Dialogue with Vincent Torley over the Probability of Jesus’ Resurrection

Yesterday I wrote an extended response to apologist Vincent Torley’s OP–“Evidence for the Resurrection”–which was discussed recently in a post on John Loftus’ blog. In his OP, Torley argues that there is about a 60-65% subjective probability that Jesus rose from the dead, based on the disciples’ post-mortem experiences of Jesus.

Since a link to of one of my essays–“History, Probability, and Miracles”–was included in Loftus’ post and came up in the discussion thread, Torley made some criticisms of it, which led to a dialogue that eventually resulted in me writing my extended response to Torley’s OP. Here is my reply to Torley:

https://celsus.blog/reply-to-vincent-torley/

Screenshot 2017-04-12 at 2.25.57 PM

If my tone sounds a bit frustrated at the beginning, I should note that I originally hadn’t planned to respond to the OP, as I have been busy working on my dissertation, but I got sidetracked into it when I responded to Torley’s criticism of my essay in the discussion thread. I’ll try to avoid sounding frustrated in my further interactions with Torley by moderating the amount of time I spend engaging in our arguments.

I think both Torley’s OP and my response raise some interesting questions about the role of probability in assessing historical claims, the nature of the primary sources for Jesus’ resurrection, and to what extent we can make precise description about the disciples’ alleged post-mortem experiences of Jesus. Readers of this blog will know that these are common topics discussed here on Κέλσος, and so I think they will find my dialogue with Torley to be of interest.

-Matthew Ferguson

This entry was posted in Apologists, Historical Jesus, Historical Paul, History, Philosophy, Replies to Critics, Resurrection and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Dialogue with Vincent Torley over the Probability of Jesus’ Resurrection

  1. Rich Griese says:

    Seems like a waste of time to even argue with these kooks.

    Cheers!

    • Celsus says:

      Well, I think it is important to protect the field of ancient history from attempts to prove (or, argue for the probability of) paranormal theories about the past.

      Resurrection apologetics is like a religious version of the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens. Both try to make claims about phenomena that lie beyond existing scientific knowledge. I do not know of any serious Classical scholar who attempts to do the same thing.

      • Rich Griese says:

        I understand the pressure. But, I did notice that you said in your big response that you felt you needed to address the dude because you were mentioned. When you do that, you loose control. It means anyone can drag you into a waste of time by simply mentioning you. I would recommend more Dawkin’s tact with regard to that kook William Lane Craig. Craig wishes he could draw Dawkins iinto a debate. But Dawkins will not give him the facade of credibility by appearing on the same stage with him.

        It’s not your responsibility to show a bad argument is bad. Supernaturalism is dying. Just ignore it and let it die quicker.

        Cheers!

        PS – I love your blog.

        • Celsus says:

          Yeah, it’s a bad habit that I need to break, admittedly. I’ve been ignoring David Marshall, who is less sophisticated, mature, and civil than Torley. At least arguing with Torley is a higher form of discourse than that. But yes, I did let myself get sucked into this one.

  2. Rich Griese says:

    BTW… how do you edit comments? I noticed the URL I posted was not resolving, it should have been http://richgriese.net/christianity/ but I could not figure out how to edit it. Will look for Michael Kok. Will look for his… The Gospel on the Margins: The Ideological Function of the Patristic Tradition on the Evangelist Mark

    Cheers!

    • Celsus says:

      I do edit them, when requested, but does the new URL work?

      • Rich Griese says:

        Well it looks like wordpress.com doesn’t handle links with capitalization properly.

        RE Michael Kok… the page I maintain’s real goal is to introduce newbies to some of the real famous works. Years ago, back in the late 80’s I became friends with Dr. Robert M. Price, and one of the things I have always been thankful of is that he got me started of with the “classics” like Schweitzer, Strauss, Tillich, etc… do you think Michael Kok is a scholar of that level?

        Cheers!

        • Celsus says:

          Kok has a PhD and works as an adjunct professor, last I heard. He’s a liberal Christian, but his writings definitely provide a counter-balance to a lot of the apologetic exaggerations about the historical reliability of the Gospels, etc.

          • Rich Griese says:

            I think Strauss put to bed the idea that the gospels are historical. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0962364266 & https://librivox.org/the-life-of-jesus-critically-examined-by-david-friedrich-strauss/ That’s a fight that has been over years and years ago.

            Cheers!

          • Celsus says:

            Just note that Kok interacts with a lot more of the recent conservative arguments since Strauss. He’s a great resource for when it comes to responding to some of the most recent arguments in defense of the authorship of and alleged eyewitness testimony in the Gospels.

          • Rich Griese says:

            In my view that’s a problem. Meaning… “recent conservatives” arguing things that have already been shown dopey years ago, should not even be addressed. I think, you show new people that conservatives are not even worth listening to… by showing them books written like 100 years ago that already demolished the arguments. The goal should be to get newbies to read the landmark books in the field, not argue with today’s conservative kooks. IMHO.

            Cheers!

          • Celsus says:

            Well, a lot of apologists demand that skeptics interact with the arguments of Hengel, Bauckham, Bird, etc. Kok does that. It’s a resource for knowing the counter-arguments to more recent apologetic arguments.

          • Rich Griese says:

            That’s just a difference between us I guess. Apologists are irrelevant to me. And one of the first things I teach a newbie is to understand what an apologist is. I think apologists should be completely ignored.

            Cheers!

          • Celsus says:

            Ignoring them, I think, raises difficulties. For people who aren’t educated in these matters, apologetic arguments can sound stronger than they are. Likewise, the fans of apologetic authors can point to the fact that no one has responded to their arguments. I think it’s a matter of responding in the right way. One way to ignore them is to basically cover all the issues they address, but from a secular perspective, effectively nullifying their arguments. But, in the case of the authorship of the Gospels, I think that Hengel and Bauckham are at least respectable scholars. In that case, direct rebuttals, I think, are appropriate.

          • Rich Griese says:

            Here is my process when talking to a newbie. I explain that the supernatural does not exist… so… if and when you find someone writing about Christianity who begins to talk about supernatural things, you should just put that book down. Our goal in understanding Christianity is to explain how the group came to be, even though we know the supernatural does not exist. I find that this helps gives people a focus that can help them on their path towards learning to understand Christianity.

            Cheers!

          • Celsus says:

            Well, even getting into a discussion about the “supernatural” requires a background in philosophy of religion. My take is that the *issues* discussed by theologians and conservative NT scholars are often serious. The spirit in which they offer their arguments are often one-directional, dogmatic, and sometimes delusional. But we have to still address the issues at stake. I don’t take it as an obvious fact that the supernatural does not exists. I think one can offer a nuanced view, though, that the kind of supernatural phenomena described in the NT would be extremely improbable, given centuries of inductive observation of the physical world.

  3. Rich Griese says:

    Well, sounds like a waste of time to me. But… if that makes you happy and it’s the life you wanna lead… enjoy it. To me… it sounds like you are destined to be drawn to, and end up arguing with crazy people.

    Cheers!

    • Celsus says:

      Well, we are fighting a culture war here in the USA. It pervades through far more than history and philosophy, into issues that you would think would be more settled, like racism, nationalism, and “fake news.” I don’t take naturalistic metaphysics as a given fact about the world. We are still learning a lot about consciousness, cosmology, and the epistemology of miracles. I do think there are strong arguments in favor of naturalistic metaphysics, but I don’t think we can dismiss all of the issues at stake. There is still a lot of work to be done on this topic in science, history, and philosophy.

  4. supdep says:

    Thanks for your detailed exposition of this topic. I like the way you draw it back to Paul several times. If you’re a believer in the whole resurrection story, including the three gospel appearance accounts, it must be difficult not to subconsciously reintroduce elements of them, even if your objective is to rely on Paul alone. My gut feeling, as a non-scholar with not-fully-thought-out views (!) Is that Paul (1) quotes a creed he has learned, (2) either makes up or exaggerates/inflates the 500 appearance, then (3) smuggles himself in because of his obsession with being considered an apostle. The latter may or may not be genuine, or if so he may again be exaggerating a dream or some such for his own reasons.

    • Bilbo T Baggins says:

      What’s interesting is that the Greek word for 500 and the word for Pentecost is very similar. Matthew would know more about this. Also, since there’s no Gospel report about an appearance to 500 people at once, it may point in the direction of a later interpolation into Paul’s text. A later redactor/scribe may have been familiar with the Pentecost story in Acts and someone mixed things up by adding an “appearance to the 500” to the early creed in 1 Cor 15.

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