Tough Questions Answered

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Is Testimony Really That Unreliable? Part 3

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Recall that in part 2, we looked at a couple skeptics’ views on testimony.  The first skeptic’s view appeared to be self-defeating, but the second skeptic singled out testimony about supernatural events, thus avoiding the self-defeating approach of the first skeptic.  However, the second skeptic has a different sort of problem, which I flesh out below.

I (Bill) trust people who tell me that some supernatural claims are legitimate; he (the skeptic) trusts people who tell him that no supernatural claims are legitimate.  How do we decide whose testimony to trust without begging the question?  For if the skeptic starts out by knowing that all supernatural claims are false (which he seems to have done in this case), then he clearly has begged the question of whether a specific supernatural event occurred.

This is where worldview presuppositions come in.  Skeptical atheists will generally claim that their worldview has nothing to do with their skepticism.  They claim that they are able to remain neutral when assessing any evidential claim (it is religious folks who are hopelessly biased).  But this is clearly false.  Because I believe that a theistic God who can perform miracles exists, I am very open to the possibility that some miracle reports from history are true.  Because the atheist denies that such a God exists, then he is closed to these miracle reports.

So when the Christian asks atheist skeptics to look at the historical testimony supporting a miracle claim, most of these skeptics, though not all, will argue that eyewitness testimony is unreliable, that people make mistakes all the time, that magicians can fool us, that ancient people were gullible, that witnesses in trials are sometimes wrong, that UFO sightings are bogus, that hypnotists can trick us, and on and on and on.

My response to all of these points is this: I know about all of these things, but we trust eyewitness testimony to tell us about much of what we know about the world.  Therefore, when I hear testimony about a seemingly unusual event that I personally have not ever experienced, instead of ruling it out immediately, I should apply criteria developed by experts on testimony of the kind I want to investigate to determine if the testimony is credible.  That way, I can hopefully detect false testimony.

Some skeptics have retorted: “You disbelieve miracle claims from other religions, and you don’t apply the same criteria to them as you do to the miracle claims of Christianity.  Therefore, you are inconsistent and biased, just like you accuse us of being.”

My response is this: I do not categorically deny all miracle claims from other religions, so the accusation is false.  I believe that God is able to perform whatever miracles he wants whenever he wants.  In addition, I believe in the existence of angelic beings who are also able to perform feats that are supernatural in nature, and they may be involved in alleged miracle claims of other religions.  Bottom line, I don’t take a hard position on any miracle claim until I have really looked into the testimony evidence for it.

Where does this leave us?  First, testimony is a fundamental way we learn about the world.  To cast serious doubt on testimony is ultimately self-defeating because you have to rely on testimony to doubt testimony.  The more rational and reasonable way to approach testimony is to apply criteria that have been developed by experts who have studied testimony in a particular discipline (e.g., law, history).

For my Christian friends, when you are dialoguing with a skeptic who starts denigrating the reliability of testimony, ask them to list their criteria for establishing  when testimony is credible or not.  That will move the conversation on to something more profitable.

For my skeptical friends, please understand that telling us all the ways that testimony can be wrong is just not a fruitful approach.  We know about all that.  Move on to giving us your non-question-begging criteria for determining whether particular testimony is credible or not.  If you cannot do that, then our suspicion that your worldview is driving your skepticism starts to become confirmed.


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Comments

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Bill,

    The Second Skeptic notes that despite writing three posts on the reliability of testimony you have not listed your “criteria for establishing when testimony is credible or not.” You have not suggested any objective criteria which would enable you to establish the unreliability of the testimony of Joseph Smith and the Mormon witnesses concerning the Golden Plates and the Angel Moroni while simultaneously preserving your faith in your magic book. You do not do this despite having been repeatedly challenged to do so by skeptics in the past.

    In many comments to previous posts, I have explained the way that I reason about the world in which I live. I have explained how I use my knowledge and experience of the way the world usually works to reach conclusions about the kinds of things that are likely to have happened in the past. Nothing I have written logically implies that I “trust[] people who tell [me] that no supernatural claims are legitimate.”

    You have rarely responded to any comment I have made, preferring instead to write a new post filled with new straw men. The only reason I bother to comment on your posts is that you have several supporters who make an honest effort to engage the arguments that skeptics make. I have to imagine that even they are getting tired of your nonsense though.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Vinny,
    I was never specifically addressing your particular beliefs in totality. I was only using your words as typical of many skeptics that have commented on the blog. That is why I left the quotes as anonymous. It was your friend Dagoods that decided to put your name beside the quote, thinking he was doing some kind of public service.

    Again, the fact that I used your words was entirely arbitrary. You said something in a comment that I thought captured the essence of how many skeptics see the issue.

    As for listing my criteria, I have done so in the past on previous posts. The point of this series was not to argue about specific criteria, but rather to point out that skeptics who consistently denigrate testimony without presenting non-question-begging criteria are either guilty of a self-defeating position or they are simply begging the question against testimony about the miraculous.

    I realize that many skeptics on this blog claim that they do not denigrate testimony without qualification and that they do not beg the question, but all I can say is that their words betray them. I can easily find comment after comment where skeptics do both. I barely had to look to find the two quotes I used.

    You claim that I present straw men, but I insist that many of the skeptics on this blog are incredibly lazy and imprecise with their language, more interested in scoring rhetorical points than making careful and precise arguments.

    It’s as if skeptics think that if they trash the reliability of testimony enough, then maybe Christians will just stop talking about the historical evidence for Christian claims and evidence for the miraculous in general. If skeptics were more careful with their language, I wouldn’t even need to write blog series like the one I just did, because there would be nothing to write about on this topic.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    In other words, the Second Skeptic is just another one of your straw men. He is not an actual person whose arguments you have personally engaged. He is what you imagine the typical skeptic to be.

    Please show me where you have provided your list of criteria. I would love to see it.

    BTW, While I appreciated Dagoods providing the link, I recognized that you were quoting me all by myself.

  • Hiero5ant

    Bill Pratt, that is some extremely weak sauce.

    To a man, every skeptic who has replied to these posts, including the ones you quoted, have responded “no, that is not right, you have not accurately represented my views”.

    Still, you insist that your strawmanning posts accurately represent “many of the skeptics on this blog”. Do you not think that people inclined to support your position are capable of reading these comments? Do you not think they are capable of following the timeline and noticing that your misrepresentations continued even after patient, detailed corrections?

    I am not “more interested in scoring rhetorical points than making careful and precise arguments”. In fact I and others have made them, and practically begged you to attend to them.

    Can you possibly be that oblivious to how this behavior makes you look?

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Check out parts 4, 5, and 6 of “Did the New Testament Writers Record Fact or Fiction?” series. I also mentioned the criteria used by Mike Licona in the post “Thoughts on Ehrman/Licona Debate – Part 1.” I have no doubts these kinds of criteria have popped up in other posts I’ve written over the years, but I haven’t bothered to catalog all of them.

    As far as straw men go, I am merely quoting what you guys say. I can’t help it if your words make you look like caricatures.

  • Andrew Ryan

    I’d like to know which sceptic has said he dismisses the supernatural merely because he trusts other people who tell him that no claims are legitimate.

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    I don’t see anything about criteria for evaluating testimony in your post on the Ehrman/Licona debate.

    In the other posts, I saw the following three questions:

    Question 1. Do the witnesses claim to be eyewitnesses or claim to have received their information directly from eyewitnesses?

    Question 2: Do we have multiple witnesses or just one?

    Question 3: Are the eyewitnesses trustworthy?

    Is that your objective list of criteria for determining whether testimony is reliable? I gotta say that the third one strikes me as question begging.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Bill Pratt: Move on to giving us your non-question-begging criteria for determining whether particular testimony is credible or not. [emphasis in original]

    Whoops. Sorry…didn’t know this was a problem. Glad to be of service: Criteria for determining testimony credibility:

    1. Ability to observe. How far away were they? Anything impeding vision, sight, taste, etc.?

    2. Bias. Active participant? Any version provide witness perceived advantage?

    3. Corroboration. Conformance to physical ability, independent witness agreement, hostile witness agreement. Conform to known past behavior.

    4. Time to recalling event. Reflection to modify details; impact of other’s statements, memory impeded. Have they seen other statements from other witnesses?

    5. Incorrect on other points. While mistakes and mis-remembering is common, is there key testimony where the witness is wrong?

    6. Overall reasonableness. While an occasional anomaly is feasible (such is life), and even expected, most testimony conforms to known expectations.

    Hope that helps. Of course, if we ask the same of the Christian, we get…

    Bill Pratt: …I haven’t bothered to catalog all of them.

    I should note, when looking at recorded history—very, very, very, very often the person recording is getting statements from others, so many (even most) of these factors are unknown. Which is why “testimony” is not the same as recorded history, although certainly one could analogize applications from each of these to a historian recording events. It just becomes more remote, as it is hearsay.

    P.S. On a personal note, Bill Pratt, please do not EVER worry about keeping me anonymous in any way, shape or form. If you quote me in blockquotes or within a quoted section and it is not in the same blog entry, I would ask you provide a link. I presume any scholar of any note would prefer the opportunity to review the quote in context without having to resort to searching via google.

  • Hiero5ant

    You left off Rule Zero: establish that a particular report actually IS eyewitness testimony at all.

    If I hand you a bar napkin with the words “10 people say they saw me cure a blind man”, you do not have 10 eyewitness reports to “explain”, you have one napkin to explain.

    How many eyewitness claims do you have to explain if one anonymous author writes on a bar napkin that there is a decades-old oral tradition that at one time 10 people witnessed me cure a blind man, and two other anonymous bar patrons copy the first napkin? How about if each napkin also shows clear evidence of having been fiddled with after the first ink dried, and the fiddly-bits seem to line up perfectly with well-known sectarian theological and political arguments made by other patrons of the bar?

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Heiro5ant,

    Actually Bill explains how we do that in Did the New Testament Writers Record Fact or Fiction? Part 4:

    With respect to the NT writers, all of them implicitly claim to be eyewitnesses of the events surrounding Jesus’ life. They write as if they were there and they heard Jesus’ words themselves.

    What could be better than that?

  • Hiero5ant

    They certainly do!

    They write as though they were there and they heard Jesus’s words themselves, in scenes such as being tempted alone in the desert, or in the garden after everyone had fallen asleep.

    And we haven’t even gotten started on the NT author of Revelation claims to have gone to get his information.

  • Boz2012

    Bill Pratt said: “Move on to giving us your non-question-begging criteria for determining whether particular testimony is credible or not.”

    I use the same criteria as you use – (defer to field of experts (historians))

  • Boz2012

    Bill Pratt said: “The more rational and reasonable way to approach testimony is to apply criteria that have been developed by experts who have studied testimony in a particular discipline (e.g., law, history).”

    This is peculiar. We have the same method (defer to field of experts (historians)), but different results.

    Any ideas why this might be?

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    From the Ehrman/Licona post:

    “There are four criteria that the professional historian should use to judge possible explanations of the facts:

    explanatory scope
    explanatory power
    plausibility
    less ad hoc”

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Those are criteria for evaluating the hypothesis constructed to account for facts. They are not criteria for evaluating testimony to determine whether it can be relied upon to contain facts.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    If you’ve ever wondered why I don’t spend time answering the mountains of comments posted by you and other similar skeptics, please read the post: “What Kind of a Skeptic Are You?”

    You, and most of the other skeptics that post on my blog are already convinced you are right. You are more dogmatic than most religious people I know, and so, since my time is precious, I choose not to engage you except in a very limited fashion, when I have time. It’s just not worth the effort when I could be spending my time writing new posts, instead.

  • Andrew Ryan

    You keep writing about what sceptics think, but you don’t want to actually talk to any of them, even when they point out you’re completely misrepresenting them. If you were accurately putting over our views, surely we’d be happy to say ‘yep, that’s us’. Are you sure we’re only objecting because we don’t like looking in the mirror? No chance it is you getting us wrong?

  • Tom Rafferty

    Bill, that is dishonest of you to state categorically that skeptics posting on your blog are convinced we are right and are dogmatic. We are accepting the scientific method and skepticism because it works. Inherent with such is the ability to change with sufficient evident. I CERTAINLY have stated this to you several times, so you are exposing yourself with this comment.

  • Hiero5ant

    That is simply beyond the pale.

    The subject at hand is whether you can successfully state another person’s views. And what is the rebuttal to the evidence that 100% (for the non-mathematically inclined, that means “all”) of the people who reported back have told you that you have not done so?

    You say I am the one who is being dogmatic about the fact that I know what my own belief is!!!

    (It is nice to note in passing that secular, enlightenment thinking has advanced so far in our culture that even apologists now feel that “dogma” is a term of shame and opprobrium, when back in the day it was considered to denote an epistemic status above reproach.)

  • Tom Rafferty

    Bill, let me present a generic way of looking as historical methods (from my blog: http://ratioprimoris.blogspot.com/2010/09/historical-methods.html):

    It is generally recognized that the methods of science are more reliable and the results are more valid than that of historical methods. The modern scientific method has been around longer than modern historical methods. In addition, the methods of science are based on observation and experimentation, both of which are more difficult for the historian. However, much of our knowledge has been greatly enriched by historians.

    It is fairly well-established that the majority of biblical historians are believers in the historical Jesus. Vridar, in this blog post, explains the difference between non-biblical and biblical historical methodologies. Following are some excerpts:

    Biblical historians often hold that miracles are reasonable historical evidence and are scientific.

    Biblical historians often use the term “primary sources” when referring to the gospels or epistles of Paul. Non-biblical historians refer to such sources as “secondary sources” because they are not contemporary with Jesus or written by eyewitnesses. Virtually all written sources regarding Jesus are “secondary sources”.

    To most non-biblical historians, “primary sources” refers to evidence physically situated in the time and place under investigation.

    In nearly every case, when non-biblical historians use the terms “evidence” and “source”, they are referring to “primary” sources, “primary” documents and “primary” evidence. When they speak of the value of “secondary” sources they always specify strict conditions by which to judge their value, and these conditions relate at some point to primary evidence.

    Non-biblical historians work with the primary evidence or sources that make up the factual data that needs to be pieced together into some explanatory narrative. Biblical historians are still struggling to find some facts to begin with. Did Jesus do anything at the temple or not? Was he a teacher or a healer or neither or both? Was he a rabbi or a rebel? There are no facts to work with.

    Regarding “oral tradition”, a noted non-biblical historian states that an event recorded a mere 20 years after the supposed event and with a partisan intent is untrustworthy and dismissible.

    There are cases where all we have is secondary evidence and which nonetheless do give us good reasons for accepting the historicity of certain events and people, but such cases are rare and meet conditions not met by the gospels (e.g. genuinely independent corroboration, known provenance and authorship, positive text critical evaluation).

    In another post, Vridar sums up the type of evidence for the historical Jesus:

    “Historians have no primary evidence for Jesus. They only have secondary evidence. Worse, the secondary evidence for the details of Jesus’ life is anonymous and unprovenanced. We can only make educated guesses about when and where it was written, and why and for whom. Worst of all, we have no reliable external or independent controls or corroboration that any of its narrative is indeed historical.”

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Bill Pratt,

    The frustration (and eventual acerbic tone) expressed by skeptics primarily boils down to one thing—do this and you will find the conversations have far different tone.

    We would like our position accurately represented.

    That is it—nothing more. You don’t have to agree with (indeed, we expect you will not.) You do not even have to fully engage with it. All we ask is one thing—present our position accurately.

    Yes, sometimes we will not frame our words with precision—we may misstate or not phrase our position clearly. If it is not, please take us at our word—we are human—and attempt to understand our re-framing, or clarification.

    If skeptic after skeptic after skeptic responds to your postings with, “No, that is NOT what we say,” the reason is very simple; it has nothing to do with complex motivations, pre-suppositions, father issues or deep-seated convictions we are right. (Although that was a humorous statement—aren’t all humans convinced they are right about a full variety of topics from what constitutes the best chili recipe to politics to television shows? What is so amazing we are…human?) It has to do with one thing—we believe we are not being represented accurately.

    There is an astonishing simple fix—cite where some skeptic (or opposing position) made the claim you indicate skeptics are making.

    Reverse roles for a moment. Imagine if I made the claim, “Christians want the United States to pass laws enforcing Mosaic Law, including stoning.” I suspect you would (rightly) reply, “I do not hold to that position.” At this point, it is incumbent upon me to back my allegation up. If I found some group, or website, where some Christians made such a claim, I have supported my position. You would probably respond, “O.K., but that is not ALL Christian’s position—it is not MY position.” We would find…hold on to your chair…we both AGREE (gasp!) said position is incorrect!

    If you find a skeptic making some of these claims, you may find we actually agree! that said person’s position is incorrect. Skeptics are not monolithic; we disagree on a variety of topics. Just delve into historical Jesus, for example, and you will see numerous positions.

    Look at this blog entry:

    Bill Pratt: For my skeptical friends, please understand that telling us all the ways that testimony can be wrong is just not a fruitful approach. We know about all that.

    Fair enough.

    Bill Pratt: Move on to giving us your non-question-begging criteria for determining whether particular testimony is credible or not. [emphasis added]

    I did.

    Bill Pratt: For my Christian friends, when you are dialoguing with a skeptic who starts denigrating the reliability of testimony, ask them to list their criteria for establishing when testimony is credible or not. That will move the conversation on to something more profitable.

    O.K….and I have waited to see how the conversation will move on to “something more profitable.” Instead I see:

    Bill Pratt: …I choose not to engage you [Heiro5ant] except in a very limited fashion, when I have time. It’s just not worth the effort when I could be spending my time writing new posts, instead.

    Again, I appreciate your allowing non-believers and skeptics to provide comments. The only reason I wrote this one is in the hopes you will understand what it is we are asking for and…perhaps…just perhaps…improve the conversation.

  • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

    I think Stephen Law sums up my scepticism quite nicely and presents an argument I think the faithful need to address with something more than the usual, and unjustifiably casual, dismissal:

    1. (P1) Where a claim’s justification derives solely from evidence, extraordinary claims (e.g. concerning supernatural miracles) require extraordinary evidence. In the absence of extraordinary evidence there is good reason to be sceptical about those claims.
    .
    2. There is no extraordinary evidence for any of the extraordinary claims concerning supernatural miracles made in the New Testament documents.

    3. Therefore (from 1 and 2), there’s good reason to be sceptical about those extraordinary claims.

    4. (P2) Where testimony/documents weave together a narrative that combines mundane claims with a significant proportion of extraordinary claims, and there is good reason to be sceptical about those extraordinary claims, then there is good reason to be sceptical about the mundane claims, at least until we possess good independent evidence of their truth.

    5. The New Testament documents weave together a narrative about Jesus that combines mundane claims with a significant proportion of extraordinary claims.

    6. There is no good independent evidence for even the mundane claims about Jesus (such as that he existed)

    7. Therefore (from 3, 4, 5, and 6), there’s good reason to be sceptical about whether Jesus existed.

    . . . So, our empirical premises – 2, 5 and 6, – have some prima facie plausibility. I suggest 2 and 5 have a great deal of plausibility, and 6 is at the very least debatable.

    My suspicion is that a significant number of Biblical scholars and historians (though of course by no means all) would accept something like all three empirical premises. If that is so, it then raises an intriguing question: why, then, is there such a powerful consensus that those who take a sceptical attitude towards Jesus’ existence are being unreasonable?

    Perhaps the most obvious answer to this question would be: while many Biblical historians accept that the empirical premises have at least a fair degree of plausibility, and most would also accept something like P1, few would accept P2.

  • Ggodat

    Concerning #6.. Chew on this

    — FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS

    Josephus was a Jewish historian who was born around AD 38. He served Roman commander Vespasian in Jerusalem until the city’s destruction in AD 70. Josephus personally believed Vespasian to be Israel’s promised Messiah. When Vespasian later became emperor of Rome, Josephus served under him as court historian. 2 In AD 93, Josephus finished his work Antiquities of the Jews in which at least three passages specifically confirm portions of Scripture:

    But to some of the Jews the destruction of Herod’s army seemed to be divine vengeance, and certainly a just vengeance, for his treatment of John, surnamed the Baptist. For Herod had put him to death, though he was a good man and had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice towards their fellows and piety towards God, and so doing to join in baptism. 3

    …convened the judges of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned. 4

    At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and [he] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive;… 5

    — PLINIUS SECUNDUS (Pliny the Younger)

    Pliny was the governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor. Much of his correspondence has survived including a particular letter written circa AD 112 to the Roman emperor Trajan. This letter does not reference Christ directly, but it does establish several beliefs and practices of early Christians. This includes their loyalty to Christ even when it cost them their lives. Pliny’s letter states:

    In the meantime, the method I have observed towards those who have been denounced to me as Christians is this: I interrogated them whether they were in fact Christians; if they confessed it, I repeated the question twice, adding the threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed.

    …They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to perform any wicked deed, never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to make it good; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food – but food of an ordinary and innocent kind. 6

    — CORNELIUS TACITUS

    Tacitus was a senator under Emperor Vespasian and later became governor of Asia. Around AD 116 in his work entitled Annals, he wrote of Emperor Nero and a fire which had swept Rome in AD 64:

    Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome… 7

    — GAIUS SUETONIUS TRANQUILLAS

    Suetonius was a chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian writing around AD 120 in his work Life of Claudius:

    Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from the city. 8

    — LUCIAN

    Lucian, the Greek satirist, wrote this rather scathing attack in The Death of Peregrine circa AD 170:

    The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day – the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account… You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed upon them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. 9

    — THE TALMUD

    The Talmud is essentially the collection of Jewish oral traditions that were put into writing with additional commentary between the years of AD 70 and 200. From the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a includes:

    On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu. And an announcer went out, in front of him, for forty days (saying): ‘He is going to be stoned because he practiced sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray. Anyone who knows anything in his favor, let him come and plead in his behalf.’ But, not having found anything in his favor, they hanged him on the eve of the Passover. 10

    The facts in this passage are somewhat difficult to assimilate. Although Yeshu is referring to Jesus, the announcement that he was to be stoned (a lethal punishment) is followed by the statement that he was hanged (crucified). One possible explanation is that the Jewish leadership’s call for his stoning preceded his eventual arrest by at least those forty days. This would be consistent with Scripture’s accounts of his numerous near-stonings (John 10:31-33, 11:8).

    Jesus’ death by crucifixion may have then just been a matter of Roman involvement in the affair. Perhaps it is more likely that his sudden crucifixion (which immediately followed his arrest and dubious midnight trial) was gladly allowed by the Jewish leaders to pre-empt the normal forty day holding period for a condemned man. The leaders may have feared that, during this time, Jesus’ followers might have been able to organize his release or stir up an outcry against them.

    — SUMMARY

    In summary, what can we conclude about the figure of Jesus Christ by only listening to non-Christians of the first centuries? That he was an invented myth? Absolutely not. Just by listening to Jesus’ enemies and outsiders, we can put together the following profile on Christ and his influence; the sum of which positively affirms the believability of the Bible and deity of his person:

    Jesus was a wise man and was called the Christ or Messiah, (Josephus)
    Jesus gained many disciples from many nations, (Josephus)
    He healed blind and lame people in Bethsaida and Bethany, (Julian the Apostate)
    He was accused of practicing sorcery and leading Israel astray, (the Talmud)
    Under Herod, and during the reign of Tiberius, Pontius Pilate condemned Christ to die, (Tacitus)
    Christ was crucified on the eve of Passover, (the Talmud)
    His crucifixion was accompanied by three hours of unexplained darkness, (Thallus)
    Christ’s disciples, “reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive;”, (Josephus)
    His disciples took to the habit of meeting on a fixed day of the week and took their name “Christians” from him, (Pliny)
    They gave worship to Christ “as to a god”, (Pliny)
    They bound themselves over to abstaining from wicked deeds, fraud, theft, adultery, and lying, (Pliny)
    Christians held a contempt for death and were known for a voluntary self-devotion, (Lucian)
    Christians believed themselves all brothers from the moment of their conversion, (Lucian)
    Christians lived after Christ’s laws, (Lucian)
    Christians were willingly tortured and even executed for their refusal to deny their belief in the resurrection and deity of Jesus Christ. (Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny, Lucian)

  • Disciple of Ggodat – AKA DOG

    Ggodat is right about everything. We know for a fact that Jesus healed blind and lame people in Bethsaida and Bethany because we’re told he did by Julian the Apostate, who was born several hundred years after Jesus was supposed to have died.

    As Ggodat points out, we also have evidence that Christians were just as willing to die for their religion as lots of other religious people are. Which proves that Christianity is just as true as Islam, Judaism and Buddhism.

    Also, Josephus confirms that Christians believed that Jesus rose from the dead – which we otherwise wouldn’t have known. This is almost the same as actually confirming Jesus DID rise from the dead.

    This is a great way of confirming what is true. For example, my Spiderman comics contain scenes that reference specific landmarks in New York, and even certain events that we know for a fact happen. Thus we have strong evidence that Spiderman is a real person.

    There’s a new film coming out called Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. Now we have VERY good evidence that Lincoln existed. Therefore any stories involving him must be based in fact, and so Ggodat has shown us strong evidence for the existence of vampires.

  • Ggodat

    Andy,
    I’ve asked you this question several times and you have never answered it so I’ll ask one last time given the following:
    1.You are an atheist and know that there is no God

    2.You have used empirical science and the scientific method to prove the non-existence of God

    3.You know that up until now everyone that has lived has died (except those of us still living and the statistical probability we will die is ~ 100%)

    4.You know that you will in fact die

    5.Because of #4 you should place some value on what little time you have left

    6.Because of #5 you should spend all of your remaining time having as much fun as possible and gaining as much joy from life as you can

    7.You must think of yourself as somewhat intelligent. Given these things, please give me a rational explanation as to why you choose to waste so much of your valuable life on this blog?

    I can think of only two rational explanations:

    1.You were actually sent here from Satan (your master) to do his bidding

    2.You are a stark raving lunatic

    There is no other rational explanation as to why someone who knows God does not exist, knows his life is short, will end and is presumably valuable (at least to yourself) would waste so much of it combating insignificant Christians. You must see how mad you appear to the balance of the rational people…..

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    I wish I could believe you, but I don’t. After writing blog posts for over 3 years now, here are my tentative conclusions on a variety of topics:

    1. The vast majority of the thousands of people that read my posts never read the comments under the posts. They read the blog because they learn from what I write in the posts.

    2. There is a very small minority of extremely vocal anti-Christian skeptics who write the vast majority of the critical comments under my posts.

    3. Almost all of these skeptics are virulently opposed to virtually everything I write and everything I stand for. They come to the blog every day knowing they are going to gag over what I have written.

    4. Almost all of these skeptics regularly employ sarcasm, personal attacks, mockery, arrogance, and condescension when writing their comments. It is clear that most of the skeptics on this blog could care less about me or what I have to say – they know that everything I write is wrong before I even write it, and they simply want to score debating points. On a side note, the more I respond to critical comments, the more I engage in the behaviors outlined above, and thus there is good reason for me to limit my comments.

    5. Every time I have made the mistake of giving a skeptic the benefit of the doubt, the skeptic always reverts back to the behaviors in point 4 above. I have also witnessed this occurring with other Christian commenters on the blog, so it’s not just me (and Christian bloggers on other sites tell me the same thing). Skeptics have such strong dislike for what is written on this blog that they literally cannot have a respectful conversation for any period of time.

    6. I have very limited time because I am taking seminary classes, both of my children are involved in high level athletics, I have a full-time job, I have responsibilities at my church, and last but not least, my wife actually likes to spend time with me!

    7. I do read most of the comments posted on my blog, and I would like to respond, but I simply cannot, as the blog traffic is simply too large now, and my time is taken up with the things in point 6 above.

    8. Given a choice between getting into a long and drawn out debate with one of the skeptics on the blog (who usually misunderstand or mischaracterize what I write) and writing new posts, I choose the latter (most of the time).

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Bill,

    My suggestion would be that you turn off comments if you are not interested in engaging with them. Just leave an email address where your fans can contact you.

    When I see a blog where comments are allowed, I assume that the blogger is interested in engaging with people who hold different views. On many occasions I have found that they are not, and when this happens, I quit commenting and I go somewhere else. I comment because I enjoy having my own ideas challenged and tested. I keep coming back to your blog because there are people who do engage here.

    I generally try to let the blogger set the tone for the conversation. If they are cordial and respectful, I try to maintain that attitude. If they give free reign to their emotions, I don’t mind mixing it up a little. I think your practice of writing new posts about what skeptics seem to think without ever having responded to previous comments from skeptics in which they told you what they thought sets the tone for your blog, and I don’t think you should be surprised that it results in snarky comments. I think you need to take responsibility for the choices that have lead to the results you have gotten.

    I am an expert chess player, and just as a good lawyer never asks a witness a question unless he already thinks he knows the answer, a good chess player never makes a move unless he thinks that he can meet his opponent’s best reply to that move. By the same token, I never post anything on my blog without thinking about what the likely challenges might be nor do I make comments on other blogs without being prepared to defend my position. I find it hard to work up much sympathy for someone who is not prepared to respond to any comments.

    If you would like to spend more time with your wife, why don’t do that instead of writing a blog where you make claims that you are prepared neither to support nor defend about why other people look at the world the way they do? Then the people about whom you appear to be making the claims wouldn’t get so annoyed with you.

  • Disciple of Ggodat AKA DOG

    Master Ggodat, I’m just your simple disciple, so I’m sure I have much still to learn, and I’m still digesting your elegant proofs for the existence of vampires and spiderman. But once again I’m dazzled by your arguing technique – you tell someone they’re mad or evil if they take the time to reply to your questions, and then you berate them for not answering. Genius master.

    And having argued that continuing to engage with you must show they are mad or evil, you continue to engage with them, making you… No, that part is too hard for me, it will require some more thought

  • Tom Rafferty

    Bill, I’m with VinnyJH all the way.

    This is the second long encounter I have had with you on your blog. I resumed commenting after noting the quality of posts by fellow skeptics and your seemingly willingness to engage us. I have been sadly disappointed with your failure to answer questions, your mischaracterization of our motives and, frankly, your emotional tone.

    You have utterly demonstrated delusion. You are certain of your beliefs and are unwilling to objectively look at serious challenges to such. In addition, you fail to see the implausibility of your Christian faith.

    Good bye.

  • Ggodat

    WOW, I finally found a question to shut you up with! I guess you’re not as smart as you make yourself out to be.

    Just answer the question! But I’m sure if you have a shred of intelligence you won’t because you would then come to the realization that you are quite stupid for wasting so much of your time. Or maybe you don’t value your time? You are simply pathetic! I’m sure your master is pleased….

  • Ggodat

    You remind me of the streets in Calcutta…

  • Ggodat

    You are utterly delusional and certain of your beliefs and completely unwilling to objectively look at serious challenges to such. In addition, you completely fail to see the implausibility of your moronic evolutionary, everything came from nothing without anything acting upon the nothingness, faith.

    Good riddance, you will not be missed.

  • Disciple of Ggodat, AKA DOG

    Sorry Master Ggodat, you say if I’ve got a shred of intelligence I won’t answer, but also say that NOT answering shows I’m not as intelligent as you seem to think that I think I am. I don’t know how smart I am, but I’m certainly confused by the logic of your post. If I’m wasting my time here I’m delighted to be wasting it with someone who has so much to teach me!

  • Ggodat

    Atheism – the belief that there was nothing and nothing happened to nothing and then nothing magically exploded for no reason, creating everything and then a bunch of everything magically rearranged itself for no reason whatsoever creating self-replicating bits that then turned into dinosaurs.

    Makes perfect sense….

    Just answer the question monkey boy…. You just can’t admit defeat can you?

  • Tom Rafferty

    Exhibit A of what I posted on delusion.

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    Vinny, why would I want to engage with people who constantly attack me? If I counted up all the times I’ve been called stupid, ignorant, delusional, and irrational, I would be a billionaire! The Bible, and good common sense, tells me to walk away from those engagaments, as they are a waste of time. It is time I start doing so.

    I am invoking a 3 strikes and you’re out policy. Each time a skeptic posts with sarcasm, personal attacks, mockery, arrogance, or condescension, it counts as one strike. In addition, the skeptical comment has to specifically address the argument I am making in the post which they are commenting on. I will try to give the benefit of the doubt as much as possible. After three strikes I will ban that skeptic from further commenting.

    Maybe this will clean up the tone on the blog, and we will see if the skeptics on this blog really want to engage in a respectful and courteous manner or not. Time will tell. Consider the clock started.

  • Tom Rafferty

    I volunteer. I struck out, Bill, under your rules.

  • Tom Rafferty

    You are a psychological projection exhibit, “my friend.”

  • http://youcallthisculture.blogspot.com/ VinnyJH

    Vinny, why would I want to engage with people who constantly attack me?

    Beats the hell out of me Bill, but lots of Christian bloggers do it so I’m guessing that they get some satisfaction from it. I have no problem if you are not interested in engaging with the skeptics who comment here. I’m just suggesting that there are better ways to go about it than letting them comment and refusing to respond. Let me suggest two:

    (1) Turn off commenting.

    (2) Turn on comment moderation and if you don’t feel like responding to a comment don’t let it through. I guarantee you that all the skeptics you don’t like will disappear. Once I have had a comment blocked on a blog, I never bother commenting there again and I quit visiting. (I might write one really snarky post on my own blog about being blocked, but I haven’t even bothered to do that lately.)

    Here’s the thing Bill. If you don’t want to engage with me, then don’t write a new post that quotes me and talks about why skeptics think the way they do while ignoring what I have actually said about why I think the way I do. That’s engaging with me whether you want to admit it or not. Moreover, it is engaging with me in a way that I find intellectually dishonest, which is naturally going to produce the very kind of response from me that you find so abhorrent.

  • Disciple of Ggodat AKA DOG

    1) “Just answer the question monkey boy”
    2) “But I’m sure if you have a shred of intelligence you won’t”

    You’re very clever Ggodat, but I’m still a little confused here. Clever if I don’t answer, stupid if I don’t… please can you clarify which it is?

    Also, according to Bill it’s just the atheists who have to resort to insults when they get frustrated, but here you, a Christian, are reduced to calling your loyal disciple a monkey. All very confusing…

    “Atheism – the belief that there was… ”

    No, I believe that God sacrificed himself to himself to appease the wrath of himself in a loophole to rules designed by himself. That makes much more sense.

    By the way, a sceptic told me your ‘evil or mad’ choices are what’s known as a ‘false dichotomy’. I don’t know what that means but it doesn’t sound very nice. I’ll just ignore them – I’ve learned it’s best not to talk to sceptics for fear they might make me think. He did give me a bunch of other options, but you’ve already told me telling you them would make me stupid so…

  • Ggodat

    So, you finally show the lack of intelligence of the stubborn atheist. You like all others will not answer the question because it paints you into a corner you cannot get out of. You berate but when berated claim moral injustice which is foolish. You bore me now and I will not waste any more of my time conversing with a disciple of Satan.

  • Graduate of Ggodat Uni

    Er no – YOU told me that to answer would be to exhibit my lack of intelligence.

    a) “if you have a shred of intelligence
    you won’t [answer]”
    b) “you finally show the lack of intelligence [by not answering]”

    Very clear contradiction here, Master!

    You’re the one who painted the situation into a corner – I don’t believe you thought that through. If you genuinely wanted to know the answer then you went the wrong way about it. It doesn’t really make sense to say “Here’s my question and you’re an idiot if you answer”, unless you don’t actually want an answer. A lesson for you there. The disciple teaches the master!

    “You berate but when berated claim moral injustice which is foolish.”

    Not really. I merely pointed out that you’re a) contradicting yourself and b) resorting to insults. I never brought up morality or injustice. Perhaps you’re confusing me with someone else.

    And if I’m YOUR disciple, and you call me a disciple of Satan, that means you are calling yourself Satan. Perhaps that explains the insults…

    “I will not waste any more of my time”

    Oh right – I thought you said it was ME wasting my time. If it was you, that means by your own logic that YOU are either insane or evil. I’ve enjoyed the discussion immensely, so my time has been spent profitably. Oops, look like I gave a third option to your mad/insane dichotomy. I guess I’ve accidentally shown I’m stupid by answering your question. Never mind, I take it as an honour to have my intelligence defamed by such a worthy opponent!

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com/ DagoodS

    Bill Pratt,

    I am sorry you feel that way, although I can appreciate the reasoning behind it. Due to the forum (internet) and type (theistic) of these conversations it is far easier and far more common to point out where the other person is wrong, rather than affirming what is correct. One can write a four page blog entry, and if one sentence is perceived as inaccurate, will have four persons of opposing viewpoint all harping on the one sentence while ignoring the rest of the post.

    Human nature naturally tires with responding to the negative, and eventually focuses on the positive response. If Christians respond with a “Huzzah!” to your blog entries, and we skeptics respond with sarcasm, accusation and snark—it is only human nature you will eventually ignore the skeptic and respond to the Christian. It would be hypocritical for me to demand you recognize the humanity in us, while denying the humanity in you. (Even we can follow the Golden Rule. *wink*)

    The reason I posted the comment about accurately representing our position was to (1) hopefully give an over-arching reason for all the sarcasm, attacks and accusations; (2) give some direction for eliminating them and (3) improving the conversation’s tone. There are so many fascinating topics with real meat, where we can both address the other’s actual position and learn.

    But obviously if you don’t believe me, there is nothing I can say to persuade you otherwise.

    I confess being left with a tinge of curiosity—in the original blog entry, you indicated the Christian should ask the skeptic their criteria for determining testimony’s credibility. You then stated, “That will move the conversation on to something more profitable.” I can’t help wondering what you meant by “more profitable.”

    I did (albeit with a touch of snark) provide exactly what was requested—criteria for determining testimony’s credibility. Yet how did this move the conversation to something more profitable?

  • http://toughquestionsanswered.com Bill Pratt

    I did see your criteria and I would like to discuss them at some point when I get some time. I also saw that tildeb gave some criteria that would be interesting to discuss. So even though the criteria was delivered with snark, as you like to say, I would like to circle back around and write a post that addresses the criteria you both put forward.

  • Ggodat

    Exhibit B of what i posted on stupidity.

  • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

    I comment because I often think that the blog title is misleading: tough questions are not answered when they are so often presented with an inherent bias towards faith-based belief and yet deserve an honest reply, and if the author isn’t going to do this when challenged by counter-factuals then it falls to the rest of us to show why the tough question has not been answered with intellectual honesty and integrity.

  • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

    As I read 1 Peter 3:15, I though to myself, this Ggodat person is not much of a Christian…

  • Ggodat

    Since you dont believe in Christ it really doesn’t matter does it? Don’t worry, i will have to account for my anger in front of Him on day. You as well. My outcome will be infinitely better though.

  • Ggodat

    Then doesn’t it seem idiotic that you spend so much time here given the fact that you are always right? Maybe, just maybe you care nothing about intellectual conversation and more about your ulterior motives….

  • http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/ tildeb

    Why are you angry? My belief or non belief in Christ surely doesn’t determine your dedication to following the gospel you say you follow, that you think is the very basis for your morality, does it? If so, then you are hooped. To revisit, 1 Peter 3:15, let us consider (from NIV):

    Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect

    Ahem….

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