Posts Tagged ‘Adversus Apologetica’

Debate Synopsis

September 10, 2013

How do I think last night went? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I had my debate last night with Matthew Ferguson. For those who want to listen to it, a link can be found here. It was certainly an interesting debate and a fast one.

I do think the numerous people who listened in and the many who have given good compliments and good ideas on how I can improve on a performance they already thought was well done. Such is an important aspect of doing any endeavor like this. There will be much time to study and review and look back.

I also will be writing when I get done with the current series that I am on more on the debate as there were several aspects that due to time restraints, I did not get to cover. As is the case with any debate, there are also aspects that need to be explained in a fuller sense and what better forum to do so than on my own personal blog?

In fact, it is one reason that I have not been doing much writing here on the front of the historical Jesus. I have not wanted to share any cards that I had, a number of which I can add the opportunity to use did not come up last night.

Overall, I am pleased with how I did. I really last night cannot think of any persuasive argument that I saw on the other side. As I am expecting, there will be people who will be supporting what I said and people who will be supporting what my opponent said. It is my hope that this will in fact inspire people on both sides to do further research into the subject matter.

My approach is also a unique one and I plan to hammer it out further in my future in working on my Master’s at North West and then eventually a PH.D.. My argument has a minimal facts approach, but I much more prefer as well to look at the idea of Jesus from a social science perspective in the climate of an honor-shame society. (As we’ll see later, this is why a comparison to Mormonism really misses the mark.)

Many people spoke to me afterwards about how this by and large depended on Carrier’s arguments. Yes. That will be looked at as well as we move further along. My thanks does still extend to everyone who was a part of the endeavor as well. I also realize this could be the first debate of many. It might be that there will be a round two perhaps three or four years or so down the line. If we both continue on our studies, I do not doubt that our paths will cross again.

So when I get done with my series on sexual ethics, readers can expect that I will be coming back to this and devoting more time to subjects I’ve been wanting to write about for the past couple of months anyway. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Debate 9/9/2013

September 9, 2013

What’s coming up today on Deeper Waters? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

It’s not so much what’s coming up today, but what is coming up tonight? Tonight I have a teleconference debate with Matthew Ferguson of Adversus Apologetica. Ferguson is pretty popular amongst internet skeptics and definitely is highly impressed with Richard Carrier.

This makes the whole situation far more interesting in my opinion. Whereas I think Ferguson sees himself as following in the footsteps of Carrier, I see myself as following in the footsteps of Mike Licona. As those who keep up with debates will know, Carrier and Licona have had their debates as well so this is in a way a look at what those next in line could have to say.

The topic will be if it’s reasonable or not to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. (In case you’re keeping score at home, I will be arguing that yes, it is.) Ferguson and I did have some back and forth with blog posts, but I have declined to write more on the topic of what we were discussing because simply being one who grew up a good gamer, and still has proficiency in that area, (Something my wife laments every time we try to play a Mario game together) I prefer to not play all my cards at once.

The past couple of months have been time spent with much interacting with podcasts and reading the works of highly credentialed scholars. I believe that this research will be more than sufficient to help me establish a strong case tonight.

I ask that my readers of this blog be listening and praying for me as well. If you can’t listen for some reason now, there will be a way to listen later as it is being recorded. In either case, please do be in prayer. As far as I’m concerned, this is also about spreading the Kingdom of God and presenting the reasonableness of the Christian faith to those who might be open.

It is my hopes that at least one person would be open to consider the evidence and give it another look tonight. At the same time, I want them to take a good look before they sign on the dotted line. I have often said that I do not want to go out into the world and make converts. Jesus never told us to do that. I want to make disciples. Disciples will follow a Luke 14 pattern and count the cost first and decide if they think Jesus is worth a lifelong commitment or not.

Anyway, here is what you can find on the Facebook page for the debate.

“Is there historical evidence that Jesus was resurrected from the dead? Based on what is available to us, is there more reason to believe in the resurrection or to doubt it? Matthew will be affirming the position: “It is more reasonable to doubt that Jesus resurrected from the dead.” And Nick will be affirming the position: “It is more reasonable to believe that Jesus resurrected from the dead.”

The debate is being sponsored by the UCI Secular Student Alliance and the UCI Ratio Christi chapter. Neither club is endorsing a particular candidate’s position.

Listen live via teleconference: 1.559.546.1301 access code: 116676#

Matthew is a Ph.D. graduate student in Classics at the University of California, Irvine. His research interests include Greek and Latin historiography, ancient biography, and the Early Roman Empire. In addition to his graduate work, Matthew runs a blog named Celsus (located at the URL adversusapologetica.wordpress.com), where he writes about issues of philosophy and early Christianity from an atheist and naturalist perspective. Matthew has written several posts on Celsus about the resurrection of Jesus, which range in their content from the problem of miracles and the historical method, Jesus’ empty tomb, and natural explanations for the origins of Christianity.

Nick Peters is a graduate of Johnson University preparing to study at North West University in South Africa to earn his Master’s in NT. He runs the blog Deeper Waters, (located at the URL DeeperWaters.wordpress.com) and hosts the Deeper Waters Podcast through BlogTalkRadio. A diagnosed Aspie, he and his wife Allie, also an Aspie, reside in Corryton and have been married for over three years. They have one cat named Shiro.”

The debate starts at 7 PM EST and will last for two hours.

I thank everyone who has helped me in preparation for this debate. I also want to thank everyone who has supported me along the way too and took the time to answer questions that I’ve had through all my years of studying. I want to thank my family for their support to me and I definitely want to thank my loving wife Allie for being the encourager who is always my biggest cheerleader.

And last of all and most important, thanks to my God who has allowed me to serve in His Kingdom, something that is both honoring and humbling. May tonight’s performance glorify Him and not me.

The link to the Facebook page can be found here.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Minimal Facts Still Stand

July 15, 2013

Do I have anything to say in reply to Ferguson? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Recently, I was sent Ferguson’s argument against the minimal facts to see what I would have to say about it. My response can be found here. I posted my link on Ferguson’s blog in the comments section. While Ferguson initially said there was nothing to respond to there, it seems he decided to write a response anyway. (One that I heard about from others. For some reason, Ferguson did not want to come to my blog to post it.)

So let’s look at what Ferguson says. After much complaining about the nature of my reply, which is quite amusing when he says after much time:

To begin with, Peters wastes a lot of time at the beginning of his critique nitpicking some of the statements I have in my introduction to the issue. This is tedious, since I was merely contextualizing the issue for my readers, and his objections are largely just complaints about a few introductory remarks.

Do as I say, not as I do, but at any rate, what does he say?

First, Peters complains about how I point out that the minimal facts apologetic is not really about proving “only one” miracle, but is an evangelism tool to get people to convert to Christianity. Peters claims, “All you have to do is get that Jesus rose. Don’t want to believe the Bible is Inerrant? Sure. Go ahead.” But I would really be surprised if Peters thinks that the only other issues here are the fine points of Christian doctrine. Clearly, clearly apologists are using the minimal facts argument to get people’s foot in the door about believing in Christianity. No non-apologist goes around saying, “Hey, I have this case that Jesus rose from the dead, but none of it matters, I was just letting you know.” Obviously, the apologist wants the resurrection to be a starting point for getting people to “accept Christ” and convert. So it’s really silly to pretend that we are only discussing one issue here, when the minimal facts is a conversion tool. I don’t dismiss it on those grounds alone, but I was merely contextualizing for my readers what we are dealing with.

Actually, if we take a look at what I did say, I was stating exactly what I think Habermas would say based on my being present for several of his talks. Here is my response to that in full.

That’s fine. Go ahead. Habermas has even said in public talks that at the start, he’s not saying God raised Jesus from the dead. He’s saying that Jesus rose. You come up with your explanation. You want to say it was sorcery. Fine. Say it was sorcery. Just give a reason why you think it was and why you think my explanation that it was God who raised Him is lacking. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?

For instance, Pinchas Lapide is a Jewish scholar who thinks God raised Jesus from the dead. We differ on the meaning and interpretation of that event and if we had a dialogue, that is what I would want to talk about. In my response, I said it’s fine for you to have a different reason why you think it happened. Just be able to argue a case for it. All the minimal facts is out to prove is the event of the resurrection. It cannot say anything about the meaning of the resurrection or even the source of the resurrection.

Of course, it would be my hope that someone would come to the conclusion that Jesus is who He said He was and that God raised Him from the dead, but I have to go beyond just the minimal facts for that. The minimal facts are necessary, but they are not sufficient. Yet then as I said, this becomes another dialogue. Note of course that when I encourage someone to believe something, I will provide a reason, as would Ferguson. What problem could be had with this?

Another problem is Ferguson doesn’t tell you all of what he said. He said that

What apologists don’t tell you is that in the fine print of the “minimal facts” apologetic there is a clause stating that by accepting the free trial of the resurrection miracle, you are signing yourself up for a lifetime subscription to a fundamentalist, conservative Christian worldview.

My reply was as follows:

No you’re not. There. An assertion made without an argument can be dismissed just the same way. All you have to do is get that Jesus rose. Don’t want to believe the Bible is Inerrant? Sure. Go ahead. There are some Christian scholars who hold to the bodily resurrection and don’t think the Bible is inerrant. Want to believe in theistic evolution? Sure. Go ahead. There are some like that as well. There are Christians of all stripes who believe Jesus rose from the dead and do not hold to a “conservative and fundamentalist approach.”

If Ferguson wanted to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead but also wanted to believe the Bible had errors or that God used evolution in bringing about life on Earth, by all means go ahead. Ferguson is saying a lot more than just “They want you to become Christians.” He’s talking about the kind of Christian they want you to believe, and it simply doesn’t fit the facts. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I have railed numerous times against marrying Christianity with Inerrancy or views on creation.

Ferguson goes on:

Next, Peters doesn’t understand the principle of methodological naturalism, which in the introduction I explain is how history, as a method, normally operates. Peters states, “I do not see a good reason to accept methodological naturalism. When I look at history, I want to know what really happened and I cannot do that if I rule out explanations that I disagree with right at the start.” Peters here clearly does not understand what I said in the article. I very specifically stated, “Simply because history is methodologically naturalist does not entail ontological naturalism.” The point of this introductory statement was to explain the scholarly practice of bracketing, where certain questions are acknowledged to be beyond the scope of a particular methodology.

Most of us know that this is just lip service really. “Oh we’re open to miracles, but we’re just going to act as if they can’t happen.” Of course methodological naturalism does not mean ontological naturalism is true, but it does mean the person doing the history is going to act like ontological naturalism is true. In fact, as Ferguson says later on:

If I can find another hypothesis with a higher prior probability, even if it requires a few ad hoc assumptions and does not have as good expected evidence, it can still be a more probable explanation of the data than a miracle.

Which is a way of saying that any explanation will work better than a miraculous explanation. One wonders what is the great danger of a miraculous explanation, unless it is a fear that someone’s worldview will be in jeopardy. But alas, if that is the case, then the worldview is shaping the evidence instead of the evidence shaping the worldview.

As we move on Ferguson says:

What Peters doesn’t seem to understand is that history is not the same thing as the past, but rather a method used in the present to investigate the past. Historians acknowledge that history cannot tell us everything that has occurred in the past, and so certain questions are normally recognized to extend beyond the scope of the historical method. Such questions often include religious questions, which have underlying theological assumptions that separate them from ordinary questions about the past. Historians normally bracket these questions, as ones that need to be answered by a different epistemology, which often include one’s religious convictions.

Actually, I do understand that. The means is not the same as the end. The reality is Ferguson however also has underlying theological assumptions that affect his view of history. His underlying theological assumption is that there can be no acts of God in history. That is his prerogative. I will gladly upfront admit my bias that on independent grounds I have strong reason to believe in the existence of a theistic God and therefore am highly open to miracles.

At the same time, I will also add in that one can be an atheist and seriously study miracles. All you have to do is have a non-dogmatic approach. It is the same kind of approach I take to UFO stories. Personally, I’m skeptical of there being life on other planets. Yet at the same time, if people come forward with evidence, I want to hear the evidence. If I’m wrong, I want to know it. Also, if I myself happen to see something some day and I cannot explain it any other way, I will certainly be more prone to say “Maybe I’m wrong about this.”

I have no problem with Ferguson being skeptical of miracles. Skepticism can be a good thing! I have a problem with an unreasonable skepticism that stacks the deck way too high. As we go through, we will see that Ferguson does just that.

Reading on we see Ferguson say

This does not entail that all supernatural events are automatically ruled out from happening in the past, but it does mean that someone will need more than just ordinary historical methodology when dealing with them. Here is an excellent article from biblical scholar Hector Avalos explaining this practice, where he discusses how a question such as, “Did Alexander the Great fight elephants in India?,” is categorically different from a supernatural question, such as, “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” Normally, historians bracket the second form of question as one that clearly involves many more philosophical and theological issues than the former. But bracketing the question does not ipso facto entail denying the event.

To which Avalos’s contention comes down to that we have no experience supposedly of the supernatural. Of course, I do not hold to the so-called natural/supernatural distinction. Yet I wonder who it is Avalos is speaking of. There are people the world over who will claim to have experiences that are suprahuman in nature. Ferguson disputes Keener’s claim that miracles are happening today, but what cannot be disputed is numerous miracles are being claimed today. If Avalos and Ferguson both discount these a priori, then is it any shock they reach the conclusion they do? It is saying “Those of us who deny the suprahuman are not having experience of the suprahuman.” Well of course not! If they were having it, it would be quite likely they would not be denying that it exists.

Note also that the event is what is in question and the minimal facts are meant to establish the event. Could it be Ferguson denies the event because it entails a conclusion that he does not like, that he sees no other explanation for it than something outside of nature operating on nature? If so, then he is no longer really doing history. After all, let’s make the assumption for the sake of argument that it is true that Jesus rose from the dead. If Ferguson’s approach rules that out a priori, then it would follow that he can never know history. How can one have a valid methodology if it rules out that which actually happened?

It could be said “We know it didn’t happen because miracles don’t happen.” That is not an argument you know from history however. After all, there are numerous miracle claims in history. That is an argument built on a metaphysical approach. It gets even more problematic if you say miracles don’t happen today, despite miracle claims all over the world, also because of that prior metaphysical position. For such people, it would seem they themselves have to personally witness a miracle, and even then it is not sure if they would believe it or not.

If I examine the arguments against the possibility of miracles and find them lacking, as even an agnostic like Earman has, and I have independent reasons for believing in God, then I can be open to miracles. This does not mean that I ALWAYS go with a miraculous explanation.

For instance, I hold to miracles happening as well in a religious context. Suppose, as is claimed often in Keener, that there is someone with a serious illness and this person is approached by a Christian who prays in the name of Jesus, and then the sick person immediately recovers. Question. Is one justified in thinking a miracle has taken place? Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that it was really a non-miraculous event that just happened to happen then that is unknown to the healed person and the praying Christian. Does that mean that the belief it was a miracle is without justification?

Furthermore, I think a great danger is the often misunderstanding of what is meant by empirical. An online dictionary gives three definitions.

1.derived from or guided by experience or experiment.
2.depending upon experience or observation alone, without using scientific method or theory, especially as in medicine.
3.provable or verifiable by experience or experiment.

Note #2. Without using scientific method.

An article at Plato.stanford.edu defines empiricism this way:

The Empiricism Thesis: We have no source of knowledge in S or for the concepts we use in S other than sense experience.

Source here.

If empiricism is made synonymous with science, then we have some problems. It would be fair to say that most scientists are empiricists, but it does not follow that most empiricists are scientists. Aristotle was an empiricist, but he was not a scientist. Aquinas (And I am a Thomist after all) was an empiricist, but he was not a scientist. It’s worth pointing out that Bishop Berkeley was also an empiricist, and his empiricism led him to believe that matter does not really exist. Of course, I disagree with Berkeley, but the point is that one can be an empiricist and hold to suprahuman realities. For instance, one could suppose that all of Aquinas’s arguments fail, but all of them do start with sense experience. It’s important to note that for an empiricist, all knowledge begins with sense experience, but it does not mean that all we can have knowledge of will be detectable by the senses.

Finally, Avalos’s criticisms are in response to David Marshall. One can read Marshall’s writings on Avalos here.

Let’s move on.

Next, Peters states that he is open to miracles happening today and also exploring the miracles of other religions [1]. I am as well, so long as we can first investigate these miracles in the hard sciences. If we could confirm the existence of miracles under scientific observation, then that would change our background knowledge about the possibility of miracles occurring in the past, and thus would increase the prior probability for a miracle occurring in a past event

Is Ferguson really open? His own words say he will go with something that is more ad hoc with less supporting evidence if it avoids a miraculous explanation. Also, how exactly should the hard sciences investigate this kind of claim?

This is something my friend Cornell started responding to Ferguson about. After a short time, Ferguson decided to not let Cornell’s comments stand. That includes the start of this comment that can be shown Cornellposthere.

Strangely enough, when Cornell called Ferguson out on it, that got to stay up.

It is also interesting that Ferguson complains about what Cornell said about him, but in Ferguson’s own blog post to me, he criticizes me about reading comprehension six separate times.

I’m remembering something being said once about people in glass houses…

If anyone wants to see what Cornell was saying, they are free to go to my blog and read it in the comments section. That can be found here.

The problem is that if history is the study of the past and the past is not repeatable, then how is one to redo a miracle under scientific observation? If God acts to do a miracle, one cannot force Him to act again. It is true that science of course studies unrepeatable events all the time, but this is the study of what happened naturally. Science cannot answer yea or nay on the question of miracles or God. Science is great at telling you about the material world. There is nothing better at doing that. It is limited in that it can only tell you about the material world. What inferences you make from the scientific data is more philosophy.

Reading on with what Ferguson has we see that he says:

I explain this in my article History, Probability, and Miracles. The problem is that history relies on indirect observation and is a highly speculative method that must rely on probability. Science, in contrast, is a highly precise and rigorous method that can make conclusions with a much higher degree of certainty. Apologists point out that you can’t observe the past scientifically, which I agree with, but this does not divorce science from history and give history free reign to draw conclusions that would contradict our scientific knowledge. Instead, history operates as a secondary epistemology, where science provides for much of our background knowledge and prior probabilities when we investigate historical claims. When a historical claim contradicts what we know scientifically or what has not been confirmed scientifically, we can automatically be more skeptical of it.

Which gets us to the conclusion that if we do not use science, then anything goes. This is not only an appeal to consequences, but an empirically disprovable argument. How so? Just look around and see if any evangelical is saying “Any explanation goes.” Heck. Look and see if anyone is saying that.

Also, Ferguson says that an event cannot go against our scientific knowledge. I always find an argument like this amusing. I wish to ask some questions. Let’s suppose we are taking miracle claims in the NT as an example. How about this.

The NT claims that Mary gave birth as a virgin not having had sexual intercourse prior. Do we know better now with modern scientific knowledge? When was it demonstrated by science that virgins don’t give birth? Who did this experiment?

The NT claims that Jesus took a few loaves and fed 5,000 men not counting women and children. When was it demonstrated that bread doesn’t just naturally multiply at this rate on its own? Who did the test?

The NT claims that Jesus walked on water. When was it demonstrated by modern science that people don’t walk on water?

The NT claims that Jesus rose from the dead. When did science demonstrate that dead people naturally stay dead?

One final question we could ask is depending on when these experiments were done, why were our tax dollars wasted in this way?

No one would deny that we possess far more scientific knowledge than the ancients did, but while we may attribute scientific error to them, let us not attribute stupidity to them. They knew virgins don’t naturally give birth. They knew people don’t naturally walk on water. They knew bread doesn’t naturally multiply instantaneously. They knew dead people stay dead.

You don’t have to be a scientist to know these things. This is just rudimentary knowledge. In fact, the only way the ancients could speak about what was a miracle was that they had some idea of what happens when there is no outside interference. Does Ferguson really think the reason for skepticism today is we know more about science?

Ferguson also wishes to compare miracles to astrology. This comparison does not work. It does not follow that because one belief system is false that another one is. Astrology must be dealt with on its own criteria. So too must the claim of miracles. Miracles often have other knowledge involved, such as the existence of God, something that is not provable or disprovable by science and pointing to scientific testimony in this area is irrelevant. Being a good scientist does not make you a good philosopher any more than being a good philosopher would make you a good scientist. It is also why I’ve told those in ministry who have no scientific studies under their belt to stay out of science debates, and that includes myself. I will gladly discuss the philosophy and history of science, but I will not discuss science qua science.

Everyone applies probability when they assess claims that they cannot directly observe. I am pretty sure that if I told Mr. Peters “I had cereal for breakfast this morning” and then claimed “Later, a cartoon anvil apparated above my head, crushed me into a pancake, and then I popped back,” Mr. Peters would be skeptical of the latter claim and demand more evidence. I could merely complain (as Mr. Peters does about my skepticism) that his “worldview” is getting in the way, but I think we can all tell that Mr. Peters would have good reasons for being skeptical.

Indeed I would be, and as I have said I have no problem with skepticism! Yet if there could be provided good evidence for such a claim, then I would be willing to accept it. Again, I do not condemn skepticism. I condemn unreasonable skepticism. What reason has Ferguson given for his skepticism. Science? The ancients had just enough scientific knowledge as would anyone claiming a miracle today. Has Ferguson dealt with all theistic arguments that leads one to believe there is an agent that is capable of doing miracles?

Ferguson is fair where he states that I do know people who have been involved in occult practice and have no reason to discount their claims. He replies that:

Personally, I do not think that any instance of witchcraft, sorcery, fortune telling, magic, miracles, divine intervention, or wizardry has ever been reliably documented to occur. Accordingly, these events have a very, very low prior probability in my background knowledge.

Which is fine, but the question is why? Why must it be that ipso facto anyone making such a claim is either lying or mistaken? Perhaps Ferguson should talk to such people and hear their own accounts and seek to find natural explanations for all of them if he thinks it possible. I would instead think it more profitable to have a worldview where one is open to evidence and does not have to think everyone who says something contrary is either lying or delusional in some way, especially if some such people are quite rational persons in other areas of life and do not show any signs of being habitual liars or habitually delusional.

Quite fascinating is what Ferguson then says about Keener’s book “Miracles.”

Do we find scientifically documented cases of people walking on water in the book? Flying in the air and ascending to heaven? The Red Sea parting? A man feeding a whole crowd of people with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish? A man who is crucified, stabbed, and then brain-dead for three days rising from the dead? If Keener had demonstrated such things, then he would have no doubt been awarded with the Noble Prize in Medicine by now. These are what I will term “biblical-scale” miracles.

Instead we have a lot of cases of people healing under unlikely circumstances, dubious claims in regions of the world where there are high amounts of superstition and career miracle workers, and fortuitous events where people have good luck. I’m highly skeptical about whether Keener’s book even proves non-”biblical-scale” miracles, but we don’t need to go there. The point is that Keener does not provide reliably documented instances of “biblical-scale” miracles, and accordingly, his book does not change our background knowledge for such extraordinary events occurring.

This simply means that Ferguson does not accept the miracles provided because they’re not the miracles he wants. “Sure! You might have some resurrections from the dead (Which Keener does) in there, but there’s no parting of the Red Sea!” Note also that Ferguson also makes the same claim that Hume does. The accounts are to be discounted based on where the people come from. This is simply saying “I do not accept testimony from people who do not think like me.”

So what is the reasoning? Perhaps it is all coincidence when these happen, but how many times does coincidence have to happen to no longer be coincidental? What about medical documentation? As Keener says in his book, the catch-22 is that when it happens in a medical facility, it is often then assumed it must have been some medical practice we don’t know about.

Also, why assume these people are just superstitious? (And what does it mean to be that? Does it mean to hold to animism or just hold to a belief in God? Does belief in miracles mean one is superstitious?) Keener’s own wife and brother hold French PH.D.’s. (Should I mention one of those is in science?)

What Ferguson is doing is judging all the people in an area by the worst beliefs he can find in that area.

What do we often say about stereotyping a group of people like that today? Think about it.

Therefore, Ferguson is just all too quick to dismiss Keener. In fact, Ferguson in this does not deal with the claims themselves of Keener, but simply why he is skeptical of them. (Note in fact Keener has a whole chapter on dealing with Hume’s argument using sources from established philosophers) Again, is the evidence shaping Ferguson’s worldview, or is his worldview shaping his view of the evidence?

Also worth noting is that it’s the “Nobel” prize.

Ferguson goes on:

So now, after moving past Peters’ complaints about my introductory remarks, we can discuss the minimal facts apologetic. Peters starts off with a straw man. At the beginning of the article, I provide a word-for-word list of William Craig’s version of the minimal “facts.” Peters complains, “Right here, I can tell the study has not been done on this. Craig’s approach is not the minimal facts approach of Habermas.” I can tell from this that accurate reading comprehension has not been done. I explicitly state in the article, “This apologetic takes a variety of forms.” I was specifically refuting Craig’s version of the apologetic, because I consider it to be a stronger version of the apologetic than Habermas and Licona’s. Peters is complaining because I mention Habermas earlier in a parenthetical remark as an example of an apologist who makes this argument. But the article is specifically addressed towards Craig’s argument. Peters proceeds to critique my article as if it were an article about Habermas’ use of the argument, which causes him to miss key points in many places. Nevertheless, I have added a footnote refuting Habermas and Licona’s version of the apologetic as well, most of which already overlaps with the issues I address in the article.

Perhaps if Ferguson wanted to just critique Craig, he should have just critiqued Craig. Note that Habermas’s name is in fact listed first, which to the reader who does not know better, they will think it is being addressed. I also said I am not interested in defending Craig’s approach, so why should I be criticized for not defending an argument that I don’t hold to. Still, let’s look at what Ferguson says in the footnote:

First, the fact that Jesus was crucified:

“Fact” one is largely trivial. Jesus lived, so it makes sense that he had to die some way. Crucifixion wasn’t an uncommon form of execution, so there is nothing too improbable about the stories of his crucifixion. But nothing about this “fact” really proves anything about a magical resurrection.

Note the nice well poisoning by referring to the resurrection as magical. However, I find this extremely important to the argument since the death that Jesus went through entails one of great shame. Jesus was seen in his death as a traitor to Rome, a blasphemer to YHWH, or both! The shamefulness of his death speaks volumes if we realize it was an essential part of the early Christian apologetic and would have liked to have been avoided. Crucifixion may have been common, but was it common for street preachers in Israel to be crucified prior to the Jerusalem War?

Note the second fact of Habermas and Licona is: “2) his disciples believed he arose and appeared to them,”

Ferguson’s response?

This “fact” has largely been addressed in the third and fourth sections of this article. One thing to add is that Habermas and Licona frequently embellish the “persecution” that the disciples endured as an argument ad martyrdom for the resurrection. I have already discussed in this previous article how the stories about the disciples’ martyrdoms are primarily later legends full of historical improbabilities and clear fictional inventions. Candida Moss discusses this further in
The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom.

Note that fact 2 is just that the disciples claimed this. It is not that they were persecuted for this. Note what Ludemann says about the claim of appearances.

“The only thing that we can certainly say to be historical is that there were resurrection appearances in Galilee (and in Jerusalem) soon after Jesus’s death. These appearances cannot be denied” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” p. 81

Of course, we can even look at what Ferguson himself said in the original writing.

I don’t think any skeptic denies that the early Christians claimed to have experiences of Jesus risen from the dead.

Of course, Ferguson and Ludemann give different interpretations, but note that they do not disagree with the fact.

As for Candida Moss, I point people to the review of my ministry partner here.

Fact three is the conversion of Paul. Here is what Ferguson says:

The conversion of unlikely persons is a new argument, not covered by the “facts” above, but it brings very little to the table. I agree that it is unlikely that an early church persecutor like Paul would convert, but guess what, not many did. If Jesus had appeared to Pontius Pilate, Tiberius Caesar, and Caiaphas, and gotten all of them to convert, that may be a stronger case for a miracle. But if the later resurrection stories were purely a superstition, I would expect one or so former persecutors might later sympathize with the group and convert. This is the evidence that we do have. Furthermore, Paul’s conversion is really not that extraordinary. As discussed in the post, Paul shows signs of suffering from hallucinations (e.g. 2 Corinthians 12:2-4). If Paul were facing cognitive dissonance about persecuting a group that he gradually started to feel sympathy for, and then had a hallucination of their leader chastising him, it is not that hard to see how he might later have a conversion experience.

Note the fact is not denied! Instead, we have a cognitive dissonance of the gaps. I suggest that Ferguson should leave psychology to psychologists. It is hard enough to diagnose a patient that is sitting right across from someone. It is even more difficult to do so to someone from 2,000 years ago who we can’t talk to.

Ferguson states that Paul shows signs of suffering from hallucinations, but is this really the case? It is only if Ferguson’s argument that these things cannot happen is accurate, but then this is just begging the question. Also, the idea about feeling sympathy for the Christians is a modernistic approach that would not match with a work such as Malina and Neyrey’s “Portraits of Paul.”

Note also we have a cognitive dissonance of the gaps showing up here. Cognitive dissonance is an argument that is used to try to explain away any event like this. I have followed my own advice. Instead of looking to my own knowledge of cognitive dissonance, I went to an actual psychologist.

The idea of CD is that if a person performs a behavior that is not in keeping with their attitudes or values, a tension is felt. Naturally, one cannot undo the past, but one can change one’s attitude in order to relieve the tension. In the study done by Leon Festinger on this, there were three ways to reduce the tension.

#1 Change an aspect of the situation, namely an attitude.

#2 Add a new element to the mix. (“Well even though I lied, I probably wasn’t believed.”)

#3-Denying responsibility by saying one has no choice. (“I had to do it. It was my job.”)

Another suggestion given was that the person to reduce tension would lie to themselves and have it be a lie they believed. Problem with this one. Over 80 studies have been done on reducing CD. Not once has this been a response.

Thus, for CD to be at work, someone like Paul, and the rest of the disciples, would have to have convinced themselves of something they thought was untrue, that Jesus physically rose from the dead. The disciples in doing this would have to convince themselves Jesus rose from the dead, something that could have easily been shown to be false.

The study can be found here:

Leon Festinger and J. M. Carlsmith, “Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance,” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58, 203-211.

How about James’s conversion? Here’s what Ferguson says:

The conversion of Jesus’ brother James, the alleged “skeptic,” is even more problematic. The Gospels are not even consistent on whether the family of Jesus were sympathetic to his ministry. John 7:5 and Mark 3:21 have Jesus’ family not agree with his ministry. Luke 8:19-21, in contrast, rejects Mark’s earlier tradition and has the family be supportive of the ministry. Furthermore, unlike Paul, we do not have any writings of James (the epistle attributed to him was either written by another James or a forgery), so it is not even clear what James’ feelings were about Jesus prior to his death. Only the later Gospel hagiographies, written by unknown authors who did not witness the events, tell the story in conflicting ways. Even if James had originally been a skeptic, do we really need a miracle to explain a family member later becoming sympathetic with a new religious movement that had sprung up about his brother? This is very feeble evidence to try to prove something as improbable as a magical resurrection.

Again, note the language of magical resurrection. Ferguson apparently has catch phrases he likes to use, like reading comprehension. Mark has his family saying he was out of his mind. This is not likely something that would be made up. It would fit in as an embarrassing feature to be disbelieved by one’s own family. Luke is said to have the family be supportive of Jesus. What does Luke say?

19 Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”

21 He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”

There is nothing here about support. There is nothing here about condemnation. If we want to know what is more likely, we must look elsewhere. In fact, Ferguson points to what happened in Mark. What does Mark say?

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family[b] heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

Does anything in Luke contradict this? Could not his family in Luke be wanting to get Jesus because they thought he was out of his mind and being an embarrassment to them?

I see then no reason to accept Ferguson’s claim as the skepticism of James would not be something that the early church would invent.

And as for the claim about the tomb being empty:

The empty tomb is already addressed in sections one and two of this article. One thing to reiterate that is already discussed in my linked paper is that even if Paul believed in a “one body” view of the resurrection, which is highly disputable (see footnote 5 below), where Jesus’ burial place was technically empty, that does not mean that he claimed an empty tomb was discovered or was the basis for belief in the resurrection. If the discovery of an empty tomb were part of the basis of belief in the resurrection, it is unfathomable that Paul would not mention this in 1 Corinthians 15. Instead, Paul only discusses “appearances” of Jesus, which demonstrates that such appearances were the basis of early faith in the resurrection, not the discovery of an empty tomb. Accordingly, Paul does not provide pre-Markan corroboration of an opened tomb.

Licona’s word study on the nature of physical vs. spiritual has not been interacted with. It is interesting that Ferguson wants everything Carrier wrote to be responded to, but does not want to respond to leading evangelical scholars the same way. If we are to respond to Carrier, will he respond to Licona’s study the same way?

Furthermore, if Licona is right, and that has not been seriously contested, that the understanding would be physical, then we have physical appearances being claimed in 1 Corinthians 15. In fact, N.T. Wright on page 382 of The Resurrection of the Son of God commenting on 1 Cor. 9:1 says

The word heoraka, ‘I have seen’, is a normal word for ordinary sight. It does not imply that this was a subjective ‘vision’ or a private revelation; part of the point of it, as Newman stresses, is that it was a real seeing, not a ‘vision’ such as anyone in the church might have. The same is emphatically true of the other text from 1 Corinthians.

So let’s get back to Ferguson.

I point out in the article that Craig’s minimal facts require accepting a lot of the biblical stories at face value. Peters replies, “This is not the minimal facts argument. In fact, the minimal facts argument is done to AVOID such a statement. One can take a quite liberal approach to the Bible and still accept the minimal facts.” No, many liberal scholars reject Craig’s claim about Joseph of Arimathea and women discovering his empty tomb. What Peters has done in his straw man is conflate my statements with Habermas’ approach. Habermas’ approach is based on what more liberal scholars often accept, but even much of this information is dependent on the New Testament, as opposed to outside, disinterested secular sources. So the statement still largely applies. This does not mean that I dismiss the evidence right off the bat (I provide a whole article refuting it), but once more I am just contextualizing the issue for my readers.

No. What has been done is that Habermas’s approach has been straw manned. Habermas’s approach does not depend on the biblical stories at all. They are rooted in Paul of course, but why should we discount Paul? Ferguson says he wants to use secular disinterested sources. Why would a disinterested source write anything about something they were disinterested in? Does Ferguson expect people who don’t care about an event to write much about that event? He might as well expect me to write something about my interest in the Super Bowl. (To which he will only find me talking about watching commercials and when the game was on, reading my book.)

Note also you do not have to accept the NT as the Word of God or anything like that. All you have to do is accept that Paul was not lying in what he said and passing on honest tradition. You can say that tradition is entirely wrong, but you need some grounds upon which to say that.

Ferguson says:

I refute Craig’s first claim about Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb being found empty. Peters asserts that this is irrelevant, since it is allegedly not part of Habermas’ approach. But one of Habermas’ claims is about the empty tomb.

Peters states:

“Ferguson thinks that dispatching with the claim about Joseph of Arimathea’s burial of Jesus deals with the empty tomb. No. It would just mean one account of the burial was wrong. It would not mean that there was no burial and thus no empty tomb.”

Which would simply mean as I said that one can be free of Joseph of Arimathea and have an empty tomb still. My point stands still.

Ferguson has also said:

So “fact 1″ is not a fact at all. This does not mean that Jesus’ body had to stay up on the cross, but as Crossan (pg. 152) observes, “It is most probable that Jesus was buried by the same inimical forces that had crucified him and that on Easter Sunday morning those who knew the site did not care and those who cared did not know the site.” Thus, the discovery of an empty tomb is a literary myth that requires no circumstantial explanation from the historian.

So which is it? If they did not know the site, then it seems odd they would claim the tomb was empty. Surely the apostles who were great followers of Jesus would have familiarized themselves with where he was buried. Note also Ferguson says the discovery of an empty tomb was a literary myth. If he thinks the empty tomb is a myth, and this is because he dispenses with Joseph of Arimathea, in what way am I inaccurate? Or could it be that it’s Ferguson’s phrasing that is the problem. (Note, a number of critics of his article said he did not get Habermas’s approach correct.)

Going on we read:

First, Peters does not address Carrier’s hundred-plus page article, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond The Grave (pgs. 105-232) disputing whether Paul and the Jews of his days had universal, carbon copy beliefs about a physical “one body” view of the resurrection. Peters’ assumption that Paul would corroborate an “empty” tomb is simply based on a disputable interpretation of Paul’s theology about the resurrection. Paul never spells out that there was an “empty” tomb.

If we are to play this game, then I can say that nowhere in the article do we see a dealing with N.T. Wright’s book or Mike Licona’s book and on and on. Do we really want to play this game? Note that Ferguson makes a case about my using a disputable interpretation, as if all of Ferguson’s interpretations and all of Carrier’s interpretations for that matter are indisputable! No scholar has after all disputed Ferguson’s understanding of Galatians 1:15-16.

I could also ask if Ferguson has interacted with Dale Martin’s “The Corinthian Body.” On page 128 Martin says

Some commentators attempt to explain Paul’s concept of the resurrection by speaking of a nonmaterial or nonphysical pdoy, leading to the impossibly difficult concept of a “noncorporeal body.” The impossibility of the concept is clear when one tries to translate such language back into Greek and imagine how Paul could have conceived, in Greek, of a “nonbody body.”

Ferguson goes on to say:

Accordingly, Paul does not corroborate that an empty burial place was discovered and that this was a basis for belief in the resurrection. Instead, Paul records that later “appearances” were the basis for the resurrection. This, in my opinion, is much weaker evidence for a resurrection than the discovery of an empty tomb. If Jesus’ body were discovered not to be in its grave, the body could not be found, and later people had appearances of Jesus, this would be a stronger case for a bodily resurrection. This is why I specifically targeted Craig’s case in sections one and two of the article, in order to demonstrate that the stories about the “discovery” of an empty burial place are later legends.

Paul doesn’t because an empty tomb alone would not be enough. One has to know not only that the tomb was empty, but that there is reason to believe the occupant is up and on the move. That is where the appearances come in. Of course, the appearances by themselves help with this as the movement would not have been started if the body could be produced. Also, there is no reason the movement would be started if the disciples were still convinced Jesus’s body was still there. One would think that before making a public claim that would have them not only facing public shame but also being guilty of blasphemy before YHWH, they’d want to check all the facts they could.

Paul, even if Peters’ speculative interpretation were correct that he theologically believed that Jesus’ body was no longer physically in its burial place (wherever that happened to be), would not corroborate that anyone confirmed this by finding an empty burial place. Accordingly, by refuting Craig’s first and second “facts” the historian does not need to circumstantially explain how Jesus’ burial place was found empty or how a body was discovered to have gone missing. One need only to explain why Jesus’ followers later claimed to have experiences with him, who may have been unable to or not sought to confirm whether there was actually an empty burial place, regardless of whether they believed it was empty or not for theological reasons, which again is highly disputable.

It would be interesting to know how else such an event would be confirmed. If Ferguson could tell us, it would be much appreciated. Again, why would the disciples not want to check and make sure of their claims, especially due to the nature of the death that their Messiah died? Why would they go about the most unbelievable claim that they could, that a crucified Messiah was the basis for salvation for all and was King of the Universe, without checking that claim?

Let’s move on to hallucinations:

Peters next moves on to complain about my analysis of the post-mortem sightings of Jesus. He does not dispute that such post-mortem sightings are still common rumors today and even states, “I could grant some of them.” As someone who maintains that the post-mortem sightings of Elvis and Michael Jackson are nothing but rumors, I will just have to disagree on this. The reason I made this point is to show that the prior probability of rumors about post-mortem sightings is higher than the prior probability of an actual post-mortem interaction with someone. Accordingly, when assessing the post-mortem sightings of Jesus, there is a higher prior probability that these are just rumors, so it will take some pretty solid expected evidence to make actual post-mortem sightings more probable.

For one who claims problems with reading comprehension, I do not see why it would be hard to claim that some really do have appearances of Michael Jackson or Elvis. I do not dispute them because I am entirely open to individual hallucinations. I do not rule them out. We have to look at the state of mind that such people are in and see if there is any contradictory evidence.

To say that these are just rumors would be problematic. Paul’s own claim with mentioning the 500 is to say that they are open for interrogation, and if Meeks’s claim is true that Christianity had a sizable number coming from well-to-do people, then these would be the very people with the resources to check this claim, people with a high honor position in society who would not jeopardize it by buying into a shameful group like Christianity immediately.

Moving on Ferguson says:

Hence the problem is that we do not have the writings of a single eyewitness who knew Jesus during his or her lifetime (unlike many eyewitness accounts of post-mortem sighting today). The Gospels are later legendary accounts packed full of authorial inventions. Accordingly, we have very weak expected evidence that cannot overcome the low prior.

Which is irrelevant for Habermas’s and Licona’s minimal facts. As I have said, I am only interested in that of Habermas and Licona. Their claim can be established without the gospels. In fact, we do have a claim of an eyewitness who saw Jesus. Granted, not someone who knew him during his lifetime likely, but a claimant. Paul himself! This is confirmed by Wright’s statements in TRSOG. Ferguson does say that Paul is our best source, but as I showed earlier chooses to dismiss him as someone who has hallucinations.

Ferguson goes on to say about his comparison with Bro Cope Peters.

We can’t go back in time and see what Paul was like. Accordingly, I provide a modern example to illustrate the type of people who make claims about being raptured to heaven and having dead people appear to them. Paul claims (2 Cor. 12:2-4) to have been raptured to “third” heaven, just as Clarence claims to have been raptured to heaven twice. Clarence likewise claims that Jesus has physically appeared and that he has touched Jesus, which is much more clear than Paul’s vague descriptions about Jesus appearing to him. Do I trust Clarence? Of course not! The guy shows clear signs of mental illness. Furthermore, I did not claim that Paul or Clarence were schizophrenic, but said that they “appear” to be such or to experience some sort of other mental disorder. This needs to be taken into account when evaluating what they relate in their experiences.

The claim of their appearing to be schizophrenic rests on Ferguson’s worldview. These things can’t happen, therefore anyone who says otherwise must have some mental issue in some way. Of course, if they do not have one, but only appear to have one, then we could ask if perhaps an experience like Paul’s could be true. We do not see Cope as having any signs of serious education and we see him showing up in an individualistic society where such is more acceptable. Paul is just the opposite. Paul is no doubt a highly educated scholar of his time. He is in an agonistic society where he would face shame for his behavior, and he is putting his religious beliefs on the line for his claim.

As said, the problem is that the idea is just too ad hoc, Paul has to have a kind of CD that is not in line with the understanding of CD and there have to be hallucinations and not only that, collective hallucinations, which are even more outside of our background experience than miracles are.

Note also that Ferguson says that this could be explained as a heatstroke on the way to Damascus. If that is the case and Ferguson wants to accept that part of Acts, what does he do with the testimony in Acts 9:7 that those with Paul heard the voice but did not see anyone, or 22:9 where they saw the light but did not understand the voice, or in 26:14 where they all fall to the ground. Ferguson’s explanation must explain all of that as well, unless he just wants to beg the question by only accepting the data that is agreeable with his explanation. Yet doing such is just bad history.

As we go on:

Peters writes:

“Note that in 1 Cor. 15, this is not described as a vision but put alongside appearances to Peter, James, the twelve, and five hundred.”

Yes, that is precisely what I am noting. Paul uses the same visionary language to describe his experiences of Jesus as he uses to describe Jesus’ other followers’ experiences. The later accounts of them physically interacting with Jesus are only in the anonymous Gospels, which I demonstrate show a clear trail of legendary development getting them to that point.

Yet as Wright points out, this is not visionary language. This is language used of every day seeing and that it also applies here as well. For Ferguson’s hypothesis to work, everyone must be having hallucinations and the same type of hallucinations and then a large group of people must have had a collective hallucination, something not known to psychology.

Moving on:

For starters, I did explain the question of the body, if he had actually read the article. Second, I have written another article about how interpreting group hallucinations from 1 Corinthians 15 is an unlikely reading of the text, which even then can still be explained in natural terms. More importantly, Peters straw mans how I think the visionary experiences developed. I very clearly explain how the early visionary experiences could have been the result of cognitive dissonance. The death of Jesus could have caused his followers to seek new explanations for how he could still be the messiah. Some of them may expect his imminent return and start having a prior expectation that they would see Jesus. A few could have visions or hallucinations, relate the incident to others, and then give them a prior expectation for having similar experiences of Jesus. Soon, the idea could emerge that Jesus has been raised. This belief blossoms into a religion, legends develop over the course of half a century, and finally the anonymous author of Mark could make up a story about an empty tomb being discovered, the later author of Luke could write about how Jesus could teleport and how his disciples could not originally recognize what his resurrected form looked like, and, finally, the later author of John could claim that some of them physically touched Jesus. This is all far more probable than a supernatural miracle, and we have the type of evidence of legendary development that we would expect if it had occurred this way.

This is all very interesting, but what evidence do we have other than the belief that this is likely how it happened. Instead, we have a cognitive dissonance of the gaps. The disciples would all have to have a kind of unusual CD and to have hallucinations so powerful they convinced themselves of a lie and convinced others of it, including those who were well-to-do and had the means to examine the claim.

Furthermore, we have evidence that the church had already reached Rome by the time of Nero’s burning in Tacitus, which would before the writing of Mark for Ferguson. Apparently, the belief that Jesus was risen did not really need Mark’s gospel to be popular. Furthermore, what evidence have we that Mark was written to argue that Jesus was risen? These would be written for Christians who already accepted the basic testimony to inform them of the life of Jesus. Ferguson might think his account is more probable, but only if you accept his claim prior that any miracle could not be the answer.

Let’s move on to the word study aspect.

Peters does dispute my interpretation of the verb ὤφθη (“to be seen” or “to appear”) in the passage:

“Licona says about ὤφθη in its Pauline usage in “The Resurrection of Jesus” that there are 29 usages of it by Paul in the NT. 16 refer to physical sight, 12 have the meaning of behold, understand, etc. Only one refers to a vision. However, this is still a problem in that the creed is not Pauline language really but language Paul got from elsewhere.”

To begin with, I highly doubt that I would agree with Licona’s categorization of the verbs. But furthermore, this is the wrong way to approach the data. Consider the following sentence: “I met Jesus during my darkest hour in prison.” Now, in English the verb “meet” can take on a literal, physical connotation or can take on a figurative, symbolic connotation. Now, most of the time we use the verb we will use it in the literal sense. Does that mean that I should interpret it in a literal sense, simply because that is the more common usage, even when the context of the statement above suggests otherwise? Obviously not.

Ferguson highly doubts that he would accept Licona’s categorization. What is there to accept? Either the data is there or it isn’t and just saying “I’m skeptical” is not an argument. Ferguson wants to dismiss it by pointing to an English comparison. How about dealing with it instead based on the Pauline usage of it, the evidence that we do have?

In the case of ὁράω (“to see”) the verb very often has visionary connotations when used to describe people having experiences with celestial beings. Here is PDF documenting such visions of the god Aesculapius where the verb is used frequently. This is the context in which we have similar “appearances” and visions of a resurrected Jesus. Sure, ὁράω can more often mean other things in other circumstances, but the context is what is important. Peters even acknowledges that, if the creed is pre-Pauline, then it wouldn’t depend on Paul’s usage. Where does he go for context? Into the later Gospel of Luke, which is splicing the later legendary material with the earlier material, the very type of practice he claims to be avoiding in taking Habermas’ approach to the minimal facts.

The point is Luke understands revivification of a corpse. If Wright is right and this does not refer to a vision and if Martin is right and 1 Cor. 15 is about a physical body and not a spiritual one, then we have Paul describing the physical appearances of a physical body. One could say these people were all hallucinating, but what cannot be disputed is they were convinced of a physical body.

Furthermore, I also explain in the article, which Peters does not address, that even if the earliest Christians around Paul’s time believed in a physical resurrection, this new enhanced body is still able to appear in visions. This is made clear if, contrary to Habermas’ approach, we do splice the accounts of the later the Gospel authors, who clearly believed in a physical resurrection, but still describe the appearances in some of the following ways:

“Luke (24:31) has Jesus at first be unrecognizable to his followers and then teleport, John (20:19) has Jesus able to walk through walls, and Acts (10:9-13) has Jesus appear in visions from the sky. The point being is that even if the early Christians believed in a physical resurrection (which is debatable), Jesus’ enhanced resurrected body was still able to appear through visions, phantoms, and revelation. Accordingly, all of the early post-mortem sightings of Jesus can be explained in terms of hallucinations and visions. No eye-witness account survives of someone claiming to see or touch a physical Jesus. These stories come from later legendary narratives, such as the anonymous Gospels.”

Once again, this is all assuming that these are visions because this falls outside of our ordinary experience. The assumption is that if Jesus resurrected in a new and glorified body, He would not be able to do these things. It would be interesting to know how Ferguson establishes such. More interesting is his claim of Acts 10:9-13 as Jesus appearing in the sky. Acts 10 says nothing about that. It simply has Peter responding to a voice. Whether that voice has a physical accompaniment or not is not stated in the text. Furthermore, if Paul’s testimony in 1 Cor. 15 is accurate, we do in fact have such eyewitness testimony. Also, if Ferguson wanted to interact with the gospels, perhaps he should also deal with Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.”

Peters next claim is riddled with problems:

“These could have been hallucinations? Okay. I need to see evidence of that. Why would the apostles have come up with this? It would have been the most easily disprovable theory and ended up costing them everything, especially in the society of the time where they would have received ostracism and of course, be going against the covenant of YHWH which means they would face His judgment. Paul himself would be in no position to have such an experience. He was a persecutor of the church and the conversion accounts in Acts include objective phenomena which means that this was not something that just took place in Paul’s mind.”

The evidence is that hallucinations are far more probable than an actual resurrection and Paul is even using visionary vocabulary. Again, Peters is being sloppy in splicing Paul’s own account with Acts. The apostles came up with this because they were facing cognitive dissonance about how Jesus could still be the messiah. Peters’ notion that people would seek to “disprove” this fringe religious movement is ridiculous. The early Christians were a small, insignificant cult in an ancient world rife with other religions and superstitions. There were no investigative reporters going around trying to refute this stuff. In very rare instances, someone like Lucian of Samosata would write a polemic against a new religion, but this was very rare and we have no reason to expect that someone would do it for Christianity.

I find it quite amusing that Wikipedia is the source for Lucian of Samosata. (One of the rare times Wiki has ever been linked to on this blog.) The counter-evidence is Wright’s study of the Greek usage in 1 Cor. 9:1 and the fact that Ferguson is still saying hallucinations are more likely. Ferguson has already stated he will go with another explanation with less evidence in order to avoid a miraculous one. Keep in mind at the same time, he wants to avoid “bias.”

Note also I said that this would be the most disprovable hypothesis. Whether or not someone would try to dispute it, one would not want to start a religion on a claim that most anyone could have disproven by going to the tomb and especially in the very city where the Messiah was put to death. Also, why go with a bodily resurrection, especially if this movement was going to Gentiles who would care nothing about a bodily resurrection? Again, the disciples, if they wanted to convince everyone their Lord was the Messiah, chose the most impossible way to go about doing it and really, had nothing to gain from it.

As for the notion of ostracism and persecution, I demonstrate how the martyrdoms of the disciples are largely legendary in a previous article (the article includes discussion of how James’ death may not be corroborated by Josephus, since his reference could be to Jesus and James, the sons of Damneus). Furthermore, I encourage people to read Candida Moss’ The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom in order to see how the supposed persecution of the disciples is largely exaggerated. Likewise, just because there might have been ostracism of the early Christians does not overcome the low probability of a resurrection happening.

We’ve already got a reply up to Moss, but does Ferguson really want us to think that the Jesus in the Josephus passage is one of the sons of Damneus? As I have said elsewhere:

“First off, this case involves identification by the brother instead of by the father, which means James must have had a very well-known brother. Second, this Jesus is said to be the so-called Christ, not something that would be interpolated by a Christian. Third, there is no reference to the other Jesus being called Christ anywhere that I know of or having a brother named James that was executed by Herod.”

Note also that Ferguson is looking at ostracism and tying that in with martyrdom. My claim is about ostracism. Christianity would be a belief that brought about shame in society and the only reason to accept it was one was convinced that it was true. Of course there were some persecutions later on that did involve martyrdom. This was not a continuous event, but one that happened from time to time. Yet for most people, death was not what they feared the most. It was shame.

Regarding the fourth section, Peters writes:

“Ferguson is writing against the idea that Christians would have a crucified messiah as their savior. To be sure, there were new beliefs floating around. How having a more radical belief is more probable than a resurrection has not been shown. The term magical is just a bit of well poisoning on Ferguson’s part. Magic in the ancient world does not correspond to what we have in the resurrection.”

Obviously I meant magic as a synonym for “supernatural.” Peters is just nit picking at this point. Also, yes, a new religion springing up is far more probable than the laws of physics being violated and a three day brain-dead human rising from the dead.

Magic is not a synonym for supernatural. Ferguson can call it nitpicking. I call it well-poisoning. Note also that he speaks about the laws of physics being violated (As if ancients didn’t know that dead people stay dead. We don’t need modern physics to tell us that.) Yet why say they are a violation of the laws of nature. As Cornell says, someone Ferguson refused to interact with:

Ferguson says “I provide a definition of what I would consider to be a miracle in another blog, just search “miracle”:
http://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/defining-theism-atheism-supernaturalism-and-naturalism/
One main criterion is that miracles involve agency or intention, which nature does not exhibit. So they would not just be categorized under nature. “

Me: Your link defines miracle as “Miracles are events caused by supernatural agencies that supersede the capabilities of non-teleological natural forces and agents derived from non-teleological natural forces.”

It looks like we are in the same ballpark, I only asked this because IMO finding the right definition is where philosophers come into conflict, and I believe this right here can make or break a debate, only because of the potential strawmen that come about afterwards. The Latin miraculum, which is derived from mirari, is defined as “to wonder” thus the most general characterization of a miracle is as an event that provokes wonder.

Augustine (City of God XXI.8.2) defined miracles as: “that a miracle is not contrary to nature, but only to our knowledge of nature; miracles are made possible by hidden potentialities in nature that are placed there by God.

Thomas Aquinas ( Summa Contra Gentiles III:101) defined miracles as: “a miracle must go beyond the order usually observed in nature, though he insisted that a miracle is not contrary to nature in any absolute sense, since it is in the nature of all created things to be responsive to God’s will.

Source: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, miracle section:

David Hume stated miracles as: ““A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.”

David Hume – ‘An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding’ L. A. Selby Bigge, ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902), pp. 114

My definition of ‘miracle’ comes from the Cambridge Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (2008):

“An event (ultimately) caused by God that cannot be accounted for by the natural powers of natural substances alone. Conceived of this way, miracles don’t violate the laws of nature but rather involve the occurrence of events which cannot be explained by the powers of nature alone. When dead bodies come back to life it is a miracle because the molecules that make up the corpse lack the powers necessary to generate life.”

^This definition is very similar to the one used by Thomas Aquinas and G.W Leibniz.

Ferguson in his earlier post said:

“But belief in the resurrection need not even be unlikely. Kris Komarnitksy has written an excellent article about how “Cognitive Dissonance Theory” can explain the early Christian belief in the resurrection. This theory observes that among religious groups and cults, when something occurs that violates the adherents’ previous expectations and beliefs, rather than abandon their cherished religious beliefs, they instead invent new and radical ad hoc assumptions to rationalize the alarming information. Just look at liberal Christians today who are “evolution-friendly” and think that Christianity is compatible with Darwin’s theory, after thousands of years of Christianity teaching Six Day Creation and a century and a half of Christians battling evolutionary science. Rather than drop their warm and comforting beliefs about their religion, they merely invent new stories to explain away how utterly discredited it has been.”

And in this post looking at what I said says:

Peters next makes a trivial objection to an off-handed remark I made about cognitive dissonance, where I discuss how certain Christians who are forced to accept evolution from evidence, rather than abandon their belief in the Bible, which has a very different story in Genesis, will simply make ad hoc assumptions to avoid having to abandon their faith. This was just an example of how cognitive dissonance reduction works. Peters writes:

“Why should I be held accountable for what Christians did for a century and a half. I am not a theistic evolutionist, but I have no problem with evolution. I just leave it to the sciences. I could not argue for it. I could not argue against it.”

Obviously he is not even grasping the point of the example, and instead just saw the word “evolution” and started chasing an off-handed remark. This is the sort of tangential and scattered thinking that mires Peters’ analysis.

Yes. Scattered thinking. People who live in glass houses again…

My point is entirely valid. Ferguson gives the appearance that if a Christian today is doing this, it is a kind of CD. (Again, the CD of the gaps!) My reply is that there were Christians back then who were arguing against evolution. There were also Christians who weren’t. One can consider Charles Kingsley or Asa Gray for instance. It seems that Ferguson has an idea of all-or-nothing interpretation depending on a wooden literalism.

Again, Ferguson is free to argue CD all he wants to and if he wants to present counter-claims for my source in psychology, I will happily pass them on.

Cognitive dissonance would be more likely to be the case here than a supernatural resurrection and the circumstances of rationalizing how Jesus could still be the Messiah explain this. Peters did not even read or address the example I provided of Sabbatai Zevi, where the messianic figure did much worse then die, but even converted to Islam! This would be much more damaging for a Jewish religious movement and yet the movement persisted through cognitive dissonance reduction. It is not clear that the early Christians believed in a physical resurrection, which Peters continues to speculate. I explain Paul’s and James’ conversions above. Again, everything has a more probable natural explanation.

I am already familiar with Zevi. (Apologies again for the Wikipedia link being necessary apparently.) The problem with Zevi is that after his conversion to Islam, the movement died out. For Christianity, it was just the opposite! It was after the event that should have killed Christianity that Christianity shot off! Some followers of Zevi tried to hold on after the aversive event, but nowhere near what was before. In Christianity, it was after the event that the movement started which does not follow with CD. CD would result in fewer people believing in the long run rather than more.

But hey, CD of the gaps. What can you say?

That about sums up Peters’ complaints. The last bit is Peters parroting the typical apologetic slogan that skeptics only don’t believe in the resurrection because of their “worldview.” He ends his article with “In Christ.” Does Peter not realize that his worldview is playing a role as well? I’m open to the possibility of miracles, but the minimal facts evidence does not measure up. Every one of the alleged circumstances can be explained in more probable natural terms. Accordingly, Christianity looks no different to me than any other religion on the planet, all of which I think are nothing more than naturally explicable superstitions.

Yeah. I do. That’s why I openly admit in my article that I have a bias. Ferguson says he is open to the possibility of miracles, but we see no real evidence of that. He has already said he will go with another explanation that is more ad hoc and with less evidence. Is this also an implicit admission that there is some evidence that could justifiably lead someone to conclude that a miracle had occurred? If that is the case and that is based on historical data, then have we not done what Ferguson has said? If not, then why say he is wiling to go with a belief with less evidence? How can there be less evidence than no evidence?

I conclude in the end that Ferguson has built his work on scholarship that is not acceptable in most circles, such as Carrier and MacDonald, and will go with any evidence rather than a miracle. I also conclude that he is not open to being disproven due to his inability to interact with a comment on his own blog. Once again, I leave my offer for Ferguson to come to TheologyWeb to the Deeper Waters section if he wishes to debate this back and forth.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Defense of the Minimal Facts

July 10, 2013

Have the minimal facts been knocked down? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I was recently sent an article by Matthew Ferguson of Adversus Apologetica where he attempts to knock down the minimal facts approach. Looking through the article, I am largely unimpressed. For those interested, it can be found here.

The minimal facts approach is the one offered by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona. The idea is to take facts that even liberal scholarship will acknowledge that are attested to early and argue from there that the best conclusion that can be reached from what we know is that Jesus rose from the dead.

Much of this is done to avoid going to the gospels. As Habermas has said in many talks, the gospels are by liberal standards 40-70 years afterwards. You can go that route, but it’s much more difficult. It’s also done this way to just avoid “The Bible says it happened, therefore it did,” approach, as Habermas and Licona take facts that have been held by non-Christian scholars in the field.

So looking at Ferguson, I have a problem right off with this sentence.

“When investigating virtually every other past event outside of the origins of Christianity, historians operate under the principle of methodological naturalism.”

He goes on to say that

“If they did not responsibly limit the historical method to a purely secular epistemology, as I have discussed before, supernatural events such as witchcraft at Salem in the late 17th century would be fair game for being considered “historical” and we would have far greater evidence to support such miracles than the resurrection of Jesus. We can all see the absurdity of the former example and yet apologists (who exercise the same skepticism towards supernatural events outside of their religion) consider it an unfair bias to bracket Jesus’ resurrection as a religious, rather than historical, matter.”

Actually, no. I don’t see the absurdity of the former. I happen to know people who have been involved in the occult and have no reason to discount a number of claims that I hear from them. Also, even if we had greater evidence for Salem, so what? That means the evidence for the resurrection is not reliable? Does any historical claim become false if we have more evidence for another claim along the same lines? If we have more evidence for Hitler, does that mean that Napoleon is a myth? If we have more evidence for Napoleon, does that mean Alexander the Great is a myth?

Ferguson also has this idea that we’re all anathema to miracles in other religions. Licona himself asked me about this once in discussing miracles and said “What about miracles outside of Christianity like Apollonius and Vespasian?” My reply was “What about them?” If these people did miracles, so what. Questions need to be asked.

“Is there any particular religious message that is to be conveyed if the miracle is true?”
“What is the evidence for the claim?”
“Who reports the claim?”
“How close to the time is it?”

Personally, I would in fact welcome a strong case for Vespasian or Apollonius doing miracles. Why? Because doing miracles is not anathema to my worldview but is so to a worldview that is rooted in naturalistic thinking. That just opens up even more the possibility that Jesus rose from the dead since we can say “We have clear evidence of a miracle in this case. Why not the other?”

Of course, there is also the fact that Craig Keener has written a massive tour de force demonstrating miracle claims going on today. These have eyewitness testimony and have often medical reports backing them. In the volume, Keener also includes numerous arguments against the position of Hume.

So if we have miracle claims going on today, why should we ipso facto disregard all of them? Let’s open them up. While most atheists tell me about how we shouldn’t let bias deal with the data, if any side will have bias here, it will be the atheistic side. If all of Keener’s miracles were shown to be false I’d think it was a shame, but it would not disprove either his argument against Hume or the resurrection of Jesus. If just one of the hundreds of miracles Keener writes about is an accurate account, then atheism needs to come up with a better explanation.

So at the start, I do not see a good reason to accept methodological naturalism. When I look at history, I want to know what really happened and I cannot do that if I rule out explanations that I disagree with right at the start. If a miraculous event happened in history, the only way we can know that is if we allow ourselves to be open to it, and if we are not open to it when a miracle had in fact occurred, then we can never know true history.

Ferguson goes on to say

“I have, on the other hand, met several apologists who converted for personal reasons and later sought rational and evidential justifications when they were trying to convert other people who do not share such personal experience.”

Of course, some people come to Christianity for various reasons and then when looking into their belief system, find there are rational reasons for believing it. There are many of us who would prefer that apologists not use personal experience as an argument. I cringe every time Bill Craig uses his fifth way for instance. It’s way too much like Mormonism.

On the other hand, there are some people who start out critical and investigate the evidence and come away Christians. Lee Strobel, J. Warner Wallace, and Frank Morison come to mind. What really matters is the evidence that each side presents. If one comes to Christianity first and finds the reasons later, they cannot help that. Their arguments should not be discounted for that reason.

Going on we are told

“Such apologists, seeking to hijack the field of ancient history, are desperate to slap the label “historical” onto the resurrection. This goal is derived in no sense whatsoever from legitimate academic concerns, but instead is one born purely out of the desire to evangelize. Once Jesus’ resurrection is considered “historical,” you just have to accept it and apologists can cram their religion down people’s throats. It was to avoid such non-academic agendas that historians bracketed such religious questions in the first place. I myself was originally content with letting the resurrection be a religious, rather than historical question, but apologists have fired the first shot in attempting to invade the field of ancient history. Since they are now targeting a lay audience with a variety of oversimplified slogans aimed at converting the public rather than seriously engaging historical issues, my duty here on Κέλσος is to correct their misconceptions.”

It is a wonder how Ferguson has this great insight into the mind of everyone who has written on the resurrection from an evangelical perspective. I, for instance, have no desire to shove religion down someone’s throat. Do I wish to share my view? Of course! Who doesn’t? Can I force someone to accept the resurrection? Not at all! I can present the evidence that I see and let them decide and if they disagree, let them disagree with me on historical grounds.

When one considers the last sentence, I hope that Ferguson in turn is going after the new atheists who are targeting the lay audience with simplified slogans and even worse, not doing real research into philosophy and theology at all! This is evidenced by P.Z. Myers’s “Courtier’s Reply.”

Furthermore, I do not see how he could look at a work like Licona’s “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach” which is actually Licona’s PH.D. with a few updates and say that that it has oversimplified slogans and does not seriously engage historical issues. Could he say the same about a work like N.T. Wright’s “The Resurrection of the Son of God”?

To be fair, I will not dispute that there is much out there that is garbage. There are works by Christian apologists that I myself have taken to task for being so light and fluffy. One such work even had Wikipedia cited in the back.

Moving on we read

“One such slogan is the so-called “minimal facts” apologetic, spawned by the likes of Gary Habermas and William Craig.”

Right here, I can tell the study has not been done on this. Craig’s approach is not the minimal facts approach of Habermas. In fact, Habermas himself says that some of Craig’s material are not facts that he would use. Craig’s material relies on the gospels. Habermas’s (And Licona’s in turn) does not. Thus, I will be spending this work defending the real minimal facts approach. If something is not part of the minimal facts, I will not waste time with it.

Ferguson continues,

“This “minimal facts” apologetic attempts to provide a minimal case for believing in just one of Jesus’ miracles: the resurrection. First, I find it to be completely disingenuous for apologists to pretend that they are trying to convince you of “only one” miracle. What if I believed in the resurrection, but thought Jesus did it through sorcery or simply left open-ended the question of its religious significance?”

That’s fine. Go ahead. Habermas has even said in public talks that at the start, he’s not saying God raised Jesus from the dead. He’s saying that Jesus rose. You come up with your explanation. You want to say it was sorcery. Fine. Say it was sorcery. Just give a reason why you think it was and why you think my explanation that it was God who raised Him is lacking. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?

“Apologists would not accept this and would obviously want to convince me that Elohim had raised their Messiah. What apologists don’t tell you is that in the fine print of the “minimal facts” apologetic there is a clause stating that by accepting the free trial of the resurrection miracle, you are signing yourself up for a lifetime subscription to a fundamentalist, conservative Christian worldview.”

No you’re not. There. An assertion made without an argument can be dismissed just the same way. All you have to do is get that Jesus rose. Don’t want to believe the Bible is Inerrant? Sure. Go ahead. There are some Christian scholars who hold to the bodily resurrection and don’t think the Bible is inerrant. Want to believe in theistic evolution? Sure. Go ahead. There are some like that as well. There are Christians of all stripes who believe Jesus rose from the dead and do not hold to a “conservative and fundamentalist approach.”

Besides, if a fear of accepting such an approach is behind Ferguson, then could it not be said that his worldview is shaping his looking at the evidence instead of the other way around?

“But furthermore, the “minimal facts” apologetic is not rooted in facts to begin with, and when stated honestly boils down to the argument: “If you accept the Bible as factual, how can you deny the fact of Jesus’ resurrection?”

This is not the minimal facts argument. In fact, the minimal facts argument is done to AVOID such a statement. One can take a quite liberal approach to the Bible and still accept the minimal facts. This is simply a straw man on Fergusons’s part. Of course, if the facts are wrong, then they are wrong and that is problematic, but we will see if they are.

“This apologetic takes a variety of forms, but is most commonly represented in the following manner. Apologists claim that there are “four facts” about Jesus’ resurrection:

After his crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb.
On the Sunday after the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers.
On different occasions and under various circumstances different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.
The original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary.”

This is Craig’s list. It is not the approach of Habermas and Licona. For instance, Habermas and Licona do not use Joseph of Arimathea at all. In fact, they don’t even get to the gospels. Therefore, I will not be wasting my time dealing with any arguments concerning Joseph or the reliability of the gospels or anything along those lines.

“Apologists love to use the term “facts,” so that these issues are treated as non-negotiable [1]. Of course, where do we learn of the details of these “facts”? From ancient secular sources disinterested in proving a resurrection? Nope, from the New Testament, in the works of authors who had a religious agenda to spread belief in Jesus’ resurrection. I won’t dismiss the argument on the grounds of bias alone, however, and will further demonstrate how the first two “facts” are not facts at all, the third is poorly worded, and the fourth exaggerates and oversimplifies the early belief in the resurrection.”

The NT which is also in fact said to be the best source for the life of Jesus, even according to skeptics like Bart Ehrman. An exception to this could be found perhaps in John Dominic Crossan who uses sources like the Gospel of Peter and the Gospel of Thomas or in other scholars in the Jesus Seminar who give much weight to Q, which would in reality be found in the NT anyway, but even these would not dispute that the NT contains historical information.

Also, did these people have a bias? Yep. You bet. So did everyone else who wrote anything historical. There was no such thing as uninterested historical writing. Writing was not done just because someone wanted to write something. Ferguson writes about this because he cares about it. I write in response because I care about the topic.

Ferguson also says the first is not a fact. Again, so what? Even if it isn’t, the minimal facts approach is untouched. He also says the second is not a fact, which is interesting as well since this is the one minimal fact that Habermas himself says is not as well attested as the others. What about the third and fourth? Well we’ll see when we get there.

So let’s move on to the empty tomb. Ferguson thinks that dispatching with the claim about Joseph of Arimathea’s burial of Jesus deals with the empty tomb. No. It would just mean one account of the burial was wrong. It would not mean that there was no burial and thus no empty tomb.

Ferguson writes about the women being at the tomb and how the argument is they were not allowed to testify in a court of law and due to the criterion of embarrassment, the gospel writers would not make up such an account. The problem is that this is irrelevant to the minimal facts approach. The minimal facts approach does not deal with women coming to the tomb. It simply deals with the reality of the tomb. We could come here for extra evidence if need be, but it is not necessary.

Therefore, after giving an explanation for why he thinks the writers would use women based largely on MacDonald’s thesis of Mark basing his work on Homer, Ferguson thinks he’s disproven the empty tomb. Not at all. The basis for the empty tomb in the minimal facts approach is 1 Cor. 15. There, we find that Christ was buried and that Christ was raised. The raising would mean that there was an empty tomb left behind. A Jew would not accept the fact of a resurrection that left behind a body. Resurrection was bodily.

So therefore, I do not see fact two dealt with according to the methodology of the minimal facts approach. Let’s look at what he says about point three, the appearances.

““Fact three” of this apologetic is poorly worded, but this one does have a kernel of historical truth. I don’t think any skeptic denies that the early Christians claimed to have experiences of Jesus risen from the dead.”

Ferguson claims that we have such stories today and there were claims of post-mortem appearances in the ancient world. Fair enough. In fact, I could grant some of them, but do we have any claims of other people in the ancient world being raised to life, especially in the Greco-Roman culture where they were clear that resurrection did not happen?

Ferguson goes on to say that

“Do we have anything better? Well, we do have the apostle Paul, who wasn’t an eye-witness of Jesus, but who claims to have had a vision of him. Paul (2 Corinthians 12:2-4) elsewhere claims that he was once raptured up to “third heaven” in a experience that is very similar to the ones told by crazed street preacher, Clarence “Bro” Cope, who likewise claims to have been raptured to heaven twice and to have had Jesus appear to him. Are we to trust the testimony of people who for all purposes appear to be schizophrenic?”

It is hardly a fair comparison to compare Paul to Clarence “Bro” Cope, and the link that Ferguson has is in a post loaded with argument from outrage. Even if this had been a hallucination on Paul’s part, that does not equate to him being schizophrenic. Ferguson should leave such psychological judgments to those who do study history.

Should we trust Paul as well? NT critics seem to think so! Paul is quite well accepted. I don’t know any NT scholar who looks at what Paul says and says “Paul was crazy! Therefore we don’t need to deal with what he says.” Paul shows himself to be a learned man, a scholar of his day, and someone we should take seriously. Is Ferguson also allowing his bias (What he condemns in others) to interpret the facts to say that this did not happen? Note that in 1 Cor. 15, this is not described as a vision but put alongside appearances to Peter, James, the twelve, and five hundred.

What Ferguson wants us to think then is that all these people conveniently had the same hallucinations, that a rare event like a mass hallucination (Something Licona and Habermas have both dealt with) happened (It can even be disputed that one has happened), that it was a resurrection they thought they saw and that they did not instead see Jesus in Abraham’s bosom vindicated, and this still would not answer the question of where the body was anyway!

Ferguson continues,

“Paul’s testimony is useful, however, since Paul is writing only a couple decades after Jesus and he claims to have known Peter and other eye-witnesses of Jesus. What does Paul relate in 1 Corinthians 15? Nothing about an empty tomb being discovered by women. It is not even clear that Paul believed Jesus had physically resurrected in the same body rather than a spiritual one [4]. Paul instead reports that Jesus ὤφθη (“appeared to him”). This is the passive form of the verb ὁράω (“to see”), which very often means “to be seen in visions.”

To begin with, even Dale Martin in “The Corinthian Body” argues that the body Paul speaks of was physical. The idea that spiritual was opposed to physical was put to the test best by Licona who examined the word translated as physical by translations such as the RSV. He looked at every instance of the word from the 8th century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D. Not once was it translated “physical.” Spiritual would in fact mean something along the lines of “animated by the spirit.”

Furthermore, Licona says about ὤφθη in its Pauline usage in “The Resurrection of Jesus” that there are 29 usages of it by Paul in the NT. 16 refer to physical sight, 12 have the meaning of behold, understand, etc. Only one refers to a vision. However, this is still a problem in that the creed is not Pauline language really but language Paul got from elsewhere.

Where can we go to see? We can consider Luke. Luke uses the word to describe Jesus’s body appearing and Jesus eating food. One could say that this did not happen, but Luke believes that it did and Luke believes in a bodily resurrection. He uses the language of something that can be seen with the eyes. If Paul also agrees that resurrection is what happens to a corpse, then it’s reasonable to say that he thinks these appearances were of a body that had been a corpse and resurrected and thus, physical. One can say Paul is wrong, but let us be clear on what he means.

“Paul, who describes his own visions of Jesus in no physical terms at all (e.g. Galatians 1:15-16) likewise uses the same vocabulary to describe the early disciples’ visions of Jesus. Accordingly, the early post-mortem sightings of Jesus could have been little more than hallucinations and visionary experiences, perfectly explicable in natural terms. This would not at all be surprising for an early apocalyptic cult, in light of of the psychological conditions we observe of cult members today.”

The translation of Galatians 1 this way might be appealing to some in the Carrier type school of thought, but it is problematic still. For one thing, the wording in Galatians is highly ambiguous and most likely will be driven by one’s view of the resurrection. It is not wise to build a case on an ambiguous passage.

These could have been hallucinations? Okay. I need to see evidence of that. Why would the apostles have come up with this? It would have been the most easily disprovable theory and ended up costing them everything, especially in the society of the time where they would have received ostracism and of course, be going against the covenant of YHWH which means they would face His judgment. Paul himself would be in no position to have such an experience. He was a persecutor of the church and the conversion accounts in Acts include objective phenomena which means that this was not something that just took place in Paul’s mind.

It will not work to just say “This case is a cult that has hallucinations, therefore another case is like that.” We need to examine what makes the groups different. In Christianity, the differences are vast in comparison to other movements.

“Stories, of course, change over time, which is why the later Gospel accounts describe the post-mortem appearances in more physical terms. Consider a diachronic analaysis of how the resurrection stories developed over time:

Paul, the earliest source, has no empty tomb and just “appearances” of Jesus.
Mark, half a century later, then has an empty tomb.
Matthew, after him, then has guards at the tomb to confirm it was empty.
Luke then has a Jesus who can teleport and is at first not recognizable to his followers.
Finally, John has Thomas be able to touch Jesus’ wounds.
If you go later into the Gospel of Peter, Jesus emerges as a giant from the tomb with giant angels accompanying him.”

As has been argued earlier, for Paul to have buried and then resurrection would mean that there was an empty tomb left behind. If that is the case, one could then say Mark downplayed what happened with Paul as he left out the appearances! Furthermore, a writer like Hurtado has written showing the earliest view of Jesus would have been him seen as the Lord. Hard to go up from that one!

Now we move on to the fourth fact.

“First off, the ancient Jews and the people around the wider Mediterranean did not have carbon copy beliefs. There were all sorts of strange religions and new beliefs floating around the region at the time. Often times new religions are started by deviating from previous expectations towards new and radical ones. This certainly has a higher probability for explaining the origins of Christianity than a magical resurrection.”

Ferguson is writing against the idea that Christians would have a crucified messiah as their savior. To be sure, there were new beliefs floating around. How having a more radical belief is more probable than a resurrection has not been shown. The term magical is just a bit of well poisoning on Ferguson’s part. Magic in the ancient world does not correspond to what we have in the resurrection.

“But belief in the resurrection need not even be unlikely. Kris Komarnitksy has written an excellent article about how “Cognitive Dissonance Theory” can explain the early Christian belief in the resurrection. This theory observes that among religious groups and cults, when something occurs that violates the adherents’ previous expectations and beliefs, rather than abandon their cherished religious beliefs, they instead invent new and radical ad hoc assumptions to rationalize the alarming information. Just look at liberal Christians today who are “evolution-friendly” and think that Christianity is compatible with Darwin’s theory, after thousands of years of Christianity teaching Six Day Creation and a century and a half of Christians battling evolutionary science. Rather than drop their warm and comforting beliefs about their religion, they merely invent new stories to explain away how utterly discredited it has been.”

Let’s look at the first part. Why should I be held accountable for what Christians did for a century and a half. I am not a theistic evolutionist, but I have no problem with evolution. I just leave it to the sciences. I could not argue for it. I could not argue against it. Furthermore, Ferguson does not realize that there have been a wide variety of accounts of the age of the Earth in church history. This was the case even before the rise of the information we have today.

In fact, if this is what counts for a liberal Christian, then Ferguson has discounted his own theory that believing in the minimal facts requires you be a conservative fundamentalist since I believe in the minimal facts and I have no problem with evolution and hold to an old Earth.

Cognitive dissonance does occur, but should I think it has here? In every single case in ancient history that I know of, when the would-be Messiah died, the movement died. Why was Jesus’s case different? Why again did they go the hard way with a physical resurrection? Why not just divine vindication? Why would Paul and James have converted? Paul was a persecutor. James was a skeptic. What would it take to make you convinced your dead brother was really the Messiah?

“So the early Christians, when their Messiah was crucified, instead of abandoning their faith, rationalized the story through ad hoc assumptions. “Perhaps Jesus had only temporarily died!” “Maybe he will return soon from Heaven and avenge his death!” Such rationalizations could have easily triggered some of the mentally unstable cult members to start having hallucinations and visionary experiences of Jesus. They could tell others, who would then have a prior expectation that triggers similar visions or who would simply delude themselves through placebo effects, and suddenly a new rumor starts circulating that Jesus has been raised from the dead as the “first fruits of the resurrection.” The cult regains its confidence with a new expectation: “Soon all the saints will resurrect!” “Soon Jesus will return in this very generation!” (cf. Mark 13:28-30; 1 John 2:18) tick tock tick tock … “Okay, well maybe we have to wait for a couple new signs, but then he will return!” (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4) tick tock tick tock … And so every generation of Christians has had its expectations reversed and yet believers just keep inventing new ad hoc assumptions to rationalize a worldview that has consistently and repeatedly failed to deliver.”

This part is quite amusing for me since, as an orthodox Preterist, I do hold that Jesus’s coming did take place within a generation! Jesus was right on time! Yet Ferguson’s account relies on possibility after possibility and doesn’t explain more likely options nor does it explain what really happened to the body. Was it eaten by dogs as Crossan says? We’d need an argument for that. Why would Paul and James go for this placebo effect? What did they have to gain from it? This relies on simply psychological history, something that is laden with problems. It’s hard enough to do psychoanalysis when you have the patient right there and can ask him questions. It’s even harder to do it for ancient people.

“Furthermore, thinking that their Messiah had only temporarily suffered, but would soon return in an apocalypse is not even that odd of a new development. Historical Jesus studies have found that Jesus was most likely an apocalyptic prophet teaching that a new “Kingdom of God” would soon come about through divine intervention, but that the righteous for the present would have to endure hardships and wait for their future reward. Sure, if Jesus had been a military Messiah, then faith in him probably would have dissipated following his crucifixion. But Jesus was talking about suffering followed by divine intervention in the first place. Is it really that hard to create an ad hoc assumption that Jesus had only been crucified because of temporary suffering, but that he would be returning soon as the agent carrying out the divine intervention they were awaiting? Not at all. Of course, the divine intervention never happened, but it does explain how belief in the resurrection could emerge through cognitive dissonance, visions, and hallucinations, followed by later legendary developments of a physically resurrected Messiah interacting with his followers.”

Once again, as a Preterist, I say that yes, the divine intervention did happen and is in fact happening. Ferguson reads the Olivet Discourse I suspect the way that a conservative fundamentalist does. You remember them? Those are the people that were condemned earlier. Again, why would this belief have been invented? If anything, it would have most likely been a belief that Jesus would judge Rome as Israel hoped. It would not be that Jesus would judge Jerusalem, the holy city!

And of course, the apostles had nothing to gain from this! They received ostracism and were social pariahs. Paul describes what he had to gain from all of this in 2 Cor. 11. James we know was put to death for what he believed.

In his conclusion, Ferguson says

“The ironic thing about apologetic attempts to “prove” the resurrection is that if god really existed, we would not have to rely on such a fantastical historical quest to prove it. God could just provide miracles today making it clear that he exists and he could tell us that Christianity is the correct religion.”

This is more along the lines of “God must do my work for me.” If Keener is right, God is doing miracles today. Furthermore, much of this has been dealt with in my writing recently on the argument from locality, an argument I find full of problems. See here.

Looking at this from Ferguson, again the question is “Is Ferguson’s worldview shaping the evidence or is the evidence shaping his worldview?” This is an indication that it is the former that is taking place.

Of course, it is not surprising since Ferguson did not even get Habermas’s approach correct. Perhaps he will do better next time.

In Christ,
Nick Peters