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Course on the Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus: Against Naturalism

My recent blog posts discussing philosophical naturalism really show that this course is relevant.  Here is the question:  on the historical evidence alone, unfettered by the presupposition that there is a God or that there isn’t one, and unfettered with baggage that reasonable people MUST interpret everything in naturalistic terms, can it be shown (again, on the historical evidence alone), that Jesus rose from the dead?

If he did, that is a prima facie case for the existence of God, and not just any God, the Christian God, and it also undermines naturalism.

The Athanatos Online Academy’s course on the historical evidence of the resurrection seeks to expose the fact that virtually every and all argument against the resurrection boils down to the assumption that philosophical naturalism is the true account of the world, or if it is not the true one, it is the one we must prefer.  It is all well and good to adopt a methodological naturalism in some areas of inquiry, but if the very question is whether or not naturalism is the true account, or whether or not non-naturalistic or even super-naturalistic realities offer the true account, then assuming naturalism is clearly circular reasoning and begging the question.

Everyone knows this.  I have only just now recapitulated the arguments of Christian apologists ranging from CS Lewis to William Lane Craig.  Atheists know this is true.  They just don’t think it is unreasonable.  For those of us who wish to build our view of the world based on what is real without deciding in advance what is real, I submit that the Academy’s course on the matter is just the ticket.

It begins Friday, April 25th and lasts for just two weeks.  William Lane Craig’s book “The Son Rises: The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus” is the ‘text’ book.  Alternative materials are provided from the Internet but participants in the course are strongly advised to pick up the book.

Positive arguments for the resurrection form the core of the course but objections to those arguments are introduced as well, as one would certainly expect.

The Academy portal page is:  http://www.athanatosministries.org/academy/

In order to sign up and pay for the course you will have to enroll in the apologetics academy.

Here is the direct link to the course on the Historicity of the Resurrection.

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    • Robert on April 24, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    The Athanatos Online Academy’s course on the historical evidence of the resurrection seeks to expose the fact that virtually every and all argument against the resurrection boils down to the assumption that philosophical naturalism is the true account of the world, or if it is not the true one, it is the one we must prefer.

    Actually, I think the arguments against the resurrection boil down to the view that naturalistic explanations are likelier than super-naturalistic ones.

    • Anthony on April 24, 2008 at 2:21 pm
      Author

    Sure. There are all kinds of atheists and some would put it that way. The course will address that particular point of view. It will inquire into what possible basis a person can have for generating his expectations on what is ‘likelier.’ This ‘basis’ tends to be indistinguishable from an assumption of philosophical naturalism.

    • Robert on April 24, 2008 at 3:25 pm

    It’s not just atheists who see it that way, but most or all non-Christians, of whom many are believers in the super-natural. Therefore, it cannot be their basis is indistinguishable from an assumption of philosophical naturalism. They too find the evidence insufficient, find naturalistic explanations likelier, or (though I have not seen one) have alternative super-natural explanations.

    • Anthony on April 24, 2008 at 3:45 pm
      Author

    To the extent that there are others who reject the resurrection, I agree, although my comment was generally pointed at the atheists, as the rest of the paragraph- which you didn’t cite- would indicate.

    That said, I think you turn around and undermine your point. The people who are believers in the super-natural who do not accept the historical nature of the resurrection DO NOT reject it because they find ‘naturalistic explanations likelier.’

    For example, Muslims might object to the resurrection, though they are non-Christians and believers in the supernatural. But they do not object because ‘naturalistic explanations likelier.’ They object because they think Jesus was translated into heaven and the documents have been tampered with.

    Hindus don’t object to the resurrection. They just don’t care, because their system allows multiple expressions of the Brahman. Jews object, but again as theists it isn’t because they ‘find naturalistic explanations’ likelier.

    I think you are quite wrong. While it is true we could add some non-Christians who are not necessarily atheists (perhaps Buddhists) who object on the evidence, I think you would be hard pressed to provide a supernaturalist who objects because they find ‘naturalistic explanations likelier.’

    Feel free to provide examples if you like, but my description above of Islamic, Jewish, and Hindu responses accounts for some 3-4 billion ‘non-Christian supernaturalists.’

    • Robert on April 25, 2008 at 7:29 am

    That said, I think you turn around and undermine your point. The people who are believers in the super-natural who do not accept the historical nature of the resurrection DO NOT reject it because they find ‘naturalistic explanations likelier.’

    Well, some of them (like Jews) certainly do, but in any case, it cannot be “that virtually every and all argument against the resurrection boils down to the assumption that philosophical naturalism is the true account of the world, or if it is not the true one, it is the one we must prefer.”

    • Anthony on April 25, 2008 at 7:45 am
      Author

    I would be willing to clarify to explicitly state that I was referencing the arguments posed by atheists and secular humanists. For this group, I stand by my statement. I think the context supports the notion that this was the group I had in mind, but ok, I didn’t explicitly make that plain.

    As for the other groups, having argued with Jews and Muslims, I would object that in most of these cases the evidence is irrelevant as well. I have had Jews go so far as to allow that Jesus did miracles- he was engaged in sorcery, you know- and he otherwise lied about Judaism. Muslims will also allow the miracles, but obviously have a problem with the resurrection because they have another stream of ‘evidence’ to place into the picture: the Koran.

    I haven’t argued with Muslims as much as I have Jews, so I would be willing to concede the possibility that moderate and informed Muslims might have more diversity then I am letting on, but to this point in my apologetics ministry- almost 15 years now- I can’t say I’ve come across even a single person who dismisses the resurrection on the evidence alone apart from some presuppositional framework.

    This is hundreds of people. Granted I do not exhaust the experiences of all people everywhere, but it is something to note other apologists have the same experience.

    • Robert on April 28, 2008 at 9:15 am

    I think it’s more honest to clarify that you have materialists in mind, but it makes your point relatively toothless.

    Essentially what you’re saying is, “Philosophical naturalists reject the resurrection based on the assumption of philosophical naturalism.”

    So what?

    Well, you may object, they have a presuppositional framework. Perhaps, but it is a presupposition that is based on observation and has had great explanatory and predictive power. Nothing of the like can be claimed for the supernatural, despite millennia of trying.

    • Anthony on April 28, 2008 at 9:43 am
      Author

    “I think it’s more honest to clarify that you have materialists in mind”

    As I said from the beginning, I think the context makes it relatively clear that this is exactly who I had in mind. While I will admit to a certain unintended ambiguity, I don’t think dishonesty has anything to do with it. Especially since the primary readership of this blog ARE materialists, to have presumed anything else seems to have been done simply to have cause to nit pick.

    “Well, you may object, they have a presuppositional framework. Perhaps, but it is a presupposition that is based on observation and has had great explanatory and predictive power. Nothing of the like can be claimed for the supernatural, despite millennia of trying.”

    That’s the problem with you’re reasoning and I thank you for exposing it so that I don’t get accused of engaging in strawman attacks.

    It is a point of fact that if the resurrection actually happened and a risen Jesus was observed, then this defeats your presupposition, doesn’t it? You can’t know if the supernatural exists or not from first principles. You can’t know whether or not God has directly interacted with humans at some point. You can only know whether or not he has directly interacted with YOU. I don’t know about you, but making my experiences the standard of reality not just for present humans but all humans past and future is a bit presumptuous.

    If some humans really observed a risen Jesus, then your system is shot. If you say they didn’t observe a risen Jesus because you already know your system is true, then it’s pure circular reasoning, absolute begging the question.

    That is the answer to your ‘so what.’

    You ask us to engage in a logical fallacy- and with pride!

    Finally, in terms of ‘explanatory’ and ‘predictive’ powers, I beg to differ. For one thing, the obvious first question would be ‘explanatory’ and ‘predictive’ relative to WHAT? A theory of gravity might have explanatory powers relative to GRAVITY but that doesn’t mean such powers extend to say, why we like sunsets.

    I’m pretty sure that buried within your statement is that what you think is ‘predictive’ is the scientific method and methodological naturalism. But we’re talking about philosophical naturalism. A methodological naturalism might be great for determining the breaking points for steel rods but it will be useless in questions of existence.

    And if your methodological naturalism has no point at which it can say “if such and such were the case, a supernatural explanation (or an agent explanation) would be preferred” then this method is indistinguishable from philosophical naturalism.

    Let me put a finer point to it: if you concede that your philosophical naturalism drives your view of the evidence for the resurrection, notwithstanding the fact that you think you’re reasonable, then it is my turn to say “So what?” You started out believing that there is no evidence for the supernatural and that all phenomena MUST be understood in naturalistic terms, who on earth would be surprised that all your explanations are naturalistic?”

    To bring it home: if an atheist with such views dismisses the resurrection on such grounds, we theists have nothing to say to them. Who cares? Why bother presenting any evidence to them? There is no point. Our time is better spent with actual free thinkers.

    • Robert on April 28, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    As I said from the beginning, I think the context makes it relatively clear that this is exactly who I had in mind. While I will admit to a certain unintended ambiguity, I don’t think dishonesty has anything to do with it.

    Goodness, did I disturb the chip on your shoulder?

    I didn’t accuse you of dishonesty. I said your statements would be “more honest” with a clarification.

    To bring it home: if an atheist with such views dismisses the resurrection on such grounds, we theists have nothing to say to them. Who cares? Why bother presenting any evidence to them? There is no point. Our time is better spent with actual free thinkers.

    Who are these actual free thinkers with whom your time is “better spent”? I cannot tell.

    We’ve ruled out atheists, materialists, or secular humanists. You’ve stated their objections all boil down to a presupposition of philosophical naturalism, and so there is “no point” in speaking to them.

    Are they the non-Christian supernaturalists? An argument faulting objections to the resurrection of Jesus because they’re based on a presupposition of philosophical naturalism wouldn’t do much for them. They don’t agree with philosophical naturalism either!

    Who is left?

    • Anthony on April 28, 2008 at 2:56 pm
      Author

    “I didn’t accuse you of dishonesty. I said your statements would be “more honest” with a clarification.”

    Right. You must be a Clinton operative. 😉 I didn’t say you were dishonest. I just said you could have been more honest. Yea, ok, fellah.

    “We’ve ruled out atheists, materialists, or secular humanists. You’ve stated their objections all boil down to a presupposition of philosophical naturalism, and so there is “no point” in speaking to them.”

    Don’t you worry. There are real free thinkers out there and I have had occasion to converse with them. Naturally, you have to sort out the chaff.

    “Are they the non-Christian supernaturalists?”

    No, they are people who haven’t yet made up their minds, typically. They tend to understand the extremely simple and elementary truth that before one constructs their definitive world view they wait for the evidence to come in. They don’t start with their world view and then interpret the evidence.

    Nice attempts at diversion and obfuscation, Robert. You tried to side step the critical point: why on earth should anyone care about the ‘objections’ of people who have already made up their mind to interpret everything in naturalistic terms?

    That such people would reject the resurrection is to be expected and no surprise.

    Also, you failed to address the very simple observation that you are asking us to engage in circular reasoning. Why should we believe that atheists are rational people when their whole world view is constructed on the assumption that they already know there is no evidence for the supernatural because all examples of the supernatural are rejected because we know there is no supernatural?

    Trust me, if you get to a person early enough, most people see right through that. The only way such memes are transmitted are through the brute force of arguments of authority, typically found in the mouths of hard nosed college professors or rabidly atheistic biologists from England. But an argument from authority is a fallacy, too.

    • Robert on April 29, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    You wrote,

    Nice attempts at diversion and obfuscation, Robert. You tried to side step the critical point: why on earth should anyone care about the ‘objections’ of people who have already made up their mind to interpret everything in naturalistic terms?

    Because of the possibility they may be right?

    But the really risible thing here is that your case for the resurrection is built on presuppositions–the very thing you say disqualifies the arguments of atheists and secular humanists. Other Christians honestly recognize this truth. As one of them put it,

    The evidentialist may prove the resurrection of Jesus, but until he proves every other point of Christianity, then resurrection is an isolated, irrelevant, “brute” fact which is no aid to our apologetical efforts. Only within the system of Christian logic does the resurrection of Christ have meaning and implication; and that system of logical entailment and premises can only be used on a presuppositional basis – you do not argue into it.

    You suggest that the resurrection of Jesus can be demonstrated with the available evidence if the supernatural is not disallowed a priori. Historians are less optimistic:

    Although there are undoubtedly dogmatic historians who reject miracles out of hand, an intellectually sophisticated historian would never claim that miracles cannot happen but only that the historian, as historian, is never able to claim that a given event is supernaturally caused. For an historian to argue that a given event was a miracle, he would have to have some public grounds for claiming that only a supernatural power could have caused it. But historians cannot know this; far less can they know that this power was the Christian God.

    You wrote,

    The only way such memes are transmitted are through the brute force of arguments of authority…

    Funny. This of course describes perfectly how Christianity was transmitted through much of its history.

    You wrote,

    But an argument from authority is a fallacy, too.

    It’s only a fallacy if the authority to whom you appeal is not actually an expert of the subject under discussion. Ok, fellah?

    • Anthony on April 29, 2008 at 12:42 pm
      Author

    “Because of the possibility they may be right?”

    Just because something may possibly be right doesn’t mean that you get to make a mere possibility your starting point. No one is denying you the right to consider that it might possibly be right. The charge is that you’re assuming you’re right and it is this assumption which says the evidence is no good, and it is they hypocrisy of the position that then turns around like you did at the same time and says there is no evidence.

    You can’t have it both ways (and still be a rational person). You can’t say “There is no evidence” and also “We already know that this evidence doesn’t mean that.” Not at the same time. Pick on.

    “But the really risible thing here is that your case for the resurrection is built on presuppositions”

    Your quote betrays you. There are several schools of thought in Christian apologetics. There are the presuppositionalists, whom you have apparently encountered, and the evidentialists, who your quote is directed at. I am an evidentialist, not a presuppositionalist. I think the pre-suppers are flat out wrong. Again you cite ‘honesty.’ How does one honestly choose between presuppositions? The evidence. The only thing of value (in my opinion) to the presuppositional approach is the call to expose the logical inconsistencies in the other presuppositional framework.

    As you can see, I have just done that. You wish to make sweeping statements that there is no evidence for the supernatural WHILE AT THE SAME TIME admitting that your presuppositions preclude any such evidence, a priori. That is a logical inconsistency.

    Nonetheless, it isn’t a question of ‘honesty.’

    “You suggest that the resurrection of Jesus can be demonstrated with the available evidence if the supernatural is not disallowed a priori. Historians are less optimistic:”

    Not all historians, of course. William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, Edwin Yamauchi… I suppose you’ll find historians on each side. The real question doesn’t concern them, but rather YOU. Would YOU think that the resurrection was demonstrable within the available evidence if the supernatural is not disallowed a priori?

    “Funny. This of course describes perfectly how Christianity was transmitted through much of its history.”

    Perhaps at times, but not when it started. When it started it was fiercely opposed and the slaying of Christians and the burning of their books were common. Nor is it the case today. Christianity arose in the face of such brutality, long before it was in a position to be brutal on its own. That demands an explanation, and as it is no longer in such a position we need not try to divert attention from the current situation.

    “It’s only a fallacy if the authority to whom you appeal is not actually an expert of the subject under discussion. Ok, fellah?”

    Right. And Richard Dawkins, the biologist, is an authority on religion, is he? And all these hard nosed professors… of chemistry, geology, biology, the NATURAL sciences… they are EXPERTS in the question of the SUPERNATURAL, eh? You’ve torpedoed your own argument again.

    I can see that all I need to do here is keep stringing you some rope…. 😉

    • Robert on April 30, 2008 at 9:28 am

    Just because something may possibly be right doesn’t mean that you get to make a mere possibility your starting point.

    I’m guessing you didn’t really mean to say that. You’ve essentially undermined your entire argument, besides contradicting how inquiry into the unknown operates. Granted, some possibilities are more likely than others, but that doesn’t make them any less of a possibility.

    The charge is that you’re assuming you’re right and it is this assumption which says the evidence is no good, and it is they hypocrisy of the position that then turns around like you did at the same time and says there is no evidence.

    If this is really the essence of your charge, then it’s a strawman. What really happens is that someone interprets evidence in light of philosophical and/or methodological frameworks. These frameworks are established as a result of a variety of factors such as personal experience, education, reason, etc. Philosophical naturalists would probably claim that since no one has produced convincing evidence of the existence of the supernatural, and since all phenomena which were claimed to have a supernatural source were later found to have a natural cause, it’s reasonable to assume it doesn’t exist.

    As for myself, I never said there was no evidence for the resurrection. I happen to believe that the evidence is insufficient to support the claim. While it’s possible the resurrection happened, its probability is very, very low.

    Your quote betrays you. There are several schools of thought in Christian apologetics. There are the presuppositionalists, whom you have apparently encountered, and the evidentialists, who your quote is directed at.
    The quote merely makes the point that without presupposing other major aspects of Christian theology, demonstrating the truth of the resurrection doesn’t help the apologist at all. The other Christians I cite admit these presuppositions. Your only response is to summarily dismiss them, which is not convincing in the least. Whatever happened to free thought?

    You wish to make sweeping statements that there is no evidence for the supernatural WHILE AT THE SAME TIME admitting that your presuppositions preclude any such evidence, a priori.

    I have admitted no presuppositions. Are you assuming I’m a philosophical naturalist? Where did I say that?

    Not all historians, of course. William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, Edwin Yamauchi…

    Craig – Not trained as a historian, but as a philosopher.

    Habermas – A historian, but one who confesses to the inerrancy of the Bible. What was this about allowing your worldview to dictate your reading of the evidence?

    Yamauchi – A historian, but also a Christian before becoming one. As far as I can tell, his contributions to the debate center on the extra-Biblical references to Jesus, and not on evidence for his resurrection.

    In any case, I don’t see anything to refute the point made in the quote I provided.

    The real question doesn’t concern them, but rather YOU. Would YOU think that the resurrection was demonstrable within the available evidence if the supernatural is not disallowed a priori?

    If the real question doesn’t concern them, then why is Craig’s book used (exclusively) in your course? And insofar as Craig is held up as an authority of the resurrection, isn’t that a fallacious use of argument from authority, according to you?

    Perhaps at times, but not when it started. When it started it was fiercely opposed and the slaying of Christians and the burning of their books were common…Christianity arose in the face of such brutality, long before it was in a position to be brutal on its own.

    Christians in various places at various times experienced some brutality, but certainly not “when it started”. As Richard Carrier writes,

    As David DeSilva remarks, “rarely in the first century were Christians killed” and “far more rarely were they executed on official orders.” Acts attests there was no formal Roman opposition to Christianity in any legal sense until after 62 A.D. at the earliest–and even then it was not as strong as it would become in subsequent generations. The only known Roman actions against Christians in the 1st century were the extralegal acts of emperors whom even the Romans themselves declared as formally damned (i.e. the decisions of Nero and Domitian lost all legal force). Later, around 110 A.D., the Emperor Trajan instructed Pliny the Younger that declaring political allegiance to Christ over the Emperor was effectively a crime (treason, no doubt); yet he says there was no specific law against Christianity, and Christians were not to be hunted down. Pliny himself reveals that he knew of no laws against Christians and had never had to deal with the problem before, so his response had to be improvised.

    But this is a side issue and you’re welcome to write a new blog about it.

    Right. And Richard Dawkins, the biologist, is an authority on religion, is he? And all these hard nosed professors… of chemistry, geology, biology, the NATURAL sciences… they are EXPERTS in the question of the SUPERNATURAL, eh? You’ve torpedoed your own argument again.

    I haven’t cited Dawkins or any others as experts in the supernatural. Their contributions to the debate center on debunking specific claims of the supernatural (such as that life is too complex to have arisen absent supernatural intervention).

    I can see that all I need to do here is keep stringing you some rope….

    Indeed. I enjoy hanging you on your own arguments. 😉

    • Anthony on April 30, 2008 at 10:09 am
      Author

    “I’m guessing you didn’t really mean to say that.”

    Or you misunderstood it. My point is that just because it may be possible that there is no God, one does not assume there isn’t one in one’s quest to find out. Similarly, one doesn’t assume there is one in one’s quest to find out. If that is what you thought I am proposing then you were quite wrong in making that supposition.

    “If this is really the essence of your charge, then it’s a strawman.”

    Maybe in your case, but we are speaking more generally, aren’t we? Moreover, if we are looking at the context of this thread we will recall that when I issued the charge you said “so what?”

    If it is a strawman, it is one you apparently were content to help prop up.

    “What really happens is that someone interprets evidence in light of philosophical and/or methodological frameworks.”

    This is reasonable so far as it goes. The problem is when the very question in hand is whether or not God exists. Under that scenario, it is plain to see that operating under a framework that assumes he does not is absurd. I actually agree with most of that paragraph, but I believe if honestly applied you would never be able to justify philosophical naturalism. At best, agnosticism.

    You continue to imply that there is no evidence for the supernatural. I continue to argue that the resurrection would be prima facie evidence for the supernatural. Now the question is whether or not we think it actually happened. You can’t say you know it didn’t happen because you know such things don’t happen, especially when the very point of order is whether or not such things have ever happened.

    “While it’s possible the resurrection happened, its probability is very, very low.”

    A probability based on what evidence? And in what sense? There is in fact a very, very low probability for any event in history, including say the assassination of JFK or the fact that I happened to be eating a jalapeno pepper at this very moment (I am). And yet the events happened.

    What accounts for such things? Well, sufficient causes can bring about otherwise unlikely and improbable scenarios. It is unlikely that a turtle will be found on its back, four feet up on a fence post. But this improbable scenario can be sufficiently accounted for by the presence of Jim, a human who loves a good prank.

    A resurrection certainly is improbable, which is exactly why it would be significant evidence for the existence of the supernatural- if it actually happened. It may be that natural processes are well known enough to know that they are not sufficient to produce a resurrection, but neither were non-agent processes enough to account for the turtle.

    If however, you allowed on the table the existence of God, you now have your sufficient cause for the resurrection.

    But let’s say that you don’t have Jim- would it be fair, if you come across a turtle on a pole, to infer the existence of someone like Jim? I would say yes. In the same way, I encounter the resurrection described as a real event in human history. I can’t wish that away just as I can’t wish away the turtle on the pole. And certainly not just because I don’t like the implications.

    “I have admitted no presuppositions. Are you assuming I’m a philosophical naturalist? Where did I say that?”

    Don’t play coy on me. You are certainly able to recognize that you are representing that point of view. I understand perfectly that it may not be in fact your view. But the conversation will get no where if you represent a position and then take issue with the casual use of the word ‘you.’ “you” are identified with the arguments you are representing, if only for the sake of discussion, and I think you’re smart enough to know that. I certainly am smart enough to know your own views might be different.

    These sort of gambits are nothing more than rhetorical traps. See, I have already wasted 60 seconds on retorting!

    “In any case, I don’t see anything to refute the point made in the quote I provided.”

    Uh, you’re missing the point. You issued a quote that said that historical research requires a naturalistic presupposition. That was what I was responding to. Clearly, you don’t have to be a philosophical naturalist to be a historian.

    “If the real question doesn’t concern them, then why is Craig’s book used (exclusively) in your course?”

    Red Herring.

    “The only known Roman actions against Christians in the 1st century were the extralegal acts of emperors whom even the Romans themselves declared as formally damned (i.e. the decisions of Nero and Domitian lost all legal force). Later, around 110 A.D., the Emperor Trajan instructed Pliny the Younger that declaring political allegiance to Christ over the Emperor was effectively a crime (treason, no doubt); yet he says there was no specific law against Christianity, and Christians were not to be hunted down.”

    lol, oh I see, just because these things were ‘extralegal’ that means that Christianity had a pass for 100 years. Right. Got it. Good argument.

    Thanks for the nice catalog of the types of pressures that really did happen.

    “But this is a side issue and you’re welcome to write a new blog about it.”

    I appreciate that. I just might.

    “I haven’t cited Dawkins or any others as experts in the supernatural.”

    I cited the hard nosed professors and biologists from England and said it was a brute force argument from authority. You said such arguments were not necessarily fallacious, all depending on whether or not the person was competent to speak on the matter. That puts you on their side for the sake of this argument. This again seems to me like a nit-pick.

    You agree that an argument from authority is in general fallacious, but that there are circumstances where authorities are useful. Why did you assume that the hard nosed professors I mentioned are authorities on the SUPERNATURAL? If they aren’t, then my point stands and you stand with me. Then the only question is whether or not our local microbiologist is competent also to speak to the deep philosophical and theological issues of our time. Sorry, typically not. But college kids don’t know that.

    “Indeed. I enjoy hanging you on your own arguments. ;)”

    I suppose that is in the eye of the beholder 😉

    • Anthony on April 30, 2008 at 10:39 am
      Author

    Let me make a comment or two that might possibly help ease understanding.

    I agree that generally speaking we adopt a model for interpreting reality and that this model then serves as a basis, a presupposition, if you will, for evaluating new facts or claims. You will probably agree that these models are by necessity approximate. On an individual level, we cannot possibly evaluate every claim or assertion for ourselves which causes us to create ‘short cuts’ (like reasonable, we hope, appeals to authority).

    Furthermore, I certainly agree that NOW I have a model of reality that includes the belief that the supernatural is real and that NOW this affects how I interpret the rest of reality.

    The error of the presuppositionalist (or at least many I have read) is that it is essentially argued that we can literally choose to start with any presupposition that we like and that at the rock bottom one simply makes that choice. I don’t agree. I believe we should try to pick our model based on the best available evidence. This of course reduces to an intangible: it is axiomatic that the best model is the one that is best supported by the evidence. In that sense you might say that I do have a presupposition, but it is certainly much more narrowly construed than many presuppers would advocate. (It is in fact because of the existence of such abstract presuppositions that I was led to Christianity, they too require explanation, even if we can’t live without them).

    Which returns me to the question of the supernatural and the resurrection. How does one choose between models? IF the VERY QUESTION is whether or not there is a God, then beginning with a model that behaves as though there is no God is pure circular reasoning. It would be like trying to determine if a person was murdered or not but operating on a model that says that murders aren’t possible. Clearly the investigation is skewed from the beginning.

    Going to the fundamentals of my own investigation of reality, it is abundantly clear to me that for the honest seeker who is just now trying to determine which model to choose, there are many reasons to take the neutral approach to the question of the existence of God. And follow the evidence from there.

    • Robert on May 1, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    I think your last post demonstrates some progress in the discussion, but it repeats flaws in your reasoning which I hope to reveal.

    Your main assertion that we cannot decide the question of the existence of God or the supernatural based on a framework which a priori denies the possibility of such existence is one I agree with and never disputed.

    That said, you have vastly confused the issue by conflating the resurrection of Jesus with the existence of (the Christian) god and the supernatural. What is the question under consideration? The historicity of the resurrection of Jesus? Or the existence of God? Or the existence of the supernatural? A resurrection of a dead person could be considered evidence, if not proof, of the supernatural, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that therefore the Christian God did it, or that he even exists. As you acknowledged above, some believe that Allah translated Jesus into heaven, but you would agree with me in denying that means Allah exists.

    What your argument boils down to is this:

    The resurrection of Jesus is evidence for the existence of God.
    Therefore, God resurrected Jesus.

    This argument just does not work. It requires a number of presuppositions, as I’ve repeatedly pointed out and as other Christians are honest in admitting, including the brute fact of God’s existence. I urge you to read the article I quoted from above entitled “The Impropriety of Evidentially Arguing for the Resurrection“. His logic is sound, and you haven’t dealt with it as far as I can see, other than dismiss it with an ad hominem.

    My argument is strengthened by the quote about historians never being able to confirm if an event is supernatually caused. Your objection to it was that I “…issued a quote that said that historical research requires a naturalistic presupposition.” No! Quite the opposite! Here it is again:

    Although there are undoubtedly dogmatic historians who reject miracles out of hand, an intellectually sophisticated historian would never claim that miracles cannot happen but only that the historian, as historian, is never able to claim that a given event is supernaturally caused. For an historian to argue that a given event was a miracle, he would have to have some public grounds for claiming that only a supernatural power could have caused it. But historians cannot know this; far less can they know that this power was the Christian God.

    You wrote,

    I believe we should try to pick our model based on the best available evidence.

    Do you honestly think philosophical naturalists never heard of miraculous claims such as the resurrection? How do you know they didn’t weigh the evidence and decided that philosophical naturalism was the model “based on the best available evidence”? The evidence for the resurrection cannot be weighed in a vacuum; there is a wealth of disconfirming evidence which must also be taken into account. The point is, reasonable people can regard the evidence and come to different conclusions, even those who bring with them no presuppositions.

    • Anthony on May 1, 2008 at 4:45 pm
      Author

    “That said, you have vastly confused the issue by conflating the resurrection of Jesus with the existence of (the Christian) god and the supernatural.”

    I think I need to coin a new fallacy or maybe its a cheap shot in terms of debating technique. It would be called something like “Expecting a 4 paragraph blog entry to be as exhaustive as a scholarly paper.” Or, amended, a blog follow up comment. If you want me to admit that there is more work to be done in justifying the inference, at least from a systematic POV, I would agree. Good grief, there is no way not to ‘conflate’ issues and gloss over some things when talking about deep issues 3-4 paragraphs at a time.

    On the other hand, it is the simple fact that such objections are really the last gasping breath of a defeated argument. 😉 I smile, but tis true. Everyone intuitively understands that the inference is valid. Do you remember this comment by you:

    Essentially what you’re saying is, “Philosophical naturalists reject the resurrection based on the assumption of philosophical naturalism.”

    So what?

    Well, you may object, they have a presuppositional framework. Perhaps, but it is a presupposition that is based on observation and has had great explanatory and predictive power. Nothing of the like can be claimed for the supernatural, despite millennia of trying.

    If it was a matter of the validity of the inference, then you would have indicated as much already. All else obviously would be secondary, and yet we quibbled about philosophical naturalism for awhile anyway. How odd.

    The fact is that everyone knows that a resurrection as Christians understand it is prima facie evidence for the supernatural, notwithstanding the fact that if we wanted to we could more objectively pick apart just why everyone makes the inference.

    The last time I had this conversation with someone I indicated a couple of lines of reasoning for the inference and it had much to do with understanding the context in which the resurrection claim emerged, ie, the Jews of the first century and their beliefs, etc. But in order for such arguments to be made, you have to be willing to study such things so you know what I’m talking about. And such study can’t be tainted with PN.

    “other than dismiss it with an ad hominem.”

    Not possible, as I didn’t read it. 😉

    Your quote about the supernatural and historicity still misses the point. Remember the assertion you were attempting to support:

    “You suggest that the resurrection of Jesus can be demonstrated with the available evidence if the supernatural is not disallowed a priori.”

    Your quote doesn’t match up very well with the assertion that you made. I responded to the assertion rather than the quote. But be consistent. If in your mind the resurrection is not necessarily indicative of the supernatural then what is your problem with it? It is better attested than many other events in history. Why not then admit that the historical evidence is indeed in favor of the resurrection (it is) but deny the inference? Why the insistence on denying both the evidence and the inference?

    The answer to that is not difficult to discern.

    “How do you know they didn’t weigh the evidence and decided that philosophical naturalism was the model “based on the best available evidence”?”

    It depends on the atheist, doesn’t it?

    This is again a rhetorical nitpick. Obviously it is useful to take such things on a case by case basis but just as obviously generalizations need to be made in order for communication to happen.

    “The point is, reasonable people can regard the evidence and come to different conclusions, even those who bring with them no presuppositions.”

    I don’t disagree. But I don’t think that’s at work in this instance.

    • Robert on May 2, 2008 at 3:22 pm

    If you want me to admit that there is more work to be done in justifying the inference, at least from a systematic POV, I would agree.

    There certainly is and perhaps it’s covered in your course. But let’s examine your statements, which have (perhaps purposely) confused what you’re really trying to demonstrate:

    “If [Jesus was resurrected], that is a prima facie case for the existence of God, and not just any God, the Christian God, and it also undermines naturalism.”

    “It is a point of fact that if the resurrection actually happened and a risen Jesus was observed, then this defeats your presupposition [that the supernatural doesn’t exist].”

    “My point is that just because it may be possible that there is no God, one does not assume there isn’t one in one’s quest to find out.”

    “I continue to argue that the resurrection would be prima facie evidence for the supernatural.”

    “Which returns me to the question of the supernatural and the resurrection. How does one choose between models? IF the VERY QUESTION is whether or not there is a God, then beginning with a model that behaves as though there is no God is pure circular reasoning.”

    “A resurrection certainly is improbable, which is exactly why it would be significant evidence for the existence of the supernatural- if it actually happened.”

    Let me lay it out. The existence of the supernatural doesn’t logically entail the existence of god(s). The existence of god(s) doesn’t logically entail the existence of the Christian god. Your very first claim was that if Jesus rose from the dead, it’s a “prima facie” case for the existence of the Christian god. Sorry, going from existence of the supernatural to existence of the Christian god cannot be logically inferred from the resurrection. It requires presuppositions.

    Not possible, as I didn’t read it.

    In response to the first time I cited the quote, you wrote:

    “There are the presuppositionalists, whom you have apparently encountered, and the evidentialists, who your quote is directed at. I am an evidentialist, not a presuppositionalist. I think the pre-suppers are flat out wrong.”

    You called my source(s) presuppostionalists and said they are flat out wrong. You didn’t engage the argument laid out in the quote.

    If in your mind the resurrection is not necessarily indicative of the supernatural then what is your problem with it?

    My problem with it is that there is insufficient evidence to reasonably believe a resurrection occurred. It is a highly improbable event which the available evidence does not sufficiently overcome.

    It is better attested than many other events in history.

    What other supernatural events generally accepted as true is it better attested than?

    Why not then admit that the historical evidence is indeed in favor of the resurrection (it is) but deny the inference?

    Even if I so admitted, it does not logically infer that the Christian god exists or that Christianity is true.

    This is again a rhetorical nitpick.

    I notice that when I puncture your argument or expose a faulty assumption, you come back with this red herring–a sure sign of the “last gasping breath of a defeated argument.”

    • Anthony on May 2, 2008 at 8:30 pm
      Author

    “The existence of the supernatural doesn’t logically entail the existence of god(s).”

    Yes, it very much does, once we are on the same page regarding definitions. I propose that since this is my blog and it is self-evident that I’m defending a Christian viewpoint, then you should do the necessary mental adjustments so as to keep in mind standard Christian understandings of these terms. If you understood the terms, then you would see how this statement cannot stand.

    Strictly speaking, to say that God is supernatural is a tautology. You perhaps may not realize this, but according to Christian philosophy, even the angels are not supernatural. They are other created entities.

    “You called my source(s) presuppostionalists and said they are flat out wrong. You didn’t engage the argument laid out in the quote.”

    I think you’re really having trouble keeping your quotes straight. I’m too lazy to continue to show how you’re losing track, but suffice it to say that the one I called presuppositionalist absolutely was. I take it that is what you thought was ‘ad hominem.’ Why don’t you take another look at the bottom of that link. Do a bit of research on Van Til and then I will graciously accept your apology. 😉

    “My problem with it is that there is insufficient evidence to reasonably believe a resurrection occurred.”

    I’ve been around the block enough to know that ‘insufficiency’ is a loaded term. Insufficient in what way? Insufficient in proportion to the type of event? If so, we’re back to your philosophical naturalism. If relative to sheer historical evidence, unhindered by such presumptions, then you’ve got a long row to hoe. As I said, the historical evidence for the resurrection is better substantiated than many things we believe really happened.

    “It is a highly improbable event which the available evidence does not sufficiently overcome.”

    So, it is the ‘proportional to the nature of the claim’, isn’t it? Why not just come out with your next presuppositional bias and be done with it? “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence.” Trot out Sagan’s Balance and save us the time.

    What makes it improbable? What is your basis for such calculations? How can you know it is improbable? Really, if you’re going to make such claims you’ve got to be ready to back it up.

    If I say I flipped a coin 10,000 times and each time it came up it was heads, you wouldn’t believe me. Still, we know something of the odds involved, so we can calculate the probabilities. If I actively interceded into the operation to make it come up heads each time, then a probability estimation just isn’t the right kind of criteria, is it? That I manipulated the toss is a sufficient explanation for the event. What matters is whether or not the event happened. If it appears that the resurrection actually happened, then ‘odds’ and ‘probabilities’ are irrelevant… though we might be otherwise at a loss to come up with the sufficient cause barring further information being made available. Just because you are uncomfortable with proposed sufficient causes doesn’t mean the event didn’t happen.

    But there is one other critical point here: with coins you can calculate the odds. As far as ‘improbabilities’ of resurrections go, what is the source of your knowledge?

    “What other supernatural events generally accepted as true is it better attested than?”

    Really, Robert, you’re going to have to keep your arguments straight for me. Now you’re admitting it would be a supernatural event? You’re killing me.

    But it’s really the wrong question and certainly not in the spirit of my statements to this point. I am submitting the resurrection simply as an event in history. That it is something we infer is supernatural is irrelevant to whether or not it happened, and what things happen leaves behind all the normal evidence such as testimony, artifacts, social effects, etc.

    “I notice that when I puncture your argument or expose a faulty assumption,”

    Is that what you think you’re doing? I think not. 🙂

    If you think this boils down to presuppositions, and justly so, is it your view that the evidence doesn’t matter? How did you pick your presuppositional framework? How do we determine if your framework is true or valid or not, if not by appealing to the evidence?

    • Robert on May 6, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Yes, it very much does, once we are on the same page regarding definitions. I propose that since this is my blog and it is self-evident that I’m defending a Christian viewpoint, then you should do the necessary mental adjustments so as to keep in mind standard Christian understandings of these terms.

    And thanks again for demonstrating my point: your logic requires Christian presuppositions. Under a neutral viewpoint—you know, the one you say you prefer—the existence of the supernatural doesn’t necessarily logically entail the existence of god(s).

    I think you’re really having trouble keeping your quotes straight. I’m too lazy to continue to show how you’re losing track, but suffice it to say that the one I called presuppositionalist absolutely was. I take it that is what you thought was ‘ad hominem.’ Why don’t you take another look at the bottom of that link.

    You need to refresh your memory of what an ad hominem is. Address his argument. Your dismissing it merely on the basis that he is a presuppositionalist is a fallacy. Add another presupposition to your growing list: all Christian presuppositionalists are wrong!

    I’ve been around the block enough to know that ‘insufficiency’ is a loaded term. Insufficient in what way? Insufficient in proportion to the type of event? If so, we’re back to your philosophical naturalism.

    Sorry, but nope.

    I am submitting the resurrection simply as an event in history. That it is something we infer is supernatural is irrelevant to whether or not it happened…

    Really Johnny, you’re being disingenuous. What have you been saying all along? The resurrection is prima facie evidence of the supernatural. If the resurrection happened, it means the supernatural and the Christian god exist. Case closed.

    But now, Christians merely “infer” the resurrection is supernatural, eh? I doubt that. Nonetheless, what’s to prevent someone else from “inferring” it was reflective of some unknown natural process? Will you be introducing other possible inferences in your course?

    Johnny, here’s a question for you. Is it possible to account for the resurrection of Jesus on any basis other than the supernatural? If you say yes, then your case is wholly undermined. If you say no, then on what basis do you know a supernatural process or agent exists to do it? Because of the resurrection? Now your argument is a perfect circle.

    The question “What other supernatural events generally accepted as true is [the resurrection] better attested than?”, was asked within your Christian framework. You claimed that we accept other historical events as true based on less evidence than what exists for the resurrection. My question was meant to merely demonstrate the obvious point that these historical events we accept as true do not have as their basis something which contradicts all known laws of nature.

    If you think this boils down to presuppositions, and justly so, is it your view that the evidence doesn’t matter? How did you pick your presuppositional framework? How do we determine if your framework is true or valid or not, if not by appealing to the evidence?

    Evidence for…what? You see, that’s the rub. Some see the complexity of life, see that as evidence of a creator (and not just any creator, but their particular god), and go no further. Evidence is a necessary element in establishing one’s worldview, but it’s not sufficient. Others include personal experience, scientific knowledge, cultural transmission, etc. Appeals to all of these go into establishing a worldview.

    • Anthony on May 6, 2008 at 5:35 pm
      Author

    “And thanks again for demonstrating my point: your logic requires Christian presuppositions.”

    Nonsense. Utilizing accurate definitions does not presuppose the existence of the things being discussed.

    “You need to refresh your memory of what an ad hominem is. Address his argument.”

    Why, is it yours? I pointed out merely that he was a presuppositionalist, which he is. I also indicated that I am an evidentialist, so naturally I don’t agree with the view. You submitted the page as an example of an ‘honest’ Christian. But as an evidentialist I do not need to address his argument, I can simply point out the fact that his arguments are not mine. If you wish to submit his arguments as your own, that’s different. But you submitted it only to play ‘gotcha’ as near as I can tell.

    “Really Johnny, you’re being disingenuous.”

    Not at all. My contention is that there are various logical leaps that take place to substantiate the inference from the resurrection to the supernatural and perhaps in some settings we might want to dissect each part. However, the fact is that all of us make each step in that chain automatically, as easy as breathing. It isn’t my fault that the inference is childishly simple, granting- as I said- that we could do some work to show the inference.

    Now, we’ve already covered this and I’ve already said as much. Is there any particular reason why after I have conceded whatever legitimacy that I thought there was to your point that we have to go over it again and again as if I hadn’t? Are you so unable to keep it in your head that I’ve stated my position and it was more or less agreeing with that aspect, or do I each and every time have to spell out in excruciatingly pedantic detail what my position entails? That would probably require the submission of some 100 paragraphs for each assertion, each time, and if that’s what it will take to stop you from nitpicking- for that is what it is- I confess I’d just as soon decline.

    “Will you be introducing other possible inferences in your course?”

    The course is not about that. It is just two weeks long if you didn’t notice. Sufficient but not exhaustive. Also, unless it hasn’t been clear, I don’t really think much of this particular set of objections. Very few do. It is worthy of a mention (and it was mentioned) and not much more, depending on who you’re talking with.

    “Evidence for…what? You see, that’s the rub.”

    Evidence for whether or not a Resurrection actually happened, my friend.

    “Evidence is a necessary element in establishing one’s worldview, but it’s not sufficient. Others include personal experience, scientific knowledge, cultural transmission, etc. Appeals to all of these go into establishing a worldview.”

    But my question was how you decide between competing world views, not how they are formed.

    If we can assess your argument to this point it is basically this:

    • There is no good reason to think the resurrection happened on historical grounds.
    • It is known that it couldn’t have happened also because it would violate the ‘known laws of nature.’
    • Even if it happened, it wouldn’t justify the inference to the supernatural anyway.

    Clearly, the only argument that is important is the last one, because if a resurrection doesn’t imply the supernatural then whether or not it can be justified on the grounds of historical evidence or the ‘known laws of nature’ is irrelevant. But it is a classic example of doth protesting too much. You would not be here arguing if you did not believe that an actual resurrection in the experience of Mankind would shake you and any honest person to the core. That is why you want to have your cake and eat it too, you want to deny the evidences AND deny the inference, whereas if you really believed what you were selling you would content yourself with denying the inference.

    In point of fact, we see that you are a presuppositionalist in your own right. Well, as I have said, I am not a presuppositionalist. But if you ever care to base your view on what the evidence actually is without starting with your preconceptions, I’ll be here.

    Now, just as a quick note on one of your other points. The ‘perfect circle’ business.

    In point of fact, it is a false dichotomy, because I believe that arguing to the best explanation is sufficient. I would answer neither yes nor no. The resurrection occurred within a particular context. This is what I was getting at when I said:

    The last time I had this conversation with someone I indicated a couple of lines of reasoning for the inference and it had much to do with understanding the context in which the resurrection claim emerged, ie, the Jews of the first century and their beliefs, etc. But in order for such arguments to be made, you have to be willing to study such things so you know what I’m talking about. And such study can’t be tainted with PN.

    .

    And in all of this, the question remains very simply: did the resurrection occur? If it occurred and you don’t think it justifies an inference to God, then it ‘merely’ means you need to revise your belief about the ‘known laws of nature’ doesn’t it? A single fact overthrows the most elegant of theories. After this conversation is over we will be left with the very simple question- did the resurrection actually happen?

    Boromir says, “I care not.” But Frodo knows better.

    • Anthony on May 7, 2008 at 12:07 pm
      Author

    I have posted a relevant blog entry here: http://sntjohnny.com/front/atheists-believe-the-resurrection-happened-divine-inference/295.html

    I submit that we take our conversation there if you wish it to continue.

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