Written Debate Between Dr. Andrew Loke and Paulogia
- Dr Loke’s Opening Statement (quoted below in orange)
- Paulogia’s Opening Statement
- Dr Loke’s First Rebuttal (quoted below in green)
- Paulogia’s First Rebuttal
- Dr Loke’s Second Rebuttal (quoted below in purple)
- Paulogia’s Second Rebuttal
- Dr Loke’s Closing Statement (quoted below in blue)
It was many months ago that Dr Andrew Loke and I embarked on this written debate, and now a few months since his closing statement. For the handful of you who have held on to the end, I apologize for this tardy final shoe whose drop became suspended due to real-world care and loss. For those who know and have supported… thank you.
Along this journey of bluster, gamesmanship, grudges, non-sequiturs, and general intellectual pugilism, we are left with the question that started it all.
Is there good evidence for group appearances of risen Jesus?
No. No, there is not.
There are the gospels… which are hearsay at best (fiction at worst), and ultimately fail to independently corroborate any group appearance reports. And there is a recitation of a believer-affirmation pledge of unspecified origin.
Ultimately that’s about it, give-or-take some affirmations of later converts.
In the mind of Dr Loke, there are also extenuating circumstances that should compel us to abandon the time-tested well-established best-practices of evidential evaluation and instead unnaturally stretch our credulity toward the ancient, anonymous narratives.
Let us, one last time, review the case put before us.
What is Good Evidence?
Ultimately, this entire debate has been interpretation of what makes evidence compelling, and what does not. What makes it “good”? And whether you decide that Dr Loke has made the better case, or I have made the better case, should come down solely to epistemology and standards of evidence.
Unfortunately, preconceived notions and emotional attachments to a worldview will bias a judge, a juror, or a debate reader. In the non-participant commentary surrounding this particular debate, I’ve seen such bias in both camps. The extent to which my arguments, or my opponent’s arguments, are compelling to you seems to be primarily correlated with your views on the topic established before the debate began. Not long ago, I too was a devout Jesus-follower and expect that my bias would have had me nodding at the way Dr Loke affirmed my existing beliefs.
So, what is a genuine truth-seeker to do? How can one allow evidence – and evidential interpretation – to overcome even our own (potentially unrecognized) internal bias to come to a conclusion that best corresponds to reality?
Well, fortunately there are fields like science, philosophy, history and law that have spent centuries coming up with general principles and best practices when it comes to evidential evaluation without prejudice. And rather than re-invent the wheel for this debate, we can simply utilize the best epistemological tools humanity has to offer.
Anticipating my opponent’s line of argumentation, in my opening statement I laid out what the legal profession has to say about the properties of good evidence (relevance, materiality, admissibility, probative value and weight), the properties of evidential inference, and equally importantly, some properties that reduce the value of evidence (hearsay, character evidence, and collusion).
While our debate question is not a matter of law, it is non-controversial that the legal system is simply a high-stakes sub-category of historical inquiry. An attempt to determine what happened in the past with the greatest precision possible because we attach real-world consequences to the findings. The most rigorous of history.
As Dr Loke assigns the ultimate consequence (eternal bliss or eternal torment) to findings relating to the resurrection of Jesus, you would think that he would willingly submit his evidence to the most rigorous standards known to humanity. Instead, again-and-again he pleaded that his case be adjudicated with lower scrutiny and under the least-stringent rules. Dr Loke thinks history’s most important miracle claim requires evidentiary training-wheels to cross the finish line.
In his first rebuttal, Dr Loke attempted to spin historical inquiry as having an advantage over legal inquiry due to the luxury of time. But ultimately, even the source he chose to bolster this notion condemned the malleability of historiography to suit present needs and affirmed my humble observation that the best tools in one are the best tools in the other, regardless of timeframe. “Historical truth stems from the same processes as legal truth, with the same weaknesses but also the same strengths.”
Looking at the historical context doesn’t stop us from utilizing the best-practices for evidence evaluation. So, how does Dr Loke’s evidence stack up?
Is the 1 Corinthians 15 creed hearsay?
As with many resurrection debates, the short passage of 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 is at the heart of things because it likely represents one of the earliest extant expressions of Christian beliefs. But, of course, this pre-dating means the sentiment was not original to the apostle Paul.
In Dr Loke’s own words, “I have argued that Paul passed on a well-formulated and authoritative summary of the resurrection appearances including group appearances and that he also personally knew members of the group claimed that they saw the risen Jesus; thus it was not hearsay.”
To review, what is hearsay?
Per Oxford Languages, “the report of another person’s words by a witness, which is usually disallowed as evidence in a court of law”. Or, per Harper-Collins, “evidence based on what has been reported to a witness by others rather than what he or she has observed or experienced (not generally admissible as evidence).” Or, from Cornell Law, “Hearsay is an out-of-court statement offered to prove the truth of whatever it asserts.” You get the point.
Per Dr Loke, was 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 Paul’s own words? No, they were another person’s words.
Per Dr Loke, did Paul observe or experience any event described in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7? No. No, he did not.
Clearly this is hearsay by any definition. Paul is passing along the words of others describing something he didn’t experience. That Paul personally knew some of the people described has absolutely no bearing on what hearsay is. Repeating what you heard from your very-best-friend is still hearsay. No level of acquaintance intimacy gets around this.
Dr Loke raised the reasonable question… “we need to distinguish between,
1. There were group(s) of people who claimed to have seen something which they thought was the resurrected Jesus
2. There were group(s) of people who truly saw the resurrected Jesus.”
This 1 Corinthians 15 passage is clearly hearsay with regard to the second case (as Paul never claimed to be part of such a group), but could it serve as non-hearsay evidence toward the first?
Non-trivially, there remains the insurmountable problem that these are not Paul’s words. To whatever hypothetical extent they agree with Paul’s personal experiences, they are not his expression. He is clear about this separation. “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance…” (1 Cor 15:3) Paul received this precise bundle of words, and passed it along. This is not the type of language you use to indicate that someone else’s expression stands in for your own. Reporting someone else’s words is automatically enough for this to be hearsay under either of Loke’s options.
But for the sake of argument, suppose we were to momentarily set that aside to explore Dr Loke’s speculative leap that “Paul is testifying that other apostles, including members of the group appearances, were claiming that they had seen the risen Jesus, and that this statement came from someone (Paul) who knew members of the group (e.g. Peter and other apostles), who had personally met them and talked to them (see Gal. 1–2).”
Can we actually establish that any members of group appearances conveyed this to Paul?
There are three group appearances in the creed in question… “the Twelve” (minus Judas, presumably), the 500 and “all the apostles”. Even though he says that some are alive, Paul doesn’t claim to have met or talked to any of the 500. “All the apostles” is simply too vague a depicter to draw any conclusions about specifically to whom this referring. And thus, we are left with Peter (whom Paul met as described in Galatians 1) and John (whom Paul met 14 years later as described in Galatians 2) who would be part of the Twelve.
There are many possible interpretations for Paul’s vague descriptions of what happened during these meetings. There seemed to be agreements on some matters and disagreements on others. Were group appearances discussed? That is not specified. If so, were group appearances something they agreed upon or disagreed upon? That is not specified.
Of course, Dr Loke speculates that it was. “To reject my conclusion, Paulogia would need to suppose that Paul had met with Peter and other apostles, knew them for many years, and be a fellow apostle without ever hearing them claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus. This supposition is frankly absurd (to put it mildly).”
In a debate about whether there is evidence for group appearances of resurrected Jesus, this is simply begging the question. Loke is assuming there is overlap between the nebulous “apostles” in the creed, and the specific “apostles” that Paul knew years later. Loke is assuming the conclusion not only that they talked about it, but also assuming what they said about it. He then calls these assumptions evidence. And calls absurd anyone recognizing that this assumption is an assumption.
(As a side note, I absolutely do suppose that Peter and John may well have never claimed to have been part of a group appearance. I suppose this because the evidence for the notion is incredibly weak. It’s the literal topic of this debate.)
Dr Loke simply cannot close the loop. Paul may have known two or more of the individuals in question, but Andrew cannot establish that these individuals claimed to Paul to be part of group appearances.
Dr Loke protests, “Paulogia seems to be demanding an explicit statement ‘Paul heard members of the Twelve saying they saw the risen Jesus.”
In the context of this debate… yes. In order to qualify as non-hearsay testimony evidence, something close to that what it would take. Is that too much to ask? That we not simply assume what Paul heard without him telling us so? This is not some sort of hyper skeptical standard that I’m taking here. We’re just applying every day best-practices standard for what would count as good evidence and what wouldn’t.
If ambiguous inferential speculation sounds convincing to you, that’s fine. But it’s not actual good evidence by best-practice standards.
Do the gospel appearance reports corroborate?
Three of the four gospels contain stories of group appearances of risen Jesus. While these reports could have potential to corroborate each other, they do not clearly describe the same specific events. This would be analogous to three reports of three different robberies at three different banks on three different days. The reports might contain valid information, but they simply cannot corroborate each other in an evidential sense.
Dr Loke contests this, positing that Luke 24:33-43 and John 20:19-24 describe the same event. This is not implausible. Both events are said to take place “on the first day”, there were some disciples already together, Jesus says “Peace be with you” and shows hand wounds. On the rest of the details, they differ… Luke specifically numbers the disciples present at 11 while John specifically numbers them at 10. John has locked doors, a torso reveal, missing Thomas and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Luke starts the meeting with a report from Cleopas, Jesus shows feet, they have food, the Holy Spirit isn’t given until Pentecost and so on. As with every observed Bible contradiction, anyone dedicated to harmonizing can find ways to do so. But in calling these passages the same event, the differences limit any corroboration value, while the similarities seem to fall more into the category of common motif.
A motif is a distinctive feature, common convention, or repeating idea. For example, costumes and alter-egos are motifs in the super-powered hero genre. Dead or missing parents is a motif in Disney films. Levitation, lights, examination, and grey-skinned captors with large eyes are among the motifs in alien abduction stories. Invitation into a light, encountering loved ones, and being out-of-body are similar motifs in near death experience reports.
In his latest book, Dr Dale Allison identifies a number of motifs found in the Jesus appearance narratives, including non-recognition, doubt, consolation, and mission among others. Though Allison personally attributes this commonality to a core truth, he concedes that this is not the only reasonable conclusion. “Yet one must acknowledge that mission, consolation, and doubt are standard fare in Hebrew Bible call narratives, and because those narratives have influenced the stories of Jesus’ appearances, one could maintain that the motifs referred to were secondary additions. Convincingly coaxing historical details out of the stories of Jesus appearing to twelve is no easy task. What is more, we cannot even be sure where the event occurred. Mark and Matthew direct us to Galilee, Luke and John to Jerusalem.”
Dr Loke complained that in this quote “Allison was referring to the motifs of doubt, consolation, and mission which are found in the Old Testament. He was not referring to the motif of group resurrection appearance which is not found in the Old Testament, but which is independently corroborated concerning the appearance to the Twelve” and Andrew thereby missed the point that only details within the stories are candidate touchpoints for corroboration and are what is at question. For him to broadly classify “group appearance” as a motif is merely to observe that the gospels contain multiple group appearance narratives. This is trivial and not at question. What is at question is their success at corroborating each other. Corroboration requires confirming details.
By Dr Loke’s logic, any time multiple witness accounts of a crime are recorded, it creates a crime motif. And further, this general crime motif would be enough for the accounts to automatically corroborate each other, regardless of the extent to which the testimony details vary.
Unlike intellectually honest Dr Allison, Dr Loke fails to recognize or acknowledge when multiple competing hypothesis are equally capable of explaining a set of data. When it comes to commonalities in alien abduction stories, Loke recognizes that we shouldn’t simply assume that details overlap because they are true. Rather, they “might be explained by social phenomenon of common imaginations concerning aliens.” But when I pointed out that in exactly the same way, social phenomenon and common imagination has explanatory power for resurrection appearance motifs, he balked, “This claim is false because the experiences of the Twelve are not imaginary but are corroborated independently, and I have already ruled out other alternatives (e.g. hallucination, misidentification) in my book.” Now, that’s a lot of question-begging all at once, so we’re going to need to break that down.
- “I have already ruled out other alternatives (e.g. hallucination, misidentification) in my book”
- I don’t doubt that Dr Loke has ruled them out in his own mind, but the shallow, surface consideration in his book in no way convinced me. But perhaps my ambivalence is due to my lack of advanced education in the topic. I turned to peer-reviewed publications to see if Loke’s book had convinced the experts. The lone scholarly citation offering commentary to his work was markedly indifferent to Loke’s ability to persuade. “Regardless of whether we think such apologetics is convincing, many of its proponents do indeed discuss rival miracle claims and other the major objections that exist in the literature.” That’s a starkly sterile assessment of Loke’s resurrection case. I would have expected definitively “ruling out other alternatives” on Loke’s own say-so would rock academia. Perhaps in the future? Dr Loke’s book is free, so I invite you to evaluate his success on your own as homework for the reader.
- Dr Loke is committing “Doyle’s Fallacy” (or Holmesian Fallacy) here in assuming that having eliminated some possibilities that he has therefore eliminated all possibilities. For any non-dichotomy, there is always the possibility of a cause not yet discovered or considered. As such, Dr Loke’s ruling out of some options would not alone justify a conclusion of veridical experiences. At best, he’s shown them to be “not impossible”.
- Just to be clear, Loke definitely did not successfully rule out hallucination or misidentification.
- “the experiences of the Twelve”
- Loke hasn’t established that the Twelve had any experiences at all. That’s literally the topic of this debate. If he’d established it, he’d have already won and this line of reasoning would be unnecessary.
- “the experiences of the Twelve are not imaginary”
- Based on testimony alone, demonstrating that someone’s experience is not imagined is a near impossible task. The one testifying would use the same words to describe an imagined event and an actual event. The language of sincerely mistaken and veridical is indistinguishable to an outside observer.
- “are corroborated independently”
- That’s what we’re debating here, so this is potentially circular reasoning in our context.
- “This claim is false because”
- What is “this claim”? That “social phenomenon and common imagination fully accounts for resurrection appearance tales”.
- Even if the rest of Loke’s sentence was correct, that would mean merely that his hypothesis accounts for resurrection appearance tales. It does not follow that other hypotheses are therefore incapable of explaining data. Often times we are faced with multiple options with equivalent explanatory power.
All of the above falls to the discussion of whether the gospel appearance accounts are even attempting to describe the same events, and whether commonalities in the reporting of entirely different events has any sort of evidential power toward the actualization of the events. I would hope you would agree that the answer to both is a resounding “no”.
While in the body of the debate I became distracted and focused disproportionately on the “corroboration” portion of the phrase “independent corroboration”, the more important qualifier here is the word “independent”. Here I’d like to reset and recall my opening statement’s discussion of evidential quality where I anticipated and pre-empted Loke’s line of reasoning here. I wrote,
“Where Collusion is suspected of similar testimony from different sources, it destroys probative value and possibly renders it entirely inadmissible at the mere “air of reality” to the accusation. It is such a serious consideration that it is up to the Plaintiff to disprove the possibility of collusion. Collusion may be deliberate or inadvertent. For example, unintentional collusion may occur through a witness viewing media reports or merely hearing other people’s stories.”
Far from disproving the possibility of collusion, Dr Loke repeatedly went out of his way to demonstrate that collusion absolutely did occur. He affirms that “the early tradition in 1 Corinthians 15” was “written before 55 AD” and “had been in these circles for many years already before writing 1 Corinthians”. Indeed “the early Christian movement was a network of close communication” and “Paul was appealing to public knowledge in 1 Cor 15.” And, of course, what was public knowledge at the time Paul was writing would have remained public knowledge in the decades that followed before the gospels were codified.
According to Loke’s picture, this group appearance tradition would have been unavoidable to any Christian serious enough to write a gospel. Deliberately or inadvertently, any reports of group appearances made after this recitation became “public knowledge” (including the gospels) lack probative value.
To avoid this clear case of collusion, the burden of proof falls to Loke to prove that the commonalities of the gospel reports pre-date the public-knowledge creed.
He did attempt to do so. “The likely diversity and number of such traditions precisely here (more so than at many other points in extant gospel tradition) suggest a variety of initial reports, not merely later divergences in an originally single tradition.’”
But this is merely self-affirming conjecture. The number of potential explanations for diversity seems endless. It could equally reflect regional variations, differing theological priorities, a lack of coherent messaging from primary sources, or even a lack of primary sources entirely. (See the litany of any young-earth creation explanations for hundreds of variations in hundreds of ancient flood myths for more.) This is possibility, not evidence.
And, “its distance from the canonical accounts is often emphasized — there are no women in Paul’s account, for example, and the Gospels intimate nothing of an appearance to James’ (Allison 2005, p. 239).”
Of course, Paul’s account would have no women if that was a later tradition… or if, as some apologists would put forth, the inclusion of women was too embarrassing for Paul. And a lack of narration of an appearance to James (including in the letters that Loke would attribute to James) is an argument from silence. We have no idea what elaborations were being made in the first centuries that simply didn’t survive to modern day. Indeed, a lack of embellishment about the size of one’s boat says nothing about their embellishment of the size of the fish.
Do the gospel appearance reports provide independent corroboration? No, the meaningful touchpoints fail to overlap in detail (when they aren’t directly contradicting). And where the gospels do share vague motif similarity is tainted by openly admitted collusion. This is inescapable.
Authorship of the Gospels
Disagreement over the authorship of the gospels has spanned centuries, so a full-on debate on this huge topic is beyond the context of this narrow event.
The relevant question at hand is, are the gospel accounts first-hand? If not, they are hearsay. Moreover, would any court in any land strongly affirm first-hand testimony from a witness where the witnesses’ identity is not first conclusively established? All it would take is reasonable doubt of the person’s alleged proximity to the event to discredit the testimony as being evidentiarily worthless.
Do we have reasonable doubt that Jesus’ disciple Matthew wrote our “first gospel”, and that Jesus’ disciple John wrote our “fourth gospel”? (Mark contains no group appearances. I’m aware of no serious scholar who posits that the author of Luke was a direct eye-witness to any of the events in gospels.)
One of Loke’s frequently-referenced sources to affirm traditional authorship admits that there is significant doubt in mainstream Christian scholarship. Unlike Loke, Richard Bauckham is intellectually honest enough to concede “that the texts of our Gospels are close to the eyewitness reports of the words and deeds of Jesus — runs counter to almost all recent New Testament scholarship. As we have indicated from time to time, the prevalent view is that a long period of oral transmission in the churches intervened between whatever the eyewitnesses said and the Jesus traditions as they reached the Evangelists. No doubt the eyewitnesses started the process of oral tradition, but it passed through many retellings, reformulations, and expansions before the Evangelists themselves did their own editorial work on it.”
In a surprising turn of events, Loke objects to his own witness. “Bauckham does not cite any survey to substantiate his point.” While, unfortunately, no such formal meta-analysis exists to cite, it would be an odd strategy for Bauckham to unnecessarily undermine his own argument by lying about his personal assessment of the field in which he has operated his whole career.
Loke’s other star witness in defence of traditional authorship is Craig Keener. How does Keener describe the state of modern scholarship toward Matthew? “The minority of scholars who believe Matthew wrote this gospel have marshalled important arguments.”
And to John? “The traditional consensus from early Christian centuries that the Apostle John wrote it has now given way to a majority scholarly skepticism toward that claim.”
As a homework exercise for the reader, feel free to search the scholarly literature for a modern scholar who holds traditional scholarship as anything other than a minority view. The counter-examples are plentiful, but why waste our time when the point is conceded by Loke’s own favorite sources?
Indeed, establishing “majority” or “minority” here is unimportant. The point is that there is far beyond reasonable doubt of gospel authorship among Bible-believing, resurrection-affirming Christians who have made this their careers. I’m not looking for an argumentum ad populum here, just a demonstration that authorship skepticism need not be the product of anti-Bible bias.
Personally, my evaluation of the evidence is with the (apparently majority) view of scholars that it is unlikely that Matthew wrote Matthew or that John wrote John. To sum up unreasonably briefly… the authors do not claim to be eye-witnesses, the earliest manuscripts attributing Matthew or John are from the late second century, earlier church father quotations of the gospels do not attribute author names, John is specifically called out as being illiterate and the earliest source for Matthew authorship is unreliable Papias who describes what seems to be an entirely different work (wrong language, wrong genre). This just scratches the surface.
Loke doesn’t engage any of this, but punts to other writers. “These arguments against traditional authorship have already been refuted by NT scholars such as Bauckham, Keener.” If you change “refuted” to “responded”, then Loke is correct. But to refute implies disproving, which neither Keener nor Bauckham have done in the view of (the majority of) New Testament scholarship. Since Loke elaborates no further, I will leave the details as homework for the interested reader. I am unconvinced and scholarly Christians are unconvinced… enough for reasonable doubt.
In the face of all this, Loke appeals to a scholar named Hengel who “points out how improbable it is that a late conjectural attribution could have produced such unanimity and left no trace of alternative attributions.” Of course, this is merely an argument from silence. That dissenting views were not documented and copied by scribes for centuries into modern day is hardly surprising, particularly given that the orthodox position is similarly unpreserved. What Loke calls improbable is really an argument from incredulity.
Loke deflects by asking for documentation of basic uncontroversial facts, as if he has counter-examples up his sleeves. “Paulogia claims that the bare fact is that extant author labels begin in the late second century, without substantiating this claim.” Fine, let’s humor Loke with the work of Cambridge New Testament scholar, Simon J Gathercole. He reports that P66 is the earliest (second century or later) manuscript with the title of John and P4 the earliest (second century) with the title of Matthew. Good enough? If Loke happens to know of a first-century labeled manuscript, he should probably debut the revolutionary finding to the world rather than debate YouTubers.
And Loke complains I don’t show “how this claim rules out the earlier labelling.” Of course, it doesn’t rule outthat earlier manuscripts may once have existed. To claim otherwise, I’d be making the same argument from silence mistake that Loke repeatedly trots out. But the evidence we actually have simply cannot confirm titles being used earlier than the second century.
Loke’s argument-from-silence train continued rolling. “If the author of a New Testament writing were unknown to any early Christian community, the early Christians would have disputed the authorship.” Of course, it’s entirely possible it was hotly disputed but evidence of disagreement didn’t survive. There is no record of what first-century Christians believed about gospel authorship, one way or the other. Perhaps a guy named Felix wrote what we call Luke, and this was well known in his time, but was forgotten 100 years later. There is just as much evidence for Felix.
In fact, several of the books in the New Testament canon are either anonymous (Hebrews) or broadly agreed to be forgeries (e.g. Ephesians, pastoral epistles, John’s letters, James, and more). Even less controversially, numerous gospels, acts and letters were forged in the names of disciples and readily accepted by the early church to the extent they are referenced and quoted by venerated church fathers.
The authors of all these forgeries would also have been part of the early church in the same way Loke supposes the gospel authors were, and yet believers were broadly fooled into accepting incorrect attribution.
In his closing, Loke hints that perhaps his argument is really that if proposed authors were alive to refute their authorship, then we should have confidence. “The documents (Paulogia) cited were written not in the first century but in the second century, by which time Peter, Nicodemus would have already died rather than ‘being among them’.” While early Christianity demonstrably fails such a criteria, since we know that forgeries of Paul were circulating and actively fooling the church during the time of Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:22), it would also require that Loke provide evidence that historical Matthew and John were alive at the time the gospels attributed to them were written. The fates and dates of these apostles are unknown, save putting undue credence in tradition, legends and lore.
Hungry to save his assertions, Loke notes “there is evidence that the early Christians debated about who wrote Hebrews” and therefore my citation of Hebrews “provides further evidence for premise 1 of my argument (Thanks, Paulogia!)”
Loke’s goalposts might need one of those airplane-seat baggies to deal with such rapid and repeated motion. What was Loke’s problem with my counter-examples? They were from the second century. Who does Loke cite as debating Hebrews? Origen and Tertullian. And when did they live? Second century.
Sorry, Andrew. If second-century forgeries (even though I provided evidence for affirmed first-century forgeries) aren’t relevant examples of incorrect church affirmation, then second-century dissent definitely isn’t evidence for first-century church infallibility.
Finally, Dr Loke pushed the goalpost right out of the stadium and into the parking lot. “Defending the traditional authorship of the Four Gospels is not necessary for my arguments in this debate.”
Perhaps he can continue to attempt to defend corroboration without traditional authorship, but if Loke cannot establish conclusively beyond reasonable doubt the identity of the so-called witnesses and that we’re dealing with first-hand testimony…
… then we are left to conclude what I’ve been saying all along. By best-practice, the first question asked of every witness is their name, to establish identity. Without establishing identity and proximity to the events. Ironically, the gospel authors themselves never claim to be eye-witnesses… but Loke holds to it. Ultimately, the gospels hold no evidentiary value for group appearances because the gospels are hearsay.
Opportunity to commit a crime is not evidence that the crime was committed.
1 Clement and Ignatius
“I shall be brief about 1 Clement and Ignatius since my case in this debate does not depend on them,” Andrew intends. I will try to follow suit.
Loke doesn’t dispute that 1 Clement is hearsay. He just reasserts his weak plea that historians are sometimes ok with hearsay (secondary sources).
Similarly, Loke attempts to avoid hearsay for Ignatius, by too broadly applying a quote from Dr Bart Ehrman’s book, Did Jesus Exist? “There is no conclusive evidence to suggest that Ignatius is basing his views on the books that later became part of the New Testament.” But here Ehrman is referring specifically to Ignatius’ views that Jesus was a historical figure, not extending in any way to the scope of group appearances. Indeed, in a later article, Dr Ehrman affirms my original contention. “The Gospels of the New Testament appear to be quoted in early second century authors such as Ignatius of Antioch and Polycarp of Smyrna.”
(A side note, but while throughout this debate Dr Loke has repeatedly denigrated my lack of academic standing and implied that my methods would not be accepted in such learned circles, I recently had the honor of being approached by Dr Bart Ehrman’s office to collaborate. This notable scholar has since appeared in three of my videos, with more to come. This may be marketing, but Ehrman chose to include my Lee Strobel Christmas video response alongside “academic” resources as a follow-up for his students in his Christmas lecture series. Perhaps I’m doing something right?)
Dr Loke’s Five Arguments
“Throughout the debate I have defended the following five arguments which show that there are good evidences for group appearances of risen Jesus,” said Andrew in his conclusion, and I would encourage you to find them there if for some reason you haven’t already.
Enough digital ink has been spilled in my rebuttals in the name of academic sparring sport in refuting various aspects the numerous premises, so in this closing I will avoid further distraction and instead focus you on what is most germane to the debate at hand.
Four of the five so-called arguments are built upon the fallacious use of “character evidence” and thereby collapse without prejudice. Further elaboration follows in a dedicated section below.
In addition, these same four arguments all suffer from underdetermination in their failure to point to a single conclusion, either individually or even collectively in a cumulative case. “Good evidence” points to a single conclusion, or at least serves to eliminate candidate explanations. Again, further elaboration follows below.
The remaining argument is an unsupported inflation of the evidential value of motifs. (See discussion above.)
And that’s the five.
On Epistemological Principles
Throughout the debate, rather than demonstrate that the type of evidence he presents for group appearances are of the highest quality that survive the best-practices of evidential evaluation, Dr Loke has instead enumerated excuses begging the reader to permit him a watered-down notion of “good evidence”.
For example, Dr Loke never contests the general rule that primary sources are more valuable than secondary sources (also called hearsay) in any evidentiary evaluation discipline. But he seems bothered by my factual reminders that hearsay is inadmissible under legal best-practice. But “secondary sources are admitted by historians,” he protests. “‘Inadmissible’ is different from ‘less valuable’; in the former case it is not acceptable, whereas in the latter case it is acceptable (even if less valuable).” In a debate about establishing “good evidence”, Dr Loke concedes to categorizing much of his presentation as “less valuable” and sets having “some value” to be his most optimistic appraisal. In any case, none falls definitively into the best-practice category of primary sources.
Dr Loke rightfully noted that there are some legal exceptions to the hearsay rule. I asked him to identify which exceptions might be relevant to his case, and he pointed to “Statements in Ancient Documents”. I pointed out that this clause requires that “authenticity is established”, which has not been done for Loke’s hearsaysources. Apparently, in pointing out an important disqualifier, “Paulogia missed my point that the exceptions to hearsay are justified on the basis of various inferences.” Yes, of course. Relevant exceptions have justifications for being exceptions. Still waiting to hear which justified exception is applicable to Dr Loke’s case.
Dr Loke contends that by evaluating parts of his case individually, “Paulogia still does not understand the nature of a cumulative case.” He admits “one secondary source by itself is not good evidence for group appearances, but secondary sources PLUS other considerations can add up via cumulative case arguments to constitute good evidence for group appearances.”
The word “can” is carrying a lot of weight in that sentence. Sure, it can add up. The question put to the reader is, does it add up?
Loke illustrates, “Is coughing by itself good evidence for pneumonia? No, because coughing can also be caused by asthma, URTI, etc. However, if the patient has coughing PLUS fever PLUS crackles on auscultation, this would be good evidence that the patient has pneumonia; the doctor would be considered negligent if he/she does not makes this clinical diagnosis.”
Here, the cough symptom represents underdetermination of evidence, “the simple idea that the evidence available to us at a given time may be insufficient to determine what beliefs we should hold in response to it.”
A cumulative case becomes compelling when additional evidence reduces the underdetermination of the entire case. That is, when the additional data begins to eliminate possible alternative explanations for the individual observations. The ultimate cumulative case would have no underdetermination at all, but point conclusively to only a single answer.
I understand the nature of such cases. What I deny is that the case presented by Dr Loke qualifies. The sum of his arguments remain underdeterminate.
Unsurprisingly, Dr Loke’s own chosen example is underdeterminate. A cough, fever and bibasilar crackles could mean pneumonia, but that combo could also indicate bronchitis, or pulmonary edema, or pulmonary fibrosis, or even heart failure. Loke says “the doctor would be considered negligent” for not diagnosing pneumonia given the list. I think a patient suffering from heart failure but diagnosed with pneumonia would beg to differ.
It is here where I find the mere probabilistic underdetermination nature of Loke’s arguments (even if accepted at face value) to accumulate into a cumulative case that similarly suffers underdetermination. The components point to no single conclusion, and nor does the accumulation. For example, it fails to eliminate sincere mistakes or simple misattribution, among a host of other possibilities.
And ultimately, declaring construction of a “cumulative case” doesn’t spare one from rigorous evaluation of the individual elements. A failed premise is a failed premise and must be removed like a Jenga block, whether it knocks down the tower or not.
In Dr Loke’s closing, he asserts that “Paulogia confounds ‘character trait’ with ‘psychological laws’. The two are different and needs to be distinguished.”
In the field, there remains significant debate about whether “psychological law” is even a coherent notion, but even among advocates it is acknowledged that a psychological law is not like scientific laws that “capture necessary connections between universal properties” or “express comprehensive, strict, exceptionless connections governing the whole of nature.” 
“But psychological regularities are subject to more severe limitations. They are liable to exceptions within their intended domain of application. People sometimes do not think or do not act as they are supposed to according to the pertinent psychological theory. Using Jerry Fodor’s notion of a ceteris-paribus law, such exceptions can be accounted for as follows. Psychological laws are hedged by clauses to the effect that the expected consequent only turns up ‘all other things being equal’ or ‘if no disturbing factors are present’.”
And when it comes to considering such psychological laws in a legal setting (our most-rigorous evidence evaluation system), the experts bear out that “the question is not what most reasonable persons would think but rather what the defendant in fact thought when allegedly committing the crime.”
As such, Dr Loke’s plea “this is a scientific law, which is admissible evidence” is incorrect on both counts, as applicable to our debate. They are not necessary, immutable causal connections like the laws of motion or conservation laws of energy that one might bring to mind with the phrase “scientific law”. Instead, while so-called psychological laws are discovered through scientific methods, they are only as applicable as one can demonstrate a state of “all things being equal” and a lack of “disturbing factors.”
This is but one reason why what Loke calls “psychological laws” is not a meaningful distinction from “character trait” when it comes to evidence evaluation. A trend cannot be assumed to apply to a specific individual or action. As I’ve repeated since my opening, this practice is so fallacious that modern legal jurisdictions near-universally echo U.S. Federal Rule of Evidence 404 making character evidence inadmissible to prove that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character or trait or, by extension, a so-called “psychological law”. Indeed, in law, “character is a pattern of any kind of behavior.”
(Parenthetically, the kinds of psychological laws Dr Loke would appeal to are rarely applicable to all humans at all times, but are instead heavily caveated to personality type, cultural time and place, social circles, mental health, upbringing and the like. You know… a person’s character and traits. This further blurs and renders useless Dr Loke’s supposed distinction.)
Of course, Dr Loke cannot possibly demonstrate the internal 2000-year-ago psychology that all things were equal or lacking disturbing factors for the members of the first-century Corinthian church whom he imagines actually set out on and accomplished a rigorous examination of group appearances claims. Indeed, he cannot even name or find vague reference to such a person.
While such a burden would fall entirely to Dr Loke, even if one accepted his particular application of one psychological source (which I don’t) and further accepted his particular extrapolation of the psychological state of unspecified people from his particular interpretation of a 2000-year-old letter (which I don’t), it is trivially easy to imagine many plausible extenuating factors that simply cannot be ruled out.
Not the least of these is the factor raised by famous Christian apologist Dr. William Lane Craig…
The Holy Spirit
When asked about the role of evidence in convincing non-believers, Dr William Lane Craig replied, “I think that the fundamental way in which we know that Christianity is true is through the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.” If an inner-witness experience satisfies the evidential curiosity of every generation in history since, why would we rule it out as satisfactory for the first generation?
Dr Loke’s reply? “The difference is that the first generation of Corinthians were in a position to verify with the eyewitnesses and it would be a reasonable expectation to do this, indeed they were invited to check out the eyewitnesses.”
In an investigation, we would call this motive and opportunity. This is good. Means, motive and opportunity are prerequisites for potentiality of action. However, motive and opportunity alone are insufficient to establish an action. We are still waiting for Dr Loke’s non-speculative evidential link between having opportunity and availing opportunity.
Did anyone in the Corinthian church take the opportunity to investigate group appearances? We don’t know.
If someone did investigate, did they find enough data to come to a conclusion? We don’t know.
If someone came to a rigorous conclusion, what was their verdict? We don’t know.
It is notoriously difficult to prove a negative, but suppose someone investigated and found insufficient evidence for group appearances, would they necessarily have reported these findings to the church rather than simply be silently unconvinced? If such a report had been made, would it have necessarily dissuaded the entire rest of the Corinthian church? Would said hostile report have been recorded and re-copied for generations for posterity?
Ask the simplest questions and we simply don’t know. All Dr Loke has to offer is wishful speculation seemingly tainted with the confirmation bias, and causal chains replete with missing links.
In his closing, Dr Loke went out of his way to highlight in yellow his underlying assumption that it is “unlikely that their initial belief would have persisted without these eyewitnesses.”
I do not find this remotely unlikely. On the contrary, I find it incredibly likely. Dr Loke has not begun to demonstrate that persistent belief requires evidential justification.
I’m so pleased that this is the debate conclusion and that I can avoid further dances from Dr Loke that rival the contortions of Cirque du Soleil in his attempts to special-plead away the numerous obvious counterfactuals of extraordinary beliefs that persist without the benefit of sufficient evidential backing. If somehow no examples of widely-accepted high-profile “fake news” spring to your mind, see my prior debate segments and evaluate for yourself Dr Loke’s distinction-without-difference defences.
And now, mercifully, we have come to the end. I want to thank Dr Loke for the invitation to interact despite our disparity in credentials, and for his patience in accommodating my schedule issues. Andrew is a highly intelligent individual and a man who is very obviously passionately convinced of his conclusions.
So, what have we learned? Is there good evidence for group appearances of risen Jesus?
No. No, there is not.
Everyone has bias of some sort. In order to not deceive ourselves and to minimize the effects of this bias arrive in drawing conclusions, we need to turn to independent best-practice standards of evidential evaluation refined in the fire of centuries of high stakes debate, historical evaluation and scientific discovery.
These best-practice standards are uncomplicated and non-controversial. First-hand reports are better than second-hand reports. General patterns of behavior cannot reliably predict individual behavior in a specific instance where all things may not be equal. When a report is influenced by a prior report, the second is no longer independent. Stories corroborate only to the extent that details match.
Every source and every argument of Dr Loke in this debate fails these rudimentary standards… from outright failure, to arguably eking out a D-minus by appealing to the lowest, most-forgiving, watered-down evaluation that someone, somewhere might allow to scrape by as “acceptable”.
Is this what one would expect from the God of the universe who wants everyone on earth across centuries to be convinced that His resurrected Son appeared to groups? Such a God would be able to far exceed even the most rigorous standard any mere human could conceive. Yet here we are, with Dr Loke scrambling to elevate scraps to the level of barely passing basic evidentiary evaluation.
It is worth noting that admitting that the evidence for group appearances is week is not the same as denying the resurrection itself. The components of a multi-pronged case necessarily fall on a spectrum of evidential strength. Other resurrection-affirming scholars recognize and admit that group appearances aren’t the pinnacle of independently-confirmed fact, and yet keep their faith. This isn’t a salvation issue. It is likely you are in the same camp as Dr William Lane Craig, for whom the inner witness of the Holy Spirit overcomes (and accommodates a more honest assessment of) evidential gaps through Biblical faith.
When one abandons the time-tested tools and practices to which we trust our property, lives and liberty for arrival at unbiased decisions, one is in danger of blindly embracing anything that confirms what they already believe.
Regardless of your religious convictions, I hope you’ve allowed yourself to soberly assess the group appearance assessments of both myself and Dr Loke through the lens of dispassionate rules of evidence.
Is there good evidence for group appearances of risen Jesus? Only if you’ve invented your own personal definition of what good evidence is.
 Martin, Jean-Clément. “La démarche historique face à la vérité judiciaire. Juges et historiens.” Droit et société 38.1 (1998): 13-20.
 Allison Jr, D. C. (2021). The resurrection of Jesus: apologetics, polemics, history. Bloomsbury Publishing. p62
 Rope Kojonen, E. V. (2021). Bias in the Science and Religion Dialogue? A Critique of “Nature of Evidence in Religion and Natural Science”. Theology and Science, 19(3), 188-202.
 O’Connell, Stuart. Similar Fact Evidence: Collusion. Oct 2017.
 Richard Bauckham. “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (2nd Edition).” Apple Books.
 Keener, C. S. (1997). Matthew (Vol. 1). InterVarsity Press. p31
 Keener, C. S. (2010). The Gospel of John: 2 Volumes. Baker Academic. p83
 Gathercole, S. J. (2013). The Titles of the Gospels in the Earliest New Testament Manuscripts. Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche, 104(1), 33-76.
 Nongbri, B. (2014). The limits of palaeographic dating of literary papyri: some observations on the date and provenance of P. Bodmer II (P66). Museum Helveticum, 1-35.
 Comfort, P. W. (1995). Exploring the Common Identification of Three New Testament Manuscripts: P4, P64 and P67. Tyndale Bulletin, 46, 43-54.
 For historical assessments of the fates of Matthew or John, see McDowell, S. (2016). The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus. Routledge.
 Ehrman, B. D. (2012). Did Jesus Exist?. HarperCollins. Chapter 4
 Bart Ehrman, “When Did the Gospels Get Their Names?” Nov 17, 2014
 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Underdetermination of Scientific Theory
 Carrier, M. (1998). In defense of psychological laws. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 12(3), 217-232.
 The Latin phrase “ceteris paribus” or “caeteris paribus”—literally meaning “other things being equal”.
 Carrier, M. (1998). In defense of psychological laws. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 12(3), 217-232.
 Taslitz, A. E. (1993). Myself alone: Individualizing justice through psychological character evidence. Md. L. Rev., 52, 1.
 U.S. Federal Rules of Evidence. Rule 404. Character Evidence
 Indiana University, Maurer School of Law. Character Evidence
 Craig, Dr. William Lane. What Role Does the Holy Spirit Play In Apologetics?
 Special pleading is an informal fallacy wherein one cites something as an exception to a general or universal principle, without sufficiently justifying the special exception.