Thank you for your reply. I’d like to address the key points you raised.
I certainly don’t think any sort of apologetical argument is sufficient to conclusively prove the case for Christianity, such that non-Christians would be irrational to reject it.
Proof is certainly too strong a word, but apologists like William Lane Craig and Richard Swinburne have claimed that they can demonstrate the truth of the Resurrection with a high degree of probability. Swinburne even puts it at 97%. If the figure really is that high, then it would be irrational of a non-Christian to disbelieve in the Resurrection. Craig appears to agree.
And there’s former atheist-turned-apologist J. Warner Wallace, who (according to the blurb on the back of his book, Cold-Case Christianity, came to realize that “the case for Christianity was as convincing as any case he’s ever worked on as a detective.” That’s a pretty strong claim.
And finally, here’s a quote from the apologist George Campbell, author of A Dissertation on Miracles (1762):
God has neither in natural nor reveal’d religion, left himself without a witness; but has in both given moral and external evidence, sufficient to convince the impartial, to silence the gainsayer, and to render the atheist and the unbeliever without excuse. This evidence it is our duty to attend to, and candidly to examine. We must prove all things, as we are expressly enjoin’d in holy writ, if we would ever hope to hold fast that which is good.
“Without excuse.” That sounds pretty clear to me.
The discussion about the correct interpretation of the Eucharist is an in-house debate among Christians who already have a high view of Scripture, accepted based on faith.
Quite so; but I’m not talking about the interpretation of the Eucharist. I’m a Catholic, and I believe in the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. But the question of whether Jesus said, “This is my body … This is my blood” at the Last Supper is not an in-house question but a historical one, to which I answer: probably not, for reasons explained in my OP. I also quoted Catholic priest Professor Robert J. Daly , S.J., who argues that Jesus did indeed institute the Eucharist, but that it was not the Eucharist as we know it, and that it took many generations of guidance from the Holy Spirit for the Eucharist to reach its current form.
I cannot see why this should scandalize Christians in general, or even Catholics. After all, the central dogmas of Christianity are surely the Trinity, the Incarnation and the Atonement. But it is widely acknowledged (and has been known since the days of the Jesuit scholar, Petavius) that the early Church Fathers were not orthodox on the subject of the Trinity: nothing like an orthodox position emerged until the fourth century. Why is it so difficult to accept that the Christian doctrine of the Eucharist underwent a similar evolution, over the first and second centuries?
For all of the 17 incidents that I’ve given some thought, P(S1) is at worst 50-50 to me.
Let’s look at that list of 17 incidents again.
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?
Seriously? The probability of a highly illegal night trial at Caiaphas’ residence is 50%? The probability that Pilate would be reluctant to condemn a man accused of advocating insurrection and non-payment of taxes to death is 50%? The probability that the Romans would have allowed a male disciple or a member of the family of an accused political criminal to stand at the foot of the cross is 50%? The probability of Jewish saints being raised to life at someone’s death is 50%? The probability of a guard being placed at the tomb of a crucified man, to make sure he doesn’t rise again, is 50%? Seriously???
In 3000 AD, a historian reads my diary entry for 9/29/2018, and using your method of historical reasoning, concludes that the probability of them being true is 0.1%. Thus, my diary is dated to 2150 AD, a fabricated legend made by an overzealous sect of my future disciples with faulty memory To me, that is a clear reductio ad absurdum. It shows that there is something seriously wrong with this method of historical reasoning.
Let’s go back to your original example:
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.
The three events you describe have no common connection. Nor is there any obvious reason why anyone would make them up: they don’t make you look any better or worse as a human being (except perhaps for the last one), and they serve no propagandist objective. If I were an historian from the year 3000 A.D. I’d be inclined to accept them. I would, however, revise my opinion if you had recorded 30 improbable occurrences on a single day. Then I’d suspect you were a teller of tall stories.
By contrast, many of the events described in the Gospels appear to be written for an evangelistic purpose - e.g. the earthquake, the sky turning dark, the story of blood and water, and so on. They were written to show that Jesus is the Son of God. So if I were a historian and I found a large number of antecedently improbable stories all relating to a single day, as well as a plausible motive for why these stories might have been invented, I would be inclined to suspect that these stories were not historical.
Again, Vincent, can you show to me that your criteria doesn’t completely destroy much of our knowledge of the ancient world?
See my remarks above about the absence of a propagandist objective, and the absence of a reason for the story to have been made up.
There needs to be a more nuanced way of dealing with evidence, one that apparently neither of us have a full grasp on.
I appreciate your intellectual humility. Personally, I think historians can make legitimate use of Bayes’ theorem (and also inference to the best explanation) when assessing the credibility of a piece of evidence.
Did you actually read all of the sources he [Alter] cites on both sides? … As you yourself admit that you don’t have a degree in NT studies, nor have you made any original contributions to the field, I can’t just trust you nor Alter about the state of NT studies.
As I’ve mentioned on my OP, I live an hour from Tokyo and I work seven days a week. There’s no opportunity for me to look at books in English anymore. Thus I have to rely on Internet searches.
In my case, I was able to check the reference to C. K. Barrett, and the Rabbinic sources cited by Alter. I have to assume that the rest of the material quoted by Michael Alter was genuine.
Are you claiming that NT Wright is not an impartial historian? Craig? Keener? Licona? McGrew? Blomberg? Why are Casey, Barrett, and Ehrman impartial historians, but not these people?
Neither of the McGrews is a historian.Nor is Dr. William Lane Craig. The others I’d be prepared to count.
A broad historical consensus means something. On the 17 specific matters I raised in my OP, there is a historical consensus that some of them didn’t occur. We should pay attention to this consensus.