Paulogia’s First Rebuttal vs. Dr Loke

Written Debate Between Dr. Andrew Loke and Paulogia

Previous Entries:

Despite the fact that — at my interlocutor’s sole behest – Dr Loke and I are engaged in a debate in written format, he confusingly chose to open his first rebuttal with an embedded video. While I haven’t been working with any content creators to try to popularize my arguments on alternate platforms and insert here to bypass format restrictions, I did stumble across this video that you might enjoy.

Back to writing now? OK, cool.

The topic for this debate is “Is there Good Evidence for Group Appearances of Risen Jesus?” and I’m eager to explore Dr Loke’s novel strategy of watering-down what “good evidence” means rather than demonstrating that his evidence is of high quality.

But before we get to that, Dr Loke’s opening statement and first rebuttal pursued a few side-topic distractions that are best addressed up-front before we delve into the substantive discussion.

Preamble and Procedures

Debate Format

Suppose you are strapped into your seat on a long flight, and a flight attendant asks you if you would like something to drink. You would very much enjoy a Coke. “We don’t have Coke. Is Pepsi ok?”, the attendant replies. Your head slumps in disappointment, but you pragmatically agree to the Pepsi knowing that no Coke will be offered.

It is in this same sense that I agreed to a written-format debate rather than what I would have preferred – a one-time live discussion. You see, Dr Loke has a completely arbitrary, self-imposed personal policy that he will not have live debates or conversations with anyone without a Ph D. Dr Loke would simply never, ever offer my preference.

Sure, Dr Loke came up with what he thought might be some enticements for me to agree, but none of those mattered or resonated with me. Despite putting myself at a potential disadvantage, I want to maximally impact as many people as possible, and a written debate will simply not be read by as many people would watch a video of us. Orders of magnitude fewer.

Dr Loke’s opening seems to affirm his desire to reach the most people. “The engagement with Paulogia does not reflect the academic significance of his view (which remains a fringe theory). Rather, it is warranted by the significant number of people who have been misled by his view.

So why not reach the most people? In our private email exchange, I reiterated my preference to merely have a conversation. I wrote, 

Of course, we could limit the impact to our lives to just a few hours by having a live conversation. I know that’s not your preference, but I’m putting it out there as an option.

His reply? A SINGLE reason. His commitment to his personal policy.

Why not just quote Dr Loke’s reply directly or show the screenshot to prove this? Well, since it was a private conversation, I would want to have permission from Dr Loke first. So I asked him,

Do I have your permission to include screenshots of this email conversation in my rebuttal? The attached screenshot is the portion of the conversation I want to quote, though I’m open to posting the entire conversation if there remain disputes about the path to arrival at the current format. Is this OK with you?

His reply? No. He would not give permission.

So now we’re in an awkward Paul-said-Andrew-said situation over Dr Loke’s stubbornness to simply admit that his personal policy against talking to non-PhD-holders prevents us from having a live conversation, regardless of whatever additional justification he may put forth. My non-credentials are the final barrier.

If Dr Loke is willing to exclude this matter from his future debate entries, I too will leave it here. However, if he presses further, I may be forced to reconsider my courtesies.

Debate Etiquette and Logistics

In most formal debates, the structure includes an opening statement (constructive) by the person taking the affirmative, followed by an opening statement by the person taking the negative. This is the section designated for the debaters to “construct” their cases by presenting initial positions and arguments. After this is complete, the next round invites the affirmative and negative to directly address the opponent’s opening constructive.

Now despite reminding Dr Loke of this in our private email exchange, and also using a portion of my constructive to remind him of this structure, Dr Loke was so eager for my rebuttal that he somehow became confused and expected it during my opening.[1]

Paulogia didn’t challenge my definition in his opening statement.” “Paulogia commits a non-sequitur and missed the point I made in my opening statement.” “Which fail to rebut the specific reasons I gave in my Opening Statement.” And so on and so on.

But fortunately, the appropriate time for my rebuttal has arrived, so Dr Loke need not worry about adhering to elementary debate rules or expectations until his conclusion.

Whataboutism – A Hypothesis Not in Question

If you happen to be familiar with my YouTube channel, you might be aware that I sometimes present a simple observation that the verifiable evidence we have for the start of Christianity is entirely consistent with as few as two people claiming to have seen resurrected Jesus.

As interesting as that thought experiment is, it is not the topic of this debate. We are not arguing the relative merits of two competing ideas. We’re debating if there’s sufficient justification for the positive claim of group appearances of resurrected Jesus.

Nowhere in my opening did I mention my tangentially related notion, and I had no intention of discussing it in this exchange. It’s irrelevant to the core topic. And yet, Dr Loke seems quite distracted and takes every opportunity to repeatedly denigrate this observation as “fringe” with “the false impression that his view has scholarly credibility” and “no historian accepts it”.

He frequently uses this flagrant whataboutism to deflect from criticism of his position: “Let me remind the reader that it is nowhere as minority a position as Paulogia’s own fringe theory.” Classic “I’m-rubber-and-you’re-glue” playground antics.

Of course, if you watched the video embedded above, you heard world-renowned resurrection scholar (and one of Dr Loke’s sources) Dr Gary Habermas asked what he thinks about Paulogia’s theory. He replied, “That’s not new. That view has been held by Don Cupitt, the early Skillebekk Danish philosophers, it’s held by Billy Markson the Bultmann-ian New Testament scholar, that’s held by John Shelby Spong.”[2]

Now, I can’t vouch for the accuracy of Dr Habermas’ comparisons… but it sure sounds like Dr Loke’s more-respected, more-credentialed source doesn’t dismiss my thoughts as fringe or non-scholarly. Instead, Habermas affirms the scholarly history of this thinking and then proceeds to reflect upon the ideological merits in good faith. This is the way of commendable argumentation among adults.

Of course, the easiest way to completely falsify my hypothesis would be to demonstrate that there were group appearances of risen Jesus. Coincidentally, that’s the topic of the debate we’re here to discuss. Perhaps if Dr Loke would spend more of his focus and word-count on affirming the actual debate topic, then he could destroy my hypothesis once-and-for-all on the merits and not just hurl shallow, childish insults.

Re-Litigation

Under false pretenses, Dr Loke would like to lure me into dozens of side debates on topics that are not in question here and have been addressed already in a series of YouTube videos from each party.

Now I understand that not everyone will want to look at our previous interactions,” Loke acknowledges.

Please count me among the disinterested in rehashing previous interactions. Dr Loke’s appendix presents no new information, just renewed already-addressed objections. See my videos for my responses to these petulant complaints. If they are unsatisfying to you, then I guess they are unsatisfying to you. This isn’t the time or place.

Once again, I observe that none of these grievances would be relevant if Dr Loke could simply, adequately defend the proposition at hand. He should focus on this.

Failure to Convince

Over and over in Dr Loke’s opening and reply (I grew weary of counting after several dozen), he says that I “fail to note”, “fail to understand”, “fail to consider”, “fail to take into account”, “fail to grasp”, “fail to recognize” or “fail to distinguish”.

What Dr Loke fails to understand is that simply disagreeing with his conclusions is in no way a failure to note, understand, consider, take into account, grasp, recognize or distinguish. I might just as equally posit that Dr Loke has failed to communicate, failed to persuade, failed to influence, failed to look beyond his own bias, and failed to convince. Does saying so make it so? No.

Instead, I will simply present my arguments directly and allow you – the reader – to decide who has failed and who has succeeded.

When you read “Paulogia has failed”, the truth is actually that “Paulogia is unconvinced” (with a dash of bewilderment as to how Dr Loke could be).

What were we here for again? Oh yeah…

The Debate

Legal vs Historical – Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander

The proposition we are here to debate is “Is there good evidence for group appearances of resurrected Jesus?” and most of the word-count of my opening statement was dedicated to the discussion of what makes evidence of high-quality or value vs low-quality or value.

The legal system is the highest-stake evidence-evaluation machine that exists in humanity. No process or profession has dedicated more money, more time, or more brain-power to refining the principles by which we determine the quality of evidence. And where the field of science has notable differences to history, criminal justice is perfectly analogous to historical evaluation… because criminal justice IS LITERALLY HISTORICAL EVALUATION. Just over a shorter term.

I demonstrated that while lawyers and historians sometimes use different vocabulary to describe the same concepts, they agree about where the ordering on the quality spectrum that the type of evidence lies. For example, both fields agree that primary sources (i.e. eye-witnesses) are better than secondary sources (i.e. hearsay).

The fact that ancient historians will sometimes lend modest consideration to a secondary source (a fact I first brought to the debate’s attention, not Dr Loke) while the legal profession generally considers them so poor as to be inadmissible does nothing to change the complete agreement that there is a spectrum of evidential quality and that secondary sources (hearsay) are of lower quality.

The point to take away is that historians and lawyers absolutely agree on what lies where in the evidential quality spectrum – what makes evidence more or less useful — even when they use different labels and vary on how broad a range to consider.

But Dr Loke was so ravenous to enumerate so-called errors in my opening, he embarrassingly mistook the openly-acknowledged difference in evidential-handling (“‘inadmissible’ is different from ‘less valuable’”) as a “fallacy of self-contradiction” (so-called error #1) for a point I wasn’t making, while simultaneously affirming (“in the latter case it is acceptable, even if less valuable”) the point I was making… the legal evidential spectrum and historical evidential spectrum use the same relative weighting.

Lest that was unclear, let’s simply affirm what lawyers, historians, Dr Loke and myself all agree upon here: secondary sources (hearsay) are LESS VALUABLE than primary sources (eye-witness testimony) in all situations.

And Dr Loke’s sources are secondary… at best. I’m not sure in what universe someone would argue that occasionally “acceptable” qualifies as “good”, but here we are.

Legal vs Historical – Difference in Purpose, Not in Evidential Standard

In an attempt to demonstrate “important differences between legal practices and historical evaluation”, Dr Loke provided this quotation…

‘In terms of social timeliness, there is no time limit for historical study, but the administration of justice has to solve urgent issues. Historians are surprised to find that judges only consider a small amount of “facts” in their convictions so that the trial can be continued. Lagarde believed that judicial evidence is formed in the procedure provided by law and leads to irrevocable conclusions. These are two reasons why they are different from historical evidence.’

Of course, the first rule of evaluating “expert” quotations served up in debates (verbal, written, or even YouTube videos) is to go the source to see if context affirms the point it is being offered up to make. In this case, it was a bit of a trick because the originating 1998 paper called “The Historical Approach versus the Judicial Truth: Judges and Historians” was written in French and this Canadian must sheepishly admit that his French is rusty. Ultimately, my tenacity prevailed.

It was unsurprising to me that the paper quoted by Dr Loke is more about the different societal roles of judges and historians than about evidential standards. Just before the quote, the author takes a shot at the nebulous role of the latter. “If the function of judge is certain, the qualification of the historian remains uncertain.”[3]

The paper does not praise this long-time consideration available to a historian as a “luxury of the hindsight” as Dr Loke advocates. “Everyone knows that history continues, that it is first and foremost a ‘daughter of its time’, continuously changing into ‘historiography’, estimable at best, always revisable.”[4]

In the end, Loke’s source doesn’t suggest that historical and legal methodology are importantly different. Instead, it affirms exactly what my opening statement proffered – that when history is more accurate, it shares best-practices with the law.

“Historical truth stems from the same processes as legal truth, with the same weaknesses but also the same strengths, especially if we are willing to abandon recourse to a cosmic vision of history to make it a science of the social, strong in its research and transmission techniques, effective in understanding the configurations that have shaped us and that we must control.”[5]

Hearsay Exceptions

In my opening, I correctly identified that hearsay is “generally not admissible” in court. Dr Loke must think that “generally” means “always” because he chastises that “Paulogia fails to note that—even within a legal context—there are various exceptions.” Of course, the word “generally” implies exceptions. Now, I researched these handful of legal exceptions prior to my opening, found none of them to be relevant to Dr Loke’s case, and so didn’t waste the reader’s time on a non-sequitur.

Now Dr Loke has not only forced this rabbit trail upon us all, but he didn’t even do us the courtesy of noting what these exceptions are and how they relate in any way to the various hearsay accounts he proffers. His sole connection is “these exceptions are justified on the basis of various inferences”… a sentence more vague than someone explaining human reproduction to a toddler.

Since Dr Loke considered this so important as to make it my so-called error #2, perhaps he will enlighten us all as to which legal exception would somehow elevate his hearsay from inadmissible irrelevance into admissible evidence?

Confusing Standard of Proof and Standard of Evidence

It appears to me that Dr Loke has confused “evidential standards” with “standard of proof”.

The standard of proof is the level to which the overall presentation must convince a judge or jury in a particular scenario. And not all cases are the same. For example, in Canada civil cases have the weakest standard, a “balance of probabilities.” Whereas a criminal trial must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.

But this debate is not about “how certain should you be that there were group appearances of risen Jesus?” Nowhere in this debate have I attempted to insist upon a standard of proof for anyone.

But Dr Loke repeatedly accuses me of this. “Paulogia is—once again—guilty of falsely insisting on a particular epistemological standard as the only acceptable standard” and “to insist on it by claiming that it is the only acceptable standard would be silly.” I would be curious as to where I insisted any such thing, rather than merely point out the uncontroversial measures about what kind of evidence is best, and what kind is not.

At the same time, Dr Loke appears to be pushing for a particular standard of proof himself. The lowest possible “balance of probabilities” standard. If Dr Loke thinks that the most important question in life need be held to no higher standard than what is used on Judge Judy, that’s his business.

No. This debate is supposed to be about “good evidence for group appearances of resurrected Jesus”, and so has nothing to say about burden of proof and everything to say about evidential standards. This is why I took time in my opening to lay out the universal standards of weighing evidence… is it materialAdmissible? Have probative value? Is it hearsay? Does it rely on character? Is there collusion? And so on, and so on.

What makes some evidence of better quality than other evidence is non-controversial. As far as I can tell, Dr Loke hasn’t even denied this. I would prefer to see Dr Loke use his remaining time to demonstrate that his evidence is in the best-class category, rather than make excuses for why you should instead ignore these universal comparison standards when Jesus is concerned.

After all, if this matter is of infinite importance, we should be looking for best-of-the-best, not scrounging together a few “acceptable” scraps.

Character Evidence

I noted that, as far as evidence goes, a “person’s character or character trait (Character Evidence) is not admissible to prove that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character or trait.”[6]

Rational people absolutely take character into consideration,” says Dr Loke.

Meanwhile, the Genetic Fallacy is judging something as either good or bad on the basis of where it comes from, or from whom it came.

The legal system recognizes appeal to character as so poor that it is inadmissible. Formalized logic calls it a fallacy. But Dr Loke thinks it’s good evidence. Who is right?

Special Pleading

Dr Loke accuses me (and people who are reading this) of falsely accusing him of special pleading. (My so-called error #15.) “Special pleading is an informal fallacy wherein one cites something as an exception without justifying the special exception. I justified my position by giving various reasons.”

But perhaps Dr Loke should research beyond the Wikipedia summary to discover that “various reasons” isn’t enough… one needs adequate reasons.[7] When we say that you’re special pleading, we are saying your argument for an exception in your case are inadequate. As with many of Dr Loke’s complaints, he could solve them by simply being more convincing.

Alright, let’s finally get to the heart of the matter…

The Documents

Yes, the 1 Corinthians Creed is Hearsay

The fact that this section is known as a creed should be sufficient to affirm that the author, Paul, is merely repeating the claims of others. He lays it out plainly, “What I received I passed along to you as of first importance.”[8] Paul received this information from other people. He’s telling us what other people told him. That’s literally and unequivocally hearsay.

Dr Loke tried to do a definitional dance of distraction by drawing a distinction between “group(s) of people who truly saw the resurrected Jesus” and “group(s) of people who claimed to have seen something which they thought was the resurrected Jesus”. Sure, Paul would be providing hearsay in regard to what they saw, but can’t he be a first-hand witness of what they claimed?

Theoretically, maybe. If Paul was claiming to have personally heard the claims. But he’s not. As discussed, Paul is passing along the claims of others. He’s reciting a creed. Taken at face value, this is at best a third-hand retelling, and more likely far further removed. The group claims are second-hand (at best) to Paul, keeping this passage firmly in the realm of hearsay under any definition.

Sometimes apologists want to object because Paul had met Peter and John, who would have been a part of one of those groups. So? That makes no difference at all. If I tell you that Sally told me that my mother said that she saw a leopard… does that somehow stop becoming hearsay just because I know my mother? No. No it does not.

Yes, the Gospels are Hearsay 

It is no secret that critical scholarship affirms that we do not know who wrote the gospels, even though there are hold-outs who continue supporting traditional authorship claims. Merely for emphasis, I allowed Dr Loke’s source (Bauckham) to set the scale. “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.”[9]

What is Dr Loke’s response? (Other than some obligatory whataboutisms.) To provide a list of five dissenters (Of course, there are dissenters. That’s why Bauckham said “almost all” instead of “all”. Bauckham himself is a dissenter.) and complain that this might be an overstatement in numbers. This wishy-washy appeal to maybes is my so-called error #3.

But the point here is not an argumentum ad populum (an appeal to popularity), but rather the simple acknowledgement that massive swaths of people who study this for a living – including resurrected-Jesus-affirming Christians – consider the authors to be unknown, non-witnesses.

If significant numbers of expert, scholar, Christian believers (be it 90%, 50%, 49% or even 20%) are unconvinced the gospel writers were eye-witnesses, how good can the evidence be? You haven’t even convinced your own camp.

Did Dr Loke choose to defend the case for traditional authorship with any evidence? No, he chose to quibble with the quantitative acknowledgement of his own source. This follows Dr Loke’s pattern of asking you to lower your standards and simply be more credulous to accept his view.

My fourth so-called error? To not accept Dr Loke’s unfounded assertion. “These communities would have known who the authors were (even if we don’t).” What evidence do we have for this beyond wishful speculation? As far as I know… none at all. I look forward to Dr Loke providing some, preferably not relying on the word “could”.

My fifth so-called error? Dr Loke says that I claimed that “the POST-resurrection group appearances in Matthew, Luke-Acts and John” were “dependent on Mark”. I look forward to Dr Loke providing evidence for this, as I said no such thing and went out of my way to point out that the post-resurrection appearances are not from the shared Mark tradition.

My sixth so-called error? I correctly identified that the gospels contain obvious collusion. Dr Loke doesn’t attempt to deny the collusion, but instead points out that some parts MIGHT NOT be collusion. This is like a student caught cheating on an exam, but wanting credit for a few questions where their answers are unique. Collusion is a poisonous tree that yields poison evidentiary fruit, yet these are the documents Dr Loke thinks you should accept as corroboration even though no court would.

Yes, 1 Clement is Hearsay

Defending his citation of 1 Clement, Dr Loke writes, “Paulogia labels this as hearsay, but as argued above in historical evaluation it is more appropriate to call this secondary source.

As established in my opening, “secondary source” is merely the euphemism that historians give to “hearsay”. Don’t let Dr Loke fool you… they mean exactly the same thing. It’s like saying “vertically challenged” instead of “short”, or “passed away” instead of “died”.

He also threw in some question begging mixed with incredulity. “How could this be unless the apostles… had seen the resurrected Jesus?” Easy. They were mistaken. Mistaken has the same explanatory power as an actual appearance.

Inference of Inference

“Don’t leave inferences to be drawn when evidence can be presented.” – Richard Wright

Setting the Bar Low (on the Ground)

In my opening, I demonstrated that for inference to rise to the level of legal evidence, it must “lead to only one reasonable conclusion – that if A and B are true, then C is.”[10]

I naively assumed that Dr Loke would want to demonstrate that his inferences would qualify as evidence in this strong sense, but I guess I over-estimated his ambition or ability. In his rebuttal, Dr Loke admits that what he calls inferences fall into a less-conclusive category that “even if not deductively valid are still inductively strong.” He’s satisfied with lines of thinking that are “probably correct (even if it is possibly wrong)”. He calls this “probabilistic reasoning” as used in the lowest-levels of civil cases with the weakest evidential standards. 

I trust you will agree, in the end, that Dr Loke does not succeed at even this modest task. But we’ll return to this in a moment.

Steel Man Needs an Oil Can

There was method to my madness when, in my opening, I reformulated Dr Loke’s lines of argumentation into a possible syllogism that could actually hold up to the ideal inferential evidential standard of pointing to a single, reliable conclusion. My purpose was to demonstrate a few of the many ways his wishful speculations fall short.

In order to turn Loke’s ideas into a valid argument (one where it is impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion to be false), I had to add several lines (marked in red in my opening).

In order for the argument to be valid AND sound, the new premises would have to be true. Fortunately for me, Dr Loke spent some of his rebuttal helping me out and demonstrating on his own that the necessary premises are false.

For example…

  • People accept life-or-death matters only for personally-verified, actually-true good reasons. Dr Loke: “I did not claim that; what I argue for is the weaker thesis.
  • People who can check out a life-or-death matter, do check out the matter. Dr Loke: “I did not claim that.
  • The Corinthian church actually spoke to groups of eyewitnesses. Dr Loke: “What I argue was ‘the Corinthians knew at least some of the members of the groups of eyewitnesses and are familiar with their teachings.’
  • The eyewitnesses were not mistaken. Dr Loke: “I did not use the word ‘impossible’, which Paulogia falsely attributed to me.

What was the point of this exercise? To demonstrate clearly that Dr Loke’s notions do not lead to a singular conclusion, as they would if they met the basic requirements for inferential evidence

What I didn’t anticipate is that Dr. Loke would immediately cede this ground and openly retreat to probabilistic speculation that can support multiple contradicting conclusions. Had I known of his easy surrender, I could have saved us the time and not needed my incredibly apt “Jennifer Lawrence twitter account” illustration. (My over-estimation of Loke’s objective was my so-called error #12.)

I did, however, anticipate that “Dr. Loke will not be shy in pointing out where this logic path fails and misrepresents his argument”, and the professor did not disappoint. “This is a misrepresentation; Paulogia has not communicated my argument properly” (my so-called error #14). I’m sorry, but for full transparency I literally color-coded which parts were yours and which parts were my own insertions. If you suffer from monochromacy (color blindness), please let me know privately and I will employ varying font usage in future exchanges.

Loke’s Psychology Arguments

From his book to his videos to this debate, one of the pillars of Dr Loke’s defence of group appearances is this…

Psychological studies have indicated that it is probable that people are careful to form conclusions when 1.1. there is presence of scepticism, 1.2 the topic is important, 1.3. the costs of false confirmation are high, and 1.4. when people are held personally responsible for what they say and care about their reputation among sustained relationships with known audiences (DiFonzo and Bordia 2007, pp. 166, 173–174; cited on p.47 of my book).

By now, you should recognize this as an attempt by Dr Loke to push inconclusive, ineffective and inadmissible character evidence, and we’ll come back to that. But as someone who prides themselves on source methodology, I naturally went on a search for the book referenced to see if it actually says in context what Dr Loke says that it says.

The portion of “Rumor Psychology: Social and Organizational Approaches” cited by Dr Loke is in a section covering the “Motivational Mechanisms”, “Situational Features”, “Group Mechanisms” and “Network Mechanisms” that affect the accuracy of the information disseminated by a rumor-spreader.[11]

To Dr Loke’s credit, the book does indeed contend that topical importance, personal accountability, high confirmation costs and skepticism can increase accuracy motivation. Note that this is a desire by the information-spreader to be accurate, not a predictor that the information is actually accurate. People in such circumstances will tend to be more confident, but said confidence need not be justified by solid epistemology. Any confidence will do.

But in this same section, the authors point out numerous scenarios where information accuracy will be hindered, including…

  • Building and maintaining relationships “fosters inaccurate content by promoting the survival of only socially acceptable rumors that enhance relationships with one’s ingroup.”[12]
    • Paul reenforces the in-group / out-group dynamic. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” – 1 Cor 1:18
  • “Despite implicit communication rules to transmit accurate and truthful messages, accurate transmissions may conflict with the goal of sharing a coherent message, that is, one that is understandable, plausible, and acceptable to the hearer.”[13]
    • Paul exhorted the Corinthians to be effective in message communication. (1 Cor 1:18, 1 Cor 2:4-6, 2 Cor 5:19)
  • “Rumor content may change to advance the process of rationalizing and justifying existing beliefs.”[14]
    • 1 Corinthians was written to an existing church of believers.
  • “Situations in which many or all individuals in a situation are anxious—may intensify such effects by increasing suggestibility (distortion of perception) and diminishing critical ability.” [15]
    • This sounds anxious… “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” – 2 Cor 4:8-9
  • “Less stringent norm development is enhanced in close groups rather than in situations that promote communication.” [16]
    • Dr Loke himself argues that “the early Christian movement was a network of close communication”.
  • “False eyewitness perceptions that are unduly trusted” is a situation where veracity checking “may be greatly encumbered.” [17]
    • This creed was obviously well-trusted (perhaps even unduly trusted) by the community.
  • “Once consensus is formed, conformity is demanded… To the extent that such formulations are incorrect, inaccuracy is perpetuated.” [18]
    • In order for the 1 Corinthians creed to have been formalized into a creed, consensus would have been formed, and creeds are recited to enforce conformity through repetition.
    • “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.” – 1 Cor 1:10

Now perhaps you’re thinking, “But Paul, you can’t just take some Bible verses describing an ancient group and link that to psychological factors that increase inaccuracy and have that be good evidence that the Corinthians were inaccurate.”

And you would be right. Yet that’s most of Dr Loke’s argument in favor of accuracy. If you accept his, you should accept mine. We’re using the same psychology book and the same ancient letters… yet coming to opposite conclusions.

Is that a characteristic of good evidence? No. No it is not.

Would it help if I lump a number of them together and call it a “cumulative case”? No. No it would not.

Motif isn’t Corroboration

Imagine appearing before a jury an arguing that while individual alien abduction stories can’t be corroborated, that we should put stock in them because there are similar details… a light pulling, a bright room, grey creatures with big black eyes, and indelicate probing. This is Dr Loke’s argument from resurrection motif.

None of the group resurrection appearance stories found in the gospels attempt to describe the same event, so they obviously do not corroborate any given group appearance event. Dr Loke quotes Dr Mike Licona rationalizing that “appearance to the Twelve in 1 Corinthians 15:5 is clearly narrated by Luke and John” as if the gospels weren’t merely attempting to put narrative-flesh on decades-old creedal-bones in a manner that cannot be harmonized into one event.

Aware of this lack of corroboration, Dr Loke appeals to Dr Dale Allison’s observation of “sequential similarities…death, burial, resurrection on third day, appearance to individuals, appearance to 11 or 12 disciples” to assert an “‘appearance to group’ motif”. Note these repeating details are the very details found in the 1 Corinthians 15 creed that the communities would have been dramatizing for decades.

What does Dr Allison himself think we can conclude from this appeal to motif? In discussing this very argument with Dr Licona recently, Dr Allison said, “I don’t know what to do with what you call multiple attestation of a motif here. I do work with that method sometimes, but in the present case I am no longer sure that John hasn’t heard the gospel of Luke, so I recently published an article explaining my repentance.”[19]

If Dr Loke hasn’t convinced the very source of his data that this motif argument is compelling, should you consider it compelling? Just like the alien abduction stories, the converging similarities are better explained by social phenomenon than actual events.

Like, Solid, Man

Finally, Loke posits that “in order to generate widespread and persistent belief in BODILY resurrection among Jesus’ followers in the context of persecution, it is probable that ‘“solid” evidence involving group(s) of people would have been required.

What evidence backs this premise? Why, Dr Loke’s personal experience. “I have had bereavement experience myself of my deceased father, but I (and the rest of my family) do not therefore believe that my father’s solid physical body resurrected and came to me.” While that’s an interesting story to be sure, it’s quite irrelevant as evidence for what happened in the first century.

To succeed here, Dr Loke would need to demonstrate, among other options…

  • How individual resurrection appearances are insufficient to explain the widespread belief in bodily resurrection
  • How convincing legends about resurrection appearances are insufficient
  • How being merely mistaken about resurrection appearances is insufficient
  • How spiritual experiences are good enough to convince every other generation of humanity of resurrected Jesus (per Dr William Lane Craig[20]), but were somehow insufficient to convince that first generation of Corinthians. (Not being convinced merely by Loke’s intuition here was my so-called error #16.)

False things become widely believed all the time. Is this one of those instances of special pleading?

Miscellany 

Do they though?

Dr Loke claims that “almost all historians (whether Christians or non-Christians) accept this conclusion” that “there is good evidence for group appearance(s) of the risen Jesus”.

I have looked for non-Christian historians who specifically affirm good evidence for group appearances of the risen Jesus. But I have not been able to find any. I would love to be able to add such scholars to my research if Dr Loke can identify some for me.

Humpty Dumpty

If you’ve read this far, I think you should be rewarded with re-living this sentence from Dr. Loke.

Paulogia’s analogy of his recitation of Humpty Dumpty is a False Analogy, for there is no indication that he knew the king’s horses nor any indication that those listening to his recitation knew them too.

Conclusion

Dr Loke takes the ramifications of this debate very seriously, a matter of “eternal fate of other souls in the universe”. He fears my words will “mislead people into eternal perdition (‘Woe to the person through whom the stumbling block comes!’ Matthew 18:7)

While I’m not telling you what standard you should use to ultimately evaluate the evidence, Dr Loke’s import once again reminds me of the Briginshaw Standard: that “more convincing evidence is necessary to meet the standard of proof where an allegation is particularly serious, or unlikely to have occurred.”[21]

This is a matter of eternal importance, but what kind of evidence does Dr Loke bring?

  • hearsay documents
  • speculative character traits that lead to multiple, ambiguous, conflicting conclusions

Probabilistic arguments with multiple possible conclusions can quantify tendencies across a population of events, but they do not and cannot point conclusively to an individual action. Second-third-fourth-fifth-hand information isn’t reliable. These entire categories of argumentation are fundamentally flawed.

This kind of evidence is inadmissible in court. This kind of evidence is unusable to science. This kind of evidence is considered by historians only in the absence of better information, and is treated with lower confidence to draw modest conclusions. 

And yet, in a debate about the quality of evidence, Dr Loke brings only the least-convincing argumentation and calls it good. He puts the burden on you to lower yourself to accept mediocrity on behalf of an all-powerful God who could surely do much, much better if it were actually important.


[1] Paraphrasing Matt Dillahunty here.

[2] Gary Habermas Answers Questions on Near-Death Experiences, Resurrection Appearances, & MORE! 1:13:43

[3] Martin, Jean-Clément. “La démarche historique face à la vérité judiciaire. Juges et historiens.” Droit et société 38.1 (1998): 13-20.

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] U.S. Federal Rules of Evidence. Rule 404. Character Evidence

[7] See Fallacy in Logic or Logically Fallacious or anywhere, really.  

[8] 1 Corinthians 15:3

[9] Richard Bauckham. “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (2nd Edition).” Apple Books.

[10] “Inference.” The People’s Law Dictionary. 1981-2005. Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill 23

[11] DiFonzo, Nicholas, and Prashant Bordia. Rumor psychology: Social and organizational approaches. American Psychological Association, 2007. p 165 – 175

[12] Ibid, p 167

[13] Ibid, p 167

[14] Ibid, p 168

[15] Ibid, p 170

[16] Ibid, p 170

[17] Ibid, p 171

[18] Ibid, p 173

[19] Dale Allison & Mike Licona Discuss the Resurrection of Jesus Part 4 18:40

[20] Craig, Dr. William Lane. What Role Does the Holy Spirit Play In Apologetics?

[21] Lacey, Andrew. “Still Unsure about Briginshaw?” November 2019.

Is there Good Evidence for Group Appearances of Risen Jesus? (Paulogia Opening Statement)

Written Debate between Dr. Andrew Loke and Paulogia

Previous Entries:
Dr. Andrew Loke’s Opening Statement

I. Introduction

First, allow me to apologize to everyone reading that I’m not educated enough to merely have a face-to-face conversation about this with Dr. Loke. If I had not squandered my life in decades of youth ministry and music ministry, believing in the truth of Christianity for what Dr. Loke considers to be bad reasons, but instead had the simple foresight to know that I would one day reject the claims of Christianity and subsequently act upon that provision by enrolling in a Ph D program for which I could not sign the statement of faith and then earn a doctorate… we could end this debate in a few-hour live stream. But because of my personal failures – and not because of an arbitrary, violable, personal policy – this discussion will be a multi-month, sporadic missive in a format that appeals to the narrowest possible audience. I’m sorry.

Next, a reminder that it is tradition in a formal debate for each party to present an opening statement as their personal case for or against the proposition, and subsequent rounds are used to directly address the opponent’s opening. As such, while I will reference Dr. Loke’s opening for illustrative purpose of his previously established arguments, my work in refuting it directly will begin in the next round. Nor will I be spending any time re-adjudicating prior disagreements – related or unrelated – with my debate opponent.

Instead, allow me to use this time as intended: to elucidate why there is not good evidence for group appearances of risen Jesus. (Henceforth, “group appearances”[1].)

II. Justification

At its core, this is an epistemological debate about justification.

Is there good evidence for group appearances of a resurrected Jesus?

When one asks if there is good evidence to support a claim, they are asking if the claim is well supported, well corroborated. All other hypotheses or considerations aside, with the information available is the warranted conclusion that “the claim is true” over “the claim is false” or “we don’t have sufficient information to make a determination”?

An “inference to the best explanation” may or may not be well-supported with evidence. Before the first clue about a murder is discovered, the best explanation is that it was perpetrated by someone the victim has had sex with. Would this statistical trend justify immediately charging, arresting and sentencing the husband? Obviously not. There is insufficient evidence to convict this suspect, even if he is the primary suspect. “Best idea” is not the same as “well supported”.

Justification for a claim is also separate from the truth of a claim.

I could be fully justified in believing that my car is still where I parked it, even if it has in fact been stolen without my knowledge. Someone in the 5th century would have been fully evidentially justified in thinking the sun moved while the earth stayed stationary, despite geocentricism being factually incorrect.

At the same time, I could be correct in guessing that there is an even number of jelly-beans in a jar, but my claim is not justified with evidence. Or from the example above, if the husband did actually commit the murder… that doesn’t mean the police are currently justified in pressing charges.

Intuitions aside, greater ramifications aside, alternate explanations aside… are group appearances of resurrected Jesus well-supported? Well-corroborated? Is there good evidence?

II.2 What is Good Evidence?

Evidence is one of those concepts that most presume to understand innately, but few can clearly articulate their instinctive conceptualization. Despite having built their entire disciplines upon the notion of evidence, few modern science journals, history societies or law reviews even bother to formally define the term beyond a sentence fragment in the proximity of “the concrete facts used to support a claim”[2].

The Harvard Law Review of the 19th century elucidated with greater satisfaction. “When one offers ‘evidence,’ in the sense of the word which is now under consideration, he offers to prove, otherwise than by mere reasoning from what is already known, a matter of fact to be used as a basis of inference to another matter of fact.”[3]

Fortunately, these professions have spent centuries refining the nuance of best evidential practices, and we can leverage those lifetimes of experience today.

From the legal profession, we learn that evidence must have relevance, materiality, admissibility, probative value and weight.[4]

  • Evidence is relevant if it has any tendency to make a fact more-or-less probable than it would be without the evidence.[5] If evidence is equally likely to establish two opposing inferences, it is irrelevant.[6]
  • Evidence is material if it contributes to proving a fact that is of consequence. That is, there must be a relationship between the evidence and the matter in dispute.[7]
  • Evidence is admissible when it is of such a character that the court is bound to accept it to be evaluated by the judge or jury.[8]
  • The probative value of evidence is the degree to which it proves a fact or facts.[9]
  • The weight is the extent to which evidence is credible, persuasive and significant in convincing the adjudicator(s) of a dispute to accept or reject a claim.[10]

And when dealing with evidence in the pursuit of truth, the field of law also operates with a number of best-practices that are advisable to follow in our evaluation of group appearances.

  • Hearsay testimony is when a witness testifies about something that another person told the witness.[11](In legal jargon, “any out-of-court statement offered for the truth of its contents.”[12]) Because the “other person” cannot be cross-examined, may have been misunderstood, or may have been deliberately relaying false information for a myriad of possible reasons, most modern court systems — including U.S. Federal Courts[13] — decree hearsay to be generally not admissible. It is not considered good evidence for the material claim.
  • Evidence of a person’s character or character trait (Character Evidence) is not admissible to prove that on a particular occasion the person acted in accordance with the character or trait.[14]
  • 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.[15]

II.3 Historical Evidence vs Legal Evidence

Some may object to leaning so heavily on legal terminology and standards for a historical question, but the epistemological principles and best-practices for evaluation still apply.

Rather than witnesses, historians have primary sources (original documents or artifacts). When a document is interpretation of another document or tradition, historians call it a secondary source instead of hearsay. Rather than say that hearsay is inadmissible, a historian would say that a secondary source is less valuable than a primary source.

Just like legal claims, historical claims are held in degrees of confidence proportional to the evidence supporting them. That ancient claims have less available evidence simply means that we lower our confidence in them, it does not and should not mean that we lower our standards to accommodate.

III. The Exhibits – Ancient Documents

In Dr. Loke’s book, he lists the ancient Christian sources he would put forth as documentary evidence to support his claim. “Aside from Paul’s letters, other documents in the first and early second century—such as the Four Gospels, Acts, 1 Clement, Letters of Ignatius, etc.—also claimed that various people witnessed the resurrected Jesus.”[16]

As Dr. Loke spends most of his words on Paul’s letters, let’s consider the others first.

III.2 The Four Gospels and Acts

The author of Mark records no post-resurrection appearance stories at all, so it is not relevant to this discussion. By my count, the author of Matthew records two post-resurrection group appearances[17], the author of Luke-Acts records three[18], and another three recorded by the author of John[19].

A glaring problem with offering the gospels as evidence is that there is significant doubt as to who the authors are. While church tradition upholds Matthew, Luke and John as the writers, this would represent a minority view among modern New Testament scholars, with broad dissent even among resurrection-affirming evangelical Christian scholars.

For example, in a work referenced many times by Dr. Loke in his book, scholar Richard Bauckham admitted, “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.”[20]

To avoid confusion and accusation, allow me to be clear that Bauckham holds firmly to traditional authorship, as does Dr. Loke. It is within the realm of the possible that they are correct, but the point here is that even this staunch defender acknowledges his minority position. Rightly or wrongly, leading scholars who have studied the issue professionally do not believe that we know the identity of the people providing this so-called testimony.

Imagine you are in a jury, and someone with a bag over their head takes the stand and starts telling stories. This person doesn’t give their name, never claims to be a witness to the stories, and the court officials are generally uncertain of the identity of the person. How much evidentiary weight are you going to give his tales? I would hope it would be very little. Indeed, no modern court would allow such an event to occur. These are not the markers of good evidence.

It is beyond the scope of this opening statement to demonstrate the significant weaknesses in the case for eye-witness authors. What is material here is acknowledgement of the authorship controversy. Since the identity cannot be established with any level of certainty, it is impossible to have confidence that we have direct testimony rather than inadmissible hearsay. Without such confidence, they simply cannot be put into the category of good evidence.

Of course, the problems with the group appearance reports in Matthew, Luke and John do not end with their hearsay status. A fact thus-far uncontested by Dr. Loke is that all three of these documents use the book of Mark as a primary source… to the extent where around 90% of Mark appears in Matthew and Luke almost word-for-word in the original Greek. This is evidential collusion beyond any reasonable doubt, rendering these sources useless and inadmissible as independent corroboration of each other where they overlap.

Despite this obvious general collusion, the eight group-appearance pericopes in the gospels still somehow completely fail to corroborate each other in any way. These are eight different stories each with different locations, times, characters and events. It’s almost as if the gospel writers were working with a common tradition of a general notion that Jesus appeared to people, but no common tradition about the details of these encounters to draw from.

Dr. Loke tacitly acknowledges this problem in his opening[21] when he speaks of “corroboration of the motif of ‘group appearance’” rather than actual corroboration of details.

III.3 Other Ancient Documents

Dr. Loke frequently lists 1 Clement and Letters of Ignatius among the ancient documents that he feels corroborate resurrection appearances.

Unfortunately, Dr. Loke fails to specify a reference to the passage in 1 Clement that he is thinking of. Other apologists point to 1 Clement 42:3, so perhaps this is what he means?

Having therefore received a charge, and having been fully assured through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and confirmed in the word of God with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth with the glad tidings that the kingdom of God should come.

The passage is speaking about unnamed apostles (see 1 Clement 42:2) – not the first-hand knowledge of Clement – making this hearsay, even if the passage were relevant. Which it is not. 

The passage acknowledges merely that these anonymous people were assured of something, not that they saw something. Even worse, Clement blatantly calls out the “word of God” and “assurance of the Holy Ghost” as the reasons for this assurance. An actual experience claim is nowhere to be found here.

Dr. Loke does, however, specifically reference Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrneans 3 in his book, a passage which is translated as follows…

When, for instance, He came to those who were with Peter, He said to them, “Lay hold, handle Me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit.” And immediately they touched Him, and believed, being convinced both by His flesh and spirit. For this cause also they despised death, and were found its conquerors. And after his resurrection He ate and drank with them, as being possessed of flesh, although spiritually He was united to the Father.

At this point, I have no reason to doubt the scholarly consensus that this letter is among those actually written by Ignatius. Ignatius did later fall victim to the church’s propensity for writing forged (pseudepigraphical) books in dead men’s names, just like Peter, Paul, James, Jude, Judas, Pilate and so many more.

While this passage clearly references group appearances of resurrected Jesus, the trouble with treating this passage as additional corroboration for the alleged group appearances is that Ignatius is clearly quoting Luke 24:39 and referencing the events found in that chapter. Ignatius also quotes the gospel of Matthew in Smyr 6.1 and other works. (As a side note, Ignatius quotes Matthew and Luke but doesn’t mention the authors’ names… exactly as one would expect if the authors were anonymous until later tradition.)

In this context, Ignatius isn’t an external corroborative source any more than Dr. Loke’s book serves as external corroboration for the passage in Luke. Both are non-witnesses merely repeating what someone else wrote before them.

Neither Clement nor Ignatius serves as good evidence for group appearances of resurrected Jesus.

III.4 The 1 Corinthians 15 Creed

If past interactions with Dr. Loke are any indication, most of the substance of this debate will be around the veracity and circumstance of 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, so it’s probably worth presenting here for the record.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

From similar usage elsewhere of the Greek phrase translated “for what I received”, New Testament scholars believe that portions of this passage (roughly, those highlighted in purple) are Paul quoting a creed – a formal statement of beliefs that would be memorized and recited repeatedly – that would have been well-known among Christians prior to Paul’s conversion. I am willing to grant this interpretation. It’s the first-century equivalent of a Facebook meme.

For reasons beyond the scope of this opening, I similarly grant that the Apostle Paul is the genuine author of 1 Corinthians. It is one of the so-called “undisputed” letters of Paul[22]. Further, I grant for sake of this discussion that Paul sincerely believed what he was writing in this letter.

It’s worth noting that Paul himself does not claim to have been part of a group appearance, so this passage is not put forward as first-hand testimony toward the debate topic at hand.

As someone who has read this far, you’ve likely already identified the primary evidential problem here… at very best, Paul is telling us what someone else told him. At very best, this is hearsay.

But this situation is so much worse than hearsay, because Dr. Loke and other apologists are advocating that Paul is passing along a recitation that was already firmly established in the greater Christian community at large. 

Christian scholars love to propose that perhaps Paul received it directly from someone mentioned in the list, but that’s based on nothing more than speculation and the affirmation it would give to their preferred conclusion. On the contrary, I find this conjecture to be highly improbable. Why would a witness to resurrected Jesus pass along a third-person memorized secondary-language creed about themselves that anyone could recite, rather than regale Paul with the detailed story in their own words?

Literally anyone in the Christian community could have taught Paul the creed. While we’re just imagining scenarios, it’s equally plausible that Paul first overheard this creed during his time hunting and persecuting the church, from some unsuspecting believer he later stoned to death.

Reciting this creed doesn’t even live up to the usual kind of hearsay that is tossed out as inadmissible. It’s not even hearsay. At face value, Paul’s quotation is no more attestation to the veracity of the information in this creed than my recitation of Humpty Dumpty is attestation of the egg-repair skills of the king’s horses.

Of course, Dr. Loke wants to plead his case beyond the face value. That the documents themselves – hearsay all – are merely the tip of the evidential iceberg.

IV. Inferences

In tacit acknowledgement that the direct documentary evidence is insufficient to justify acceptance of group appearances, Dr. Loke dedicates huge portions of his resurrection word-count to arguments from inference, a form of circumstantial evidence.

Inference is “a rule of logic applied to evidence in a trial, in which a fact is ‘proved’ by presenting other ‘facts’ which lead to only one reasonable conclusion – that if A and B are true, then C is.”[23]

For reasons known only to my interlocutor, Dr. Loke’s go-to example of sound inference[24] is as follows…

  1. All humans pee and poo.
  2. The disciples were human.
  3. Therefore, the disciples peed and pooed.

If we are flexible enough with premise one to include all possible forms of solid and liquid waste removal, then these premises are factually true and the conclusion is the one and only reasonable conclusion. The argument is both valid and sound.

If Dr. Loke’s purpose is to demonstrate that “good” inferences from fact are possible, then he is preaching to the choir with his trivial example. But not all attempts at inferring are created equal. As Loke himself acknowledges, reliability of an inference “depends on the validity and the quality of the evidence of supporting the inference”. This is certainly true, and an area where Dr. Loke’s arguments persistently fall short, as we’ll discuss. 

Legal inferences “may not be based only on imagination, speculation, supposition, surmise, conjecture or guesswork”[25] and “cannot flow from the nonexistence of a fact”[26].

But in addition to requiring facts, these facts must lead to only one reasonable conclusion to create an evidential inference. Unfortunately, I find many of Dr. Loke’s so-called inferences to be of this form…

  1. Many celebrities have public Twitter accounts.
  2. Jennifer Lawrence is a celebrity.
  3. Therefore, Jennifer Lawrence has a Twitter account.

As of the time of writing, despite the factual nature of the two premises, Jennifer Lawrence has no public Twitter account. In logic, any argument that can produce a false conclusion with true premises is called an invalid argument.

We will be exploring which of Dr. Loke’s so-called inferences fail to be backed with facts, fail to be valid, or fail on both accounts.

IV.2 Loke’s Inferences

Outlined in his book, his video presentations on the topic and his opening statement for this debate, Dr. Loke puts forth that these eight inferences raise the hearsay of the ancient documents to the level of “good evidence” for group appearances. They are, as follows in his own words…

  1. Many ancient people were highly skeptical of bodily resurrection in general.
  2. The resurrection of Jesus was foundational to the Christian faith.
  3. The early Christians were willing to die for it.
  4. People could check out if there were indeed ‘groups of eyewitnesses.’
  5. Paul assumed responsibility and cared about his reputation with his known audiences in Corinth, and the costs of false confirmation would have been high.
  6. The Corinthians knew at least some (if not all) of the ‘eyewitnesses’; Paul was appealing to public knowledge.
  7. Other early documents also claimed Jesus’ resurrection and group appearances, and there is independent corroboration of the motif of ‘group appearance’.
  8. “Solid” evidence involving group(s) would have been required to generate widespread belief of BODILY resurrection among Jesus’ followers in the first place.

Now, when it comes to indirect evidence (such as inference), in order to be relevant it must directly contribute to an evidential chain where the conclusion is the proposition being evaluated.

Unfortunately, Dr. Loke’s proposed inferences are not in this form, drawing direct connection from premise to conclusion. So, in this section I will do my best to steelman Dr. Loke’s points (the best that this mere non-PhD-holder can comprehend them) into the most charitable formations toward supporting the debate’s proposition.

IV.3 Corinthian Verification

As I understand it, Dr. Loke’s first four alleged inferences are to work together in concert to create a cumulative case for group appearances.

  1. Many ancient people were highly skeptical of bodily resurrection in general.
  2. The resurrection of Jesus was foundational to the Christian faith.
  3. The early Christians were willing to die for it.
  4. People could check out if there were indeed ‘groups of eyewitnesses.’
  5. Therefore, groups of people saw resurrected Jesus.

But this conclusion obviously doesn’t follow. Here is one possible formulation that creates an approximate evidence chain (not a full syllogism) from Loke’s premises to Loke’s conclusion.

  1. The members of the Corinthian church were Christians.
  2. The resurrection of Jesus was foundational to the Christian faith.
    1. To have Christian faith meant believing in the resurrection.
    2. Therefore, members of the Corinthian church believed in the resurrection.
  3. Many ancient people were highly skeptical of bodily resurrection in general.
    1. Members of the Corinthian church were ancient people.
    2. Therefore, members of the Corinthian church were skeptical of bodily resurrection in general.
  4. The early Christians were willing to die for the Christian faith.
    1. Therefore, members of the Corinthian church were willing to die for the Christian faith. (from 1 and 4)
    2. Therefore, members of the Corinthian church were willing to die for the resurrection. (from 2 and 4a)
    3. Therefore, the resurrection is a life-or-death matter to the Corinthian church.
  5. Because members of the Corinthian church were skeptical of resurrection (3b), but also believed in the resurrection (2b), they had to become convinced of the resurrection for some reason.
  6. People accept life-or-death matters only for personally-verified, actually-true good reasons.
    1. Therefore, the Corinthian church accepted resurrection only for personally verified good reasons. (6, 4c)
    2. The only good reason to accept resurrection is group appearances.
    3. Therefore, the Corinthian church accepted resurrection because of personally-verified, actually-true group appearances. (6a, 6b)
    4. Therefore, personally-verified, actually-true group appearances are a life-or-death matter. (6c, 4c)
  7. People could check out if there were indeed ‘groups of eyewitnesses.’
    1. People who can check out a life-or-death matter, do check out the matter.
    2. Therefore, the Corinthian church checked out groups of eyewitnesses. (6d)
  8. To be personally-verified, people must actually speak to eyewitnesses.
    1. The Corinthian church actually spoke to groups of eyewitnesses.
    2. Therefore, group appearances are personally-verified.
  9. To be actually-true, the eyewitness cannot be lying or mistaken.
    1. The eyewitnesses were not lying.
    2. The eyewitnesses were not mistaken.
    3. Therefore, group appearances are actually-true.
  10. Therefore, groups of people saw resurrected Jesus.

I’m sure Dr. Loke will not be shy in pointing out where this logic path fails and misrepresents his argument, but for the time being it’s the best we have. The handful of lines in grey are Dr. Loke’s premises. The purple lines are show-the-work connections. And the lines in red are problematic inferences or freshly inserted inferences that would be needed to arrive to the conclusion.

Even accepting all of Dr. Loke’s speculative inferences as valid (which I do not, a topic for future rounds), in order to elevate them to good evidence, he will need to justify, demonstrate and corroborate that…

  • general skepticism in the world somehow translates to specific skepticism of the Corinthian church
  • people are convinced of life-and-death matters exclusively and only through personally-verified, actually-true reasons (despite many examples of people accepting life-or-death matters for dubious or false reasons)
  • group appearances were the specific reason the Corinthians believed in resurrection (despite many examples of resurrection-believers for other reasons)
  • every life-or-death matter is automatically investigated to the fullest extent possible (despite many examples of uninvestigated-but-possibly-investigated life-or-death matters)
  • members of the Corinthian church found and spoke to eyewitnesses
  • it was impossible for said found eyewitnesses to be lying
  • it was impossible for said found eyewitnesses were not mistaken

Or perhaps Dr. Loke will connect the dots from premises to conclusion through some alternate route. Either way, I look forward to his response.

IV.4 The Pauline Guarantee

Dr. Loke paired his next two points (high costs of being wrong, and Corinthian familiarity) together to argue why Paul’s hearsay (which alone strikes it from good evidence admissibility) claim of group appearances somehow ascends to the level of near Cartesian certainty. Indeed, in his opening, Loke boasts, “It is implausible that Paul thought he was correct yet made a mistake on this issue.”[27]

I find it plausible that on any given matter that I could make a mistake. That you could make a mistake. That the smartest-human-on-earth could make a mistake. Or at least possess only partial information and would revise the position in light of new evidence. The brightest minds in history have had areas where they were mistaken or incomplete. But not Dr. Loke in assessing the epistemology of 1st century Paul the Apostle. For him, a mistake is “implausible”.

I will save a cataloging of Dr. Loke’s speculative interpretations, evidential flaws and overly charitable assessments for future rounds as applicable. For today, all that needs to be pointed out is that while one can reasonably assess what someone believes or values based on their actions, you cannot determine whether that belief is true based solely on their actions. The actions prompted by a belief are the same, whether the belief is true or false.

For example, a photo of a life-valuing person stepping into the street can tell us they believed it was safe to do so. But the photo alone cannot tell us if it was actually safe. Even if the person appears to be looking one direction or the other.

I anticipate Dr. Loke will line up his special-pleading qualifiers… “Paul was evidently not an imbecile” (as if intelligence prevents wrong views), “the early Christian movement was a network of close communication” (as if close networks automatically promote accurate information), “he cared about his reputation”[28] (as if no prideful person has lied or been misled), and so on.

If he does, keep in mind that he will be attempting to use inadmissible character evidence (that a person acted in accordance with a character or trait on a particular occasion) to prop-up already-inadmissible hearsay evidence. While this isn’t a court of law, what is rejected as bad evidence in a sophisticated arena (court) doesn’t somehow become good evidence in a written debate on a blog.

IV.5 Other Documents and Motifs

I’ve already explored the lack of independent documents corroborating group appearances. In future responses I shall press upon Dr. Loke’s epistemologically-timid, desperate appeal to mere motifs… perhaps with a Star Wars-related illustration.

IV.6 “Solid Evidence” was Required

When asked about the role of apologetics (arguments and evidence) in convincing non-believers, famous Christian apologist Dr. William Lane Craig’s responds, “I think that the fundamental way in which we know that Christianity is true is through the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.”[29]

Dr. Loke has yet to demonstrate how this would have been different for early Christians, but merely asserts that “some ‘solid’ evidence such as the disciples eating and drinking with Jesus together as a group would likely have been necessary to start the widespread agreement among them that a resurrected corpse was what they witnessed.”[30]

The phrases “such as” and “likely have been necessary” tacitly acknowledge that group appearances are merely one possible evidential line that could produce this belief. To be evidentially relevant, an inference must lead to a single conclusion… not merely be consistent with multiple competing conclusions. (Not to mention, not merely speculation, supposition, conjecture or guesswork.)

This debate is about whether we can be justified in accepting that group appearances happened. Maybe 1stcentury Corinthians were evidentially justified in that belief, maybe they were not. We have no insight. That they were convinced is of no evidential value.

V. Conclusion

If you will allow me to dip one last time into the pool of evidence-evaluation wisdom found in the courts of the world, the nature of this debate reminds me of the Briginshaw Standard: that “more convincing evidence is necessary to meet the standard of proof where an allegation is particularly serious, or unlikely to have occurred.”[31]

Just a few verses down from the much-discussed 1 Corinthians 15 creed, Paul writes about the importance of resurrected Jesus’…

17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

As resurrection appearances are meant to support Jesus’ resurrection, and Jesus’ resurrection is the most important linchpin for Christianity, and the truth of Christianity determines the forever fate of our eternal souls, it would seem the topic of this debate is safely in the category of “particularly serious”.

At the same time, with such a resurrection unheard of in a naturalistic worldview, and only once-in-history under a Christian worldview, it’s safe to call group appearances “unlikely to have occurred” under any belief system.

If ever there was a case that calls for the “particularly serious” and “unlikely to have occurred” Briginshaw Standard asking for “more convincing evidence”, it’s this one. 

But what kind of evidence is put forth for group appearances? 

HearsayCharacter evidenceCollusionSpeculationConjecture. Quality of evidence so poor that it isn’t even admissible in the lowest of courts in the smallest of small-claims cases.

If the eternal fate of every soul in the universe hinged on justifying group appearances, we should expect an omniscient, omnipotent benefactor to do better.


Footnotes

[1] I’m aware that my footnote attribution style is all over the map and that this will likely cause great consternation in my academically-minded OCD readers out there. Apologies.

[2] Oldham, Davis: “Evidence” (English 101 & 102) Shoreline Community College

[3] Thayer, James B. “Presumptions and the Law of Evidence.” Harvard Law Review (1889): 143.

[4] “The Legal Concept of Evidence” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

[5] United States “Federal Rules of Evidence”, House of Representatives. 2004 Edition. p 3.

[6] Sankoff, Peter, LLM. “Probative Value”, 2020

[7] Supreme Court of Canada. R v Gill1987 CanLII 6779 (MB CA), (1987) 39 CCC (3d) 506 (MBCA) 

[8] admissible. (n.d.) West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. (2008). 

[9] Jaksa, William, “Probative vs Prejudicial”, 2021

[10] “Weight of the evidence” Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute.

[11] Bala, Nicholas and Anand, Sanjeev. Youth Criminal Justice Law, 3/e

[12] Stewart, Hamish, et al, Evidence: A Canadian Casebook, 3d ed (Toronto: Emond Montgomery, 2012) p129

[13] U.S. Federal Rules of Evidence: 801-03, 901 

[14] U.S. Federal Rules of Evidence. Rule 404. Character Evidence

[15] O’Connell, Stuart. Similar Fact Evidence: Collusion. Oct 2017.

[16] Loke, Andrew. Investigating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Routledge New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology and Biblical Studies) (p. 8). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

[17] Matthew 28:6, 28:17

[18] Luke 24:15, 24:36 and 24:50. Acts 1 repeats the Luke 24:50 story, but as this is the same author writing in a sequel work, this would not count as external corroboration.

[19] John 20:19, 20:26 and John 21

[20] Richard Bauckham. “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (2nd Edition).” Apple Books.

[21] Loke, Andrew. Dr. Andrew Loke’s Opening Statement vs. Paulogia March 2021.

[22] “Virtually all scholars agree that seven of the Pauline letters are authentic: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.” Bart D. Ehrman. “Forged.” Apple Books. Chapter 3

[23] “Inference.” The People’s Law Dictionary. 1981-2005. Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill 23

[24] “The inference that the apostles must have peed and pooed is warranted given that it is based on elementary biological consideration.” Loke, Andrew. Dr. Andrew Loke’s Opening Statement vs. Paulogia March 2021.

[25] Cothran v. Town Council of Los Gatos (1962) 209 Cal.App.2d 647.

[26] Eramdjian v. Interstate Bakery Corp. (1957) 153 Cal.App.2d 590.

[27] Loke, Andrew. Dr. Andrew Loke’s Opening Statement vs. Paulogia March 2021.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Craig, Dr. William Lane. What Role Does the Holy Spirit Play In Apologetics?

[30] Loke, Andrew. Dr. Andrew Loke’s Opening Statement vs. Paulogia March 2021.

[31] Lacey, Andrew. “Still Unsure about Briginshaw?” November 2019.

Become a Paulogia Cartoon

If you’re a Master of Paulogia-level supporter and you’d like to appear as a cartoon in the credits of Paulogia video, please email me the following details to paul.ens@gmail.com with a subject that mentions “Paulogia Patreon Cartoon”…

1. The name with which you’d like to be credited on video.

2. At least one photo of yourself (or the representation you would choose for your cartoon self*). Attaching more than one might help me get the likeness better.

3. Photos or links or descriptions of your preferred above-the-waist wardrobe.

4. Any other related requests for your cartoon.

As noted, cartoon you needn’t be “real life you”. It can be you, but “idealized” upon request. (I’m not quite at the fitness level of cartoon me.) It needn’t even be human… it could be a cat, a unicorn, your favorite avatar or a spaghetti monster.  I’ll do my best to accommodate everything, and hopefully you’ll be happy with the results.

You rock! Thanks.

Closed-Mind is in the Eye of the Presupposer

Reasons to Believe is a creation advocate organization that generally earns my respect, if not my agreement. But a few recent articles caught my eye as uncharacteristically disingenuous.

In Pseudoenzymes Illustrate Science’s Philosophical Commitments, author Dr. Fazale Rana attempts to demonstrate what he feels is a “blind spot” in methodological naturalism (we’ll define this next, hold on) using an example of a recent discovery about the role of previously-underestimated pseudoenzymes.

Philosophical naturalism, as a point of comparison, is an overarching philosophy that the cosmos is driven exclusively by natural laws and forces, and that there is no spiritual or supernatural realm that interacts with our physical one.

Methodological naturalism, the type criticized by Rana, is a strategy that says when studying the natural world only natural causes will be considered. Basically, when scientists attempt to learn, they agree to limit their hypotheses to natural causes and effects. This says nothing about the supernatural convictions of any given scientist, nor is it a statement about a supernatural realm. It is merely a short-cut admission that there is no currently-known scientific method to know the supernatural. Maybe the supernatural exists, but our science cannot deal with it.

The cited research postulated that previous work in the field mistakenly considered pseudoenzymes to be dead, rather than active participants in cell signaling networks. “In other words,” Fazale rephrased, “the biases created by viewing pseudoenzymes as the byproduct of evolutionary processes hindered biochemists from identifying and characterizing the functional importance of pseudoenzymes.”

Fazale concludes,

In short, in fulfilling their vital role as regulators of cell signaling pathways, pseudoenzymes display elegance, sophistication, and ingenuity. As a creationist, this is the reason I view these systems as a Creator’s handiwork. Because the field of pseudoenzyme biochemistry is so young, I anticipate the evidence for design to dramatically expand as we learn more about these surprising biomolecules.

Yet, despite everything we have learned about pseudoenzymes, adherents to the evolutionary paradigm simply can’t see these biomolecules as anything other than the product of an evolutionary history.

Because of the blind spot created by their philosophical commitments, the design of these systems is occluded from their view—and that causes them to miss the mark.

From reading this, one might justifiably assume that researchers Eyers and Murphy were strong naturalism-rejecting intelligent-design proponents, who were prompted to overcome the oppressive shackles of their short-sighted peers after a robust prayer meeting.

However, the paper Rana sighted is called The Evolving World of Pseudoenzymes. The abstract for the paper includes a section titled, “How did pseudoenzymes evolve?” Eyers and Murphy, whatever their supernatural views, are clearly methodological naturalists who made this discovery within those parameters. It was obviously not a blind spot.

Meanwhile, creationists insist that belief in a god and the authority of the bible are presuppositions. That is, they are not proven with evidence, but are simply be accepted as true before looking at the evidence.

Imagine a scenario where Yahweh god decided to completely and instantaneously heal an entire cancer ward, restoring each patient to peak physical fitness. Now imagine two scientists sent in to investigate. Scientist A’s mind is open to the supernatural, and so proclaims the event a miracle, documents it as such and goes home to sing praise songs. Now imagine Scientist B, also a Jesus-follower, but adhering to her on-the-job methodological naturalism she rigorously studies everything about the ward to find out what happened. She looks at the air, the food, the water, the cleaning chemicals, common batches of medicine, the procedures of the staff and anything else she can think of. Not content with “god did it” and calling it a day, she perseveres to find out HOW it was done, and maybe she finds it and can use the knowledge to help others. Which type of science should we encourage?

It takes little thought at all to think about scientific discoveries that were hindered by a theological world-view… the Earth orbiting the sun (Copernicus, Bruno, Galileo, Descartes, all punished by the church), Newtonian physics, ancient earth geology, and biological evolution… to name just a few. Modern religious opposition to science includes stem cell research and climate change science (for reasons I do not understand).

Rana points out that a commonly held view about pseudoenzymes was wrong… but it was SCIENCE that discovered this. The role of pseudoenzymes was never a presupposition, just observation to that point. Science changes when there is new evidence. It is holy books that assume a conclusion and never change.


You may also have seen this week’s National Geographic article about a feathered dinosaur tail discovered in 99-million-year-old amber. This is a particularly exciting find for those who study the evolutionary connection between theropods and birds.

Again, Dr. Rana took to the Reasons blog to respond to this discovery. He relatively fairly summarizes that “for many in the scientific community this discovery further affirms the evolutionary link between birds and dinosaurs, with feathered dinosaurs viewed as transitional intermediates.”

But Rana is skeptical.

Paleontologists interpret feathered dinosaurs from the fossil record as transitional intermediates between theropods and birds—including the feathered dinosaur tail found in amber. Yet, each occurrence of feathered dinosaurs in the fossil record appear after the first true bird, Archaeopteryx

It is hard to imagine how the “primitive” feathers associated with the dinosaur tail (again, dated at 99 million years in age) could be transitional if they appear over 50 million years after Archaeopteryx and co-occur with feathers from a bird belonging to enantiornithes.

This was so ridiculous, I had to ask Rana himself about it.

I went to the original research article itself to see if Rana was right, but the only reference to transition is this one…

The integration of developmental studies [5, 7 and 33] and paleontology yields enriched models of morphological character evolution that help explain major evolutionary transitions in key clades such as theropods, including birds.

So, Rana wasn’t really referring to the study’s authors, but most likely the imprecise reporting by numerous outlets. But to set expectations of these derivative articles, there seems to be more words dedicated to the plausibility of Jurassic Park in real life than evolutionary ramifications.

So I call “baloney”, Dr. Rana. The researchers are not saying that this particular individual dinosaur that got its tail caught in amber is personally the ancestor of modern birds. They merely hold this up as consistent evidence that birds and theropods had a common ancestor in the past. The fact that there are individual theropods that lived after archaeopteryx is no more surprising than two cousins being alive at the same time.

(Actually, he took me aback by referring to archaeopteryx as a true bird, because it has so many reptilian traits, but I won’t chase that rabbit today.)

By Rana’s logic, the Android operating system wasn’t inspired by Apple’s iOS if there is a Samsung Galaxy 2 that predates the iPhone 7.

I know he understands the science and theory. He’s better than this. Be better than this.


social-aviYou may have noticed that it’s been a while since I updated the blog. “I’m sorry” or “you’re welcome”, depending on your perspective. 2016 has been a difficult year, and between the relentless waves of life’s arrows, I allowed myself to be distracted by some trivial pursuits including talking about comics and movies with my friend David on his YouTube channel.

As much as I enjoy writing, that experience has rekindled my love of the medium of video, and I’ve decided to take some of my thoughts and passions to YouTube in my own channel that I’m calling Paulogia. The first three videos will go public this week, and I’m a combination of proud and embarrassed, but it’s time to give birth. My intended audience is believing Christians, so perhaps you’ll join me and let me know what you think?

If you’re interested in what I might do there, I’d consider it a great favor if you would subscribe to the channel here. (YouTube shows favoritism to those with more subscribers, so a kick-start would help me out.) Alternately, you can follow Paulogia on Facebook or Twitter. (Don’t make me invite you.)

Short Story – The Beach Baby

Long ago, about the place that would one day be New York, a journey began. The travelers did not know where they were going, but each day took a step in a direction that made them more content and more likely to continue the journey.

This journey continued, winding to and fro, for nearly 4500 km (2800 miles). None who began the journey remained, and many who joined for a time left to find their own paths better suited for them. But some particular travelers, over time uncharted, had arrived at the place that would one day be Santa Monica Beach, California.

Our travelers were weary from the difficult journey, having given everything they had to keep moving. In their final act of life, the travelers painfully extended outstretched arms 15 cm (six inches) through some bushes to gently place the last remaining members of their party into the soft sand. A newborn baby, and a puppy to watch her.

The baby awoke, her blinking eyes attempting to adjust to the sun overhead for the first time. She giggled at the tickle of the puppy’s lapping tongue on her tiny toes. The baby sat up and marveled at all she saw… the ocean extending forever before her, the warm golden sand on which she sat, and the trees that swayed overhead.

“I was made for this beach,” smiled the baby, “and this beach for me. We are new and wonderful and unlike anything that could ever be or have been.”

“Pardon me,” said the puppy, “but we are here as part of a long, long journey taken by many before us.”

The baby laughed at the foolish puppy. “Don’t be silly,” the baby said. “The beach began when I opened my eyes. There are no other places, for if there were I would certainly see them.”

The puppy tilted his head in adorable bewilderment, and shifted his gaze past the baby to the nearby edge of the beach. “Do you not see the bodies of your parents, their arms outstretched and decomposing in the sun? They brought you here.” Acknowledging the smell made the puppy’s nose wrinkle.

“Those are not my parents!” said the baby. “You have made up the idea of parents because this beach was made for me and not for you. No one has seen a birth. It is not common sense that I might come out of a dead creature. Those giants obviously appeared at the same time I did, but didn’t make it.”

Sniffing at the sand, the puppy urged the baby to turn her gaze from the ocean. “What of all these tracks in the sand?” the puppy asked. “They extend to the edge of the beach. If you look past the bush, the tracks extend as far east as my eyes can see or nose can smell.”

Crawling two steps toward the puppy, the baby scoffed. “Journeys are impossible. No one has seen a journey. The whole idea makes me laugh.”

The puppy nodded his snout toward the markings in the sand under the baby’s knees. “Just now, you shuffled forward two steps. A journey is simply that motion repeated over and over, covering incredible distances one shuffle at a time.”

The baby scowled at the obvious gibberish of the puppy. “Obviously I can crawl from one side of the beach to the other,” the baby chided. “We see crawling all the time. No one denies crawling. But there are limits. Crawling does not become a journey. Show me a journey, puppy! Show me one crawl that became a journey! I want to see it happen.”

“Journeys cover incredible distances,” pleaded the puppy. “You have existed only long enough to crawl a few strides along this beach. How do you suppose you might personally witness thousands of kilometers when you are physically limited to centimeters? We see only our portion, baby — not the beginning or the end — that is simply the nature of the journey.”

“The entirety of the universe was revealed to me when I opened my eyes,” sneered the baby. “I did not suddenly appear on this beach by accident.”

“But the diaper you wear,” said the puppy. “It is made of a cotton grown far from here. The image on your shirt depicts a cactus, a plant not found on a beach. The flower in your hair, it cannot grow near salt water. They are souvenirs your parents and grandparents left you, evidence of their journey now possessed by you.”

“These things I have do not show a journey, silly puppy,” said the baby, letting the sound of the waves down out his fanciful ideas. “Cotton and flowers and cactus may exist elsewhere, I don’t know. But they have always been here with me, just as your collar has always been on you.”

“But…”, the puppy began to object.

“Hush now, puppy,” the baby cooed, scratching her companion’s long ears. “I will hear no more of it. Let us simply enjoy this beach that was made for me.”

U2 and Me – One Life, but we’re not the same.

The piles of clothes, fast-food wrappers and lidless boxes left little room for me in the back seat of Sheldon’s two-door car. I did not know driving-age Sheldon, but he was a friend of Cory. I didn’t know Cory that well either, but he was my first connection at the new school and neighborhood to which I had moved in the summer and somehow that landed me in this slightly smelly situation. Sheldon asked for “Red Rocks” and Cory fingered through the jammed-full case of cassettes, pulling out a well-worn plastic shell of orange hue, and popping the tape into the car stereo.

“Do you like U2?” Sheldon asked me, his first direct address since the “Hey” of our introduction.

“Of course,” I replied, probably unconvincingly. I had heard of U2, but I didn’t know anything about them. I was about to learn.

The Joshua Tree came out the next year. In the time between, my album collection had added a few cassette tapes (purchased, not just my own bootleg recordings of the radio) and my exclusively contemporary Christian library (Amy Grant, David Meece, Michael W. Smith, Lisa Whelchel, Petra and the like) had been breached by Michael Jackson’s Bad.

I was fully taken with Joshua Tree, though I can’t claim that I understood all its subtleties. I got both the cassette and vinyl versions for maximum quality at home and use in my new Walkman when away. I remember my delight when it won the Grammies for best album and best group performance. I remember feeling justified in siding with long-time fans who resented all the new adherents. I remember the bands’ new penchant for dark clothing influencing my own already monochromatic trend.

It was the release of concert album and concert movie, Rattle and Hum, in 1988 that pushed me from fan to huge fan. I was suddenly into whatever U2 information and lore that one can acquire seven years before the world’s first web page. I got a fedora and a harmonica.

Part of my justification — to myself, my Christian youth leaders, and to my parents — for my fascination with this Irish band was that they were (with the exception of evil bass player, Adam) Christians. They were not worldly and corrupting like the pop-music videos banned in our household.

I could rattle off the evidence. The lyrics for their song “40” were adapted directly from Psalm 40. “Where the Streets Have No Name” is about heaven. “One man betrayed with a kiss” (Pride), “And if the mountains should crumble or disappear into the sea…” (The Unforgettable Fire, Psalm 46:2), “We eat and drink while tomorrow they die” (Sunday Bloody Sunday, 1 Cor 15:32), “I have spoken with the tongue of angels” (I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, 1 Cor 13:1), and on and on with examples of scriptural Easter eggs.

My parents were skeptical, but allowed the indulgence. Truth be told, I didn’t ever really buy in to my own argument. As a fundamentalist Christian, I always considered Bono’s brand of liberal, social-justice Christianity to be a false or lesser faith. My simplistic view on spiritual matters saw the bands’ nuance as the the kind of lukewarm faith that Revelation says will be spit out. U2 weren’t proclaiming their spiritual answers, as commanded. It was not mine to judge, but I kind of judged.

Despite that philosophical difference, I loved everything about their music –sticking with them through experimental phases of Zooropa, Pop and beyond. I went to their concerts whenever opportunity arose, more often creating the opportunities in cities like Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, San Jose, Las Vegas across decades and tours. Collecting obscure, rare and unreleased tracks and bootlegs (in a pre-file-sharing age) brought me joy as a deeper-than-average fan. Sometimes it was the message of the songs that spoke to me, sometimes just the rhythmic riffs and lilting vocals.

In the wake of my deconversion from Christianity to atheism, I find myself aligning more closely with the social worldview of lead singer Bono than I did when we shared a faith label. AIDS prevention, third-world debt relief, truth equality of the Abrahamic religions (“Jesus, Jew, Mohammed… it’s true“), same-sex marriage and gay rights, and other “left” causes… things that turned me off in a former life.

To be sure, Bono is a theist. In Michka Assayas’ book, Bono, the singer lays out his loose theology which incorporates karma, fatherhood, and friendship with more traditional Christianity tenets.

“When I look at the Cross of Christ, what I see up there is all my s— and everybody else’s. So I ask myself a question a lot of people have asked: Who is this man? And was He who He said He was, or was He just a religious nut? And there it is, and that’s the question. And no one can talk you into it or out of it.”

When posed with C.S. Lewis’ “liar, lunatic or lord” trilemma, I tend to go with “(d) legend”, but that is a subject for another time. Orthodox or not, still haven’t found what he’s looking for or not, you know Bono believes it.

Like an immigrant living in a new land, I can be delighted to hear the tongue of my youth, no matter the sentiment expressed. With so much of my life invested in studying the Bible, I remain part of the inner circle who understand the pervasive scriptural in-jokes of U2’s lyrics — getting all the references, but not offended by any creative twists or heretic reworkings. It is connective tissue.

With the turmoil of the past few years of my life, the music of U2 remained part of the small unchanging core. A fixed point. Certainly, some songs have slipped from prayer to nostalgia. Others that were once merely poems are now profound reflections or surgical daggers. There are phrases in U2’s discography that grip me and tear me, and to identify examples would betray too much.

Assuming that U2’s next album will not once again be thrust unsuspectingly on my iPhone, I will continue to seek them out and hand them my money. Even if their repertoire sours in the future, U2 will always remain my answer to the “what is your favorite band?” security question.

In “All Along the Watchtower”, Bono lists his assets as “three chords and the truth”. He and I have never quite agreed on that last part, but in the first we find common ground where we can search for the middle.


This entry is in response to a reader request. If there is any topic you’d like to see me cover in the future, please let me know.

To Those Who Escaped the Maze

I don’t know if I could express my own emotions and feelings about my life on this side of atheism any better than this podcast host could in describing his listeners.

If you’d like to know the current me a little better, listen to the end. I guess attempt to find comfort that my story is so common.

“I know he’s given up a lot of himself to get there. I know he had to come face-to-face with a lot of demons, a lot of lies he’d been told by the people that love him and a lot of lies that he told to the people he loved. He had to simultaneously come to grips with both his culpability and his victimhood. He had to kick away pillars that had dammed back his doubts for decades and face that oncoming flood with no reward on the other side of it but knowledge.”

My Irrational Response to Irrational Science Denial

Despite my protestation that most theological beliefs are held with inadequate reasons, I fully support anyone who holds them. It took years of intense information pursuit to detangle myself from the indoctrination of my youth. While I wish I could provide an escape shortcut for some believers, ultimately I’m finding that I have a real peace toward those who hold to some form of theism or another. They are genuinely sincere and I remember thinking as they do.

What I find myself increasingly impatient and intolerant of, however, is science denialism.  Science denialists? People who just straight up deny science. People who are not scientists who proudly declare a contrary position.

Specifically, they selectively deny science. The fiber-optic cables, orbiting satellites, microscopic illuminated pixels and etched silicon that allows them to read this blog or tap like on an affirming sentiment overlaying the image of a sunset… whatever, could be faster. The specialized tubing threaded up to coronary arteries carrying a balloon to be inflated and implant a stent to prevent future heart attacks without invasive surgery… it’s a miracle. DNA sequencing that identifies parentage or puts an accused man in prison… undeniable.

However, when identical methods produce results that appear to be in conflict with economic benefit, lifestyle choice, or worst of all… the interpreted meaning of ancient holy books, the scientific method is suddenly in the reliability category of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey played by devious hucksters.

I can’t put my finger on it, but my emotions rise when this happens. I have visceral anger and physical response when an armchair observer thinks they have the secret data that undermines entire fields. As if, somehow, these gotchas have never reached the people spending their lifetimes dedicated to the fields in question. Or, more importantly, never reached competing scientists who could earn a Nobel prize and funding for life by calling out the Emperor’s new clothes.

Obviously, all scientific claims take on the burden of proof. If the evidence is not compelling to you, that is your right, privilege and duty as a skeptic to not accept. Everyone should be skeptical. However, if you do not take the time or effort to actually understand the claims and the evidence, then your conclusions cannot and should not be respected. Worse yet, if you had your conclusions before examining the data… your opinion deserves to be ignored.

(The potential irony of my feelings about science denial compared to my own deity denial is not lost on me. It is why I attempt to be relentless in seeking every argument for a god, every evidence for the Bible. A theist may assert that I’m just not seeing the evidence, as I might say to them about science. But I do all that I can to look myself in the mirror with intellectual honesty and know that I’m genuinely open to my position being challenged and shown incorrect. How sure is a position that refuses evaluation?)

Some deniers appeal to common sense. As if common sense has ever had anything to do with any scientific discovery. Frankly, it is the counter-intuitive nature of the universe that necessitates science in the first place. It is not common sense that the heavy objects and light objects fall at the same rate. It is not common sense that invisible microscopic organisms cause disease. It is not common sense that apparently solid objects are composed of atoms that are themselves largely made up of empty space. Intuition is not a way of knowing. Incredulity is not a counterpoint. Common sense loses to evidence and explanatory power.

Some deniers point to the changing nature of science, as if that fluidity makes its conclusions tentative or unreliable. Science improves. Science corrects. Science welcomes new data. At no time has science ever abandoned a natural explanation for a supernatural one.

Some deniers point to frauds (intentional and ignorant) of the past, well-known methodological limitations or unsettled details as if they might in any way taint other observations or conclusions. To add to the insult, all of the cited frauds, limitations and disagreements were discovered by other scientists… not science deniers. It is what scientists do… attempt to invalidate. Whatever the denier thinks, science isn’t ignoring these points, as science discovered them.

In the midst of this sea of intellectual irritation, I have found soothing solace in the sincerity and mission of ministries like Reasons to Believe and BioLogos. These are organizations comprised of scientists who are Christians who write to an audience of Christians who are not scientists. They believe that their god has revealed himself in two separate but equal revelations — scriptures and nature.

Because these groups “affirm that the Bible is the inspired and authoritative word of God”, I prefer to refer to their resources on topics like

It removes the fallacy of differing worldview distraction from the equation. Deniers may not know it, but millions of Christians embrace the revelation of creation without threat to their faith.

If you are into science, that’s great. Please take the time to honestly understand and evaluate the claims being made by the communities that dedicate their entire lives to the advancement of knowledge.

If you’re not into science — if you don’t know or care about the magnetic, gravitational and gyroscopic factors taken into consideration to maintain the geosynchronous orbit that brings data to your cell phone — please be humble enough to acknowledge that while neither consensus nor authority is adequate to establish truth, it takes rare insight, aptitude and tenacity to justify breaking with them. There’s a reason why we remember names like Einstein, Newton, Galileo and Pasteur.

(If you think you have some gotcha tidbit in favor of a young earth, anti-evolution, pro-flood thinking, please check it against the Talk Origins index of creationist claims. At least know the counterpoint — whether you agree or not — before bringing it up. On the other hand, if you have something new, I’d genuinely love to hear it.)

If your god needs protection from science, then he isn’t much of one.

The Magician-Free Illusion of Objective Morality

Based on the frequency it has been posed to me, Christians find that objective morality is particularly convincing evidence of their God. The “Moral Argument” contends not only that objective morality is a thing that exists, but that a God is required for it…. therefore God.

Despite my persistent asking, no one has ever given me an example of this objective morality. However, moral argument proponent William Lane Craig was kind enough to provide a definition that I think we can work with. “To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so,” he writes.

The evidence presented for the existence of this objective morality tends to rely exclusively on appeal to emotion, appeal to intuition, scripture verses or references to Nazis. Of course, none of these things are actual evidence.

I have yet to be presented with a compelling case that objective morality exists. As far as any philosopher or layperson has demonstrated, morality is subjective. Any objectivity you cling to is as illusory as the flat, stationary ground we stand on while the sun goes down. More importantly, I trust you will see that this illusion requires no external magician to explain it.

Evaluating Behavior

Objective or subjective aside, I think we can all agree that morality is primarily concerned with behavior, and determining which behaviors are better than others. Some will simplistically label behaviors with a binary “right” or “wrong” system. Most, however, will be sophisticated enough to acknowledge that morality is more of a spectrum.

For the sake of illustration, let’s imagine that we can plot actions on a two-dimensional grid. In the center, we would find the most moral action – point A. For all other potential actions, we would evaluate their morality based on the distance from point A. The further from the center, the less moral. The closer, more moral.

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So points D and E are equally moral, though less moral than C, which is in turn less moral than B. This evaluation of distance is true regardless of whether you believe it or not. In this way, we can objectively evaluate behavior. The moral argument seems sound so far.

All the Starting Points

However, if you’ve been around humans for any length of time, you may have noticed that determining a “most moral action” is likely to cause some disagreement. To determine it, some would factor in theology, or ideology, or pragmatism, societal pressures, or perhaps merely personal preference. This perspective is unique to each individual. As such, we end up with a new graph.

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We are now confronted with the view that determining the morality of an action depends on the point from which you measure. Actions B, C, D and E are different distances from the different purple dots. Our observation of the present, and analysis of history, tells us that this accurately reflects how humans make decisions about behavior. Different groups, right down to different individuals, choose their own starting point and act accordingly. And these starting points change over time.

Of course, that there are many adopted starting points tells us nothing about the existence of an objective point A. Indeed, by the apologist’s definition, point A needs to be correct whether anyone believes it or not.

But you can see that any given action will have an objective assessment relative to each subjective starting point. And, of course, a person standing at any given point feels equally entitled to the objective correctness of their view as anyone standing at any other point. It is all relative.

At this point, you may protest that while everyone has an opinion, some opinions simply must be more right than others for we “just know” in our head/heart/gut that generosity is more moral than genocide.

Animal Kingdom

Let’s set aside human morality for a minute and take a look at behavior in the animal kingdom.

Apart from the advantages of warm-bloodedness, one of the keys to the flourishing of mammals on the earth has been their tendency toward being social animals. Despite varying degrees, the list of social mammals is extensive… bats, cats, chimps, dogs, dolphins, elephants, gerbils, gorillas, horses, hyenas, leopards, lions, meerkats, orca, rabbits, rats, wolves and zebra, to name a few.

It is a common misconception to think of the phrase “survival of the fittest” in terms of the slowest gazelle in a herd, who will more likely be dinner than a parent. But it is to the advantage of a species to exhibit what biologists call reciprocal altruism — when an organism acts in a manner temporarily reducing its fitness while increasing another organism’s fitness. The sacrificing organism carries the expectation that the other will act in a similar manner at a later time. Such actions increase the fitness of the species.

For example, vampire bats who fail on a given night’s hunt will beg another bat for food. The fed bat may regurgitate some blood to sustain the other member. While any bat may donate to any other bat, researchers have found that the sharing does not happen proportionally. Bats are most likely to share with relatives, next most often with bats from the same colony, and least likely with those from outside the colony. This is an example of tribalism — a hierarchy of loyalism to those most likely to further an individual’s genes or species.

Of course, some animals go beyond altruism and develop negative reciprocity where individuals who fail to provide for the group are punished or shunned by the group. These non-cooperative individuals are excluded from breeding, thus ensuring the next generation is more likely to have the altruistic traits. For example, macaques that find food without giving food calls to others become the target of aggression. Domestic horses that are fed separately within sight of the group will be attacked upon return. As such, these animals learn social consequences of their actions.

In more complex social structures, individuals are allowed levels of individual expression so long as that expression does not jeopardize the group. While elephants are lead by a matriarch, she will listen to and accommodate requests from adults and juveniles alike. Some elephants become popular while others do not, outside of leadership and lineage. Dolphins researchers identify that each individual dolphin has a unique whistle that identifies him to other members of his pod, and that the pod will respond uniquely depending on the perceived behavior of the individual.

Naturalist Morality: Well-Being

Christian apologists tend to hold that morality is a trait unique to specially created humans, so would think of animal behavior as instinctual rather than moral. A naturalist would claim that social behavior has given some species an evolutionary benefit and these were honed in millions of years of natural selection. Either way, one could identify a moral system that would arise from the behavior of social mammals.

As for all animals, the key priority would be survival of the species, followed by the flourishing of the group and then individual self-preservation and preference. Morality would be determined by a blend of…

  • altruistic reciprocity – a kind of do-unto-others-as-you-would-have-them-do-unto-you “golden rule” (as made popular by the writing of Confucius some 500 years before the events of the New Testament)
  • consequentialism – if everyone in society acted a certain way, what would the consequences be? what are the consequences of an act to the individual?
  • tribalism – greatest loyalty for those closest in genetics or proximity… family, clan, tribe, species, territory, continent, planet (for when Independence Day happens for real), universe
  • individual rights – when not in direct conflict with the needs of the group, the preference of the individual is honored. (My right to swing my fist stops at the point your nose begins.)

Such a moral code would require no divine revelation as it would be determined solely by biological and evolutionary necessity and advantage. We will call this naturalistic moral system “well-being”.

The Necessity of God

A moral system based on natural “well-being” requires no divine revelation to find consensus. Biological and evolutionary necessity and advantage are all that is needed.

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“Well-being” is not “borrowing from a religious world view” as a theist may charge, though the confusion is understandable. On the “obvious” moral values — murder, theft, assault, kindness, and the like — the various surviving world theologies are predictably aligned with natural survival traits. (Theologies or ideologies that promote destructive behavior will ultimately go extinct as adherents disappear.)

Please be clear, I am not advocating that a “well-being” morality system is in any way objective. It is every bit as subjective as any other theology or ideology, despite having my personal endorsement. No, I present it here to demonstrate that what theists point to as objective morals “divinely written on our hearts” is adequately, if not superiorly, explained without need of a supernatural source.

But you may object, this “well-being” morality doesn’t explain how we know that witcheshomosexuals and atheists must be put to death, where to buy slaves and how badly to beat them, that rape victims should be forced to marry their rapist, that the teaching of a woman is less desirable than that of a man, and that polyester / cotton blends are immoral. That’s true. Those things have nothing to do with well-being. For those judgements, you would need a never-changing decree from a god.

It might come as a surprise to you, but if you don’t follow everything listed in the paragraph above, then you have created your own subjective morality where you evaluate what is right and wrong using your own personal criteria. I applaud this… a system to decide is much better than an inflexible, incomplete, authoritative decree.

Well, Why Should Anyone Care about Well-Being?

It is about at this point that I hear theists throw up their hands and question why a secular-minded person would care about well being in the first place. (Maybe they throw in a “since we’re just a collection of atoms” for good measure.)

This is obviously a non-sequetor to the moral argument being presented, since the assertion is that objective morality is independent of anyone agreeing or adhering to it. If it’s ok to ignore objective morality, it must be ok to ignore subjective.

This is like discussing the relative health merits of jogging vs. eating a bag of potato chips, but trying to end the discussion by asking why anyone should even care if they are being healthy. Obviously, many people do not care about their own health. You cannot make someone care about health, despite what may seem like self-evident reasons. This has no bearing on an attempt to evaluate the health benefit of actions. We just agree to a common reference point that health is better than non-health, whether such an assumption is justified or not.

Two people have to agree to a common goal in order to commonly evaluate morality. That’s just the way it works. That’s why all morality is relative.

If we can agree that well-being is better than not-well-being, then discussion can begin. If we can’t, we can’t. No god required.

This is the only life we know we have, and the only society and planet that we are likely to have access to in our lifetimes. That is plenty of justification for a typical secular person, not that it matters.

Burden of Proof

Obviously, the assertions “if God exists, objective moral values exist” and “objective moral values exist” are positive claims that require proof. They do not need to be disproven. I could be completely wrong in every word I wrote, and they would remain unproven assertions.

However, I do believe I have properly demonstrated plausible naturalistic explanations for this intuitive morality that theists appeal to.

Moreover, if this theoretical objective morality does exist, it is of no practical use to we humans, since we cannot identify it. If we could, Christianity would not have thousands of denominations.

The morality you cling to is subjective, your own personal cherry-picking interpretation, because the objective one is no more identifiable than the square root of zero — and no more useful in a proof.

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If you’re interested in more on this topic, allow me to suggest any of Matt Dillahunty’s clear discussions on morality, like this one.

 

 

Two Weeks of Four Weeks to Live

On April 25 of this year, I added a brief comment to the description of my photo-of-the-day entry, “Was rescanned this afternoon. Still cancer-free.”

My particular cancer, Myxoinflammatory Fibroblastic Sarcoma, has a high recurrence rate and spreads quickly, so I will be scanned multiple times a year for the rest of my life. I probably won’t mention clear diagnosis on social media going forward, but it was novel in April to have had my first post-surgery scan. Ideally they will become boring and routine.

That said, late on May 13 I received a call from the cancer centre to let me know that my x-rays were not clean after all. The doctors found a spot in a right-side rib that was concerning and that they couldn’t identify. I was to report to radioactive medicine the following Wednesday for a bone scan. The caller used the phrase “nothing to worry about” at least five times in the brief call. That’s one of those phrases that seems less genuine the more often it is used.

My mind couldn’t help but leap back to my original diagnosis last fall when my lead oncologist told me, probably more casually than he intended, that “If it gets in your chest, you’ll have about four weeks to live.”

I’m obviously not trained in medicine, but my amateur understanding is that my rib is in my chest. And my math skills are still pretty solid.

This news came as my teens were already scattering to their weekend activities and a week of living at their mom’s house. I hadn’t processed enough to try to wrangle them back and give them this nebulous bit of news. With nothing really to do or to report, I didn’t see a reason to lend any weight to their weekend. Though that decision still bothers me a little, so perhaps it was not the right one. I’ll continue to evaluate that.

The net result was an anvil of uncertainty hanging over my weekend and following days. At one time in my life, the test itself might have been a bigger deal. It required reporting to nuclear medicine first thing in the morning to be injected with a radioactive cocktail that would then need three hours to circulate in my blood enough to permeate bone. Then an hour of needing to hold perfectly still (with some straps to “help”) on a bed slab as square-meter camera panels slowly panned all around me. For a severe claustrophobe, it wasn’t quite as bad as an MRI, but as it was an inch from my nose for way too long. I’ll perhaps ask to have some magazine articles taped to it for next time.

I was told to expect a call in 3-5 days with results, good or bad. “We don’t believe that no news is good news,” the nurse told me. I was too out of it to think to ask if those were business days or planetary rotations. (I foolishly didn’t consider the possibility of those biblical “unspecified time period” days.)

I’ve had the opportunity (“pleasure” is the wrong word, perhaps “honor”) recently to speak with individuals who are having their own cancer scares. My advice has been that the not-knowing waiting-to-hear period is actually the worst part of all of it. The part to live through. Once the diagnosis has been made, the body and mind can snap into battle mode and take whatever seeming torture the treatment brings as steps forward. But in the time of waiting, the mind is left to speculate and mine is capable of conjuring unnatural darkness. (Fed all the more by scraps of rational possibility.)

The mind also has amazing abilities to protect us from realities too big to handle. Distractions and responsibilities allowed me to live the remaining days with a sense of a cloud, but mostly unaffected in general tasks. And, frankly, I’ve already made a lot of peace with the reality of the temporary nature of my life. Any of us could be hit by a bus any day… I just might have the fortune / misfortune of seeing mine coming. I don’t fear or lament the end of me, but merely ache for the impact to my children and others left. (My personal mortality issues are quite different, perhaps for another day.)

But nor will my brain leave me in peace, rather the next eight days were punctuated with random assaults. “If I’m not going to be here, why am I paying this cable bill?”, it would question. “You have one month, and this is what you’re doing?” was common, perhaps loudest when mowing my dandelions.

The greatest trigger was anyone asking me to look ahead past the next week. “Do you have plans for the summer?” is well meaning conversation, but I had to bite back hard to not retaliate with a sharp, “I won’t be here.” Kids and life require some forward looking, but I was completely incapable. There was a big black curtain separating the day I was occupying and those purely hypothetical future squares on the calendar. They were days of existing, but not living.

One of those days was my birthday. Years ago, birthdays became crisis and crossroads days for me, not in any way something to be celebrated… more of an anger renewal. My kids and I had the day before my birthday off of school and work for Canada’s Victoria Day, so we hit the zoo, despite the sn0w-like rain, and had a great time together with a special dinner and daughter-crafted cake. That left my mind undistracted on my actual birthday… not a good idea.

I was ready for either news. Either way was welcome.

On Thursday, 13 days after the original call, I finally heard. It was an administrator talking to me and not a doctor, so that automatically meant good news, but also less information. The spot on my rib was “not cancer” and “unconcerning”. What is it? Since I’m stubbornly unwilling to make an appointment with my doctor only for clarification beyond his call instructions, that revelation will have to wait for my next scans in August.

It’s just a few days past the news now, but I’m looking again at the dandelions that have since sprouted. I have an indeterminate time here, is that what I’m doing?