the Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters. T & T Clark, 2006, p. 361.
  6. Magness, Jodi. What Did Jesus’ Tomb Look Like? The BAS Library, 5 Nov. 2015, baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/32/1/7.
  7. McCane, Byron R. Roll Back the Stone: Death and Burial in the World of Jesus. Trinity Press International, 2003, p. 107.
  8. Tzafferis, V. “Jewish Tombs at and near Giv’at Ha-Mivtar, Jerusalem.” Israel Exploration Journal, vol. 20, no. 1/2, 1970, p. 31. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27925208. Accessed 12 Aug. 2020.
  9. Yoel Elitzur, “The Abba Cave: Unpublished Findings and a New Proposal Regarding Abba’s Identity,” IEJ 63 (2013): 83–102.
  10. Keener, Craig S. Christobiography: Memory, History, and the Reliability of the Gospels. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2019.
  11. Ebeling, H. L. “Livy and Polybius: Their Style and Methods of Historical Composition.” The Classical Weekly, vol. 1, no. 4, 1907, pp. 26–28. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4385688. Accessed 12 Aug. 2020.
  12. Keener, Christobiography, 50.
  13. Allision, Resurrection Jesus, 353
  14. Keddie, G. Anthony. “The Vitae Prophetarum and the Archaeology of Jewish Burials: Exploring Class Distinctions in Early Roman Palestine.” Journal of Ancient Judaism, vol. 10, no. 1, 2019, pp. 79–98., DOI:10.13109/jaju.2019.10.1.79.
  15. ibid., 92.
  16. ibid., 85.
  17. Rajak, Tessa. Josephus: the Historian and His Society. Duckworth, 200, p. 16.
  18. Eddy, Paul Rhodes, and Gregory A. Boyd. The Jesus Legend: a Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. Baker Academic, 2008, p. 376.
  19. Keener, Christobiography, 50.
  20. N. J. McEleney, “Authenticating Criteria and Mark 7:123,” CBQ 34 (1972): 446.
  21. Keener, Christobiography, 50.
  22. Licona, Mike. Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography. Oxford University Press, 2017.
  23. Licona, Mike. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. IVP Academic, 2011, pp. 59-62.
  24. Keener, Craig S. The Historical Jesus of the Gospels. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012.

A Defense of the Census of Quirinius of Luke 2:2

Estimated Reading Time: 35 Minutes

It took longer than I expected, but someone finally responded to a video I did years ago on the census of Quirinius mentioned in Luke 2:2, “This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.”

Now, I am always appreciative when non-Christians respond in a respectful manner and without dropping insults or trying to attack me personally. Divine Disbelief focused on the data and didn’t try to make this personal, which was very respectful of them. Also, their channel is much smaller than mine and for that reason, I almost didn’t write this blog post, because when larger channels respond to smaller channels, indirectly we might send trolls their way. However, I really have wanted to redo the video they responded to, but I have not had the time. The reason being is I wanted to update it with more information and articulate some points in a better way (which will be mentioned in this blog). So luckily, I already had accumulated a lot of the research for this blog. Unfortunately, I am pretty busy with other topics and just haven’t found the time to circle back to making a new video, but writing a blog takes far less time than making a video. So I figured this was the perfect opportunity. Also, this gives me the opportunity to highlight an important feature regarding the debate surrounding alleged bible contradictions and errors.

When studying possible contradictions or errors in the biblical texts, it seems like Christians and skeptics are on different wavelengths. Christians, like myself, are often trying to get skeptics to employ the principle of charity, meaning we ought to give an author, like Luke, the benefit of the doubt before we assume he is in error. Whereas, it seems skeptics start with the idea the Biblical texts are questionable (or even flat out guilty) until proven innocent even on ordinary matters. Perhaps many skeptics question the Bible because they see it first and foremost as a religious text, which, in their minds, allows it to be dismissed.

This general implication can be seen in the first response video. At 25:28 they state, “The complete chaos which would ensue as tens of millions of people made the trek to the, quote, place of their origin which, again, is not mentioned in any historical documentation, would not have gone overlooked by those alive at the time.”

But are not the gospels historical sources, aside from the fact that Christians consider them scripture? Luke reported this event did happen in Judea (he doesn’t at all imply it would have been tens of millions, more on that later). But from the skeptic’s standpoint, biblical texts are always assumed to be questionable sources. But Christians ask why we ought to start with the assumption they are questionable when we tend to give other ancient sources reporting ordinary events the benefit of the doubt? Especially since there aren’t other sources that talk about this specific census that contradict Luke.

The Principle of Charity is used quite often in historical studies. In his book, “Why there are Differences in the Gospels,” Mike Licona spends most of the time examining differences in Plutarch and always tries to offer logical explanations for differences instead of assuming Plutarch made an error (1).

Another good example comes from Egyptian History. Some sources say Amenhotep II had two campaigns in Canaan during his reign, one during his third year, and one during his ninth year. However, other sources say he had a campaign during his seventh year. Egyptologists often try to harmonize these accounts. A possible explanation is that the seventh-year campaign mentioned in one source is the same as the third-year campaign mentioned in the other source. The former is counting from when he co-reigned with his father Thutmose III (hence 7 years from that point), and the latter is only counting from when Amenhotep II reigned alone after his father died (hence 3 years from when he was the sole ruler). Another possible explanation is a late scribal miscalculation during reconstruction from the period of the 19th dynasty, instead of attributing the error to the original scribes under Amenhotep II (2)(3). Those possibilities both seem logical, so why can’t we employ the same reasoning when it comes to the gospels? Why is Luke assumed to be in error because some things he says are not mentioned in any other historical document?

Brook W. R. Pearson reminds us our knowledge of the time period from 15 BC to AD 14  is quite limited (4). Yet, Luke is assumed to be in error or questionable even though our data on this time period is incomplete. Luke, if treated like other ancient historians, might give us more data to help fill in the gaps. So the foundation for this blog post is the principle of charity. Let’s not assume Luke is likely in error unless the evidence from that time period points in that direction.

 

Video One:

The first response video starts out with a recreation of one of my slides:

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The creators say, “..the first and third problems are inherently the same as are the second and fourth.” I am not sure why they think this. The first point is about how Jews were required to travel for the census, and the third point is about whether Rome took a census of the entire empire at once. These are inherently different and why they were separated. The second point is regarding how a client kingdom was treated by Rome, and the fourth point is regarding when a specific individual was reigning as governor of Syria. These are also inherently different, but I digress.

The first video is only going to focus on the first point on the slide, and the second video covers the second point which I will address below. If there are further videos addressing the other two points I will update this blog to include them, but I suspect those videos will also come down to presupposing Luke is questionable instead of trying to find a logical explanation by utilizing the principle of charity. 

After some background, they get to the first objection they are raising. Beginning around 5:40, they take issue with the fact that I cited an Egyptian papyrus which states people had to return to their place of origin for a census in Egypt, which is similar to what Luke states happened in Judea under Herod the Great. PLondon 904 states that Egyptians had to return to their nomes (different administrative districts of Egypt) in order for a census to be conducted (5). In other words, a census needed to be conducted and everyone had to return to their region within Egypt for registration. So if you went to Alexandria to look for work, but originally were from Thebes, you had to return to your place of origin. You could not just stay in Alexandria and be registered there (caveat coming).

Now, I want to be clear, because perhaps I wasn’t clear enough in the short video they are responding to, I am not saying this is a perfect parallel to what would have happened in Judea around 4 BC. I thought that was obvious since Egypt was a province in 4 BC, while Judea was a client kingdom. Also, Rome did not govern every territory in the same way. 

Larry Overstreet says, “Generally speaking, Roman law allowed the local law of each province to be exercised without much interference.” (6) Wolfgang Kunkel says, “…local administration, the administration of justice as between the natives of the provinces, and many other tasks were in general simply left to the political organs of the subject people.” (7)

Divine Disbelief implicitly assumes I was arguing that the censuses in Egypt were perfect parallels to the 4 B.C. Judean census, but my point was only that there are similarities that can help shed light on what Luke was talking about. Namely, that in Egypt people had to return to their nome, which would have required traveling for many. 

Pearson says, “None of the Egyptian parallels can be posited as hard and fast facts for this investigation, but they do go a long way toward establishing what was normal for other Roman territories. The procedures may have been modified in Herod’s kingdom, as indeed in all the different parts of the empire, but there is no reason to posit that anything recorded in Luke 2 concerning the census was out of the ordinary for the Roman world.” (8)

William Ramsey also notes the differences between modern expectations and the ancient beliefs, “We in modern time make the census for one fixed and universal moment, catching our migratory population at the given instant, as if by an instantaneous photograph. The Romans tried to cope in another way with the difficulty of numbering people who might be far from home, viz., by bringing them at some time during the enrolment-year to their proper and original home; and they pennitted them to come for enrollment at any time during the year.” (9)

The data suggests Rome preferred people in a particular place to register. In Egypt, that was traveling back to your nome, which could take days. I’m not saying this is exactly how things were done in Herod’s client kingdom. The only point I was drawing is that there is a similarity in ordering people to return home. 

Now, I detail all this because in the response video they go on to cite the rest of the edict of PLondon 904 which states a caveat about returning to your nome. It says that if you could give a “satisfactory reason for remaining” you could register where you currently were (10). But again, no one says this census is exactly the same as the one done in Judea in 4 B.C. in a neighboring client kingdom. 

The section from PLondon 904 they cite says that the prefect of Egypt appointed a cavalry commander named Fetsus to handle the affairs of this caveat, which seems like a special circumstance the prefect decided to include for his subjects, and was not always standard Roman practice. Divine Disbelief also just finished noting that the prefect of Egypt had a unique status in the empire, giving him autonomous control over Egypt to conduct internal affairs. 

Divine Disbelief seems to think that this is a perfect parallel to the census conducted in Judea around 4 BC. They go on to state, “One could wonder if having a wife who is nine months pregnant and thus unable to travel across the desert would be considered a satisfactory reason for somebody to stay in the town and not need to travel anywhere, let alone the place of their origin, as IP says.”

But why on earth would they suggest the later census from Egypt, under a different ruler, is exactly how things would have been conducted under Herod the Great? No historical sources mention this was exactly the same way it was performed in Judea, or that Judea would also have had cavalry commanders appointed to oversee a similar caveat. Why assume the same caveat was allowed under different rulers and in different regions, and therefore that Luke is wrong about an entirely different census? Luke is not guilty until proven innocent.

Now, DivineDisbelief does say this is a minor point and not the heart of their argument, but since they brought it up, there is no harm in offering a rebuttal, even if it is a minor point. The overall point is that the census in Egypt is only similar to what probably would have happened in Judea, so they cannot use it as an exact match, and neither did I intend to. However, that seems to be what they continue to do throughout this video, weakening their overall argument. 

Next, they cite the number of censuses we have from Egypt. To quote, “What we do have (just over 400 census responses from Egyptians which are dated from 6 CE to 259 CE, with 14 years separating each) is expansive and incredibly telling.”

You might not think this is a major point, but there is some important data they left out, which might be relevant if they decided to make future response videos. Roger Bagnall and Bruce Frier note that prior to this period, and through the reign of Augustus, there were 6 censuses in Egypt: 11/10 BC, 4/3 BC, 4/5 CE, 5/6 CE, 11/12 CE, and 12/13 CE (11).

Screen Shot 2020-05-30 at 10.39.11 AM

The 14-year cycle only begins after this period. This data fits well with the fact that Augustus seems to have been a little obsessive about keeping accurate records of his empire. Pearson notes this might provide the rationale for Luke’s statement in Luke 2:1 (12). Also notice that the date of one of the Egyptian censuses of declarations aligned well with the estimated time of Luke’s census being around 4 BC, which would support the idea that Augustus was surveying parts of the empire around this time (again, this is just to note a minor correlation, not to say they are exactly the same). Overall though, the standard Roman practice of conducting a census every 14 years was not in effect until after this period. So when Divine Disbelief later draws parallels to the Judean 4 B.C. census, they are assuming the same practices were conducted, which seems unlikely given that the standard Roman census procedures were not yet established. Things appear to have been a little more chaotic during the reign of Caesar Augustus, who seems to have been overly concerned about accurate records. 

My point can be seen at 12:13 of their video, where they state, “Of the substantial amount of information we have thus far discovered, we see this: there was never a combination of household registrations of people and evaluations of property, not one time! This leads scholars and papyrologists to say the following, ‘the glaring absence in the Egyptian census returns of the declaration of property, not to mention its evaluation, makes it clear that taxation on property in Egypt was not done through the census process.’” 

Divine Disbelief also goes on to cite papyrus census data from other time periods as well. But no one claimed these were perfect parallels to the chaotic time of Herod the Great and Caesar Augustus. They don’t cite any census data from this time period, and who can blame them, because we lack sufficient census papyruses from this time period in Judea. In addition, it appears that censuses were conducted more frequently than every 14 years. 

Furthermore, as we noted in the original video, Rome probably wanted to turn Judea into a province (which they ultimately did after Herod Archelaus was deposed). So conducting a census that included property and people seems like a good idea in order to obtain a proper understanding of the potential new province and the property of each household for future taxation purposes (more on this below responding to the second video). In other words, we would expect an initial census for a potential new province to be different than standard censuses carried out after that, especially under the obsessive Augustus and his tyrannical puppet-king, Herod. But then again, Rome did not necessarily always do things the same way in each province. So it could have even been different elsewhere in the empire.

Then Divine Disbelief summarizes their points so far, showing their tendency to rely too much on later censuses to conclude Luke was wrong about a different census. Leaving the jokes aside, to quote, “Second, nobody had to go back to their place of origin for any type of census, or for anything really. Third, a household census never happened at the same time as a property census. Fourth, the edict given in 104 CE only had to do with those who were in Alexandria.” 

But again, Luke is talking about a different census, which was in a different territory, under a different Emperor, and during a different time period, which probably doesn’t entirely match the later established Roman census procedures. PLondon 904 does actually require travel to one’s place of origin if you do not meet the needs of their caveat or exception rule. So it appears Divine Disbelief is relying too much on different circumstances to say Luke was wrong, which seems unfair. How can they make such general sweeping claims about all Roman censuses with limited data? Once again, Luke is not guilty until proven innocent.

At 14:30, they state, “IP then references two Old Testament verses, Deuteronomy 21:1517 and Numbers 27:6-11, which he says make it more likely Jews would need to be in their place of origin for a census because Jewish law said their property was the property of their fathers.”

This is true––that is all I stated. To quote from my original video, “…it was more likely Jews would need to be in their place of origin for a census, since Jewish law states their property was the property of their father’s. Harold Hoehner says, ‘…the Romans would comply to the custom of laying claim to one’s family estate in order to assess it for taxation. Every person needed to appear to be questioned so as to make a proper assessment of his property.’ So it’s likely Joseph would need to be in his place of origin for property assessment.”

Now notice this is all I stated. There is nothing here about King David or owning land. This is relevant given the subsequent claims they make. All I am really trying to say is that Jews were tied to families. R.W.L. Moberly writes, “…a man’s children are seen as extensions of his own value and significance and are not considered as uniquely important human beings in their own right.” (14) 

Essentially, children were seen as almost belonging to their fathers, which of course ended when the father passed away. There would probably be less control as children became adults, but fathers were still considered heads of their entire household (15). 

So the inference is a family unit would probably have needed to be together for registration, as your family was essential to your identity in ancient Judea, and that is what you were mainly tied to as a Jew. That is all I was trying to say in citing these two passages––control of the family and the family’s property did not really pass to the son until the father had died. Again, I was probably too brief, so I don’t entirely fault them for the confusion. 

However, from this idea about Jews being tied to their families, and especially their fathers, as well as that Rome seems to have preferred people being in their place of origin, it is likely Herod would have had people return to their fathers, which is their initial home or place of origin so the census could be conducted and a proper assessment of the Jewish family units could be known. Now, I am not saying this is certain, but I am trying to utilize the principle of charity to make sense of what Luke says, instead of just assuming his claims are questionable from the start or that he is guilty of an error until we find something to corroborate his claim. There is a logical explanation for what Luke records. Plus, that is not how we treat other ancient sources, and I don’t see why we should not give Luke the benefit of the doubt considering how accurate he is throughout Acts (16). 

So the point was that children were tied to their fathers and estates didn’t pass to the son until the father had passed away. So in that sense, they were still under the headship of their fathers, and it is likely that the property of sons was still counted as property of the father until the father died. This is what is hinted at in Deuteronomy 21:15-17 and Numbers 27:6-11.

To quote Yehiel Kaplan, “In the first stage, in ancient Jewish law, the dominant tendency was to affirm the authority of the Jewish father over the members of his family. During this period, the idea that parents have a natural responsibility to love their children, care for them and provide for their welfare was less transparent. The main purpose of the rules concerning the relationship between parents and children at this stage was the assertion of the rights and needs of the father of the family.” (17)

He goes on to add, “The authority of the father to determine the fate of all members of his family was the main guiding principle. Many regulations in Biblical law were an outcome of this principle, that the father had significant authority over members of his family. These regulations included the granting of certain rights over the child to the father that were not awarded to the mother. In fact, according to some scholars, some Biblical laws granted almost absolute authority to the father when it came to family matters.” (18)

Unfortunately, Divine Disbelief seems to suggest I was saying this was utterly explicit in the biblical text, which again, perhaps I should have elaborated on. On a side note, they make a claim that God sanctioned polygamy in the Old Testament. However, I pointed out in another video this is unlikely. See also this article

Now at 18:38 Divine Disbelief says, “Neither of the biblical references has anything to do with ‘going to their place of origin’ or ‘property is the property of their father’.”  But I never said it had anything to do with returning to a place of origin. Instead, the point was these passages do hint at property rights through inheritances. Their inheritance came from their father when the father died. Until then, they were under their father. I admit I could have explained this better, but that also doesn’t justify them reading into it what they think.

After this, things kind of go off the rail. To quote at 20:10, “Why would it matter to the Romans who owned any property thousands of years prior?” But where did I ever say or imply this? The fact that Joseph’s original family household was probably in Bethlehem (which is why he went back there) probably had nothing to do with King David’s claim from thousands of years ago, which is why I never claimed that.

Perhaps, they are referring to Luke 2:4 which reads, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David.” Maybe Divine Disbelief is using this verse to suggest the Romans cared about lineages going back to David, but I suspect that is reading too much into the text. Luke is probably using this opportunity to remind readers that Jesus is a legal descendent of David through Joseph’s family connection in Bethlehem. However, Joseph probably went there because that is where his father was located.

The gospels also imply Joseph and Mary likely stayed in Bethlehem for a while. In the book “Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes,” the authors remind us:

“When Joseph went to Bethlehem to register, Mary gave birth to Jesus. They needed to wait a few weeks for Mary to recuperate before they traveled back, but it appears Joseph and Mary may have remained in Bethlehem for nearly two years. When the wise men arrived, they went to a house where the toddler Jesus and his parents were living (Mt 2:11). What had Mary and Joseph been doing all this time? Not vacationing. Joseph was probably following work opportunities. He intended to return to Nazareth but was staying while there was work to be found. This was the time (hairos) for work. He would leave when the time was passed. Americans find it hard to leave town for a long weekend. Who will feed the cat? We cannot imagine someone leaving their home for a year or two. But in cultures in which hairos is more important than chronos, this is a common thing to do.” (19)

If Joseph had family connections, as Luke and Matthew imply, then it makes sense as to why they spent so much time in Bethlehem, and how it could have created work opportunities through familial connections. I don’t think the Romans or Hoerd cared about who was descended from David (which is why I never once said this), but they may have wanted families together in their place of origin for proper assessment. The possibility that some families could trace their lines back to David was just an indirect consequence of requiring Joseph to go back to his father’s house.

This section was a bit funny to watch because Divine Disbelief then spends several minutes trying to attack a claim that was never made by doing mathematical calculations of how many Jews could have been descended from David and would need to have traveled back to Bethlehem. I can’t tell if they are trying to be ridiculous in this section for comedic purposes, but I’ll respond nonetheless. At 24:10, they argue from using exponential calculations, “…it shows pretty much every Jew in 1st century Palestine and all those living elsewhere in the Roman Empire would have been of the, quote, line of David.” 

Sure, that is possible, and it works in a hypothetical setting, but things do not ever play out the same way in reality. For one, the Jews only documented male heirs, so anyone who descended from a female descendant of David would not have documented that connection. Second, the life expectancies were much shorter back then due to higher rates of war and disease (let’s also not forget the Babylonian Exile). Populations didn’t grow as fast as they have after the industrial revolution. So, unfortunately, it’s not like every one of these descendants would have lived to reproduce. In fact, using that kind of exponential growth is very impractical in reality, especially before modern times. This whole thing reminded me of an older video by Potholer54 who responded to AiG on trying to argue for exponential population growth after the alleged global flood to get enough people to build the pyramids.

The idea that every Jew in the 1st century would have been able to claim they were a descendant of David is probably not true, which is why we don’t see it happening in the records that survived. Populations were simply not growing like they are today. 

I am not saying it is impossible that David could be what scientists call the ‘most recent genealogical ancestor’ of everyone in Judea, but that is not even relevant to the main point (20). I did not claim every descendant of David would need to have gone to Bethlehem. Nor do we have reason to believe every Jew would have thought of themselves as a legal descendant of David. My point was about returning to family origins under the father’s household, wherever that was. Again, this is not to say we have proof this is what happened, it is utilizing the principle of charity to make sense of what Luke is telling us. Plus, there are no records that contradict Luke on the procedures of this specific census.

At 25:28 they state, “The complete chaos which would ensue as tens of millions of people made the trek to the, quote, place of their origin which again is not mentioned in any historical documentation would not have gone overlooked by those alive at the time.”

Obviously tens of millions would not have arrived in Bethlehem, as we just went over (especially since there were not even that many Jews in Judea at that time). But apart from this, why do we need to assume Luke is wrong or questionable just because there is no corroborating evidence? Luke is a historical document. Should we not give Luke the benefit of doubt since no other historical documentation contradicts him? If they had a source from this 4 B.C. census that said otherwise, then they would have a point, but they seem to be assuming Luke is wrong because nothing confirms his report. The Bible is not guilty until proven innocent. 

They then begin to wrap up the video and remind us of their earlier points by citing an Egyptian census from about 200 years later to argue Joseph would not have needed to travel to Bethlehem. Now, we have thoroughly addressed this in the first half of this post, but this goes back to one of my earlier points. Why does Divine Disbelief keep assuming the Egyptian censuses from long after the Augustian period were exactly the same as the 4 B.C. census? We have good reason to think this was not the case, given that the standard 14-year increments were not in place, there was an emperor in power that was obsessive about having accurate records of his empire, Herod’s client kingdom was different and about to experience radical changes as Herod was close to death, and Jewish law was different than Egyptian law. 

This is like judging the customs of colonial America by looking at customs in the United States from the 20th century, and declaring a historian from the 18th century is wrong because things were different in the 20th century. The reasoning of Divine Disbelief doesn’t add up or cause us to doubt Luke, unless we assume Luke is guilty until proven innocent. Unfortunately, this seems to be what they are doing. For example, to quote from 26:34, “The claim of movement into a different part of a province, to quote, a place of origin for a poll tax, registration, census, for literally any reason remotely close to that which is mentioned in Luke, is simply not historical and is easily dismissed.”

In other words, Luke is ‘easily dismissed’ and assumed to be incorrect because nothing confirms his account, even though there is no contradictory evidence regarding the specific census he mentioned. Luke is guilty until proven innocent.

 

Video Two:

The second video has less to address. The first thing they say is that Rome would not have gone about conducting a census in a client kingdom. Instead, they would have acted through the client ruler.  To quote at 2:00, “When we find a census, poll tax, or any other type of taxation, it is not directly enforced by the Roman military or even a Roman procurator. Instead, it is performed by the client king who, like Herod the Great, was chosen by Caesar. We also know Herod would perform his own taxation and would sometimes, but not always, provide tribute to Caesar. Thus, there is no reason to assume anything other than that which is evident. Rome did not directly enforce a census in client states.”

But how they went about conducting a census doesn’t mean it was not decreed from Rome. After all, Herod was essentially a puppet king (21), as even they just admitted. Divine Disbelief seems to be getting nitpicky. Rome could still conduct a census in a client kingdom, and would probably go about it through whoever was reigning there. Luke doesn’t say Rome directly ran the census. All he says is “a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1). I suspect Herod was the one who actually carried it out within his kingdom but under the order of Rome. I don’t think Divine Disbelief is being charitable here in how Luke 2:1 reads, or in how they are interpreting my words. I never said it had to be specifically carried out by Rome, and not through Herod, their puppet-king. All Luke says is the decree came from Augustus, not that Rome had to do all the paperwork.

With regards to their claim, “Rome did not directly enforce a census in client states,” this is challengeable. The Roman historian, Tacitus, seems to reference a census being conducted in a client state:

“At this same time the Clitae, a tribe subject to the Cappadocian Archelaus, retreated to the heights of Mount Taurus, because they were compelled in Roman fashion to render an account of their revenue and submit to tribute. There they defended themselves by means of the nature of the country against the king’s unwarlike troops, till Marcus Trebellius, whom Vitellius, the governor of Syria, sent as his lieutenant with four thousand legionaries and some picked auxiliaries, surrounded with his lines two hills occupied by the barbarians, the lesser of which was named Cadra, the other Davara. Those who dared to sally out, he reduced to surrender by the sword, the rest by drought.” (22)

Sabine R. Huebner says after citing this passage, “This suggests that a similar census on the Roman model could well have taken place in the kingdom of Herod the Great, officially directed by Herod but with military and administrative support from the Roman governor in neighboring Syria. As a vassal king, Herod was dependent on the favor of Augustus and legitimized by his support.” (23)

There is no reason to assume Herod, who was under the thumb of Rome, could not have been ordered to conduct a census. Even without the example in Tacitus, Caesar Augustus could do what he wanted. There was not some rule he had to abide by that stated he had to leave Herod’s kingdom alone.

Now the rest of the video only addressed one of my three points. Remember, to point out Augustus had reason to conduct a census (and was more involved in Judea that we realize) I mentioned that Herod fell out of favor with Augustus, Herod was also approaching the end of his life, and subjects of Judea swore an oath to Herod and Caesar.

However, they only focus on the first point, and to be fair they make a good point. At the end of this video, they circle back around to the alleged error. At 18:25, they state, “So the claim that IP made about Herod being, quote, more of a subject than a friend not at all true.” So they correctly point out sometime later Herod did regain the favor of Caesar. 

Let’s remember my video was supposed to briefly cover this topic, so it is fair to note I left out details I didn’t think mattered at the time (you live and learn). It is fair to say, I only noted around this time that Herod fell out of favor. For a time he was demoted from rex socius to rex amicus. “The sum of his epistle was this: that ‘Whereas of old he had used him as his friend: he should now use him as his subject.’” (23). I didn’t think it was relevant to the defense of Luke 2:2 to note what happened later, which was that Herod was restored because that was secondary to my overall point. After all, this wasn’t a video about Herod, but Luke. My only point was that Herod fell out of favor and Augustus could have used this opportunity (as one of the reasons) to conduct a census for records. 

Perhaps Huebner can articulate why this is relevant better than I can: 

“A rift had opened up between Augustus and Herod only a year earlier, in 9 BCE, after Herod had mounted a military campaign against the Nabataeans. This had been discussed beforehand with the governor Saturninus, but Herod had neglected to secure the approval of Augustus as well. Augustus then broke their amicitia, their political friendship, after more than twenty years, and threatened to treat Herod as a subject rather than as a friend and ally from that point onwards. Could this have motivated Augustus to order a Roman census in Herod’s kingdom to assess the tax-raising potential of the region, recalculate the tribute due, and put Herod firmly in his place? A census in Herod’s kingdom, carried out by officials dispatched by the governor of neighboring Syria, would have made his dependence on Rome unmistakably clear. A Roman census in Herod’s kingdom would not, moreover, have represented the only direct interaction between Augustus and the subjects of his client king. The oath of loyalty to Augustus which Herod’s subjects were required to swear in 6 or 5 BCE also indicates an understanding of the nature of Roman rule that was increasingly unfettered by borders and which interfered with the normal autonomy of a client king in interior affairs.” (25)

In other words, the relationship between Herod and Augustus was complex. Herod was a friend, but also still a client who was on shaky ground for a period. This seems to be indicated by the oath Huebner and my original video mentioned from around 6/5 B.C. (Divine Disbelief did not address this aspect). I fully understand Herod was restored, but again, my aim was to focus on Luke and only the matters related to that. Of course, it is fair to say I may have been too brief (as also admitted above), but I don’t think that really challenged the main issue. Remember, Herod temporarily rift with Augustus was only one of my points as to why a census was likely, and Augustus had the right and motive to conduct a census if he wanted.  As Robert Hunt said, “The patron-client relationship was a complicated and intricate social system throughout the ancient world. Rome was no exception to this rule.” (26) 

Divine Disbelief glossed over the second and third aspects of my case. The first of which was the oath of loyalty from 6/5 B.C. That is odd because that provides context on the relationship between Herod and Augustus. Things were not so black and white, and this should have been noted. I can admit I was too brief and should have said Herod only temporarily fell out of favor, but regardless of that, it really doesn’t affect how we read Luke and the census. The data still seems to support what Luke tells us, as long as we don’t assume Luke has to be entirely corroborated by other sources. 

Next, Pearson also quotes F. M. Heichelheim and reminds us, “…the ‘will of Herod the Great, which must have been drafted a few years before the birth of Christ, took a very close survey of all the resources of the kingdom, and this could not have been possible without a recent census of the actual domain of the king.’ Part of Herod’s report concerned the annual revenue of the country; after the revolts which occurred upon Herod’s death (Josephus A.J. 11.9.5 §229), Caesar used these records of taxation to remit a quarter of the Samaritans’ taxes, as the Samaritans had not taken part in the unrest (A.J. 17.11.4 §319).” It seems implausible, therefore, to assume that Judaea had been without the practice of census taking prior to the establishment of direct Roman rule.” (27)

This quote relates to the third point I brought up in the original video about Herod getting old and a proper assessment of his kingdom would be needed, which Divine Disbelief also omitted in their response. Instead, they focused only on the issue of ‘falling out of favor,’ and then kind of failed to address the real issue, which was how this related to Luke’s statement. They spent so much time on this one issue I think it got them a bit sidetracked from the overall point.

The last thing to address in this video is this closing slide, a quote from R. L. Fox:

Screen Shot 2020-05-31 at 1.32.33 PM

To address this, it should be noted Luke doesn’t say Rome was taxing Judea directly and bypassing Herod. Pearson also notes there is enough evidence Herod adopted several roman practices, “We cannot think that in the process of romanizing his kingdom, he would incorporate Roman architectural, military, religious, and recreational techniques, models, and practices, but would reject their incredibly efficient administrative systems–or that he would be allowed to do so by his overlords.” (28)

Josephus also reports the use of “village scribes” in Judea under Herod (29), which was a position responsible for collecting the information regarding property for taxation during a census. The position is mentioned in 200 different papyri (Examples: POxy. 79, 240, 251, 252, 254, 255, 288, and 488). The fact that this occupation is mentioned as existing in Judea under Herod makes more sense if they were conducting censuses and mimicking the Roman versions, which is why we see similarities in Egyptian papyri (30). So, like before, the existence of this occupation associated with census duties fits with Luke’s account. 

So suffice it to say, their claim that Luke made an error is not supported by the data they provided. This goes back to my original point, skeptics will assume passages in the Bible are in error because they have not been confirmed elsewhere. However, they would never do this with Plutarch, Josephus, or any other ancient historian. Typically, when we study these works we tend to assume they are accurate unless we have a good reason to doubt them. For example, we are not going to assume Josephus’ accounts of the Egyptian prophet and Pilate’s attack on the Samaritans were fabricated or questionable unless we encounter a separate contradictory source. We tend to take Josephus at his word, resting on the principle of charity, unless we encounter a good reason to doubt him. The Bible, on the other hand, is assumed to be in error until it finds supporting evidence. But Divine Disbelief did not provide any specific contradictory evidence, and mainly relied on reports of completely different censuses. So if we just employ the principle of charity, there is no reason to assume Luke is in error. Luke should be seen as historical, just like how we treat other ancient works as innocent until proven guilty. If there is a part 3 and 4 to their series I’ll address them here as well, as there is still more data I have saved I would like to cover.

 

 

Notes:

  1. Licona, Mike, and Craig A. Evans. Why Are There Differences in the Gospels?: What We Can Learn from Ancient Biography. Oxford University Press, 2017.
  2. Pritchard, James B. “Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament.” Princeton University Press, 1969, pp. 245-248.
  3. Vandersleyen, Claude. L’Egypte et la Vallée du Nil, vol. 2. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1995, 325.

  4. Pearson, Brook W. R. “The Lucan Censuses, Revisited.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, vol. 61, no. 2, Apr. 1999, p. 282.
  5. Deissmann, Adolf. “Light From The Ancient East (Classic Reprint).” Forgotten Books, 2016. p. 268.
  6. Kunkel, Wolfgang, and John Maurice Kelly. “An Introduction to Roman Legal and Constitutional History.” Clarendon Press, 1985.
  7. Overstreet, Larry. “Roman Law and The Trial of Jesus.” Bibliothecasacra, vol. 135, no. 540, Oct-Dec, 1978, p. 325.
  8. Pearson, The Lucan Censuses, 277.
  9. Ramsay, W. M. “Luke’s Narrative of the Birth of Christ,” ExpTim 4, 1912, p. 483.
  10. Deissmann, LFTAE, 268.
  11. R. S. Bagnall and B. W. Frier. “The Demography of Roman Egypt.” Cambridge Studies in Population, Economy, and Society in Past Time 23; Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994, p. 5.
  12. Pearson, The Lucan Censuses, 274.
  13. Josephus, “Antiquities of the Jews,” xvi 9.3.
  14. Moberly, R. W.L. “Christ as the Key to Scripture.” He Swore an Oath: Biblical Themes from Genesis 12-50, by Richard S. Hess et al., Wipf & Stock Pub., 2007, p. 156.
  15. Kaplan, Yehiel. “The Changing Profile Of The Parent-Child Relationship In Jewish Law.” The Jewish Law Annual Volume 18, 2010, pp. 21–80., doi:10.4324/9780203855249-2.
  16. http://truthbomb.blogspot.com/2012/01/84-confirmed-facts-in-last-16-chapters.html
  17. Kaplan, Yehiel S. “Child Custody in Jewish Law: From Authority of the Father to the Best Interest of the Child.” Journal of Law and Religion, vol. 24, no. 1, 2008, pp. 89–122., doi:10.1017/s0748081400001946.
  18. ibid, 92-93.
  19. O’Brien, Brandon J., and E. Randolph. Richards. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. IVP Books, 2012, pp. 144-145.
  20. Swamidass, S. Joshua. The Genealogical Adam & Eve: the Surprising Science of Universal Ancestry. IVP Academic, 2019.
  21. Hendricks, Obery M. The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of the Teachings of Jesus and How They Have Been Corrupted. Three Leaves Press, 2006, p. 56.
  22. Tacitus, Annals 6.41.
  23. Huebner, Sabine R. Papyri and the Social World of the New Testament. University Printing House, 2019, p.44
  24. Josephus, Antiquities 16.9.3
  25. Huebner, Papyri and the Social World, 45.
  26. Hunt, Robert D. “Herod and Augustus: A Look at Patron-Client Relationships.” Studia Antiqua 2, no. 1 (2002). https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/studiaantiqua/vol2/iss1/5
  27. Pearson, The Lucan Censuses, 266.
  28. Ibid, 272.
  29. Josephus, Antiquities 16.7.3
  30. Pearson, The Lucan Censuses, 271.

 

Skylar Fiction’s Methodological Flaws on the Book of Job

Guest Post by Chris Hansen:

My previous variations of this work were produced primarily to search through numerous historical mistakes and problems that I spotted in Skylar Fiction’s initial response to Inspiring Philosophy’s commentary/interpretation on the Book of Job. While such a work may be warranted on occasion, I simply decided that sitting around spotting errors was not really getting at the in-depth methodological problem that pervaded the entire rejoinder, and one which pervades most atheist responses to Christians. So instead, I think that what is warranted is a more detailed discussion of Skylar’s main problem and then also an introduction to the Book of Job that will be attached afterward, mostly so that Skylar (among numerous other atheists, like Aron Ra) can more accurately assess the book. 

Skylar’s Methodological Flaw 

When we make rebuttals to people, we cannot sit there and use a completely different methodological approach than the one used by our opponent. At that point, we are just talking past each other and not understanding the interpretive framework from which that person is working with. This is the largest flaw that pervades all of Skylar’s comments on the Book of Job. 

Inspiring Philosophy (and I confirmed this in discussion with him) was not performing or functioning under the same interpretive framework that Skylar decided to apply. What do I mean by this? When we interpret a piece of literature (ancient or modern) there are multiple perspectives that we can take in order to gain meanings or concepts from it. Applied to the Book of Job, there are numerous methods that people can decide to take in order to try and look at this work in detail. To give a few examples of what scholars and scribes have done in the past, one can use Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Feminist, Linguistic, Literary, Comparative Cultures, and numerous other approaches.(1) And all of these end up with different interpretive results, both in translations and in understanding of the characters and meanings of the text. The first problem with Skylar’s work is that he has no solid interpretive framework that he is functioning under. He appears to try and be historical, but it is not developed enough to be substantial. For example, he frequently tries to interpret the Book of Job through the laws of the Hebrew Bible. But Skylar neglects to note that, nowhere in Job is the law actually ever recalled, nor is the history of Israel a concern.(2) Not only that, but the characters and setting are not even Israelite either.(3) 

Another part of Skylar’s ill-defined framework, which is not part of Inspiring Philosophy’s, is the emphasis on the historicity of the story. While this may be important from a philosophical point of view, if one decides to be a literalist, what this reflects is that Inspiring Philosophy actually has a better grasp on the historical genre(s) of the Joban text than Skylar does. The historicity is not actually that important in reality. The book is specifically written as a story, not really as history. It is purposefully fabricating an older archaic form of Hebrew, it has contrived linguistic idiosyncrasies, (4) the location and setting of the story is a mystery and the location of the figures makes no geographic sense,(5) and in form of genre, it has cannot truly be placed in any accurate genre at all.(6) At best it can be postured as “Wisdom literature,”(7) and often compared to other suffering narratives of the Ancient Near East, none of which necessitate historicity.(8) As Lindsay Wilson notes:

[…] one of the features of wisdom literature is its lack of focus on history. Though wisdom ideas can be present in historical narrative […], it is unlikely that a wisdom book is only historical narrative.”(9)

Wisdom literature, as a whole, is simply not focused on being historical in nature. Wisdom literature is worried with presenting historically important questions and debates. And that encompasses numerous different genres and other kinds of writing. In terms of genre, numerous have been proposed, anything from history to parody.(10) Ultimately, in regard to history, we simply have no reason to seriously think this was a story that was meant to be taken historically. Wilson summarizes it with, “However, even if the book of Job is to be read in this way [historically], the more important perspective is to read the book as part of a debate within the wisdom movement.”(11)

What we can gather from this is that Skylar’s interpretive framework is, firstly, internally concerned with the wrong questions. Even in his quasi-historical perspective, he is concerned with problems that the Book of Job cannot be determined to actually care about. It ultimately makes Skylar’s interpretations either forced or more reflective of his modern conceptions of the Problem of Evil, than anything to do with the ancient work of Job. His interpretation is sometimes historically oriented, sometimes a philosophical hypothetical, and then other times concerned with questions that we cannot demonstrate the author of Job was actually concerned with (again, there are a number of factors above which point to the author not caring for historical accuracy). But then there are problems with Skylar’s framework in its inability to encompass even variant historical theories. What if Job is like any historical work (i.e. the product of a historical selection of particular events, and then an author’s extrapolations and exaggerations(12))? Unless Job wrote at some unknown time in that idiosyncratic dialect of a Hebrew-Aramaic-Arabic hodgepodge and had a perfect recollection of the events and dialogue, then we simply cannot expect it to be accurate history. Not to mention, YHWH never reveals what happens in the Heavens to Job or anyone else in the story. Quite the opposite. He says as Peter Enns summarizes, “‘I am God, shrouded in mystery, and you need to learn how to deal with that.’”(13) So a historical framework could encompass something as simple as some man named Job existed, somewhere, at some time, had hardship and then had a crisis of faith, which his friends tried to insufficiently solve, but things got better eventually. That could be the entirety of the historical core. A historical event that is exaggerated or beautified by the author is, in fact, an interpretation in scholarly literature.(14) Even those arguing for a hard, historical core admit that it is easy to see the artistic and didactic nature of the work.(15)

In short, even if taking a historical position on Job, it depends on how scrutinous you are of the narratives and how they logistically work. But at that point, again, you miss the entire goal of the Book of Job… to discuss human suffering. In the end, there is nothing in the Book of Job that should make us even really care about the historical reality of the narrative. What is important is are the meanings we can draw from it, and the narrative it is wanting to tell us. This brings us back to the interpretive framework again.

Skylar’s framework, which has numerous unresolved issues and methodological problems (which we noted some above), is simply not a rebuttal to Inspiring Philosophy’s, because they are using completely different metrics. In short, Skylar’s rebuttal to Inspiring Philosophy is simply talking past the points he wishes to rebut to, instead of addressing them from the same methodological setting.

Inspiring Philosophy is, by his own admission, not doing a historical, contextual, or Hebrew Bible type interpretation of the Book of Job. As such, those problems concerning those interpretive frameworks, do not concern Inspiring Philosophy’s in this setting necessarily. Inspiring Philosophy’s is what is called an eisegetical interpretation, he is reading into and from the text meanings that are interpreted through Christian lenses of the New Testament, with the same applied to a few other Hebrew Bible books. As a result, the vast majority of Skylar’s concerns with this interpretation should be levied from this similar framework. Of course, someone operating from a historical framework will view Inspiring Philosophy’s interpretation is flawed or problematic from that historical perspective. But Inspiring Philosophy is not even pretending to perform a historical interpretation. As such, those concerns are literally moot points. This is what is called having a different hermeneutic. And as a result, Skylar is just talking past everything that is said. He is not rebutting as much as he is just promoting his own perspective and while simultaneously devaluing and insulting Inspiring Philosophy’s interpretation, which Skylar evidently either does not understand or does not care to actually work with.

Now please note, this is not me condoning or agreeing with Inspiring Philosophy’s methods or interpretations. I do not, myself, have much of a personal care about this hermeneutical method and, as a result, I do not agree with what he gleans from the text. However, I also recognize that such hermeneutics do have value. Just as I think that a modern Feminist critical hermeneutic is exceedingly valuable in gleaning information from the text, I also think that a Christian interpretation can be very valuable as well (though these will be on the theological and literary sides, not the historically “accurate” one, necessarily). I cannot say how intriguing and how much one can learn on theological perspective, discourse, and logic by viewing various passages through different hermeneutics (try reading Paul’s letters from Jewish, Orthodox Christian, and Gnostic Christian perspectives and you will really see what I mean).

To summarize, Skylar’s rebuttal to Inspiring Philosophy is unconvincing for two reasons. Firstly, it has no interior cohesion or consistency. He often attacks Inspiring Philosophy for using the New Testament or works not in the context of Job, while doing the same thing with a number of Hebrew Bible concepts (I’ll cover the provenance of Job below in the Introduction). And lastly, his methods are simply speaking past the entire Inspiring Philosophy’s hermeneutic. Inspiring Philosophy fully admits (as he confirmed to me personally) that the best way to view the Book of Job historically is in its historical setting, i.e. contextually, as Skylar often tries to argue for. Just as he does not think that Isaiah 53 was historically a messianic prophecy (as he also confirmed to me), but this is the theological meaning it was given. Inspiring Philosophy has a different theological hermeneutic, and this is where Skylar seems unable to separate the two. Historical context is not necessary for a theological hermeneutic. 

Anyone wishing to pay a critical eye to methodology and argumentation should take note of this. One has to be on the same page hermeneutically in order to make any kind of meaningful rebuttal to another’s position. The rebuttal that Skylar should have had was: what framework is the “best” (a subjective quality) for interpreting Job. Instead, he merely threw points from a different perspective, many times of which were errant, at another person, whose methodology was not even affected or concerned with them. The rebuttal was more a Red Herring than a meaningful rebuking of Inspiring Philosophy’s position. This is something no one should repeat. The conversation on methodology should happen before one engages another.

 

THE BOOK OF JOB: 

A Small Introduction for Beginners 

The Book of Job is quite literally an enigma of the ancient world. And that is partially what causes such a huge interest in the work world over. It is a book that is simultaneously relatable (we have all had moments of anger and desperation with our god[s]) but is also ungraspable. So many times, there are references to things we don’t understand, can’t really grasp, or are outright strange. 

This little introduction I’m providing you with is to give you (whether you be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Polytheist, or insert identity here) a basic understanding of the Book of Job, its contents, some of the motifs and themes in it, and its historical and cultural contexts, where those are discernable. At times there are going to be a lot of complicated things occurring, so I will try to summarize in an understandable manner for you as much as possible. 

1. Language of Job 

So, I choose this topic first because it is rather relevant to most of the following ones. The language of Job is often considered the most complicated and diverse of the entire Hebrew Bible. It contains numerous Aramaisms (words or phrases that appear to be Aramaic in origin or influence). Arabisms (words or phrases that appear to be Arabic in origin or influence), and then there are both flavors of an older archaic form of Hebrew, as well as that of Late Biblical Hebrew. Most of these linguistic anomalies occur in the Dialogue portion of the Book of Job. 

Previous scholarship was concerned with the number of Arabisms and Aramaisms in the text that it often led to a number of varying hypotheses. F. Foster and A. Guillaume both arrived at the conclusions that Job was originally written in Arabic, based on both internal elements that seemed to indicate that as its place of origin, and then also the number of lexical peculiarities in the language of Job…

To read the rest of Chris Hansen’s small and informative booklet on Job, please download a copy here. Chris covers issues the Behemoth, Leviathan, dating, structural unity, and many other interesting aspects of Job:

 

 

 

Notes:

 (1) Respectively see: Patrick Henry Reardon, The Trial of Job: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Job (Chesterton: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2005); Harold Kushner, The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person (New York: Shocken, 2012); Ibn Kathir, Stories of the Prophets; F. Rachel Magdalene, “Job’s Wife as Hero: A Feminist-forensic Reading of the Book of Job,” Biblical Interpretation 14.3 (2006), pp. 209-258; C. L. Seow, Job 1-21: Interpretation and Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013) offers the most rigorous modern linguistic commentary in my collection; J. P. Fokkelman, The Book of Job in Form: A Literary Translation with Commentary (Studia Semitica Neerlandica, 2012); Marvin H. Pope, Job, AB 15, Revised Edition (Garden City: Doubleday, 1973) is largely comparative in nature, with major usage of comparison between Ugaritic and early Israelite cultic worship. 

(2) Roland Murphy, Tree of Wisdom, ABL (New York: Doubleday, 1990), p. 33. 

(3) Seow, 2013, pp. 46-47.  

(4) Seow, 2013, pp. 17-26, 47. 

(5) Pope, 1973, pp. 23-24 and Stephen J. Vicchio, Job in the Ancient World (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2006), pp. 30-51. 

(6) Seow, 2013, pp. 47-65. 

(7) Seow, 2013, p. 61. 

(8) Vicchio, 2006, pp. 8-29; Seow, 2013, pp. 49-56. 

(9) Lindsay Wilson, Job, Two Horizons (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015), p. 6. 

(10) Wilson, 2015, pp. 5-7. 

(11) Wilson, 2015, p. 6. 

(12) Wilson, 2015, p. 6. 

(13) Peter Enns, The Bible Tells Me So… (New York: HarperOne, 2014), p. 148.  

(14) This is the position of Michael Brown, Job: The Faith to Challenge God, A New Translation and Commentary (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2019), see his introduction. 

(15) Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, The Book of Job, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014), p. 14.  

(16) F. H. Foster, “Is the Book of Job a Translation from an Arabic Original?” The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures 49.1 (1932), pp. 21-45. Guillaume was the most prolific in arguing for an Arabic original, see A. Guillaume, Studies of the Book of Job (Leiden: Brill, 1968), “The First Book to Come Out of Arabia,” Islamic Studies 3.2 (1964), pp. 151-166, “The Arabic Background of the Book of Job,” in F. F. Bruce, ed, Promise and Fulfilment: Essays Presented to Professor S. H. Hooke in Celebration of His Ninetieth Birthday (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1963), pp. 106-27, “The Unity of the Book of Job,” The Annual of the Leeds University Oriental Society 4 (1962), pp. 26-46, “Job,” in Charles Gore, Henry Goudge, and Alfred Guillaume (eds.), A New Commentary on Holy Scripture (London: SPCK, 1951), pp. 311-340.  

Cult of No Reason (or Charity)

Estimated Reading Time: 7 Minutes

Sometimes it is like certain atheists don’t even try, and yet claim they have roasted me. For example, I recently received a short response on the moral argument, where they attempted to critique the validity of my version. It is extremely likely they didn’t even watch my video, but instead skimmed through it and glanced at the basic premises, without listening to me define what each premise means. Then they thought they could debunk my argument. But how could I conclude this? 

Because they didn’t even allow me to explain what each premise means, implied I didn’t have a formal conclusion and misrepresented the argument in propositional logic. For example, at 0:29 in their video, they put most of my argument up on the screen:

Screen Shot 2020-01-05 at 1.51.30 PM.png

But If they would have made to 4:50 in my video, they would have seen there is a conclusion. I didn’t just stop with premise 5. 

Screen Shot 2019-12-30 at 8.57.59 AM.png

It really looks like they didn’t even make it that far into my video because they didn’t include the full argument. So I doubt they even watched me explain what each premise means and instead just glanced at what was on screen and then took an uncharitable interpretation.

Next, they get to the heart of their argument and claim my argument is not logically valid or follows any rules of logic. At 3:56 they say, “It is a numbered list of disconnected items that are simply claimed to lead to one another.” Well, if they would have listened to the video instead of probably just glancing it over, they would have seen how I explain the argument flows. They make no mention of this, which either shows a lack of use of the principle of charity, or they didn’t even watch the video to see the explanation for each premise. 

They then try to represent my argument in symbolic logic and do so in an uncharitable way which doesn’t match what I said in the video. When they put it into propositional logic they still lack the formal conclusion from my video, once again revealing they probably did not watch my video long enough to see I had that on the screen.

Screen Shot 2019-12-30 at 9.11.47 AM.png

But this attempt to represent my argument is nothing like what I said in the video. In fact, it is an attempt to way over complicated it. If you want to see it in modus ponens form you need to realize premises 1 through 3 are just propositions. You don’t need to dive further than that. So it runs like:

1. A

2. B 

3. (¬C) 

4. If (A) (B) & (¬C) → D

5. D → G

C: G

 

My version was built on the philosopher Linda Zagzebski’s version, which I linked in the video description. See more here and here. Here is how her argument runs:

i) Morality is a rational enterprise.

ii) Morality would not be rational if moral skepticism were true.

iii) There is much too much unresolved moral disagreement for us to suppose that moral skepticism can be avoided if human sources of moral knowledge are all that we have.

iv) Therefore we must assume that there is an extra-human, divine source of moral wisdom.

 

In philosophy, we are called to employ the principle of charity as much as possible (something the atheist philosopher Benjamin Watkins has advised me on). In proposition logic, there is no reason to overcomplicate it. It runs as:

i) A

ii) If S → (¬A)

iii) If H → S

iv) If (A & ¬S) → G

 

As you can see, I tried to be charitable without how I represented her argument. However, my critics didn’t employ the principle of charity, nor did they try. Probably because they didn’t even watch the video. 

When I did a video titled, “A Critique of Error Theory,” atheist and philosopher Benjamin Watkins helped out by presenting an argument for Normative Realism. If you didn’t listen to Ben explain how the premises flow you could easily think the argument is invalid:

(F) We have more reason to prefer a life filled with happy experiences than a life of unrelenting agony.

(G) The fact that some argument is valid and has true premises does give us reason to accept this argument’s conclusion.

(H) Therefore, there are some objective normative truths.

(I) Some things have intrinsic features, or properties, which give us strong reasons to care about them for their own sake. 

 

Now I don’t have time to explain this here, especially when you can just watch the video and see why it is valid. The reason it is valid is because arguments are typically accompanied with an explanation to clarify things and provide support. Plus, it is our job to employ the principle of charity as much as possible, before we assume error. One ought to listen to the best of their ability to the explanation of the argument before they assume the argument is invalid. Unfortunately, it is probably the case my critics did not even try when I present my version of the moral argument. 

The last issue they bring up is they take issue with the fact that God is not brought in until premise 5. But so what? The Kalam doesn’t make reference to God, but that doesn’t mean it is not valid. Zagzebski’s moral argument doesn’t make reference to God. Arguments are not unsound or invalid because they do not make reference to the conclusion early on. That should be blatantly obvious. 

Plus, once again, if all you did with the Kalam Cosmological Argument is glance at the premises and not allow Dr. Craig to explain what each means, you would not actually understand the argument, nor would you get a reference to God. Arguments come with explanations. It is dishonest to divorce an explanation from an argument. 

If you actually watch my video I explain how the premises flow to the conclusion. These things are not coming out of the aether. They are explained in the video as to how we arrive there. The fact that they don’t acknowledge this, once again, shows us they didn’t attempt to watch the video, but just glanced at the premises. Nor do they ever employ the principle of charity.

Finally, their whole critique doesn’t even address the soundness of the argument (probably because they didn’t watch the video). They are only trying to argue the way it is presented is invalid. If that was even remotely true (and as we have demonstrated it is not), this would not mean the moral argument doesn’t work. It would just mean it needs to be presented in a different way. So their whole critique is pedantic at best. All they succeeded in doing is making me more confident in the moral argument. 

I suspect because they are such a small channel, they might take this opportunity to reply to this blog post. If they do, I think it is likely they will once again misrepresent my position, ignore the principle of charity, and dig their heels in and tell me what I mean by my premises. When someone doesn’t employ the principle of charity and gets called out on this, they are likely to double down on their dishonesty. I hope I am wrong, but we will see.

A Response to Paulogia on Divine Hiddenness

Average Reading Time: 21 Minutes

It is always good to get a response from someone who I have mutual respect for. Paulogia (Paul) recently did a video response to my video on divine hiddenness and is very respectful in his approach, which I greatly appreciate. It is good to know we can respectfully disagree (I cannot say the same for the trolls that showed up on my channel after the video went up) without insulting one another’s intelligence.

 

With that said, I find writing this reply to him to be fairly easy, mainly because most of his objections can be addressed by simply reminding him of something I already said in the video, or clarifying misconceptions. His response seems to mostly ignore the holistic approach of my video and instead focuses on certain parts, which divorces what I said from its context. So much of what I say here has already been said in my original video. 

 

There is not much to respond to in the beginning, but then at 3:36 Paul says, “if reasonable non-belief is a category, then unreasonable non-belief must also be a category.” Paul makes these distinctions throughout the video so I want to begin by addressing this because this is my primary disagreement with him. I don’t think such a hard-line distinction is fair on Paul’s part. Technically speaking, I don’t think either category exists (reasonable or unreasonable non-belief), which is why I really didn’t make the distinction in my video or ever admit either group exists. The truth is beliefs are formed from a plethora of inputs, some emotional motivations, reasons, experiences, etc. I don’t think there are reasonable non-believers, for the same reason I don’t think there are reasonable believers (in that particular sense). Humans are not reason-machines, which is why I opened my original video with studies that show motivations play a strong role in belief-forming factors for all humans. Paul seems to have misunderstood why I brought these studies up. I am not saying the studies I cited show there is a category of unreasonable non-believers. I am citing them to show that all humans are not reason-machines. There aren’t people who just believe because of the right information and people who reject Christianity because of insufficient information. So I reject early on one of Paul’s main premises, which (as you will see) is where a lot of the confusion and disagreement will come from.

 

This is an important fact going forward because I reject the existence of reasonable humans in general. We are emotional beings who reason, not reasonable believers, or reasonable non-believers, or unreasonable non-believers, etc. So to answer Paul, why did I spend most of the time addressing what he calls the category of unreasonable believers? Simply put, the categories probably do not exist. If they do, I did have a caveat later in my video to address that. 

 

At 4:55, Paul says, “The distinction between a reasonable and unreasonable believer is for some reason inconsequential.” To respond, well yeah, because I don’t think either category really does exist. I thought I made that clear when I cited the studies on how motivations play a role in how we form beliefs. The studies do not say there are categories or people to whom this does not apply – the implications are it applies to us all. So I am trying to follow the science as best as I can, and so I would deny his claim that there are reasonable non-believers.

 

Off topic, but at 5:05, Paul says, “…having good reasons to believe isn’t required for the plan of salvation.” I actually do not agree with this and will openly scold Christians for just believing without reason. I have a video on what faith is and I explain that Christians are called to believe because of good evidence and reasons. 

 

Building on this, at about 6:00, Paul reveals one of his basic premises, that there are unreasonable non-believers, reasonable non-believers, unsaved believers and saved believers. Again, I reject this premise that these groups exist and I also have argued in my video on hell that who goes to heaven is not as clear cut as this. Jesus said Himself (John 9:41, 15:22) ignorance doesn’t mean one is guilty (more on this later). In Romans 5:13, Paul directly says, “sin is not counted where there is no law.” The question of what heaven and hell are and who goes to each place is much more complicated than this, which is why I did a video on heaven and one on hell before I thought I could even do one on divine hiddenness. I realize the issues of heaven and hell needed to be dealt with first, so I will refer people to those two videos for a more nuanced approach, but simply put, no I don’t think only the saved believers go to heaven. It is much more complicated, which is why I think the Bible is intellectually superior. It recognizes that reality is not always clear cut and circumstances play a role. 

 

After this, Paul says that the only category that matters for the sake of divine hiddenness is the category of reasonable non-believers. But with all due respect, do we have any evidence such a category even exists? Throughout his video, Paul just assumes such a thing is possible and he doesn’t address the claim in my video that such people do not exist. Again, I have already given over the category of reasonable believers, and they don’t exist either. There are no humans in either category. My original video opens with studies to back this point up, which the rest of the video is contingent upon. Paul brushes over these studies and doesn’t go back to them, which I would say is the main fault in his response.

 

After this Paul draws a distinction between ‘being convinced’ and something ‘being reasonable to believe in.’ I bring up the studies I cited up again because they play another role here. Paul says at 7:40, “Unfortunately, one cannot merely choose what one is convinced of.”

 

Again, this might be what we want to think (I certainly want it to be true), but the data doesn’t support this.” Art Markman, Ph.D., writing for Psychology Today says, “…these results suggest that people are biased to interpret the evidence in ways that are consistent with their desires. That means that people may ultimately come to believe that the weight of evidence supports the position that they already wanted to believe was true.  And they will believe this without recognizing that their own desires influenced the evaluation of the evidence.”

 

Again, there was a reason I began my video by noting these studies and it wasn’t to designate a category of unreasonable non-believers. It was to say there are no purely reasonable people, so there are no reasonable non-believers. 

 

After this Paul cites a bunch of arbitrary facts, like the belief, “Barack Obama was once president,” and asks if you can simply choose not to believe it. The main problem is these do not compare, as there are no desires or personal motivations to deny these basic facts. These do not compare to more deeply held beliefs connected with theism, or any other motivated belief for that matter. You don’t have to take my word for it, you can look at the studies and articles that show motivations play a heavy role in what we believe. Citing a bunch of arbitrary facts about reality and asking people to stop believing them is really missing the point about the studies on deeply held beliefs within psychology. 

 

I remember when I was a guest on “Dogma Debates.” David Smalley (host) was debating with me on the reliability of the New Testament and went on about how we have to judge the New Testament by a higher standard because it would have serious implications if it were true. The underlying message (as supported by the studies) is that we are not judging the New Testament simply based on the evidence, but by how it would personally affect him, which implies motivations for rejecting it. Personal motivations are connected with beliefs about Christianity (or any religion) for all people (myself and Paul included). This doesn’t at all compare to arbitrary propositional knowledge about past presidents that affects no one’s desires or motivations.

 

Second, building on the studies, I would argue people do will themselves to believe unreasonable things. One example we can all agree on would be flat-earthers. After watching the documentary “Behind the Curve,” I think it is likely many people join such an absurd movement because it is fun and exciting to think you are part of a minority group exposing a vast government conspiracy. So I would argue they will themselves to reject basic and obvious science about the shape of the earth. As you can see with this example, we can identify the motivation for denying the shape of the earth. If you could find motivation for someone to deny Obama was ever president (given the research into how beliefs are formed), I suspect you could find someone who would deny it (perhaps a radical Mandela Effect advocate). Again, you don’t have to take my word for it that we end up believing what we desire – this is why I backed it up with research. 

 

After this, Paul kind of admits to this point. At 8:50, he says, “When we are talking about individuals… how could it not be subjective? If there were such a thing as an objective standard of evidence then we wouldn’t need 12 jurors. Any trial could be settled with just one juror upholding this objective evidence standard.” 

 

Yeah, exactly! So if this is the case and subjectivity plays a major role, why is Paul suggesting there is a category of reasonable non-believers? By Paul admitting this fact, he is only saying what I was trying to say. More evidence doesn’t convince people to accept cognitively robust theism. So the issue is not that God is hidden. It is that subjectively, people convince themselves that God is hidden or probably does not exist. Again, you end up believing what you want and we all have to fight every day to rise above that.

 

After this, Paul cites me admitting to this in my own words at 9:12. I am not sure if he thinks this is ‘gotcha moment.’ If he is accepting that what constitutes ‘enough evidence’ varies from person to person, he is supporting my case that there are not reasonable non-believers. In fact, that was one of my points and it undermines his response.

 

After this, at 9:35, Paul says, “Why must salvation be a two-step process? First, belief and then a chosen relationship?” Again, I go back to the point that all these other arguments are contingent upon the studies I opened with. I never said salvation was a step-process because I don’t think you get to cognitively robust theism from basic propositional knowledge of theism. In fact, I argued that in my original video. The studies demonstrate that you end up believing what you desire anyway. So if you reject cognitively robust theism, you are likely to desire the falsity of basic theism as well. However, we should both agree that beliefs are formed in much more complicated ways for each person. This is not always the same from person to person, and a plethora of facts and desires will factor into each belief. However, you cannot just assume reasonable non-believers exist without evidence they do exist (Paul provided no evidence they do), and if they do, again, there was a caveat in my video.

Here, I’ll just quote from my original script for my video, “If honest rejection of Christ exists, then as CS Lewis said, “Honest rejection of Christ, however mistaken, will be forgiven and healed.” No one is condemned for ignorance. God knows the hearts of all and knows all who will freely surrender.”

 

At 10:45, Paul says, “Okay, so we know that God can reveal Himself directly to people convincing them without a doubt he exists, without removing their free will to choose. The Bible itself refutes this free will objection with story after story of people who reject God after definitive encounters.” 

 

I am not sure what Paul is trying to say here because I agree with this and it wasn’t my point in bringing up free will. Remember I said, “So the obvious objection is why doesn’t God simply remove our subjective desires and give everyone a basic sense of His existence they cannot deny. The response is that removes too much freedom and forces people in the direction God wants them to go, instead of letting them choose for themselves. As we discussed in our video on the problem of evil, God wants free creatures to earnestly seek him because they want to. He doesn’t want a world of Stepford wives or Pleasantville humans following a script. If someone doesn’t want to seek God and desires to be their own Lord, then God allows them to seek the evidence to fit what they originally desired to begin with.”

 

As you can see, what I was responding to was the objection that God just removes all subjective desires and essentially turns us into robots, forcing us to go into the direction he wants. This wasn’t a section of my video addressing the objection, “Why doesn’t God reveal himself to everyone and give basic propositional knowledge?” Unfortunately, Paul has taken my words out of context and I have to call him out.

 

At 12:50, “…if there are any people at all who could be the right kind of believer. If only they were shown enough evidence to believe God exists, then a fully revealed God would increase the number of saved believers, and therefore be a more loving God than the hidden one.” 

 

This is an odd claim by Paul. How does he know God has not already done this? Is Paul omniscient and knows this has not been done, so an all-loving God cannot exist? This doesn’t make sense because it assumes an omniscient God would not already know how to save everyone who could be saved regardless of the circumstances (see my video on omniscience for more). It assumes more propositional knowledge would lead to salvation when there is no way (given what the studies show in how beliefs are formed) to show that would make a difference. Paul just seems to assume this would help or that God is not revealed enough already. He even admitted earlier in his video (citing the example of jurors) that evidence can be subjective and personal. So an omniscient God would know if this would help or not, and we cannot assume it would help, or if God has not already been revealed enough to save everyone who can be saved. Therefore, it cannot be used as an argument that God does not exist. This is the main problem with the argument from divine hiddenness. It assumes the skeptic has an omniscient standpoint on what God ought to do, and that because God is not doing what they think He ought to do, therefore God likely does not exist. The entire argument is built on a false premise that you somehow know what would help make more believers, but a simple analysis shows there is not enough knowledge in the human mind to make such an inference.

 

At 13:48, Paul says, “This proposed Christian God already individualizes revelation levels. So that could just continue, but raise the level to what it takes for the individual person to be convinced.” 

This misses the point of my video. It assumes any amount would convince some. I argued that some will never be convinced regardless of how much evidence they are given. I cited people in my video on hell who admitted to this (Dan Barker and Christopher Hitchens). I also stated this in my original video on divine hiddenness already, “Given God’s omniscient, He can accurately judge when an attempt to change someone will work and how much influence they need, and He knows who will change and who will not. Given that we are not omniscient like God, we cannot assume the system truly is unfair. See my video on the omniscience paradox for more on this.” Just after this, Paul even cites another section of my video that says the same thing in so many words.

 

But Paul’s next response to this is, “Yes, yes, Mike continues to malign the unreasonable non-believers who in turn continue to be irrelevant to the divine hiddenness argument.” That is not what I said whatsoever. I am surprised I have to explain this again. I don’t think such categories even exist. I am not saying there is a distinct category of unreasonable non-believers, just like I do not think there are reasonable non-believers (or reasonable believers). My argument was to point out you cannot assume more evidence just makes more cognitively robust theists. Paul just seems to keep directing my argument as if they are only talking made-up category called unreasonable non-believers, which I never implied because I am talking about all humans. As I said before, this is his biggest misunderstanding.

 

After this, Paul builds on a lot of the misconceptions I already addressed about the existence of chosen beliefs, who goes to heaven and hell, or reasonable non-believers. So there is not much more to address here and I’ll skip ahead to any more points that need to be addressed. I am not going to address the points any more when Paul brings them up in his video.

 

At 18:22, Paul challenges my citation of John 9:41 and John 15:22 and questions if Jesus really said people are not condemned for lack of information. He doesn’t offer a different interpretation to the passages. Instead, he appeals to the apostle Paul in Romans 1:20, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

First, I already cited Romans 5:13 above where the apostle Paul agrees with Jesus in saying there is no sin where there is no law. Second, Paulogia needs to cite the context of Romans 1, because the following verses clear this up, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” The apostle Paul is attacking people who willingly rejected God. Even verse 21 says “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God.” These are not people who just have not been given enough evidence yet, so these are a different category of who Jesus is talking about in the Gospel of John. Paulogia is quoting-mining Romans 1.

 

After this, he appeals to Hebrews 9:27 to argue that people cannot get out of hell after death, which I will admit is something I think is possible but probably rarely happens, if at all (see my video on hell). The verse reads, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” The problem is that this verse is kind of vague. It doesn’t say there are no more chances. The entirety of the passage is talking about how Christ only had to die once for all time, and then makes a comparison to how men only die once. The aspect of Judgement coming later seems to be in reference to a future event of judgement, known as the day of judgement. Even if that is wrong, J.P. Moreland explains why people do not get out of hell after death. 

 

The last thing to address is at 19:59. Paul says, “Mike has fully conceded Schellenberg’s third premise, reasonable non-belief occurs.” I’m sorry, but where on earth did he see that? He doesn’t quote me saying this, he doesn’t show a timestamp, so he has no evidence for his claim. What is his reason to put these words in my mouth? I can only assume (as studies show) Paul has ended up believing what he desires to be true, when in fact, I never conceded this. This was the point of citing the studies in the beginning (that I did not concede this point), and then I elaborated on this in the rest of my whole video. 

 

I’m not going to address Paul’s personal testimony of atheism at the end because I cannot psychoanalysis people, and quite frankly, I don’t care much for personal testimonies from either side. Likewise, Paul cannot know the psychology of anyone and know that some just need more evidence to accept cognitively robust theism, which is the main reason the argument from divine hiddenness fails.

All in all, the main problem with Paul’s response is that he ignores the holistic approach of my video, which is why in this response I just had to refer him to other sections of my video. I appreciate the constructive criticism, but I don’t think his video sufficiently addressed the problem, because he assumes reasonable non-belief occurs, and never once did he give evidence that is does occur. He assumes more evidence will convince this alleged category of reasonable non-believers, but I argued extensively that they do not exist. He also probably did not see my videos on heaven and hell, so he doesn’t have that context either, meaning he did not fully grasp the entirely of the argument. This video on divine hiddenness was part of a series with each building on the other. The order goes as they were uploaded: 

 

Omnipotence Paradox Debunked

Omniscience Paradox Debunked

Does God Send People to Hell?

What is Heaven?

The Problem of Evil: A Christian Response

Divine Hiddenness: A Christian Response

 

It is also important to remember even for people who are philosophically minded and have some sort of epistemology to justify their beliefs on, ultimately their reasoning will be emotionally based, as people will generally be emotionally-oriented, and therefore ultimately believe in what they want. This is probably why God tries not to focus on the purely reasonable aspect of humanity. Rather, he probably focuses on the emotional aspect, since we are emotional beings. Building a relationship with God requires hiddenness for us to realize the implications of life without God (this was explained in more detail in my video and Paul did not address it). Thus, our response to the problem of evil is similar to the hiddenness argument because it is due to mankind’s nature and God would know full well what would happen in a world of forced belief. Furthermore, Paul does not distinguish between general hiddenness (objective reality hiddenness)  and subjective hiddenness, because, for believers, God is not hidden, whereas for the unbeliever he is hidden, but I would argue this is more subjective and which is why one cannot use such an argument to objectively argue God probably does not exist. Your subjective desires or experience does not indicate an objective fact.

Paul might actually  admit this in his video description, where he says, “Unfortunately, Mike’s answers don’t align well with the kind of personal divine hiddenness that affects me and many of my fellow Christians.” With all due respect Paul, but if it is personal then it is based on subjective preferences and not objective facts about the world. It is the equivalent to when a Christian argues God exists because they have personally felt his presence. The argument from divine hiddenness seems to just be the atheist version of this and is equally weak evidence. Let’s try to set aside our personal feelings and look at the evidence as best as we possibly can.

Last, I want to reiterate that several times during Paul’s video, he circles back to the problem of hell, which is expected, and why I did a video on hell before I tackled divine hiddenness. I admit this can be a lot of videos for someone to go through, but I think it is necessary to elaborate on these topics. It is not like these issues can be quickly and simply answered, as numerous concepts and psychological issues need to be addressed. The series is meant for someone who is open to the idea and who wants to know how these issues can be addressed. If someone has this mindset, I believe they are genuinely interested in these topics and would actually want to sit through all the videos. So with that clarified, I’ll conclude. If Paul responds, I may add an update to this blog later on. 

 

A Defense of Libertarian Free Will

By: Kyle Alander of Christian Idealism

Introduction

The primary objective of this essay is to investigate the extent to which human beings generally have the ability to freely choose their choices and actions without any prior causes on one hand or human beings’ choices and actions are generally predetermined by prior causes that are outside of the human being’s control on the other. This former option will be referred to throughout this essay as the “Free Will Thesis” and the latter option the “Determinism Thesis”. For the reasons that will become clear my task will require me to consider recent discoveries in many disciplines including physics and neuroscience as well as areas in philosophy dealing with the reasons for our actions. I wish to defend the “Free Will Thesis” which goes like this: Human beings generally have the free will to freely choose their actions without any prior causes and human beings are the originator and first cause of their actions which sets off a chain of events that take place due to that choice. Philosophers have called this chain of causation “agent causation” as it is the free agent (human mind) that is the final decider in its actions and choices and therefore are fully responsible for their actions and choices. I will attempt to show that it is most likely the case that this free will thesis is true and that it is the most philosophically probable position to hold to when it comes to human choices. 

Before we dive into what positions will be in the determinism thesis, we must clear up a few misconceptions. First, free will is not about making choices. There are no philosophers who deny that humans make choices rather the real disagreement stems from how much control over our choices we do have. People that hold to free will believe humans generally have control over their choices and the human being was the originator and real first cause of their own choice. Those that hold to determinism on the other hand generally view choices as outside the humans’ control since the real cause of the choice was some predetermined and prior cause that is outside the human beings’ control. So obviously just making a choice itself is not enough to justify the free-will thesis or the determinism thesis. The second misconception of free will is its alleged similarity with maximal autonomy. I want to point this out to respond to Sam Harris on his misunderstanding of free will. Just because we cannot pick out genes, our past, our abilities, etc. It doesn’t mean we don’t have free will. As Alvin Plantinga says: “Harris’ notion of freedom is really an idea of what we might call maximal autonomy. It’s obvious that we don’t have maximal autonomy; we aren’t free in that sense. Indeed, it isn’t so much as possible that we be free in that sense. That is because, as he thinks of it, I act freely on a given occasion only if I myself freely choose to have the desires and affections I then act on, and furthermore I myself freely bring it about that I do have them. But note that the action by which I bring about that I have those desires and affections must itself be free. That means that I must have freely brought it about that I had the desires and affections out of which I acted in bringing it about that I have the desires and affections I presently have. You can see where this is going: for every occasion on which I act freely, there must have been an earlier occasion in which I acted freely. This clearly involves an infinite regress (to use the charming phrase philosophers like): if Harris is right, it is possible that I act freely only if it is possible that I perform an infinite number of actions, each one a matter of bringing it about that I have a certain set of desires and affections. Clearly no one has time, these busy days, for that. Harris is certainly right that we don’t have that maximal autonomy; but nothing follows about our having freedom, i.e., the sort of freedom we ordinarily think we have, the sort required for moral responsibility.”

We do not have the freedom to choose to not be a human we JUST are humans. We don’t have the freedom to choose to exist we JUST exist. While one can freely choose to kill themselves, they could not have freely chosen to never be born or never exist in the first place, it’s because that is maximal autonomy and NOT free will. So with this cleared up, we see that maximal autonomy is NOT part of the free-will thesis and is therefore not what I will be defending.

Constitutes of the determinism thesis

We now get into what constitutes the determinism thesis and will try to break down the categories which are part of the determinism thesis. 

  1. The first is perhaps the extreme radical group of Newtonian determinism which is the extreme form of hard determinism. This position states that absolutely everything is predetermined and that therefore absolutely everything is inevitable. This position states that all our actions are predetermined and are inevitable so our choices are outside our control. 
  2. The second is a little less extreme but still falls into hard determinism. It says that not all things are inevitable as it accepts the reality of there being randomness in nature however human beings’ choices are still predetermined by prior causes. Whether these causes are random or not it doesn’t matter as you still don’t have humans in control of their choices. 
  3. The third moves a little away and accepts that humans may have a limited sense of free choices but that those choices are still determined by someone’s character which itself was predetermined. This position is known as soft determinism or compatibilism as it says that both determinism and free will are compatible with each other in some way. It says how someone’s character will govern their choices and that it can lead one to a specific choice itself. This position is compatible with some idea of their being free will but NOT of the libertarian type that is present in the free will thesis. 

Constitutes of the free will thesis

We now get into what constitutes the free-will thesis and will try to break down the categories which are part of the free-will thesis. 

  1. The first is the extreme version of libertarianism or hard libertarianism which states that in order for a person to be free he must always have the ability to choose the contrary, or must be free from external influences. This view does not accept any external influences on one’s choice and therefore one would be in total control of their choices in the libertarian sense. 
  2. The second is the one that is more common among libertarian philosophers is called soft libertarianism. It accepts that humans are generally in control of their choices but that there is a limited sense of external influences. It recognizes the influence of external events that can have an effect on an agent’s choice but that ultimately the agent makes the final decision. So, then someone’s character determines a range of choices rather than a specific choice itself. And that someone’s choices can influence their character and vice versa. A good way to think of it would be to see how the holy character of God determines his set of possible options within his free will in that God chooses to reject evil since it’s against his nature. In fact, soft libertarianism is the perfect description of most religious descriptions of human free will in that due to our fallen nature we have the free will to sin and we need sanctification so that one day we will have the nature and character to reject sin. So, I admit for the sake of clarity that I myself personally hold this position of free will but in this essay, I will be defending the broad free-will thesis and not just this particular part of it. 

Now that we have broken down the determinism thesis and the free will thesis, I hope that my readers understand the position I will be defending. Like I’ve mentioned before the objective of this essay is to defend the various forms of the free-will thesis over and against the various forms of the determinism thesis. 

The Case for the Determinism Thesis

It’s now time to make the cumulative case that can be made for the determinism thesis and offer the best arguments in support of the broad view. There are 7 primary arguments that make up the cumulative case for the determinism thesis. 

  1. Physical determinism: The first piece of evidence has to do with the fact that we live in a deterministic universe. We have many precise mathematical equations that can describe and predict the motion of particles before we see them move and therefore particles would be determined to move in specific areas. This makes evidence for at least some things in nature being predetermined by prior causes and therefore works to support the case for determinism. This is even true for the randomness in nature as humans have no control over this randomness. 
  2. Reductionism: The second and more significant evidence for determinism is the claim that mental states simply just are brain states. If mental states can be reduced to physical states and if physical states are deterministic then it follows that mental states and also deterministic and thus free will does not exist. This argument builds up from the last one in that it puts mental states as part of the deterministic universe and thus human beings lack control over their choices as their choices are totally controlled by external factors which is the physical deterministic universe.   
  3. Libet type arguments: The third is perhaps the most famous argument for determinism that comes from neuroscience. The reason this is the case is due to the fact that in the experiment a scientist would put subjects on an EEG machine that records brain patterns and ask the subjects to consciously make hand movements and press buttons then record the exact moment they made that conscious decision. Libet found that the onset of brain activity clearly preceded by at least several hundred milliseconds the reported time of a conscious act (this is called the brains’ readiness potential). Critics at the time objected that this experiment doesn’t refute free will due to the fact that it is only by a few milliseconds factor which is not enough time for conscious choices and it didn’t predict a specific outcome of a choice. However, these criticisms are addressed when we consider Soon and his colleagues found that the readiness potential (the brain activity before conscious choices) determined someone’s specific choice. They found how the outcome of a decision can be encoded in brain activity up to 10 seconds before it enters awareness. This delay presumably reflects the operation of a network of high-level control areas that begin to prepare an upcoming decision long before it enters awareness. In other words, one was able to predict someone’s free choice a full 10 seconds before they actually consciously made that choice and this poses a serious challenge to any notion of free will. Thus, this is strong evidence for the determinism thesis
  4. Strawson type arguments: The fourth argument for the determinism thesis has to do with the reason for our choices and that since our reasons are external to us and since they largely determine our choices then free will does not exist. The Basic Argument has various expressions in the literature of free will, and its central idea can be quickly conveyed.

(1) Nothing can be causa sui – nothing can be the cause of itself.

(2) In order to be truly morally responsible for one’s actions, one would have to be causa sui, at least in certain crucial mental respects.

(3) Therefore, nothing can be truly morally responsible.

This is a philosophical argument for determinism based on how our choices are largely shaped by our reasons and since we can’t determine our own reasons then we are not in control of our choices. 

5. Principle of sufficient reason: The fifth argument for determinism is the PSR which is argued by determinist that since every fact of the world has an explanation then every choice and action has an explanation. The core of this argument has to do with metaphysical necessity in that the PSR proves that there can be no contingent facts but only necessary facts.  The argument goes like this 

  1. There is an explanation of why every fact is so and not otherwise (PSR)
  2. Therefore, there are no facts that are so and can be otherwise 
  3. But if there are contingent facts, then there are facts that are so and can be otherwise 
  4. Therefore, there are no contingent facts under the PSR, only necessary facts 

Furthermore, it has been argued that since there are only necessary facts then this proves a strong form of determinism which is necessitarianism (that every fact is metaphysically necessary). If necessitarianism is true it’s argued that its always necessary for someone to make a specific choice and therefore by necessity they could never have chosen something else and thus free will is refuted. 

  1. Only necessary facts exist 
  2. The ability to choose otherwise in a free-will decision is not a necessary fact 
  3. Therefore, free will is not a fact 
  4. Therefore, free will doesn’t exist

So, these two arguments put together show that the determinism thesis is true if the PSR is true. 

6. Omniscience argument: The sixth argument is somewhat different in that it argues for determinism from a theistic perspective. The basic argument is that if God knows everything then he also knows our free choices before we ever make a free choice and thus, we could never have the ability to choose something else. This means that if God is omniscient then determinism is true as God’s knowledge of all events means it determined those events. 

7. Incoherence of free will. The Burden of Proof and beyond: The final argument has to do with the burden of proof as well as the incoherence of free will. Many determinists argue that any definition of free will is incoherent or lacks definite clarity. That comparing two identical twins it would be impossible to tell if one has free will and the other lacks free will on top of the fact that we cannot empirically verify whether free will exists and therefore free will is meaningless. Furthermore these types of arguments take together the cumulative case for determinism and argue that given the reasons mentioned above that the burden of proof goes on the libertarian to properly define and show that free will exist but since this has not been done then the default option is simply to accept determinism until some good evidence for free will shows up. 

Moving forward

Now that we have reviewed and presented the best cumulative case for determinism the majority of this essay will be to show the various flaws in the case for determinism presented above. After the critique, we shall present the case for the free will thesis then wrap up with our cumulative case for free will

A critique of the case for determinism

Critique: Physical determinism 

The determinist argues that we live in a deterministic universe and therefore we know of things that are predetermined by prior causes. While this may be true for inanimate objects this doesn’t say anything about the choices of human beings and therefore this alone is not sufficient to justify the determinism thesis. Furthermore, the core of the free will debate has to do with whether there is agent causation in the universe or whether consciousness is an active force in nature that has causal powers of its own. So those that hold to free will do not deny determinism in the broad sense rather they say things are determined by the choices of agents. The determinist, on the other hand, denies agent causation and thus doesn’t think humans can have a say in nature. Things being described by mathematical equations that predict the motion of particles does not predict the choices of agents. According to the free will thesis the two main types of causes that exist is both event causation (causation of inanimate objects) and agent causation (causation of free agents) Therefore physical determinism itself is not evidence for the determinism thesis as the free will thesis would simply add that on top of their being event causation there is also agent causation. But since the case for determinism is cumulative the determinist would simply object that reductionism is enough to prove their thesis. We will now proceed to that. 

Critique: Reductionism:

The more significant argument for determinism is the claim that mental states simply just are brain states. If mental states can be reduced to physical states and if physical states are deterministic then it follows that mental states and also deterministic and thus free will does not exist. However, while it may be true that if reductionism is true then the determinism thesis is true the burden would be on the determinist to actually show that reductionism is true. Simply saying that it’s true is an obvious example of begging the question. There are serious problems with reductionism when we look at it more closely. Reductionism is the view that our mental states or our consciousness can be fully reduced to neurons in the brain. In other words, physicalist reductionism says that all experience is reduced to something that is not itself an experience in and of itself. However, the biggest problem with this is what’s termed the “hard problem of consciousness”. 

The hard problem distinguishes itself from the easy problems as any easy problems will include information processing in cognition, the focus of attention, the deliberate control of behavior (free will), the ability of a system to access its own mental states, etc. If this was all consciousness was then there wouldn’t be a hard problem. While we may not know yet how these things are fully explained with current neuroscience, we can certainly explain them in the future. The issue, however, is that all models of the brain already assume experience accompanies these processes without explaining experience itself which brings us to the hard problem. The hard problem is about experience itself. When we think and perceive the world there is information processing but there is also a subjective aspect. An organism is conscious if there is something it is like to be that organism. 

In other words, it is the subjective experience itself that is the problem and not just the knowledge that an organism has or it’s complex information processing no matter how complex it actually is. This is why adding complexity to a human brain will never explain the experience itself. One cannot simply just explain it in terms of functions. To explain things, we simply need to only look at its mechanism and its environment and how it operates in nature. But with consciousness or experience, it’s about why are these functions accompanied by experience. Furthermore, functions can go in the dark in which they happen without an experience being accompanied by them in which case there is no thing in which there is something it is like to be that thing rather that thing is only having functions and lacking experience. And this leads us to the crux of the problem. 

Reductionism requires that at the fundamental bottom level of our brains there is no thing that it’s like to be our brains so then if our brains do in fact produce experience in this sort of reductionistic way in which our experiences in and of itself reduce to something that is not an experience in and of itself (if experience is not fundamental to the brain but rather the brain produces experience) then it necessarily leads to an “experience” being itself non-experiential and thus your left with a contradiction. 

Any conceivable solution to this problem that attempts to save physicalist reductionism will necessarily contain a contradiction within itself and therefore won’t be a solution at all. This is why the hard problem of consciousness can only be solved if we reject physicalist reductionism. Because of the hard problem our experience is fundamental to the brain rather than produced by the brain. Our brain simply correlates with our experience in its fundamental way it is not that consciousness or experience is a byproduct of the brain. 

So, once we take into account this hard problem of consciousness, we can see that the determinant cannot use reductionism as evidence for determinism if reductionism is false. The most likely scenario is that consciousness is simply fundamental and that mental states are not reducible to brain states. Therefore, with showing reductionism to be highly unlikely we have refuted the first 2 lines of evidence for the determinism thesis.

Critique: Libet type arguments

The most famous argument against free will in neuroscience comes from the Libet experiments and similar experiments that use the same methodology. Basically, researchers found that through brain scans they were able to predict someone’s choice a full 10 seconds before they consciously made that choice (brain’s readiness potential). This is more significant as this has to do specifically with human choices and not just inanimate objects and therefore the determinist says that since researchers found no evidence for agent causation in these experiments rather it contradicted agent causation then human choices are in fact predetermined. However, there are several problems which I will highlight that show why these experiments cannot be used for the determinism thesis. 

Methodological problems

The first problem has to do with the choices people are making in the experiments. The experiment was simply about pressing buttons and not about any moral decisions or decisions that are more deliberate and take time to think on. When we make deliberate free decisions, we will always take morality into account, like when we are deciding between right and wrong. In these types of experiments, the subject is asked to press a button arbitrarily and no deliberation is involved. The primary intention has been completed before the experiment which was to push pointless buttons in some arbitrary time. We know of many actions that are arbitrary like breathing or eating that are virtually automatic in nature so it is hardly surprising that someone’s mind automatically presses buttons in these experiments and therefore a readiness potential would be involved. The point is that they are abstract real-life situations as the experiment is about pressing random buttons and not something more serious like deciding if you’re going to kill someone. So, while these experiments do give us insight into how automatic processes work (processes that we already knew about before the experiment) this says nothing about human freedom. 

The main methodological problem is that none of these experiments deal with more serious decisions like moral decisions or deliberate ones rather they are focused on what we would already expect to be automatic processes going on in the human brain. This holds true for any experiment involving the pressing of buttons so with this methodological problem in place this gives us our first reason to doubt that these experiments provide good evidence for the determinism thesis. 

Scientific problems

We shall now dive into the various scientific problems with any Libet type argument against free will. There are several considerations to take into account. The first has to do with the fact that several studies show the readiness potential is present even when there are no conscious decisions being made. This provides us with good reasons that the readiness potential cannot be the cause of conscious decisions. In one 2008 study subjects were told they had to press a button when they saw a cube, among many other shapes. So the neural activity is present well before the presentation of a stimulus. The observed activity could not have been regarded as a specific preparation to press one of the buttons rather than the other.

“We performed an experiment where participants observed a stimulus on a computer monitor and were instructed to press one of two buttons, depending on the presented stimulus. We found neural activity preceding the motor response, similar to Libet’s experiments. However, this activity was already present prior to stimulus presentation, and thus before participants could decide which button to press. Therefore, we argue that this activity does not specifically determine behaviour. Instead, it may reflect a general expectation. This interpretation would not interfere with the notion of free will.”

 This leaves the room open to various free will interpretations in how the Libet experiment should be seen.  

The second problem is that later researchers demonstrated the existence of a veto in the readiness potential. This means that the readiness potential can build up overtime but the intentional mind has the ability to veto the readiness potential from carrying out a decision. In 2015 one study said this 

“In humans, spontaneous movements are often preceded by early brain signals. One such signal is the readiness potential (RP) that gradually arises within the last second preceding a movement. An important question is whether people are able to cancel movements after the elicitation of such RPs, and if so until which point in time. Here, subjects played a game where they tried to press a button to earn points in a challenge with a brain–computer interface (BCI) that had been trained to detect their RPs in real time and to emit stop signals. Our data suggest that subjects can still veto a movement even after the onset of the RP. Cancellation of movements was possible if stop signals occurred earlier than 200 ms before movement onset, thus constituting a point of no return.” 

The significance of this study is mentioned in the study itself 

“Significance: Many studies have shown that movements are preceded by early brain signals. There has been a debate as to whether subjects can still cancel a movement after onset of these early signals. We tested whether subjects can win a “duel” against a brain–computer interface designed to predict their movements in real time from observations of their EEG activity. Our findings suggest that subjects can exert a “veto” even after onset of this process. However, the veto has to occur before a point of no return is reached after which participants cannot avoid moving.” -The point of no return in vetoing self-initiated movements” 

This means that we can have libertarian free will that is compatible with the Libet experiments and therefore this provides us with another reason that we should doubt these experiments provide good evidence for the determinism thesis. 

The third problem is a much more serious and fatal objection that can be raised against any Libet type arguments against free will and this is due to the fact that there is evidence that the readiness potential itself is absent when one is making deliberate choices. In early 2018 researcher, Maoz discovered that there are different neural mechanisms in the brain’s decision making.

“The onset of the readiness potential (RP)—a key neural correlate of upcoming action—was repeatedly found to precede subjects’ reports of having made an internal decision. This has been taken by some as evidence against a causal role for consciousness in human decision-making and thus as a denial of free-will. Yet those studies focused on purposeless, unreasoned, arbitrary decisions…It remains unknown to what degree these specific neural precursors of action generalize to deliberate decisions, which are more ecological and relevant to real life. We therefore directly compared the neural correlates of deliberate and arbitrary decision making during a $1000-donation task to non-profit organizations. While we found the expected RPs for arbitrary decisions, they were strikingly absent for deliberate ones. Our results are congruent with the RP representing the accumulation of noisy, random fluctuations, which drive arbitrary—but not deliberate—decisions. The absence of RPs in deliberate decisions further points to different neural mechanisms underlying deliberate and arbitrary decisions and thus challenges the generalizability of studies that argue for no causal role for consciousness in decision making from arbitrary to deliberate, real-life decisions.”-Neural precursors of decisions that matter—an ERP study of deliberate and arbitrary choice

This implies that when making more moral choices that the brain is not running on automatic processes but rather free will is involved. This will lead us to the cumulative case against all Libet type arguments 

 

The death of Libet type arguments

To summarize we took into account the argument that human’s decisions can be predicted up to 10 seconds before they made a decision and therefore free will is an illusion. However, there are 5 major problems with taking Libet type experiments as evidence for the determinism thesis. 

  1. The main methodological problem is that none of these experiments deal with more serious decisions like moral decisions or deliberate ones rather they are focused on what we would already expect to be automatic processes going on in the human brain. 
  2. The fact that the readiness potential is present even when there are no conscious decisions being made. This provides us with good reasons that the readiness potential cannot be the cause of conscious decisions.
  3. Readiness potential activity was already present prior to stimulus presentation, and thus before participants could decide which button to press. Therefore, this activity does not specifically determine behavior. Instead, it may reflect a general expectation and it leaves room open for free will. 
  4. Researchers have identified a point of no return in self-initiated movement which supports the interpretation that the mind has the ability to veto the readiness potential so that free will may take place in decision making
  5. Maoz has discovered that the readiness potential is absent when a subject makes a deliberate rather than arbitrary choice. The experiments involving arbitrary choices therefore cannot be counted as evidence against free will due to the fact that the subjects were making arbitrary rather than deliberate choices and therefore any previous studies that involved arbitrary choices cannot be counted as evidence against free will.  

These 5 reasons give us good grounds to doubt that Libet type arguments are successful in supporting the determinism thesis and therefore this takes down the 3rd line of evidence for the determinism thesis. 

Critique: Strawson type arguments 

The fourth line of evidence for the determinism thesis comes from the Strawson type arguments. These mainly have to do with the idea that since we have reasons for our choices then we lack free will. There are various versions of the argument but the most basic one that is central to all of them comes from this syllogism.

(1) Nothing can be causa sui – nothing can be the cause of itself.

(2) In order to be truly morally responsible for one’s actions, one would have to be causa sui, at least in certain crucial mental respects.

(3) Therefore, nothing can be truly morally responsible.

However, there are some problems with these type of argument where I wish to highlight. 

Models of free will based on criteria causation

The first major problem is that it ignores models of free will in which there can be reasons that shape our free will decision processes. The “criteria” or “reasons/reasoning” is the weighting, values, goals, and past outcomes that the brain uses in order to choose for future outcomes. During deliberation, the brain will test the various options producing a pathway of events along with that choice, much like an imaginary “worldline”. New criteria will lie along these optional future paths (navigations). This can be imagining what meal might taste best comparing the satisfaction levels to past similar meals or this may be imagining being married to several different partners producing multiple decades of events. This set of various paths being testing and predicting in memory are called a cognitive phase space as the agent chooses particular “paths”, a particular set of criteria will be gathered. Just the same rejecting some paths, particular criteria will not be attained. IF the agent chooses a path due TO the criteria that can be gathered, that agent is now “cultivating criteria”. 

Peter Tse describes this as the second order free will or meta-free will

“Finally, it is not enough to simply have the ‘first-order free will’ afforded by the above kind of nervous system that can choose actions freely. Only if present choices can ultimately lead to a chooser becoming a new kind of chooser — that is, only if there is second-order free will or metafree will — do brains have the capacity to both have chosen otherwise, and to have meta-chosen otherwise. Only such a metafree will allows a brain to not only choose among options available now, but to cultivate and create new types of options for itself in the future that are not presently open to it . Only then can there be responsibility for having chosen to become a certain kind of person who chooses from among actions consistent with being that kind of person.” Dr. Peter Tse

So, the brain is preparing future states during which new criteria is the goal of the choice the chooser is now “choosing what kind of chooser he wishes to become”. This leap frog’s causa sui because the chooser is “getting ahead” of every oncoming T=0 of the moment of the decision is executed (real time, post deliberation).

It’s important to understand there are two flavors of determinism.

1) Independent determinism – this is natural forces; we can call this the LaPlacian domain

2) Dependent determinism (criteria) – this is when the once independent forces are exploited for informational or criterial causation and this type of determinism would be agent causation. 

Analogy 

To understand criteria causation or agent causation and its relation to our reasons there is a simply analogy one can make with falling rocks. Independent would be like water falling down rocks. The rocks are not placing filtered constraints on the water. The system could be described as Laplacian. a + b = c. Dependent would be as if the water’s input had decoding filters placed on it in a broader system. The water’s input’s future is modified via filters from the “rocks”. The a + b = c stops when both physical AND informational pathways are required. Changes in the physical system’s criteria (volitional attention aka consciousness) limits firing in light that they must be met by future inputs to continue on “falling down these rocks” but guided by criteria.

So ultimately free will is completely logical IF you approach it from the top down macrostate perspective which is the brain’s preparing and testing the long-term future tensed pathways. In such a model neither natural forces or the linear philosophy of causation is a potent rebuttal. This refutes the first premise of the argument since things can be the cause of themselves if you take into account something like metafree. Therefore, with understanding criteria causation and its relation to free will we see that no Strawson type argument is successful in supporting the determinism thesis thus the fourth line of evidence is refuted. 

Critique: Principle of sufficient reason 

The fifth argument for determinism comes from the PSR. Now I do not intend to dispute the PSR in this essay I want to argue that the PSR does not conflict with free will. The argument I intend to refute would be this one 

  1. Only necessary facts exist 
  2. The ability to choose otherwise in a free will decision is not a necessary fact 
  3. Therefore, free will is not a fact 
  4. Therefore, free will doesn’t exist

The first thing to point out is that facts in and of themselves are not deterministic they are just simply part of reality. As mentioned before under certain models of free will, there is a criterion that needs to be met in order for a choice to be made. While it’s true this kind of free will works better with soft libertarianism than hard libertarianism it is still free will but it takes into account external influences. This way free will is explainable and that is all that the PSR requires. 

Furthermore, as demonstrated in the previous model brain sets up multiple possibilities which are real physical necessary states “IN the world”. The state that brings the agent the desired self-cultivation will be the path chosen converting one of the possible into the actual. So undetermined facts (free will facts) can still be necessary facts which refutes P2 of the above argument

The fundamental problem with this argument is that a “necessary fact” doesn’t have to be determined fact it’s only a fact of the world. The final decision in human choices is the byproduct of criteria that guided it. This criterion is a necessary fact of the world but it’s still dependent determinism which are independent forces are exploited for informational or criterial causation. 

So, the refutation of this line of evidence for determinism is similar to the refutation of Strawson arguments. This takes down the fifth line of evidence for the determinism thesis. 

Critique: Omniscience argument

The sixth line of evidence is a little unique in that it argues against free will from a theistic perspective. It argues that God’s knowledge of choices is what determines choices and therefore free will doesn’t exist. To be honest, out of all the arguments for determinism this is perhaps the weakest as it ignores the fact that omniscience is not the same as meticulous providence (the view that God directly causes all events). Rather God would be outside of time and actualize all things at once so then the free choices of creates is what determines Gods knowledge not the other way around. 

Furthermore, having knowledge of something doesn’t mean your knowledge determined it rather it was the thing that you already know about that determined your knowledge. In other words, the free will of creates is what determines God’s knowledge of those choices. Since if there are no choices to be made, then God would not know them since those choices do not exist. Free will has to exist for God to know about it otherwise he wouldn’t have the knowledge of free choices in the first place. This idea does not in any way provide evidence for determinism so not much more can be said on it. 

Critique: Incoherence of free will. The Burden of Proof and beyond

The final argument for determinism simply has to do with the lack of a clear definition for free will. Its argued that if we were to take two identical twins it would be impossible to tell if one has free will and the other does not on top of the fact that free will is not empirically verifiable and therefore is meaningless to talk about. The issue however is that free will is similar to consciousness in that it is irreducibly subjective. When we borrow from the concept of philosophical zombies for example, we see that comparing two identical twins (one of them a p-zombie) you cannot tell if one person is conscious and the other is not. This means that free will just like consciousness can only be known from the subjective aspect of the human mind. Furthermore, something doesn’t need a definition for it to be coherent. You cannot define colors like blue since you have to experience it and must be intuitive it’s not limited to definitions. Additionally, making the argument that since free will is not empirically verifiable then its meaningless is question begging positivist epistemology which ignores the subjective and intuitive aspects of the human mind. We can make reasonable inferences to free will from intuition, even if we can’t absolutely prove that it exists empirically. Any definition of free will can and will depend on your particular constitute of libertarianism but if we take the criteria causation version of free will then free will is simply: The ability overtime for an individual to navigate to a type of chooser as a down operation. 

Language will always be limited to describe complex ideas and our categories of language are never really perfect. This is why we must be careful with how we define complex ideas like free will, especially if there is a lot that goes into it. However, given that free will is subjective then it is no surprise that a 3rd person methodology which is science cannot empirically prove that something 1st person like consciousness or free will exist rather it can only make inferences that those things exist.

Moving forward

We have presented our critique of the case for the determinism thesis and have found major flaws in all of the lines of evidence for determinism. Since we have addressed and critiqued the main arguments for determinism, we will now consider the cumulative case for the free will thesis and provide some good reasons to think that free will exist. 

The Case for the Free Will Thesis

In our investigation, we have found no good reasons to hold to determinism so the job now will be to address whether there can be made a good case for libertarian free will. As will be shown there are plenty of good reasons to think free will exist and we shall now begin our cumulative case. 

Intuition

The first line of evidence is simply our intuition of free will. While its true that intuitions can be wrong if we have no good reasons to doubt our intuitions then we should believe our intuitions to be true. This is because intuition is a good starting point when addressing whether a position is correct. If something is intuitively obvious then it is on the burden to show the intuition is wrong not on the one to show the intuition is correct. Since we have given our critique of the main lines of evidence for determinism then there’s simply no good reason as far as we know to doubt our intuition of free will. This serves as the first line of evidence for free will. 

Simplicity and prior probability

Building up from the last line of evidence libertarian free will is a much simpler explanation of human choices than determinism. It is simpler to say our choices are the result of our own mind controlling itself rather than some external cause outside our mind. While it may be true that we can never prove free will since we can’t go outside our experiences to see if our experiences are self-caused or external it is rational to simply take our choices as they are and accept that we are the ultimate cause of our own choices. Therefore, the prior probability of free will is higher than that of determinism and so determinism once again carries a higher burden of proof at least initially. 

The evidence and mechanism for agent causation in physics 

The third line of evidence comes from recent studies in quantum physics. To clarify quantum physics is about subatomic particles in nature that we can’t see with the naked eye. There is also lots of randomness in quantum physics so one cannot predict an event like one can in classical physics. A recent theorem in physics called “The free will theorem” is the main line of evidence for free will in quantum physics. It was developed by physicist John H. Conway and Simon Kochen:

 “It assets roughly that if indeed we humans have free will, then elementary particles already have their own small share of this valuable commodity. More precisely, if the experimenter can freely choose the direction in which to orient his apparatus in a certain measurement, then the particle’s response is NOT determined by the entire history of the universe”

To put it more simply, it would mean that the agents first cause would be the particles collapsing into a definite state to start a chain of events that initially started with that agent’s choice. Now a determinist may object that this assumes standard quantum physics and that other deterministic interpretations like hidden variable theories get around this issue. However, if we build up from our last pieces of evidence, we see the burden is on the determinist to show that hidden variables exist so that the free will theorem is falsified not for the libertarian to demonstrate the free will theorem is true as the math works out. We can reject the free will theorem by denying its axioms but one must show the axioms to be false by providing evidence for hidden variables. So, this does leave us with evidence for agent causation in physics and when we accept the basic facts of quantum physics without adding additional deterministic hidden variable theories then its most likely that humans have free will. 

Another objection is that this does not show free will to exist because Schrödinger’s equation is deterministic and thus quantum theory is deterministic however as Henry Stapp says: 

“The Schroedinger equation, like Newton’s and Maxwell’s equations, is deterministic: given the motion of the quantum state for all times prior to the present, the motion for all future time is fixed, insofar as the Schroedinger equation is satisfied for all times. However, the Schroedinger equation fails when an increment of knowledge occurs: then there is a sudden jump to a ‘reduced’ state, which represents the new state of knowledge. This jump involves the well-known element of quantum randomness.” 

Furthermore, once we understand how free will may have its own mechanism in nature then we get a much better understanding. There is a way in which our mind and brain are integrated together to have agent causation in quantum theory.

“The observer in quantum theory does more than just read the recordings. He also chooses which question will be put to Nature: which aspect of nature his inquiry will probe. I call this important function of the observer ‘The Heisenberg Choice’, to contrast it with the ‘Dirac Choice’, which is the random choice on the part of Nature that Dirac emphasized. According to quantum theory, the Dirac Choice is a choice between alternatives that are specified by the Heisenberg Choice: the observer must first specify what aspect of the system he intends to measure or probe, and then put in place an instrument that will probe that aspect. In quantum theory it is the observer who both poses the question, and recognizes the answer. Without some way of specifying what the question is, the quantum rules will not work: the quantum process grinds to a halt…This all works well at the pragmatic Copenhagen level, where the observer stands outside the quantum system, and is simply accepted for what he empirically is and does. But what happens when we pass to the vN/W ontology? The observer then no longer stands outside the quantum system: he becomes a dynamical body/brain/mind system that is an integral dynamical part of the quantum universe…Putting the observer inside the system does not, by itself, resolve this basic problem: the Schroedinger evolution alone remains unable to specify what the question is. Indeed, this bringing of the human observer into the quantum system intensifies the problem, because there is no longer the option of shifting the problem away, to some outside agent. Rather, the problem is brought to a head, because the human agent is precisely the quantum system that is under investigation. In the Copenhagen formulation the Heisenberg choice was made by the mind of the external human observer. I call this process of choosing the question the Heisenberg process. In the vN/W formulation this choice is not made by the local deterministic Schroedinger process and the global stochastic Dirac process. So there is still an essential need for a third process, the Heisenberg process. Thus the agent’s mind can continue to play its key role. But the mind of the human agent is now an integral part of the dynamical body/brain/mind. We therefore have, now, an intrinsically more complex dynamical situation, one in which a person’s conscious thoughts can — and evidently must, if no new element is brought in, — play a role that is not reducible to the combination of the Schroedinger and Dirac processes.”-Henry P. Stapp, Attention, Intention, and Will in Quantum Physics  

With a mechanism in place for how agent causation exists in our universe and thus a free will mechanism we now move into the neurological mechanisms underpinning free will.

Evidence for free will from neuroscience

The fourth line of evidence will make up the bulk of the case for the free will thesis as it has to do with evidence for free will from the study of recent neuroscience. Much of this is complex and difficult since this type of research is still in its infancy stages. I should warn my readers that this part of the essay will be a very advanced and technical read so readers are free to skip over some parts if they don’t understand the material but for those interested, there are several pieces of evidence for free will we will go over that come from neuroscience

The first thing to consider is that a lot of the research has moved on from Libet type methodology and now many researchers have developed different models of free will based on neuroscientific data. In a recent 2019 study researcher Thomas Hills came up with a neurological mechanism for free will. 

“Free will is an apparent paradox because it requires a historical identity to escape its history in a self-guided fashion. Philosophers have itemized design features necessary for this escape, scaling from action to agency and vice versa. These can be organized into a coherent framework that neurocognitive capacities provide and that form a basis for neurocognitive free will. These capacities include (1) adaptive access to unpredictability, (2) tuning of this unpredictability in the service of hierarchical goal structures, (3) goal-directed deliberation via search over internal cognitive representations, and (4) a role for conscious construction of the self in the generation and choice of alternatives. This frames free will as a process of generative self-construction, by which an iterative search process samples from experience in an adaptively exploratory fashion, allowing the agent to explore itself in the construction of alternative futures. This provides an explanation of how effortful conscious control modulates adaptive access to unpredictability and resolves one of free will’s key conceptual problems: how randomness is used in the service of the will. The implications provide a contemporary neurocognitive grounding to compatibilist and libertarian positions on free will, and demonstrate how neurocognitive understanding can contribute to this debate by presenting free will as an interaction between our freedom and our will.”

Studies like this demonstrate that the brain is able to have a system capable of free will. There are plenty of studies that discuss this in detail, some of which will be cited so those more interested in the subject can read it at their own time. Furthermore, they help to explain deliberation and the main difference between arbitrary and deliberate decision making. When it comes to making value judgements there are different mechanisms that are being studied in the field. Since the current evidence supports the idea that there are many different neurological mechanisms underlying decision making (more than just the readiness potential) then through these ideas one can have evidence for free will. As one study says 

“Rational, value-based decision-making mandates selecting the option with highest subjective expected value after appropriate deliberation. We examined activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and striatum of monkeys deciding between smaller, immediate rewards and larger, delayed ones. We previously found neurons that modulated their activity in this task according to the animal’s choice, while it deliberated (choice neurons). Here we found neurons whose spiking activities were predictive of the spatial location of the selected target (spatial-bias neurons) or the size of the chosen reward (reward-bias neurons) before the onset of the cue presenting the decision-alternatives, and thus before rational deliberation could begin. Their predictive power increased as the values the animals associated with the two decision alternatives became more similar. The ventral striatum (VS) preferentially contained spatial-bias neurons; the caudate nucleus (CD) preferentially contained choice neurons. In contrast, the DLPFC contained significant numbers of all three neuron types, but choice neurons were not preferentially also bias neurons of either kind there, nor were spatial-bias neurons preferentially also choice neurons, and vice versa. We suggest a simple winner-take-all (WTA) circuit model to account for the dissociation of choice and bias neurons. The model reproduced our results and made additional predictions that were borne out empirically. Our data are compatible with the hypothesis that the DLPFC and striatum harbor dissociated neural populations that represent choices and predeliberation biases that are combined after cue onset; the bias neurons have a weaker effect on the ultimate decision than the choice neurons, so their influence is progressively apparent for trials where the values associated with the decision alternatives are increasingly similar.”

This study goes over the different types of neurons in the brain that work during free will decisions. Basically, it’s that some neurons are value based others are reward based or just automatic based. The brain does not use “logic” in a deterministic sense it is non-linear in the sense of being able to shift direction and it is not like a computer that runs in linear processes. While there is an autopilot to the brain (readiness potential) there is no evidence that it controls free will in deliberate choices since deliberate choices have different nonlinear mechanisms that drive free will in this type of process. Again, even from a neuroscientific perspective, we may be able to explain free will one day and the type of research needed for this project will take some time. 

Moving beyond the Libet methodology, Future research and beyond

Having looked into the conceptual issues of free will as well as its neurological basis the thing we need is more research and right now there are only a handful of studies that go into the details about free will. For many years based on the Libet type experiments and its methodology free will was seen by many scientists as an illusion but now gaining the knowledge of there being different neurological mechanisms for decision making and the fact that deliberate decision processes are not deterministic we can see how free will is supported by neuroscience. 

The methodology used by Libet and other researchers that tested human decision making were all based on arbitrary decisions and therefore since arbitrary decisions are automatic in nature then this was seen as evidence against free will and this is the main reason for why all the studies that followed this same methodology were able to all reach the same conclusion: that free will does not exist. However, with the new knowledge in place for making the arbitrary/deliberation distinction, we can move on from this libet methodology and shift the paradigm toward a new methodology that can truly study free will. The researchers I’ve cited have already adopted this new methodology and their results are showing that free will does exist in the human brain. With this new methodology in place, the next 10-20 years of free will research will give us more details about how the neurons in our brains work and how we come to make our decisions. So, by accepting this new methodology that further grows our understanding of the human brain we can say quite confidently that neuroscience strongly supports and inferes the existence of free will. 

Philosophy of mind and human consensus

Having presented our case for free will before we conclude this essay, we should take into account the importance of the philosophy of mind. The libertarian free will I advocate is compatible with a wide range of views including idealism, dualism and non-reductive physicalism. So even if one is nonreligious, they may believe free will exist and does not have to hold to the materialistic determinism that some atheists hold too. I firmly think all humans should agree on the existence of free will and even if we may never absolutely prove the existence of free will we should all just accept our gut intuition that it is a real thing in the world. Taking moral responsibility for our actions is a very important thing in our world and if humans believe in free will then we may in fact make the world a better place not just for us but for all life on earth. 

Conclusion: The cumulative case for free will and the death of determinism

We close by asking: Do human beings generally have the free will to freely choose their actions without any prior causes and are human beings the originator and first cause of their actions? In light of what we have seen in this essay, the answer is a strong YES. 

To summarize the broad cumulative case for the free will thesis and our critique of the case for determinism we have found that there is positive evidence for agent causation in the universe namely from the fields of quantum physics. We have found that the prior probability of free will is higher than that of determinism due to it being a simpler theory so the initial burden is on the determinist to demonstrate their thesis to be true. Given this initial burden, it also applies to any hidden variable theories in quantum theory that attempt to describe quantum mechanics by pure determinism and thus we can be confident in the existence of agent causation. 

Moreover, attempts to argue against free will based on Reductionism, Libet type arguments, Strawson type arguments, the PSR or God’s omniscience have shown to be faced with major flaws. Reductionism is refuted by the hard problem of consciousness. Libet type arguments rely on an outdated methodology of studying free will which is based on arbitrary rather than deliberate choices. This has given rise to a new methodology which supports the existence of free will from neuroscience. As for Strawson type arguments, these ignore models of free will based on criteria causation. The “criteria” or “reasons/reasoning” is the weighting, values, goals, and past outcomes that the brain uses in order to choose for future outcomes. During deliberation, the brain will test the various options producing a pathway of events along with that choice, thus allowing for free will and refutes any Strawson argument. As for the PSR, it allows for free will since a “necessary fact” doesn’t need to be a necessary determined fact it’s only a fact of the world. The final decision in human choices is the byproduct of criteria that guided it. As for the incoherence of free will due to the fact that if we were to compare two identical twins and we can’t tell which one has the free will and which one does not this objection ignores the fact that free will is a purely irreducibly subjective aspect of the human mind and therefore can only be intuitively known from the 1st person perspective. Finally, with God’s omniscience, people’s free choices determines God’s knowledge, not vice versa. 

So, where does this leave us? I suggest that with taking our intuitions seriously and being open to agent causation in quantum physics as well as moving beyond the Libet type methodology that has existed in neuroscience as well as understanding that free will is ultimately an irreducibly subjective aspect of the human mind that free will is the most probable position to hold to when it comes to human choices. The full burden of proof now goes to the determinist to show that free will does not exist. I believe this essay serves as a robust defense to libertarian free will and so I challenge determinist to show why free will does not exist. If this essay has to any extent helped to give good solid reasons to believe in free will then it has served its purpose. 
 

References 

1″Bait and Switch | Books and Culture.” https://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2013/janfeb/bait-and-switch.html. Accessed 21 Sep. 2019.

2″Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain.” 13 Apr. 2008, https://www.nature.com/articles/nn.2112. Accessed 23 Sep. 2019.

3 “The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility – Philosophy.” 15 Sep. 1993, https://philosophy.as.uky.edu/sites/default/files/The%20Impossibility%20of%20Moral%20Responsibility%20-%20Galen%20Strawson.pdf. Accessed 23 Sep. 2019.

4 “The Principle of Sufficient Reason Proves … – YouTube.” 19 Aug. 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgu0M6YYp2s. Accessed 23 Sep. 2019.

5 “Hard problem of consciousness – Scholarpedia.” 21 May. 2009, http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Hard_problem_of_consciousness. Accessed 23 Sep. 2019.

6 “Brain preparation before a voluntary action: evidence … – NCBI.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19736023. Accessed 23 Sep. 2019.

7 “Brain signals do not demonstrate unconscious decision ….” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24394375. Accessed 23 Sep. 2019.

8 “Does the brain “initiate” freely willed processes? A philosophy ….” 17 Oct. 2012, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0959354312460926. Accessed 23 Sep. 2019.

9 “Barking up the wrong free: readiness potentials reflect … – NCBI.” 28 Mar. 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23535835. Accessed 23 Sep. 2019.

10 Analysis of a choice-reaction task yields a new interpretation ….” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18096261. Accessed 23 Sep. 2019.

11 “[PDF] The point of no return in vetoing self-initiated ….” https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-point-of-no-return-in-vetoing-self-initiated-Schultze-Kraft-Birman/12db93edf2db054715efa29231c62de398d40150. Accessed 23 Sep. 2019.

12 “Neural precursors of decisions that matter—an ERP … – bioRxiv.” 1 Jan. 2017, https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/097626v1. Accessed 23 Sep. 2019.

13 “Two types of libertarian free will are realized in the human ….” https://www.dartmouth.edu/~peter/pdf/C12.pdf. Accessed 23 Sep. 2019.

14″The Strong Free Will Theorem.” https://www.ams.org/notices/200902/rtx090200226p.pdf. Accessed 23 Sep. 2019.

15″Attention, Intention, and Will in Quantum Physics.” 17 May. 1999, https://arxiv.org/abs/quant-ph/9905054. Accessed 23 Sep. 2019.

16″Neurocognitive free will – Royal Society Publishing.” 31 Jul. 2019, https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.0510. Accessed 23 Sep. 2019.

17 “Predeliberation activity in prefrontal cortex and striatum … – NCBI.” 26 Nov. 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3840801/. Accessed 23 Sep. 2019.

Final Response to Aron “Cherry-pickin” Ra

Aron has lost any ounce of respect I once had for him with this last response. He still is not grasping basic definitions (like intrinsic and extrinsic), yet claiming I am the one being dishonest. There is a lot of projection in his video. However, the silver lining is we might be getting somewhere finally with pistis. At random times in this video, he seems to finally get that pistis doesn’t mean what he said in his last video, “Faith is a complete trust that is not based on evidence.” However, at other times he doesn’t seem to get it. For example, at one point in his conversation with Dr. Josh Bowen, he seems to suggest from what he studied that pistis is forced trust (Dr. Bowen doesn’t confirm this and we will get to this later on). But I am going to go through this video and respond to what needs to be addressed and leave it at that. I suspect Aron might respond again. He just seems to double down on the errors and ignore the mistakes he keeps making, especially when it comes to the social sciences.

In a nutshell, AronRa’s case rests on three rather fallacies: 

1. First, Aron Ra tried to prove that Christianity, in general, is tied to negative outcomes by cherry-picking individual instances of Christians behaving badly. Picking individual instances to prove a general trend is an example of the inductive fallacy called an association fallacy (or hasty generalization). In addition, he displays a related cognitive bias which in social psychology is called the intergroup attribution error. More on this later.

2. Second,  he has distorted (at times) the meaning of the word ‘pistis’ (faith) to imply that Christian doctrine by its very nature promoted a mindless belief sometimes even in the face of overwhelming evidence when no contemporary scholar of Koine Greek actually thinks that’s what the original word ‘pistis” meant. More on this later.

3. Finally, when I cited counterevidence to his thesis in the form of social science research that ties intrinsic religiosity to positive social outcomes, he thinks that’s a no-true-Scotsman fallacy. He thinks I am unjustifiably restricting my analysis of the benefits of religion to intrinsic religiosity — while ignoring Christians who are extrinsically religious. Again, more on this later.

Let’s address these points one by one. 

At 0:50 seconds in, Aron says he didn’t make any association fallacies in the debate, which is blatantly false. He spent a lot of time citing examples of Christians doing bad things (politicians, alleged Christians upset about breastfeeding in public, the Bible Belt, Catholic priests, etc.) and then argued Christianity was dangerous from these examples. You don’t have to take my word for it, anyone can go back and watch his opening presentation to see the connections he attempted to make. That is an association fallacy. Finding that some individual Christians behave badly doesn’t mean that Christianity, in general, is dangerous, and it doesn’t show that Christianity caused people to behave badly. There are actually two leaps of logic here. First is an association fallacy, since Aron Ra tried to prove a general trend by citing individual cases,  but the second one is a correlation-causation fallacy. Even if he were to succeed in proving a correlation between religion and negative outcomes, that would not prove a causal link.  It would equally have been an association fallacy if I got up there and spent half my time citing cherry-picked examples of good things Christians have done. That doesn’t necessarily mean Christianity caused good behavior.

Also, to clarify, I mainly accused Aron of a related cognitive error called the attribution error. What’s an attribution error?  It’s the cognitive bias in highly prejudiced people to assume that immoral actions committed by members of their in-group are outliers, but examples of immoral actions committed by members of an out-group prove a general trend. For instance, an atheist may believe that Stalin, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Jacobins of revolutionary France, and Pol Pot are just outliers or bad apples; isolated examples that are not representative of the atheist community, while instances of evil Christians are not just isolated examples, but representative of a general trend. 

After this, Aron says, “Listing the ways that the commands of Christian doctrine are and have been historically dangerous is not an association fallacy.” Here we have our first misrepresentation because I never said this or implied this is where the attribution error occurred in his presentation. I pointed out, as I just did yet again, that random examples of Christians behaving badly is the association fallacy. The error with this claim is to simply point out that there is no empirical evidence or meta-analysis that shows Christian doctrine causes bad behavior. The very limited data that might imply negative correlations is fickle, is not often replicated, and very few researchers have ever claimed Christian doctrine is a cause of harmful behavior (at least what I have read in the meta-analyses). 

Second, Aron is either confused or misrepresenting my point again. I never said this is where the association fallacy was made, and it is easy to verify this. Go back and watch the debate, or better yet, I’ll just link my entire opening script so everyone can see that when I called out an attribution error, it was over the citing of random examples, not addressing Christian doctrines. I covered that in a later section of my presentation.

After this, Aron cites some verses and reveals two things: a lack of charity in interpretation and a lack of scholarship. First is Matthew 15:11, “it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” The second is Mark 16:18, “they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Aron says of this verse, “If the basic tenets of the faith tell people that if God says it doesn’t matter what they take into their bodies, they can hold venomous snakes and drink bleach and all that and it won’t hurt them if they can just make-believe hard enough…” 

Wow, where to begin…

First, it is nearly unanimous that Mark 16:18 is a later addition, thanks to the rigorous work done by Christian and non-Christian scholars in textual criticism. This has been known for over a century, and even very conservative scholars recognize this passage doesn’t go back to Jesus. (1)

The prior verse is widely taken out of context. I cannot find a scholarly source that suggests Jesus was saying it doesn’t matter biologically what you take into your body. Jesus was responding to Pharisees who focused on ritual purity. This is obviously clarified in verses 19-20 where Jesus says he is talking about what is defiling the heart. This is not a commentary on physical health.

Craig Keener notes in his commentary that this is about questions of what constitutes morality: “But Pharisaic scribes frequently determined morality (where the Torah was unclear) by extrapolating from tradition; by demanding that disciples extrapolate morality instead from biblical principles Jesus takes ethics out of the domain of the academy and courtroom and places it more fully in the daily lives of his followers.” (2)

D. A. Carson says, “The verb koinoi (‘makes [him] “unclean”’), here used (v.ll) for the first of thirteen times in the NT, literally means ‘to render common’; but because participation in what was common was for a practicing Jew to become ceremonially unclean, the customary NT meaning is very similar.” (3)

So Aron is asserting an uncharitable and unscholarly interpretation of a passage that he has been corrected on before (see his debate with Tyler Vela, during the cross-examination). It is also a blatant quote mine and he has never corrected himself on this.

Next, Aron cites Deuteronomy 22:23-24 and says this verse means you can kill a rape victim. Well, again, this is an uncharitable quote mine. Verses 25-27 tell of an account of a woman who is raped and is supposed to go free. Commentators have noted verses 23-24 are about a man and woman having an affair, not rape, as the Hebrew verbs are different. I’ll link to a video by an atheist who debunked this bad eisegesis.

Aron cites another Old Testament passage, Deuteronomy 13:6-10. Instead of addressing this, I’ll remind him I already addressed alleged Old Testament commands in my presentation during our debate. Remember this slide:Screen Shot 2019-09-03 at 10.08.56 AM.png

None of these commands are prescribed to Christians. Furthermore, this is a case of misreading scripture with modern eyes. Scholars note Levitical law and other ancient Near East (ANE) law codes are not modern law codes, but more likely treaties meant to teach judicial or moral wisdom. Here are some scholarly quotes to back this up:

Delbert Hillers says, “…there is no evidence that any collection of Near Eastern laws functioned as a written code that was applied by a strict method of exegesis to individual cases. As far as we can tell, these bodies of laws served educational purposes and gave expression to what was regarded as just in typical cases, but they left considerable latitude to local courts for determining the right in individual suits. They aided local courts without controlling them.” (4)

John Walton says, “The current view is that the collection of legal saying in the ancient Near Eastern documents constitutes expressions of legal wisdom assembled under the king’s sponsorship (and attributed to him) to provide evidence of his wisdom and justice… These are not laws that have been enacted, nor necessarily rulings that have actually been given. They are treatises on judicial wisdom.” (5)

J. Bottéro says, “In conclusion, we have here not a law code, nor a charter of a legal reform, but above all, in its own way, a treatise, with examples, on the exercise of judicial powers.” – Le code de Hammurabi, (6)

Bruce Wells says, “[The legal systems of the ANE] allowed the same infraction to be punished with different penalties. The wronged party often had the right to choose which penalty or penalties to impose on the offending party. A husband who had been wronged by pre-consummation sex plus deception thus had a range of penalties from which to choose.” (7)

So it is unlikely the ancient Israelites took these as we take modern law codes today. Aron hasn’t checked up on the scholarship regarding this topic and it shows. But either way, these verses are not prescribed to Christians, so Aron is just blatantly wrong claiming these verses lead to harmful effects in society. Furthermore, there is no study which empirically demonstrates these cherry-picked verses produce harmful effects. Thus, Aron’s claim that these verses lead to harmful effects is unverified, so that means he takes this all on faith that Christianity causes dangerous effects.

At 1:47, Aron says, “You dismissed all my examples as just Christians behaving badly, including my specific references to Jesus promoting slavery, among other dangerous ideas. Yet you now deny dismissing him right along with the rest of my list the way you definitely did.”

No, Aron, I addressed all this. Again, examples of Christians behaving badly in modern times is nothing but an attribution error, unless you have a direct study which shows (or at least finds a positive correlation) between negative behavior and certain Christian doctrines. You didn’t present any evidence to verify the attributions errors you kept making, and I addressed your claim that Jesus promoted bad behavior by pointing out the stipulations of the new covenant are to love one another (see slide and points above). The problem is that you are not even offering a rebuttal to my points, but instead pretending I never made a point, which is the real dodge going on here. If you don’t agree with my interpretation, offer a rebuttal. Don’t just pretend one doesn’t exist. That is what is dishonest.

At 2:02 Aron says, “You also denied that the Bible actually does endorse capital punishment for LGBTQ people.” Again, I addressed this in the debate and above in the blog. To recap, none of this is stipulated in the new covenant, and scholars note the Old Testament law is more didactic in teaching judicial wisdom via case law, not prescribing minimal sentences. This is getting repetitive. So from now on when Aron cites an Old Testament passage out of context, I’ll just ignore it and move on. Until he takes a more scholarly approach to this issue, there is no reason to engage with him on it, and he is just preaching to his audience. 

Also, he puts Romans 1:26-27 on the screen at this point, which doesn’t say “murder gays.” It literally says on the screen that Aron put up that God gave them over to their desires. So not only is Paul not commanding the murder of gays, he is telling us God lets them be (see a parallel in 1 Thess. 2:10-11). So that kind of challenges Aron’s point if God is just saying let them be. So Aron, did you even read the passage you are citing? 

Screen Shot 2019-09-03 at 10.17.12 AM copy.png

The next section makes me wonder if Aron even paid attention when I was speaking at our debate, or if he went back to check. At 2:28 he says, “You accused me of quote mining but cherry-picked a line out of Hebrews that directly contradicts what Jesus said in another verse that you yourself cited, where Jesus specified that we had better follow every jot and tittle of all those old Mosaic laws, because if we break even one of them we will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, and whoever practices every last one of those 613 Jewish commandments will be called great in heaven.”

Once again, we have another example of quote mining. I know, I am sure you are shocked, given what we have seen from Aron before. As I pointed out in the debate, Matthew 5:18 says, “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Notice how Aron just quote-mined by leaving out the last part of the verse. Again, see my slide on when all was accomplished:

Screen Shot 2019-09-03 at 10.08.56 AM.png

Jesus said it will pass away when all is fulfilled, and it was all fulfilled in John 19:28-30, which is why this passage doesn’t contradict Hebrews 8. Second, I will remind you Jesus was an oral rabbi and frequently spoke in hyperbole, as was the custom at the time. Jesus also said the point of the law was to point to Him (John 5:39). So to do the law is to follow Jesus, which is explained in detail in Romans 3, not to literally keep the Mosaic law in practice, because that is impossible. 

At 2:57, Aron says, “You said that I provided no empirical evidence that Christianity causes bad behavior, ignoring the list of historical atrocities that were endorsed and enforced by Christian clergy and driven by Christian conviction, earning the title of the bloodiest religion in history.” 

Wow, once again, where to begin. Did you notice the contradiction from what he said earlier? 

Before that, notice Aron’s source that Christianity is the bloodiest religion in history doesn’t come from a historian or a peer-reviewed paper, but an article in the Washington Times (not the Washington Post, mind you). Oddly enough, he forgot to note that in this video. The author of the article is Chris Ladd, who is just a pundit. He also doesn’t use the phrase “bloodiest religion in history”. Aron interpreted that from the brief article. Even worse, the article doesn’t really support Aron’s interpretation. Ladd writes, “No matter what religion teaches, some bloody-minded believers will twist it to justify their own dark urges. Religion does what people tell it to do. There is a clear connection between religion and violence – human beings.” Aron cites and misrepresents this short article as if it was fact, which really speaks to his bias and poor research (see this short booklet for more on the poor research Aron has done in the past).

Second, remember that Vox Day (7) went through “The Encyclopedia of Wars,” by Alan Axelrod and Charles Phillips and found that of the 1,723 wars waged over the course of human history, only 124 were religious in nature (6.98%). Subtract Islam and the total number of wars attributed to religion is 3.23%. So mathematically, Aron is way off target here (and also lacking studies which demonstrate Christianity causes violence). AronRa is clearly oblivious to the evidence. How can Christianity be the bloodiest religion in history if in the absence of Christianity, wars were even bloodier, the body count even higher and the atrocities even more cold-blooded? The Mongol conquest of Europe, for instance, killed 34 million people. The communist regimes of the 20th century massacred more than 100,000,000 of their own citizens. (8)

Moreover, William Cavanaugh in the Blackwell Companion to Religious Violence notes that even in wars quintessentially identified as religious, such as the 30-year war, divisions between warring factions were more frequently drawn along secular than religious lines.  So mathematically, Aron is way off target here. (9)

Third, once again, this is an attribution error or association fallacy. Aron is just citing examples by association and then assuming too much. To quote Aron, from earlier in his own video, “An association fallacy would be like asserting that some Christians are bad therefore Christianity is bad.” So by Aron’s own words, giving a list of “historical atrocities that were endorsed and enforced by Christian clergy” is an association fallacy and doesn’t show Christianity is bad. Again, you need peer-reviewed, multivariate studies to show Christianity is dangerous, and so far the overwhelming amount of research shows the opposite is true (we will get to these studies he cited below). Any example he cites (like the Mormon execution), by his own standard, is just an attribution error or an association fallacy. So I’ll skip over the rest of the times he does this since his own words came back to bite him.

At about 3:51, Aron cites a dissertation of Juan M. Thompson on the effects of religiosity on mental health. First of all, within the discussion section, Thompson does admit the correlations are weak. Second, without spending too much time on the limitations of this study, I want to remind Aron what I said in my presentation during the debate, “In fact, numerous studies show intrinsic religiosity does increase one’s overall quality of life and has been positively associated with increased ethical behavior and overall well-being. Now, there will always be exceptions to the rule. Some studies do show religiosity is associated with various negative effects. But by in large, the consensus in the peer-reviewed literature is intrinsic religiosity is not only not dangerous, but that it is associated with beneficial results in multiple ways, some studies even cite a causal relationship.”

I have already acknowledged there are some studies that do find a negative correlation with intrinsic religiosity. This is why I focused on meta-analyses, which take into account a multitude of studies that reveal a broad range of results. In fact, in my presentation, I cited two meta-analyses on mental health which have sections that note studies that find a negative correlation between religiosity and mental health. However, when you take in all the studies published on this topic, by and large, intrinsic religiosity is positively associated with better mental health. Aron has just cherry-picked one study instead of looking at all the data together. There is so much quote-mining and cherry-picking going on. He really should have taken the stack I offered him:

image1.jpeg

At 3:56, Aron says, “Regarding the studies you cited, you asked why I said they were a dodge? Because as I said, in our debate, what they showed was only that some isolated aspect of Christianity may not be necessarily dangerous if that belief is only intrinsic, meaning that it is only for its own sake, described as a framework of life which is fortunately nowadays usually interpreted only as being good people and ignoring much of what the Bible actually says to contrary, which you do.”

It is hard to imagine how many errors can pile up in one short section. Aron is at it again, just making up definitions and not providing sufficient sources. Nowhere is intrinsic religiosity defined as “a framework of life which is fortunately nowadays usually interpreted only as being good people and ignoring much of what the Bible actually says to the contrary, which you do.” This is just nonsense.

I’ll just cite from one of the meta-analyses I cited in my presentation:

“Persons with [an intrinsic religious] orientation find their master motive in religion. Other needs, strong as they may be, are regarded as of less ultimate significance, as they are, so far as possible, bought into harmony with the religious beliefs and prescriptions. Having embraced a creed the individual endeavors to internalize it and follow it fully. It is in this sense that he lives his religion. (Allport & Ross 1967, p. 434)” (10)

In other words, to be an intrinsically religious Christian means you embrace the creeds of Christianity fully. You don’t ignore parts of it. So my point in citing meta-analyses was never a dodge, and the only reason Aron thinks it was is that he doesn’t understand the terminology or what the studies say (because he refused to read them). Aron just cannot seem to fathom how good people can follow what the Bible says, and the evidence shows their pro-social behavior (as the meta-analyses I cited strongly imply) is tied to their religiosity. Perhaps, as I noted in the debate, his interpretation of select passages is fallacious, most Christians don’t agree with his fallacious interpretations, and the overwhelming amount of research shows intrinsic religiosity is positively associated with beneficial outcomes. See the slide below:

Screen Shot 2019-09-03 at 10.49.23 AM.png

Earlier in the video, Aron said this slide was an unworkable framework, which was my point. The arguments that he constantly puts forward are leaps in logic and cannot actually show Christianity is dangerous. The fact that he had to admit this in the opening lines of his video says more than he realizes. 

Next, when Aron says, “As I said in our debate, what they showed was only that some isolated aspects of Christianity may not be necessarily dangerous if that belief is only intrinsic.” This statement doesn’t make any sense once we understand the definition of intrinsic religiosity. As we noted about intrinsic religiosity is, “Having embraced a creed the individual endeavors to internalize it and follow it fully. It is in this sense that he lives his religion.” If the studies show many positive benefits of this, then it is not just isolated aspects, but living your religion to its fullness. That should have been obvious. 

At 4:30 Aron gets very close to asserting a conspiracy is at work. He says, “The reality is that the very concept of intrinsic religiosity was invented to counter a number of studies that showed a positive correlation with prejudice, meaning that the more religious one is, the more prejudiced they tend to be.”

Wow… So scientists in psychology and social science want to hide the truth that religion causes prejudice. So they got together and fabricated a difference via the I-E orientation scale to hide the fact that religion causes prejudice. Don’t creationists make the same claims about conspiracies in evolutionary biology? Those claims are laughable, and this is laughable for the very same reason. 

The I-E orientation scale is not a conspiracy to hide that fact that religion causes prejudice. Scientists were asking the same questions any rational person would ask: “Is religion, itself, causing the beneficial result, or is it something external, like community unity or social gatherings?” So researchers realized they needed to divide subjects into the different ways they are religious, and typically what you come across is intrinsic, extrinsic, and quest (fundamentalism is sometimes even separated out as a distinct category). 

Also, notice Aron doesn’t cite a source for this claim he made. He just asserts it as fact without verifying its truth. Until he actually shows that the I-E orientation scale is a conspiracy to hide the fact that religion causes prejudice, this claim needs to be rejected as nonsense. As Hitchens said:

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Also, one of the meta-analyses I cited had this to say: “Moreover, we found no relation between the endorsement of religious doctrine specific to the Christian faith and racial prejudice.”

Aron then follows up this with another line that doesn’t make sense. He says: “…because you admitted that Christianity really is dangerous when believers act on those beliefs extrinsically, meaning they use their religion as a means to an end. In other words, whenever religion does something to further its own agenda.”

This doesn’t make sense, probably because he still doesn’t understand what extrinsic religiosity means. Christianity cannot be extrinsically religious. Only people can be extrinsically religious. It doesn’t make sense to say extrinsic religiosity is when “religion does something to further its own agenda.” That is utter nonsense. People who are extrinsically religious use any religion to further their own agenda. It is not Christianity at that point.

Extrinsic religiosity is defined as:

“Persons with [an extrinsic religious] orientation are disposed to use religion for their own ends. The term is borrowed from axiology, to designate an interest that is held because it serves other, more ultimate interests. Extrinsic values are always instrumental and utilitarian. Persons with this orientation may find religion useful in a variety of ways–to provide security and solace, sociability and distraction, status and self-justification… The extrinsic type turns to God, but without turning away from the self. (Allport & Ross 1967, p. 434)” (10)

Again, people are extrinsically religious, not Christianity itself. Very rarely will you see social scientists ever say “extrinsic Christianity” and when they do they are using it as a label to describe groups of people, not Christianity, itself. So Aron is either lying or misunderstanding the terms. I never admitted Christianity can be dangerous when it is extrinsic because that doesn’t make sense. At this point, people need to realize this is not even my opinion against his. Aron is just getting basic facts and definitions wrong. I should not have to waste time correcting basic information. 

After this, Aron just continues with the same misunderstandings and says nonsensical things like, “…any extrinsic action taken by that religion,” or “…when your religion acts it is dangerous.” This doesn’t make sense because religions don’t act, people do. If you thought maybe Aron just mixed up his words, that is not likely, given he continues this throughout the rest of his video.

Ironically, at 6:00 Aron gives an analogy that actually shoots himself in the foot. He says, “your argument was similar to saying… that having a gun in your house isn’t dangerous just as long as no one is ever tempted to do anything with it.” 

Yeah, Aron, exactly. Guns are not dangerous, people are. Likewise, Christianity isn’t dangerous, people are, just like Christianity cannot be extrinsic or intrinsic, people are. Great analogy, thanks for making the point for me. 

Aron then cites a clip from the debate again, which I already responded to in my response video by citing my video on the theology of hell, so this was already addressed.

After this clip, Aron gets to actual studies that he either cherry-picked or probably didn’t read. Fortunately, I read them. At 6:44, the first one he cites, is a study titled, “Judgements About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds.

Aron says of this study, “And yes, there are peer-reviewed studies to prove what I said. For example, this study shows that non-religious children are more capable of distinguishing fact from fiction than religious children who are more susceptible to deceptive fantasies, just like I already predicted they would be. We didn’t really need a study to confirm what we already knew was obvious, right? And notice we’re also only talking about intrinsic religiosity here.”

I said before I quoted Aron that he probably didn’t read them (or he is lying), because the study never even says the word “intrinsic,” and you can verify that, Aron. It should be obvious to anyone who has read these types of studies that they would never include an I-E orientation scale because children are not capable of answering a questionnaire to determine their I-E orientation. 

In fact, Aron should not be putting so much weight on this study because researchers are aware of the limitation of studying children. To quote from “Studying Children in Context: Theories, Methods, and Ethics”:

“Studying children is a different and more problematic endeavor from studying adults, and studying young children is even more so. Physical, social, cognitive, and political distances between the adults and child make their relationship very different from adult relationships. A participant observer can never become a child. He remains a very definite and readily identifiable ‘other.’” (11)

This should also be obvious since the brains of children are nowhere near fully developed, so social scientists always take these types of studies with a grain of salt. Furthermore, I cannot find any indication that the results have been replicated, let alone a cross-cultural analysis. This paper also had very small sample sizes (66 in the first study and 33 in the second).

Moreover, Aron is not really getting at what the paper demonstrates. In a nutshell, the studies performed in the paper basically indicate children in religious homes have a broader concept of what can happen or what is possible, which would be expected since religious households would include the idea of an agent beyond the natural realm, whereas this would not be included in nonreligious households. The study does not say, as Aron says, that religious children are more “susceptible to deceptive fantasies.” He just made a conjecture.

To quote from the study directly:

“Thus, religious children are likely to see God as connected to their everyday lives and are prepared to view religious stories containing miracles as similar to realistic stories. They judge the characters in those stories to be real, and they frequently appeal to God in justifying those categorizations. Thus, for these children, God is part of the real world and stories that refer to God can properly be regarded as realistic…The findings are, however, consistent with the third explanation, namely that religious children have a broader conception of what can actually happen. Scrutiny of children’s justifications lends support to this conclusion.” (page 21)

Since Aron knows in his heart that religion is wrong, we can see where his conjecture comes from. In reality, the study only demonstrates the obvious, that religious subjects have a broader range of what is considered possible than nonreligious subjects. In the paper, the authors note religious children are still able to recognize fantasy. For example, they identified Snow White as fantasy and George Washington as real. This study does not prove what Aron thinks, and the fact that he used the word “prove” shows he doesn’t understand the implications of studies like this. They never prove anything, but instead, lend credence to one theory or another. 

Furthermore, let me remind Aron what I said in our debate which shows us he is cherry-picking studies: “In fact, numerous studies show intrinsic religiosity does increase one’s overall quality of life and has been positively associated with increased ethical behavior and overall well-being. Now, there will always be exceptions to the rule. Some studies do show religiosity is associated with various negative effects. But by in large, the consensus in the peer-reviewed literature is intrinsic religiosity is not only not dangerous, but that it is associated with beneficial results in multiple ways, some studies even cite a causal relationship.”

The next study Aron cites really doesn’t help his case. The title is, “Mixed Blessing: The Beneficial and Detrimental Effects of Religion on Child Development among Third-Graders”.

Aron says, “Another study published in the journal of “Religions” shows that there can be beneficial effects to any religion if the whole family or community shares that same belief and don’t confront other beliefs, in which case all those advantages would be lost, and this again is intrinsic religiosity.”

This is, yet again, another mischaracterization of what the study shows. Like the previous, the study never mentions intrinsic religiosity, so I doubt Aron read it, or he is lying about it. It is focusing on third graders, as you can see from the title behind him, so the same limitations apply, as I mentioned above.

Furthermore, let me just quote directly from the study so you can see for yourself how Aron is mischaracterizing it. I’ll include a hyperlink here so you can read the full context if you want:

“More frequent parent–child discussions of religion significantly bolstered standardized test scores for reading, thereby suggesting that such conversations—perhaps practiced as scripture study or religious devotionals within the home—might enhance children’s literacy. Also, some forms of parental religiosity (fathers’ attendance and both spouses attending semiregularly or frequently) produced salutary effects on children’s approaches to learning as rated by teachers. Therefore, children’s orientations to learning and their achievement on tests are affected somewhat differently by parental religiosity… the psychological adjustment, social competence, and academic performance of somewhat older children is likely subject to a mix of religious factors (e.g., parents’ attendance) and nonreligious factors (e.g., teachers, peers)… 

Parental religiosity yields salutary effects on a number of child development outcomes related to psychological adjustment (e.g., self-control) and social competence (e.g., interpersonal skills). And it can also bolster children’s orientations toward learning. However, parental religiosity can also undermine children’s academic development in reading, math, and science. In this way, parental religiosity is a mixed blessing in the lives of developing children. Moreover, within the household religious environment, we found that parent–child discussions of religion exhibited generally beneficial effects for developing children with respect to their interpersonal skills and reading scores but that spousal arguments about religion were generally ineffectual (producing null results). Thus, when considering developmental trajectories over time, different facets of the household religious environment yield distinctive effects. In short, this study renders a more complicated portrait concerning the effects of parental and household religion in the lives of young children, such that several salutary outcomes on psychological and social measures are observed alongside a series of mostly adverse effects on academic performance measures.” (pages 15-16)

The study never says intrinsic religiosity or Christian doctrine can affect a child’s development. After all, I already cited a meta-analysis which shows religion can have positive effects on GPA scores of children. What this study actually shows is that parental activities and how parents handle their religious disagreements or concerns can have a negative effect on their children. Who would disagree that parental arguments can have a negative impact on their children? Aron’s summary is a pretty bad misrepresentation. No wonder he didn’t directly quote from it. 

After this, Aron cites studies on prayer failing to work, as if we haven’t heard this straw man before. Prayer is not a magical formula that God has to answer to. When atheists make this argument, it shows they are not even trying. I’ll just link to a video which addresses this nonsense and remind Aron that I already cited a meta-analysis which did show religiosity aided the health of cancer patients. So more cherry-picking from Aron.

After this, Aron continues to demonstrate his lack of knowledge on this subject by talking of “extrinsic Christianity,” which as I explained above, is not a thing (unless you are describing groups of people, not a religion). That would be like saying I have a happy house. The adjective cannot coherently explain the noun.

At 8:21 Aron says, “You showed an image of Steven Anderson, leader of the Independent Fundamental Baptists, who advocates killing disobedient children as the Bible says we should. You said it would not be a ‘no true Scotsman fallacy’ for you to dismiss such religious extremists who interpreted scripture differently from the way that you do, but no, you can say they are bad Christians and I’ll agree with you since they’re bad people, but you can’t say that they’re not truly Christian as if they’re not Christian at all.”

Since I already addressed this and Aron doesn’t seem to understand the problem with his argument. I’ll repeat what I said in my earlier video response. Perhaps if he reads it he will grasp the double standard he is setting up:

“The no true Scotsman fallacy is meant to be used for arguments that dismiss members of a group over arbitrary reasons. Take one of the original examples: you are only a true Scotsman if you eat your porridge a certain way. But the obvious problem is such an act is arbitrary to what it means to be a Scotsman. However, if someone is born in Germany, has no Scottish heritage, and pretends they are a Scotsman, it is not a fallacy to say they aren’t, because you are not dismissing their claim on arbitrary reasons, but on sufficient reasons. That should be obvious. And likewise, if someone claims to be a Christian and doesn’t follow core doctrines of what it means to be a Christian, it is not a fallacy to point out they are only a Christian in name. As I was trying to explain to you at the end of the cross-examination if a self-proclaimed humanist went around killing religious people in the name of humanism you would obviously say they were not a real humanist, and rightly so because they are doing things that go against the core tenants of humanism. Why doesn’t the same logic apply when it is the other side?”

If Aron can dismiss self-proclaimed humanists who would not hold to core doctrines of humanism, I can, and do, easily dismiss Steve Anderson as a Christian since he advocates the opposite of what Jesus advocates (John 15:12).

Next, we get to the utter lie from Aron that initially convinced me to write this response. This is why I have no more respect for him. At 9:17 he begins by paraphrasing me, “…nowhere in the Bible does it say that children will go to hell if they don’t believe, but even if that is not in the Bible, you know that Christianity teaches that anyway and you told my wife that you even believe that yourself. So your hypocrisy is showing.”

Wow, what lie from the mouth of Aron, himself. This is absolutely incorrect, and you can verify that. As I pointed out in my video response, I made a video on hell, where I preach against that and pointed out the only people who are in hell are the people who want to be there. But it appears Aron doesn’t like to fact-check (as we have seen from this video already). He would rather just take hearsay on faith. Ironic. Aron, your hypocrisy is showing. 

I don’t know what your wife thinks she heard, but you, of all people, should know you have to verify that claim, instead of just taking her word on faith. Interestingly enough, you just said yourself that I told you that the belief that children go to hell is not in the Bible. So you paraphrased me, then take on faith what your wife thinks she heard (she probably just didn’t understand what I was saying), which completely contradicts how you just paraphrased what I said. You didn’t see the problem?

At 9:46 Aron says, “You say that assuming a soul without evidence is justified because of your unwarranted assumption that it just not part of nature”.

It should be obvious I never said this (more lies from Aron) and you can verify that by looking at my video response. I do believe there is a soul because of evidence, and I did a whole series on it. 

A lot of what follows is more unsupported assertions that I don’t care to address. At 11:10 Aron once again quote mines the Bible, “you cite in your vacuous attack a passage to love thy neighbor, which is a reference to community unity which you said was extrinsic, not intrinsic, and I think you are mistaken about that, but the verse you referred to was a repeated line that actually means, or actually meant originally, love your fellow Jew as yourself, which contradicts what Jesus said in Matthew 10 about how you are supposed to hate yourself and your whole family.”

It is hard to imagine how anyone can be this bad at reading the Bible. First, at this point, you should be able to note the obvious flaw in that he still doesn’t understand what extrinsic and intrinsic mean.

Second, Aron is quote mining the Old Testament and the New Testament this time. The Old Testament says to treat the foreigner as a native-born Jew (Leviticus 19:34) and to love them (Deuteronomy 10:19). In the New Testament, Jesus says to love your enemies (Matthew 5:43) and Paul says all people are equal (Galatians 2:28). Jesus also gave the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is about how your neighbor is the one who cares for you, regardless of ethnicity (Luke 10:25-37).

Third, Matthew 10 doesn’t say to hate yourself or your whole family. I think he meant Luke 14, which is obvious hyperbole. Aron’s research is very poor. Darrel Bock says, “The call to ‘hate’ is not literal but rhetorical” (Denny 1909–10). “Otherwise, Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor as oneself as a summation of what God desires makes no sense (Luke 10:25-37). The call to hate simply means to ‘love less’ (Gen. 29:30-31); Deut. 21:15-17; Judg. 14:16). The image is strong, but it is not a call to be insensitive or to leave all feeling behind…. This saying needs to be set in the context of it first-century setting” (12).

I’ll link to a video where this is explained more.

After this, Aron quote-mines the Bible again, ignoring Jesus’ command to preach the gospel to all nations (Luke 14:23, Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:7-8). It is hard to imagine how he can quote mine this much and never check the scholarly literature. 

Aron then gets mad that I called out his argument as being scientism, even though I never said he holds to scientism. What I actually said in my first response was, “These are elements of scientism seeping into Aron’s reasoning, even though he denies he holds to scientism. Science doesn’t explain everything, like philosophy of science.” Ironically, Aron says I am misrepresenting him. I never could have imagined a video could contain so much projection. 

Aron then gets mad that I called him a liar, and I don’t care. As you can see from this blog post, his newest video is filled with more lies (like my views on hell). He says, “Christians often accuse me of lying every time they disagree with me.” Aron, this is not about disagreement. I called you a liar because you lied about what I said, put words in my mouth, and said I held to views I never have advocated. That is text-book lying. Get over it.

There is so much arrogance in what follows after this it is hardly worth addressing. Aron claims he has a special psychological place above religious people in terms of biases. However, no one can be as unbiased as he likes to pretend he is, and there are studies which show this. Other than noting it here, I am just going to skip ahead to facts instead of his impossible views about his psyche.

At 15:10, we finally get to what this whole dispute is about. Yes, it took him that long to get there. He says, “Now, on the definition of faith, this is where we actually agree, though you somehow don’t understand or didn’t realize that. You admitted that the common mainstream definition that I use for the word ‘faith’ in English is not incorrect.”

Now Aron said I should only accuse people of lying when they actually are, so here it goes: Aron you are lying, again. You are getting really bad at this. I never said the definition you use is the common mainstream definition. What I actually said in my first response was “I never asked what faith means, because in English that can have different meanings.” That doesn’t implicitly or directly mean the obscure definition you made up (see slide below) is mainstream:

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Aron says he is justified in saying that religious faith is not based on scientific evidence. Tyler Vela already tried to point out the fallacious reasoning of his claim, because what he means by scientific evidence is testable or direct empirical evidence of God, which is a category error because God is not a natural substance that one can perform tests on. Plus, this is not what science is – this is just one aspect or way science can operate. I’ll link to a lecture on philosophy of science because Aron’s odd view of science would be laughed at by professional philosophers of science. In reality, theists never claimed there was scientific evidence for God, as Aron erroneously defined it. As I have argued in my videos, there is good evidence within the realm of science to make inferences to the best explanation of theism. So if we understand that science is much broader than Aron likes to pretend, I would not say there is no scientific evidence for God’s existence. If we use Aron’s narrow view of science, then he would be correct. That is where the equivocation fallacy comes in. In reality, I have several videos where I argued there is plenty of evidence within different fields of science to infer that theism is the best explanation. 

At 15:32, Aron says, “You said faith is not about rational inquiry. It’s an act of volition, it’s a confidence or loyalty, and I agree completely.”

I am shocked because Aron has never implied this (as far as I have seen) up to this point. Let me just give some different ways (with links) to how he as described faith in the past. 

Take a look at this conversation back from 2014, starting at 11:35. Aron says, “I am not just an atheist, I am also an a-pist-avist. Now an a-pist-avist is one who rejects faith as being the most dishonest position that is possible to have, and it doesn’t matter what source you look at to look it up. If you compare different definitions from scriptural references, form hymns, from sermons of theologians, past and present, so forth, you’re going to get a consensus definition. There is a second definition that exists only in the dictionary, which is a secure confidence in a person, place, or thing and the value or the trustworthiness of the thing, but that definition appears only in the dictionary, it doesn’t appear in the religious references. In the religious references, faith is a belief you assume, a secure conviction, that is assumed without reason and is defended against all reason.”

Later in the conservation at 44:04, Aron says, “My favorite definition of that would be an unreasonable conviction that is assumed without reason and defended against all reason. But the one you’re going to find in most sources, the consensus is, that it is a stoic conviction that is assumed without evidence and is independent of evidence, and defended against all evidence.”

First of all, there is no evidence of any of these definitions Aron claims, which is probably why he is pretending this is the consensus but not backing it up with any actual sources we can check up on. I have already provided sources in my last response that faith (pistis) in the New Testament is just a synonym of confidence, loyalty, or trust.

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But notice the impression Aron gave is that he is an a-pist-avist, as he defined elsewhere, as one without pistis. The obvious impression is Aron is implying pistis is faith without reason. 

Now that was 5 years ago. Perhaps he changed his mind. But remember what he said in his first response at 28:04, “Contrary to what my critics want to believe, faith is not simply a synonym of trust. It takes both a prefix and a suffix to turn faith into trust. Faith is a complete trust that is not based on evidence.” 

So we can see the same idea. He strongly implies the word for faith is not a synonym of trust, which is absurd. Maybe, the problem is how Aron words this. What he needs to say (as he dogmatically believes) is that a Christian’s confidence (pistis) in the truth of Christianity is a faith not based on evidence. Because in several of his past talks he keeps saying “faith is an unreasonable conviction that is assumed without reason and is defended against all reason.” Nowhere is the word faith defined this way, which is the problem. So he needs to stop saying that, and just say what he means – that he believes a Christian’s confidence (pistis) in the truth of Christianity is a faith not based on evidence. If Aron would have just said this instead of going around for years implying faith is not a basic synonym for trust, we would never have had this argument. 

Getting back to Aron’s main video I am responding to, if he finally accepts faith is an act of volition, a confidence or loyalty, then maybe we have finally broken through (although this seems to change later in the video), or at least he realizes the way he has been wording it in the past lead to misunderstanding or confusion. 

After this, Aron pretends he already gave definitions by scholars who use the definition that he uses, which is just false. None of the people he cited said, “faith is an unreasonable conviction that is assumed without reason and is defended against all reason.” Also, with regards to the definitions Aron keeps putting on the screen, why is it that there are no proper references? I would love to read, for example, the context of what Alister McGrath wrote to see if he is really implying that faith “is an unreasonable conviction that is assumed without reason and is defended against all reason.” Because on page 84 of his book, “Faith and Creeds,” he points out faith is just trusting in God. (13)

Given how much we have seen Aron quote mine the Bible, I wonder if the references have context to help explain what they mean more in-depth. And even if they don’t, they are not Greek scholars and we have plenty of evidence to show faith is not defined biblically as an “unreasonable conviction that is assumed without reason and is defended against all reason.” 

 

Conversation with Dan Barker

So after this, Aron has two conversations, first with atheist activist Dan Barker, who has a degree in religion from Azusa Pacific University. Despite what Aron says in the video description underneath his video, Barker is not a Koine Greek scholar and Barker even admits that (21:25). A Greek scholar would be someone fluent in the ancient languages, not someone who just has a degree in religion. This is why I cited people like Craig Keener, who are fluent in Koine Greek and routinely translate when working on commentaries. 

The first thing Barker says at 17:41 is, “I think what these people are asking for when they’re asking for an expert – they’re asking for the expert who agrees with them.”

This is so ironic because this is what Aron is doing. He went out and found people with degrees who already agree with him. So, Aron, your hypocrisy is showing. Why dismiss all the references to scholarly sources I provided?

Also remember, I am not asking for a theologian. Remember, originally I was just asking for a Koine Greek scholar who defined pistis as Aron does. Once we establish that, by pistis, the biblical authors never mean an “unreasonable conviction that is assumed without reason and is defended against all reason,” then we can move on to if Christians have sufficient evidence. Remember, that was the main point of disagreement. If all Aron said was, “pistis just means loyalty or trust but I don’t think Christians have a good trust in their God,” none of this would have happened.

After this, Barker shows us why he is not an expert on this topic by going to Hebrews 11 and claiming it says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.”

This is the problem – the word “hypostasis” is never defined as substance. This comes from the KJV, which has several translational errors. The word more or less means confidence, assurance or nature. Again, I addressed this before and I’ll link to a video where Michael S. Heiser addresses this as well. Now Heiser is not a Greek scholar, but he relies on other scholars in this talk to explain what is going on in Hebrews 11, which is what Barker and Aron Ra should do.

Let’s remember Barker is the guy who, when debating New Testament scholar James White, quoted Justin Martyr to claim Jesus was based on pagan deities. Then in the cross-examination, White asks Barker if he had read the first apology of Justin and Barker said he had not. Wonderful research from Dan Barker.

Also, Barker says there are several definitions of pistis, which I agree with. However, never once is it used in the New Testament or Greek literature to mean “an unreasonable conviction that is assumed without reason and is defended against all reason.” That was my point. There is not much more here worth addressing. 

 

Conversation with Dr. Joshua Bowen

Next up, Aron has a conversation with Dr. Joshua Bowen, again, not specifically a Koine Greek scholar. He is a well-trained Assyriologist, but he at least does have knowledge of the Koine Greek language. 

Now this conversation left me puzzled as to how it helped Aron’s case. Let me remind you our chief complaint with Aron is that he is not properly defining the word pistis, or what the New Testament authors mean when they use the word. It never means, “an unreasonable conviction that is assumed without reason and is defended against all reason.” I never hear Dr. Bowen confirm or remotely imply this is the correct way to understand pistis in the New Testament. In fact, he uses great examples of what pistis means in the New Testament, that, not only would I use, but imply pistis is not based on no evidence or is a forced belief. Maybe Dr. Bowen can point this out to me, but I don’t see how he helps Aron’s case. 

For example, at around 34:30 he gives a great analogy that faith is like sitting in a chair you never sat in. That fits exactly with what I have been trying to say. You may have faith the chair will hold you up, but any rational person would use their intellect or prior experience to reason the chair is probably trustworthy. You don’t just jump in without reason and defend the chair against all reason.

After this, Dr. Bowen talks about Abraham and others who believed or had faith in God and the future promises he made. These examples come up in Hebrews. However, God never asked these people to believe without evidence. The stories include the evidence that they were visited by a deity and they were told to trust him. That was the evidence they were given and then asked to believe. 

Let me give a similar analogy I have often used. Imagine you are married to someone in the CIA, and they contact you to tell you they are still alive, but the news is going to report that they died in a secret mission. So you have been given the evidence or the assurance they are alive. Yet the news stories seem very convincing, and they even show what appears to be the very real dead body of your spouse.

So are you denying evidence over faith in your spouse, or do you have the testimony of your spouse as evidence to overcome other things that would indicate the opposite is true? The Faith of Abraham (and the rest of the examples in Hebrews 11, as well 2 Peter 3) fit in with this same idea. They walked and talked with God, as Dr. Bowen said (if the stories are true), and that gave them good reasons to trust or place their faith in God. Again, I fail to see how Dr. Bowen helps Aron’s case. He is using examples and analogies similar to what I have used in my video on faith to try and explain this. 

Now after this, the conversation gets more philosophical because Dr. Bowen starts to talk more about the reasons Christians place their faith in Christ, which again goes back to what I said in my first response. You could say our reasons or the evidence we provide is not sufficient to place faith in Christ, but it is clear the Biblical authors never encourage faith blindly, but on reason or pieces of evidence offered, which I explained in detail in my video. 

Dr. Bowen suggests that what we Christians use to place our faith in Christ is subjective. This is why I said the conversation becomes more philosophical. Now, first off, the Bible never says to believe because of subjective experience. In fact, we can see the opposite (John 14:11; Acts 13:30-31; 17:31; Exodus 9:14). We are called to believe in the evidence provided and to follow the example of men who believed on the evidence provided to them. So my problem is if Dr. Bowen is correct, where is the passage where the Bible says believe on subjectivity? We cannot cherry-pick passages out and ignore other parts where believers are encouraged to believe based on evidence. Again, hopefully, he can comment below and clarify.

Remember Acts 17:11, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” So these Jews were nobler for fact-checking Paul and verifying if his words aligned with what was already taught.

Second, are we not allowed to believe because of evidence outside of our own subjectively? That is what I do on my channel: offer the evidence for the truth of Christianity. Never once have I needed to bring in personal experiences. So why can’t my faith be based on that? Again, you may think it is insufficient, but it is not my own personal experiences of the divine.

Oddly enough, in this conversation, Aron says at 41:30, “the root meaning of pistis can be summed up as convincing or persuasion via force. That forced trust, forced belief is the meaning of pistis.”

Sigh*

No… And remember Aron said earlier in his video, “You said faith is not about rational inquiry. It’s an act of volition, it’s a confidence or loyalty and I agree completely,” but now he is saying it is forced trust. He is adding “forced” into the word when that is not the case. 

This is the problem, Aron, and why we have to keep calling you out on this. You said you understand pistis just means confidence or loyalty, but then, in the same video, you change that to say it means “forced trust”. So which is it? The truth is that pistis just means trust or faith, not forced trust or forced faith. Aron says he was researching this but doesn’t give a source for this definition of “forced trust,” so I guess we have to take his word on this.

After this, Dr. Bowen gives a great analogy to explain faith, and I approve entirely (again, I’m not sure how this is helping Aron’s case). He says to picture a boy on a ledge and his father is seven feet below on the ground and tells his son to jump. The boy has to take a leap of faith. But realize what the analogy is saying. My question for Dr. Bowen and Aron is: does the boy jump without evidence? Of course not. He can see his father and he can draw on past experience that his father loves him and wants to catch him. Now does the boy know for sure that his father will catch him? Also, no. But he probably would have good reasons to trust his father, which is the point of Christianity. It is not “forced trust.” We argue there is sufficient evidence to trust God and take the leap, just like with the analogy.

There is not much more worth addressing here that I have not already addressed. I want to remind people, I do have scientific evidence that leads to theism. I just reject Aron’s definition of what constitutes as scientific evidence. Scientific evidence is, but is also beyond, what is empirical and testable. When you study philosophy of science and the differences between degenerate and progressive research programs, you understand scientific evidence also relies on certain criteria, like parsimony, explanatory scope, and explanatory power. This old idea, that science is just what you can see or test, has been rejected now. It is much more complicated. 

So what I argue is that we have plenty of evidence to make the inference to the best explanation that God exists. This is what I present: 

https://inspiringphilosophy.org/the-digital-physic-argument-for-gods-existence/

https://inspiringphilosophy.org/the-cosmic-conscious-argument/

https://inspiringphilosophy.org/the-moral-argument/

https://inspiringphilosophy.org/defending-christianity/

https://inspiringphilosophy.org/the-resurrection-of-jesus/

Tyler Vela tried to explain the confusion and the different standards in his long conversation with Aron but I don’t think anything got through. 

The last point worth addressing is a peculiar point Dr. Bowen makes at the end. He says, “Christians, you do a disservice to put down faith like this. That’s how this comes across to me. This is my opinion. When you try to minimize faith and say, ‘no, no, no, you get tons of evidence with faith. That’s the whole point, you get all this evidence.’ I think that is doing it a disservice. You have evidence of the fidelity of the object of your faith. The thing that’s allowing you to move forward, but the things that you’re believing in, the promises that are being given are things that you can’t see and I think you do it a disservice to downplay that because I think that’s actually really beautiful…”

This doesn’t make sense, because Dr. Bowen doesn’t have faith in Christ. This is like if Dr. Bowen said, “here is this beautiful pie, it’s so wonderful, but I wouldn’t trust that on my plate.” Who is going to eat that pie? I would not place my faith in Christ if there wasn’t enough evidence as the New Testament teaches (John 14:11; Acts 13:30-31; 17:31), and I have a whole channel where I present the evidence that Christian theism is the best explanation. So in response, I will simply say I am not going to downplay the evidence my faith is based on because that would be not beautiful or rational. 

In conclusion, as much as Aron wants to go on about how there is no evidence, he is only preaching to his audience, because we keep presenting the evidence to make the rational inference to theism. If we are wrong, the challenge is to find a better explanation of the data we present. From his video as a whole, Aron’s research is subpar and there is no excuse for his constant cherry-picking of the facts. I’ll leave with the words of atheist Tim O’Neill, who wrote a response to Aron on his misunderstandings of history:

“So the issue is not just that [Aron Ra] is terrible at history and believes many stupid and erroneous things. It is not even that he is a lazy researcher and poor thinker who does not bother to check things that he finds appealing. It is that he peddles this gibberish to an equally uncritical audience of thousands and they lap it up like the worst kind of fundamentalist fanatics. ‘Aron Ra’ is the problem of New Atheist bad history, embodied.”

 

 

Notes:

1. Black, Alan, et al. Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: 4 Views. Nashville, TN, 2008.

2. “The Gospel of Matthew: a Socio-Rhetorical Commentary.” The Gospel of Matthew: a Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, by Craig S. Keener, William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2009, p. 412.

3. “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke: with the New International Version of the Holy Bible.” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke: with the New International Version of the Holy Bible, by Frank Ely Gaebelein and J. D. Douglas, Zondervan Pub. House, 1984, p. 350.

4. “Covenant: the History of a Biblical Idea.” Covenant: the History of a Biblical Idea, by Delbert Roy. Hillers, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994, pp. 88–89.

5. “The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority.” The Lost World of Scripture: Ancient Literary Culture and Biblical Authority, by John H. Walton and D. Brent Sandy, IVP Academic, 2013, p. 218.

5. Bottéro, Jean. Le Code De Hammurabi . Ed. De L’Accueil, 1967, p. 167

6. Wells, Bruce. “Sex, Lies, and Virginal Rape: The Slandered Bride and False Accusation in Deuteronomy.” Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 124, no. 1, 2005, p. 41., doi:10.2307/30040990.

7. “The War Delusion.” The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, by Vox Day, BenBella Books, 2014, pp. 97–112.

8. Phillips, Charles, and Alan Axelrod. Encyclopedia of Wars. Facts On File, 2005.

9. Cavanaugh, William T. “The Myth of Religious Violence.” The Blackwell Companion to Religion and Violence, by Andrew R. Murphy, Wiley-Blackwell, 2011, pp. 23–34.

10. Trimble, Douglas E. “The Religious Orientation Scale: Review and Meta-Analysis of Social Desirability Effects.” Educational and Psychological Measurement, vol. 57, no. 6, Dec. 1997, pp. 970–986, doi:10.1177/0013164497057006007.

11. “Studying Children in Context: Theories, Methods, and Ethics.” Studying Children in Context: Theories, Methods, and Ethics, by M. Elizabeth. Graue et al., Sage Publications, 2001, pp. 95–96.

12. “Luke: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.” Luke: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, by Darrell L. Bock, Baker Books, 1994, pp. 1284–1285.

13. “Faith and Creeds: a Guide for Study and Devotion.” Faith and Creeds: a Guide for Study and Devotion, by Alister E. McGrath, Westminster John Knox Press, 2013, p. 84.

Jackson Wheat’s biological Shenanigans

Estimated Reading Time: 23 Minutes

Recently Jackson Wheat decided to respond to my 40-minute video on biological structuralism and argue against the idea of structuralist evolution in favor of functionalist evolution (Neo-Darwinism). Before I get started I want to note I support Jackson’s work in addressing the claims of young-earth creationists. So I hope he doesn’t take this rebuttal personally. 

The reason I note this is because many of the objections he brought against structuralism were not well thought out, and I don’t think he really understands what structuralism truly is (he only seems to gather the gist of it). Most saddening is he didn’t even respond to most of the evidence I presented and misrepresented my claims in a lot of ways. From reading Stephen Jay Gould (after he became a structuralist) and Michael Denton I actually already expected some of these objections to come eventually from opponents, so nothing caught me off guard. So let’s dive into his arguments. 

The first part of the video is simply an explanation of what structuralist believe. His explanation is okay and I am not going to get nit-picky about specifics here and there. However, at 3:27 Jackson, says:

“However, since the features of the human form are the results of incremental modifications that were compiled over many millions of years of evolution it’s unlikely that another life-form would follow the exact same evolutionary route.”

I need to stop here because the errors are piling up so quickly. I know Jackson is addressing specifically the idea of a dinosaur-like human species, but he seems to conflate this with structuralist claims, so I would like to clarify what structuralism states before moving on. First, neither structuralists or functionalists deny evolution results from a series of incremental modifications over millions of years. The question is what are the driving forces of these modifications. This point doesn’t favor functionalism in any way.

Second, structuralists do not say other life forms or any life for has to follow the same route. This is just not true by any standard. In fact, I spent a large chunk of my video arguing for convergent evolution as evidence of structuralism. Convergent evolution, by definition, would mean that different species take different routes and still arrive at very similar forms. Structuralists don’t even say species have to arrive at the exact same structures, only that species tend to arrive at very similar structural plans. This is what I mean about Jackson not understanding the claims of structuralism. He presents something we never claimed was the case.

Third, this brings up the other issue I raised in the beginning. Jackson has simply ignored data I already covered at his convenience. In my video, I covered a study that contradicts this idea. The authors argue that we can predict aliens (if they exist) to follow similar patterns given similar natural constraints. Let me just quote from abstract, “Given aliens undergo natural selection we can say something about their evolution. In particular, we can say something about how complexity will arise in space. Complexity has increased on the Earth as a result of a handful of events, known as the major transitions in individuality. Major transitions occur when groups of individuals come together to form a new higher level of the individual, such as when single-celled organisms evolved into multicellular organisms. Both theory and empirical data suggest that extreme conditions are required for major transitions to occur. We suggest that major transitions are likely to be the route to complexity on other planets, and that we should expect them to have been favoured by similarly restrictive conditions. Thus, we can make specific predictions about the biological makeup of complex aliens.” (1)

So we would except other life forms to have taken similar routes (not the exact same evolutionary route as Jackson says). It is also not like I was arguing this without evidence to support it. As we will see throughout his video, Jackson offers very little evidence to favor functionalism and ignore a large portion of the evidence I presented in favor of structuralism. 

Next at 4:25, Jackson seems to think part of my case for structuralism was the existence of intelligent organisms which implies “the existence of a platonic universe of ideal forms.” This is just not true at all. The existence of intelligent organisms was never used as evidence of structuralism in my video. My main arguments for structuralism were self-assembly processes, convergent evolution, and evo-devo research. I have no clue why Jackson noted the first two but ignored the third area.

The only reason I brought up intelligent organisms was to note a structuralist account of evolution can better explain why intelligence arises over functions accounts relying on contingent histories and chance genetic mutations. This is pretty clear in my video. How on earth Jackson could confuse this is beyond me.

Also, I actually don’t believe in a platonic world any more than Stephen Jay Gould does. I am actually more of a scholastic realist, but I am not nailed down to a particular view. If you notice in my video, the only time the word “platonic” comes up is when it is in quotes. Most of when it is quoted platonism is only used as an analogous way to explain the structuralist argument. For example, remember this quote from Stephen Jay Gould, “I worked piecemeal, producing a set of separate and continually accreting revisionary items along each of the branches of Darwinian central logic, until I realized that a “Platonic” something “up there” in idealogical space could coordinate all these critiques and fascinations into a revised general theory with a retained Darwinian base.” (2)

Obviously, Gould is not a platonist. He is using platonist terminology to explain what he is getting at and that is the only way I would use it as well.

Next, Jackson tries to tackle my evidence for structuralism from convergence, and once again, demonstrates he doesn’t understand structuralism. I will suggest he only shoots himself in the foot. I am going to put the full quote up because, in a way, he makes the argument for me:

“Molecules do self-organize and interact with each other, governed by physical laws and convergent evolution really does happen quite a lot. When organisms enter similar environments they tend to converge on similar forms. For example, prehensile tails have evolved repeatedly in mammals, such as in platyrrhines, opossums and new world porcupines. Now did they evolve their features because their environments are similar, sure, prehensile tails have an adaptive value in an arboreal environment. When you live in a tree it’s helpful to have grasping appendages for keeping yourself from tumbling to the forest floor. This very same argument can be made for every example of convergence that IP shows. The convergent traits have adaptive value in their particular environments. Thus, his numerous examples structuralist interpretation at all.”

What he has just said could have been argued by a structuralist, almost word for word, yet he claims this does not favor structuralism. Why would structuralists be harmed by the idea of organisms adapting to new environments? It is an odd claim for Jackson to make, especially since he forgets that later in his own video he references Edward T. Oakes (from my video) speaking in a colloquial sense of structuralist reliance on environmental constraints. So how does he not realize structuralists predict this?

Remember that one of the core tenants of structuralism is that nature constrains organisms through environmental factors to bring about certain structures, which is why we see so much convergence. We are not claiming some mystical platonic realm is causing convergence in evolution, it is obviously because nature brings about similar environments, which create similar constraints, which brings about similar forms and structures. This should have been obvious. Jackson has only succeeded in explaining environmental mechanisms that structuralist argue for, yet claims this is not evidence for structuralism. Once again, he demonstrates he doesn’t understand structuralist claims. If the environment constraints organism so certain forms come about I see nothing to object to from a structuralist perspective. Nature constraints and brings about similar structures. To quote Stephen Jay Gould, “They write (p. 167): “Given evolution by random drift as a null model, natural selection now becomes a constraint!” Yes, and appropriately so—with no exclamation point needed to register surprise.” (3)

Now here is the important point, because a lot of what I said a functionalist would accept and might be left scratching their head wondering where the disagreement is. This is because structuralism is technically not opposed to functionalism, we simply say functionalism is incomplete and doesn’t follow its own logic. I agree with PZ Myers at the end of Jackson’s video that natural selection works in conjunction with structuralist accounts of evolution. In fact, Stephen Jay Gould has a whole chapter in his book, “The Structure of Evolutionary Theory,” on this very topic where he explains this; titled, “Chapter 10: The Integration of Constraint and Adaptation (Structure and Function) in Ontogeny and Phylogeny: Historical Constraints and the Evolution of Development.” 

Structuralists don’t deny the role of natural selection and adaptations. Gould’s point is functionalists need to simply follow their arguments to their logical conclusions. If organisms, through adaptation, are being constrained by internal genes and environmental factors then the environment (ecological niches) is fine-tuning organisms and causing repeating structures to form. Again, and I cannot stress this enough, structuralist accept adaptive changes, and natural selection, we just say that is an incomplete description of what drives evolution and we need to look at the big picture and accept the role of internal and external constraints driving evolution. To quote Gould again:

“In short, and to summarize these few pages of argument in a paragraph, orthodox Darwinians have not balked at negative constructions of constraint as limits and impediments to the power of natural selection in certain definable situations. But they have been far less willing to embrace positive meanings of constraint as promoters, suppliers, and causes of evolutionary direction and change. This distinction follows logically from the basic premises of Darwinian functionalism, because the admission of a potent and positive version of constraint would compromise the fundamental principle that variation (the structuralist and internalist component of evolution) only proposes, while selection (the functionalist and externalist force) disposes as the only effective cause of change. In considering how structural constraints might limit the power of natural selection to adapt each feature of an organism to each local environment, we recognize that some modes will rank as “benign” for Darwinian functionalists…” (4)

Next Jackson moves on to Hox genes and their involvement in evolution. This was a confusing part of the video for numerous reasons. For one, he completely ignores the fact that I did not shy away from this area of research in my video. I used it as part of my case for structuralism. Why would he think this threatens a structuralist account of evolution? 

Second, the evidence of ancient genes such as Hox genes was not predicted by functionalism. I am not sure why Jackson would bring this subject up as if it somehow supports functionalism. As Rudolf Raff said, “The conservation of a set of clustered genes over half a billion years is difficult enough to accept, but collinearity with body axis defies credibility. Yet it’s true.” (5)

Stephen Jay Gould says, “On the second branch of full efficacy for natural selection as an externalist and functionalist process, the stunning discoveries of extensive deep homologies across phyla separated by more than 500 million years (particularly the vertebrate homologs of arthropod Hox genes)—against explicit statements by architects of the Modern Synthesis (see p. 539) that such homologies could not exist in principle, in a world dominated by their conception of natural selection—forced a rebalancing or leavening of Darwinian functionalism with previously neglected, or even vilified, formalist perspectives based on the role of historical and structural constraints in channeling directions of evolutionary change, and causing the great dumpings and inhomogeneities of morphospace—phenomena that had previously been attributed almost exclusively to functionalist forces of natural selection.” (6)

After discussing the role of Hox genes Jackson then contradicts himself. At 7:40 he says, “This means that the picture IP shows of all the different eyes, all of which come from bilaterally symmetrical animals is full of animals with eyes controlled by homologs of the same pax6 gene family. The eyes shown were therefore not evolved in response to sunlight but are simply variations on the same gene family that existed in all of them.”

Come again? First of all, the picture he is commenting on is a visual representation of a quote from Edward T. Oakes who is being quite colloquial in his description. This is not meant to be a detailed account at this point in the video. Oakes is just trying to move on to the philosophical implications of structuralism. So Jackson is being unfair here. 

Second, eyes do not evolve in response to light? Do you mean organisms do not adapt to their environment? Didn’t Jackson just tell us earlier, “The convergent traits have adaptive value in their particular environments.” Do not organisms evolve by adapting to new environments? That is all Oakes is trying to point out in very colloquial terms. Doesn’t Jackson accept that evolution through adaptations happens? Here, let me just google random quotes from scientists on this.

“The ultimate source of light and energy for life on Earth is the sun, so it is not surprising that virtually all living organisms evolved some kind of response to light.” (7)

“The sun is a very hot body, and most of its rays fall in the region of visible wavelength. This is reasonable since our visual organs have evolved in response to sunlight.” (8)

“Animals that have colonized dimmer environments have evolved superposition eyes in response to lower light levels, and the refracting compound eye is the most common form.” (9)

Now there is a half-truth in what Jackson said. Of course, the eyes that species have now are variations on the same ancient gene family, but they change in various organisms due to environmental constraints and organisms adapting to those constraints. It is not an either-or situation. Of course, evolution works on what is available, no one denies that. The problem for functionalism is that it was originally predicted by the modern synthesis that genes would be constantly modeled and changed, so ancient genes were not predicted to still be found. The fact that ancient genes are still constraining evolutionary changes is evidence in favor of a structuralist account. Numerous structuralists make this case, like Michael Denton and Stephen Jay Gould. 

Next, instead of Jackson actually dealing with a plethora of evidence I presented in the first part of the video he goes back to Oakes’ colloquial phrases. I guess because it is easier to attack. At 8:50, he says, “What about wings? Did wings evolve in response to wind? No, definitely not!

Really? Again, give me a moment to back this up with some quotes.

“The former line derives from thysanuroid insects living on swamp grasses and using paranotal lobes as parachutes, and the latter from thysanuroid insects living in crevices of the soil and using paranotal lobes as sails in the mind.” (10) 

Later in the paper, the same author says, “In the species living on the ground the lobes functioned as a sail and enabled the insect to become airborne thanks to the wind.” (11)

“Allocapnia stoneflies (Capniidae) skim by sailing; they raise their wings in response to wind and are incapable of flapping. Because this behavior is mechanically simpler than flapping, it was originally proposed that sailing might be the ancestral condition.” (12)

Again, Oakes is just speaking in colloquial terms, so Jackson is being quite unfair.

Right after this, Jackson says the one thing that made my jaw drop when I watched this video. This is one quote from him which almost guaranteed to me he has never read anything on structuralism. He says, “If wings evolved in response to wind then why don’t all terrestrial animals have wings. This claim is nonsense!”

Well considering I just quoted scientists above who said very similar things to the colloquial saying that wings evolving in response to wind, this claim is not nonsense. Second, no structuralist says all organism will always evolve in the same way. We have never made this claim. We say certain structures and features will come about due to environmental constraints, but that doesn’t mean the environment is supposed to produce the same thing every time. Take a lesson from an analogy of using the periodic table. Did not the laws of physics constrain nature to bring about each element on the periodic table? If molecules “evolved” (so to speak) in response to the laws of physics why are not all elements the same? The obvious answer is certain physical constraints brought about certain elements given different conditions throughout the universe. Just because the elements of the periodic table were constrained by physical laws that doesn’t mean we would expect to always see the same element forming everywhere. A similar analogy can be drawn from the various protein folds that arise in nature. They are not always the same due to different constraints or factors. 

Likewise, different organisms will fill different ecological niches and wings will come about in similar ways. Different environments produce a plethora of different ecological niches and sometimes, depending on the niche, specific constraints bring about wings, much like how physical laws bring about various elements. Jackson is wasting time attacking a very colloquial saying and it is not charitable of him at all. 

In fact, I agree with what Jackson says right after this, “Particular animals have wings because they living in environments where having wings was selectively advantageous and happened to have had relevant mutations that opened up new adaptive options for their descendants.” Yes, I agree, and I don’t understand why Jackson would think I would disagree with this statement. It is quite clear at this point he doesn’t understand the claims of structuralism. 

At 10:09, Jackson says, “And what about the last one? Did brains evolve in response to the ideal forms that exist as part of the universe? No, again! Enlargement of the human brain was the result of a number of factors.”

Again, structuralists would agree. We argue numerous factors constrains the evolution of life. I feel like Jackson is ignoring what I quoted from Oakes and Dennett and trying to sum of their entire argument in one sentence, which is coming out at as clear misrepresentation. 

Then at 11:18, Jackson says, “Needless to say, no anthropologists are attributing the size of the brain as a response to platonic forms sewn into the fabric of the universe.” 

Neither am I, and neither is Daniel Dennett in the quote I provided in conjunction with the quotes from Oakes. Allow me to provide the quote from Daniel Dennett again to clarify what I am getting at:

“Suppose SETI [Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence] struck it rich, and established communication with intelligent beings on another planet. We would not be surprised to find that they understood and used the same arithmetic that we do. Why not? Because arithmetic is right… The point is clearly not restricted to arithmetic, but to all “necessary truths” — what philosophers since Plato have called a priori knowledge. As Minsky (p. 119) says, “We can expect certain ‘a priori’ structures to appear, almost always, whenever a computation system evolves by selection from a universe of possible processes.” It has often been pointed out that Plato’s curious theory of reincarnation and reminiscence, which he offers as an explanation of the source of our a priori knowledge, bears a striking resemblance to Darwin’s theory, and this resemblance is particularly striking from our current vantage point. Darwin himself famously noted the resemblance in a remark in one of his notebooks. Commenting on the claim that Plato thought our “necessary ideas” arise from the pre-existence of the soul, Darwin wrote: “read monkeys for preexistence (Desmond and Moore 1991, p. 263).” (13)

Dennett is not a platonist, he is using platonic terminology to drive home a point about the existence of why there we can predict the existence of intelligent beings. One does not need to posit a mystical explanation for this. The abstract information that gives rise to intelligence is a part of nature. One can learn abstract arithmetic from seeing empirical objects and adding amounts together. The basic laws of logic and mathematics are clearly displayed in the description of the empirical world for a contingent mind to discover. That is all Dennett is saying. Jackson even knows this quote from Dennett is not advocating direct platonism, as shortly after this he addressed the quote I used from Dennett in an attempt to clarify what Dennett means. 

As for Oakes’ beliefs, I never denied he is being more literal, but as I stated above I am far more in agreement with Stephen Jay Gould that Platonism is used more of an analogy rather than literally accepting platonism. 

The second issue on this point is Jackson has made a category error in saying, “no anthropologists are attributing the size of the brain as a response to platonic forms.” Of course not, because they are not philosophers. The section of the video Jackson is attempting to criticize is where I go over the philosophical implications of structuralism, which is why I quoted two philosophers here. Why on earth would Jackson expect me to quote anthropologists when I am laying out the philosophy of structuralism?

Right after this, Jackson commits an ad hominem fallacy against Edward T. Oakes. To quote, “Where does IP’s quote claiming this comes from you ask? Not an evolutionary biologist or anthropologist, but Catholic theologian and fierce proponent of intelligent design, Edward T. Oakes. Why a theologian instead of a biologist? Reasons I guess.”

This is quite disrespectful, even for Jackson’s own standards. To be fair, in the video description Jackson did correct himself and note Oakes is not a fierce proponent of intelligent design. He is an opponent of intelligent design. Besides that, yes Jackson, there are reasons I quoted someone who has a degree in philosophy when I was talking about philosophy. The reason is that I am talking about philosophy. Notice that roughly the first 30 minutes of the video was filled with quotes from biologists to support this philosophical implication. Why not note that as well? Jackson is better than this. Why doesn’t he make the same note about me quoting Daniel Dennett not being a biologist? Why only attack the credibility of Oakes? Could it be because Dennett is an atheist?

Also, Jackson conveniently leaves out where the quote from Oakes comes from. It is from a book titled, “Fitness of the Cosmos for Life,” which is a book where each chapter has a different author and it is filled with the work of biologists, chemists, paleontologists, etc. It is not like Oakes’ quotes exist in a vacuum. He was asked by the editors of the book (who are scientists) to write on the philosophical implications of the data they are presenting. Jackson is being quite unfair to Oakes in numerous ways. (14)

After this, Jackson hands things over to P.Z. Myers. A couple of months ago P.Z. Myers commented on my video and I was wondering how he even found it. I guess Jackson’s video answered that for me. As you can see there was no real substance to his comment:

Screen Shot 2019-05-22 at 4.56.54 PM.png

Myers doesn’t say much I disagree with in Jackson’s video and he comes across as more charitable than Jackson has been in this video. Oddly enough, Myers calls me a structuralist extremist. I really don’t care what they say, but I would not consider myself that, and in fact, I am perfectly willing to criticize someone like Michael Denton for being too extreme in his work on structuralism. I think he takes things too far and argues too much from gaps and doesn’t put enough emphasis on natural selection. So I protest the use of the phrase, “structuralist extremist.” Neither Myers or Jackson bothered to ask me where I stand on this and from Jackson’s response video I can’t help but wonder how much he paid attention to my arguments. (15)

Next, Myers says structuralists like myself “like to think that evolution leads inevitably to human-like forms, ignoring the obvious fact that it leads instead to endless forms most beautiful.” This is obviously a false dichotomy (it seems to be what he implied in his comment on my video screenshot above). No one denies that the evolution of life has produced a plethora of forms and structures. That is not the focus of the debate between functionalist and structuralists, but why the plethora of forms has come about and why intelligent beings have evolved. Was it by chance or was it inevitable? That is where the divide is, not on what evolution produces. As far as I see, neither Jackson or P.Z. Myers presented evidence that favors functionalism or evidence that structuralists cannot account for. I spent most of my video presenting evidence that favors structuralism from self-assembly processes, evo-devo, and convergence. 

One of the main problems for functionalists, that Gould notes, is most of what they say drives evolution is already accounted for and predicted by structuralism. This is why structuralists simply note functionalism is not necessarily wrong but incomplete and in response to structuralism, many functionalists have to ignore a lot of the data structuralists present and argue it is not as prominent as structuralists suggest. This is why I spent most of my video presenting as much evidence as I could possibly find to show this is not the case and there is mounting evidence favoring structuralism. For the most part, Jackson and P.Z. Myers barely touched on this.

To summarize, Jackson demonstrates a lack of knowledge of what structuralism is, he seemed to contradict himself in several places, and ignored most of the research I present in my video while focusing too much on one quote from Edward T. Oakes where it was obvious Oakes was speaking in colloquial terms. If Jackson had questions about structuralism he could have just emailed me. I am more than willing to send him books to read, but his current video is not well thought out and I think he is better than this. His attacks have only shown a lack of knowledge on the claims of structuralism. 

 

 

Sources:

1. Levin, S., Scott, T., Cooper, H. and West, S. (2017). Darwin’s aliens. International Journal of Astrobiology, 18(1), pp.1-9.

2. Gould, S. (2002). The structure of evolutionary theory. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, p.41.

3. ibid, p. 1035.

4. Ibid, p. 1029.

5. Raff, R. (1996). The Shape of Life: Genes, Development, and the Evolution of Animal Form. p.307.

6. Gould, p. 27.

7. Nation, J. (2001). Insect physiology and biochemistry. p.316.

8. Spiro, T. and Stigliani, W. (1990). Environmental issues in chemical perspective. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/ Hunt, p.97.

9. Dubielzig, R., Schobert, C. and Schwab, I. (2012). Evolution’s Witness: How Eyes Evolved. Oxford University Press, p.56.

10. La Greca, M. (1980). Origin and evolution of wings and flight in insects. Bolletino di zoologia, 47(sup1), p. 65.

11. ibid, p. 78.

12. Thomas, M., Walsh, K., Wolf, M., McPheron, B. and Marden, J. (2000). Molecular phylogenetic analysis of evolutionary trends in stonefly wing structure and locomotor behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 97(24), pp.13178-13183.

13. Dennett, D. (2014). Darwin’s dangerous idea. New York: Simon & Schuster, pp.129-130.

14. Barrow, J. (2012). Fitness of the cosmos for life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.49-69.

15. Denton, M. (2016). Evolution: Still A Theory in Crisis. Seattle: Discovery Institute.

Illogical Propaganda of Martymer81

Average Read Time: 12 Minutes, Guest blog by Kyle Alander

As was seen previously with AntiCitizenX we have a couple of atheists that have been responding to IP video on the laws of logic defended. This time we have Martymer 81 (I will be referring to as MM81) who has misunderstood IP’s views and, therefore, sets off to strawman the claims that were made. This was a fairly easy response (which says a lot) so the fact that it is shorter than some of the other things I have written shows that MM81 has had no good arguments here. This was an extremely dishonest video. It seems IP and MM81 don’t disagree on much when it comes to logic, yet MM81 has misrepresented IP’s position to the extreme and assumed IP said things he never claimed. It is clear MM81 didn’t get fact-check a lot of his claims.

The video opens up with MM81 assuming that IP’s original video was to attack atheists when at no point in the video was the word “atheist” mentioned. This is an example of MM81 putting words in IP mouth when he never claimed that atheists deny the laws of logic. What IP did mention however were epistemic skeptics, which unlike atheist (lack of belief in God), lack any beliefs in logic or knowledge (Also known as an academic skeptic or Pyrrhonian skepticism). Unlike atheists, an epistemic skeptic is one who doubts all knowledge and therefore doubts logic and thinks that any kind of knowledge is impossible or that we can never know if knowledge is possible. I won’t get into the different views of epistemic skepticism but what they doubt is that the category of knowledge can’t be known. So in other words, if you were to ask an epistemic skeptic if they believe one can acquire knowledge you would either get one denying that they can have knowledge or one that says they “don’t know” if knowledge is possible. In both cases, epistemic skeptics are skeptics about knowledge itself and thus the term “epistemic skeptic” is there. So IP’s video was a response to that group and not atheists, so MM81 has already begun to misrepresent who IP is addressing.

Next MM81 quotes Martin Luther and uses it as an example of Christians rejecting logic when in reality he did poor research on the context of the quote.1 This really goes to show the amount of research MM81 did. He didn’t even fact-check the quote. Regardless, one can use examples of Christians rejecting logic all day but that is irrelevant to the original point of the video of whether logic should be doubted and IP’s point was that it shouldn’t.

At 1:05, MM81 says that logic is the enemy of faith when he once again doesn’t understand what Christians have understood faith to be. Faith is not the rejection of reason rather it is putting trust in someone or something. I have faith that my employer will give me a paycheck every two weeks or I have faith that my car was built the right way so it doesn’t fall apart. As a Christian, I have faith that God will one day resurrect the dead (Acts 17:31) and those that chose to follow him will have eternal life. I don’t have faith in the sense of a lack of evidence but rather that the Christian God exists (has given evidence already) and that God will fulfill his plan. So faith is not belief in lack of evidence but rather it comes from the evidence that it leads to Christianity being true. MM81 may disagree that there is evidence for Christianity but that is irrelevant to what faith actually is understood to be which makes his entire attack on faith a strawman.

At 1:27, MM81 says that IP’s definition of logic is wrong and then goes on a rant about how apologists are dishonest and knowingly go on to present bad arguments and then talks about how by definition faith cannot be defended. Sadly, this is similar to ACX childish rants and it’s embarrassing that one would begin by name calling their opponents. It’s one thing to present an argument but it’s a whole other to have a condescending rant.

Anyway, MM81 seems to not see that IP’s definition is not in all at conflict with the academic definitions of logic. In fact, it is synonymous with it and when MM81 goes on later to explain what logic is his explanation does not contradict IP’s view. He is simply explaining the same concept in a different way. (MM81 video – 3:58 mark) Yes, IP’s definition in his video is not exactly the same as MM81’s definition. MM81 says that logic is the study that makes sense of what makes sense. However, we cannot find that in any academic definition so should I say that MM81 is wrong? Of course not, since they are similar.

At 4:42, MM81 claims he has never come across this argument and that IP has not either. In fact, this is just wrong as IP got the original argument from an epistemic skeptic at Carnedes2. This was pointed out in the response to ACX. If MM81 would have checked this very blog before making his video he would not have goofed on this. This again demonstrates very poor research.

Moving on at 5:50, MM81 claims that IP thinks that the laws of logic are abstract when IP made no such claim. IP is not a platonist, in fact, I asked him and he is between nominalism and scholastic realism, which is the view that universals only exist in minds but they are founded on real relations of similarity in the world.3 So while he does not hold rock solid to one position he is open to both views and rejects traditional Platonism. Also with regards to the principle of bivalence, IP said that he rejects it and holds to three-valued logic, which is basically where a proposition can be true, false or some indeterminate. MM81 is correct in saying that there are different types of logic beyond classical logic that are used for describing different situations or propositions (he used the example of fuzzy logic), however, MM81 seems to think that IP’s video was only a defense of classical logic, which is not the point. This has been pointed out multiple times on this blog. The original video wasn’t about which type of logic is “correct” but rather that logic works (regardless of which type of logic we are using) and since it works then we have no reason to doubt it.

Ironically at 7:40, MM81 says how we should not expect a dictionary to define a “proposition” in every system of logic since it’s not a logic textbook. But earlier we saw MM81 complain that IP didn’t go about to explain every system of logic or what the laws of logic are in those different systems (since there are different laws in classical and non-classical logics). This brings up a point that if IP didn’t originally exactly specify which laws of logic he is defending then he must be using it more in a broader sense and not just the classical laws of logic. Again like I’ve said many times IP is NOT trying to show why classical logic is the correct logic but rather showing why logic as a whole (classical and non-classical) should not be doubted. The video is a response to epistemic skeptics that doubt all systems of logic not trying to make classical logic superior to other systems of logic. MM81’s video is looking more like a blatant misrepresentation than a response video. I feel like he should know better.

At 8:40, MM81 complains that the proposition “easter is the best holiday” is neither true nor false so therefore it is not a proposition. This of course only works if we are using classical logic but if we use three-valued logic then it would be a proposition, however, it would be indeterminate rather than true or false. So while he is right that we can’t determine if it’s true or false the proposition “easter is the best holiday” is still a proposition but it would be indeterminate.

Next, MM81 goes on to explain Gödel’s theorem in which he does correctly present. Nothing he said about the theorem would disagree with IP as the whole point of the theorem is that one cannot prove something within a system that has axioms. No one has denied that.

At 11:55, MM81 seems to think that it can’t be a false dichotomy to say something is either true or false. Once again under a three-valued logic, it would be a false dichotomy since there is a third option which is a proposition that is indeterminate.

At 13:20-15:40, MM81 begins to explain the liar’s paradox. While he is right that there is no “single bullet” type solution and there is nothing here that would contradict IP. Again, IP said in his video that we cannot prove something is 100% true within a system of logic. That was the whole point of his video and why Gödel’s theorem was brought up. Basically, the liar’s paradox does not disprove logic since its okay to have certain propositions with no truth value (which means it’s not a proposition in any system of logic). MM81 seems to imply IP denied this.

While there are some systems of logic that can assign truth values to certain propositions that classical logic cannot (the example of ‘easter being the best holiday’ as an indeterminate proposition) and why there is no “correct” system of logic there is nothing here that would contradict IP. So MM81 has not addressed IP original point which is that there are no good reasons to doubt logic (regardless of which system).

Next, with regards to the mathematical usage of (i), MM81 falsely equates the mathematical definition with what we mean in a philosophical sense. IP used (i) as an analogy to explain why there would be a third truth value besides true or false. IP never denied we can define (i) in a mathematical way, so MM81 is missing the whole point. This is ironic because MM81 uses this to imply IP doesn’t understand high school math, and in reality, all this shows is MM81 can’t pay attention to a simple youtube video. (i) would be analogous to that indeterminate truth value of between true and false. MM81 made a big deal about claiming we can define (i), which is the square root of -1. IP never denied this and simply noted we cannot understand it (philosophically) in terms of other numbers and quantities. This is incredibly dishonest of MM81.

At 17:07, first he contradicts himself when he says how this has nothing to do with Gödel’s work. Earlier at 11:00, MM81 explained Godel’s theorem and how saying “the truth of this sentence is unprovable” is a way to understand why one cannot 100% prove something within a system of axioms. The point that IP was making was that just because we cant 100% prove something within a system that doesn’t mean we should doubt logic works. Since epistemic skeptics try to use the liar’s paradox and Gödel’s theorem to show that logic cannot be provable the response IP made to the epistemic skeptics was the principle of particularism (more on that later) so Gödel is relevant here as epistemic skeptics have used those types of arguments to debunk logic. So MM81 has once again misunderstood IP.

Second, no one denied that logic is a field of study. However, IP was addressing the skeptics that do think that logic as a whole does not work (since its not 100% provable due to Gödel’s theorem). Third, MM81 fails to distinguish between reasonable doubt and the doubt used by epistemic skeptics. Most of our reasonable doubt is because we have logical and good reasons to doubt something (such as doubting the earth is flat) however the doubt of the epistemic skeptic is that our reason and logic is flawed simply because we cannot 100% prove it to be true. This is not reasonable doubt since the epistemic skeptic has presented no good reason to doubt logic and so the point of IP’s video was that when we have good logical reasons to believe something to be true then we should believe them and not simply doubt them by the fact that logic itself is not 100% provable. This was literally the point of defending logic (regardless of its forms) and of IP’s video. The fact that MM81 didn’t get this makes his video look more like propaganda.

Next, at 18:00, MM81 once again misunderstands IP’s point. One can deny classical logic to work in certain situations which is why one must use other systems of logic to give truth values to propositions. When IP says that we can’t doubt logic he is not saying one can’t deny classical logic but rather one can’t deny logic as a whole, so this includes all systems of logic. Any thought or argument one gives will depend on some system of logic regardless if its classical, non-classical, fuzzy, three-valued logic, linear logic, non-reflexive logic, model logic etc. Literally one cannot deny logic as a whole without presupposing some system of it.

Finally, at 19:06, MM81 misunderstands IP yet again. IP does not believe in everything that randomly pops into his head but rather accepts it if there are good reasons to do so and there are no good reasons to doubt those beliefs. This is the whole point of epistemic particularism and it was the formal response IP gives to the epistemic skeptics. At this point, MM81 is not even trying to get what IP points are and it’s embarrassing.

The rest of the video is just MM81 talking about why religion discourages doubt and this shows he is not even trying to address IP points concerning logic. Nothing in MM81 response did anything to take down IP’s original points. The whole response has been nothing but strawman and misrepresentations of what IP was trying to explain. While it’s true that some of IP’s followers have equated the epistemic skeptics with atheists at no point did IP mention atheists in his video. Perhaps it’s time for people to not equate IP with his followers or equate the classical laws of logic with logic itself. The biggest straw man in the whole video was that IP was making classical logic superior to other forms of it when in reality IP was not concerned with the different systems of logic but was concerned with those that deny logic as a whole and doubt all the systems of logic. This same straw man has been the most common from all the responses IP has gotten from other bloggers and YouTubers on his video that defends the laws of logic. While I myself do not intend to respond to each one in detail as I have here I will say that they have all been straw man attacks against IP.

 

Endnotes

  1. “Richard Dawkins is wrong: Martin Luther was not against “Reason” or ….” 9 Dec. 2011, https://simonpetersutherland.com/2011/12/09/richard-dawkins-is-wrong-martin-luther-was-not-against-reason-or-logical-correctness/. Accessed 10 Feb. 2019.
  2.  “Arguments of Indirect Skepticism – YouTube.” 23 Nov. 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBlDGTZUOek. Accessed 10 Feb. 2019.
  3.  “Scholastic Realism | Dictionary | Commens.” http://www.commens.org/dictionary/term/scholastic-realism. Accessed 11 Feb. 2019.

 

The Resurrection According to Dave S

Dave S is one of the few youtube atheists I’ve seen who is willing to engage in the debate on the resurrection. Most just dismiss it as just another miracle claim, assuming a naturalistic worldview from the onset. However, Dave S has at least taken some time to dive into this topic and address the resurrection claim from a naturalistic perspective.

I first spoke with this guy after I posted part 1 of my resurrection series. He seemed like a nice guy and said he going to respond to my whole series when I finished. However, he took his videos down and I thought he left youtube. Then last year he uploaded a bunch of his old videos and started making more, and unfortunately, he became rather insulting in debating with me in the comment section under one of my videos. I had several followers request I respond to his resurrection videos and I was waiting until he was finished his full resurrection series but he has not uploaded any more videos for this series in 4 months. So I’ll deal with the ones that are currently up. I’ll respond to each video below in sections (hyperlinks included throughout).

Episode 1:

This video was originally posted just after I’d uploaded part 1 of my series, so it doesn’t really address the evidence I went over in parts 2 and 3. So there isn’t much to respond to, and I responded to some claims he brings up in part 5 of my series anyways.

Episode 2:

The next one is where the real response begins. This is his longest video and mostly on Bayes’ Theorem. There are a lot of problems with this video because it is a gross exaggeration of what Bayes’ Theorem can say and how it ought to be applied.

First, Dave starts off with the claim that Bart Ehrman has given time and time again, that miracles are, by definition, the least probable explanation for an event. Again, I addressed this objection in part 5 of my series. This is nothing more than circular reasoning, assuming the conclusion of naturalism so miracles by definition must be improbable because we have already presupposed they are (i.e. naturalism must already be true).

Dave has already implied his conclusion at the beginning without even studying the evidence. In other words, regardless of what the evidence leads to, we must first start with the presupposition the miraculous must be the least probable. So obviously Dave will arrive at the conclusion Jesus did not rise from dead, regardless of what the evidence suggests.

After this, what follows is a pretty good explanation of Bayes’ theorem, which I would recommend people watch. However, this will come back to haunt Dave later on, as applying to it the resurrection simply doesn’t work (even when Christians try this).

Bayes’ Theorem only is reliable when you have actual values or quantities to work with. For example, Dave gave a good example by pointing out Bayes’ theorem can help us calculate what the probability of someone who smokes a cigar is either a male or female. The reason why it works in his example is that we have numbers from statistical analyses we can use. We know 51% of the population is male, and we know 9.5% men smoke cigars, whereas 49% of the population is female and only 1.7% of females smoke cigars (I am just using Dave’s numbers to illustrate a point, I don’t know if these numbers are accurate). So we have actual numerical data we can enter into Bayes’ theorem and calculate the probability that a random cigar smoker is male or female.

It should be obvious to all that when it comes to the resurrection, we simply do not have numerical values to enter into. Atheist, and Founder of the website History For Atheists, Tim O’Neill says this as well. He wrote a response to Richard Carrier’s attempt to apply Bayes’ theorem to the question of whether or not Jesus existed, and he gave a petty good example as well of how we can use Bayes’ theorem by calculating the probability it will rain on a specific day. Given that we have observed for roughly the past 100 years the annual rainfall and have recorded how many days out of the year have experienced rain, we can calculate how likely it will rain on a given day.

Tim O’Neill says:

“The first thing our objective observer should notice here is that we have hard data to plug into the equation.  We know how often it does rain in this region, how often it doesn’t rain and how often the weather forecast is right or wrong.  So we can get a meaningful answer out of the equation because we can plug meaningful data into it in the first place.

So there are two problems here when it comes to trying to apply Bayes Theorem to history: (i) Carrier and Craig need to treat questions of what happened in the past as the same species of uncertainty as what may happen in the future and (ii) historical questions are uncertain precisely because we don’t have defined and certain data to feed into the equation.

Bayes Theorem only works in cases where we can apply known information. So, in the example above, we know how often it rains in a year and we know when the weather forecast is and isn’t correct.  So by inputting this meaningful data, we can get a meaningful result out the other end of the equation.

This is not the case with history.

Bayes Theorem’s application depends entirely on how precisely the parameters and values of our theoretical reconstruction of a real world approximate reality.  With a historical question, Carrier is forced to think up probabilities for each parameter he put into the equation. This is a purely subjective process – he determines how likely or unlikely a parameter in the question is and then decides what value to give that parameter. So the result he gets at the end is purely a function of these subjective choices. And this is the wrong way to apply the theorem as its based on subjective rather than objective parameters.

In other words: garbage in/garbage out.

So it’s not surprising that Carrier comes up with a result on the question of whether Jesus existed that conforms to his belief that Jesus didn’t – he came up with the values that were inevitably going to come up with that result.  If someone who believed Jesus did exist did the same thing, the values they inputted would be different and they would come up with the opposite result. This is why historians don’t bother using Bayes Theorem.”(1)

In other words, Bayes’ theorem only works if you have hard values to enter in, like with annual rainfall, or current population percentages. When it comes to an event like the resurrection we don’t have values to enter in. We have to simply make them up based on our subjective preferences.

Bayes’ theorem is nothing really special, as some people like to imply (Carrier and Craig). As Aviezer Tucker says, “Philosophers find often that formal representation, Bayesian probability in our case, clarifies and concentrates the discussion.” (2)

In other words, it is telling historians what historians already know in numerical terms. In reality, it doesn’t really add anything extra to our knowledge of history. It only gives us a numerical value to apply to our probability factor, when we have hard numerical data available. If we don’t have hard numerical data, we have to fudge the numbers based on our subjective preferences of what we think the values out to be, and this is exactly what Dave does when he tries to apply Bayes’ Theorem to the resurrection.

About 13:00 in, Dave begins to calculate the prior probability, and says the background knowledge should be based on how many times in the past God has raised someone from the dead. The obvious problem is the Bible does not contain an exhaustive list of all the people who God has brought back to life. This information is simply unknown to modern humans. The Bible does mention sometimes God resuscitated someone and they came back to life, but nowhere does God or any biblical author ever put a number on how many times this has actually happened. We simply lack the background knowledge to make an inference. So Dave just decided to take the few cases in the Bible as the actual total.

On a side note, I want to mention that there is technically only one resurrection in the Bible, which is Jesus’ resurrection. The other times that someone came back to life these would be defined as resuscitations. In the Jewish sense, a resurrection (anastasis) is when a body dies and comes back to life in a new immortal, glorified form. This only was claimed to happen to Jesus. Everyone else in the Bible was just resuscitated back into their mortal body.

Back to the main point, in the strangest fashion I have seen, Dave doesn’t even give all the resuscitations in the Bible to God but instead says when the Bible records that someone like Paul or Elijah brought someone back to life this was not God doing it. Going even further, he says the people Jesus brought back to life do not count as God doing raising the dead. I had to watch this section multiple times because I could not believe what I was hearing.

Even if he rejects that Jesus claimed to be God (which is hard to argue given Jesus’ own claims) Jesus said the power he had came from the Father and Holy Spirit (John 5:19; 29-30, Luke 1:35; 4:1; Philippians 2:6-8). Paul was also said to be filled with the Holy Spirit and work through God (Acts 13:9; 2 Corinthians 13:5). It is also strongly implied in scripture all miracles come from God, not from the people themselves, but God working through them. This shouldn’t even be a controversial topic.

Also, I would like to reiterate this is still all nothing more than garbage in, garbage out. We don’t have an exhaustive account of all the people who came back from the dead. Dave only says two resuscitations count where God actually rose someone from the dead:

Screen Shot 2019-01-09 at 9.16.27 AM.png

Dave includes the passage of Matthew 27:51-53, where it says the dead saints came out of their tombs when Jesus died, but only calculates this as one resuscitation God performed, even though Matthew implies there were multiple people who rose. So Dave, awkwardly, just counts this as one resuscitation. Why? Does Dave know only one person came back? The fact remains, if this event did happen, we don’t know how many people came back to life. This is what I (and Tim O’Neill) mean when we say without hard numerical values to go on, people subjectively just make up values to suit the conclusion they want. It only goes to show us you can’t use Bayes Theorem properly when evaluating events like the resurrection.

Dave then compares the resuscitations God directly did, to the ones where he worked through someone else, and then concludes the background knowledge for the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead is low.

Screen Shot 2019-01-09 at 9.19.15 AM.png

This should be enough to show the conclusion is going to be flawed. The numerical value Dave assigned to the background knowledge is flawed and not an objective hard fact. It is not based on an exhaustive account of all resuscitations, he discounts most in the Bible as not being caused by God, and has no other factors to calculate in when studying the background knowledge. There are so many issues that it ought to be completely discounted.

To be fair, Dave does admit just after this the rest of the data points will not be easy to calculate. I would say it is impossible with our current knowledge, but let’s hear him out. Dave says next we need to calculate how likely it is that we would have evidence we do if God did raise Jesus from the dead. He then says to do this we need to talk about the early Christians and how they viewed the resurrection. He says the first recorded appearance is what Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 15.

However, Dave says, “it is fairly obvious this is not the same sort of resurrection that’s recording in the Gospels. Paul never says he saw Jesus in the flesh, and even denies it in Galatians 1. Instead, he insists that the resurrection is into a spiritual body, not the rising of a corpse.”

Ok, the errors are piling up, so let’s deal with this before moving on. This has already been extensively dealt with in part 6 of my series on the resurrection and a follow-up video on alleged development in the resurrection story, so I’ll only briefly address this here.

Paul does not deny Jesus physically rose from the dead in Galatians 1. This should be plainly obvious from just reading the passage:

Galatians 1:11-12 (ESV)

“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Paul says the Gospel is what he received from revelation. In other words, the message of how salvation has come is what he learned through revelation. He does not say he learned of Christ’s death and resurrection through revelation. So this is nothing more than misquoting what Paul actually says. Even if I was wrong Dave is plainly incorrect that Paul denies Jesus physically rose.

In 1 Corinthians 15, he says he delivered to the Corinthians what he received. He uses a Rabbinic statement of a teacher passing something on to his students that he was taught. So this creed Paul cites would have to have come from the disciples themselves very early on so they could teach it to Paul, and what he tells them is that Jesus died and rose from the grave (see part 2 of my series for more on this).

Paul also doesn’t teach a spiritual resurrection. As I went over in part 6, the Greek words for natural and spiritual more likely denote an enlightened and unenlightened body, not different states of being, but more like different states of mind. In other words, the resurrected body will be enlightened, not ontologically something other than flesh (like a spirit). Paul even says right after this that what dies is what is raised (1 Corinthians 15:42-55). Also, in the first century and prior, there is no evidence the Greek word for resurrection (anastasis) even meant anything other than physically coming back to life when speaking about a person. So Dave has done nothing more than misquote and quote-mine Paul.

Dave then plays a clip of Bart Ehrman going on about how Jesus could not have appeared to the 12 disciples, because this appearance would have occurred after Judas died and before they elected his replacement. So there were only 11 disciples, so this has to be false. Dave doesn’t comment anything about this, but let’s response to it anyway.

This is a fairly easy objection to address. The twelve seems to just have been a title for the closest disciples of Jesus, which originally totaled 12 men. For example, in John 20, it says Jesus appears to the disciples behind a locked door. We would assume all 11 are there because it says “the disciples.” However, in verse 24 we are then told Thomas was not there. The verse also implies “the twelve” was being used as a title, “Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.” This would be an odd phrase to use if it was a numerical value since it was fairly understood in the Gospels that Judas was dead at this point (Matthew 27:3). So it’s probable when Paul says Jesus appeared to the twelve in 1 Corinthians 15, he is just speaking of the collective group that was known as the twelve.

Following this, roughly the next 30 minutes of Dave’s video is a string of different video clips edited together which argue the Gospels were written late and cannot be trusted. I have argued against a lot of the points in this my 9 part New Testament Reliability Series, in my 6 part Resurrection Series, and I am currently going through two series addressing alleged contradictions and alleged errors in the Bible so I won’t focus on that here. But what I do want to do is ask why is this actually even relevant to the topic at hand?

Dave already said at 12:42 in his video that the position he’s arguing against is Gary Habermas’ 5 minimal facts, which doesn’t rely on the Gospels being credible sources. In part 2 of my own resurrection series, I say I will not rely heavily on the Gospels but only the minimal trustworthy facts. Yet most of his video is a string of video clips arguing the gospels are not credible, so this really seems like a waste of time and doesn’t really address the minimal facts argument.

I do want to address one part in this section, which is Richard Carrier’s remarks that the Gospels are just symbolic myth because there are patterns in them he seems to think he can identify. Carrier even says this is not how history was written. Well, perhaps we should check with scholars on this (I am repeating a lot of what I said in my blog response to Godless Engineer).

New Testament scholars have speculated for years that the Gospels were written in a way to mirror individuals and events from the Hebrew Bible. N.T. Wright argues Matthew is deliberately painting Jesus as a second Moses, whereas Luke is trying to make him look like another King David.(3) Is this a problem for Christianity? Of course not, because ancient authors often looked to the past to see similarities to current events so that they could draw connections. This doesn’t imply they simply made everything up.

Oral tradition specialist, Albert Lord says, “Traditional narrators tend to tell what happened in terms of already existing patterns of story… When I say that an incident in the gospel narrative of Jesus’ life fits in a mythic pattern, there is no implication at all that this incident never happened. There is rather an implication that traditional narrators chose to remember and relate this incident because an incident of similar essence occurred in other traditional stories known to them and their predecessors. That its essence was consonant with an element in a traditional mythic (i.e., sacred) pattern adds a dimension of spiritual weight to the incident, but does not deny… the historicity of the incident.” (4)

Other ancient historians like Tacitus and Virgil also made use of this style, but never once have I heard a skeptic conclude that means they made things up. Dr. Rhiannon Ash says about Tacitus that he “…embeds such points in the very language which he uses,” and uses “linguistic echoes and structural similarities.” (5) Jan Bremmer and Nicholas Horsfall note Virgil borrowed from Roman legends to paint current events of his day. (6)

Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh say, “To be able to quote the tradition from memory, to apply it in creative or appropriate ways . . . not only brings honor to the speaker but lends authority to his words as well . . . Luke 1:68-79 is an example. It is stitched together from phrases of Psalms 41, 111, 132, 105, 106, and Micah 7… The ability to create ouch a mosaic implied extensive, detailed knowledge of the tradition and brought great honor to the speaker able to pull it off.” (7)

So Carrier is ignoring the cultural context of how history was written in the ancient Greco-Roman World and applying our cultural understanding of how to write history to the Gospels, which is unfair. There are clear patterns in the gospels, but that doesn’t mean the events did not happen. It means the Gospel authors purposely picked certain elements out to highlight patterns. Patterns simply happen sometimes and humans like to highlight them because it is in our nature. Ironically, that is all Carrier is doing, looking for patterns where ever they may or may not exist and assuming correlation is causation.

Finally, after all the video clips have finished Dave gets back to assigning values to plug into Bayes’ theorem. He says he is being as kind as possible and takes the value of 0.8 from Dr. David Baggett’s paper “An Application of Bayes’s Theorem To The Case For The Historicity Of The Resurrection Of Jesus” to assign to value of “how likely it is that we would have the evidence we do, if God did resurrect Jesus from the dead.” The paper he is citing is actually doing the opposite of Dave, in that it is trying to use Bayes’ theorem to argue it is probable Jesus did rise from the dead. Following this, Dave also takes the value from the paper for the probability that God didn’t raise Jesus from the dead as 0.3.

Screen Shot 2019-01-09 at 9.48.47 AM.png

The problem I have here is the paper commits a lot of the same problems that Dave is committing. There just isn’t hard numerical data to quantify this. Everyone who applies Bayes’ Theorem to the resurrection on both sides of the debate gets the result they want because they arbitrary assigned values to get that. It is all purely subjective and so when Christians use it, garbage in, garbage out. When non-Christians use it, garbage in, garbage out.

Dave ultimately gets a value of .4966 that Jesus rose from the dead, but this is because he assigned such a low value to the background knowledge, which we addressed early in this blog post, and that was based on obvious insufficient data, cherry picking, and skewing things to his liking. Again, and I cannot iterate this enough: when you don’t start with cold hard objective quantities to plug in, you subjectively assign what you want to get the result you want. If there are no values available you cannot use Bayes theorem to evaluate the past.

So the reality is this is not the correct way to evaluate a historical claim. Mike Licona does a far better job in his book, “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographic Approach,” where he says the best way to evaluate a historical claim is to use Behan McCullagh’s criterion for weighing historical theories. (8)

I went over this in part 2 of my series, but I’ll briefly address it again. For a theory to be successful it must:

Have Greater Explanatory Scope – This criterion looks at the quality of facts accounted for by a hypothesis. The hypothesis that includes the most relevant data has the most explanatory scope.

Have Greater Explanatory Power – The criterion looks at the quality of the explanation of the facts. The hypothesis that explains the data with the least amount of effort, vagueness, and ambiguity has greater explanatory power.

Have The Most Plausibility – This criterion assesses whether other areas known with confidence suggest a certain hypothesis. A hypothesis is more plausible if other disciplines support the hypothesis.

Be The Least Ad Hoc – A hypothesis possesses an ad hoc component when it enlists nonevidenced assumptions, that is, it goes beyond what is already known. When a hypothesis adds extra unnecessary assumptions it becomes ad hoc. In other words, the simplest explanation is the best.

Provide Illumination – This criterion means a hypothesis can be more powerful if it provides possible solutions to other problems without consuming other areas held with confidence. This criterion is less important than the other four.

When it comes to the data we went over in my series, McCullagh accepted the resurrection hypothesis has the most explanatory scope and power and we argue it is also more plausible and less ad hoc. It is more plausible because other arguments for God’s existence in cosmology, quantum mechanics, ethics, fine-tuning, etc., make the resurrection claim more plausible. So we have other areas of knowledge which already support the existence of God. As William Lane Craig says, “Only if the naturalist has good reasons to think that God’s existence is implausible or his intervention in the world implausible could he justifiably regard the resurrection hypothesis as implausible.” (9)

It is the less ad hoc because it posits fewer assumptions than alternative naturalistic explanations.  Dr. Campbell points out the resurrection hypothesis only adds one extra assumption, not multiple, “…it is difficult to see why the resurrection hypothesis is extraordinarily ad hoc. It requires only one new supposition: that God exists. Surely rival hypotheses require many new suppositions.” (10) In other words, the number of assumptions that naturalistic explanations employ make them all far more ad hoc than the resurrection hypothesis.

Finally, the resurrection hypothesis also provides illumination and strengthens the likelihood of Jesus’ other claim, like that He is divine and YHWH.

Dave should take this route and try to find a better explanation that fits this criterion. Attempting to debunk the resurrection through Bayes’ Theorem simply doesn’t work and luckily there is a better way to go about it. I argued in my series the resurrection hypothesis meets all of these criterions, and my challenge is if there is a naturalistic hypothesis that can overtake the resurrection hypothesis through this methodology.

Episode 3:

This is a much shorter video and there is not much to address here. The aim of this video is simply to argue that even if the resurrection did happen it would not prove Christianity is necessarily true. Well, obviously that is correct. No one should claim it proves Christianity is true, however, that doesn’t mean the resurrection does not provide illumination for the rest of the claims of Christianity and make them more plausible.

I’ve argued the reliability of the New Testament, various arguments for God’s existence, and the case for the Resurrection is enough to support the truth of Christianity. Soon I’ll add a series on Old Testament archaeology to support the truth of Christianity as well. Furthermore, the resurrection does provide illumination on the truth of Christianity and does make it more plausible. After all, if Jesus did rise from the dead, that shows He has power and is trustworthy.

In fact, throughout the Bible, miraculous signs are given as reasons to trust the claims of God. In Matthew 9:5 Jesus heals a man paralyzed so they will have evidence or know He is the Son of Man. In John 14:11, Jesus tells the disciples to believe, or have faith in Him on the works they have seen Him do. Even in Exodus 9:14 God told Pharaoh through Moses that the plagues will be given so they may know there is no one like YHWH.

Specifically, Jesus says in Matthew 12:38-42 that the resurrection will be a sign of the truth of what He has claimed. So although we agree the resurrection could possibly be just an odd coincidence (anything is possible), the fact that the evidence suggests Jesus did rise from the dead makes the rest of the claims of Christianity more plausible.

Next, Dave makes an odd claim towards the end of this video. He says, “…1 Corinthians 15 should not be read as the resurrection of Jesus validating the truth of Christianity. Instead, this is intended to provide a framework about the overall mission of Jesus as “the Christ”. That is, Paul is not attempting to demonstrate that the resurrection occurred, or even that Jesus rose from the dead rendered him to be “the Christ”, at least not yet, but this merely laying down the argument at this is, in fact, the first stage of the overall plan for the future state of the world… In fact, when reading this passage in full, it becomes clear that this passage is intending to remind the church in Corinth, not only that Jesus rose from the dead but the important point Paul is stressing is that this is not the end of the story. Given that Paul is stressing that the benefits of the resurrection have yet to come. Therefore, what this means, is that the point he is making is almost the opposite of what Christian commentators claim; that the resurrection validates the truth of Christianity.”

The reason why this is an odd claim is that Paul makes several points as part of a larger goal in 1 Corinthians 15. Dave is correct his main goal is to teach the Corinthians that we will all be resurrected, but what is important is Paul makes several other points related to the overall goal along the way.

He first starts by reminding them of the evidence for the resurrection by citing the witnesses who saw the risen Lord (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). So Paul is, in fact, beginning with evidence Jesus rose from the dead and that is why they ought to believe there will be a future resurrection for all Christians. He then reminds them of the utter importance of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-20), that all Christianity fails if Jesus has not been raised.

So I am not sure what the point of Dave’s 3rd episode is. Sure, the overall message of 1 Corinthians 15 is there will be a coming resurrection for all Christians, but in order to make that final point, Paul makes several other additional points to support this. One is that if Jesus has not been raised then our faith is in vain. Paul is capable of making additional points in 1 Corinthians 15 besides the main argument.

In conclusion, there is not really much in these three videos that challenge the case for the resurrection of Jesus. Now, Dave did say at the end of part 3 that more videos were to come, but we have not seen any in a while. So if he does make more videos and offer any reasonable points or challenges to the resurrection I’ll respond when I have the time. However, if all he does is build on his misuse of Bayes’ theorem, or assume naturalism is already true so the resurrection has to be the least probable, there really won’t be much to address because we have already dealt with this issues extensively.

Bonus Video:

Dave also responded to a video I made on defending the laws of logic and people have asked why I didn’t respond to that in-depth. Well, because the entire video is a straw man, as I never once claimed in my original video I was defending classical logic, and that was the basis of his reply. If I did a response it would just be me saying over and over, “No Dave, I didn’t say or imply that.” My video is not a defense of classical logic (which I do not even hold to). Plus, he employed a lot of the same misunderstanding AnticitizenX did in his blog reply, and Derezzed83 wrote a guest post on my blog which dealt with that. So there is really nothing more to say other than that Dave built up an entire straw man argument.

 

Sources:

1. https://www.quora.com/What-is-your-opinion-on-the-use-of-Bayes-theorem-as-a-tool-to-discover-the-best-historical-explanation-for-the-data-we-have-as-outlined-by-Richard-Carrier

2. Tucker, Aviezer. Our knowledge of the past: A philosophy of historiography. Cambridge University Press, 2004, 22

3. Wright, NT. The New Testament and the People of God. Fortress Press, 1992, 341- 435

4. Lord, Albert. The Gospels as Oral Traditional Literature in The Relationship among the Gospels: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue. Trinity University Press, 1978, 39

5. Ash, Rhiannon. Tacitus. Bristol Classic Press, 2006, 85-87.

6. Bremmer, Jan. Horsfall, Nicholas. Roman Myth and Mythology. University of London, 1987, 99-100

7. Malina, Bruce. Rohrbaugh, Richard. Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. Augsburgh Fotress Press, 2002, 293-294

8. Licona, Mike. The Resurrection of Jesus:A New Historiographic Approach. InterVarsity Press, 2010, 109-111

9. Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith. Crossway, 2008, 188-189

10. Campbell, Travis. Defending the Resurrection. Xulon Press, 2010, 292