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.

graph-paper-objective

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.

graph-paper-purpledots

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?

MQFABSS #6 – What Would Change Your Mind?

The final question from My Questions For a Bible School Student was highly unoriginal. It has been asked in countless debates between theists and atheists, and should continue to be asked every single time.

The answer that most theists give is some variation of “nothing”. You can imagine what it would take for you to change your mind about the love of your spouse, your biological relation to your children or parents, your own name, or your memory-wiped history as a secret spy assassin. Are you really honest with yourself if your answer is “nothing”?

Question From Me

What would make you change your mind about your faith?

Answer From Student (with my commentary)

“The Apostle Paul lays out in chapter 15 verse 17 of 1st Corinthians what would make me change my mind about my faith: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” If this is the case, then Paul writes two verses later that, “we are to be pitied more than all men,” for we have falsely testified about God.”

From this, I infer that you mean that only evidence that Christ has NOT been raised would make you change your mind.

Of course, Christ being raised from the dead is a positive claim, and it is the positive claim must be proven, not the negation. I cannot expect someone to prove that Santa doesn’t deliver all the presents… we would want evidence that Santa does deliver presents.

The question is… is there sufficient evidence to believe that Christ DID rise from the dead? (For those interested, I looked in detail at An Evidence Attested Resurrection? earlier this year.)

“I know Christ is risen from my experience, which is likewise in agreement with countless other believers as well.”

As we explored in the previous question, personal experience is not a reliable way to know anything. Billions of other believers in thousands of other faiths had equally visceral and compelling personal experiences, and you would consider them to be mistaken. (As they would consider you.) How do you know that you are not fooling yourself, as I once fooled myself?

But more to the point, since disproving Christ’s resurrection would cause you to change your mind, and since the way you know this is from your experience only, then what would change your mind is for you to doubt your own experience. To doubt experiences that you agree cannot be easily distinguished from well-known psychological and neurological phenomenon.

It sounds like you owe it to yourself to take an honest, dispassionate look at those experiences. Since you build your entire faith upon them, it would be good to be sure.

“But thats the beauty of faith, my salvation is riding on me. Because God’s word is true, this hope will not be put to shame (Rom. 5:5).”

I assume that the assertion that “God’s word is true” is similarly established only by personal experience.

“It is not what I have done, for I am not perfect and surely cannot meet God’s standard.”

“In order to know that Christ was not raised from the dead and that there is no God, I myself would have to be God.”

I guess that depends on your definition of “know”, which is always slippery.

Though, again, you appeal to the proof of a negation, which I would again point out is a logical fallacy. It is the positive claim that requires evidence. You would similarly have to be God in order to know that there are no unicorns, fairies, Smurfs, nor the pantheon of gods sitting at Mount Olympus. Do you accept all of these as existing, since only an omniscient being can know for sure?

Fortunately, to know that Christ was raised from the dead would not require you to have to be a god. Mere mortals could know that there is a god. All it would take is evidence, and a god willing to provide it.

My Response

Concluding this exercise, I will endeavor to answer my own question. What would it take for me to change my mind about the existence of God?

Evidence.

That’s it. That’s all. Sufficient evidence.

You may rightfully ask, “But Paul, what kind of evidence would possibly be good enough for you?” And this is an excellent question.

My answer? I don’t know what evidence would be sufficient for me to accept the existence of God… but if there is a God, HE KNOWS what it would be, and he chooses not to reveal it.

Until then, I wait. Unconvinced.