CPBD 032: Chris Hallquist – Christianity and Pseudoscience

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 31, 2010 in Historical Jesus,Podcast,William Lane Craig

cpbd032

(Listen to other episodes of Conversations from the Pale Blue Dot here.)

Today I interview Chris Hallquist. Among other things, we discuss:

  • the claim that there wasn’t enough time between Jesus’ death and the writing of the gospels for legends to develop
  • the claim that if the empty tomb story had been fabricated, the fabricators would not have said that women discovered the tomb
  • do prophecies point to Jesus as the Jewish Messiah?
  • the nature of Christian apologetics

hallquistDownload CPBD episode 032 with Chris Hallquist. Total time is 28:08.

Chris Hallquist links:

Links for things we discussed:

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

manicstreetpreacher March 31, 2010 at 6:27 am

I’ve never downloaded one of your CPBD before, Luke, but I think I’ll make a start now.

Not enough time for a myth to develop / women discovering the empty tomb is evidence for its authenticity my foot!

MSP

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RA March 31, 2010 at 6:28 am

No good punk kids. They think they’re sooooo smart.

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Haecceitas March 31, 2010 at 8:05 am

The interview was OK in terms of not being overly polemic and imbalanced, but there were few points that I think should have been mentioned in order to gain even more balance:

- The view that the original ending of Mark is lost. The weirdness of ending a book the way it does (there probably aren’t many books that end with the word gar) is significant evidence for this, as is the multiplicity of variant endings. If this view happens to be correct, it pretty much eliminates the evidential merits of the hypothesis that Hallquist proposed. (No grounds at all for thinking that the silence of the women was permanent in this case) and also, without an appeal to this point, the argument about women as unlikely witnesses gains at least some power, though I don’t think it’s decisive by itself.

- With regard to the slaughter of the innocents, you should have mentioned that it’s at least a common view among Christian apologists that Bethlehem would have been a small village at this time, so Herod’s order would hardly have entailed a massive number of killed babies. I haven’t looked into this enough to know if we have any good grounds to make an estimate on the actual population of Bethlehem at the time. Also, Chris didn’t mention Herod’s order to kill a number of people at the time of his death (which I think was not carried out), which at least gives some additional testimony to the type of character that would be in accordance with the Gospel portrait.

Perhaps these are addressed in the book. Not mentioning them in an interview is understandable, so I’m not making a big deal of it.

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Bill Maher March 31, 2010 at 8:30 am

This is a side note, but did anyone else see PZ Myer’s complaining about a biblical metaphor Michio Kaku used?

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/03/the_large_hadron_collider_will.php#comments

I think he is being stupid.

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justfinethanks March 31, 2010 at 9:38 am

At the bookstore yesterday I saw the “Case for Christ Study Bible.” It was the Bible, but with quotes from conservative biblical scholars in the margin. That wasn’t too offensive, but it also had quotes from Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer in relevant sections promoting intelligent design. Meyer was quoted saying something like “When done properly, science points to theism.”

It was a great reminder on how intelligent design has NOTHING AT ALL to do with religion.

This is a side note, but did anyone else see PZ Myer’s complaining about a biblical metaphor Michio Kaku used?

Yeah, I love PZ Meyers’ accessible and passionate takedowns of creationist nonsense, but he never seemed to have grown out of his teenage knee jerk atheist stage. Every offhand religious reference is taken as a bow to irrationality.

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Rob March 31, 2010 at 11:47 am

The view that the original ending of Mark is lost.

Why would the creator of the universe allow any part of the bible to be lost?

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lukeprog March 31, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Rob,

How dare you puny human question His wisdom!!!!???? He has reasons you can’t possibly comprehend.

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Haecceitas March 31, 2010 at 12:43 pm

Why would the creator of the universe allow any part of the bible to be lost?  

I don’t know. I suppose there are lots of conceivable reasons why he might. But picking any one of those seems nothing but pure speculation.

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David March 31, 2010 at 1:17 pm

I second the comment about the ending to Mark being lost. It always makes me cringe a little to hear non-believers bringing up the end to Mark as if it were final, because there is some debate on this. Granted, the professor I did intro to New Testament Greek with was of the lost-ending camp, but I do have some knowledge about this which I’ll share with you all, for whatever it’s worth coming from a non-expert. The usual evidence for the “lost ending” of Mark is as follows:

- Ending with the conjunction gar in 16:8. Although it is not ungrammatical to have the word in this position, it is utterly bizarre to have a long narrative ending with a conjunction, even in the strange, stilted Greek of Mark.* It is simply a nonsensical thing to do. Now if you want to argue that it’s possible Mark originally ended there you can dig around and find some letters that end with conjunctions but they’re in the minority and I don’t believe (though don’t know for sure) that any of them are long biographical narratives a la Mark. (I know at least some of the examples given by the “original ending” camp are of personal correspondicies.)

- The longer and shorter endings written in later. This is weaker evidence, as you can argue that Christians were simply uncomfortable with Mark’s telling and so altered it by tacking on the ending. However, it seems more likely to me that they would alter the whole story – or adopt a different telling, rather than the obviously-added endings. There were plenty of gospels dropped by the way-side, and it’s an argument for the import of Mark to the early community that it was kept, even though endings had to be tacked on. It’s not strong evidence, but it does fall within the narrative of a faith community attempting to “restore” the ending to a valued narrative. Admittedly, this fits with the “original ending” theory, too.

- The trajectory in Mark toward a final appearance in Galilee, which combined with the gar issue above, to me is a clencher. Both in Mark 14:28, before Jesus’ crucifixion, and also in Mark 16:7 (just before the original text cuts off), we are told that Jesus is “going ahead of you into Galilee.” The comment by Jesus himself in chapter 14 is clear forshadowing, which we are being reminded of in 16, and only makes sense to have fulfilled within the narrative. We find that Matthew adds this into the end of his story, either from his imagination or from another source.** It’s difficult to swallow that Mark forshadowed a Galilean appearance but chose to cut off his story without having one.

*I have read a decent (but I can’t say convincing, I’m not an expert in this) argument by a biblical scholar that Mark is essentially the written record of an oral performance. This makes a little more sense out of the gospel’s uncanny grammar and compulsive and unusual use of “and immediately” as a transitional phrase.

**On an aside, the separate tradition of John also has Galilean appearances, which is separate corroberation of an early tradition of Jesus’ reappearance to his disciples there. Curiously, Luke not only omits this but changes the story entirely so that you can’t even squeeze a Galilean appearance into his account – in fact, Jesus explicitly tells his disciples not to leave Jerusalem! This is the best argument that I know of for the confabulation of (at least) Luke’s gospel.

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Hermes March 31, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Bill Maher, I think PZ overreacted, yet he’s right on one point even if the words he chose were overly energetic; “the word ‘metaphor’ has become a kind of catch-all excuse whenever someone says something stupid and unjustifiable”.

I understand Michio Kaku’s intent was to say that the first moments of the universe could be under investigation through the use of the LHA, but the Jewish/… Genesis myth doesn’t compare well to that investigation even if “Genesis” and “LHC” have some similarities in a few very general categories.

In Genesis, the stars come last and objects (living or not) pop in full formed already designed to be part of a deity’s personal terrarium. That really has little to do with what the LHC involves, as such the metaphor is clumsy.

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Mark March 31, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Re: the ending of the Gospel of Mark. I think Hallquist’s point wasn’t so much that it probably originally ended at the eighth verse with “gar,” but just that we don’t have a very clear idea what was going on with the women. The Mark we have access to doesn’t say, there’s prima facie reason to believe that the later Gospels report details that conflict with Mark and we have at least plausible stories about why they may have been fabricated. So it’s difficult to see how such feeble evidence could possibly do the work apologists require of it.

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Zak March 31, 2010 at 3:39 pm

In a debate between William Lane Craig and Bart Ehrman, Ehrman tackles the issue of the women in Mark…

“Bill asserts that the story of the women going to the tomb would never have been invented by the early Christians. I should point out, Paul never mentions the women at the tomb, only the later Gospels, Mark and following. But here the problem is one that’s typical of much of Bill’s position. His claim does not take seriously the nature of our sources. Anyone who’s intimate with Mark’s Gospel would have no difficulty at all seeing why, 35 years after the event, he or someone in his community might have invented the story. Mark’s Gospel is filled with theological reflections on the meaning of the life of Jesus; this is Mark’s Gospel. It’s not a datasheet; it’s a Gospel. It’s a proclamation of the good news, as Mark saw it, of Christ’s death and resurrection. One of Mark’s overarching themes is that virtually no one during the ministry of Jesus could understand who he was. His family didn’t understand. His townspeople didn’t understand. The leaders of his own people didn’t understand. Not even the disciples understood in Mark—especially not the disciples! For Mark, only outsiders have an inkling of who Jesus was: the unnamed woman who anointed him, the centurion at the cross. Who understands at the end? Not the family of Jesus! Not the disciples! It’s a group of previously unknown women. The women at the tomb fit in perfectly with Mark’s literary purposes otherwise. So they can’t simply be taken as some kind of objective historical statement of fact. They too neatly fit the literary agenda of the Gospel. The same can be said of Joseph of Arimathea. Anyone who cannot think why Christians might invent the idea that Jesus had a secret follower among the Jewish leaders is simply lacking in historical imagination.”

Seems like a pretty good point to me.

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lukeprog March 31, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Zak,

Ehrman’s point is, I think, the most reasonable thing to say about the tomb. The ending fits perfectly with the rest of Mark’s gospel.

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Chris Hallquist March 31, 2010 at 4:51 pm

Mark (the 12th comment down) nailed it. I thought I made pretty clear that I think the ending of Mark is a weird bit of data for which some interesting explanations have been proposed, but we don’t know which (if any) of the proposals are right.

As for the slaughter of the innocents: given my understanding of what we know about the historical Herod, I just have a very hard time believing that all our other historical sources would have ignored this, even if we were only talking about a couple of kids being killed. Had I thought of this during the interview, I would have mentioned it, though.

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Reginald Selkirk April 1, 2010 at 6:38 am

This is a side note, but did anyone else see PZ Myer’s complaining about a biblical metaphor Michio Kaku used?http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2010/03/the_large_hadron_collider_will.php#commentsI think he is being stupid.  

How dare you puny human question His wisdom!!!!???? He has reasons you can’t possibly comprehend.

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Jeff H April 2, 2010 at 6:34 pm

The professor I had for my class on the historical Jesus suggested that perhaps Mark intentionally left the ending open like that in order to provide a contrast between the women and the reader. In other words, the women didn’t say anything…are you going to spread the word instead? It made some sense to me, especially when you look at the structure of the rest of the book, where Jesus continually tells people not to tell others about the miracles he was doing, until about halfway through the book, with Peter’s triumphant proclamation that “you are the Christ!” There seems to be a strong emphasis that Jesus is NOT just a miracle worker, moral teacher, etc. but the Messiah, and a contrast made between those who tell others and those who don’t.

Anyway, just thought I’d mention yet another theory about Mark’s ending.

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danielg April 15, 2010 at 2:39 pm

1. Comparing Christian apologists to UFO apologists

While there are some valid comparisons, this also smacks of “all faiths are equally implausible” ruse which I addressed in
Pascal’s Wager – Part II: debunking the ‘all religions are equally improbable’ ruse

2. Debunking Intelligent Design

I think that is an interesting idea – the link between ID and Christian apologetics. I’m glad that he did not parade out the ruse that it’s just “creation science” reworked. However, ID is more than just Christian apologetic. It’s a reaction to the errs of the evolutionary approach to science, including:
- confusing historical data with empirical
- confusing philosophy of science w/ science
- initially opposing the Big Bang because such evidence supported a deist view, being congruent with the Bible’s cosmology
- providing an origins myth and world view beyond empirical science
- claiming scientific contributions that can more readily be explained by simple scientific method and comparative genetics
- bullying and closed-mindedness to challenges, esp. those that are deist

Also, not a few of the leaders in ID, including Ben Stein in his movie Expelled, are secular Jews who also resist the intellectual narrowness and hubris of evolutionists’ strident claims.

3. On Legends arising quickly.

No argument. They could arise quickly. However, there are other arguments for the historicity of the gospel narratives, including that the entire NT theology of Christ depends on these claims – that is, if the resurrection is just a legend, ALL of Christianity falls apart. Not so for the other miracles. Rather than just being a later deification of an important teacher (like that of the Buddha), it becomes an entire farce that brings down the whole house. Since miracles and resurrection are not central to the teachings of the Buddha, the legendary post-deification theory makes more sense for him. For Jesus, that’s a pretty big case to make due to the centrality of the resurrection. Does that make sense?

4. Prophecy

Sure, it is easier to make prophecies, esp. ambiguous ones, fit events in retrospect. However, that does not eliminate the importance of fulfilling prophecies, esp. many, some of which are specific – I would argue that MANY of the prophecies applied to Jesus are NOT as ambiguous as those of Nostradamus, but I’m not sure.

Regarding those that he did not fulfill, sure, you could view the second coming as wiggle room to finish fulfilling them, but this does not obviate the two-visit model – that is, presenting an alternative that seems more likely does not per se make it true. Sure, history involves deciding what is most likely, but in this case, I think that the difference in probability

5. Birth narratives

I don’t think that he debunked the current harmonies.

6. The Life of Herod

Sure, his wives were manipulators, that’s how John the Baptist was killed, and this aligns exactly with what your guest and Joesephus indicated. As to murdering infants, it seems entirely consistent that he was also afraid of losing control of his power.

7. Micah Prophecy – the second king david

What is invalid about picking parts of prophecies to apply to Jesus and others not? What hermeneutic or theory of prophecy interpretation demands that the entire passage must apply?

In fact, in the NT, specific OT quotes are often re-interpreted, and there is nothing per se invalid about that. See:
Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

8. Book of Daniel Years

Sure, adding up numbers and predicting things is somewhat of a silly practice, but not all schools of evangelicalism get caught up in calculating the years.

Additionally, prophecy often has dual application – being applied to immediate events, plus future events.

Re: forgeries of Daniel, that is an interesting theory, been around for years.

9. Luther and the use of reason.

This is an important concept that materialists call “close minded,” but it is not so. As

10. Apologetics as Propoganda

While apologetics can be one-sided, it sounds like your guest is doing the opposite, rather than presenting a balanced approach, and being open to such things as miracles.

11. Apologetics and Evangelicalism

Your guest is out of touch with what is happening now in evangelicalsm. After Josh McDowell, it matured as evangelical scholarship increased (as in Philosophy), and it is now mainstreaming through such programs as The Truth Project.

Now that the ideas are well developed, they are being simplified to strengthen believers against the attacks of polemecists like Dawkins et al.

12. The twin uses of apologetics.

Your guest is right in that it is used for
(a) evangelism – not that it creates faith, but it can remove intellectual barriers to faith
(b) strengthening believers – since coming to faith is largely a heart thing, not an intellectual one, Christians should follow their heart and experience change with ‘renewing their minds’ to think biblically – developing a biblical world view (that is, a godly, healthy view) of self, God, relationships, parenting, government, economics (personal and corporate), etc.

Nothing wrong with that – in fact, it is essential to address BOTH the mind and heart in preaching and evangelism. The great preachers have always done so.

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danielg April 15, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Sorry, I did not finish #9. What I meant to say is…

Luther was merely echoing Augustine’s claim of “faith seeking understanding,” and while Bill Craig may seem disingenous to a materialist, he is being consistent and logical.

That is, it is not illogical to use a combination of induction and deduction in finding truth, though the pure materialist I suppose will rely ONLY upon induction, in the sense that he must have empirical data.

But applying logic in service to faith is not per se entirely deductive.

As I explained in my series on The Wesleyan Quadrangle, and as many have done in discussing the cooperation of Faith and Reason, rather than seeing them as mutually exclusive, it is not right for materialists to sneer at those who use the method of “faith seeking understanding.”

It has its dangers, but it also has its strengths. I am in total agreement with those who subjugate reason to faith. It does not render reason inoperative or unable to challenge and confront faith, but it does allow us to use our other faculties of epistemology, which materialists discount in an academic sense (but, in a personal sense, I don’t think they are so objective in real life).

That is, as you can read in my article above, we can use reason, experience/intuition, tradition (accumulated wisdom / theology), and revealed truth (the ‘third dimension’ which materialists do not trust at all).

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lukeprog April 15, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Daniel,

I certainly don’t think all faiths are equally improbable. For example, deism is far, far, more likely than Christianity. UFO stories, too, are more probably than Christianity. I don’t know any atheist who would say that all faiths are equally improbable.

Which prophecies do you think are actually specific in the Bible?

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danielg April 16, 2010 at 10:55 am

>> LUKE: For example, deism is far, far, more likely than Christianity.

I think that is natural, considering that Christianity is much more specific. Adding specificity means, in one sense, increasing improbability, but that does not make it less true, if you get my meaning.

In fact, I think that example may be counter-intuitive like the whole “number of manuscript differences” argument – if you have only one manuscript, you have no differences. Paradoxically, the more manuscripts you have, the more variants you will have, but the more accuracy in determining the original text you have.

>> LUKE: UFO stories, too, are more probably than Christianity.

Yes, but even this comparison does not mean that UFOs are more true. What I mean is that this comparison may be a little invalid for a few reasons.

I mean sure, you have recent testimonial evidence (which you also have for Jesus), you have naturalistic explanations (delusion, brain chemistry, mental illness, and in the case of UFO’s, government defense projects), but what xianity has that UFO people lack are:

a. an impressive moral and ethical system
b. impact on humanity
c. transformation of individuals (you do have that to a much lesser degree with UFOs, and perhaps a bit more with NDEs, which might be a better comparison).

But I think that my disagreement is with the one dimensional application of statistical or reasonable probability to such matters. As all materialists seem to do, it discounts secondary, subjective, but important epistemological tools such as conscience, intuition, and experience from the equation, as well as such important outcomes as historical impact, ethical impact, internal consistency of teachings, congruence with historical and archaeological facts, etc.

I think that statistics and simple empiricism can be used very well to eliminate pretenders, but you can only eliminate all contenders for metaphysical truth by limiting yourself to empiricism, which has known and real limits, esp. in such matters.

I am not advocating leaning on intuition and subjective experience alone (which is superstition), only including them in the milieu of tools.

>> LUKE: I don’t know any atheist who would say that all faiths are equally improbable.

To me, anyone who makes the FSM or fairies analogy is doing so.

>> LUKE: Which prophecies do you think are actually specific in the Bible?

I guess we would have to set criteria for what is specific, and perhaps use some formula to then evaluate.

As a starting analogy, I would use banking security (stay with me here ;). When we validate identity, we need TWO of three things:

a. Something you have (your card)
b. Something you are (biological, like a fingerprint)
c. Something you know (your PIN)

So I would want a minimal set (two?) of the following.

Mention of a specific:
a. date/time
b. place
c. person
d. unique natural occurrence
e. unique historical event

Using that criteria, which I’m not even sure is complete or useful, I would guess that at least some of the prophecies mention two of these simultaneously, but then again, maybe not! I don’t have time to do that now, but I would like to suggest that Christianity should have these to escape from ambiguous prophecies.

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danielg April 21, 2010 at 2:32 pm

Luke, I know you are busy, but do you have any comment on what criteria MIGHT make prophecies specific enough to either confirm or deny the prescience of a prophecy? Kind of like the predictions of a scientific model?

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lukeprog April 21, 2010 at 2:38 pm

danielg,

For now, check this post for some relevant thoughts. I suspect I reject Biblical prophecies for much the same reason you reject the prophecies of Nostradamus, if you’re aware of them. It’s the exact same things in play.

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Reasonist June 3, 2010 at 6:51 pm

In regards to the Isaiah prophecy, the “suffering servant” is known to be a reference to the nation of Israel as a whole. Bart Ehrman has talked about this unless I’m mistaken.

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