• More on teleportation – a response to Glenn Peoples

     

    A few days ago, I posted an article entitled Evidence for Teleportation, and my friend Glenn Peoples (author of the Right Reason blog) has subsequently written a critique.  This post constitutes my response to Glenn, but also goes into more detail on a few issues.  I recommend first reading both my original article and Glenn’s response in order to get the most out of the current post.

    The current post is organised as follows.  First, I’ll refresh our memories about how the Minimal Facts approach to the resurrection works.  Next, I’ll mention a few things I did not say in my article.  Then I’ll briefly remind the reader of what my article did say.  After that, I’ll address the points Glenn made in his critique.  As it turns out, Glenn did not really address the main argument I made.  Instead, he complained that I did not present certain other arguments that I quite clearly stated I would do in subsequent posts, and he asserted that I said several things I simply did not say, before attacking those (unsaid) things; as we’ll see, most of Glenn’s criticisms were levelled at positions I clearly stated that I do not hold.

    The Minimal Facts approach in a nutshell.

    Glenn provided a very simple version of the argument, and this is it (with a couple of extra words added):

    P1.  If certain proposed “minimal facts” are true, then the resurrection happened.

    P2.  The proposed “minimal facts” are true.

    P3.  Therefore, the resurrection happened.

    I think this is a very good summary of the argument.  It clearly sets out the two premises that must be established, and the conclusion that would inevitably follow.  The proposed “minimal facts” are, essentially, that Jesus was crucified, that Jesus was buried in a tomb, that this tomb was later found empty, and that people claimed to see Jesus alive after his death.  (Note that the last proposed “fact” is that people claimed to see Jesus after his death.  If the proposed “fact” was instead that people actually did see the physical Jesus alive again after his death, then this alone would quite clearly demonstrate the resurrection, but it would be virtually impossible for the apologist to prove.)

    Of course, this is just the bare bones of the argument; the apologist typically attempts to support the premises P1 and P2 by means of other arguments.  It should also be noted that the word “probably” should really be included in both of the premises and the conclusion, as we are talking about historical inquiry here, but I’ll postpone a discussion about how this affects the argument to a later post.  (A simple example calculation would suffice to explain the basic point.  If we knew that P1 and P2 are both, say, 70% likely to be true, then we can only deduce that the conclusion is true with 49% probability – here we are moving from premises that are probably true to a conclusion that is not probably true.)

    What didn’t I say?

    I didn’t say much about the first premise, P1, apart from promising to explain in subsequent posts why I think it is doubtful.  For some reason, as we’ll see below, Glenn asserts that I accept this premise.  I have absolutely no idea why he does this.  I most certainly do not accept the premise, and stated so in no uncertain terms in the article:

    “I’ll argue in future posts that, even if [the proposed “minimal facts”] are all true, the resurrection is still far from the most likely explanation.”

    I also didn’t engage with what apologists have said in defense of the second premise, P2, except to say that I contest their reasons for accepting it, and would explain why in subsequent posts.

    Although he didn’t say this in his blog post, Glenn’s first comments to me in an online conversation was:

    “James, what you’ve presented is the hypothesis that the facts were concocted. The disciples made them up.”

    The problem with this assertion is that I had stated quite clearly in the article that I do not claim that the proposed “minimal facts” were concocted by the disciples (or anyone else).  Indeed, P2 could be wrong by virtue of certain people being mistaken, rather than dishonest.  Far from trying to give myself a “back door escape” (as Glenn asserts later on), I just do not think that the negation of “A, B, C, D are true” is “somebody made up A, B, C, D”.  (Glenn also mistakenly claimed in a couple of places that to disprove P2, one would have to show that each of the proposed “minimal facts” did not obtain.  Actually, all one would have to do is show that at least one did not obtain.  Here, Glenn is guilty of mis-applying De Morgan’s Law.  In fact, since the proponent of the Minimal Facts Argument has the burden of proof, all an opponent of P2 must do is show that the proponent has not successfully demonstrated the truth of (at least one of) the proposed “minimal facts”.)

    What did I say?

    As I said above, my detailed assessment of the reasons apologists have given in support of P2 will be given in a future post.  But my article did have something to say about P2.  I used the example of a claimed teleportation to illustrate the (quite obvious) fact that stories involving supernatural claims will generally also involve natural elements that are absolutely essential for the story to even be seen as a serious claim.  And, if the only sources we have for these natural elements are the sources that make the supernatural claim itself, we have a bit of a dilemma.  If the sources (whether the sources we actually possess, or other sources they might be based on) have a motive to make up the supernatural claim, then they have a motive to make up the natural elements that support it.  I am not saying that the disciples (or whoever started telling the resurrection story) must have concocted the details, but that any resurrection story that is meant to be taken seriously must include these details, whether they are made up or not.

    What did Glenn say?

    As it turns out, Glenn really did not address the above argument at all.  Everything Glenn said can be categorised into two types:

    Type 1.  Complaining that I didn’t make some other argument.

    Type 2.  Mis-characterising my position and then attacking that.  (See the Straw Man fallacy.)

    So, let’s go through Glenn’s complaints in the order they appear.  After giving his summary of my post, Glenn said:

    This is where things started to break down somewhat. In clarifying his position in our discussion about his claims, James said that “If the story is a fabrication then we should expect that the minimal facts would be there – whether they are concocted themselves or not.” We should expect that the minimal facts would be there even if the whole story was untrue (and how an actual fact could also be concocted is far from obvious)? This is surely false. If Jesus did not rise from the dead then there is no reason at all why we should expect, say, the empty tomb, or the post-resurrection appearances. Indeed, this statement is the opposite of the central thesis of his article, which claims that “The natural elements of the stories of Jesus’ resurrection are exactly the kinds of natural elements that would have to be fabricated if the resurrection itself was fabricated.” On the supposition that the article probably represents his more thought-out position, while the comments in conversation likely represent muddled remarks that one can sometimes make when being challenged.

    Contrary to Glenn’s assertions here, I never said that we would expect the proposed “minimal facts” to be true even if the resurrection didn’t happen.  Even the words Glenn quoted here do not say that.  Rather, I said (quite a few times) that we would expect the proposed “minimal facts” to be present in any serious story about the resurrection, even if the story was not true.  In other words, “be there” in the above quote means “be there in the story”, as should be quite apparent from the context.  I corrected Glenn on his misunderstanding in our discussion, so I’m surprised that he spent a whole paragraph talking about it.  In fact, I’m even more surprised that he acknowledges here that there might have been a misunderstanding, yet claims that I said this in order to “clarify my position”.  Glenn continues:

    Just how good is the above argument? Strikingly poor! Compare the two scenarios: In the teleportation scenario, you have the word of one person supplying literally all of the details. If the minimal facts case supporting the resurrection was like this, it would go something as follows: Jesus was crucified. One person reports that he was buried, and the same person reports that he was alive later, and this person assured his friends that if they were to visit the tomb (although nobody knew where it was so they couldn’t visit it), they would find it empty, and they should take his word that although he never saw fit to reveal himself alive again to anybody but him, and even though there’s no reason why Jewish believers (like all the disciples he’s trying to win over) should have thought that their Messiah would die and rise again, he’s really telling the truth, Jesus is alive again, somewhere, and he’s the Messiah, and the disciples should all go out and start telling everyone, and they shouldn’t back away from the story, even if they’re thrown in prison or threatened with death!

    There are quite a few things wrong with this paragraph.

    First, in the teleportation scenario, we do not in fact “have the word of one person supplying literally all of the details” – I quite clearly said that the whereabouts of Bob (the alleged teleporter) were backed up by witnesses.  In the teleportation scenario, we have contemporary eyewitnesses, still alive and able to be interviewed.  What’s more, if one wanted to, one could re-formulate the scenario so that there were more witnesses (I leave this as an exercise for the reader).

    Second, if the case supporting the teleportation scenario was like the resurrection, it would go something as follows.  We have four internally and externally contradictory narratives of the teleportation story, written by anonymous non-eyewitnesses living in different countries, reporting on stories that had been circulating for 30-60 years, long after most or all of the supposed witnesses had died.  We also have scant references to small parts of the story (mostly just the full claim that Bob teleported) in letters of another non-eyewitness writing 20 years after the supposed event.  Some of the sources claim the event happened in the morning, and another claimed it was in the afternoon.  One even claimed that the witnesses did not tell anybody about what they saw.  I could go on…

    Next, the idea that the Jews were not expecting a dying-and-rising messiah has no bearing on the historicity of the resurrection.  It has some relevance to the question of Jesus’ existence as a historical figure – I agree it would seem strange to invent a dying-and-rising messiah whole cloth.  But it does nothing to suggest that the disciples (or whoever started telling the resurrection story) had no motive to make up the resurrection itself.  Indeed, suppose Jesus gathered a group of followers during his life, who believed he might actually be the messiah.  But then he died.  Just as modern cults seek an alternate explanation for failed end-of-world predictions, and typically remain just as faithful as ever, so too may Jesus’ followers have looked for an explanation of his death.  Some kind of resurrection would be a reasonably logical thing to consider.  If one (or more) of his followers actually had some kind of dream or vision of Jesus after his death, this might have given them a very understandable reason to start thinking along these lines.

    Finally, as I explained in my article, Did the disciples die for their beliefs?, there is absolutely no evidence to support the oft-made claim that the disciples died for their beliefs.  In our online discussion, I invited Glenn to provide some evidence to back up his claim.  As you can see, no evidence was forthcoming.

    Clearly it is ludicrous to compare these two defences. One of the strengths of the minimal facts argument is the fact of multiple attestation. In his article James comments, apparently negatively, on the fact that the minimal facts are recorded in the Gospels themselves, but this betrays a failure to recognise what the biblical literature is. It is not just one source, like James as an alleged witness to teleportation. In the synoptic Gospels we have at least two sources (depending on which view one takes about the order in which they were written and the sources from which they were drawn). John we have a third source, and in Paul we have an earlier source (and Paul himself reproduces a much earlier formalised statement of belief on this used by other disciples). James does try to avoid this major difference between the two cases by introducing witnesses, but here too it is clear that the analogy breaks down. His few witnesses only claim that they saw Bob before and after, and they are unable to say with certainty whether or not there was enough time for Bob to get to the new location by other means. This hardly compares well to witnesses who genuinely believed (on pain of punishment or even death) that they had seen Jesus alive again after they had seen him publicly executed. Just how many seconds or minutes have passed is an easy thing to forget. Perhaps they weren’t paying attention. However, not remembering that your close friend has just been publicly crucified the next time you see him is another matter altogether!

    First of all, I did not “fail to recognise what biblical literature is”.  I never claimed the Bible is one source, or that the resurrection and teleportation scenarios need to be seen as the same in this way.

    Second, the kind of “multiple attestation” present in the biblical sources is rather different from the kind of multiple attestation where we have two (or more) eyewitness accounts of an event, or of various parts of an event.  Rather, we have four authors retelling a story that had already been in circulation for several decades, and Paul mentioning the barest of details a couple of decades after the alleged event.  These were people (who believed the story) telling the story.  These were not eyewitnesses providing independent evidence for distinct events that, taken together, support the grander claim of the resurrection.  I’ll have more to say about multiple attestation when I consider the apologists’ cases in subsequent posts.

    Third, Glenn complains that the eyewitnesses in the teleportation story could not supply accurate enough details as to the exact time (to the nearest second) that they saw Bob.  This is an interesting point to raise, given that the sources for the resurrection could not even agree whether the crucifixion happened in the morning or the evening.  The other contradictions and discrepancies between the sources for the resurrection are numerous, and will be dealt with in another post.  Again, the teleportation scenario could be trivially re-formulated to include some of the other witnesses noting the exact time – maybe they heard beeps on a radio or something.

    Finally, note that Glenn again makes the unjustified (unjusifiable?) claim that the disciples professed to believe the resurrection “on pain of death”.  If Glenn wishes to continue making this claim, then he will need to provide evidence that the people who began to circulate the resurrection story were executed for their beliefs, but had the opportunity to save their lives by saying that they had made it up.

    Suggesting in passing that the minimal facts are not well established (as James does in his article by noting the source of these claims) simply fails to interact with the case for the minimal facts, and as such does not need to be addressed. If James thinks that the arguments for the minimal facts fails somewhere, then he is welcome to make his case.

    I did not just “suggest in passing that the minimal facts are not well established”.  I said quite clearly that I would be “interacting with the case for the minimal facts” in future posts.

    James’s argument as a whole is a case of putting the cart before the horse. The minimal facts argument is roughly as follows:

    1)      These facts are agreed on as our starting point.

    2)      There is a variety of explanations of these facts, including the explanation that Jesus rose from the dead.

    3)      All of these explanations fail to have the explanatory scope or power for all of the facts, apart from the explanation that Jesus rose from the dead.

    4)      There is no compelling reason to exclude the explanation that Jesus rose from the dead.

    5)      Therefore (probably) Jesus rose from the dead.

    In case it is not clear already, I do not accept the first and third premises of this argument.  (The second and fourth are not really premises, but more background information – I accept both of those.)  Regarding the first premise, I absolutely do not agree that the proposed “minimal facts” are true.  They might be true (the crucifixion certainly seems likely to be true), but some or all might be false – I do not claim to know one way or the other.  If they are false, they might have been the result of dishonest trickery, or honest mistakes – again, I do not claim to know one way or the other.  This is not because I am trying to create a “back door” (contrary to Glenn’s accusations later in his post), but simply because I do not have enough information to know, and am therefore reserving my judgement.  I will say more about the third premise in future posts, but for now let me just say that I disagree quite thoroughly.  And just because the “Jesus really was resurrected” hypothesis is the simplest hypothesis to state, and trivially explains the proposed “minimal facts”, this does not in any way increase its likelihood of being true.

    The truth is, there is no reason to expect these facts to obtain if Jesus did not rise from the dead, and indeed if the above argument works, then all of the facts would not have obtained had Jesus not risen from the dead. This is implied by the minimal facts argument itself. In extremely simplified form, the argument is:

    1)      If the minimal facts, then Jesus rose from the dead.

    2)      The minimal facts

    3)      Therefore Jesus rose from the dead

    (I know, I said it was extremely simplified.) This is the logical form known as modus ponens (If A then B. A, therefore B). But of course, premise 1) logically entails the following, if we start with the claim that Jesus did not rise from the dead. This is a modus tollens argument (If A then B. Not B, therefore not A):

    1)      If the minimal facts, then Jesus rose from the dead.

    5)      Jesus did not rise from the dead

    6)      Therefore – not the minimal facts

    And this, if spelled out clearly, is James’ position.

    First of all, I agree that “there is no reason to expect [the proposed “minimal facts”] to obtain if Jesus did not rise from the dead”.  But this is precisely why I never said anything about expecting the proposed “minimal facts” to obtain if Jesus did not rise from the dead.  The statement I did make is that we have every reason to expect the proposed “minimal facts” (or something like them) to be present in a story that is supposed to provide a compelling account of the resurrection.  When I say “or something like them”, I mean that any claimed resurrection must have a few elements in order to even appear to be a serious resurrection claim: the story should include the claim that the person really died, that the person was later missing from his resting place, and that the person was seen again after his death – if any of these claims are missing, then the person making the resurrection claim will find it hard to get anyone to take him seriously.

    But is this my position?  Absolutely not!  Not even close!  How could I have been any clearer in saying that I do not accept Glenn’s first premise?  Let me quote, again, what I said in my original post:

    “I’ll argue in future posts that, even if [the proposed “minimal facts”] are all true, the resurrection is still far from the most likely explanation” 

    How Glenn could read that and decide that I support his first premise is absolutely beyond me.

    If the resurrection story is false, he says, then “The natural elements of the stories of Jesus’ resurrection are exactly the kinds of natural elements that would have to be fabricated.” Indeed they would, for if genuine, they are adequate evidence for the resurrection.

    No, I do not think that “if genuine, [the proposed “minimal facts”] are adequate evidence for the resurrection”.  As I quite clearly stated, the proposed “minimal facts” (or something like them) would have to be fabricated (or at least the ones that were not already true – I do not claim that they were all fabricated) in order for the story to even look like a genuine resurrection claim – not because I think the proposed “minimal facts” would entail the resurrection.  Glenn is again assuming that I accept his first premise.  It is also possible that Glenn misunderstands my use of the phrase “would have to be fabricated”.  Here I do not mean that it would have to be the case that the natural elements were fabricated, but, rather, that the disciples (or whoever first began to tell the stories) would need to fabricate them.

    I also could have made my point clearer by saying instead “the natural elements of the stories of Jesus’ resurrection are exactly the kinds of natural elements that would have to be fabricated (or at least the ones that were not already true)”.  For example, I do think Jesus was crucified, so I am not claiming that the disciples (or whoever started telling the story) made up the crucifixion.  In any case, I trust that it should be quite obvious that I meant this.

    It is simply not available for James to give himself a back door at the end of his article, tacking on “I’m not claiming to know that these details were fabrications.” If he is not here denying any facts or offering any reason to think that they should not be explained via the resurrection, then all he has left is the rather mundane claim that any complete version of the resurrection story would include the minimal facts. And clearly this claim is compatible with the minimal facts argument for the resurrection, including its conclusion, so how could it serve as a criticism of the argument?

    As I said above, admitting that I do not know whether the details were fabricated or not is not attempting to “give myself a back door” – it is simply saying “I do not know that they were fabricated”.  I did not “deny any facts or offer any reason to think that they should not be explained via the resurrection” in my original article because, as I stated quite clearly, I would be doing this in subsequent posts.  Glenn is again complaining that I did not give other arguments.

    Glenn may think the claim is mundane, but it is of crucial significance.  I agree that the claimed “minimal facts” would indeed be present in any complete version of the resurrection story – whether the resurrection is true or not.  But that is precisely the point.  The key observation is that the presence of the claimed “minimal facts” in the stories is perfectly compatible with the resurrection being a fabrication, so we should not be particularly impressed that we find the claims in the stories.  We’d find the claims (or something like them) in the story, whether it was true or false.  In other words, the presence of the claimed “minimal facts” does nothing to distinguish a true resurrection story from a fabricated resurrection story (or a resurrection story based on a mistake).  Crucially – and I agree with Glenn on this point – we need to determine whether there are good reasons for thinking the claimed “minimal facts” are true.  But, since the only sources for these proposed “minimal facts” are the very sources that claim the resurrection itself, and since there is ample motivation for the resurrection to have been fabricated, we have good reason to approach the claimed “minimal facts” with caution.

    I give James more credit than to suppose that he would offer something like that as a critique of the minimal facts argument. Obviously James does deny that Jesus rose from the dead, so he is logically committed, by this argument, to claiming that at least some of the minimal facts are missing. They are not facts, period.

    I would only be “logically committed” to that claim if I accepted Glenn’s first premise.  But I do not.

    If he wishes to resist this, he can only do so by rejecting 1), namely the claim that the minimal facts provide adequate grounds to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. And without that, he does not yet have an argument. He does allude to a denial of the burial, and to the hallucination hypothesis, but never defends either claim (each of which have been dealt fairly heavy blows in the past), so I cannot analyse his defence of those theories.

    Again, Glenn is complaining that I have not yet made additional arguments that I already said I would make in future posts.  Glenn also now says something about the possibility of rejecting the first premise of his arguments.  I am very surprised that he did not realise I reject this premise, given that I quite clearly said that I reject it.  Glenn also overestimates the weight of the blows that have been dealt to various alternative hypotheses – see for example the compilation, The empty tomb: Jesus beyond the grave, for some work by modern historians who do not accept the resurrection story.

    The problem with the argument 1-5-6, however, is that the minimal facts argument includes a defence of the minimal facts themselves. This gives us grounds to reject 6), which in turn calls 5), “Jesus did not rise from the dead,” into question.

    As I have said, I will critique the standard defences of the proposed “minimal facts” in future posts.

    There is just no getting around it. In order for James’s argument to have any force at all against the minimal facts argument, we must think that the resurrection story is false, thus giving us grounds for insisting that the minimal facts do not obtain after all.

    This would only be true if I accepted the first premise of Glenn’s arguments.  Since I do not, Glenn’s claim here is false.

    But since it is the minimal facts themselves that are defended in the minimal facts argument, the only real options are to argue either 1) that the minimal facts do not obtain, or else 2) they do obtain, but they do not give us a good reason to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. James promises to offer an argument for the latter in the future. Until that happens, the case he has presented offers no challenge at all to the minimal facts argument for the resurrection, for this is an argument that trades entirely on arguments that haven’t yet been offered.

    I await the argument with interest

    No, one is not required to show that “the minimal facts do not obtain”.  As I said above, this is just a logical mistake caused by an incorrect application of De Morgan’s Law.  To repeat what I said above, since the proponent of the Minimal Facts argument has the burden of proof, all the opponent must do is show that (at least) one of the proposed “minimal facts” has not been adequately defended.  And that is if the opponent is attacking Premise P2 of the original argument.  It is also open to the opponent of the argument to attack Premise P1.  As I have said once or twice now, I will be attacking both premises in future posts.

    Category: BibleChristianityGlenn PeoplesJesusResurrection

    Tags:

    Article by: Reasonably Faithless

    Mathematician and former Christian
    • Peter

      The minimal facts approach also relies a lot on the group appearances (to the 12 and the 500), and the appearance to skeptics (James and Paul). I think my problem here is that too much information may have been deliberately omitted. I think it’s likely that if you asked present day believers in some UFO stories, Marian apparitions, and such like to summarise the evidence they had in a paragraph you’d get something similar. Indeed, drawing together Roswell evidence, one could selectively assemble evidence for a later historian which would suggest that 1) there was massive amount of debris found in the desert (too much to be a weather balloon or other such craft) 2) the debris was remarkable (reports of hieroglyphics, government cover ups, it being “not of this world”, a “flying disk”). 3) various witness reported seeing recovered bodies (some insisting they were aliens and drawing pictures of them). 4) believers in the Roswell incident being threatened by the authorities. All within mere decades of the event! Then of course we could ask “what best explains this data?”, “try coming up with a alien-free explanation” etc.

      From
      http://rense.com/general31/newcom.htm
      http://www.ufoevidence.org/cases/case1134.htm

      • Sorry for the late response – I missed your reply for a while… I will of course have to address the group appearance claims. But you’re certainly right that there are several pieces of counter-evidence that is generally overlooked. And it is noteworthy that “aliens visited the earth” is the simplest explanation of the evidence you suggest. The true story could involve all kinds of unlikely scenarios that the believers would claim were totally ad hoc, but so be it – the truth is the truth, even if we could never know exactly what it is.

    • Glenn Peoples

      James, there’s a certain irony here – on the one hand complaining about me misrepresenting you (I may have misrepresented your opinion, but I didn’t misrepresent what you said), and then on the other hand misrepresenting me.

      For example, I commented: “Indeed they would, for if [the minimal facts are] genuine, they are adequate evidence for the resurrection.” And then you complained: “No, I do not think that “if genuine, [the proposed “minimal facts”] are adequate evidence for the resurrection”. …. Glenn is again assuming that I accept his first premise.” It’s pretty obvious that I didn’t attribute this quote or claim to you – it was my own.

      But setting aside all the claims of misrepresentation (claims that I think are mistaken), in the end – in the middle of all this – you concede that you are in fact making one of the claims I suggested, but which I called mundane, as it was totally compatible with the minimal facts argument. Here’s what I said:

      If he is not here denying any facts or offering any reason to think that they should not be explained via the resurrection, then all he has left is the rather mundane claim that any complete version of the resurrection story would include the minimal facts. And clearly this claim is compatible with the minimal facts argument for the resurrection, including its conclusion, so how could it serve as a criticism of the argument?

      Indeed – how could it serve as a criticism of the argument? Simply put – it can’t.

      And this is how you reply:

      Glenn may think the claim is mundane, but it is of crucial significance. I agree that the claimed “minimal facts” would indeed be present in any complete version of the resurrection story – whether the resurrection is true or not. But that is precisely the point. The key observation is that the presence of the claimed “minimal facts” in the stories is perfectly compatible with the resurrection being a fabrication…

      But here’s the thing James: They are not compatible with the resurrection being a fabrication (in probabilistic terms) If the facts are real. This is one of the premises of the MF argument. And that is why, as I keep saying, you need to give other arguments. Before this claim that I have just quoted is to have any import at all, you’d first need to show that the minimal facts – if real – should not be explained by the resurrection – or else that they aren’t really facts at all. You don’t seem to appreciate this fact.

      I note that you repeated this often: ” Glenn is again complaining that I did not give other arguments.”

      Yes I do make that complaint. This is because this mundane observation has no effect at all against the minimal facts argument for the resurrection. In order to have the sort of effect you want, you need to present, as you say “other argument.” So I’ll wait with anticipation. 🙂

      • I don’t see any irony, as I don’t think I’ve misrepresented you. If you can show me an actual example, I’ll apologise, since it would have been completely unintentional. But I don’t think the example you gave shows anything like this.

        “It’s pretty obvious that I didn’t attribute this quote or claim to you – it was my own.”

        I didn’t say that you attributed this quote or claim to me – I simply put quote marks around it to indicate that I was referring to the exact words you said. So how exactly have I misrepresented you here?

        “you concede that you are in fact making one of the claims I suggested”

        The word “concede” sounds very strange here – it would be like saying “Richard Dawkins concedes that he thinks evolution is true”. It seems to connote that you think you “got me”, and I reluctantly “admitted” that I said that stuff.

        As it happens, the claim you “suggested” that I made is indeed a (central) claim that I made. To say you are right to “suggest” so is not to “concede” anything!

        With your next point (“how can it serve as a criticism of the argument?”), you actually cut off my reply in the middle. If you read the rest of that paragraph, you’ll see exactly why it serves as a criticism of the argument.

        As for your assertion that the proposed “minimal facts” are not compatible with the resurrection being a fabrication, this seems very wrong to me. Are you really saying that there is no other plausible explanation?

        “Yes I do make that complaint.”

        I think this would be a fair complaint if I claimed that my original article was a complete critique of the MF approach (nice acronym!). But I said quite clearly that this was only the first part of my critique, and that subsequent parts would address the attempts of apologists to support the two premises. This is why I think it is an irrelevant complaint to make.

        • Glenn Peoples

          Well James, I think it’s clear that when I make a claim, and then you say No, I am not saying that – you are representing me as attributing a claim to you. But OK, that’s been brushed off now.

          Each time I proposed a possible substantive argument against the MF argument, you came back and said no no, that’s not what you’re saying, straw man etc. So that just leaves us with the mundane claim that I noted was the only real alternative – an alternative you do indeed embrace. And it just isn’t a criticism of the MF argument. You complain that I “cut off” comments, as though I’ve been deceitful, but James, nothing that I did not include explains why this mundane observation serves as a substantive critique of the MF argument.

          Indeed, the part that I didn’t include just consists of you missing the point:

          The key observation is that the presence of the claimed “minimal facts” in the stories is perfectly compatible with the resurrection being a fabrication, so we should not be particularly impressed that we find the claims in the stories.

          Well of course not – but this is a clear straw man. Nobody claims that the fact that the minimal fact claims appear in the resurrection story shows that the resurrection occurred. That would be crazy. The argument is that since we have good reasons to believe that the minimal facts really happened, we should explain them in terms of Jesus rising from the dead.

          So this is just misrepresentation of the argument that you set out to critique. Again, your blog article simply didn’t contain any good reasons to reject the MF argument. Any hint that you had a case simple depended on argument that you need to make but which, as I noted to your chagrin, you have not yet made.

          I’m out for now. I’ll await the arguments.

          • Glenn:
            Each time I proposed a possible substantive argument against the MF argument, you came back and said no no, that’s not what you’re saying, straw man etc.

            No, each time you suggested a possible silly argument against the MFA, I said that that was neither an argument I made nor supported. Why should I defend against silly words you have tried to put in my mouth? Wouldn’t it be better to simply point out that you are wrong for claiming that I said those things? It is very strange to see you defending this.

            Glenn:
            Indeed, the part that I didn’t include just consists of you missing the point

            And now you’ve just missed more of the paragraph in question. For the sake of anyone reading this conversation, the whole paragraph is as follows:

            Reasonably Faithless:
            Glenn may think the claim is mundane, but it is of crucial significance. I agree that the claimed “minimal facts” would indeed be present in any complete version of the resurrection story – whether the resurrection is true or not. But that is precisely the point. The key observation is that the presence of the claimed “minimal facts” in the stories is perfectly compatible with the resurrection being a fabrication, so we should not be particularly impressed that we find the claims in the stories. We’d find the claims (or something like them) in the story, whether it was true or false. In other words, the presence of the claimed “minimal facts” does nothing to distinguish a true resurrection story from a fabricated resurrection story (or a resurrection story based on a mistake). Crucially – and I agree with Glenn on this point – we need to determine whether there are good reasons for thinking the claimed “minimal facts” are true. But, since the only sources for these proposed “minimal facts” are the very sources that claim the resurrection itself, and since there is ample motivation for the resurrection to have been fabricated, we have good reason to approach the claimed “minimal facts” with caution.

            You responded to that paragraph by ignoring most of it and saying the following:

            Glenn:
            Well of course not – but this is a clear straw man. Nobody claims that the fact that the minimal fact claims appear in the resurrection story shows that the resurrection occurred. That would be crazy. The argument is that since we have good reasons to believe that the minimal facts really happened, we should explain them in terms of Jesus rising from the dead.

            I never claimed that anyone “claims that the fact that the minimal fact claims appear in the resurrection story shows that the resurrection occurred”. I never said it, so why would you attack that view as if it was mine? You’re just making straw man after straw man. As I’ve said right since the beginning, I’ll be showing in later posts why the arguments for the proposed “minimal facts” are not good. But this post was about the problematic nature of the method in general – where the only sources for the proposed “facts” that somehow imply the resurrection are the very sources that make the resurrection claim itself.

            Glenn:
            So this is just misrepresentation of the argument that you set out to critique. Again, your blog article simply didn’t contain any good reasons to reject the MF argument.

            No, it is not a misrepresentation of the MF argument – because I never claimed what you said I did. Quote me, or point to a place where I said that any apologist “claims that the fact that the minimal fact claims appear in the resurrection story shows that the resurrection occurred”. Irony or ironies that you are claiming that I am guilty of misrepresenting an argument, and supporting your case by telling me that I made an argument that I absolutely did not.

            • Glenn Peoples

              James, you did in fact make the claim that you are now denying making.

              One more time: You said that “the presence of the claimed “minimal facts” in the stories is perfectly compatible with the resurrection being a fabrication.”

              This either misunderstands or misrepresents the argument, James, and there is no point just brushing this off as me using a straw man. The argument is not that the mere presence of the claimed facts in the story is evidence of anything. Nobody claims this. Instead, the claim is that because there is evidence for these fact claims, we should believe them. And if they are true, they should be explained in terms of the resurrection.

              As for me not responding to each part of your post, you’re right. I’m pointing out that you central argument fails. Since it does, there’s no need to follow up every sentence.

            • Glenn, right back in the original post, I said that I think the resurrection is not the best explanation for the proposed “minimal facts”, even if they are granted as true. In other words, yes, I do think that “the truth of the “minimal facts” is perfectly compatible with the resurrection being a fabrication.”” I said this quite clearly in the first post, and I said it quite clearly in this post, and I said quite clearly that I would be arguing my case in future posts. If I really said the opposite somewhere, I’d be very surprised.

              What I’m more interested in, and you have ignored this so far, is where you got the idea that the following is my position:

              1) If the minimal facts, then Jesus rose from the dead.

              5) Jesus did not rise from the dead

              6) Therefore – not the minimal facts

              And this, if spelled out clearly, is James’ position.

              In particular, why do you think I accept Premise 1? Right from the beginning, I have said exactly the opposite.

            • Glenn Peoples

              “In other words, yes, I do think that “the truth of the “minimal facts” is perfectly compatible with the resurrection being a fabrication.” ”

              I don’t care that you claimed this in the first post, clearly or otherwise. You haven’t argued for it. In fact you seemed to be criticising me for pointing out that you haven’t argued for it. I was being impatient, because you have said that these argument are yet to come. OK, I’ll wait. I am only interested in whether or not you’ve got an argument against the MF approach.

              Now we know – as I have shown in spite of you trying to brush it off as a misrepresentation – that your whole argument in your first post was based on a misrepresentation of the MF argument itself. So you haven’t got a critique.

            • No, we don’t know that I have misrepresented the MF argument – you claim that I have. But no matter. I can see that nothing I say here will change your mind. And we are not left with a “mundane claim” either – we are left with a fairly obvious observation (that you have called “mundane”) that has some fairly significant corollaries (which I have explained above in a few places, so won’t worry about now). I doubt much can be added by either of us for now, so I guess we’ll wait for the next round, eh? 🙂

            • Glenn Peoples

              In particular, why do you think I accept Premise 1? Right from the beginning, I have said exactly the opposite.

              James, as I have said a few times now and I said in the very article that you’re responding to, if this is not your argument – and I believe you when you say it isn’t – then we are left with the mundane claim discussed above. In this thread you’ve confirmed that the mundane claim is the one you make, which then led to you misrepresenting the MF argument.

          • It’s probably also worth noting that you’ve ignored virtually all the criticisms I made of your blog response.

    • stuart32

      The empty tomb argument should be called the Trojan horse argument. The claim that the tomb was empty seems reasonable at first but later it will be claimed that the empty tomb can’t be explained by anything other than a miracle. In that case the empty tomb itself is a miracle and we would need as much evidence to believe in it as we would need for any other miracle.

      The argument should be turned round. Those biblical scholars who believe in the empty tomb should be challenged to provide a natural explanation for it. Only then should we accept what they say.

      • Christian Biblical scholars typically think that there is no natural explanation for the empty tomb, so there is hardly any sense in asking them to provide one.

        • stuart32

          The point about the minimal facts argument is that the facts have supposedly been established by scholars. The question is: what methods do those scholars use to establish the facts? The methods themselves may be the subject of disagreement but presumably scholars hope that their methods would be accepted by people outside their field. A non-expert should be capable of understanding the criterion of embarrassment, for example.

          However, I suggest that none of the criteria used by NT scholars are as compelling as the criterion of physical possibility. If the bible says that something physically impossible happened then that’s the best reason for rejecting the claim. If NT scholars want me to accept that there was an empty tomb it’s no good saying that it satisfies the various criteria which they use. They must convince me that it was physically possible. Otherwise it means that their entire discipline is so disconnected from all other forms of human inquiry that they can’t be taken seriously.

          • Of course it’s physically possible that the tomb could be empty. For example (choosing a natural scenario), if someone stole the body, then the tomb would be empty. I don’t think any of the proposed “minimal facts” could be classified as “physically impossible” – the same could be said for the proposed details in the teleportation story.

            • stuart32

              Yes, I agree that it’s physically possible that the tomb was empty. But notice how the question is usually approached. Biblical scholars use their methods to establish, supposedly, that the tomb was empty. Next they consider whether there could be a natural explanation. That’s the wrong way of looking at it. Whether or not we accept the story should depend on how likely a natural explanation is. In other words, the more reason we have for doubting a natural explanation, the less reason we have for believing the story. Conversely, if someone proposes a convincing mundane explanation for the empty tomb, I am more likely to believe that the story is true.

            • stuart32

              Actually, James, I can see your point. You don’t want to be accused of being narrow minded and dismissing inconvenient facts. In this case, the risk of that is inevitable. Every account that tells us the tomb was empty also tells us that Jesus was resurrected. Therefore, the claim that the tomb was empty cannot be considered separate from the claim that Jesus was resurrected. And scepticism about the resurrection cannot be separated from scepticism about the empty tomb.

            • Yes, my main point in this post (well, in the original post about teleportation) is that some of the natural elements are, as you say, impossible to separate from the supernatural. You’d be mad if you thought people would take your resurrection claim seriously if you didn’t claim certain things – including the person no longer being in his burial place.

              And yes, I try and approach this issue with as open a mind as possible. Even people like Bart Ehrman grant certain things that could be considered “inconvenient” for the resurrection denier. But there is no point blocking one’s ears about these things. If there are good reasons to accept one or more of the proposed “minimal facts”, then we should do just that.

              As for the approach, I think it is a good idea (for the apologists) to try and establish the proposed “minimal facts”. If they could establish them, then they could go on to the next task of trying to show that the resurrection provides the best explanation. As it is, though, I don’t think all the proposed “minimal facts” can be established, and I don’t think the resurrection provides the best explanation.

            • stuart32

              I don’t think that there was an empty tomb but if I had to try to explain it I would suggest the following: it’s likely that the authorities wouldn’t want people to know where Jesus was buried. They wouldn’t want the followers of an executed criminal paying their respects at his grave.

              Let’s say that a couple of servants are given the task of burying Jesus and are told to make absolutely sure that no one follows them. When they reach the tomb they notice the women watching from a distance. They panic. They wait for the women to leave and then remove the body. They intend to bury the body somewhere else but it’s getting dark and they are panicking. They end up just dumping the body. If anyone finds out what they’ve done they will be in serious trouble, so they can never admit to it.