Friday, March 27, 2009

Bob Dutko and I Discuss Transitional Fossils

Bob Dutko is a smart guy, but he's got a tough task as a radio talk show host. He needs to be prepared for anything. Anybody can call him on a Friday and challenge him on anything. Obviously since a caller knows what he intends to talk about he can be fully prepared with facts and figures that Bob isn't intimately familiar with.

I think Bob makes up for this by talking over his callers and doing a little bit of filibustering, but I can hardly blame him because he is at a disadvantage. Even still he does usually give me a chance to express my question or challenge, so I do give him credit for that.

He's made many bold claims. One is that there are no transitional fossils. I was thinking about this claim, and how it is Bob can make it when obviously he doesn't know all the specimens available. It occurred to me that he can say it because nothing is a transitional fossil in Bob's world. No matter what you present to him he'll just say it's one of God's unique creatures now extinct, or it's a deformed existing animal. It will never be that the fossil descended from a different species and has since evolved into another species.

So I thought I'd give him a call, describe what I would consider a transitional fossil, concede that I know he won't see it the same way and will call it one of God's unique creatures, at which point I'd ask him to describe what would qualify as a transitional fossil in his mind. He can't describe one, because for him there is no such thing. Listen here.

I knew he wouldn't answer my question, and he didn't. Unfortunately I didn't get the question out early enough to press him on it because he jumped in and talked for long stretches, but it was still a pretty good call as far as I'm concerned.

He asserts that everything we see in the fossil record ought to appear transitional. I corrected him on this point and said in fact most of what we see should appear from our perspective as extinct, since most of the nodes on the evolutionary tree are dead ends. This is very difficult to explain for a young earth creationist. He just denied my claim, but my claim is certainly true. For proof see here and here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reasonable Usage of Scholars

Is it reasonable to accept FACTS asserted by scholars when you are unaware of any dispute on the matter and you don't personally have expertise in the area?

Jason recently wrote a post justifying why he ignores questions I pose to him in our debates. Among other reasons he points to the fact that I didn't respond to certain arguments he posed just prior to the time I moved three and a half years ago. Jason says that is reasonable, but what is unreasonable is that when I involved myself in discussions again I didn't get back to those same arguments. I told him that I didn't have copies of them and they were no longer available on line and that I would be happy to respond if I could access them. He made statements which made me think he did have copies, so I asked him to send them. He didn't respond to my request. Yet he is still criticizing me for not responding to these arguments.

It seems to me that these are just the games Jason plays to extract himself from tough situations. Fine. Doesn't matter. I'm going to continue to ask questions, as I've asked follow up questions in the comments section here, and Jason can just continue to believe he's justified in ignoring them.

My arguments about the reliability of Josephus have depended on a claim I made regarding scholars. I say that it is reasonable to accept historical facts if they are claimed by experts in the field. So for instance, Robert Eisenmann claims that statements from Josephus can be cross checked with other ancient sources. I accept the claim. I'm unaware of any dispute on the matter. He says that Josephus gives good information about the political background situation of the events he describes. I don't have the citations, but I accept the claim based upon Eisenmann's assertion. I'm unaware of any dispute on the matter.

I formulated arguments for the reliability of Josephus based upon the facts asserted by Eisenmann.

Jason has been arguing that I'm not justified in adhering to such facts. He demands that I produce the sources being cross checked. He asks if the language on the relevant artifacts is being interpreted correctly.

I say I don't need to do that. To illustrate this point I said that if Bart Ehrman asserts that an interpolation exists in a manuscript I'm justified in believing there is an interpolation where Ehrman claims without handling or seeing the manuscript myself. I'm not saying I can likewise just affirm all of Ehrman's opinions on controversial issues. I'm saying facts of the case can reasonably be affirmed on the basis of a scholarly opinion.

I think that's a pretty reasonable view. Initially Jason disagreed. But since then he continues to act like he disagrees, but he doesn't make it clear what he's arguing. He's talking about how Eisenmann has a vested interest in making Josephus appear reliable. He says that I haven't proven that Eisenmann's "view of Josephus" is undisputed. Also Eisenmann has engaged in some annoying behavior and holds some controversial views on OTHER topics. What does any of this have to do with my claim that it is reasonable to affirm a FACT if an expert in the field asserts it and you don't have expertise in the area?

What do you mean, Jason, when you say Eisenmann's "view of Josephus"? Do you mean his overall opinion of the reliability of Josephus or do you mean his claims regarding facts about Josephus?

I'll be clear, even though Jason isn't being clear about what he's arguing. I haven't claimed that Eisenmann's views regarding the reliability of Josephus are undisputed. This is not about Eisenmann's opinions on the reliability of Josephus. I've put certain facts on the table, supported by Eisenmann, and I formulated arguments for the reliability of Josephus on this basis. Look high and low throughout my posts and you will not see me argue that Josephus is reliable because Eisenmann said so. I did offer a summary from Eisenmann that basically affirmed the conclusions I drew from the facts, and that summary provided a couple of more facts, including some of his weaknesses. But the actual basis for my claims has been clear. It is not Eisenmann's opinion. It is arguments I formulated on the basis of facts such as these:

1-Josephus provides an autobiography
2-His claims can be cross checked with other ancient sources
3-His reports are quite detailed. The nature of the details suggests an impressive mind
4-Some of his reports are likely based upon direct interrogations
5-He describes the political background situation
6-He admits his biases in a section that appears self-critical
7-His reporting of minutiae can be described as meticulous
8-His reporting appears encyclopaedic in its details

Of course being detailed doesn't make a person reliable. Appearing encyclopaedic doesn't make a person accurate. But I formulated arguments based upon the above facts that make it reasonable to think Josephus is more reliable than the NT. This doesn't mean he never lies, never contradicts himself, never makes mistakes. Jason quotes scholars asserting those points. But he hasn't quoted anyone denying the facts I've listed.

If he does, fine. I'm interested. But I'm reasonable to accept facts asserted by scholars that I'm not aware are contradicted by anyone.

So there's my question for Jason. Is it reasonable to accept FACTS asserted by scholars when you are unaware of any dispute on the matter? Nobody is claiming that there is no variance amongst scholars about the general reliability of Josephus. That would be absurd (which is probably why you're characterizing my view this way). I'm simply affirming the position I said way back at the beginning.

In pressing Jason on this point I had predicted that he might quote my questions, but he would not reply on substance. That prediction has proven to be true. Does Jason deny that an opinion of a scholar is a reasonable basis to affirm a non-controversial fact? Jason won't answer this question after all this time. He'll say he won't answer because I haven't responded to an argument that is no longer available to me from 3.5 years ago (among other reasons). Does he really think anybody believes that?

So watch for a reply from Jason. It might be quite lengthy. But if you read it, see if it actual answers this question:

Is it reasonable to accept FACTS asserted by scholars when you are unaware of any dispute on the matter and you don't personally have expertise in the area?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I, Paul

You gotta be careful arguing with Jason Engwer. If you say something and you don't qualify it up down and sideways he'll jump all over you as if he's found a very important mistake. For instance recently I had said with regards to the arguments of some of the Dutch radical critics "Why doesn't someone actually try and deal with the arguments?" This is pay dirt for Jason. Worthy of a whole new post. After all a few internet apologists have said a few things. There was a webcast where some issues tangential to this were dealt with. Yeah, yeah, ya got me. To say nobody in the history of internet apologism has ever said one thing in response to the Dutch radicals, I guess I'm wrong. Congratulations.

Way back when I had said "I Paul" references would make one suspicious because these type of references are common in pseudonymous works and would be a "dead give away to forgery." Whoo boy. That was too far. Jason has pay dirt. Dead give away? "So if these two words are strung together in any sense without regard to context I should assume forgery? See how ridiculous Jon is?"

Well, OK. I'll offer some more of those qualifications that Jason apparently can't see.

But let's start with my basic contention. What of "I, Paul" references. Is it true that we find these in pseudonymous works? Absolutely. They're all over the place.

Gospel of Peter 14:3

But I, Simon Peter, and Andrew my brother, took our fishing nets and went to the sea. With us was Levi, the son of Alphaeus, whom the Lord...

Apocalypse of Peter

And I, Peter, answered and said unto him: Interpret unto me concerning the fig-tree,

Apocryphon of John 1:19

When I, John, heard these things I turned away from the temple to a desert place.

Book of Thomas the Contendor (1:2)

The secret words that the savior spoke to Judas Thomas which I, even I, Mathaias, wrote down, while I was walking, listening to them speak with one another.

Revelation 1:9

I John, your brother and partaker with you in tribulation and kingdom and patience which are in Jesus, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

Testimony of the 12 Patriarchs III:2:

I Levi was conceived in Haran and born there,

Infancy Gospel of Thomas 1:1

I, Thomas the Israelite, am reporting to you, all my brothers from the nations, to reveal the childhood and the greatness of our Lord Jesus Christ, what he did in my country after he was born.

Apocalypse of Zephaniah B:7

Truly, I, Zephaniah, saw these things in my vision.

1 Enoch 105:13

Then I, Enoch, answered and said, The Lord will effect a new thing upon the earth.

Testament of Solomon

5. Now when I Solomon heard this, I entered the Temple of God, and prayed with all my soul,

Tobit 1:3

I Tobit have walked all the days of my life in the ways of truth and justice, and I did many almsdeeds to my brethren, and my nation, who came with me to Nineve, into the land of the Assyrians.

Daniel 7:15

I Daniel was grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me.

Looks pretty clear that I, (name) is a forgers technique. Rather than deal with the fact that this is all over pseudonymous writings, Jason will focus on how I had said it's a "dead give away" (even though I had also said it is "suspicious" which implies it's not a certainty). Do the facts matter to Jason, or is my potential overstatement the only thing worth talking about?

What we're seeing in these cases is the authors protesting authorial identity. It's not about introducing people to an author that the readers don't otherwise know. This is about an author identifying himself as a person that is highly regarded and has status. It's pretty obvious why a forger would use such a technique. It might compel readers to treat the text as something that is very important.

And it's not just Dutch radical type people that recognize this as a forgers technique. As Jason pointed out, I cited Bart Ehrman in support of this claim. Ehrman takes all the standard (what I would call conservative) lines on Pauline authorship. He accepts the 7 supposedly authentic letters from Paul. Even still he understands that this is a forgers technique.

So my basic contention (which I qualified for Jason's benefit) is that this is indicative of forgery. It may not be all the time, but it's certainly something that should raise suspicion. Given that we see it frequently in pseudonymous works, and I have yet to see it in works regarded as genuine, we should obviously look at such texts with suspicion, right? Does Jason deny this? Isn't it obvious?

But now Jason says that some translators claim Josephus uses the phrase. Jason doesn't tell us exactly where to find this passage except to say it at the opening of War. Probably this is the passage:

I have proposed to myself, for the sake of such as live under the government of the Romans, to translate those books into the Greek tongue, which I formerly composed in the language of our country, and sent to the Upper Barbarians; (2) Joseph, the son of Matthias, by birth a Hebrew, a priest also, and one who at first fought against the Romans myself, and was forced to be present at what was done afterwards, [am the author of this work].

Presumably just prior to "Joseph" it could be translated "I, Joseph". That could be and doesn't look all that suspicious. What's the difference? In this case the author appears to be identifying himself for those that don't know him. This is who I am, where I'm from, what I did, who my father is, etc. The word "I" could land next to the name "Joseph" in such a context without necessarily suggesting anything about pseudonymity.

In the case of the spurious texts above it's not about letting people know who a person is. It's basically just name dropping. In that context it would appear much as it appears in spurious documents. Which do the Pauline epistles look like? They look just like the spurious texts listed above.

Questions for Jason

The extended and wide ranging discussion with Jason Engwer continues. It's all very disorganized. I'm banned at Triablogue, so I can't respond there, which would allow for a continuous thread. So everything is everywhere.

But it's just as well, because these days you never know if they're going to delete everything you've posted. For instance John Loftus has offered many thoughtful posts there. They're all now gone as punishment I suppose. Rebuttals to his arguments remain, but his counters aren't viewable. Perhaps they are attempting to protect viewers from potential faith shaking information. To me though the attempt to shield viewers from certain statements is more faith shaking than anything. But to each his own.

Jason is continuing his pattern of lots of verbiage, little substance. He raises a topic and as I rebut he just hops to a new argument and ignores my rebuttal. I'll illustrate some of the things he's dodged with a series of questions.

1-You say that skeptics are inconsistent in that the arguments they use to discredit the NT would also discredit Tacitus. Tell us which skeptics you have in mind and what their arguments are regarding Tacitus.

2-You say that I'm inconsistent because Josephus used an assistant, yet I've "ignored" the use of an assistant for the NT. What does this argument mean?

3-You keep repeating the charge that some scholars regard Josephus as a liar. Why do you keep repeating this when I've already said I'd be open to that and this doesn't mean the other information he offers shouldn't be trusted?

4-You quote the opinions of conservative evangelicals to the effect that you are right and we skeptics are wrong. I don't think that's very compelling. You responded by asking if we should treat Richard Carrier the same way. I said we should. Do you now concede that quoting the opinions of friendly sources is not very compelling and certainly does not constitute an argument?

5-You claim that I posit an interpolation at Mt 17. Do you admit that this is not true?

6-You claim that a report can't be an eyewitness report if we don't have the name. Do you now admit that this is false?

7-Is it unreasonable to accept the scholarly position when you are unaware of any dispute on the matter even though you may not have first hand knowledge? Like germ theory for instance? You've responded by saying Eisenmann is weird, read his table of contents at a lecture, has minority opinions on other issues. How is any of that relevant to my point?

8-I claim an anachronism in Romans. You claim a potential anachronism from Josephus and suggest that since I believe Romans contains an anachronism and reject Pauline authorship on this basis (though in fact there are additional reasons), I should likewise reject Josephus. Isn't it a fact that not every anachronism is proof of forgery? The anachronism you claim from Josephus doesn't necessarily imply forgery, but the one in Romans obviously does.

9-Please elaborate on the verisimilitude argument of yours. I think it makes no sense at all, just like the amanuensis argument referenced above. Show me that I'm wrong or admit you aren't making any sense.

It seems I'm raising points, and rather than giving answers you just move on to a new argument. Or you offer a defense of what is not in dispute as I document in the comment section here. Now it's "I, Josephus." When I've dealt with that it will be on to the next point. We'll write over 95 pages again and just go from one thing to the next. You ought to deal with the issues on the table before moving on to new topics. Either answer the questions or concede your errors.

Our Idiotic Government and AIG's Critics

AIG appears to be a pretty badly run company. They insured mortgages and badly miscalculated the risk of default. When the risk was realized they found themselves on the brink of collapse.

Our government has stepped in with our tax dollars as well as billions borrowed in our children's names and given AIG a few multi-billion dollar blank checks. What is this poorly run company doing with the money? Among other things they are passing out multi-million dollar bonuses, some of which are to people that no longer work for the company.

Everyone is ticked. But where are they directing their anger? AIG. Not so much the government. As Stossel would say, give me a break.

What do you expect wasteful companies to do when you don't allow the market to punish them for their wasteful practices? They'll keep doing what they've been doing. If the government offered the company I work for billions in bail out money and the company offered me a million a month to keep doing what I'm doing, guess what I'd do? I'd take the money.

If you're looking for a place to invest billions of dollars and you find a poorly managed company that has a history of making decisions that lead to bankruptcy and you give them your billions and they continue to make poor decisions, who is to blame? This is like blaming a heroine addict for getting high after you've provided him with all the drugs he wants.

What your so-called conservatives might say at this point is "We need to pay these bonuses because we need to retain the talent required to get us out of this mess. You want crappy executives running the company? That will make things worse."

My response, as a person that sees the value of truly free markets, is that you don't know that. You don't know that you are really getting millions of dollars in value from these executives. That's the whole point of a free market. If these executives bring value, then the market will reward them, and if not the market will punish them.

Now we've decided we will not let the market punish them. So Obama and the rest of the central planners will step in and decide what their wages should be. But he cannot do this successfully. He cannot know if these high salaries really bring this kind of value. A market can. But a market has to be allowed to punish failure. And in America we don't do that. At least we don't do it for companies that are large and have people lobbying Washington on their behalf.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

We Imprison a Lot of People

AIG Busted had a post on a Montana fossil hunter facing 10 years in prison for digging in remote areas people couldn't care less about. I guess he didn't get the proper paper work from our nanny state government officials. This reminds me of a couple of graphs I recently saw. I understand that China, with 4x the population of the United States, has only 500,000 people in prison.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Jason is criticizing me because I “left the discussion” when we argued about whether Romans betrays knowledge of the destruction of the temple. I copied and pasted the thread into Word. It’s 95 pages in length. Nobody that I know of has made a better effort to interact with Jason’s arguments than I have, but it’s still not enough. How long would the thread have to be, Jason, before you might recognize that the reason I left wasn’t related to the force of your arguments or my inability to deal with them?

Overall though I think it’s a useful thread. I reference the thread occasionally at my blog here. What I would suggest to Jason is that to make threads more bearable and shorter he should consider spending more time arguing and less time confidently asserting that he’s in the right and everyone else is wrong. We know you think you’re right Jason. We know you are certain that skeptical arguments are feeble. The question I have is, why do you feel the need to assert your correctness so often?

Just in the course of the discussion on Romans Jason offered the following:

Nothing in the passage suggests the destruction of the temple as a past event.

To assume that the table of Romans 11:9 is a reference to the temple, and that it's already been destroyed, is dubious.

nothing in the context of Romans 11 suggests an application of the theme as narrow as yours.

And you aren’t giving us any reason to interpret Romans 11 as you have.

You had no good reason to interpret Romans 11 as you did in the first place,

You haven't given us any reason to conclude that the table in question is a reference to the temple.

You still haven't shown that a past destruction of the temple is in view.

You're not giving us any reason to think that an association with the temple is in view.

You’re wrong, I’m right. You’re wrong, I’m right. You’re wrong, I’m right. Sweeping and confident claims. I haven’t given any reason for anyone to draw my conclusions. There’s nothing to even suggest such an understanding. What does this behavior really tell us? I’m reminded of a statement from George Salmon.

Indeed with respect to this word certainty I may remark the more people talk about their certainty the less they have. If one of you came in and told me ‘I saw the Prince of Wales just now walking down Sackville street’ I might be a good deal surprised at your news but there would nothing in your language to make me think you were saying anything about which you had not full knowledge. But if you said ‘I am certain I saw the Prince of Wales just now’ I should conclude you were by no means assured yourself of the truth of what you said.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Summa Inconstantia

Below is a brief summary of Jason's older and more recent arguments related to my supposed inconsistency with the NT and Josephus. A more detailed response is in the comment section here.

1-Since Josephus used assistants, Jon is unreasonable because he's "ignored" the use of an assistant for Paul.

My response: This argument just makes no sense at all.

2-Some scholars think Josephus is a liar.

My response: I think that's entirely possible, and I look for places where an author is biased to identify potential lies. Jason won't do the same with the NT, so it is Jason that is inconsistent on this point. But he has good reasons for that. To find out, merely "consult the archives of Triablogue." Hmm...kay.

3-Josephus may be guilty of an anachronism. Since Jon says Romans contains an anachronism and rejects Pauline authorship on this basis, he ought to also reject Josephus.

My response: Nonsense. Different anachronisms imply different things. Not all anachronisms imply forgery. If Romans is referring to the destruction of the temple then Paul didn't write it. If Josephus refers to events that occurred after he must have died, then I agree he couldn't have written about those events. If the evidence is good I'd accept it. You haven't come close to showing this.

4-Some call Josephus a liar. Jon calls Eusebius a liar, so he has to call Josephus a liar if a scholar suggests that he was.

My response: Despite the fact that this is not logical, I have no problem being open to Josephus being a liar. I don't concoct "how it could have been" scenarios to make Josephus honest as Jason does with Eusebius. Once again it is Jason engaging in a double standard.

5-Josephus has other various deficiencies, so Jon should reject him.

My response: I'm happy to reject many of his claims, just as I'm happy to reject many of the claims of the NT. I look for places where I expect biases and treat such things with skepticism. But Jason doesn't do this. Jason makes an exception for the NT and for any Christian historian as necessary to prop up his theories. He'll reject Irenaeus due to his biases on one issue (see Gene Bridges describe his motivations for the "Jesus living to the age of 50" here) and accept him despite his biases on others all to salvage his own apologetic . Again, Jason has a double standard. I'm consistent.

6-The manuscripts for the NT are earlier than the manuscripts for Josephus

My response: This is not the only factor in determining reliability.

7-Jon has argued for verisimilitude. Some things from Josephus could be understood as verisimilitude. If Jon was consistent he'd reject Josephus.

My response: This is entirely illogical. There's not much more that can be said on that.

8-Jon says that certain inconsistencies in Paul imply forgery. Josephus is sometimes inconsistent. Therefore Josephus must be spurious by Jon's standards.

My response: Nonsense. Different inconsistencies imply different things. See my more detailed response for a fuller discussion.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Jerry Coyne's Links

I just finished a great book by Jerry Coyne. "Why Evolution is True." This is the perfect book to give to the evolution skeptic. Not too long. Fun to read. Packed with great information.

He has some interesting links in his notes section as well as other online resources. I'm providing the links here.

From the Notes

1-Evolution Timeline
2-Two creationist views of "kinds" and a rebuttal
3-Description of how "Dave," the first Sinornithosaurus specimen was found and prepared
4-NOVA documents the finding of Microraptor gui and subsequent controversy about whether it flew
5-Watch a water chevrotain taking to water to avoid an eagle
6-Video of how wings are used in mating
7-Animation of continental drift. More detailed info here.
8-Graphic video of Japanese hornets destroying introduced bees
9-Video of gliding ants
10-Explanation of the long tongue of the woodpecker
11-Sage grouse strutting on the lek
12-Bonobos walking upright
13-Video documenting the preserved footprints of ancient hominids
14-Discussion of creationist treatment of the fossil record

Online Resources

1-Depiction of Human Evolution
2-Complete Works of Charles Darwin
3-Evolution Evidence Page
4-Refuting Creationism
5-The National Center for Science Education
6-PBS Evolution Page
7-The Panda's Thumb
8-Talk Origins and the best online guide to the evidence for evolution
9-LaeLaps (a blog)
10-This Week in Evolution (another blog)

My evangelical Hugh Ross loving brother has promised to read Coyne's book if only I read Hugh Ross's "Origins of Life" book. No need to twist my arm. I'm looking forward to the Ross book. I'll write a critical review and I'm trying to convince my brother to review Coyne. I'll post his review here.

Consistency with Josephus and the NT

Jason Engwer is attempting to show that my attitude toward Josephus is inconsistent with my attitude toward the NT. He's written three posts since my last one. The first one I reply to in the comment section here. In this post I'll respond to his second and third posts.

I think rather than showing I'm inconsistent in my treatment of Josephus, what Jason's arguments do (when they are coherent) is actually show that he should apply the lessons he learns from Josephus to the NT. He is the one that is making exceptions. I summarize and respond to his arguments below.

1-Josephus used assistants, and in some of the books the composition is practically handed over to these assistants entirely.

What would I make of these things, Jason asks? Apparently I've "ignored" the potential use of assistants for the NT. I seriously wonder why Jason finds this to be of any significance at all. What is he making of this?

First of all, I have no problem with Josephus using assistants. Jason has asserted that some NT authors used an amanuensis. He does this in an effort to explain the discrepancies in vocabulary. So how does this work, Jason? If I were to concede that Josephus used an assistant I must therefore permit you to invoke an amanuensis whenever you feel the need to get yourself out of a tight spot?

Heck, I guess anybody can now invoke an amanuensis excuse whenever they want to because after all, Josephus used an assistant. It was common at the time. If you go to court and you dispute a will and you prove that the text involves different authors due to the stylistic differences in the vocabulary, the defendant now has an easy answer. An assistant to the deceased must have done it, not me. After all, Josephus used an assistant, so now I'm free to invoke it whenever I find myself in a tight spot. Explain to me the logical principles you use to come up with these rules.

2-Certain scholars regard Josephus as "an incurable liar" and otherwise question his integrity. Where does Jon stand on this issue?

I wouldn't be a bit surprised. I've already mentioned his biases. I'm well aware that he offers an inaccurate pro-Roman spin. Are you suggesting I think Josephus is inerrant or something? I'm pretty much in full agreement with the scholar you cite (J.J. Scott). We have reason to trust Josephus on other matters, but he does have faults that lead him to make erroneous claims. What is the problem here?

3-Josephus writes controversial comments about the nature of the Canon of Jewish Scripture. Many scholars think the Canon wasn't as settled as Josephus claims. Shouldn't this imply forgery by Jon's standards?

Once again, I'm lost. If Josephus is mistaken about the Canon, how does this imply forgery? Jason parallels this case to arguments about Paul in I Cor 15 and Galatians 1. In Galatians "Paul" tells us that he didn't get the gospel from men, but got it directly by revelation. In I Cor 15 Paul says he got the gospel from the Jerusalem apostles, not by revelation. I say this would suggest we're dealing with different authors. How is a mistake from Josephus analogous to the contradiction in Paul?

I'll give you an example of a similar contradiction from Josephus. The famous Testimoniam Flavianum has that Josephus believes Jesus is the Messiah. Elsewhere Josephus says that Vespasian is the Messiah. I don't think he could have written both. One of the claims from Josephus must be spurious. I'm treating both texts in a consistent way. Jason on the other hand will imagine some "how it could have been" scenarios to reconcile Paul with Paul. He probably doesn't do this with Josephus and recognizes at a minimum that the TF is partially spurious. Why the double standard? Why not imagine a "how it could have been" scenario for the TF?

4-Jon lauds Josephus because in an introduction Josephus concedes his own biases. Eusebius similarly recognizes his own deficiencies in composing his own history. Yet Jon has a negative view of Eusebius. What's the story?

Actually, I see Eusebius and Josephus as similar in this regard. Both should be treated with skepticism when we are dealing with issues where they would be expected to have biases. It's possible that Eusebius himself composed the TF. It doesn't exist in writings prior to him. But we would expect that Eusebius would love to see Josephus assert that Jesus is the Messiah. We would expect that Eusebius is embarrassed at the total lack of mention of Jesus from historians that existed at the time of Jesus. So we might suspect that he could concoct such things. This is not to say that everything Eusebius writes is false.

Jason in some cases recognizes this same point. In this thread he responds to my charge that Eusebius claims Papias is a man of small intellect by dismissing Eusebius due to his biases against premillenialism. That could very well be. Papias espoused premillenialism, and we might expect that Eusebius would concoct claims that help him rebut it. I'm not suggesting we treat Josephus any differently.

5-Paul Maier similarly recognizes deficiencies in Josephus.

Once again, so what? I have no problem with your quote from Maier. If you want to be consistent then, would you similarly tell us about the deficiencies and inaccuracies contained in the NT?

The overall lesson here is a good one. Be skeptical when reading an ancient author when he is discussing subjects where you might expect him to have a bias. What do we do with Irenaeus when he tells us Jesus lived to the age of 50 and we know he wants this to be true to combat so called heretics? What should we think when he similarly tells us that the apostle John wrote the 4th gospel? We know he wants to give the text apostolic authority. Shouldn't we approach such claims cautiously? I think so. Jason doesn't. He just takes it at face value. He wants that one to be true, but doesn't want the claim of Jesus living to the age of 50 to be true. So he accepts the former and rejects the latter. Is this a consistent methodology?

Take a look at the gospels. "(B)ut these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." Jn 20:31. If you want to be consistent and treat the NT like we treat Josephus, how would we view the gospel of John? Don't the other gospels betray the same mindset? They most certainly do. They also betray an effort to portray Jesus in a certain light. How does Jason view these texts? Does he apply the same reasoning Maier and Scott do to Josephus? I do.

Jason is staying up to all hours of the night pounding away at the keyboard trying to show that I treat Josephus differently than I treat the NT. But as we look through his arguments it seems I'm the one treating them the same and Jason is the one making the exceptions.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

God and Tragedy

A pastor in Indiana was recently shot fatally while preaching from the pulpit. Bob Dutko today discussed this and other tragedies that are in some sense inexplicable for Christians. Christian missionaries were shot out of the sky over Peru en route to missionary work. In another almost inconceivably sad story a Christian couple lost six of their children to flames in an auto accident. Bob himself has had more than his share of life's difficulties. His 17 year old daughter collapsed in his arms and died several years ago on Mother's Day. Today he recounted how his wife on that day saw the ambulance carrying his daughter and prayed that whoever was in it, may God not let them die, because it would be all the more awful to lose a child on Mother's Day. Little did she know that it was her own daughter.

Sadly this is not the only health difficulty Bob has had to endure with his children. I don't know exactly which of his sons has the various afflictions he's described, but apparently one is legally blind, another is Diabetic (Type 1 I believe), and he recently discovered that a third son, the one that he thought was the one without any serious afflictions, in fact has the same heart defect his 17 year old daughter had, and he nearly died from it. He has since had surgery to protect him.

Anybody that needs a belief in God to cope with such tragedies has my full support. I wouldn't begrudge anyone this grieving mechanism. And of course belief in the Christian God can be reconciled with the above described tragedies and health problems. Nobody knows the mind of God. God has brought the dead to a better place. Etc, etc. Bob took calls today from Christians to get their thoughts, and of course this is how they responded. Bob expressed the same reasoning.

But the problem here is obvious. It seems that tragedy befalls the believer and unbeliever alike. That's exactly what we would expect if there was no God.

But if there was a God, then there is no reason to assume that the world would look this way. It might. It's possible. Who can know the mind of God? But it would also be possible that God would shower his blessings more on those that follow him and less on those that do not. If that was what we observed that would be consistent with God belief as well, right?

So a better question from Bob would be this. Are the facts about the tragedies we observe more likely on theism or less likely on theism. Given that this is exactly what we would expect on atheism, and given that there would be no reason to expect a world that looks like this on theism (at best one could say it might be either way), this is evidence for atheism. It's not a proof. Atheism can never be proved. But it can be shown to be more plausible. Atheism makes better sense of this data.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

For the Record

This is perhaps not all that important, but I want to clarify on an objection Jason Engwer recently re-posted regarding a statement I made.

Many Christian apologists point out the scholarly consensus on certain issues. They often rely on studies done by Gary Habermas, who writes here (HT DagoodS) that 75% of all scholars believe that the tomb of Jesus was found empty on the Sunday following his crucifixion. He also notes that of the scholars he's surveyed, 75% are what you would call "moderate conservatives." He defines a moderate conservative this way.

“For the purposes of this essay, I will define moderate conservative approaches to the resurrection as those holding that Jesus was actually raised from the dead in some manner, either bodily (and thus extended in space and time), or as some sort of spiritual body (though often undefined).”

I pointed this out at Debunking Christianity, but instead of using the phrase "moderate conservative" I used "conservative Christian." For Jason, this is "misleading".

But the reason I did this is because to me, and also to the people I'm writing to at Debunking Christianity, "conservative Christian" is a better phrase for the definition Habermas has offered. As far as I'm concerned "moderate conservative" would best describe someone like Bart Ehrman. Ehrman has very conservative views regarding the dating and reliability of the gospels as well as the authenticity of many of the sayings of Jesus. Someone like Craig Bloomberg or William Lane Craig would be called "moderate conservative" in the eyes of Habermas, but from my perspective these people are not moderate at all.

They would be for Gary Habermas, and that's perfectly fine with me. I'm not objecting to the way Habermas is writing. He can define words any way he wants as long as he's being clear, and he is. I'm likewise being clear about what I mean when I say "conservative Christian" so there's no reason to object. I just think referring to people like William Lane Craig as "moderates" at DC would cause more confusion. The goal here is clarity.

For Kent Hovind, Hugh Ross would be a liberal evolutionist. Jason would be as well as an old earther. Jason needs to understand that different people have different perspectives, and this is why terminology sometimes changes. This is not an effort to be misleading.

This is all perhaps a quibble. I could deal with Jason's other objections, which are also quibbles, but for now I guess I feel they are just too irrelevant and not worth it.

The title of the post for Jason was "How Significant Is It When Modern Scholars Affirm the Historicity of a Biblical Account?" That doesn't sound like a quibble. It's a good question, and Jason's thoughts on that could be worthwhile. Unfortunately Jason doesn't answer that question but instead talks about my "misleading" terminology and other such nonsense. We call that "majoring in the minors".