CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

[Below is a somewhat reworked version of a post from many months ago here.]

In addressing the viability of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, Jeffery Jay Lowder has argued that pretty much any naturalistic explanation is better than the explanation that Jesus rose from the dead, and suggested that arguments to the contrary are based on the fallacy of understated evidence. By this fallacy he means, following Paul Draper, to "identify some general fact F about a topic X that is antecedently more likely on theism than on naturalism, but ignore other more specific facts about X, facts that, given F, are more likely on naturalism than on theism." Here I will briefly rebut some of Lowder's statements (his original post in full along with subsequent comments here.) He says,

Since we're dealing with inductive logic, what matters is prior probability and explanatory power. C&C [Greg Cavin and Carlos Colombetti, in "The Great Mars Hill Resurrection Debate"] offer a 1-2 punch against the Resurrection as an explanatory hypothesis. First, R has a vanishingly low prior probability, far lower than any serious naturalistic explanation.

Okay, first I don’t think P(R) is “vanishingly low” unless we cut out certain important facts such as Jesus’ very strong and consistent claims of uniquely divine/messianic status, wide reports of his miracles of healing and exorcism, and his predictions of his own pending crucifixion in Jerusalem (to be followed by his resurrection). This is why I say the prior probability of the resurrection of Jesus, even if lower than comparatively more mundane events, has to be much higher than the probability of anyone else’s resurrection. And of course, if P(R) is much higher than some other probability, then it cannot really be vanishingly low (even the lowest probability is somewhere above zero). Also it seems to me that the estimation of prior probability of an identifiable historical event ought to be substantially low in the first place, given that by definition specific historical events only happen once – which may explain why historians are typically not keen on Bayesianism and probability calculus to guide their research.

Likewise I don’t see why a naturalistic explanation should have a higher prior probability by default (assuming anyone can adequately define what “naturalistic” means beyond “non-supernaturalistic”). For instance, consider a naturalistic explanation involving a huge colony of countless millions of South American army ants that were drawn to the tomb by the decomposing corpse of Jesus by the barest hint of a stray scent, that travelled across the ocean using their own bodies as a bridge (they have been known to cross streams and rivers this way), that combined their efforts to move the stone from the entryway of the tomb and remove the body of Jesus, and then devoured the body, leaving only a skeleton in the desert.

Though seemingly naturalistic (non-supernaturalistic), the South American army ant explanation would be neither appreciably parsimonious nor would fit appreciably well with our background knowledge of how the world works generally. The most we could say for such a scenario is “It’s logically possible.” But my example admittedly is not serious. So I guess what we need is (1) some objective means to distinguish naturalistic from non-naturalistic explanations, and (2) some objective means to distinguish serious from non-serious naturalistic explanations.

As it stands now, I don’t see that a naturalistic explanation for a phenomenon should be any more or less antecedently probable than a theistic explanation. Both God and nature are quite powerful in principle, as both are said by their respective spokesmen to be capable of creating the universe, creating life, imparting consciousness and moral awareness to humanity, etc. Besides, within the same "multiverse" scenario often postulated to explain fine-tuning of the universe on naturalism, anything logically and physically possible is also probable (see "Fine-Tuning Denialism and the Demise of Science"). Anything, of course, includes the resurrection of Jesus. The question, then, is not whether the resurrection has a low prior probability relative to naturalistic explanations, since both naturalism and theism can account for anything that actually happens. The question is which view has greater explanatory scope and explanatory power. Lowder continues:

Second, it's far from clear that R explains the alleged data. By itself, R says nothing about the risen Jesus did after His resurrection. You have unwittingly conflated the Resurrection hypothesis with the New Testament stories / claims of what the risen Jesus did AFTER his resurrection. I agree that what the NT claims happened is possible. Sure, he could have moved the stone, walked out of the tomb, and appeared to different people. But the content of R doesn't include those activities. All R says is that Jesus rose from the dead. .... R is also compatible with the risen Jesus sitting in the tomb indefinitely, basking in his own supreme glory. Or it could be the case that R is true and, after his death, the risen Jesus teleported to central America, appearing to various indigenous people, in a fashion similar to what is reported by the Book of Mormon. Now, I obviously don't believe that happened. The point is that R by itself gives us no more reason to expect one of these 'extra-curricular' activities than any other. .... This much is certain: R does not ENTAIL the data. In other words, the probability of Jesus' crucifixion, burial, empty tomb, and postmortem appearances, CONDITIONAL UPON THE ASSUMPTION THAT R IS TRUE, is less than 1.

Those are good points. And with all that I have a better idea of what C&C were getting at with their suggestion that R falls short of explaining the facts so often cited in support of it. To this I would say firstly that whereas R is admittedly not a complete explanation, it’s at least a partial explanation. So to derive a full explanation we would have to employ a chain of inferences drawn from two widely attested propositions:

J (Jesus) is who he claimed to be: the Son of God, with access to divine power,


P, Jesus promised to resurrect three days after his predicted death and re-commune with his disciples.

Together J and P explain

R, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, which (with J and P) explains

E (the empty tomb) and A (postmortem appearances), which (with J, P and R) explain

B, the birth of the church in Jerusalem, which is to say nothing of

C, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus

Thus J * P entail R, and R (with J * P) entails the relevant data, and thus the resurrection hypothesis enjoys great explanatory power. Moreover, R explains the otherwise inexplicable alignment of the data, a diverse set of phenomena restricted to the mid first century and the region of Palestine: the empty tomb of Jesus, the postmortem appearances, and the rise of the early church. Naturalistic alternatives to the contrary have to conjoin a number of disparate ad hoc elements, and leave out others (like Saul’s conversion). This suggests that the resurrection hypothesis enjoys greater explanatory scope than the naturalistic alternatives proposed to date.

So what is wrong exactly with a "supernatural" or "spiritual" explanation for the resurrection? Well, I think some people are simply inclined to equate "nature" with "reality," outside of which lies the "supernatural." But this is misleading. If God exists – and that's the underlying issue here – then God is necessarily part of reality (given the modest premise that anything that exists is part of reality). As we have seen, the real problem here is that naturalists, not supernaturalists, are understating the evidence.

This week, I would like to share some recent posts that were made on the Shadow to Light blog that deal with New Atheism.

Post 1:

This is Michael’s most recent post about the collapse of new atheism. On this link, there is a video from the world famous Aron-Ra about the Atheos app. About 10:30 into the video, a former student of Peter Boghossian (Sarah Paquette) had this to say about Peter’s new atheism class:

He had a seminar New Atheism but unfortunately I don’t think it’s coming back next year simply because the attendance was not high enough which is pretty…sad. It’s a loss.
Speaking of the Atheos app, here is a post from that site that talks about that more:

This is supposed to be the goal of this app:

Boghossian, author of “A Manual for Creating Atheists,” says that his goal with the app is to give users the confidence and tools to have challenging conversations about beliefs. “How do we help people think critically when there are so many forces aligned against that? It’s through reason and rationality."
Michael doesn’t believe that Boghossian’s little app will be successful:

While Boghossian might be savvy enough to mask his hostility, I doubt his Street Epistemologists can mimic him well and, if they can, I doubt they can keep it up for long. The problem is not that New Atheist incivility is too obvious; the problem is that it is entailed in the New Atheist posturing.


In response to the empty tomb book published by the ensemble of internet infidels. My arguments are found in several pages that disprove any assertion of a late developing tomb myth.

I have two major arguments both of which demonstrate the historicity of an early claim of an existing empty tomb.

(1) The pre Markan redaction includes story of empty tomb as early as AD 50

(2) archaeological evidence indicates the tomb is under the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

This is the second argument:

One of the major skeptical arguments against the Resurrection of Christ states that no tomb was ever venerated as the site of the Resurrection until Constantine arbitrarily chose one in the fourth century; that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the oldest traditional site, was just a fabrication. None of this is true. While it cannot be proven conclusively that the CHS is the actual tomb site, there is a strong probability that it is, and there is good evidence to suggest this. The tradition can be traced back to the first century. Thus a tomb was venerated in the first century.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is owned jointly by three major Christian denominations: The Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, and the Armenian Orthodox. The site was chosen and "discovered" to be the original tomb of Christ by Constantine in 336 AD when he accompanied his mother to the Holy Land in search of the true cross and other artifacts.

My argument is not that we can prove that the CHS is the tomb, but that the strong probability that it was venerated as the tomb in the first century, destroys the skeptical claim in books such as The Empty Tomb. The skeptics contributing to that book must disprove the possibility of the CHS before they can dismiss historicity of the empty tomb.

My arguments will be presented in three major areas:

I. The modern site of CHS is the site Constantine chose; its place in the surrounding city is an exact fit for the physical and social environment of the tomb.

II. Oral tradition guided Constantine's choice, passed down from the Jewish Christian community to the Gentile Christians.

III. Modern archaeological verifies the claims of this tradition.

I. The modern site of CHS is the site Constantine chose; its place in the surrounding city is an exact fit for the physical and social environment of the tomb.

A. Validation of Constantine's site two sources:

(1) The description of the site itself

The descriptions given by Eusebius, and by Crusaders in the Middle ages, match the actual site.

Carbo Excavation.

Church of The Holy Sepulcher -- Government of Israel site, visited 6/7/01

"This courtyard, outside the present-day Church of the Holy Sepulcher, is partly supported by a large, vaulted cistern. The northern wall of this cistern is very impressive, consisting of large blocks with dressed margins, still standing several meters high. It has been suggested that this early wall served as the retaining wall of the second century Hadrianic raised platform (podium). This appears to support Eusebius' statement that the Temple of Venus, which Hadrian erected on the site of Jesus' tomb, stood here before the original church was built."

"The Basilica: Early masonry below the catholicon of the Crusader period was exposed during the excavations. This made possible the reconstruction of the original design of the 4th century basilica. The position of the two central rows of columns in the basilica (out of the four rows) may be determined by the remains of their foundations, which can be seen along the northern and southern sides of the chapel of St. Helena. In a small underground space north of this chapel, a massive foundation wall of the early basilica was exposed. On a large, smoothed stone which was incorporated in this wall, a pilgrim to the original church left a drawing of a merchant ship and the Latin inscription: "O Lord, we shall go." Beneath the apse of the present-day catholicon, part of the apse that marked the western end of the original church was exposed. Eusebius described this apse as being surrounded by twelve columns, symbolizing the twelve apostles."

"The Rotunda and Sepulcher: The most important element of the complex is the rotunda which contains the sepulcher itself. The sepulcher stands in an elaborate structure within the rotunda, surrounded by columns supporting an ornamented, domed roof. Some masonry remains were revealed below the floor and around the perimeter of the rotunda. Wherever bedrock was exposed, there were indications of stone-quarrying in earlier periods. The quarrying operation lowered the surface level around the sepulcher, which thus stood well above its surroundings. An architectural survey of the outer wall of the rotunda - 35 m. in diameter and in some sections preserved to a height of 10 m. - shows that it maintains its original 4th century shape. The sepulcher itself is surrounded by a circle of twelve columns - groups of three columns between four pairs of square piers. It is possible that the columns for the 4th century rotunda were removed from their original location on the facade of the Roman temple. Renovation of the piers exposed evidence that the columns had originally been much higher and that the Crusaders cut them in half for use in the 12th century rotunda.The renovation of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is still in progress, but after generations of neglect, the building has already regained most of its former beauty.

"The survey and excavations were conducted by V. Corbo, Ch. Co√ľasnon, M. Broshi and others, on behalf of the Christian communities which control most of the Holy Sepulcher: the Roman Catholic; the Greek Orthodox; and the Armenian Orthodox."

Of course, Corfeld says that these pagan monuments, intended to defile the site and make it unfit for veneration, only served to mark the location, so that Christians could remember where it was by marking the pagan monument. There are more serious considerations which I do not have time to address here. I suggest that the reader click on the link above and read the entire article. But the point here is that, unlike what many skeptics try to claim, the situation is not that no one ever heard of the site before Constantine; he did not pull it out of think air. There is a traceable tradition going back to the fist century. [Gaalyah Cornfeld, Archaeology the Bible Book by book 1976, 1982 paperback edition by Harpercollins;]

Yesterday, a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses came to my door. They were very nice people. They smiled a lot, and carefully explained to me that according to the Bible, the Kingdom of God is coming. They were people who I would happily invite out to dinner because they were very pleasant and loving. They gave me a copy of their latest addition of The Watchtower Magazine (every true Christian should always accept The Watchtower when offered by well-meaning Jehovah's Witnesses to keep it out of the hands of those who do not already have a relationship with God) and another little booklet called "Good News from God." I thanked them for both. 

It may surprise some people to learn that I don't automatically turn into "super-apologist" when Jehovah's Witnesses come to the door. I intentionally choose to refrain from using my years of reading and study in the area of apologetics to reveal their errors by hammering them on doctrine. I don't do that because I hold what many in the Christian church might consider to be heretical view about Jehovah's Witnesses -- I believe that the Jehovah's Witnesses at the lowest levels (who are generally those who come to the door) are not bad people, just deceived. In fact, I think that most of the Jehovah's Witnesses who come to my door truly have faith in God as they understand Him. The problem with Jehovah's Witnesses is that the faith they hold is filtered through the wrongful teachings of the Jehovah's Witness organization.  

I have taken a little time to scan through "Good News from God" booklet, and without recognizing the different way Jehovah's Witnesses use common Christian words, it appears to be largely in line with Christian doctrine. In fact, in my conversation with the two Witnesses who came to my door, I told them that, based on what they verbally shared, we are not in disagreement that Jesus will be returning to establish His kingdom. However, what they shared at the door is not quite what the Jehovah's Witnesses teach in the materials they gave me. Chapter 7 of the "Good News from God" booklet (hereinafter the GNG booklet) has two pages on "What is God's Kingdom"? While I find that the first two points are largely true as written (whenever dealing with Christian cults like the Jehovah's Witnesses, one needs to understand that the terms are not defined in exactly the same way that they are in the accepted forms of Christianity), the GNG booklet goes downhill from there. (Chapter 7 reiterates that the number of people who will be saved numbers 144,000 [Revelation 14:1] and that God's kingdom began it's rule in 1914.) But even the earlier questions which at first blush appear somewhat sound have hidden errors. Chapter 7, Question 1 of the GNG booklet reads:

The kingdom of God is a heavenly government. It will replace all other governments and will cause God's will to be done in heaven and on earth. The news about God's kingdom is good. Soon God's kingdom will satisfy man's need for good government. It will unite everyone living on earth. (Read Daniel 2:44; Matthew 6:9, 10; 24:14.) A kingdom must have a king. Jehovah appointed his son, Jesus Christ, to be king of his kingdom."

This paragraph has a lot of loaded language. It raises a lot of questions. For example, what does it mean when it says that it will be a "heavenly government?" If that language means that God will rule over a new heaven and a new earth, I have no problem with that statement. Likewise, what does it mean when it says that God's kingdom will "satisfy man's need for good government?" And most importantly, what does it mean when it describes Jesus Christ as "his son?"

This last question is key to understanding the church's disagreement with the Jehovah's Witnesses. Chapter 4 of the GNG booklet answers the question (according to Jehovah's Witnesses) of "Who is Jesus Christ?" It is in the failure to recognize the true identify of Jesus Christ that the Jehovah's Witnesses go incredibly wrong. Chapter 4 question 1 reads:

Unlike any other human, Jesus lived in heaven as a spirit person before he was born on earth. (John 8:23) He was God's first creation, and he helped in the creation of all other things. He is the only one created directly by Jehovah and is therefore appropriately called God's "only-begotten" Son. (John 1:14) Jesus served as God's spokesman, so he is also called "the Word."

When relating to Jehovah's Witnesses, the primary question which must be answered is "who is Jesus Christ?" According to "How do Jehovah’s Witnesses’ teachings about Christ compare with Scriptures?" on

JW’s believe that Jesus Christ was a perfect man, and that He is a person distinct from God the Father. However, they also teach that before His Earthly life, Jesus was a spirit creature, Michael the archangel, who was created by God and became the Messiah at His baptism. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jesus is a mighty one, although not almighty as Jehovah God is. According to John 1:1 in their Bible, The New World Translation, Christ is “a god,” but not “the God.” They teach that Jesus “was and is and always will be beneath Jehovah” and that “Christ and God are not coequal”.

Since the identity of Jesus is key to helping Jehovah's Witnesses recognize that they have a false religion, the question becomes how do we address with Jehovah's Witnesses that Jesus is fully God? Looking around the Internet I found several possible approaches. I want to suggest one more, and I would be interested in hearing feedback from others as to whether this might work. I put it out on the CADRE blog in hopes that I will learn from others whether there is a flaw in this approach that I am not considering. Specifically, I would want to argue for Jesus' divinity from Paul's Epistle of Titus. 

Just for the record, I am not going to attempt to prove Jesus' divinity from Titus 2:11-14. Those verses (especially verse 13) in most accepted translations is a strong acknowledgment that Jesus is God, and reads:

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, 14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.

Although this is a very strong acknowledgment that Jesus is God, Jehovah's Witnesses have regularly denied the straightforward reading of this passage and have translated verse 13 in their New World Translation as " while we wait for the happy hope and glorious manifestation of the great God and of our Savior, Jesus Christ...." Note how the Jehovah's Witness' New World Translation reinterprets the verse to divide "the great God" from "our Savior, Jesus Christ." Effectively, they have taken a verse which identifies Jesus as being God and divided it so that it appears that there are two separate individuals. While this is a very troubling interpretation, it is not one that I would suggest the typical individual who is not well-studied in Greek undertake with a Jehovah's Witness (especially since the Witness who comes to your door is probably not well-versed in Greek, either). Trying to prove the correct interpretation with someone who does not read Greek would probably prove both frustrating and fruitless. 

Rather, I think there is a more direct method of using Titus to prove the divinity of Jesus. It is based on the fact that Paul repeatedly preaches God as a God of salvation throughout the letter. Here's my suggestion, and I look forward to comments as to what may be the response from the typical Jehovah's Witness: 

First, have them use their own New World translation and look up Titus 1:1-3. (Always use their New World Translation despite its obvious flaws - it saves arguments about whether the translation that the non-Jehovah's Witnesses uses is accurate.) In the introductory language to this Epistle, Paul identifies himself, sets forth God's plan, and concludes by referring to the command of "our Savior, God." (Titus 1:3, NWT) I would next ask them to read Titus 3:4-5. Those verses read: "However, when the kindness of our Savior, God and his love for mankind were manifested (not because of any righteous works we had done, but because of his own mercy) he saved us by means of the bath that brought us to life and by making us new by holy spirit." (Titus 3:4-5, NWT) I would then ask, "According to these verses, is God our Savior?" (In event the Witnesses are uncertain, the obvious conclusion is, "Yes.")

Next, I would use again their own New World Translation and ask them to read Titus 1:4, which concludes: "May you have undeserved kindness and peace from Christ Jesus our Savior." (Titus 1:4b, NWT) Next, I would proceed to the aforementioned Titus 2:13 which, in their own translation, identifies Jesus Christ as "our Savior, Jesus Christ." (Titus 2:13, NWT). Finally, I would proceed to Titus 3:6 which reads: "he poured this spirit out richly on us through Jesus Christ our Savior..." (Titus 3:6, NWT)

I expect that most readers will have figured out what I will ask next. I will ask, "Is Jesus Christ our Savior?" (Again, for those struggling with putting two and two together, the answer is, "Yes.") I will then ask, "So, you see that God is our Savior and Jesus Christ is our Savior. How do you reconcile these verses? Do we have two Saviors or just one Savior? How can it be that both Jesus Christ and God are our Savior (emphasize that it is 'Savior' and not 'Saviors' - plural) unless they are one in the same person?"

Unless the collective wisdom of the readership of this blog convinces me that there is a flaw in this approach, that's the approach I'm going to try when these two Jehovah's Witnesses return to my door. I would be interested in knowing whether the collective wisdom of this group and its readership identifies any flaw that the Jehovah's Witnesses will exploit. I would also be interested in knowing what you think of this approach.

This past January (gosh, it is almost September already??), I saw an interesting question asked on a Facebook group against Jesus Mythicism: "Could the gospels (and particularly the infancy narratives) be, in part, orthodox responses and redactions of stories by early pagan converts that simply got out of hand and became too popular to ignore? Could this be a fair compromise between mythicism and historicism?"

FB being FB, after I posted a reply, I never noticed that Alexander, who asked the question, replied to a basic answer from me with a further question, and that particular thread soon dropped out of sight.

I think it's a respectable question, and I meant and still mean no disrespect in giving a short answer there and a longer consideration of it here. It's a somewhat vaguely broad question, of course, but it's still precise in the basic concept being proposed, and its broadness allows a lot of flexibility for fulfillment options: perhaps it could be true this way, or if not this way then that way, or the other way. This allows the proposal a lot of leeway to fit with various other theories and with established facts.

I think the specific concept, however, will end up sinking the theory when it's compared to established facts: I don't think it can lead cleanly to the shape of those facts. Its broadness, while helpfully flexible (and I mean that as a compliment to the proposal), also fogs in problems with the specific concept.

The proposal at hand can be stated (out of its initial question form): "The canonical Gospels (and particularly their infancy narratives) are, in part, orthodox responses and redactions of stories by early pagan converts that simply got out of hand and became too popular to ignore."

I'm specifying a little more, because it ultimately doesn't matter whether some of the non-canonical Gospels (and non-canonical Acts etc.) were developed this way; although strictly speaking I doubt any of them were. But since that's another discussion I'll leave it aside.

So, first, is the proposal intrinsic nonsense? Nope, not as far as I can tell: it isn't built from mutually exclusive contradictions; it isn't self-refuting; it isn't a circular rationale; nothing like that.

Next, what do the points of the proposal involve?

1.) The proposal suggests an explanation for some (not all) details in the canonical Gospels (and I'll suppose the proposal can be extended to thematic and historical claims in canonical Acts and the canonical Epistles). This is important because the theory of the proposal does focus on trying to arrive plausibly at a set of actual facts: the shape and (to some ascertainable degree) the content of those textual details. (The theory allows plenty of flexibility about what the textual details were originally supposed to mean, but Jesus' temptation in the wilderness, to pull a random example, isn't supposed to be about a boat trip to Scandanavia to fall in love with a woman who likes seals but who dies in a tragic boating accident thanks to a 200 foot long serpentine-skinny seal, for example; nor is it supposed to be about whatever the heck that might 'represent'! It's supposed to be about something substantially relevant to the details on the page.)

2.) The idea is that these details (but not all the details) are fictional, and the proposal proposes a theory of how these fictional details got into the stories.

3.) The proposal is flexibly broad about what might or might not be included in the category of fictional details to be explained this way. Nor does the proposal require all of any fictional details to be explained this way; other fictional details, whatever they are, might not be explainable this way but in other ways. So the proposal has that kind of flexibility, too.

4.) The details to be explained this way, are of a sort that the two canonical birth narratives (in GosLuke and GosMatt) can be regarded as examples and even as specially relevant examples. By comparison with other sceptical theories proposing details fictionally borrowed from prior or contemporary stories and ideas, we're talking not only about supernatural events like the virgin birth and angelic announcements and celestial signs, but also maybe about more mundane ideas like being born in a stable and being visited by wise foreigners at or soon after birth and a king wanting the newborn child to die. So again it's a flexibly broad mix, maybe focused more on the supernatural details but able to incorporate more mundane details, too.

5.) These fictional innovations happened at an early date, and got incorporated into the historical story at an early date, too. But "early date" could be pretty flexible, anywhere from the late 30s to the late 130s or whenever 'clear' signs of the existence of the canonical texts start showing up in the historical record. The proposal is even flexible enough to work with a historical Jesus much earlier than the early 30s, earlier than the eventual canonical setting (during the offices of Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate, in the reign of Tiberius and the tetrarchy of specific sons of Herod the Great, etc.)

6.) These fictional details came from paganism, not from Judaism. Maybe other fictional details came from Judaism, but these details (whatever they might flexibly be) came from one or more paganisms. This concept is quite normal for sceptical theories about the Christian story and thematic developments of course.

7.) "Orthodox" writers are responsible for incorporating these fictional pagan details into the canonical texts. Pretty much any sceptical theory (up to and including Jesus Mythicism variants) has to include this detail, since the authors would at least have to count as proto-orthodox by the standards of the later authorities promoting what eventually succeeded (for whatever reason(s), which this theory can broadly incorporate) in being the majority belief set.

Still, this detail does start to involve more conceptual particularity than its broad similarity to other sceptical (but still relevantly historical) proposals so far: we aren't talking about a theory where 'orthodox' authorities after the canonical compositions managed to wrench ideas substantially around into a new form very conceptually different than what the canonical Gospel authors had in mind. The theory acknowledges serious levels of conceptual continuity between the Gospel authors and the later orthodox authorities. There's still some flexibility allowable for the later authorities to do some innovating of concepts fictional to the actually historical Jesus that the Gospel authors themselves didn't have in mind, but that flexibility has sharp limits. Those limits will be somewhat important later.

Now the proposed explanation for those textual details in the canonical Gospels (and Acts etc.), gets even more conceptually particular. Because now we're getting to the topic of why innovations from these authors would be so broadly accepted to survive and compete so well against equally fictional details and ideas in other texts.

8.) The orthodox authors felt or believed they had to include these new fictional pagan details. At the very least, they felt like the risks of not including the details were unacceptable (whether those risks were only of their work being too rejected by the people whom the authors wanted to accept their work, or other risks -- the proposal can be flexible about this).

Okay, so where did this pressure come from?

9.) The pressure came about due to pagan converts to Christianity.

This introduces some sharp limits to the flexibility to the proposal. It necessarily implies that, at the time of Gospel composition, Christianity has been going through important changes, from one kind of form, into a substantially pagan form.

From what kind of form? Not from another pagan form, and besides the textual details are massively strong about the Jewish character of the socio-cultural setting of the stories, and about the ideas and emphases of the story.

This element of the proposal can only require that Christianity had been very substantially Jewish before -- and had already become very substantially pagan before the Gospel authors wrote (or the pressure to include pagan novelties, even with Jewish redactions, wouldn't matter or even exist enough to be a factor) -- and yet demonstrably all four Gospels (and Acts, and any historical bits in the epistles) are still heavily invested in Judaism, too.

So why, on this proposal, did the Gospel authors cooperate with this pagan pressure from within the Christian movement? Was it because they thought these new innovations were the actual truth of the original historical situation? Was it because they didn't care about whether the ideas were true, or even knew them to be false, but found them useful for their own goals? Was it because the authorities whom the authors were working for had become substantially pagan and were forcing the authors to include this stuff now? Was it because this was now just the status quo of how things worked and the authors didn't even know any better?

10.) The Gospel authors included these fictional pagan innovations, because these fictional pagan innovations had gotten out of hand.

Okay, that necessarily implies not only that the authors knew differently (even if they had Jewish fictional myths that they were knowingly or unknowingly incorporating), but also that there was authoritative pressure, a hand of control analogically speaking, against these pagan fictional innovations: a hand of control which the authors nominally agreed with and nominally would have supported.

So why didn't the authors support the authority over-against the fictional pagan innovations?

11.) These out-of-control pagan innovations introduced by pagan converts, had become too popular to be ignored. Or to be successfully censured any more either. They must have become so popular, on this theory, that either the authorities behind the authors were bowing to the pressure and allowing the innovations over-against their own preferences and any knowledge of theirs (directly or by reliable prior sources) of what did and didn't really happen; or perhaps the authors chose to throw in with the popular pressure to save their own personal relevance, or even to create their own personal relevance thereby -- even to become the new authorities themselves, or the authorities behind the new authorities.

I will suppose that the proposal is flexible enough to allow that maybe by GosJohn's composition, this was the new solidly established status quo, and so that Gospel author may have just been going along with any amount of pagan fictional innovations (which the proposal could again be flexible about the extent of). But by the terms of the proposal, that can't be the situation of the authors of GosLuke and GosMatt (and evidently also GosMark's author before or contemporary with them, although I suppose the theory could be flexible enough for GosMark to be a subsequent creation afterward). They're reacting to a change in administrative policy which the administrators feel forced to implement against their preferences otherwise; and maybe these authors are even taking the opportunity (by popular pagan convert pressure) to change the administration themselves.

That's the total shape of the proposal, as an explanation for why a flexibly broad set of textual details actually exist in the canonical historical texts -- a set of textual details which the proposal regards (for any of various reasons) as fictional and not historical, but wedded in various ways and in various degrees to a still-historical core about Jesus Christ (of Nazareth or Galilee or Judea or wherever, the proposal being flexible about that, too.)

So does the proposal, as a theory, fit cleanly with actual established facts such as those textual details?

Next time: if you guessed I'm going to answer "no"...

In what he terms the "Freewill Argument for the Nonexistence of God" (FANG), atheist Dan Barker contends that the very definition of the Christian God is logically incoherent, and therefore the Christian God is nonexistent. Like many unsound arguments atheistic and otherwise, Barker's appears fairly convincing at a glance. In this case Plato's dictum bears repeating: "Arguments, like men, are often pretenders." The following is the main body of Barker's argument:
The Christian God is defined as a personal being who knows everything. According to Christians, personal beings have free will.
In order to have free will, you must have more than one option, each of which is avoidable. This means that before you make a choice, there must be a period of potential: you cannot know the future. Even if you think you can predict your decision, if you claim to have free will, you must admit the potential (if not the desire) to change your mind before the decision is final.
A being who knows everything can have no state of "uncertainty." It knows its choices in advance. This means that it has no potential to avoid its choices, and therefore lacks free will. Since a being that lacks free will is not a personal being, a personal being that knows everything cannot exist.
Therefore, the Christian God cannot exist. [1]
If we break down Barker's formulation further it goes something like this:
(P1) The Christian God is defined as omniscient and autonomous (having free will).
(P2) Autonomy and omniscience are contradictory. 
(P3) Contradictions do not exist.
(C) The Christian God does not exist.
Premise P2 appears to be an intermediate conclusion reached on the basis of two additional supporting premises:
(i) Autonomy means the ability to make decisions, leaving future possibilities open.
(ii) Omniscience means knowing the future beforehand, precluding ability to make decisions.
(c) Autonomy and omniscience are contradictory.
The argument is admittedly valid. That is, the overall conclusion does appear to follow logically from the premises and sub-premises. But is it sound, or necessarily true? To answer that question, we must examine the premises individually. P1 turns out to be basically what I would term a "zero-sum" definition of God, in which his "omni" characteristics (in this case omniscience) are held to be self-contradictory because they are all-consuming. "God is defined as a personal being who knows everything." Barker's "definition" sounds reasonable enough, but his particularistic interpretation is not supported by Christian theology, by biblical hermeneutics or even by most standard English dictionaries. Thus Barker's definitions of God and omniscience appear arbitrary, perhaps chosen in order to support a presupposed conclusion. Theologically, the concept of God is a transcendent personal being (an eternal personality, for lack of a better word) who possesses or exhibits attributes such as omniscience. Personalities cannot be ontologically reduced to definitions of their descriptive attributes.
This appears to be one reason atheists often clamor for a "definition" of God – in order to play verbal games with the particular words chosen to define him. Concepts do not perfectly convey definitions; to the contrary, definitions imperfectly convey concepts. To misunderstand this is to reduce substantive reasoning to quibbling, and lend credence to logical fallacies such as equivocation. For example, a debater on alt.atheism (many years ago now) argued along these lines: "Omnipotence means all power; but if God has all power, then humanity has none, and therefore God is directly responsible for all the evil and suffering in the world." Here "omnipotence" does mean "all power," but not in a zero-sum sense. "All power," at least in theological terms, means unlimited capacity on the part of God to do whatever he chooses. The former definition precludes free will. The latter does not. God is described by theologians as "omniscient" because he is said to have knowledge of what is ordinarily quite beyond the reach of human understanding – things like the motives of his followers and the respective geopolitical futures of the nations. Terms like "omniscience" thus serve the purpose of theology by contributing to our understanding of God as revealed in Scripture, but implicit in the understanding is that God is not shackled by definitions of words coined in order to describe him in the first place.
Consider a counterexample: Dan Barker refers to himself as an "atheist." My old desk dictionary, Merriam-Webster's Tenth Collegiate, defines an "atheist" as "one who denies the existence of God." That same dictionary then offers this definition of "deny": "5: to refuse to accept the existence, truth, or validity of." So it could be argued that according to a dictionary definition, an atheist is one who simply refuses to accept the existence of God or the truth of his existence. It gets worse. My dictionary also defines "denial" in these terms: "6: a psychological defense mechanism in which confrontation with a personal problem or with reality is avoided by denying the existence of the problem or reality." By carefully selecting the definitions of the words used to define an "atheist," I can prove that Dan Barker's "atheism" is really a psychological defense mechanism by which he avoids confrontation with the reality of God's existence.
Barker argues in premise (ii): "A being who knows everything... knows its choices in advance." I would answer that Barker's premise is both irrelevant and invalid: First, if free will is really the ability to make decisions, then it cannot rightly be debunked on the grounds that decisions themselves delimit free will. As a bachelor, for instance, I considered myself "free" to choose a bride, but now that I have made my choice I have freely renounced all other choices. My decision here is no violation of free will, but is rather the very consequence of it that gives it meaning according to Barker's own definition. God likewise makes meaningful choices precisely because He is free to do so. Second, the assertion that an omniscient being "knows its choices in advance" is a straw man, because God is said in Scripture to inhabit eternity, not time. An omniscient being (particularly the God of Scripture) would not subsist in the space-time continuum of the physical universe, subject to the constraints of time and entropy, but rather outside it as its creator. Christian theism involves belief in a transcendent God, the very sort of entity physicists such as Stephen Hawking must at least consider when they speculate what could possibly cause, or at least explain, the birth of space and time at the point of the big bang singularity. God does not know His own future because He has no future. Because Barker's theological construction is itself incoherent, his argument collapses.
On the other hand, if verbal constructs can be said to have legitimate existential import then there are some powerful arguments available for the existence of God. Most famous of these is Anselm's ontological proof, more coherent than Barker's FANG and in more sophisticated forms enjoying the endorsement of noted logicians such as Alvin Plantinga, Kurt Godel and Charles Hartshorne. Anselm's original version from the Proslogion goes as follows: 
[I]t is quite conceivable that there is something whose non-existence is inconceivable, and this must be greater than that whose non-existence is conceivable. Wherefore, if that thing than which no greater thing is conceivable can be conceived as non-existent; then, that very thing than which a greater is inconceivable is not that than which a greater is inconceivable; which is a contradiction.
So true it is that there exists something than which a greater is inconceivable, that its non-existence is inconceivable; this thing art Thou, O Lord our God! [2]   
That is, to properly conceive of God (as the greatest conceivable being or necessarily existent being) is to logically ascertain that His non-existence is inconceivable. If valid ontological proofs (or disproofs) are conclusive, as Barker seems to believe, then God is not incoherent but necessarily existent. If such proofs are not conclusive, then Barker's FANG argument proves nothing anyway.
[1] Dan Barker, "The Freewill Argument for the Nonexistence of God," Freedom from Religion Foundation,
[2] Anselm, "Proslogion III," cited in Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, eds., Documents of the Christian Church, New York, Oxford: 2011, p. 145.


The Infinite causal regress is an important issue in dealing with the cosmological argument, especially the Kalam version, and the argument form final cause. It basically means that any infinitely recurring causality for any event is impossible, since one never actually arrives at a cause. The importance of this argument applies not only to the now largely abandoned notion of an oscillating universe, but to any finite causes of space/time. This is because in light of the impossibility it means that the ultimate cause of the universe must be a final cause, that is to say, the cause behind all other causes, but itself uncaused and eternal. These are two major issues because they indicate why the ultimate cause of the universe has to be God. Since arbitrary necessities are impossible, the ultimate cause cannot be something which is itself contingent, such as an eternal singularity. The ultimate cause, or "final cause" must be God, since God is a logical necessity.

But lately skeptics have sought to deny these principles. They have actually been denying that infinite causal regress is impossible. This causes me to suspect that they don' really understand the concept. For no one truly understanding the notion of an eternally repeating cause could seriously consider that an infinite causal regress can actually exist. But this denial takes two forms. First, they just deny it outright. They don't' believe me. And secondly, they sometimes try to provide examples such as the number line, that's a favorite. And of course the ever popular claim that God is also an infinite Regress. That is three arguments to deal with:

1) Out right deniel that ICR is impossible

2) The argument that one can find examples in Mathematics

3) The idea that God is also an ICR

Before dealing with the nuberline I will just make a little argument on the impossibility of an actual infinite causal regress (that is that one could actually exist in real life).

1)A beginingless series of events is impossible.

A actual infinite is defined as A beginingless series of events This is not to say that nothing actual could be eternal, but that a series of events with no beginning cannot exist in reality. A thing is said to be actually infinite if part of it is equal to the whole. For example, mathematicians show that the number of fractions is equal to the number of whole numbers, even though fractions can divide whole numbers infinitesimally, because its all infinity and infinity is without number. Now here I'm distinguishing between existence in actuality, the "real world," as opposed to existence in mathematics.

A linear Causal infinite regress is thought to be possible by Auqinas and Farther Copeleston, but only if it has a prior hierarchical cause. In other words, the causality can be not just linear but also hierarchical. A hierarchical infinite regress is also impossible for the same reason, it never really has a cause since it has no beginning. A liniar regress of causal nature is impossible without a hierarchical cause.

The great mathematician David Hilbert argues for the notion that a beginingless series of events with no higher cause is impossible. ["On the Infinite" in Philosophy and Mathematics (Englewood Cliffs New Jersey: Prentice Hall), 1964, 139, 141.)

(2) ICR is Circular Reasoning

William Row Quoted on website below

Rowe's version of the standard answer goes as follows: Suppose we are wondering why A exists. Suppose further that A was linearly caused to exist by B and that B was linearly caused to exist by C, etc. Here is a causal series, Rowe says, which might well extend infinitely back in time. This is because we need do nothing other than point out B in order to explain why A exists; although B was itself caused to exist by C, we still need refer no further back than B to explain the existence of A. But, Rowe says, suppose we are trying to explain not why A exists but rather why a certain sort of causal activity - the activity of causing A presently to exist - is going on. Here we cannot as before merely point to B. because presumably B is itself being caus ed to engage in the causal activity of causing A presently to exist (and is thus only a kind of intermediary). Accordingly, we have to talk about C's causal activity the causal activity of causing B to cause A presently to exist. This, then, is a series that cannot be extended infinitely; this series must have a first member. For if there were no first member, we would never succeed in arriving at an explanation of the existence of the causal activity of causing A presently to exist. We would never be able to explain why this activity is going on.11

(But this author supports Aquians' and Copleston in saying that linier causal regress is possible but not a hierarchical one. Easy to see why he says this, because he believed the universe to be inifinite in time, but he still asserts that there must be a higher eternal generation)

Just extend Rowe's argument a little further to see that ICR is circular reasoning. The need for a cause is granted bye ICR advocate; and that need will be supplied, so they say, by the cause of the previous event (for example in an oscillating universe, the previous Big Bang supplies the need for the cause of this universe). But, when it comes to explaining the ca usual relation to the whole series they will say that is uncessary, because they have that previous link in the chain and it's covered by the infinite serious of previous links, but nothing ever explains how the previous link could be there, except a previous link.

This is just circular reasoning because no matter how far back you go you have a cause that allows for any particualr link to exist. Take this example:

a => b, b => c, => d => e, e => f

Now if we say "how can f exist without a cause? They say well it has a cause in e. But e doesn't have a cause except in a equally unexplained d, and go back as far as you will, there is never an explanation for how this could be. Yet they agree that the causal principal is necessary because they keep sticking in intermeidate causes. If the causal principal is necessary, then there must be a final cause taht expalins how it could begin. Causality is linear and if they are going to argue for cyclical universe they have cover a linear concept of casu and effect.

If a series of events go back in time forever it is a beginingless series of events. IF the universe existed forever, for example, this would constittue an actual infinite. This is because the series of events that led to the current universe would be infinite. This is to distinguish it form a "potential infinite" which might be achieved by adding one event to another in a series and going on infinitely. But a series of events that has already transpired infinitely is an actual infinite.

Or let's look at the notion of finishing an infinite series. If a man claims to have been counting for infinity and is at last about to reach zero, he says -3, -2, -1, he's finally finished. Yet, he should have finished eons before, an infinity of time passed eons ago, or centuries, or decades, so he should have finished by now. Another strange paradox is that if we could check this man's counting in the past we would never find him counting. For he would have finished an infinity ago so we could never find him counting at any time that we ever checked his counting. Yet if he never counted he could never finnish. Now may skeptics are going to say that it is impossible to count infinitely and so forth, yes, obviously. But these are the kinds of examples used in transfinite mathematics to illustrate this point.

"This illustrates once more that the series of past events could not be without a beginning for if you could not count numbers from eternity, neither could you have events form eternity. These examples underline the absurdity of a beginingless series of events in time, because such a series is an actual infinite and an actual infinite cannot exist. This means that the universe began to exist, which is what we set out to porve" (William Lane Criag in his early work, The Existence of God and The begining of the Universe Here's Life Publishers 1979 p.4 [and don't forget the empirical scientific data which also proves this same pint with the Big Bang).

3) An Actual Infinite Cannot Be Achieved by Adding one event to the series, thus the series of events in time can never be actually infinite.

This can also be understood in the fallacy to trying to count to infinity. This should be pretty obvious, because no matter how many events we add we can always add one more and continue to add events forever. One can never count to infinity. Most people understand this pretty well.So one could never add one event to another and reach infinity, it's the same thing. This is also called The impossibility of traversing the infinite.

Thus an actual infinite could come to exist only if all the memebers came to exist at the same time. As Craig points out "if an infinite number of Days existed before today, today would never come because one can never traverse the infinite." (50).

Philosopher John Hospers states:

"If an infinite series has proceeded the present moment, how did we get to the present moment? How could we get to the present moment--where we obviously are Now--if the present moment was proceeded by an infinite series of events?" [An Indtorduction to Philosophical Analysis, 2nd ed. (London: Rutledge and Kegan Paul, 1967) 434)

This First argument, the impossibility of a beginingless series of events with no higher cause was repeatedly defended and always successfully by G.J.Withrow, Professor of Mathematics at University of London's Imperial College of Science and Technology. see "The Age of the Universe,"British Journal for Philosopher of Science (1954-55) PP215-225. Natural Philosophy of Time (London: Thomas Nelson, 1961) See also Philsopher William Rowe The Cosmological Argument Princeton University press 1975

Now What if someone argues that the infinite series would be beyond time? In that case the skpetic loses the argument that there is no causality before time. IF there is no motion, causality, or change beyond time than there cannot be a series of events leading form one cause to another beyond time.

Now let's examine the three arguments.

1) Out right deniel that ICR is impossible.

Well, if they don't believe the logic, they are pretty hopeless. And if they dont' accept the word of the mathematicians that are quoted, there isn't much you can do about it. But it seems pretty obvious that if you have an ifinite series of causes leading back infinitely you would never have an actual cause, and the thing to be caused would not exist, just as you cannot count to infinity, or just as the counter claiming to have arrived at zero from infinity would never have actually counted.

2) That the number line is an example from Mathematics that proves the actual infinite, or Infinite causal regress.

David Hilbert has prove, as quoted above, that transfinite mathematics cannot exist in life. The number line is not an actual series of events, it is only hypothetical. Moreover numbers do not cause each other. It is not a causal regress.

3) That God is an ICR

This is merely to confusse an infinite with an infinite regress The ICR is an infinite series of events. God is not a series of events. God is not an event, God is not a recurrsion of causes, he is one final cause. God is not in time, he is eternal. So the two are not analogous at all. God is not an ICR.

The ICR is an impossibility, it cannot exist in actuality. This means the universe cannot be eternal, for the universe is an infinite series of causes, each one leading to the next. It certainly means the old oscillating universe notion of eternally recurring big bangs and crunches is right out! Therefore, there must be a final cause which is eternal and is not a series of events but one final cause that transcends the chain of cause and effect. It causes the universe but it is not in turn an effect of any other cause.

Aristotle and Bertrand Russell agree

Robert Koons, University of Texas

Lecutre 5 Phil 356 Theism Spring 98

Another example is mentioned by al-Ghazali. Suppose that the sun and moon have each been revolving around the earth throughout an infinite past. There are 12 revolutions of the moon for every revolution of the sun. As we go back in time, the gap between the number of months and years grows ever wider, yet, taken as a whole, there are an equal number of elapsed months and years (both infinite). Cantorian set theory agrees with this paradoxical result: the cardinal number of months and years is exactly the same.

Bertrand Russell discusses a similar paradox, which he called the Tristam Shandy paradox. Tristam is writing is own autobiography. He takes a whole year to write down the events of a single day. In an infinite amount of time, Shandy can complete the task. Here's a time-reversed version of the paradox: suppose that Tristam is clairvoyent -- he writes about his own future. Last year he wrote about today's events; in the year before last, he wrote about yesterday's events. Today, he has just completed an infinite autobiography, cover all the events of his infinite past, despite the fact that, as we go farther in the past, Shandy is every further behind in the task -- i.e., 1000 years ago, he was still writing about the events of only the last three days.

Final note: The paradox of Time.

Some thinkers believe that time is an infinite series. I do not agree with this notion, I accept t=0, time begins in the Big Bang. But this is a valid viewpoint, I just dont' happen to agree. But that does not prove that a beginingless series of events with no higher cause can exist. Time can still have a higher cause, God perhaps, in heierarchical fashion.

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