Review of Tom Jump vs Jonathan Sheffield

What did I think of this debate? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Someone recommended I look into the work of Tom Jump. I have heard a lot about him. Something interesting is that I saw that he said he has Aspergers which means he and I have a similarity. I saw him debate Gil Sanders on the existence of God with Thomism and think Gil was the one who knew most what he was talking about in that debate.

Some of you might cry bias, but realize I try to be as objective as I can in debates. I can think the atheist is wrong with his conclusion, but I can think he presented the better argument. When my father-in-law does a debate and I watch it, I give an honest feedback and if I don’t think it was a great debate on his part, I tell him.

My main area is the historical Jesus so I decided to see what Tom Jump had to say about the resurrection. I only found one such debate thus far and that was against Jonathan Sheffield. Right off, Sheffield’s argument for the resurrection I found quite unusual and was one I had never heard before. Those interested in the whole debate can go here.

Sheffield argues that many claimants of various religions were investigated by the Roman Empire and dealt with. Nothing was ever found about Christianity and a forged statement arguing that an investigation had been done was made. Sheffield argues that if Christianity was false, it would have been easy to shut it down at the time.

This is not the argument I would use, but it was interesting. I’m more interested in Jump’s response. Jump gave sadly the usual responses we see such as ECREE and of course, there had to be an appeal to Richard Carrier in there. At one point, he did reference the work of Mike Licona, but I wonder if he read it himself or just got it secondhand.

I would have liked to have seen more information on the historical data itself. I would have especially liked to have seen more on the burial. Jump goes with the position that Jesus was likely thrown in a common grave which is a position that was held by Crossan at one point at least and is held by Ehrman today.

I really don’t know after watching the debate where Jump stands on many issues aside from he doesn’t believe Jesus rose from the dead. Does he believe Jesus even existed? (If he likes Carrier, there’s reason to think he doesn’t.) When does he think the Gospels were written and who wrote them? What does he think of Paul?

I naturally don’t find ECREE convincing at all as an argument. Extraordinary is never defined and what is extraordinary for one person isn’t for another and how do you recognize extraordinary evidence. Does it glow in the dark? A young-earth creationist finds evolution and atheism an extraordinary claim. An atheist finds theism and young-earth creationism an extraordinary claim. If you went to a third world country and told them we landed on the moon (Assuming they had never heard of such an event), they would find that claim extraordinary.

At any rate, while I would not use the argument Sheffield used, though it was interesting and if he has success with it, wonderful, I found Jump’s response was less than adequate. I wouldn’t mind seeing what else he might say in debate on the resurrection, but so far I haven’t seen anything that calls it into question.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Case Against Miracles Chapter 3

What do I think of John Loftus’s chapter? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Well, I was wrong. I thought I had got to the chapter last time that was the worst. I thought nothing could top Matthew McCormick’s chapter. Sadly, I spoke too soon. John Loftus had a chapter next on defending ECREE.

If you don’t know, that means Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence. The problem with this is first off, what is an extraordinary claim varies from person to person. I consider it an extraordinary claim that God doesn’t exist. Someone might consider macroevolution an extraordinary claim. Another would consider Intelligent Design an extraordinary claim. Some might consider Muhammad being a false prophet an extraordinary claim. Some might consider reincarnation being false an extraordinary claim.

Who decides the standard?

Second, how do you recognize extraordinary evidence? Does it glow in the dark? What does it really look like? The terms are way too vague.

Also, this whole chapter seems at times loaded with any atheist canard that Loftus can put in there. This especially goes after New Testament ideas. It would have been better for Loftus to just stick to his argument, which is essentially just repeating Hume ad nauseum.

In defining his terms, Loftus says that

Third, a miraculous claim is one made about miraculous events that are unexplainable and even impossible by natural processes alone, which requires miraculous levels of testimonial evidence.

Is this not begging the question? It requires miraculous evidence? Who says? Suppose I pray for someone blind to have their eyes opened and as I pray in Jesus’s name for their healing, their eyes open and they see. Am I justified in believing in a miracle? Why not?

He also talks about the way believers treat Hume.

They continue to believe in their sect-specific miracles despite his standards. But they duplicitously use his standards when assessing the miracles of the religions they reject.

Well, no. Not all of us. I have no problem with miracles occurring in other religions. I am fine with Muslims having prayers answered or anything like that. Maybe God is giving them a dose of grace to lead them to Him. Maybe some miracles are demonic in nature. If you talk about visions of Mary appearing, I am open, and even if I don’t know what is going on, I do not rule it out. I also do investigate those in my own tradition, much like I investigate political claims in my own political walk. Many of you know my father-in-law is a New Testament scholar and when possible, I try to verify him as well.

Now some claims I do think are quite false for evidential reasons. I don’t think many of the claims of Mormonism are likely to be true, but could miracles happen there, if perhaps even by demonic powers? Why not? I don’t rule it out.

Loftus interacts with a critic who argues it is self-defeating to use ECREE since the principle itself doesn’t have extraordinary evidence. Loftus has a threefold response. I will deal with what I deem relevant. First

My response is threefold. First, since all claims about the objective world require sufficient corroborating objective evidence commensurate with the nature of the claim, it’s clear that extraordinary types of extraordinary claims require more than mere ordinary testimonial evidence.

But this is just him stating his principle again to which one just has to ask, “Why?” All he has done is taken ECREE and restated it as if that counts as a response. Why should it?

Second, such an objection entails there must be exceptions to the ECREE principle.

Or it could just entail that ECREE is false.

And then we get into the usual arguments.

But what we find exclusively on behalf of miracles in the Bible is human testimony, ancient pre-scientific superstitious human testimony, second- third- fourth-handed human testimony, conflicting human testimony filtered by editors, redactors, and shaped by early Christian debates for decades and/ or centuries in the ancient pre-scientific world, where miracle claims were abundant without the means to discredit them.

Where does someone begin with a train wreck like this? First off, pre-scientific? Granted they didn’t do science like we do, but they had rudimentary knowledge. They knew dead people stay dead. They knew people don’t walk on water. They knew virgins don’t give birth. They knew paralysis and blindness don’t just get healed without a reason. They are called miracles for a reason.

Also, not all of this testimony is second or thirdhand. Consider 2 Corinthians 12:12.

I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. 

Here Paul is saying that he did miracles in the midst of a testimony to a church that is questioning Paul’s apostleship. Note that also no one disputes that Paul wrote this. If Paul is making a claim like this, he’d better be sure that even his opponents know it.

Finally, miracles back then could be evaluated and they were often scoffed at. Lucian is a prime example. If people just believed miracle claims blindly, then why did the whole world not immediate turn to Christianity? Loftus himself will have something in his book about most Jews rejecting Jesus at His time. Why, if miracles were blindly believed?

Next he looks at the virgin birth, which I do affirm.

Let’s take at face value the extraordinary miraculous tale that a virgin named Mary gave birth to the god/ baby Jesus. There’s no objective evidence to corroborate her story. None. We hear nothing about her wearing a misogynistic chastity belt to prove her virginity. No one checked for an intact hymen before she gave birth. Nor did she provide her bloodstained wedding garment from the night of her wedding that supposedly “proved” she was a virgin before giving birth (Deuteronomy 22: 15– 21). After Jesus was born Maury Povich wasn’t there with a DNA test to verify Joseph was not the baby daddy. We don’t even have first-hand testimonial evidence for it, since the story is related to us by others, not Mary, or Joseph. At best, all we have is the second-hand testimony of one person, Mary, or two if we include Joseph who was incredulously convinced Mary was a virgin because of a dream, yes, a dream (see Matthew 1: 19– 24), one that solved his dilemma of whether to “dismiss her quietly” or “disgrace” her publicly, which would have led her to be executed for dishonoring him.[ 97] We never get to independently cross-examine them, along with the people who knew them, which we would want to do, since they may have a very good reason for lying (pregnancy out of wedlock?).

The reason why we believe the stories here is because we believe in the resurrection of Jesus and believe He’s fully God and fully man and lo and behold, a miraculous birth seems consistent. Some other points to consider are Mary would hardly be able to implicate YHWH immediately. A story of rape or just a one-night stand would be shameful but more readily believed. Second, the writers would not want something that could seem remotely close to paganism, and yet critics would use this. Third, it would confess that Jesus was not the biological son of Joseph which would bring shame to Him. Fourth, while Loftus dismisses a dream, we do not know all the content of this dream. We just know it was convincing and why couldn’t God speak in a dream?

He also says the Gospels were anonymous, which simply means the names weren’t included in the manuscript itself, much like the majority of other ancient works from that time. It’s not the case that no one knew who wrote it. A Gospel did not just show up at the door of a church one day and no one knew who wrote it. A person delivering it would know or somewhere on there it could say who wrote it. Any New Testament survey could give you reasons why a traditional authorship can be believed.

No reasonable investigation could take Mary and/ or Joseph’s word for it.

Because? I mean, if Luke or Matthew is already convinced of the deity of Christ and His being the Messiah and His rising from the dead and doing other miracles, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to believe in these miracles. Perhaps they also spoke to the wise men and/or shepherds. We don’t know. We know Luke was a thorough researcher though, particularly in Acts.

For if this is the kind of research that went into writing the gospels, we shouldn’t believe anything else they say without requiring corroborating objective evidence. But if research was unnecessary for writing their gospels— because they were divinely inspired—why do gospel writers give us the pretense of having researched into it (see Luke 1: 1– 4)? Why not simply say their stories are true due to divine inspiration and be done with the pretense? Then the gospel authors would be admitting their tales lack the required corroborating objective evidence, which in turn means there isn’t a good reason to believe them.

So Loftus says “They did research that ends in miracles and we know that didn’t happen.” How? This is begging the question. Then because these are divinely inspired, then why do research? Loftus brought up inspiration. Not I. Inspiration is a detail that doesn’t really matter. If it’s true, it’s true whether inspired or not. Even if God is inspiring the work, why can it not be done through the means of research? Thus, Loftus has it that if they go and do their research, we can’t believe them because research would never admit a miracle. If they don’t do research, we still can’t believe them.

He then goes on to quote Robert Fogelin.

Hume nowhere argues, either explicitly or implicitly, that we know that all reports of miracles are false because we know that all reports of miracles are false… Hume begins with a claim about testimony. On the one side we have wide and unproblematic testimony to the effect that when people step into the water they do not remain on its surface. On the other side we have isolated reports of people walking across the surface of the water. Given the testimony of the first kind, how are we to evaluate the testimony or of the second sort? The testimony of the first sort does not show that the testimony of the second sort is false; it does, however, create a strong presumption— unless countered, a decisively strong presumption— in favor of its falsehood. That is Hume’s argument, and there is nothing circular or question begging about it.

So it is. How do we evaluate it? Well, off the top of my head I would say we examine the claimants and see what evidence they give and see what the environment is and what the claim entails and then decide if it happened or not. It’s noteworthy in all of this chapter I didn’t see Keener referenced once. You know, the guy who went out and did just that with the evidence. I also don’t see Candy Gunther Brown referenced. Not a shock.

In my previous anthology, Christianity is the Light of Science,

I have to say I was delirious with laughter when I read this. Now, I know we could say it’s just a typo, of which is the first chapter I read with such typos, but I don’t know if we can. I mean, this is the great John Loftus we’re talking about. He studied under William Lane Craig. Surely he would not make a mistake like this. Well, I guess he wants us to know that Christianity is the light of modern science. Excellent!

One idea he says about archaeology disconfirming the Bible is first off, the Exodus. The problem here is that there are some who have questioned this, such as Hoffmeier in his books. Second, such used to be said about David as well. Used to be. Now we have found David in archaeology.

The next is Nazareth being a town during the life of Jesus. Bart Ehrman doesn’t even think this one has validity. See here for details.

Loftus then goes on to mention atheists who have argued against Hume’s argument.

Graham Oppy, who has been every fundamentalist apologist’s friend for taking their beliefs seriously, strangely says “Hume’s argument against belief in miracle reports fails no less surely than do the various arguments from miracle reports to the existence of an orthodoxy conceived monotheistic god.” Surely he doesn’t really mean that? Does he?

Oh please say it isn’t so! Say that Oppy really doesn’t mean it! Surely he would know better! If Loftus’s argument is reduced to “Surely he doesn’t really mean that does he?”, then we have the case of a child just crying wanting it to be otherwise. This does not count as an argument against Oppy. Perhaps we could say it’s “cognitive dissonance.”

He also argues against Mike Licona who says that much of what we know about the past comes from one source and rarely beyond all suspicion. Loftus says

So if historical evidence about ordinary claims in the past has such a poor quality to it, as Licona admits, then how much more does historical evidence of extraordinary miracle claims in the past? If the first is the case, then the second is magnified by thousands.

But Licona didn’t say they have poor quality. He said there’s sometimes one source and just because it is disputed doesn’t mean the evidence is poor. That vaccines don’t cause autism is disputed. That 9/11 wasn’t an inside job is disputed. That heliocentrism is true or the Earth is round is disputed.

Loftus also begs the question again about his standard for miracles. If I question his standard before, why should I accept it now?

Finally, Hume argues that competing religions support their beliefs by claims of miracles; thus, these claims and their religious systems cancel each other out.

I can only surmise that Hume didn’t know much about miracles and religions. Let’s consider Judaism first. The grand miracle of that would be the Exodus. Christians have no problem with that and I doubt Muslims would as well. Jews would reject Christianity’s grand claim of the resurrection as does Islam. Islam itself has no founding miracle except the Qur’an itself. Hinduism and Buddhism have no founding miracles.

If we go further, Mormonism depends on Christian truth to some extent such that if there was no resurrection, Mormonism would likely fall as well. I can also question Mormonism on other grounds, like the Book of Abraham. So I have to ask what Hume was getting at.

Furthermore, all this proves is not all religions would be true, which we would accept. Some would be false. Would it work to say some theories on the origin of life contradict, so they all must be false? Of course not.

If miracles are the foundation for a religion, then an apologist for that religion cannot bring up a miracle working god to establish his supposed miracles. For miracles are supposed to be the basis for the religion and its miracle working god.

And later

Apologists might start by first arguing for their god’s existence, but very few of them say, “Here is the objective evidence that our god exists.” They always seem to talk in terms of “presenting an argument” rather than “presenting the evidence,” which is very telling. So, an unevidenced god will not help an unevidenced miracle, just as an unevidenced miracle will not help an unevidenced god. The only thing apologists can do is special plead to their god and his religion by assuming what needs to be proved.

Loftus doesn’t realize apparently that an argument is evidence, which he should since all he has been giving in this chapter is an argument. I find that very telling. Second, there is nothing inconsistent. This is the classical approach. One uses arguments, like the Thomistic ones, to show that there is a God and some qualities He must have. At this point, belief systems like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are still in the running. Then one looks at the different religious claims to see how that God might have revealed Himself.

One could also start the other way though. One could look at the evidence for the resurrection and be convinced it happened and say “There must be a God then!” That’s not inconsistent at all. Loftus knows if Jesus rose, it would be the Christian God. As he says,

At this point they’re already assuming their Christian god exists and is the one who raised Jesus from the dead, for if the hypothesis was that “Allah raised Jesus from the dead,” we already know the answer— of course not! Nor would it be the Hindu god, any of the pantheistic gods and/ or goddesses, a deistic god, or even the Jewish god, since overwhelming numbers of Jews don’t believe in the Christian god.

But it’s not being assumed. A case is made that a God exists that is consistent with the Christian God, but it does not necessitate the Christian God. That is an important fact to remember.

Finally, he gets to what he calls private miracles

There are two of them. One) Christians claim the gospel writers received private subjective messages from the spirit world who subsequently wrote down these messages known as the divinely inspired Scriptures. On this see David Madison’s excellent chapter for a refutation. Two) Apologists also argue that Christians receive their own private subjective messages that lead them to trust the private subjective messages of the gospel writers.

I’ll be fair and say I agree with some criticisms here. I tire of people constantly thinking God is talking to them or the Holy Spirit is giving them a secret message. Why do I trust the Scriptures? Not because of anything I feel. I trust them because the evidence for them is strong.

So I conclude once again that if this is the best kind of argumentation Loftus has, our Christianity is in really good shape.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Further Look At ECREE

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. Before I begin the next series, which I hope to do tomorrow, I’m going to take the time to answer a message that came to me in the midst of prior series. Not wanting to interrupt an ongoing series at the time, I have decided that this is the opportune moment to look at the claim.

The claim revolves the use of ECREE, which is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. My problem with this is that the skeptical community has often used it as a conversation-stopper and that in many cases, what is considered as extraordinary is often unclear.

For the second, I am in dialogue with one atheist now who I am trying to convince that nothing cannot cause something. For me, that is a highly highly highly extraordinary claim based on my beliefs regarding metaphysics. Meanwhile, for him, the idea that God created the universe, is highly highly extraordinary, based on the holding of a naturalistic worldview.

Question. Who needs to provide evidence for their view?

If you said “Both of you,” move to the head of the class.

So at this point, I am not saying that I am opposed to evidence. My friend who wrote said that he is not convinced by people saying that they feel Jesus. Something similar can be found in many other religions. After all, Mormons feel the burning in the bosom and thus are convinced that the Book of Mormon is true, but those of us outside the Mormon church who have studied it and its beliefs, just don’t find that convincing.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that subjective experiences play no part in determining what one believes, but they should not play the only part. Someone can speak about the evidences of God and of the resurrection and then also look at their changed life since becoming a Christian. That is entirely valid. (I would prefer them to start with the objective argument first however and have the effects from the subjective experience be a follow-up.)

My friend brings up the idea of someone claiming to have an interstellar spaceship and twenty people making a claim on a stack of Bibles that it is real. Now there are some questions I would have at this point. For instance, it would depend on who those twenty people are partially. If these are twenty people shown on a TV infomercial that I do not know, then I will not give it credibility. If, however, these people are people like my wife, good friends, family, leaders of my church, I’ll start thinking “Maybe I should look into this.”

Now I could go and see this supposed ship someone has for sale then and I might think “I need to get my eyes examined.” I go and get my eyes examined and I have a clean bill of health. I still see the spaceship. I think I must be hallucinating then, so I get a psychiatric evaluation and again, I’m given a clean bill of health. I still see the spaceship. I at that point have the salesman give me a ride and we travel throughout the solar system and come back. At this point, I must say that I am indeed a believer.

I have no problem with this and based on the kind of claim that it is, that is the kind of evidence I seek. An important consideration to keep in mind is that we evaluate claims based on the kinds of claims that they are. Suppose you want to know if Jesus rose from the dead. The improper way to do that, as would be found at some skeptical web sites that want to say Jesus never even existed, would be to pray and ask Jesus to heal everyone in the world of every disease and if that doesn’t happen, well then history obviously must demonstrate that Jesus did not rise.

No. The way to evaluate the claim is to look at the historical evidence that we have. If you find it to be faulty, on what grounds? Are they historical grounds or philosophical grounds or some other grounds? Suppose you accept the bedrock of Habermas and Licona for instance and say “I agree that Jesus was crucified, that the tomb was empty, that the apostles had experiences that they claimed to be that of the risen Christ, and that James and Paul, two people hostile to the message prior, became strong Christians.” Well and good. You then reply “But I don’t believe the resurrection happened.”

You are certainly entitled to that opinion, but I would then ask on what grounds do you dismiss it? For instance, Stephen Patterson in a debate with Mike Licona has said that the reason he rejects the resurrection is that he is a modern man. He believes that by resurrection it does not mean that God raised Jesus from the dead physically. Miracles just do not happen. He has to explain the data another way, and indeed he does attempt to do so. Whether someone finds his explanation to be sound or not is up to them. Does his explanation best account for the data?

Note that Patterson’s problem is on philosophical grounds. His belief is that miracles cannot be historically verified if they even happen at all. At that point, one can go to philosophy and demonstrate that miracles are at least possible. While demonstrating them as actual is best, we can at least get to possible.

The problem with ECREE at this point is just simply saying that in the face of contrary evidence that it just isn’t extraordinary enough without really explaining what is there. Now I am not saying that someone has to immediately give in to a lot of evidence. By all means, go out and study the information that you’ve been given for yourself and see if it’s valid and see if there are any valid criticisms of it.

My friend also included in the message information on homeopathic medicine. I do not claim to be an authority on this so I will not act on one, but I do agree with him that if homeopathic medicine is valid, then we should certainly see some results in the laboratory, and I say the laboratory because this is in the area of science and therefore it is fitting to study it scientifically. (Since some atheists who seem to think that every truth claim can be tested by science) We can supposedly explain some recoveries by the placebo effect. Does that mean we close the door on research? I wouldn’t say that. However, there needs to be more than what can be explained by the placebo effect.

I also like at the end that my friend stated that extraordinary evidence is really simple evidence that is probable given the truth claim. That is much better since he has given criteria. The atheist who is expecting that to believe Jesus rose from the dead, he has to have Jesus appear to him manifestly I do not believe will be satisfied, especially since God gave him a brain to use to study claims for himself.

I do appreciate the rejoinder to what has been said and I hope that my response has been helpful.