CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Problem: Personal testimony evangelism requires building a “ten ton bridge” to present the Gospel.

The presentation of personal testimony implies an invitation to examine our lives to see if Christianity is true. That in turn implies that the person has to know us well in order to know, or be more sure, that Christianity is true. 

And what’s that mean in turn? It means that any actual decision for the Gospel can be forestalled by someone on the pretense of getting to know us better (though they may not tell us that). Or, it can cause us to hedge in presentation, thinking that a person doesn't know us well enough to present the Gospel to them. 

Of course, there are those who will make a decision, as it is said, based on knowing us for just a little while; just as people make snap decisions every day for every reason. But we don’t regard such decisions as well-informed or judicious in other contexts, so why here?

The Apostles didn’t have to play the “get to know you” game to evangelize. Yes, they did know their audiences, generally, as Jews or Greeks, but they certainly did not think they had to get to know them as friends – build that 10 ton bridge – before they started preaching.

In the next two entries, I’ll lay out my positive case for how evangelism should be done, and I’ll be considering what adjustments do need to be made for modern culture in light of the NT example. We have some modern preachers who think “street preaching” is the way we should go, and in one sense, I think they are correct – but only in principle, not in application. We’ll get to that starting next week.

For now, I’d like to close this section of the series with a remark about personal testimony and what it is, exactly. A reader reminded me that it would be a good idea to define terms, and I’ll do that. I’ll also sum up what role if any I think personal testimony can have in evangelism.

What is personal testimony? Personal testimony is often seen as having two aspects. One is what is sometimes called “lifestyle evangelism” – setting an example that makes others wonder what motivates you.

This is NOT what I mean by “personal testimony”. This fits in with the “city on a hill” teaching, which we have noted is a sort of passive form of evangelism (see our earlier entry) and is perfectly legitimate. I would not even call this “personal testimony,” technically: It’s not really “personal” and it isn’t “testimony” in a strict legal sense.

Aside from “city on a hill” instructions (Matt. 5:16), there’s validation for this method in Titus 2:7 and especially 1 Peter 2:12. In Biblical terms, the example Christians set was one which the honor-minded ancients would be concerned with, especially given that society’s tendency to keep deviant groups under a microscope. (We’re under one too, now, but for different reasons; still, the directive for this sort of “testimony” applies.) And of course, we have books like Christianity on Trial that use an apologetic in which it is shown that the Christian worldview has benefited mankind. 

The other aspect of what is called “personal testimony” – which I do have in mind – is a verbal or written presentation in which we conclude, “Jesus caused me to change X way, and this is why you too should be a Christian.” This is the type of personal testimony I believe needs to be generally abandoned, being subject to the serious weaknesses I have outlined in this series.

When should I use personal testimony, if at all? I would restrict its use to times when a person asks us a question like, “What has Christianity done for you?” or “How has it changed you?” Or, when their own life is in disarray and they need a change. However, even at such times, we should present personal testimony within the frame of being a change in worldview and outlook as a result of the factual rising of Jesus from the dead. I’m not saying you need to give a drug addict all the standard arguments for the empty tomb – just make it clear that the historic Resurrection is what’s behind the worldview change, and indicate that this is a claim that will have to be considered, for it is what makes the worldview valid.

That’s the end of the first aspect of this series – next week, we turn to a positive case for how evangelism ought to be conducted.

  photo probability-theory-3224.jpg

It is understandable that naturalistic thinkers are uneasy with the concept of miracles. So should we all be watchful not to believe too quickly because its easy to get caught up in private reasons and ignore reason itself. Thus has more than one intelligent person been taken by both scams and honest mistakes. By the the same token it is equally a  danger that one will remain too long in the skeptical place and become overly committed to doubting everything. From that position the circular reasoning of the naturalist seems so reasonable. There’s never been any proof of miracles before so we can’t accept that there is any now. But that’s only because we keep making the same assumption and thus have always dismissed the evidence that was valid.
            At this point most atheists will interject the ECREE issue (or ECREP—extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, or “proof”). That would justify the notion of remaining skeptical about miracle evidence even when its good. There are many refutations of this phrase, which was popularized by Karl Sagan. One of the major problems with this idea is that atheists rarely get around to defining “extraordinary” either in terms of the claim (why would belief in God be extraordinary? 90% of humanity believe in some form of God) [1] The slogan ECREE is usually said to be based upon the Bayes completeness theorem.  Sagan popularized the slogan ECREE but the mathematical formula that it is often linked to (but not identical to) was invented by the man whose name it bears, working in the  seventeen forties but then he abandoned it, perhaps because mathematicians didn’t like it. It was picked up by the great scientist and atheist Laplace and improved upon.[2] This method affords new atheism the claim of a “scientific/mathematical” procedure that disproves God by demonstrating that God is totally improbable. It is also used to supposedly disprove supernatural effects as well as they are rendered totally improbable.[3]
            It is often assumed that the theorem was developed to back up Hume’s argument against miracles. Bayes was trying to argue against Hume and to find a mathematical way to prove that there must be a first cause to the universe.[4] Mathematicians have disapproved of the theorem for most of its existence. It has been rejected on the grounds that it’s based upon guesswork. It was regarded as a parlor trick until World War II then it was regarded as a useful parlor trick. This explains why it was strangely absent from my younger days and early education as a student of the existence of God. I used to pour through philosophy anthologies with God articles in them and never came across it. It was just part of the discussion on the existence of God until about the year 2000 suddenly it’s all over the net. It’s resurgence is primarily due to it’s use by skeptics in trying to argue that God is improbable. It was not taught in math from the end fo the war to the early 90s.[5]
            Bayes’ theorem was introduced first as an argument against Hume’s argument on miracles, that is to say, a proof of the probability of miracles. The theorem was learned by Richard Price from Bayes papers after the death of the latter, and was first communicated to the Royal society in 1763.[6] The major difference in the version Bayes and Price used and modern (especially skeptical versions) is that Laplace worked out how to introduce differentiation in prior distributions. The original version gave 50-50 probability to the prior distribution.[7] The problem with using principles such as Bayes theorem is that they can’t tell us what we need to know to make the calculations of probability accurate in dealing with issues where our knowledge is fragmentary and sparse. The theorem is good for dealing with concrete things like tests for cancer, developing spam filters, and military applications but not for determining the answer to questions about reality that are philosophical by nature and that would require an understanding of realms beyond, realms of which we know nothing. Bayes conquered the problem of what level of chance or probability to assign the prior estimate by guessing. This worked because the precept was that future information would come in that would tell him if his guesses were in the ball park or not. Then he could correct them and guess again. As new information came in he would narrow the field to the point where eventually he’s not just in the park but rounding the right base so to speak.
            The problem is that doesn’t work as well when no new information comes in, which is what happens when dealing with things beyond human understanding. We don’t have an incoming flood of empirical evidence clarifying the situation with God because God is not the subject of empirical observation. Where we set the prior, which is crucial to the outcome of the whole thing, is always going to be a matter of ideological assumption. For example we could put the prior at 50-50 (either God exists or not) and that would yield a high probability of God.[8] Or the atheist can argue that the odds of God are low because God is not given in the sense data, which is in itself is an ideological assumption. It assumes that the only valid form of knowledge is empirical data. It also ignores several sources of empirical data that can be argued as evidence for God (such as the universal nature of mystical experience).[9] It assumes that God can’t be understood as reality based upon other means of deciding such as personal experience or logic, and it assumes the probability of God is low based upon unbelief because the it could just as easily be assumed as high based upon it’s properly basic nature or some form of elegance (parsimony). In other words this is all a matter of how e chooses to see things. Perspective matters. There is no fortress of facts giving the day to atheism, there is only the prior assumptions one chooses to make and the paradigm under which one chooses to operate; that means the perception one chooses to filter the data through.
            Stephen Unwin tries to produce a simple analysis that would prove the ultimate truth of God using Bayes. The calculations he gives for the priors are as such:
Recognition of goodness (D = 10)
Existence of moral evil (D = 0.5)
Existence of natural evil (D = 0.1)
Intra-natural miracles (e.g., a friend recovers from an illness after you have prayed for him) (D = 2)
Extra-natural miracles (e.g., someone who is dead is brought back to life) (D = 1)
Religious experiences (D = 2)[10]
This is admittedly subjective, and all one need do is examine it to see this. Why give recognition of moral evil 0.5? If you read C.S. Lewis its obvious if you read B.F. Skinner there’s no such thing. That’s not scientific fact but opinon. When NASA does analysis of gas pockets on moons of Jupiter they don’t start out by saying “now let’s discuss the value system that would allow us to posit the existence of gas.” They are dealing with observable things that must be proved regardless of one’s value system. These questions (setting the prior for God) are matters for theology. The existence of moral evil for example this is not a done deal. This is not a proof or disproof of God. It’s a job for a theologian, not a scientist, to decide why God allows moral evil, or in fact if moral evil exists. These issues are all too touchy to just blithely plug in the conclusions in assessing the prior probability of God. That makes the process of obtaining a probability of God fairly presumptive.

[1] find,
[2] Sharon Berstch McGrayne, The Theory that would not Die: How Bayes’ Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011, 3.
[3] As seen with chapter (? Disprove) by Stenger and Unwin.
[4] McGrayne op cit
[5] ibid, 61-81
[6] Geoffrey Poitras, Richard Price, Miracles and the Origin of Bayesian Decision Theory pdf$$$.pdf
Faculty of Business AdministrationSimon Fraser UniversityBurnaby, BCCANADA V5A 1S6. Geoffrey Poitras is a Professor of Finance in the Faculty of Business Administration at Simon Fraser University. Lisited 12/22/12.
[7] ibid
[8] Joe Carter, “The Probability of God” First Thoughts. Blog of publication of First Things. (August 18, 2010) URL:  visited (1/10/13). Carter points out that when Unwin (an atheist discussed in previous chapter) puts in 50% prior he gets 67% probability for God. When Cater himself does so he get’s 99%.Cater’s caveat: “Let me clarify that this argument is not intended to be used as a proof of God’s existence. The sole intention is to put in quantifiable terms the probabilities that we should form a belief about such a Being’s existence. In other words, this is not an ontological proof but a means of justifying a particular epistemic stance toward the idea of the existence or non-existence of a deity.The argument is that starting from an epistemically neutral point (50 percent/50 percent), we can factor in specific evidence for the existence or non-existence of a deity. After evaluating each line of evidence, we can determine if it is more or less likely that it would entail the existence of God.”
[9] Metacrock, "The Scale and The universal Nature of Mystical Experience," The religious a priroi blog URL: see also the major argument I sue for documentation in that article,  In P, McNamar (Ed.), Where God and science meet, Vol. 3, pp. 119-138. Westport, CT: Praeger. linked in Google preview.
[10] Stephen D. Unwin, The probability of God a Simple Calculation That Proves the Ultimate Truth. New York New York: Three Rivers Press, Random House. 2003, appendix 238

Some days ago at the Facebook group "Reasonable Faith Debunked" atheist Cale Nearing[1] laid out what he calls "A positive argument for atheism." The basic idea behind the argument, as I see it, is that since the evidence for theism is compatible not only with theism but with any number of coherent and mutually exclusive hypotheses explaining the origin and life-permitting structure of our universe, the probability of theism being the one true hypothesis is very low; and, since atheism is simply the negation of theism, the probability that atheism is true is very high. Or as Nearing asserts, "Any rational inductor will conclude that Theism is almost certainly false, and therefore that Atheism (the negation of theism) is almost certainly true."
Now the argument as Nearing presents it appears quite sophisticated, making extensive use of the probability calculus generally and Bayes' Theorem in particular. Despite this apparent sophistication, however, I believe there are good reasons to doubt that the argument actually goes through. To the contrary, I believe there are good reasons to maintain that theism, Christian theism particularly, is much more probable than atheism.
An Overview of the Argument
Nearing's argument begins with a review of Bayes' Theorem, which, for the question of the probability of theism given the evidence available, P(T|E), may be written as:
P(T|E) = P(T) * P(E|T) / P(E)
The left side of the equation, P(T|E), is the posterior probability of theism given the evidence, which answers the question: How probable is theism when all the relevant evidence is taken into account? This is what we really want to know. P(E|T) is known as the likelihood of theism on the evidence, or the probability of our having the evidence we do have given that theism is true. According to Nearing, P(E|T) can be imagined in terms of a counter-factual world in which a hypothetical observer, Sue, "has not made any of the observations in E, but is certain that theism is true." P(E|T) then represents "the probability that this counter-factual Sue would assign to observing E in the future." P(T) is the prior probability of theism, a somewhat subjective estimate usually based on human experience and intuitive concepts like perceived simplicity of the hypothesis; And the lower term, P(E), represents "total probability" of the evidence, sometimes called the marginal likelihood of E. As Cale indicates, P(E) is equal to the likelihood of theism on the evidence times the prior probability of theism, plus the likelihood that theism is false – again on the evidence – times the prior probability that theism is false, or:
P(E) = P(E|T) * P(T) + P(E|Tc) * P(Tc).[2]
Now as Cale has it, P(T),  the prior probability of theism, is best described again in terms of counter-factuals, where a hypothetical observer "has made none of the observations in E. How probable would this hypothetical Sue find Theism to be is the value of the second term." A rational observer with no biases, and at the same time with no evidence to guide her decision making, he argues, would have to impartially consider all viable options before deciding upon the prior. 
Thus prior probability, at least according to Nearing, "depends essentially on how many other mutually exclusive hypotheses Sue is considering." And there may be a very large number of these alternate hypotheses, each of which is mutually incompatible with theism. For sake of illustration, Nearing imagines three such alternatives, A1, A2 and A3. For example, A1:
There exists a metaphysically necessary, mindless, genuinely random universe generator which is characterized by a distribution over the universes it could possibly have generated such that the probability that it would have generated a universe in which Sue observes E is equal to L + (1-L)/2.
Like theism, each of these alternatives has its own prior probability, so that together the prior probabilities for this particular four-hypothesis scenario sum to one. Or:
P(T) + P(A1) + P(A2) + P(A3) = 1(one)[3]
Since total probability of all possible and mutually exclusive alternatives has to equal one, and since for an unbiased observer each hypothesis, at least according to Nearing, should have an approximately equal prior probability, "P(T) is approximately equal to 1/4." Because the rest of the argument takes what for me is a yet more technical turn, and because I would likely take up more space rather than less trying to summarize it, I will quote Nearing for the remainder:
We can also now calculate the total probability term, P(E). Recall that:
P(E) = P(T)*P(E|T) + P(Tc) * P(E|Tc)
where Tc is the set of alternative hypotheses. Since our alternative hypotheses are A1, A2, and A3, we know that:
P(E) = P(T)*P(E|T) + P(A1)*P(E|A1) + P(A1)*P(E|A1) + P(A2)*P(E|A2)
Further, we know that P(A1), P(A2), P(A3), and P(T) are each approximately equal to 1/4, and we have expressions for each of the likelihood terms in terms of a single constant, L: 
P(E|T) = L
            P(E|A1) = L + (1-L)/2
            P(E|A2) = L + (1-L)/4
            P(E|A3) = L + (1-L)/8 
Which means we can finally put the whole thing together:
P(T|E) = [L * (1/4)] / [(1/4)*(L) + (1/4)*(L + (1-L)/2) + (1/4)*(L + (1-L)/4) + (1/4)*(L + (1-L)/8)]
With a little algebra, 
P(T|E) = 8 / (25 + 7/L) 
Recall that L must be in the interval (0, 1), and the limit of P(T|E) as L approaches 1
is 1/4.
Hence, P(T|E) < 1/4
And of course, any additional alternative hypotheses would make that probability lower still. From all this Nearing concludes not only that theism is "almost certainly false" (and therefore atheism is almost certainly true), but that there are only two ways to wind up with a substantially higher probability for theism: arbitrarily ignoring one or more of its alternative hypotheses, or arbitrarily boosting its prior probability.
Evaluating the Argument
Just as theism is not the only possible explanatory view of the world, so Nearing's is not the only possible conclusion that can be drawn from a "rational" consideration of theism and its rivals. Though I do not question Nearing's calculations, I do have serious doubts about how some of his terms are derived.  For example, it is not clear that the concept of "a metaphysically necessary, mindless, genuinely random universe generator" is coherent. A metaphysically necessary entity that is both mindless and yet capable of creating countless universes, at least one of which houses intelligent, sentient beings, has to be substantially less probable a priori than a metaphysically necessary, omnipotent being who intentionally creates our universe and intelligent, sentient beings within it for identifiable purposes (e.g., revealing his glory and sharing with others the freedom and life he enjoys).
For one thing, a single universe deliberately designed by a wise and loving self-existent God appears much less complex (hence much more probable) than a large, possibly uncountable, number of universes generated at random from a mindless (purposeless), unidentifiable in principle, and yet somehow self-existent generator. This much is certain: One universe (ours) is much, much less complex than an uncountable host of randomly generated universes which includes ours. And as philosopher Daniel Vecchio put it to Nearing concerning the Deity himself, "God's necessity is per se due to His essence being identical with His existence. This entails eternality, simplicity, immutability, and possessing all perfections like omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence." In other words these divine attributes hold together systematically. Being ontologically necessary implies also being simple, eternal, immutable, and so forth. By contrast there seems to be no reason to even suspect a mindless random universe generator (hereafter RUG) to be simple or immutable – certainly not omniscient or omnibenevolent – and therefore no reason to think it conceptually viable, let alone ontologically necessary.
At any rate, postulating a collection of RUGs for the express purpose of rendering theism improbable seems completely ad hoc. Indeed, from what I can tell the only reason most philosophers and cosmologists ever had for postulating anything like a RUG in the first place was to provide a potential defeater for theism, specifically a defeater for the fine-tuning argument. But with the use of such ad hoc devices, one could prove virtually any hypothesis improbable. All that is required is to postulate two or more logically possible and mutually exclusive alternative hypotheses to make the hypothesis in question less probable. So if someone suggests to me that the earth is a globe, I can simply postulate that, conceivably, it may also be a cube, a cylinder, or a cone, and then run it through Nearing's calculations to demonstrate the probability of sphericity to be P(S) < 1/4.[4] The same procedure could be used, with slightly more seriousness, to diconfirm general relativity, common descent, or virtually any theory, physical or metaphysical, one might care to name.
That is to say, Nearing's procedure, far from being rational, actually denies the role of reason to choose among competing propositions and hypotheses. Instead of using evidence and arguments to infer the  existence (or non-existence) of God – or, for that matter, the sphericity of the earth, mass-energy equivalence, etc. – we simply count up all the counter-scenarios we can imagine for the hypothesis in question and then calculate its (im)probability. Again, there is nothing especially rational or scientific about this approach, which is not so much a responsible use of Baye’s Theorem as an assertion of what amounts to cosmological relativism: Given an arbitrary increase in the number of explanatory possibilities based on the finding of increasingly trivial distinctions among them, the probability of any one selection being true diminishes accordingly.
The main problem I see with all this is that Nearing seems to redefine the central metaphysical question in terms of something like a random variable. The “evidence” for various answers to that question (such as theism), then, amounts to little more than a prior probability distribution. Prior probabilities, however, should not be based strictly on the number of interally coherent but mutually incompatible alternatives imaginable, but also on factors like human experience[5], simplicity, scope, and fit with general background knowledge, all of which basically means that not all priors are created equal. As I argued here a few months ago, certain forms of evidence tend to get overlooked when they should rightly be accounted for as background knowledge.[6] In that case the real utility of Bayes' rule is to update beliefs that are already based on a measure of existing evidence, in light of new evidence. Revising probabilities, hence updating beliefs, on the strength of incoming evidence constitutes the very purpose of Bayes' Theorem. Rather than revising these various probabilities in light of various lines of actual observational and propositional evidence at hand, however, Nearing simply concludes that theism is improbable and closes out the argument.
Updating Belief (on the Evidence for Christian Theism) 
It goes without saying that most theists believe there to be good evidence for the existence of God. According to Richard Swinburne, for example, there is a wide spectrum of evidence which, when properly "plugged in" to Bayes' Theorem, makes theism considerably more probable than atheism.[7] After carefully explaining the apologetic usefulness of inductive arguments and the broad outlines of Bayesian confirmation theory, and arguing for a relatively high "intrinsic probability of theism" (its prior probability), Swinburne includes as evidence for theism, defined here as observations that make P(T|E) > P(E), the following: 
1. Evidence of cosmology
2. Fine tuning
3. Consciousness
4. Morality
5. Miracles
6. Religious experience
As evidence against theism he has only the problem of evil, which most would agree has lost much of its force in recent years (thanks largely to Alvin Plantinga). Swinburne then suggests, in a superficial similarity with Nearing, that there are at least three serious alternative hypotheses to theism:
Let h1 be the hypothesis that there are many gods or limited gods; h2 be the hypothesis that that there is no God or gods but an initial (or everlasting) physical state of the universe, different from the present state but of such a kind as to bring about the present state; and   the hypothesis that there is no explanation at all (the universe just is and always has been as it is).[8]
Now there is a reason that Swinburne "lumps together" all these alternative gods or limited gods, a category which would include RUGs, under h1:
I have argued [on the basis of evidence from cosmology, etc.] that the hypothesis of theism is a very simple hypothesis indeed, simpler than hypotheses of many or limited gods…. In that case, theism is going to be more probable than h1, the disjunction of hypotheses of many or limited gods; and there is much less reason why they should bring about a universe at all or one of our character – they may not be able to do so, and not being perfectly good may not have much reason to do so (unless we complicate these hypotheses further by building into them the requisite propensity).[9]
From similar considerations of Christian theism and the terms of Nearing's argument, I would suggest it is reasonable and rational to believe that
P(T|E) >> P(A1)*P(E|A1) + P(A1)*P(E|A1) + P(A2)*P(E|A2)

Or as another Facebook contributor put it more succinctly: P(T|E)>>P(An|E)

And thus, P(T) > P(~T)

It is therefore perfectly rational to believe that theism is more probable than atheism – but how much more probable? Just for the sake of argument I would be willing to grant Nearing that the evidence of cosmology suggesting a beginning of the observable universe (of matter, space and time) is compatible not only with theism but with the existence of a RUG or lots of RUGs, and that the probabilities of our universe are perhaps comparable on all of these hypotheses. I would be willing to say the same, again just for argument's sake, of fine-tuning of life-permitting physical constants and quantities regulating our universe.
But consider consciousness. Does any rational thinker honestly believe that consciousness is not vastly more probable on theism than on the mindless RUG hypothesis? Morality, likewise, can be explained in nontheistic terms, but clearly the straightforward impartation of moral awareness and responsibility from God is more parsimonious than, say, the evolutionary development of conspiratorial “selfish genes” that disguise themselves as noble and meaningful moral obligations but really only seek long-term physical survival for themselves. Skeptics may find it easy to dismiss miracle “testimony” wholesale, but we all are continually faced with incontrovertible evidence – being alive, namely – that somehow life originated on earth, in the face of extreme improbability, and yet just as recorded in Scripture. That certainly sounds like miracle. And like so many others, I have never found a satisfactory “natural” explanation for the empty tomb of Jesus, the postmortem appearances of Christ to the apostles, the birth of the early church in Jerusalem (of all places!), and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, apart from the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Given that the resurrection did occur, the testimony of the apostles emerges not only from a rich supply of historical background evidence but from firsthand experiences of Jesus risen from the dead.
For myself, I know that the same kind of “religious experience” that gave such boldness to the apostles continues to the present. I know of Christ’s resurrection not only by inference from historical evidence but because I have experienced, as did the apostle Paul, the life-changing "power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). I know firsthand the love of the Father, forgiveness of sins by the sacrifice of the Son, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. For me and billions of other believers, the existence of God is therefore self-evident, as uncontroversially true as the axioms of logic and probability might seem for a logician or statistician. So for me Christian theism is simply, certainly true. But in deference to Nearing's probabilistic sensibilities, here I will say merely that Christian theism is almost certainly true.


[1] Cale Nearing is a Statistician who holds Bachelor's degrees in Technical and Professional Writing, Mathematics, and Statistics. Readers may find his argument in full at (requires logging in to Facebook and joining the "Reasonable Faith Debunked" group).
[2] Nearing uses the convention P(Tc), where c is any "compliment" of T, or any hypothesis which, if true, would mean that theism is false.
[3] Nearing here adds a fifth term, P(C), the probablity of any and all alternative hypotheses Sue has failed to consider. Though I believe he is correct to note that any value for P(C) would make theism less probable, I leave it out for simplicity's sake.
[4] It could be objected here – rightly! – that the evidence for sphericity makes it far more probable than any alternative or disjunction of alternatives. But as an a priori matter it happens to be the only one of the four shapes postulated with no flat surface, which might lead a na├»ve ("unbiased") observer to conclude that the earth probably has at least one flat side. This underscores why observational evidence and background knowledge are more important than Nearing seems willing to allow.
[5] There appears to be no getting around the role of the individual's beliefs and biases in assessing priors, strength of evidence for and against the hypothesis, etc. In Bayesian Confirmation Theory this is known as conformational relativity: "Evidential relationships must be relativized to individuals and their degrees of belief" – James Joyce, "Bayes' Theorem," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2003),
[6] Don McIntosh, "On the Prior Probability of the Resurrection,"
[7] Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God (2nd Ed.) (New York: Oxford, 2004).
[8] Swinburne, pp. 339-340.
[9] Swinburne, p. 340.

Problem: Personal testimony is not only unbiblical, it also creates a conflict in Biblical texts.

In the CRI article referenced earlier, I explained why various texts used to support the idea of “personal testimony” in the Bible are wrong. To this I can add that personal testimony – which encourages the measuring of behavior as a criterion for conversion – creates an obvious conflict with many Biblical texts in which Biblical characters are (or seem to be) “behaving badly” – which in turn either compels us to defend these figures, or live with an epistemic inconsistency.

I don’t need to name too many of these Biblical examples: Whether it’s Abraham lying to Pharaoh about Sarah; whether it is Jesus or Paul using harsh language against their opponents, doesn’t matter: If we’ve encouraged nonbelievers to check behavior in order to validate the truth of Christianity, we’ve set ourselves up for the task of defending not only our behavior, but that of Biblical figures. (Of course, as noted, many such charges against Biblical figures are either blown out of proportion, or false; but that is beside the point.)

Relatedly, my ministry vice president made an excellent point. Josh McDowell once said that “no one can argue” with your personal testimony. More specifically, he has said:

For example, let's say a student comes into the room and says, 'Guys, I have a stewed tomato in my right tennis shoe. This tomato has changed my life. It has given me a peace and love and joy that I never experienced before, not only that, but I can now run the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds flat.' 

It is hard to argue with a student like that if his life backs up what he says (especially if he runs circles around you on the track). A personal testimony is often a subjective argument for the reality of something. Therefore, don't dismiss a subjective experience as being irrelevant. 

Indeed? My ministry vice president ministers to inmates in his local jail, and he  encountered an inmate who gave a glowing “personal testimony” of how his life had been changed – by converting to Islam. I met such inmates myself while I worked as a prison librarian. By McDowell’s logic, this inmate and his conversion to Islam suggests that Islam is a valid faith; we can’t dismiss his subjective experience as being irrelevant.

But in fact, we should – because following this line, any time any professing Christian feels depressed, or falls into sin, or even shows an uncritical nature, it is an argument against Christianity. Likewise, if anyone becomes a Scientologist, a Mormon, or even an atheist, and finds their lives positively “transformed” it is an argument “for” their belief system – and by default, against Christianity, since the implication of McDowell’s point is that Christianity does the best (if not the exclusive) job when it comes to transforming lives.

I’ll have one more entry before we turn to a positive case for how evangelism ought to be conducted.

John Rylands Fragment

Michael B. Paulkovich is another example [1]of the same fallacy I dealt with last time but he illustrates even more ridiculous fallacies than the others (see my previous post). I call it the "Philo fallacy" because Philo is probably the est example. the fallacy says here are x number of famous writers who lived contemporary with Jesus but they don't talk about him. Jesus worked big miracles so if he really existed they would have heard of him and the would want to talk about him. This is about their only major argumet in addition to no documents or official papers like birth certificate. This is still an argument from silence and they still have a burden of proof (which they do not even attempt to meet) to show  that any of their guys should have heard of Jesus or want to write about him.

I have always been a staunch Bible skeptic but not a Christ-mythicist. I maintained that Jesus probably existed but had fantastic stories foisted upon the memory of his earthly yet iconoclastic life.After exhaustive research for my first book, I began to perceive both the light and darkness from history. I discovered that many prominent Christian fathers believed with all pious sincerity that their savior never came to Earth or that if he did, he was a Star-Trekian character who beamed down pre-haloed and full-grown, sans transvaginal egress. And I discovered other startling bombshells.[2]
He doesn't believe in miracles? The church fathers knew about Star Trek over a thousand years before tv he doesn't see what a miracle that is? For this augment he draws upon John Remsburg author of The Christ (1909).[3] Remsberg made the fallacious Philo argumet with 41 or so candidates. He's really just another unremarkable Jesus myth crack post whose ideas were disproved a long time ago.
Paulkovich, in emulation comes up with 126.He does not bother to prove that there is any reason why any of them would have mentioned Jesus.

Paulkovich Makes his major counter figure Apollonius of Tyanna."Perhaps none of these writers is more fascinating than Apollonius Tyanus, saintly first-century adventurer and noble paladin. Apollonius was a magic-man of divine birth who cured the sick and blind, cleansed entire cities of plague, foretold the future, and fed the masses. He was worshiped as a god and as a son of a god."[4] 
He feels pained to point out that Apollonius was nevertheless a real man. But by Jesus myth standards why doesn't his wonder working mark him as myth? They seem to insist that Jesus could not have been a real man due to his wonder working. more importantly this might also provide a motive for Apollonius not to mention Jesus. He would be validating a rival. Moreover, he lived in Anatolia, east coast of Turkey,so not in Palestine and thus not necessarily up on all the events near Jerusalem or the Galilee. 

Here he makes another major fallacious assumption, that Jesus must have been well known all over the known wold at the time of his miracle working and that miracles would make him famous.

"Because Jesus ostensibly performed miracles of global expanse (such as in Matthew 27), his words going “unto the ends of the whole world” (Rom. 10), one would expect virtually every literate person to have recorded those events. A Jesus contemporary such as Apollonius would have done so, as well as those who wrote of Apollonius." [5]The reference to the ends of the earth is a midrash where Paul quotes Pslam 19:4. The words are from the psalm.That is nothing like proof that Jesus would have been known through out the world in his day. The Gospel was taken to the ends of the earth even in Paul's day, Thomas went India and Bartholomew to Armenia. That is not poof that Jesus would have been known in his life time in far away places. Paul died imn 64 and Jesus in 33. At least 20 more years for the message to taken to fa away places. Since everyone believed in miracles and miracle workers were allover the place (as we just saw with Apollonius) why would they have taken note of another wonder worker in a far away place?

At this point Paulkovich starts on this strange argument that somehow figures from the third century don;'t talk about Jesus:

Such is not the case. In Philostratus’s third-century chronicle Vita Apollonii, there is no hint of Jesus. Nor does Jesus appear in the works of other Apollonius epistolarians and scriveners: Emperor Titus, Cassius Dio, Maximus, Moeragenes, Lucian, Soterichus Oasites, Euphrates, Marcus Aurelius, or Damis of Hierapolis. It seems that none of these first- to third-century writers ever heard of Jesus, his miracles and alleged worldwide fame be damned.[6]
This is a puzzlement because obviously third century figures would have no first hand connection  as historical knowledge of first century people. They would only be discussing Jesus as a remote figure 300 years in the past, But Christianity was a going concern by third century so he can't possibly be tying to imply that Jesus wasn't known to anyone by that time? This is so obvious I should not have to document it. All the apostolic fathers wrote from 90s AD to middle of second century: Clement of Rome, Papias, Ignatius, Polycarp,Justin martyr, they all talk about Jesus, Clement of Alexamdria, Origin, and more. Visit the index to any church history Textbook [7] There is a huge pile of apocryphal literature beginning with late first century that talks about Jesus and absolutely none of it fails to assume he was a flesh and blood man in history. I am not arguing that this body of literature proves Jesus existed.  But what it does prove is that people knew of Jesus as a flesh and blood historical man as far back as first century and certainly well before the third. Here is just a fraction of the list:

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas [Greek Text A]
The Infancy Gospel of Thomas [Greek Text B]
The Infancy Gospel of Thomas [Latin Text]
A 5th Century Compilation of the Thomas Texts
An Arabic Infancy Gospel
The Gospel of James
The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary
The Gospel of Mary [Magdalene]
The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew 
The Gospel of Nicodemus [Acts of Pilate]
The Gospel of Bartholomew 
The Gospel of Peter
The Gospel of Thomas
The Gospel of Philip
The Gospel of the Lord [by Marcion]
The Secret Gospel of Mark Return to Top

The Acts of the New TestamentThe Acts of Andrew
The Acts and Martyrdom of Andrew 
The Acts of Andrew and Matthew
The Acts of Barnabas
Martyrdom of Bartholomew 
The Acts of John 
The Mystery of the Cross-Excerpt from the Acts of John 
The Acts of John the Theologian 
The History of Joseph the Carpenter
The Book of John Concerning the Death of Mary
The Passing of Mary 
The Acts and Martyrdom of Matthew
The Martyrdom of Matthew
The Acts of Paul
The Acts of Paul and Thecla 
The Acts of Peter
The Acts of Peter and Andrew
The Acts of Peter and Paul
The Acts of Peter and the Twelve Apostles
The Acts of Philip
The Report of Pontius Pilate to Tiberius
The Giving Up of Pontius Pilate
The Death of Pilate
The Acts of Thaddaeus
The Acts of Thomas
The Book of Thomas the Contender
The Consummation of Thomas Return to Top 

Apocryphal ApocalypseThe Apocalypse of Adam
The Revelation of Esdras
The First Apocalypse of James 
The Second Apocalypse of James 
The Revelation of John the Theologian 
The Revelation of Moses 
The Apocalypse of Paul
Fragments-The Apocalypse of Paul The Revelation of Paul
The Apocalypse of Peter
The Vision of Paul
The Revelation of Peter
Fragments-The Apocalypse of Peter 
The Apocalypse of Sedrach 
The Revelation of Stephen
The Apocalypse of Thomas
The Apocalypse of the Virgin Return to Top

Other WritingsThe Teachings of Addeus the Apostle
The Epistle of the Apostles 
Community Rule
The Apocryphon of James
The Correspondence of Jesus and Abgar
The Sophia of Jesus Christ
John the Evangelist
The Apocryphon of John 
The Narrative of Joseph of Arimathaea
The Epistle to the Laodiceans The Correspondence of Paul and Seneca The Prayer of the Apostle Paul
The Letter of Peter to Philip
The Letter of Pontius Pilate to the Roman Emperor
The Report of Pilate to Caesar
The Report of Pilate to Tiberius
Excerpts from Pistis Sophia
The Avenging of the Saviour 

The Book of Thomas the Contender [8]

Paulkovioch is actually dense enough to try and claim Josephus didn't mention Jesus. He relies upon his own Josephus arguments to assert the total fabrication of both passages, even though most scholars don't even doubt the brother passage, See my debate With Bradley Bowen in which I defend the brother passage,. [9] See also the rest of my work on Josephus.[10]He does all the Jesus' mythyers greatest hit with selective reading,Assuming Paul says nothing about Jesus as a flesh and blood man but totally ignoring the passage in Romans (1:3) where he alludes to Jesus' flesh and bool linage. He just dismisses the reference to the 500 witnesses to the resurrection in Acts as a forgery with no evidence at all.

 He thinks that because Qumran is only 12 miles from Bethlehem the sect should have mentioned Jesus in the dead sea scrolls. That is a fallacious assertion,First because Jesus was not a member of the sect no reason to talk about him. The connection with Bethlehem would not become important until after Jesus death most of the scrolls date to an earlier period. He's also making a huge assumption about knowledge we don't possess. We don't really know who lived in the buildings taken to be the home of a sect and we don't really know if the people who lived there wrote the documents hidden in the morticians. Since the discovery it has been theorized that the settlement was  family villa, a perfume factory, pottery factory, a fort all disconnected from the scrolls, "Despite decades of excavations and careful analysis there is no consensus about who lived there--and consequently no consensus about who actually wrote the dead sea scrolls."[11] 

Paulkovich relies upon a lot of extrusions arguments to strengthen his case. Without them the Philo fallacy is merely a weak argument  from silence. Those arguments can be disproved so the article really does nothing to enhance the case for Jesus mytherism.

[1] Michael B. Paulkovich, "The Fable of Christ,"  Secular Humanism, A program of the Center for Inquiry  no date, On line URL:
(accessed 5/11/17)

[2] Ibid

[3]John Remsburg, The Christ, Amherst NY: Prometheus books, 1994, original publication New York: Truth seeker company, 1909. no page indicated.

[4] Paulkovich, op cit.

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid

[7]  Henry Bettenson, Documented the Christian Church, Oxford: Oxford University Press; 4th edition  2011, 1-37.

[8] JosephHinman,"No Alternate Versinos, Doxa: Christian Thought in the 21st Century, web site URL:  (acess 5/14/17)

I compiled the list myself from sources listed on the net, They are all authentic ancient sources form first three centuries AD.

[9] Joseph Hinman, "Josephus (brother passage)," The Bowen -Hinman debate, Religious a prori (Jesus and Bible) online, website, URL:
(access 5/12/17)

Debate originally held online (Jan 2016) between Secular outpost  (Bowen;s posts) and CADRE comments blog,where my posts were made.

[10] my other Josephus stuff defense of teh TF:

On Doxa: Joseph Hinman "Secular and Jewish Historians A. Josephus,: Doxa: Christian 

Thought in the 21 Century,
(access 5/12/17)

see also Joseph Hinman, "Peter Kirby;s Straw man Argument: Jopsehus" Religiious a priori

one line URL:  (access 5/12/17)

[11] Andrew Lawlwer, "Who Wrote The Dead Sea Scrolls," Smithsonian Magazine (January 2010) onlimne versionURL:
(accessed 5/11/17)

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