Vincent, thank you for taking the pains to summarize the Executive Summary for me. I really do appreciate someone thoughtfully writing extensive replies to my posts, even if you are frustrated with me. I do think it was unnecessary to complain that I did not read the ES, since I did read it about a week ago, not long after you published it (even if I didn’t scrutinize it closely, since that was not my point), and I re-checked it when I posted my replies to you. So most of the things in your summary of the ES (we can call this the “ESS”), I am familiar with. (To show this, note that two things I complained about before - the good thief and the blood drinking issue - are both taken from your 17 claims.)
But I think it’s great that now you have written the ESS, as other people can read a distillation of Alter’s case without having to read an 8,000-word document (or a 900-page book). Thank you again for opening the dialogue, and staying with me.
Two Levels of Critique
Going back to the main issues: there are two levels of critique that I can engage in. The first level is the level of the arguments themselves, which I have somewhat talked about, and which most people have done - Josh, McGrew, and some others in the TSZ comments.
But before that, there’s a second level, which is the higher, meta-level of how you’re presenting your case, the role of “bad” arguments in Christian apologetics, and whether non-experts have a right to make bombastic claims. Let’s get into this level first.
The World Conversion Argument
This is not a convincing argument for me. The fact is that besides Christianity, there are other major religions - Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism, etc. - to which large groups of people have converted to. Are these all miracles, too? In addition, how many conversions are genuine, as opposed to simply following what everyone around you is doing? This is why I think this is a very weak argument. It’s simply an argument from majority, and not a very powerful majority either.
Expertise and the Responsibility of Christian Intellectuals
Again, this is proclamation that only a historian should do. I do not believe ID arguments either, but I cannot say, authoritatively, that ID is “bad biology”, because I am not a biologist and I do not know much about biology. I can say that it is bad science, because I am a scientist and I can argue that case using only general principles of science.
Of course, you, as a private citizen, have a right to say anything about any subject. On the other hand, despite not being familiar with your work, I’ve seen you being quoted as a prominent philosopher (at least on the Internet) in support of ID (before you apparently abandoned it). I feel that prominent Christian intellectuals have a great responsibility to the community of believers, and think carefully about their pronouncements before making them, because more ordinary Christians look up to them. If the Resurrection is a bad argument that should be abandoned, then Wright, Craig, and McGrew should be the ones saying this, not you.
What is your definition of “dubious”? What is the criteria of judging that an event is dubious? As Josh said, it seems that there’s some confusion between prior and posterior probability. If we can’t agree on this then there is no point arguing about the specifics.
Secondly, what is a "large number’? How does this compare to other historians’ assessments of other ancient documents? Do you normalize for the length of the gospels, the fact that there are multiple gospels, their genre, and so on?
Thirdly, how do you weigh different dubious assertions? If Jesus fed 500 people instead of 5,000 people, is that just as bad of a dubious assertion as if Jesus was never buried in an empty tomb?
Lastly, can you quote historians who actually subscribe to the above claim?
Firstly, do mainstream scholars like Ehrman and others agree with Alter’s overall assessment of the reliability of the Gospels? Because of how diverse the NT studies field seems to be, I imagine one could do a Google search for every assertion in the gospels and find a scholar who argues that it is dubious. That’s different from being a scholar who builds a coherent case for the overall reliability of the gospels.
Secondly, I don’t deny that many mainstream (i.e. secular) biblical scholars seem to view the Gospels as less trustworthy compared to defenders of the Resurrection. Many Christian defenders of the Resurrection deal with this issue straight out, such as the McGrews criticizing the methods of mainstream NT literary criticism in their Blackwell Companion article. This is nothing new. Yet they make their case anyway. I personally would be satisfied if there were reasonably strong (i.e. not fringe) arguments for the conservative view, not that the conservative view has to be made mainstream.
For example, NT Wright seems to be a more conservative scholar who defends the Resurrection. I understand that not everyone in the field accepts all his arguments. But AFAIK he is a very respected figure in the field of NT studies as a whole, not some fringe figure. So if NT Wright defends some assertions with reasonable arguments, I would be satisfied with that.
Thus, if all that Alter is doing is taking claims from mainstream scholars and showing that they don’t support the Resurrection of Jesus, he is not doing anything new. It would be more accurate to say that “Alter has proven that mainstream scholars (or a collection of them) will not agree with the historical case for the Resurrection.” That is different from saying that “Alter has conclusively proven that the historical case for the Resurrection is destroyed.”