Torley Presents Alter's Case Against the Resurrection

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.

Methodology Issues

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.”

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Now let’s get a little bit in the weeds more - the lower level of critique. Again, as I’m not an expert, and neither are you, I don’t view the results of our discussion as having much bearing on the scholarly status of the Resurrection, I’m afraid. This is like me trying to debate an ID advocate on information theory when I’m not educated in that area at all.

Anyway, I might chime in later tonight when I have more time, but let’s start with this.

I really don’t understand how this is a difficulty. Isn’t it plausible that the thief could have heard what kind of insults the guards and onlookers were hurling at Jesus, as they were all being crucified? The event took place over several hours.

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And, indeed, wasn’t it written ‘Jesus Nazerene King of Jews’ on his cross? That along with the cap of thorns (which wasn’t a regular theme on crucifixion) would give him a gist of why Jesus was crucified.

Now, the question is: could the thief read?

I made a typo there, I just know it.

I usually say ‘of Nazareth’.

Well, as Vincent has argued above, most people were illiterate. So it’s probable that the thief couldn’t. But this is a dubious methodology to start doing our history. We have a string of speculations, built upon speculations:

  1. It is probable (generally speaking) that the thieves had been kept in jail for weeks and had no access to the outside world.
  2. It is probable that the thieves were illiterate.
  3. It is probable that nobody else except for the Romans were around the cross to talk about why Jesus was crucified.

And then from this:

  1. Therefore, it is probable that the thieves would never know why Jesus was crucified.
  2. Therefore, it is probable that the thieves would have no reason to repent of their sins.
  3. Therefore, it is probable that Luke’s claim about the repentance of the thieves is false.
  4. Therefore, it is probable that Luke is unreliable.

Even though I am not a historian, I just find the string of “probable” statements VERY dubious. It’s like Luke’s account can only be acceptable if it tells of events which have high general probability. If that were the case, then why would anyone write any historical account? People often write history because something uncommon and thus interesting is happening!

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Just like I said;

Multiplied a large number of maybes together and everything looks impossible.

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This reminds me of the origin stories in your book: if we took every single claim in your origin story and looked at their prior probability and multiplied them together:

What are the odds that an immigrant family would be of Indian ethnicity?

What are the odds that a second generation immigrant would end up being a student in an MD/PhD program?

What are the odds that an MD/PhD student would end up being an assistant professor at a top research university?

What are the odds that an assistant professor at a top research university would get tenure?

What are the odds that a tenured professor at a top research university would be a Christian?

Using this methodology your origins story would likely be judged a “fabrication” or “legend”! :sweat_smile:

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Note the parallel to Creationists objections to “just so” stories? It is precisely the same logic.

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@vjtorley I want to clarify this some more:

This is prime example of how I just see large disconnect.

It is correct that the communion ritual is surprising in an orthodox Jewish context, as it counters so much of our expectations of what they would be willing to do.

Yet historically it appears to be undisputed that the communion ritual arises in the early church in 1st century Palestine. Moreover, no comparable ritual (as I understand) arises in any of the comparable Messiah movements. These are just he brute facts (though I stand to be corrected on the comparators).

The question then is why and how this disparate Jewish community comes to this crazy and new ritual. Why? And how? It is clearly a departure from their context, but also framed within it as one of the Passover glasses. So there is nothing very strong continuity to the Passover lamb, and very high discontinuity at the same time.

This ephiphenic quality to the ritual is truly strange, and perhaps unprecedented. It is best explained as a prophetic epiphany. As Jesus does it, it makes no sense from the disciples context. Only after the crucification and Ressurection does it become clear that Jesus was the true meaning of the tradition he seemed to violating at Passover.

The fact that other Messiah movements did not does the same thing serves to highlight the question. What was it about Jesus that formed the Church so different that they adopted so heterodox customs in this way? The communion ritual is not evidence against the Ressurection for this reason. It is one of the details that highten the urgency of the question that Alter appears to blow right by, and certainly you review did.

Yes it is unlikey. We also have no doubt it happened in the early church. If not how the Church itself explained it, then how? Without a robust explanation for all the crazy things that happened in the early church ( and did not happen), Alters analysis is just blowing by the most salient questions of that moment.

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Hi @swamiadass and @dga471,

I’m glad to hear that Daniel took the time and trouble to read the Executive Summary of my OP. In my attempt to stay on top of comments here and over at TSZ, I’ve been getting by on about 2 or 3 hours’ sleep a night for the past five days or so, which is not exactly a healthy thing to do when you’re 57. For some reason, I’m feeling a lot better this evening, so I’d like to make a fresh start.

I’d like to address a remark of Joshua’s, bearing on an alleged mathematical fallacy of mine.

> The fallacy is mistaking P( Story1 ) for P(Story1 | Evidence) vs. P(Story2 | Evidence). The P( Story1 ) will always be low for ***just about every*** true story. P(Story1 | Evidence) vs. P(Story2 | Evidence), on the other hand, can point to clear winners and losers...

…Multiplied a large number of maybes together and everything looks impossible.

I would like to point out in passing that my first degree was in mathematics.

I might add that you appear to be guilty of a mathematical fallacy of your own: that of confusing P(Story 1 | Evidence) with P(Evidence | Story 1), where where Story1 is a miraculous story and Evidence is the record we find in the Gospels. Of course, if a miracle happened in the 1st century A.D. then we might well expect to find a record of it in the New Testament - in other words, P(Evidence | Story 1) is high. But it doesn’t follow that P(Story 1 | Evidence) is high - especially when “Evidence” (from the New Testament) is several decades later than the events reported in Story1.

Actually, I addressed the point you raised in a non-technical fashion, in my OP, in the course of my discussion of the three hours of darkness which the Synoptic Gospels attest to (but not John). After refuting suggestions that the darkness could have been caused by an eclipse (which would have been too short) or a sandstorm (which would have sent everyone indoors), I wrote:

There remains the possibility that the three hours of darkness was a **supernatural miracle** , but an impartial historian, while not dismissing the possibility of a miracle, would tend to favor **the more parsimonious naturalistic explanation** that the circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus were mythologized in the decades after his death, like those of many other famous people in antiquity.

In other words, my thinking is basically as follows. I am not arguing that because P(Story1) is low, P(Story1 | NT evidence) is low. Rather, I am arguing that because (i) P(Story1) is low, (ii) P(Story1 | NT evidence) is incalculable due to the inscrutability of the Divine will, but (iii) P(Story2 | NT evidence) is not too low, where Story1 is a miraculous story and Story2 is a secular story, a historian would (and should) go with Story2. It is an adequate explanation, in the light of the evidence, and it avoids the need to posit miracles. It is therefore more parsimonious.

I’d also like to address a mathematical objection of Daniel’s:

This reminds me of the origin stories in your book: if we took every single claim in your origin story and looked at their prior probability and multiplied them together:

What are the odds that an immigrant family would be of Indian ethnicity?

What are the odds that a second generation immigrant would end up being a student in an MD/PhD program?

What are the odds that an MD/PhD student would end up being an assistant professor at a top research university?

What are the odds that an assistant professor at a top research university would get tenure?

What are the odds that a tenured professor at a top research university would be a Christian?

Using this methodology your origins story would likely be judged a “fabrication” or “legend”! :sweat_smile:

I responded to this objection in Part B of my OP:

**It turns out that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ passion and crucifixion are highly doubtful, on no less than 17 points.** (Yes, you read that right.) One or two points would be bad enough, but perhaps acceptable: after all, improbable things happen every day, and it would be surprising if the historical details of Jesus’ crucifixion contained nothing out of the ordinary. But 17 highly improbable occurrences over a 24-hour time period strains credulity.

So it’s the relatively short time period that makes the argument a particularly telling one. 17 improbable occurrences in 24 hours is a bit fishy. The events in Joshua’s life, by comparison, stretch over a period of decades.

And this one:

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.

Hang on. The issue we’re debating here is not whether Christians have good reasons to hold on to their faith in the Resurrection. I’ve already made it quite clear that I believe in sensus divinitatis: Christians like you and me are fortunate enough to sometimes be able to hear the “still, small voice of God” in the preaching and practice of the Christian message.

Rather, the question we’re debating here is whether non-Christians, presented with the evidence for the Resurrection in the New Testament, would be irrational in turning it down and saying: “Sorry, but this does not strike me as very impressive evidence.” Remember: the onus is on the Christian to make a case for the Resurrection. The onus is not on the Jew, pagan or skeptic to make a case against the Resurrection.

You object to Aquinas’ argument for miracles as follows:

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.

I suggest you have a look at Professor Rodney Stark’s book on the rise of Christianity. In any case, Christianity grew slowly and steadily, whereas the growth of Islam was due largely to the power of the power of the sword. In any case, I think Stark could use some editorial assistance from non-Christian authors.

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Are you making the case that Christian apologetics should be abandoned?

Not quite - in this case, you know your story is true, and (by analogy) the Evangelists knew there’s was. If you’d suffered amnesia and reconstructed your origins narrative from your skin colour, your name, and a few other circumstantial details, then there would be some reason to doubt it.

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It is far from clear that the NT authors would record every miracle they saw. Do you know what the dominant mindset of people at the time and place were? (Again, this is something that only a trained historian familiar with the culture of the time would know.) Even today, in my native Indonesia, it is common for people to claim that they witnessed miracles or saw supernatural phenomena. None of this resulted in anything written down - they are regarded as regular occurrences by such people. On the whole, this sounds like the typical Jesus myther argument of “why don’t we have any contemporary accounts of Jesus?”

This is also not clear to me. You are not taking into account the role of oral vs written tradition. Nor is it clear whether throwing skepticism into a historical account written decades after the fact doesn’t make it impossible to know anything about the ancient world. Again, there’s no clear, robust, professional criteria being spelled out before you’re making these statements of incredulity.

This is not an adequate rebuttal. First of all, you’re still stating that each of the 17 occurrences are doubtful, most of them by multiplying together prior probabilities without rigorous consideration of the written evidence from the Gospels and how that affects the probability.

Secondly, you have not answered the question of whether it’s justified to classify 17 improbable occurrences equally. As a lot of people in this thread have argued, things like Communion and the good thief, even if improbable or straight out wrong, are immaterial to the overall reliability of the Gospels.

Thirdly, it’s common for many improbable things to happen during a 24 hour time period if you’re just taking into account prior probabilities (which are difficult to assign rigorously anyway). Today I attended an Indonesian festival in Boston (something very rare, only happens once a year). A temperature sensor on my experimental apparatus broke (having never broken in the last 2 years). I spent two hours thinking about information theory (never did this ever - I am a physicist, not information theorist). That’s already three improbable occurrences in the life of one person on a relatively mundane day. By these standards, my diary entry would be regarded as a mythological fabrication. This is just not the way to do history.

That is not what I’m arguing at all. I certainly don’t ascribe to the Resurrection based on faith alone. Rather, the question is whether it is rational and reasonable for any person to hold to a conservative view of the reliability of the Gospels (among other things). Clearly it is, since scholars like NT Wright, which are respected in the field by both secular and Christian scholars, do so. It would be a different story if you could argue that no scholar regards the Gospels as reliable, and no reasonable replies can be made to the arguments against their reliability.

I certainly don’t think it is possible to show that it is irrational to disbelieve in the Resurrection based on historical evidence alone. Bayesian analysis depends ultimately on your priors. If you believe that a theistic God doesn’t exist, then the prior for a Resurrection is very, very low, and so no amount of historical argumentation will overcome that. So unless you can prove that it’s irrational for anyone to be an atheist (which is a difficult, and different thing to prove), it is impossible to do this. I believe that my opinion isn’t an anomaly among Christians.

Thus, Alter has done little to change the state of affairs. If any Christian apologist believes that all parts of the Gospels are unanimously approved by all the NT scholars in the field, they are wrong and uninformed, and we didn’t need Alter to tell us that. But in my opinion that was never the point of Christian apologetics.

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Hi colewd. Not precisely, no. What I would maintain now is that rational attempts to demonstrate the truth (or likelihood) of the Christian faith should be abandoned. However, attempts to (i) rebut spurious objections to the faith, (ii) clarify precisely what it is that we believe, and rebut crude caricatures of the faith, and (iii) present arguments for the plausibility (as opposed to the high probability) of the Christian faith, should in my opinion be continued. I hope that clears things up for you. Cheers.

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Can some one please concisely enumerate out these 17 things?

That’s the point. In evolutionary science we have good reason to affirm common descent.

When some one asks for details outside our view as of our ignorance of the details is evidence against common descent, we suppose to ways to connect the dots. The details remain outside our view, and this is just speculation. However it can demonstrate that the dots are not in principle impossible to connect. The creationist objects derisively that this is a “just so story” and we just tell unsubstantiated fairy tales. The argument is a misdirection, because the part of the story outside our view isn’t why we affirm evolution. It is the part in our view that leads us there.

Same with th Ressurection. Alter comes with dots to connect as if it is impossible or improbable to connect them. The just so story objection arises in attempts to connect the dots. The whole story is dismissed as a fairy tale without actually ever engaging the evidential reasons that historians think this points strongly to the Ressurection or some other anomaly.

This is brilliant rhetoric, and excellent in a debate, but also a horrible way to find truth.

I agree with this.

I think this is where misunderstanding arises. Personally, when I ask questions regarding what happened and how it happened it is NOT to question common descent, as I accept common descent. But people often do take it as an attack on common descent.

I think defenders of evolution fall back on common descent because for them it is a safe haven. Perhaps they see the following as a valid argument, but I don’t:

We know that the vertebrate eye had to evolve because vertebrates have eyes and they share a common ancestor with species that do not have eyes, and the common ancestor of both did not have eyes. So we don’t need to demonstrate that eyes can evolve by mutation/selection, neutral evolution, random genetic drift, or any other proposed evolutionary mechanism.

Since we know eyes must have evolved, the details just don’t matter.

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Hi @dga471,

Thank you for your response. I’d like to address the points you raised, although I’ll be varying the order in which you wrote them, somewhat.

I certainly don’t ascribe to the Resurrection based on faith alone. Rather, the question is whether it is rational and reasonable for any person to hold to a conservative view of the reliability of the Gospels (among other things).

No. The question I sought to answer in my OP was: is it irrational for a person that’s prepared to grant the existence of a personal God Who is able to work miracles and reveal Himself to people (as the Jews do), to reject the historical evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus as too weak to warrant his/her assent? I think the answer is no. The apologists’ case for the Resurrection is full of holes that you could drive a truck through. Over and over again, the same bad old arguments keep getting recycled.

I certainly don’t think it is possible to show that it is irrational to disbelieve in the Resurrection based on historical evidence alone. Bayesian analysis depends ultimately on your priors.

That’s true. But the question I’m asking is whether it’s irrational to disbelieve in the Resurrection based on historical evidence alone, if you’re a believer in God who is open to the possibility of miracles and Divine revelation. And I would answer that it’s not. The apologists’ case is simply too weak - especially with reference to the alleged burial of Jesus in a new rock tomb, owned by Joseph of Arimathea. Historically, that’s unlikely - and yet it’s pivotal to the case for the Resurrection.

It is far from clear that the NT authors would record every miracle they saw.

You are quite correct. When I wrote that P(Evidence | Story 1) is high, I didn’t mean that it was over 50%; I just meant that it wasn’t low, that’s all. But the real point I was making was that even if P(Evidence | Story 1) were high, it wouldn’t follow that P(Story 1 | Evidence) is high.That’s a mathematical point, and it’s vital to the current debate.

I also alluded to the fact that the “Evidence” (from the New Testament) is several decades later than the events reported in Story1. You objected:

You are not taking into account the role of oral vs written tradition.

Some years ago, Professor Bart Ehrman wrote a book on how the early Christians remembered Jesus, and on latest scientific findings concerning the fallibility of human memory. On the Amazon Web page, there’s an interview with Ehrman. What follows is a brief excerpt:

Q: How have scholars traditionally explained the gap of time between when Jesus was alive and when the Gospels were written, and why is that problematic?

A: Many scholars have somewhat unreflectively maintained that the Gospels ultimately go back to eyewitness testimonies to Jesus’ life and that they are therefore reliable; or that oral cultures preserve their traditions with a high degree of accuracy. I realized several years ago that these views can be tested by what we actually know, based on modern detailed studies, about eyewitness testimony (psychologists and legal scholars have studied the subject rigorously), about the reliability of memory (psychologists have delved into this question assiduously since the 1930s), and about the ways traditions are preserved in oral cultures (as we now know based on anthropological studies since the 1920s). As it turns out, what many New Testament scholars have assumed about such matters, in many cases, is simply not right. Many of their assumptions are not only unsupported, they have been shown to be highly problematic in study after study.

Ehrman concludes his interview with a take-home message:

The Gospels we have are not stenographic accounts of the things Jesus said and did. They contain stories that had been passed along by word of mouth decades before anyone wrote them down. If we understand what psychologists have told us about memory and false memory, and about how we sometimes actually invent stories in our heads about the past; if we understand what sociologists have told us about collective memory and how our social groups affect and mold the ways we preserve our recollections of past events; and if we understand what anthropologists have learned about how oral cultures not just cherish and preserve but also alter, transform, and even invent their traditions, we will have a much clearer sense of what the Gospels are and of how we should understand the stories they tell about the historical Jesus.

Even today, in my native Indonesia, it is common for people to claim that they witnessed miracles or saw supernatural phenomena.

I would like to hear more about this.

I’ll address more of your points in my next post to you. Stay tuned…

Happy to oblige.

a. Was the Last Supper a Passover meal? And did Jesus tell his disciples to drink blood?
b. Did Jesus die on the Jewish Passover?
c. Do the Gospels accurately represent Jesus trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin?
d. Was Pontius Pilate reluctant to convict Jesus?
e. Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and subsequent death
f. The chief priests’ mockery of Jesus on the Cross
g. The story of the good thief: fact or fiction?
h. Jesus’ last words on the Cross: fact or fiction?
i. Did Jesus’ mother and the beloved disciple stand at the foot of the Cross?
j. The three hours of darkness: fact or fiction?
k. The earthquake at Jesus’ death: fact or fiction?
l. Was the Veil of the Temple torn in two?
m. Were Jewish saints raised at Jesus’ death?
n. Blood and water from Jesus’ side?
o. Was Jesus buried in a new rock tomb?
p. Was there a Guard at Jesus’ tomb?
q. The women visiting Jesus’ tomb on Sunday: does the story add up?

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Hi @dga471,

Back again. I’ve just posted a list of the 17 claims, which will be useful in the discussion that follows.

First of all, you’re still stating that each of the 17 occurrences are doubtful, most of them by multiplying together prior probabilities without rigorous consideration of the written evidence from the Gospels and how that affects the probability.

I didn’t claim that the probabilities could be multiplied, although some of them could be. Clearly f is dependent on b, which is to some degree dependent on a. Claim c also bears some relationship to b, as does q. However, claims d, e, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o and p are each capable of standing in isolation: one could accept any one of these claims while rejecting the others, and vice versa - although some points raised in h would weaken claim i, and a rejection of i also undermines claim n.

All in all, I think it would be fair to say that there are at least ten logically independent occurrences on this list. All of them, I would maintain, are historically improbable, and all of them are alleged to have occurred over a 24-hour time period. If you want to multiply them out, feel free to do so. For argument’s sake, we can assume that the probability of each occurrence is 1 in 10. Then for 10 such occurrences, the combined probability is 1 in 10^10 - and that’s over a very short time period. The number of such occurrences clearly matters. You mention three improbable things that happened to you. 1 in 10^3 is seven orders of magnitude higher than 1 in 10^10. I’m not attempting to make a rigorous argument here; I don’t believe I need to. Ten highly improbable alleged occurrences over a period of just 24 hours should serve as a red flag to any trained historian.

Secondly, you have not answered the question of whether it’s justified to classify 17 improbable occurrences equally. As a lot of people in this thread have argued, things like Communion and the good thief, even if improbable or straight out wrong, are immaterial to the overall reliability of the Gospels.

Please scroll down to the section titled “Why we need an incident-by-incident approach to Gospel reliability” in Part A of my OP. It’s about 1,000 words. I’m not going to cut-and-paste it here.

The point is that if one or more of the Gospels allege that Jesus did X, and it turns out that he didn’t, then that does weaken the case for the historical reliability of the Gospels. And the question of whether Jesus asked his disciples to drink blood at the Last Supper is of vital importance to over 1.5 billion Christians. Please don’t tell me that’s “immaterial to the overall reliability of the Gospels.”

Thirdly, it’s common for many improbable things to happen during a 24 hour time period if you’re just taking into account prior probabilities (which are difficult to assign rigorously anyway).

I wasn’t merely taking into account prior probabilities. See my post #45 above, here.

That’s already three improbable occurrences in the life of one person on a relatively mundane day. By these standards, my diary entry would be regarded as a mythological fabrication. This is just not the way to do history.

  1. Please see my point above about the number of improbable events. The likelihood of 17 (or even 10) such events over a 24-hour period is much lower than that of three such events.

  2. When all we have available to us are copies of four biographies written 30 to 60 years after Jesus was crucified, then we really have to fall back on probabilities, when assessing the credibility and reliability of the sources. How else can we proceed? We cannot interview the authors of the Gospels or the witnesses to the alleged events.

  3. Using your logic, I could defend any unlikely alleged revelation on the grounds that improbable events happen all the time. I don’t believe any trained historian would buy that defense.