Monday, March 25, 2013

Fact-Checking Carrier I

In February, Dr. Richard Carrier and I debated "Is the Christian Faith Reasonable?" at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. (A debate kindly sponsored by Ratio Christi and Nontheists.)  Carrier began his opening talk by giving a highly effective (I thought) version of the Argument from Evil, focused on Jesus' failure to warn people against easily preventable diseases. (Though some of his claims about Jesus himself were patently false, as I argue below.)  I may deal in more depth Carrier's Argument from Evil later.  Here I'd like to focus on those of his comments meant to rebut my opening arguments.    I'll begin with strategies of general dismissal, then focus on three more concrete arguments Carrier made.  (More will probably be dealt with in a later post.) 

Carrier began the rebuttal portion of his opening talk by responding to my first two arguments (for miracles and for a culturally-transcendent God) in three ways.  I think those arguments failed to undermine or even contest my points, but were clever rhetoric, anyway.

First, Carrier claimed, with great confidence of tone, that in a debate between a Christian and an atheist over whether or not Christianity is reasonable, evidence for the supernatural and for God is "not at all relevant."  Really?  If the existence of a God who does miracles is "not at all relevant" to the believability of the Gospel in a debate between a Christian and an atheist, what possibly could be relevant?  That God exists, or that miracles occur, may not prove Christianity, but they are certainly relevant to its truth.  If there is no transcendent God, and miracles do not happen, then Christianity is sunk.  While if there is a God, and miracles do happen, Christianity is at least in the running (while atheism is not).  So the relevance would seem hard to gainsay.  Perhaps Carrier just picked the wrong word.  Perhaps he meant "These arguments, even if correct, would not be decisive." 

In any case, Carrier seemed to think better of such an abrupt dismissal of those two arguments, and wound up trying to support them more substantially, later in his talk, as we shall see.     

Second, Carrier claimed to have refuted "most of" my initial arguments in two of his books.  We'll also see about that. 

Then third, he went on what we might call the "Carrier Canter."

The Carrier Canter is a bit like the famous "Gish Gallop." It consists of throwing out a ton of assertions, some from obscure sources, on many complex subjects, which are hard or impossible to answer in a short period.  (I found myself with ten minutes to explain why Jesus is different from Latin and Sumerian goddesses and heroes, solve the Problem of Pain, refute five unquoted chapters in two of Richard's book, and answer a ton of other philosophical and exegetical issues besides!  Carrier also talks fast in debate, making it hard even to take adequate notes in real time.) 

Mind you, I'm not complaining.  We had equal time.  Speaking quickly and making lots of points is not disreputable.  Carrier was at a disadvantage in not knowing exactly what I would base my arguments on -- though I did give him a slight clue in an e-mail beforehand -- and did not have time or (probably) resources to show me wrong about miracles, or about God, either, or even to begin doing so, as we'll see.  And it's always better to go on offense, if one can.  So his strategic retreat, disguised as an advance, was I admit a clever manuever.  And then his counter-attack on many fronts at once, was from a rhetorical strategy, sound debating strategy.

But in the larger sense, as Carrier himself admitted at the beginning of his initial statement, the purpose of debate is not to score unanswered points, or even to sway the audience for the moment.  The purpose of debate is to seek truth.  And that is often best done after the debate, by looking into claims made by the disputants with care, as he also advised. 

So with more leisure, now, let's follow that good advice, go over the points Carrier made during his canter across the meadow of historical truth in detail, and consider their truth or falsity, as best we can, one by one. 

I think this will take two posts. 

A. Were Jesus' Miracles all Psychosomatic?

Richard's most astounding claim in our debate was, I think, that all the miracles of Jesus were just "psychosomatic."  I responded to this by incredulously noting that being dead was not usually classified as a psychosomatic illness.  (Thinking more of the people Jesus raised from the dead, than of Jesus' own resurrection.)  Richard actually doubled down on this claim in a later rebuttal by saying yes, resurrection could be just psychosomatic.  I felt that both he, and the audience, understood the absurdity of that bizarre and perhaps pro forma claim, though, so didn't bother to rebut it in my precious last five minutes. 

The power of suggestion at work? 
But let's look at Richard's general "psycho" argument now, and why it is not only far-fetched, but also in conflict with another argument he introduced later in his opening speech.

Most curiously, the gospels only have Jesus performing occasional faith healings on people with no actual verifiable diseases. Similar faith-healing acts are performed in all religions today. Yet they never cure any verifiable disease like malaria or influenza. Anecdotes aside -- we've never scientifically confirmed this. Much less did they restore lost organs or limbs.

Jesus also never cured any verifiable disease, or restored any lost organ or limb. Jesus thus had no more power than any other random faith healer from any other religion today. 

Here are some of the illnesses Jesus is shown curing, in the Gospels of Matthew and John:


Epilepsy.(Mt. 8:3) 
Paralysis.  (8:13)
Fever.  (8:14)  (Which could, contra Carrier, have been caused by malaria.)
Paralysis. (9:7)
Blood hemorrage. (9:22)
Death of girl. (9:25)
Dumbness. (9:33)
"Every kind of sickness" (9:35)
"Every kind of sickness" (10:1)
Withered hand. (12:13)
Blind and dumb. (12:12)
Healed sick in general. (14:14)
Fed hungry from little food. (14:19)
Walked psychosomatically on the water. (14:25; had to add that)
All sicknesses cured. (14:36)
Daughter healed, disease unspecified (15:28)
Lame, crippled, blind, dumb.  (Polio? Trachoma?  Leprosy? Cataracts?)
Healed many, unspecificed. (15:37)
Healed many, unspecified. (19:2)
Two blind men. (20:34)
Fig tree psychosomatically withered. (21:19)
And then the Resurrection. 


Water psychosomatically turned into wine. (2:9)
Man who had been sick 38 years cured, illness unspecificed. (5:9)
Many sick. (6:2)
Psychosomatically feeds 5000. (6:11)
Psychosomatically walks on water. (6:19)
Heals man born blind. (9:7; whole chapter)
Crowds speak of him as opening eyes of the blind. (10:21)
Lazarus raised from dead. (11:44)
John explains that servant whose ear Peter cut off was Malthus (18:10); Luke had already told how Jesus healed his ear (Luke 22:51). 
And then, again, the Resurrection.

How can one express proper amazement at the claim that all of these illnesses were merely psychosomatic?  One doesn't just imagine that one's ear, just lopped off by a sword, has been set back in place and healed, or that having been blind all one's life, one now sees and navigates the streets of Jerusalem by sight.  And does a fig tree even have the cognitive potential to be persuaded by a faith healer that it has taken ill?  Do loaves of bread know when they are supposed to multiply? 

And what is this phrase "verifiable diseases" supposed to mean?  Does he want a urine sample?  A DNA sequencing?  Being blind seems pretty verifiable, by normal criteria -- "Read the smallest letter on the chart -- oops, can't see the chart?  Can't see me?  Can't see the sun?  I think there's something wrong with your eyes!" 

Plus, of course, there were many unspecified or mass healings, that could well have been of people with malaria, cholera, tuberculosis, influenza, small pox, or whatever illness you like.  And fever (add also a case in Acts, when Paul lands in Malta) obviously could have been malaria or influenza.

Worse still, Carrier's argument that Jesus' healings were all psychosomatic flies in the face of his very different argument against Jesus' other miracles (a few of which I've sprinkled in with the healings above, just for fun):

We don't trust stories that have men walking on water and calming storms and conjurring food and blotting out the sun and having conversations with demons, so why would you trust this one? It's simply not reasonable to. It's just another mythical superhero story.

So now it's not that the miracles are all easily explicable in natural terms, it's that they are so inexplicable and clearly supernatural, they could only be mythological.  Richard employs, instead of any naturalistic explanation, the sheer force of personal incredulity, based apparently on his philosophical doubts about miracles.  (Or perhaps on the allegedly arbitrary or unfitting character of these particular miracles -- which he seems to purposefully exagerrate.) 

As a matter of fact, I have personally had "conversations with demons," in one sense in which Jesus did -- I've talked with a man who claimed, and in some ways seemed, to have malevolent spirits inside him.  Whether that was a real demon, a delusion, or a psychological malady, it's hard for me to deny then that such conversations not only can but actually do sometimes take place. 

By "blotting out the sun," I guess Carrier is referring to the darkness Matthew says fell at Jesus' death.  I've seen this one, too, at an eclipse, and at sudden, violent rain storms.  The sun itself did not, of course, disappear, anymore than it did at Jesus' death. (Nor does Matthew actually mention the sun, he mentions "a darkness," which need not demand removal of a particular source of light.) 
Can you wither this tree psychosomatically?
But in any case, the main problem here is that Carrier's two explanations for Jesus' miracles are both impossible, and furthermore in conflict with one another.  It is not possible to restore an ear that has been cut off with a sword, or eyes that have never seen, or raise the dead, still less walk on water or feed 15,000 people (5000 men alone), psychosomatically. Try it some time.

Nor it is possible to realistically see the gospels as myths, as I show in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus. 

Plus, the two explanations are somewhat in conflict with one another.  The point of calling Jesus' healing psychosomatic, is to offer an explanation that can cover a real historical person.  The point of calling his other miracles mythological, is to claim that the stories of Jesus were not historical.  Carrier ought to pick one argument, and stick with it, or explain why in his healings, Jesus should be seen as an historical faith healer, and in the rest of his acts, as a myth.  

B. Fact-Checking God and Miracles: Was I "Refuted?"

Carrier began his rebuttal of my arguments by claiming:

Now I already refuted most of his arguments for a generic God and a generic supernatural in my other works, including The Christian Delusion and The End of Christianity. So if you want to see my whole case against those things, it's there. Here I'll just address what has been argued that is relevant to whether the Christian faith is reasonable.
Does Carrier really "refute" either of my opening arguments in either of those books?  Does he even address them? 
In the first of these works, Carrier has two chapters: "Why the Resurrection is Unbelievable," and "Christianity was not Responsible for Modern Science."  In the latter, he has three: "Christianity's Success was not Incredible," "Neither Life nor the Universe Appear Intelligently Designed," and "Moral Facts Naturally Exist (And Science Could Find Them.)"
In which of these chapters does Carrier claim to have "refuted" my empirical argument for miracles, and my anthropological argument for God? 
Where does he even address them?  Writing on the rise of science?  No, of course he mentions neither argument there.  Writing on why the rise of Christianity was not incredible (rebutting not me, but JP Holding?)  No, he doesn't touch those topics there, either.  Nor does it seem likely he would talk about those subjects in his chapters on Intelligent Design or on Moral Facts, and skimming those chapters, in fact, I see no mention.  If those chapters contained not just a brief reference, not just an argument against the positions I argued for, but an actual "rebuttal" of those or similiar arguments, say Wilhelm Schmidt's anthropology or Craig Keener's empirical study of miracles, such a rebuttal ought to be easy to find skimming those chapters, which is admittedly all I have done with them so far.  (I had read the other, potentially more relevant, chapters over carefully long before our debate, in fact I cited one of them.)  The historical argument for miracles, and the anthropological argument for God, are involved subjects, involving large masses of data which have been the subject of books and series of books, and could not be "refuted" in a parenthetical off-topic quip in a chapter on planetoids or abstract philosophy -- even if Carrier offered any such quips, which I don't think he does.
The only chapter that might potentially hold some sort of rebuttal to something resembling either of my initial arguments, is Chapter 11 of The Christian Delusion, "Why the Resurrection is Unbelievable."  That chapter does not at all touch on my second argument, for the cultural transcendance of God.  But it does at least take some shots at the believability of miracles. 
So let's look there.   
And there we quickly find some rich irony. 
It turns out, in that chapter Richard Carrier employs his argument against the resurrection based on analogy to Herodotus' report of "resurrecting fish."  There's even a subsection of the chapter entitled, "IF WE DON'T BELIEVE HERODOTUS, WE CAN'T BELIEVE THE GOSPELS."  (All in caps, like that.)  In that section, and in the preceding paragraphs, Carrier writes:
Fifty years after the Persian Wars ended in 479 BC, Herodotus the Halicarnassian asked numerous eyewitnesses and their children about the things that happened in those years and then wrote a book about it . . . the temple of Delphi magically defended itself with animated armaments, lightening bolts, and collapsing cliffs . . . a horse gave birth to a rabbit, and a whole town witnessed a mass resurrection of cooked fish . .. !
Then, several paragraphs later:
I see no relevant difference between the marvels in Herodotus and the many and varied tales of the resurrection of Jesus . . .  (293)
Now here's the irony.  In my rebuttal (to be posted subsequently), I critiqued Carrier's account of Herodotus and the alleged story of the resurrected fish.  I also argued that Carrier has fundamentally misunderstood, or seen wrongly, the miracles of the New Testament, failing to ascertain their actual character, and overlooking the huge differences between those respective accounts, which I describe in brief.  
How does Carrier respond?  To paraphrase from memory (I'll give exact wording later): "I didn't bring these miracles of Herodotus up in this debate!  So that's irrelevant!"
So many telling rebuttals turn out to be irrelevant, it seems. 
But in fact, Carrier DID bring up Herodotus in the debate first, by sending people to the five chapters he wrote for John Loftus as an answer to my claims about miracles.  Because a major part of that answer, consists of comparing Gospel miracles (implausibly let me add) to the miracles reported of Herodotus. 
What else does Carrier say about miracles in his chapter on the Resurrection that can be seen as somehow "refuting" my opening argument?
Nothing, that I can tell.  Of course he doesn't mention any of the specific modern miracles I cited.  Nor does he mention or refute Craig Keener's mammoth study, which I cite. 
In fact, most of the pertinent claims Carrier actually does make about miracles in that chapter, not only do not refute my arguments, but are refuted by them, as I had intended, such as this:   
I can see no relevant difference between the marvels in Herodotus and the many and varied tales of the resurrection of Jesus.
I suspect he actually can see those differences, at least subconsciously, and that's precisely why he mentions so many grotesque marvels.  The very reason the "Miracle of Sizzling Fish" (as I call it, more accurately I think) is employed, is because it is so obviously more silly than the claim that God has conquered death and brought hope to humanity, through a man who is by any reasonable account remarkably admirable, as the culmination of salvation history long foretold -- with a wealth of detailed and overlapping accounts.  Carrier wanted to make the Gospel story sound "fishy," and that's precisely why he dragged in the "sizzling fish." 
His argument would lost most of its rhetorical force, if Herodotus' wilder stories, or those from the Acts of Peter about Peter flying around Rome and having a conversation with a dog that he has also cited in such contexts, were not so manifestly silly. 
Anyway, whether Carrier sees them or not, the differences between these "wonders" are manifest.  As I argued in response, gospel miracles share a particular credible character, with five characteristics that set them clearly apart from such stories as Carrier cites.  Gospel miracles are realistic in narrative detail, purposeful, constructive, enhance the dignity of Nature and human nature, and point people to God.   In fact, comparing all the "wonders" Carrier cited in his talk to Skepticom, with all the miracle stories in the gospels, I found that gospel stories consistently rated over 9 on a 1-10 scale, when it comes to those five characteristics. Except for pointing people to God, these are all what Dr. Timothy McGrew, philosopher at Western Michigan University, calls "undesigned coincidences" -- they are not intrinsically related to the theology early Christians might be accused of trying to smuggle into their stories.  In fact, it is significant that Carrier and other skeptics don't even seem to notice most of these qualities.  This shows how unlikely it is that less-educated evangelists would have invented these qualities and inserted them into a story, just to make that story more realistic.  And yet they do serve that effect, for those who read carefully. 
By contrast, the "wonders" Carrier cited consistently lack these qualities.  I think the average was between about 2 and 5 for most of them. 
The qualitative differences between the "wonders" on the margin's of Herodotus' history of the Persian War, and the central event of the gospels, are not only obviously relevant, they are of enormous historical consequence. 

In fact, one might say that the utter failure of skeptics to find genuine parallels not just to all 50 characteristics of the gospels, but even to this one characteristic of the quality of miracles in the gospels, strongly demonstrates the uniqueness and historical credibility of Jesus.
You'll say, for example, that these sorts of things don't really happen because nothing like them happens today, certainly never when you're around.  Cooked fish don't rise from the dead.  Rabbits don't pop out of horses.  Temples don't defend themselves with miraculous weather and floating weapons.
Here again, my opening argument not only is not refuted by Carrier's earlier printed arguments, but refutes them.  I show that miracles like those in the NT DO continue to happen today, to ordinary people.  The fact that the best parallels Carrier can come up with in the ancient world are so unlike the NT miracles he is supposed to be trying to debunk here, does not make his argument sounder, but far weaker still.
So Carrier is simply wrong.  Nothing he says in either of those books, in all five long chapters that he wrote and directed our common audience to, has the slightest tendency whatsoever to disconfirm in any way either of my first two arguments for the reasonableness of Christianity. 
So why did Dr. Carrier point our audience to those sources? 
One can only speculate.  Maybe he was confused by my opening arguments, and really did think he'd said something in one of those books that undermined them somehow.  (If so, of course it's possible I failed to make my arguments clear enough.)  Maybe he just wanted to get off those topics, onto more familiar ground, or to something he had prepared for.  Pointing to books, however irrelevant, was quicker than making a detailed argument -- and, of course, every author wants people to read his or her books. 
Clearly Carrier was right, at any rate, about the need for further research and reflection in the wake of our debate!  Let's go on. 
C. Fact-Checking the Gospels
Now he talks about the gospels as evidence. The fact is, we don't know who wrote them, or who their sources were. And they look just like other tales of gods and demigods, and we don't believe them.
Well we probably do know who wrote Mark, Luke and John, and (as Richard Bauckham argues, in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) who many of their sources were.  But my argument does not in any way depend on that knowledge. 
And the claim that the gospels "look just like other tales of gods and demigods," is obviously, palpably untrue, for reasons I also gave in my opening.  Many of the wisest literary scholars and thinkers in history have examined the gospels in great detail, finding all kinds of characteristics related to historicity that are not present in those other works. 
I also referred to twenty-six internal characteristics that reveal the gospels as historically credible.  That, also, does not depend on knowing who wrote the gospels, or who their sources were -- nor do I appeal to that knowledge.  (Though I think we can know those things, as Bauckham argues.)  I describe a few of those characteristics in my rebuttal, yet to be posted.  So Carrier was not really responding to the argument for the historical Jesus that I actually gave, but presumably taking shots at some other argument he was more accustomed to rebutting. 
We continue:   
Centuries before Christianity, the goddess Inanna and the gods Romulus and Zalmoxis were preached as having died and been resurrected from the dead and communicating with their followers afterwards. Those who believed in Salmoxus even received eternal life. Sound familiar?
Not if you read the actual stories. 

Romulus, I dealt with here, in an argument from Carrier's fellow mythicist, Robert Price.  Clearly this is no historical parallel at all, with no resurrection, not to mention our earliest "source" appearing 700 years after the supposed fact. 
Salmoxis didn't die.  He was a Thracian merchant mentioned again by Herodotus.  The legend Herodotus passes on bares little resemblance to that of Jesus.  Here are some of the key passages, from David Grene's translation, 4.93-95:

They do not think that any one of them dies but that the one who perishes goes to the daimon Salmoxis . . . Once every five years they send off one of their number, who is chosen by lot, as a messenger to go to Salmoxis . . . Certain of them, who are appointed for it, hold three spears.  Others seize the man who is to be sent by his arms and feet, and they throw him aloft so that he falls on the spear points.  If he is pierced through and dies, the god, they think, is favorable to them . . .

As I learn from those Greeks who live on the Hellespont and the Pontus, this Salmoxis, when he was a man, was a slave in Samos, being a slave to Pythagorus . . . thereafter he became free and made a great deal of money, and after the money-getting, he went back to his own country.  The Thracians live hard and are rather stupid; and Salmoxis, who had come to know the Ionian way of life and characters . . . got himself a hall . . . he taught them that neither he nor those who drank with him nor their descendents in each generation would die but would come to a place where, surviving forever, they would have all manner of good things.  While he was doing these things . . . he was constructing an underground dwelling for himself.  As soon as it was completed, he vanished from the presence of the Thracians, decended into his underground place, and lived there for three years  His followers missed him and mourned for him as dead.  In the fourth year he reappeared to the Thracians, and so what Salmoxis had told them became credible.

Obviously, Richard Carrier is fond of Herodotus.  But it takes quite an imagination to find in this story a fetching parallel to the gospel accounts of Jesus.  Apparently there is not even the claim that anyone had seen Salmoxis die, if indeed he ever lived.\

Going off the radar for a few years, then reappearing to the delight and surprise of one's followers, even if underground, is not the sort of story that distinguishes myth sharply from history.  There are many such stories in history, and some also in myth. 
Was Gandhi a myth, too? 
There are many contemporary stories of great men being buried underground in some manner, then coming "back to life again."  Some are true.  The stories of Gandhi, imprisoned, then released, to "bring salvation" to India, or of King, imprisoned, then released, or of Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Benigno Aquino, all fall into this general mythological "type," if one takes it as such -- buried, dead to the world, not heard from -- then surprise!  He's back!  "Sound familiar?" 

Or were Gandhi, King, Solzhenitsyn, and Aquino, too, all mythological?   
Inanna was the Sumerian Queen of Heaven, also a sex maniac who cavorted with men in bars: 
The pearls of a prostitute are placed around your neck, and you are likely to snatch a man from the tavern.
For some reason, the story goes, Inanna decided to visit the Underworld, confident of her divine power to return to the Land of the Living safely.  But stripped of her various magical goods, in Hades she was confronted by her malicious sister, goddess of the Underworld, who killed her and hung up her (divine) corpse.  Other gods came to the rescue.  It turned out she could return from the dead only if someone could be found to (even unwillingly) take her place.  Demons tried to cart off three of her friends, but they were all in mourning for her, and Inanna rightly refused to allow them to be taken.  Finally they took her husband, who was dressed up and seemed to be enjoying himself, even with his wife dead.  After three days, Inanna thus returned to life. 
So Inanna didn't die and rise for others: her husband died to win her liberation from the Underworld.  
Three days?  Yes, she was dead three days.  And the ancient Chinese also hoped for a resurrection after three days.  Call it a coincidence, call it a shadow of things to come, but the Chinese story, in the Book of Rites, written about the time of Christ, can't possibly be a copy of the Gospel story, nor can the Gospel story be a copy of it.   
And can anyone honestly read the gospels, then this Sumerian myth, and mistake one for the other?  If no one besides Richard Carrier can, so much the worse for Dr. Carrier's good sense. It would be, C. S. Lewis pointed out (whose own sense in sorting fiction from non-fiction, is beyond credible dispute) like failing to see an elephant standing a few paces away in broad daylight. 
We don't believe these stories. So why would we believe the Christian version?
Because it is vastly more credible, including for reasons I gave, and for other reasons that ought to be obvious to any sensible reader.  And because they are in no way "versions" of one another -- that is like describing the planet Jupiter as a "version" of a Spalding baseball, because both are roughly spherical.    

And again, the attempt to leverage miracles outside the Christian tradition against Christian miracles, makes no sense from an atheist position.  Either there is good evidence to believe those other miracles, or there is not.  If there is, why don't atheists believe them, then?  If there is no such evidence, why bring them up? 
We don't trust stories that have men walking on water and calming storms and conjurring food and blotting out the sun and having conversations with demons, so why would you trust this one? It's simply not reasonable to. It's just another mythical superhero story.
Actually, I have had conversations with people who claimed, and in some ways seemed, to have other spirits inside them, myself.  So obviously the fact that Jesus met such people, doesn't make the story of his life incredible.  Nor am I inclined to disbelieve every claim about past events that involve miracles, partly because they do seem to still happen, sometimes. 
As I show in Why the Jesus Seminar can't find Jesus, and Grandma Marshall Could, the four gospels are also unique.  Part of that uniqueness is that while they share twenty-six characteristics that mark them not only as indisputably belonging to the genre of biography or perhaps (in Luke's case, says Ben Witherington) of history, and more solid and convincing biography than almost any other (I argue), they also do share some of the theological traits one finds in some myths.  That is because, Tolkien and Lewis believed, the Gospel is myth, realized, or fulfilled, "the Word made flesh, and dwelt among us," as St. John put it. 
One can concentrate just on those theological traits, and then, if one ignores some of the stark differences -- such as the character of miracles, described above -- one might with hand over one eye and eyestrain in the other force oneself to see the gospels as mythological.  But few scholars can manage this trick.   That's why almost no one in the Academy agrees with Richard Carrier that Jesus of Nazareth is conceivably a non-historical personage.  I cited some very liberal, anti-Christian scholars in my opening argument who make excellent points in effect rebutting his views: Carrier just ignored those citations.   
Carrier makes an astounding confession when he admits he simply cannot see the obvious differences between the gospels and these myths, that seem so obvious to most scholars, whether or not they happen to be Christians.   
Now he didn't mention the epistles. The epistles give us no mention of any of these supernatural kinds of things that Jesus was doing.
Well, the epistles do mention the resurrection of Jesus, many times. 
True, they don't recount the detailed miracles of Jesus, described in the gospels.   Should they? 
One could make almost the same argument in regard to the Acts of the Apostles.  Why doesn't Luke mention Jesus' astonishing miracles?  Yet he does describe those miracles in his other book, the Gospel of Luke.  Nor does John mention Jesus' miracles in his letters or Revelation I don't think, though he does in his gospel. So one can't trust the Argument From Silence here.  Why should we be surprised if an ancient Christian writer, writing about church governance and marital relations, fails to mention the fact that Jesus healed the sick or walked on water?  Even writers who have mentioned all those things in one work, when writing on another sujbect, might fail to mention them in a very long canonical work that actually does major in history, not moral teachings.   
OK, I think that's a more than long enough chunk for one post.
In sum, while Dr. Carrier offered an admittedly strong version of the Argument From Evil in his opening statement, to this point, he had not really interacted with, let alone "refuted," any of my opening arguments.  He emphatically did not rebut my arguments for miracles, or for God, in the books he tells the audience to read to find such rebuttals. 
Carrier did begin, to this point, an attack on the credibility of the gospels.  I don't think he had gotten in any real licks on that subject yet, though.  Nor do I think he'd given us any reason to doubt miracles in general.  He threw out some myths that he thinks parallel the resurrection accounts in the gospels, even though I had hardly mentioned those accounts.  But look at the actual, detailed stories, and the alleged parallels evaporate, and it's obvious how one can rationally believe the gospel stories, yet disbelieve these other stories.  Nor is it clear why, if some other miracle stories do turn out to be true, why that would undermine Christianity orthodoxy (as opposed to Secular Humanism, which would take a mortal wound from a single real miracle anywhere in the universe.) 
Admittedly, my opening argument about the credibility of the gospel portrait of Jesus may be somewhat vague.  Carrier does not seem to know what handle to get on it, to this point.  Yet I do cite several eminent scholars who have contributed immensely to our understanding of the historical Jesus, including many who are themselves unbelievers.  Dr. Carrier does not, as yet, interact with that scholarship at all, but merely throws out random snippets of purported analogy, that do not hold up under close scrutiny. 
We'll see if he comes up with something better in Part II


Emanuel Goldstein said...

A well thought out post, Mr. Marshall, but I just can't match that kind of patience anymore.

Face it, although I know you are too decent to say it, but Carrier is dishonest.

And, by the way, when he speaks to atheist groups he has one of the foulest mouths ever...when he spoke in our area he said "Bullshit" and other invectives 22 times...I counted them, 22...when talking about opposing arguments.

And he walks funny. I can't stand to look at him.

Sorry, I know I am a jerk, but as far as he is concerned I don't give a Damn anymore.

David B Marshall said...

Emanuel: Fair enough. But someone has to set the ball up over the net, so our team can slam it home!

David B Marshall said...

I should add, BTW, that Carrier was cordial and professional at our event, anyway.

David B Marshall said...

It is only since then that he has reverted to his usual invective.