Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Similarities between the Gospel of John and the Synoptic Gospels: A necessary balance for proper historical assesment of John's Gospel


In addition to being the lastest one, the Gospel of John provides a more explicit theological interpretation of the historical Jesus than the Synoptic Gospels.

This fact is exploited by liberal scholars in order to deny the historicity of the traditions in John's Gospel.

Recall the liberal scholars are, as a rule, naturalists and atheists (regardless of whether some of them misleadingly call themselves "believers in God" or even are "bipshops" and externally affect all the religious paraphernalia). Atheistic naturalism implies, necessarily, that theology is false and non-historical. Therefore (so the liberals reason), any theologically charged reconstruction of the historical Jesus is, by definition, non-historical (this atheistic assumption is explicit in the works of the Jesus Seminar).

Note that such naturalistic assumption is false, if theism were true. If theism is true, then theology and history are not necessarily incompatible, since it is at least possible that an omnipotent God could intervene in history (e.g. raising Jesus from the dead) and such event would be, simultaneously, BOTH theological AND historical.

In other words, on naturalism, theology is a priori and necessarily incompatible with history. (This assumption begs the question against the possibility of miracles and Jesus having a divine dimension)

On theism, theology is NOT necessarily nor a priori incompatible with history. (This assumption doesn't beg the question, because theism only implies the metaphysical possibility, not the actual historical factuality, of miracles and Jesus being divine. If miracles have occurred and Jesus is actually was divine or not cannot be settled by a priori stipulation, but it is a matter of a posteriori historical investigation and philosophical reflection).

Hence, the liberal (naturalistic) assumption is one which any theist, or even any agnostic, must reject as unwarranted.

But let that pass. Whatever our opinion about naturalism or theism, it is clear that John's Gospel provides clear literary differences regarding the Synoptics, some of them being:

-The Jesus of the synoptics tend to use parables; the Jesus of John doesn't.

-The Jesus of the synoptics tend to use short phrases; the Jesus of John tend to use long speaches.

-The Jesus of the synoptics, although contain explicit and implicit Christological traditions, such Christology becomes much more explicit in John.

There are other differences which are well-known in the literature and that I won't mention here in this post.

However, what is missing in many of the liberal literature that I've studied are the SIMILARITIES between John and the Synoptics. Such (intentional?) omissions tend to create in the mind of the readers the suspicion that the differences are so important and so radical, that it becomes unreasonable to believe in John's Gospel. They conclude, therefore, that John's Gospel is historically worthless and dismiss much of the traditions in it.

Any objective researcher must be sensible to similarities and differences, in order to avoid putting a misplaced emphasis in the former or the latter, which will tend to make us loss a proper, less biased perspective in our investigation.

With the purpose of creating a kind of balance, in this post I'll show the SIMILARITIES between John and the Synoptics, which provides in some cases mutiple attestation of certain traditions about Jesus (on the assumption that John is independent of the synoptics), and hence that John contains historically reliable information about the historical Jesus (whatever be his emphasis on the theological dimension of Jesus). 

In turn, it will tend to show that the liberal's too quick and dissmissive view of John as "historically worthless or unreliable" is largely exaggerate and, perhaps, plausibly false.

Similarities between John's Gospel and the Synoptics

I'll mention just a few of the similarities, not all of them. Even though the wording is different, the idea conveyed is similar or even the same (or at least coheres well with what we know of Jesus in the synoptics), and it portrays a messianic and divine view of Jesus:

1-The judgment of unbelievers and evildoers will be according to their works (John 5:29/ Matthew 25:46)

2-The Father reveals the Son, and no one knows the Father except the Son and the Son is the unique, exclusive, special intermediary between God and human beings (=Jesus' exclusivistic self-perception) (John 10:14-15/John 14:6/Matthew 11:25-27/ Luke 10: 22)

3-Jesus as the good shepherd who seeks rescue the errant members of his flock (John 10:1-16/ Mattew 18:12-14/Luke 15: 3-7)

4-Receiving Jesus implies receiving the one who sent him (God). (John 12:44-45/ Mark 9:7/ Matthew 10:40/ Luke 10:16)

5-At least part of the function of Jesus on Earth is the salvation and spiritual rescue of human beings. (John 3:17/ Mark 10:45/ Matthew 20:28)
 
6-Jesus is seen as the Son of God (John 11:27/ Mark 1:11/ Mark 13:32/ Mark 15:29/Matthew 14:32-33/Luke 22:70)

7-Believers in Jesus worshiped him (John 9:38/Matthew 28:17)

8-Jesus is seen as having the authority on Earth to forgive sins (John 1:29/Mark 2:10)

I've mentioned some a few points of comparison between John and the Synoptics, with an emphasis in key christological aspects.

Although there are much more evidence that I could add and qualify in this discussion, it is evident that the liberal claim that John's Gospel is historically worthless or strongly unreliable is very exaggerated.

In my opinion, much of which is explicit in John is already explicit or implicit in the synoptics, and we have no prima facie reason to think that some of the singly attested traditions in John are fictional or false. They could be, but not because they're incompatible with what is already contained in the synoptics.

The presence of a theological perspective in John doesn't mean a straightforward historical falsification or distorsion of the facts reported in such Gospel. It could be interpreted as a framework or perspective in light of which the facts mentioned (which are historical) are interpreted in terms of Jesus' divine and messianic status as a savior of men (a status explicitly and implicitly contained in the synoptics).

If the theological perspective itself is true or false cannot be decided a priori, and the evolution of theological ideas don't imply their falsehood, since such evolution could also correspond with a progressive discovering of the actual nature of Jesus (provided, of course, which such divine nature were true), in the same way which scientific ideas about nature have evolved (e.g. from Newtonian mechanics to Quantum mechanics) without it implying a falsification or distorsion of nature itself.

I'm not suggesting the latter is the case of John's Gospel. Just that such possibility must be carefully and critically considered by objetive inquirers among the pool of live options, and not discarded in advance by naturalistic, atheistic (liberal) question-begging stipulations.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Critical thinking and mind-openness for the study of the historical Jesus (and other controversial topics). The problem of differential antencedent probability for assesing factual claims


In preparation for an upcoming dialogue/debate about the historical Jesus with a liberal New Testament scholar, I've been studying a lot of the contemporary liberal New Testament literature and the philosophical backgrounds related to the dispute about the historical Jesus.

One aspect in which I'm interested is why the same evidence or data is evaluated differently (even contrarily) by different persons, even by experts and scholars. Why does Ray Hyman reach contrary conclusions about psi than Dean Radin and viceversa? Why do Richard Dawkins or Michael Shermer reach contrary conclusions about God's existence than William Lane Craig or John Lennox?

As philosophers of science know, data and evidence are never evaluated in isolation; rather, they're evaluated in terms of antencedent theories, hypothesis and pressupositions, which determine the  prior probability of a given claim. (In Bayes' theorem, it is expressed as "prior or antecedent probability" on the background information = the conditional probability that a given claim be true on the background data alone).

Scientific example: The evidence for telepathy. Even when you get positive statistical evidence for it, if you're a materialist, the prior or antencedent probability of the claim "telepathy exists" will depend on things like the evidence for the ontological dependence of consciousness of the brain, the history of fraud in parapsychology, the supposed non-replicability of such experiments by skeptics, the negative evidence against telepathy, the evidence for materialism and naturalism, etc.

This is why scientific skeptics are not convinced. For them, the antencedent probability of telepathy is very LOW, which even the positive evidence in a single, or even in several experiments, won't counterbalance such low prior probability.(This is why they demand "extraordinary evidence" in order to be convinced!)

Exactly the same applies in any other area of inquiry. The prior probability of a given claim will depend in the background information which you accept as true.

In the case of the historical Jesus, we're confronted with a person whose life is (at least if we take the Gospels at face value) full of so-called miracles. Moreover, he's the key figure of the most influential religion in the world, which has millions of followers and opponents.

Now, how is going a person to assess the evidence for Jesus according to her background information? It depends on the background information which the person brings to the inquiry.

An atheist, who cannot accept miracles, will be forced by his background beliefs (e.g. that God doesn't exist, that miracles don't happen, that religions are false and fraudulent, that religious persons are supertitious and shouldn't be believed, that every event happens by known or unknown natural laws, etc.) to rate as EXTREMELY LOW (even zero!) the antencedent probability of any miraculous claim in the Gospels.

Hence, he's be skeptical of such sources and will consider, as more probable, conventional explanations (frauds, delusions, religious enthusiasm, myths, etc.)

When you read carefully the liberal literature on Jesus, such kind strong skepticism is what you tend to find. Such scholars are extremely skeptical of the historical sources, suspecting fraud, delusions, misrepresentations, propaganda, dishonesty, etc. in the sources. If evidence for such delusions don't exist, such scholars will tend to invent it.

Like James Randi reading a parapsychological report and figuring out "how the fraud was made", such scholars will look for flaws, discrepancies, contradictions in the material and, if found, will exploid them in order to convince themselves and the readers that the sources are largely unreliable. Dates of compositions will be pushed very late, the tradition about the likely author of the Gospel will be dismissed, imaginary and purely speculative Christian communities who differed from the traditional ones will be invented, later extra-canonical Gospels will be seen less critically (e.g. Crossan and the Secret Gospel of Mark, which is a modern fraud), the criteria of authenticicity will be misused, etc.
 
This is unfortunate, because hardly you will get the truth with such unsympathetic, largely negative methodological approach.

Without sufficient intellectual sympathy for the material or its author, the tendency to bend, twist, explain away, impose our preferences, create double standards or distort is considerable, and the results very unfortunate (more proven examples: the liberal approach to the well-evidence historical evidence for the empty tomb; denial of Paul's belief in it; later datings of  the Gospel of Mark based upon the naturalistic assumption that Jesus had no precognitive powers, speculations about christological traditions being late inventions even when they appear in the earliest tradition or are multiply attested, and in general, the misuses of several criteria of authenticity).

It doesn't mean to be uncritical or credulous regarding the sources (or any topic, for that matter). Just having openess and to be intellectually sympathetic to the material and its author, giving her the benefit of doubt, being fair and consistent in the application of the evidential standards, etc. (Just think about examining a parapsychological report with the "I'm going to discover the fraud" or "Another pseudoscientific garbage" mindset, instead of "Let's see carefully if something interesting is being reported here" or "This research had flaws but perhaps not all of it is unvalidated". The former is an unsympathetic mindset, the latter a sympathetic one).

The problem is that human beings tend to be sympathetic to the information which AGREES with their opinions, and unsympathetic to the ones which CONTRADICTS them.

The only way to break that dangerous grip is methodological objectivity, that is, applying the SAME standards to the relevant evidence, whether it agrees or not with our antencedent opinions.

Another requiriment is the willingness to follow the evidence whatever it leads, even if it leads to views contrary to yours.

When you read a lot of the liberal literature, the careful reader will perceive that many of such scholars, writing in the 20th and 21th centuries, perceiving themselves as knowing Jesus better than the disciples. Taken at face value, it is not just arrogant but very implausible too.

I see as very presumptuosus to think that we, in the 21th century, have a better knolwedge of Jesus' teachings, claims, deeds and identity than the Paul and the disciples themselves, who loved him, were sympathetic to him (contrary to many liberals!), were very close to him, spend time with him, asked him questions, heard him constantly in private and public, before and apparently after Easter (many, probably most, of such moments are not recorded in the Gospels) and, in Paul's case, receiving independently the Gospel directly from Jesus after his death (at least, this is what Paul claimed), which he checked and discussed with the disciples themselves.

Although not impossible, to think that Paul and all the disciples forget Jesus' actual message, misrepresented their identity, egregiously distortioned his claims simply because, in an anti-Jewish fashion, they became convinced that Jesus was risen from the dead and (even more radically unJewish) was a deity (in the same level than God, which is unacceptable in Judaism), and that only liberal scholars (who are mostly atheists and scientific naturalists) have bring to us the truth about what actually happened, is unlikely, implausible and hard to believe.

Such liberals feel free to speculate about the psychology of the disciples, figuring out how they progressively"idealized" Jesus after being (falsely) convinced that Jesus was risen, when actually the resurrection itself doesn't imply being a deity in Judaism (this an event caused by God, but God itself, being eternal and incapable of dying, cannot be risen from the dead, so the resurrection is not a mark or property of a deity. This is NOT the Jewish concept of God).

Moreover, all the Jewish disciples and even skeptics who weren't intially disciples (e.g. Paul and James, Jesus' brother) became convinced that Jesus was divine. No dissent voices or correctives about Jesus' divinity appeared among them.

No one of the disciples said "Wait a minute, why are you attributing to Jesus sayings and teachings that he never uttered and taught? That's blasphemous! You'll be cursed by God! Our master taught us about God's Kingdom, and it doesn't include the egregious blasphemy that he was a deity too, because it offends God, the only God which exists. Did you forget his teachings? I DIDN'T. Like me, you should know that Jesus was a mere teller of parables about God and life. Just that "

No such correctives or dissenting voices about Jesus' divinity, among the disciples who were close to Jesus, have appeared in the earliest sources. (The Gospel of Thomas is a later Gospel, which in any case also attributes exalted divine properties to Jesus, like the property of aseity = being the source of everything what exists beside himself, as I've shown here).

The obvious explanation of why the earliest Christians, despite their fundamental monotheistic Jewish predisposition to the contrary, became convinced of Jesus' divinity, is because Jesus himself (as reported in all the strata of the tradition) repeatly used expressions (e.g. Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven; Son of God in a unique, exclusive relation with the Father), performed deeds (e.g. forgiving sins in his own authority; changed or corrected in his own authority the laws given by God in the Old Testament),  and taught (e.g. teaching authoritatively, as someone who fully knows it, about God's Kingdom) about matters belonging only to God, assuming an unheard authority in such divine matters.

This caused, in the Jewish strongly monotheistic ears, the charge of blasphemy, the Jewish instigation against him and Jesus' eventual cruxifiction (in this context, the resurrection can be understood as God's vindication of Jesus' claims, namely, he was not, after all, a blasphemous. He was telling the truth and God proved it. The specific context provides a plausible and reasonable interpretation of the resurrection).

Many liberals deny this. They have already decided that Jesus wasn't like that. He was simply a teller of stories and parables and, since he never said anything implying any divine status, the charge of blasphemy by the Jewish authorities is pure fiction. The cruxifiction is explained by political reasons alone (?¿). The resurrection? it wasn't historical... and if it happened, who cares? Such event is inherently ambiguous (of course, it is ambiguous if you assume the liberal portrait of Jesus, because nobody would expect that a "mere Jewish peasant, passive teller of parables" will be risen from the dead and would change the history of the world forever. In such liberal portrait, the resurrection becomes meaningless, disconnected from the inmediate religious context, coming wholly from the left field).

The reason why some of the evidence for Jesus' life and teachings is consistently denied or misrepresented by liberals is not historical. 

It depends on naturalism, and the skepticism which, regarding the sources, such skepticism imposes in the determination of the antecedent probability of the tradition being examined.

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Course of Miracles (ACIM), the Urantia Book and other new age sources on "I am the light of the world" statement of Jesus and Marcus Borg's criterion of non-historicity.




In a previous post, I discussed liberal scholar Marcus Borg's psychologistic criterion of non-historicity according to which if a putative utterance of Jesus suggests a psychological disorder which a sane, normal person cannot have uttered, then such expression never came from Jesus and we have to conclude (with "most mainline scholars" = liberals?) which such saying was put into Jesus' lips by others.

We could formulate this liberal criterion of non-historicity like this: 

If a given saying of Jesus  is improper of a psychologically sane or normal person, such saying probably didn't come from Jesus. It was a mere invention of his followers and we're entitled to conclude that such saying NEVER came from Jesus.

Note carefully that Borg's criterion is NOT merely a criterion for doubting a given saying. It is a criterion for positively DENYING such saying.

Borg explicitly mentions as example the saying in the Gospel of John in which Jesus says "I am the light of the world".

Since psychologically normal, sane people don't say such things about themselves, it follows that Jesus didn't ever say that.

Let's apply Borg's liberal criterion to non-Christian, new age, paranormal sources about Jesus like a Course in Miracles (ACIM) and The Urantia Book, and see what we get.

A Course in Miracles (ACIM)

In ACIM, an ENTIRE section (Lesson 61) is entitled "I am the light of the world".

Now, look carefully what ACIM misleadingly tries to do. The linguistically and semantically "self-statement" I'm the light of the world (it is a self statement since "I" is a personal pronoun about oneself) tries to CHANGE the meaning in order to make it a statement about the ACIM's readers, not about Jesus alone (=religious pluralism!):

Who is the light of the world except God's Son? 2 This, then, is merely a statement of the truth about yourself. 3 It is the opposite of a statement of pride, of arrogance, or of self-deception. 4 It does not describe the self-concept you have made. 5 It does not refer to any of the characteristics with which you have endowed your idols. 6 It refers to you as you were created by God. 7 It simply states the truth

Note how misleading is to talk of God's Son and then say that it is a statement about the readers of ACIM (and by extension, of all of us). Son is a singular term, not a plural one. God's Son refers to one individual, not to many, and certainly this is the way in which Jesus uses "The Son" in Q, in which he differentiates the Son (Jesus) from the Father (God) and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal the Father (= human beings).

Even the most stupid reader of the Gospels would clearly see that.

But the ACIM, wholly arbitrarily, contrary to the Gospels' evidence, contrary to the English language as commonly used in the 20th century (remember that the ACIM's Jesus is talking to 20th century readers) and without any rational explanation, just change the meaning of the singular pronoun "I" into something entirely contrary, namely "you". (If Jesus wanted to refer to YOU, instead of himself, why the hell did he use the first-person pronoun "I"? In first-century Judaism, it was common to use third person expressions to refer  solemnly to oneself, as when Jesus used "Son of Man". But using "I" as meaning "you", specially by a putative 20th century Jesus who has revealed himself in United States, is clearly absurd).

But this hermeneutical or exegetical question is beside the point. Here, we're interested in history.

The interesting point here (for purposes of historical investigation) is to note that that Jesus in ACIM NEVER denies the utterance "I am the light of the world" in the John's Goslpel. In other words, the difference between ACIM and John's Gospel is not about the historicity of such utterance as coming from Jesus, but only about its true meaning. But the historicity or actuality of the saying as authentic and coming from Jesus is agreed by both sources.

Now I ask truth-seekers out there: If such statement, interpreted about one person alone is insane, is the same statement LESS insane if interpreted as referring to the readers of ACIM, by the readers themselves? Why exactly? How exactly if Jesus said "I am the light of the world" referring to himself,  is the such expression less insane when every reader of ACIM repeats daily "I am the light of the world" as a phrase used to herself?

Consider this prescription in ACIM in the same section in which "Jesus" says that you "should" apply such saying to yourself:

As many practice periods as possible should be undertaken today, although each one need not exceed a minute or two. 2 They should begin with telling yourself:

3 I am the light of the world. 4 That is my only function. 5 That is why I am here.

Since as a reader of ACIM I have to repeat (=telling myself) that "I'm the light of the world and thats my only function and thats is why I'm here", I'm using such statements as statements referring to MYSELF.

But according to Borg, only psychologically challenged and deluled people say things like that about themselves. (I guess the readers of ACIM, who see themselves as the light of the world, are seriously considering to visit a psychiatrist after reading and agreeing with Borg).

If a believer in ACIM thinks that Borg's argument is plain ridiculous when applied to themselves (and moreover, to Jesus!), then (if consistent) he MUST reject such Borg's argument as a valid objection against John's Gospel too (unless he has positive evidence that John actually invented such statement, which presses the problem of why exactly the same utterance appeared 19 centuries later in ACIM put in Jesus' lips too = independent attestation!).

The ACIM partisan may clap and condescendely smile when he see liberals dismissing John's Gospel with such arguments like Borg's, but it only exposes the partisan's own methodological inconsistency, obvious double standard, self-deception, intellectual superficiality and egregious disregarding for the truth.

Emotion and wishful thinking seem to have priority here. 

Otherwise, he would see that the main arguments and methodology used by liberals like Borg (specially extremistic ones like those in the Jesus Seminar) against John's Gospel would ALSO destroy the credibility of ACIM.

Since Borg's criterion is NOT a criterion of meaning, hemeneutics or biblical exegesis, but a criterion about what's historical, Borg's objection cannot be sympathetically accepted by the ACIM partisan as applied to John, but skip it entirely if applied to ACIM.

Fact is that, if ACIM actually comes from Jesus, it provides independent attestation of such saying in John, and hence Borg's speculative objection cannot be accepted by a consistent believer in ACIM.

The URANTIA BOOK (UB)

So far, we have gotten independent attestation in ACIM supporting John's Gospel regarding the historicity of the specific utterance or saying "I am the light of the world".

But The Urantia Book, which also claims to provide independent information about Jesus, ALSO includes the saying "I'm the light of the world" and hence provides further independent support of such saying.

So, we can read in such source:

I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life. Presuming to place me on trial and assuming to sit as my judges, you declare that, if I bear witness of myself, my witness cannot be true. But never can the creature sit in judgment on the Creator. Even if I do bear witness about myself, my witness is everlastingly true, for I know whence I came, who I am, and whither I go. 

So, we have another independent attestation, by a putative independent source, confirming the utterance in John's Gospel. 

Note that, contrary to ACIM, the Jesus of UB claims "I am the light of the world" about HIMSELF, not just about the readers of the UB book. 

But according to Marcus Borg, such Jesus of the Urantia Book is so crazy, megalomanic or insane (or somehow psychologically disturbed) as the Jesus in John and ACIM.

 CONCLUSION

Borg's argument is not a plausible historical argument to deny the authenticity of such saying in John and hence, no good reason has been given to reject such utterance.

At most, historically speaking, we're left with a position of agnosticism regarding such utterance in John. But there is not ONE, single piece of positive historical evidence which such saying didn't come from Jesus.

Borg's argument is particularly unconvincing. It is a sheer question begging speculation about what Jesus must be according to the liberal (atheistic-naturalistic) framework which, by a priori philosophical reasons, says that Jesus cannot be divine (hence, any "self" utterance implying some divine, more-than-human status by him is psychotic, insane and cannot be accepted).

But why exactly Jesus' nature must fit Borg's (or any other liberal scholar) naturalistic-atheistic framework? (The same question applies, of course, to the framework of Christians, Jews, Muslims and others... precisely for this reason we have to examine the EVIDENCE regarding Jesus in the New Testament).

But the partisans of ACIM and UB have a serious problem here: Their own sources CONFIRM the utterance in John's Gospel, providing multiple, independent attestation of such utterance and hence make it likely to be authentic.

Hence, partisans of ACIM and UB, if consistent, must accept on historical grounds that John correctly reported Jesus' words when he says "I'm the light of the world". 

The only issue to be debated is the exact meaning of such words, not the historicity of them. The historicity itself (if ACIM or UB are accepted) is supported by the criterion o multiple, independent attestation, and this evidence cannot be refuted by liberal self-serving and question-begging speculations about Jesus' psychology.

On the other hand, if the ACIM or UB partisan rejects the historicity of such saying in John, then not only it undermines these new age sources (because not independent attestation in the earliest sources is available), but moreover he owns us an explanation of why such new-age sources PUT in Jesus' lips precisely the same WORDS (even if with a different meaning) than those found in John.

And if he (in an unheard exercise of consistency) also rejects such saying in ACIM or UB, then he is recognizing that his own new age sources ALSO are unreliable (specially  ACIM since an ENTIRE lesson of the book carries such title) and he must explain to us which criteria of authenticity he uses to determine what is historical from what is fictional in such new age sources.

As you can see, some partisans of new age sources tend to affect the position of tough-minded, independent, scientific scholarship and rigorous critical thinking when it comes to the first-century New Testament materials, but such pretended intellectual rigour apparently dissapears and becomes "soft" when assessing the extremely late, 20th century new age putative sources about Jesus.

This is called a DOUBLE STANDARD, which is used to favour the extremely late, 20th century new-age paranormal sources over the earliest, 1st century historical sources used by mainstream professional scholars.

This is kind pseudo-intellectualism and self-deception is possible only in America...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Marcus Borg's psychologistic denialism of Jesus' "I am" statements in the Gospel of John


In the book The Meaning of Jesus, Marcus Borg suggests that the "I am" phrases of Jesus in the Gospel of John are not historical because they're suggestive of a person with mental or psychological disorders, and since Jesus was not mad, such phrases couldn't come from him, but which were put back into Jesus' lips by the early Church:

I and most mainline scholars do not think Jesus said these things. He did not speak like this... I find these statements as the voice of the community than if I were to think of them as claims of Jesus about himself. To explain,  what we would think of a person who solemnly said about himself: "I'm the light of the world" or "Whoever has seen me has seen God"?... As self-statements, these are highly problematic. Indeed, we have categories of psychological diagnosis for people who talk like this about themselves. (p.149)

How does Borg know how exactly Jesus spoke? What we know about Jesus is what the Gospels reveal, and in ALL the Gospels we find Jesus using expressions implying his divine self-perception or exalted status. (Jesus called God "Abba", or dear father; regarded himself as the in-breaking of God's Kingdom on Earth; modified on his own authority some laws given by Yahve in the Old Testament; said that the fate of human beings would depend on their reaction to the Son of Man, etc.)

But let's consider Borg's argument in face value. He says that "to explain" his skeptical position, we have to consider what we WOULD THINK of a person who solemnly made such "I am" statements, and that we would REGARD such persons as having psychological problems. Since Jesus didn't have such problems, such expressions cannot come from him.

I ask truth-seekers out there: Do you think Borg's psychologistic argument is a good historical reason to DENY (note that it is not simply "doubt") that such utterances came from Jesus himself? How do you exclude what a historical person said, just because in your opinion, certain statements, if uttered by such person, are suggestive of mental disorders (e.g. megalomany)?

Personally, I find such psychologistic argument not only to be extremely weak, but also ridiculous and contrary to the historical evidence.

In the synoptics, we find a lot of "self-statements" by Jesus which, if uttered by any other person, we would think he's a megalomanic or mad or having some psychological disorder too. However, such statements pass the criteria of authenticity and hence are likely to be historical.

Historical evidence in the Synoptics and Thomas' Gospel which, if Borg's psychologistic argument were right, we would have to DENY (because they're suggestive of psychological disorders if uttered by any normal, sane person).

1-This early Q saying (Mattew 11: 27/Luke 10: 22) in which Jesus says that he's the only Son of God and the only revelation of God to humankind: 

"All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him"

If Borg's argument were sound, then we would have to DENY such saying in Q, since normal people don't regard themselves as the chosen ones to "reveal God to men", let alone to having exclusive prerrogatives to know God (=No one knows the Father except the Son).
 
2-In this "Son of Man" saying in Luke 12:8-9 ( in general, such "Son of Man" traditions are likely to be authentic since such expression were used almost exclusively by Jesus, not by his later followers, so passing the criterion of dissimilarity regarding the mode of expression of the early Church), Jesus says:

I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God

Since such saying passes the criterion of dissimilarity and is in the synoptics (not in John), it is likely to be authentic.

Now, if Borg's argument were sound, we would have to DENY such saying because normal, sane people don't say "whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God".

3-This another "Son of Man" saying in Mark 2: 10-11 in which we read:

But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.

If Borg's argument were right, we'd have to DENY such saying, because normal, sane people don't regard themselves as having the power and divine authority on the planet Earth for forgiving the sins of other mortals.

4-Or consider this "Son of Man" saying  in Mark 2: 27-28:

The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath

If Borg's argument were right, we would have to DENY the authenticity of such saying, because normal, sane people don't regard themselves (specially in a strong monotheistic, Jewish context) as the LORD of the Sabbath (which, in Judaism, was the day choosen and imposed by the laws of God!).

5-In the Gospel of Thomas, we read  in Saying 77:  

"Jesus said, "I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained.
Split a piece of wood; I am there.
Lift up the stone, and you will find me there"

For people who accepts the authenticity of the Gospel of Thomas, Borg's argument would imply that such people have to DENY such utterances, because normal, sane people don't say "I'm the light that is over all things", let alone the divine-like (omnipresence) expression "I'm ALL", nor the obviously divine expression "From me all came froth, and to me all attained"

Note that the above saying in Thomas is even STRONGER (in terms of high Christology) than all the other sayings mentioned above, since it attributes to Jesus straightforward features which belong intriniscally to God alone (e.g. omnipresence and aseity = the property of being the source of everything than exists beside himself).

And of such tradition in Thomas is seen as independent, then we have INDEPENDENT ATTESTATION of the High Christology in the Synoptics and John.

Contrary to Borg, Jesus' "self statements" (specially, but not exclusively, in the form "Son of Man") pervade ALL the strata of the tradition, from the earliest Q, through the synoptics, to John, to the Gospel of Thomas.

Moreover (for new agers out there), if you accept A Course in Miracles (ACIM) as an independent source of information about Jesus, then the above argument is reinforced, since ACIM puts in Jesus' lips exactly the same utterance found in John, namely "I'm the light of the world". (And hence, an additional source, namely ACIM, would have to be included in the pool of sources which records "I am" statements of Jesus).

Borg's denialism of "I am" utterances in John are based upon sheer personal speculations, liberal (naturalistic) prejudices and animosity against the Christian theology pervading the Gospels (specially John), and a misreading of the straightforward self-perception statements which, in the synoptics (and external sources, like Thomas and ACIM, if we include them), clearly show Jesus' exalted status and "I am" statements.

Borg's argument has nothing to do with historical evidence nor objective historical methodology nor with consistent application of the criteria of authenticity.

METAMORIS 3: Review of the submission wrestling/grappling re-match between Eddie Bravo vs Royler Gracie


This past Fabruary 29th, I attended the METAMORIS 3 event, an excellent submission grappling tournament. (For outsiders, this is not fake "professional wrestling", but an actual, real submission grappling tournament with seasoned, professional martial artists and experts in submission grappling).

The most expected match of the night was the rematch between two of my grappling idols, namely, Eddie Bravo and Royler Gracie.

In 2003, in what some consider to be the greatest upset in the grappling community in that time, a brown belt Eddie Bravo defeated by submission the legendary black belt and member of the Gracie Family, Royler Gracie, with a leg triangle choke.

Royler defeated by Bravo in 2003

Eddie Bravo has a kind of unorthodox and innovative grappling style which tends to get his opponents off guard. Using such innovative moves, he caught Royler in a triangle choke.

From that time, people speculated and wished to see a rematch between both formidable opponents.

The dream has come true: In METAMORIS 3, both grapplers met again for a rematch.

REVIEW OF THE MATCH:

The rules of the match determined that win can only be attained by submission or unconscious (or referee's stopage), not by points (i.e. not decided by judges on the grounds of points). If not one of the grapplers force the other to submit, the match is a draw.

And that was exactly what happened: the match was declared a DRAW.

However, after watching the match in situ, and re-watching it several times in video,  I'm convinced that Eddie Bravo was, technically, clearly superior than Royler Gracie.

Bravo put Royler in several inmovilizations, holds and risky positions, for example:

Note there that Bravo has full control of Royler's head and arms, and a partial control of his legs too, leaving Royler almost fully traped. (However, Royler's has a free leg which, eventually and given his extraordinary talent, helped him to break and escape such virtually inescapable hold):


Also, Bravo meticulously set up another of his famous hold on Royler. Interestingly, all who attented the event  EXPECTED that Bravo would attempt such hold, which Bravo was setting up almost from the beginning of the match.

Personally, I believed that Royler would never be caught in such hold, but I was mistaken. Bravo actually GOT the hold on Royler. It only can be plausibly explained by Bravo's technical superiority.

This hold puts tremends pressure on the hips and groin area (stretching you out), making you tap. (Royler didn't tap due to his extreme and particular flexibility).

But the point is that Bravo caught Royler on that hold, showing his technical superiority to put his opponent in vulnerable positions.

It must be said that Royler, after a great deal of effort, also escaped from that hold (although Bravo, eventually would get Royler AGAIN in the same position, and Royler would escape again).

So, when I say that Bravo was clearly superior, it doesn't undermine the merits of Royler of escaping such dangerous holds and, even, niot submitting to them.

Another factor which in my opinion shows Bravo's superiority was the continous frustration of Royler, when trapped in several holds. (When you watch the match, see carefully Royler's hands and face in signal of frustration). 

Another factor, more decisive, showing Bravo's superiority was the fact that, in no moment during the match, Bravo was in danger. On the contrary, virtually in all the fight, Bravo was in control of the match, carefully setting up the next move to trap Royler.

In the end of the match, you see Bravo again trapping Royler in a new hold, this time a set up for a toe/ankle hold. Even though Royler couldn't escape the hold, he partially neutralize it, allowing him to not submit to it either (Royler's flexibility also helped him in this case, by the way).

But again, Bravo was in command of the match.

People who know martial arts, in particular submission grappling, surely can see many other subtle and technically fine aspects of that match which I won't mention in this brief review. 

For grappling fans and practitioners, that match must be watched and studied carefully, since there are a lot of technical and strategical things we can learn from it.

If you have not watch it yet, what are you waiting for?:


Monday, March 31, 2014

Susan Blackmore on the illusion of consciousness and the impersonalistic worldview's location problem for personalistic properties.


In a previous post, I discussed how to test worldviews in the light of the evidence following the same methodology used in science and analytic philosophy. I used as examples theism and metaphysical naturalism, the two most important, developed and sophisticated worldviews in the contemporary scene.

This post is an addendum to the previous one.

The key insight of this discussion is this: Impersonalistic worldviews (worldviews which, ultimately, are grounded on non-personal entities like atoms, particles, natural laws, fields of force, impersonal consciousness, impersonal "Absolute", impersonal "stuff", etc.) face what contemporary atheistic philosopher Crispin Wright calls "A location problem", namely, the problem of localizing "persons" and their properties in a world which is, basically and intrinsically, impersonalistic.

Wright writes:

A central dilemma in contemporary metaphysics is to find a place for certain anthropocentric subject-matters—for instance, semantic, moral, and psychological—in a world as conceived by modern naturalism: a stance which inflates the concepts and categories deployed by (finished) physical science into a metaphysics of the kind of thing the real world essentially and exhaustively is. On one horn, if we embrace this naturalism, it seems we are committed either to reductionism: that is, to a construal of the reference of, for example, semantic, moral and psychological vocabulary as somehow being within the physical domain—or to disputing that the discourses in question involve reference to what is real at all. On the other horn, if we reject this naturalism, then we accept that there is more to the world than can be embraced within a physicalist ontology—and so take on a commitment, it can seem, to a kind of eerie supernaturalism (Conceivability and Possibility, p. 401)

Note that Wright is NOT saying that personalistic properties (or anthropocentric subject-matters) are logically incompatible with naturalism. Rather, his point is that, on naturalism, such properties (e.g. moral ones) don't fit well. They're strange, rare, idiosyncratic, "queer", if you want. 

From a deterministic world, you expect more determinism, not free will.

From a purely physical world, you expect more physical entities, not spiritual ones.

From a mechanical world, you expect more mechanical entities, not entities with reason and intentions.

From a insentient world, you expect more insentient entities, not entities with consciousness.

From a amoral word, you expect more entities which are amoral, not moral entities.

For these obvious reasons, naturalism tends to exert intellectual pressure to embrace a nihilistic position about those personalistic properties.

In other words: You cannot not deduce the existence of moral values from a bunch of physical atoms, fields of forces and natural laws. Moral values (or rationality, or intentionality, or consciousness, etc.) are properties of persons, not of impersonal factors of reality. Therefore, only a personalistic worldview (a worldview based upon PERSONS) would accomodate these factors nicely and comfortably.

In the case of theism, such personalistic factors don't only fit well, they MUST exist (since God already possess them).

This is the decisive metaphysical adventadge of theism over naturalism (and any other impersonalistic, and hence atheistic, worldview).

Naturalist Susan Blackmore, who is an expert in psychology and neuroscience, in her short book "Consciousness: A Very Short Introduction", she has a whole chapter entitled "A Grand Illusion", in which she reports the position held by some contemporary thinkers. She asks:

Is consciousness an illusion? The possibility that we might be seriously wrong about our own minds pops up in many guises – that free will is an illusion, that the Cartesian theatre is an illusion, that self is an illusion, and that the richness of our visual world is a ‘grand illusion’ (p.50)

Note that 3 of the 4 "things" mentioned by Blackmore are "personalistic properties", namely free will, the Cartesian theatre (which see things as an spectator in a cinema) and the "self".

Blackmore explains that such skepticism doesn't deny that we have such illusions, the illusion itself exists. What is false is to take such illusion literally:

In other words, an illusion is not something that does not exist but something that is not the way it seems. (ibid.)

Note that the problem is not simply naturalism, it is impersonalism. Even worldviews which are not naturalists, but are impersonalistic (and hence, to that extension, atheistic), face Wright's location problem.

These worldviews can affirm the existence of personalistic properties, but they cannot GROUND them. They have to consider them brute (inexplicable) facts or "givens" of reality.

In debating contexts, atheists often mislead the public over the plausibly true metaphysical implications of naturalism (and even their own beliefs). 

They try to make naturalism an attractive option for the public, and hence they're forced to conceal their deeper nihilistic implications and Wright's location problem.

Consider atheist Alex Rosenberg. In his writing work, cxplicitly, he DENIES the existence of intentionality. In this article, he writes:

If beliefs are anything they are brain states—physical configurations of matter. But one configuration of matter cannot, in virtue just of its structure, composition, location, or causal relation, be “about” another configuration of matter in the way original intentionality requires (because it cant pass the referential opacity test). So, there are no beliefs

Note that the "so, there are no beliefs" is an EXPLICIT denial of the existence of beliefs and intentionality. Rosenberg has a concrete, explicit, positive, straightforward nihilistic position about  beliefs.

But look what Rosenberg replies to William Lane Craig, when Craig pressed the point about Rosenberg's denialism of intentionality:


Instead of DEFENDING and ARGUING FOR his own naturalistic nihilism, Rosenberg posed a red herring about the philosophical difficulty of explaining intentionality, how Plato and others had struggled with it, how it is a problem for neuroscience, etc. 

Why didn't Rosenberg offer the positive scientific arguments which, in his written work, he has used to deny beliefs and intentionality? If his arguments are so good and scientifically sound, why didn't he refuted Craig's objections? Because Rosenberg KNOWS that people would see his arguments as ridiculous.

In public debates, I've seen again and again and again how the atheists affect a position which they themselves regards as false, just on behalf of not losing the debate or looking as fools.

In their writing work, they deny moral values, consciousness, intentionality, free will, moral responsability, etc. but in debates against theists, they enjoy making moral judgments about Yahve being evil, how religion is bad, how we must be free-thinkers (without free will?) and so forth.

Right, this is suggestive of intellectual dishonesty. But more importantly, this shows the CRISIS of contemporary atheism. In the history of thought, atheism has never look so implausible, counterintuitive and false as in the contemporary scene.

The only reason why these atheists embrace absurd and self-refuting positions is because their aversion to theism is even greater.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Theism vs. Metaphysical Naturalism: Testing such worldviews in the light of the evidence. Some reflections.



In science, you test hypotheses on the grounds of their logical implications. The evidence is then used to see if the implications are correct or not.

Imagine some hypothesis A. If this hypothesis implies (or predicts) B, and when you look for the evidence you find B, then we are entitled to say that "the evidence B supports the hypothesis A".

So, suppose your hypothesis is "Jime is a blogger". If it hypothesis were true, then the implication is I write in some blog. You search on the internet and discover a blog called "Subversive Thinking", which is written by me, and you get evidence for your hypothesis.

The same procedure applies when testing worldviews. We could see worldviews as metaphysical hypotheses with certain implications and the evidence will decide which implications are true or false and hence which worldview is more likely to be correct.

Consider the theistic hypothesis (the hypothesis that a personal, eternal, spiritual God exists and is the creator of the universe):

At least, this hypothesis logically implies:

1-That consciousness exists (since God is conscious).

2-That persons (or at least one person) exist (since God is a person).

3-That spirits (or at least one spirit) exist (since God is a spirit).

4-That other properties related to persons (rationality, intentionality, sentience, intelligence, etc.) also exist, since God is a person.

5-That the universe has been created, and hence is finite in the past (since God is the creator of the universe).

All of these implications are essential to classical theism, i.e., if one of them were false, classical theism would be false. (Consider the contradiction between "God exists and is a person" and "no persons exist").

Consider now, the best atheistic alternative of contemporary thinking, namely the naturalistic hypothesis (the hypothesis which only the natural, physical or material world exists).

This hypothesis logically implies:

1-That a natural, or physical or material world exists.

2-That God doesn't exist.

Note that on naturalism, the existence of the physical or natural world itself is a brute (i.e. non-explicable) fact. It just exists, period.

Note, also, that personal properties like consciousness or rationality are NOT implied by naturalism. Perhaps they're compatible with naturalism in the sense that such properties "could" emerge in natural world, but certainly a natural world without consciousness nor rationaliy is fully compatible with naturalism (and in fact is what, according to naturalists, was the common state of the universe for millions of years BEFORE the emergence of biological life on the Earth).

 Evidence and testing the naturalistic vs the theistic hypotheses:

It is essential to understand that theism IMPLIES the existence of the above 5 features mentioned above, while atheistic naturalism DOES NOT. This is the key of the argument.

Even if naturalism were logically compatible with such 5 features, it does NOT imply them. 

So, the proposition "consciousness exists" is not contradictory with the claim "naturalism is true". But the truth of the latter doesn't imply the truth of the former.

On the contrary, the proposition "consciousness doesn't exist" contradicts the claim "God exists", since God is a conscious being. Therefore, if God exists, consciousness MUST exist.

Can you see the logical and predictive asymmetry between naturalism and theism regarding the above 5 features?

EVIDENCE:

Now, certainly we have at least prima facie evidence supporting:

1-The existence of consciousness.

2-The existence of persons

3-(More controversially) the existence of spirits or a spiritual realm (e.g. paranormal phenomena, NDEs).

4-The existence of properties essential to personality, like rationality, intentionality (the property of thinking about something), etc.

5-The beginning of the universe 13.7 billions of years ago.

Since all of these phenomena are either IMPLIED by  (or at least fit nicely with) theism, we have an independent arguments for God's existence based on them.

Again, the atheist who protests and says "I believe in consciousness and I don't think God exists", simply is claiming that the propositions "consciousness exists" and "atheism is true" are not contradictory. But this is trivial, nobody is claiming such logical contradiction.

Rather, the key question is in which WORLDVIEW such evidence fits better (e.g. which worldview predicts the existence of consciousness or the beginning of the universe), a theistic one or in a atheistic one?. This is the question.

If atheism is defined simply as "God doesn't exist", then it it so general that no logical implication whatsoever (in addition to denying God) is made. No specific factual prediction or implication about consciousness, morality, intentionality, the beginning of the universe, etc. is made by the atheist who says simply "God doesn't exist".

Hence, since not specific implication or factual prediction is made, not evidence is confirmatory or refutatory of such claim. Such atheism is not a worldview tested by the evidence, but a mere personal viewpoint about God.

Since such psychological or autobiographical atheism makes no (non-trivial) predictions, the evidence discussed in this post is neutral and irrelevant regarding its truth or falsity.

Here we're talking about competing worldviews and their logical implications.

 Reflective naturalists tend to deny the above evidence:

Sophisticated naturalists who have reflected on the implications of naturalism, tend to DENY or be skeptical of the above evidence, since they see the tension with naturalism.

Let's see:

1-Regarding consciousness, naturalists have called such phenomenon "the hard problem of consciousness". 

Why is it supposed to be a hard problem? Because physical matter (which is all what exists for naturalists) is NOT conscious. Natural science has no found any evidence of sentient and conscious properties in physical matter.

Atheist neuroscientist and skeptic Susan Blackmore makes the point clear:

How can a physical brain, made purely of material substances and nothing else, give rise to conscious experiences or ineffable qualia?" (Consciousness. A very short introduction. 2005, p. 4)

The emergence of such "conscious experience" becomes a mystery IF we begin with physical matter as the basic aspect of reality.

But on theism, since God is conscious, consciousness itself is necessary: it MUST exist as a part of the fabric of reality. So it is not a mystery, given theism. (It doesn't imply that the connection or precise mechanisms between consciousness and the physical brain are easy to understand).

2-Regarding persons, many naturalists have claimed that "persons", properly speaking, don't exist. There is not "I" which is the center of personality.

So, world's leading scientist and hard-core atheistic naturalist Francis Crick comments:

You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll's Alice might have phrased: "You're nothing but a pack of neurons" (The Astonishing Hypothesis (p.3)

 3-Regarding "spirits", I think no citation is needed to support the point that naturalists are debunkers of any field which address or is sympathetic to spiritual questions (theology, empirical research on spiritual phenomena, etc.).

Naturalists don't believe any such a thing as "spirits" exist, and consider people who believe in them as a bunch of scientific illiterate and superstitious people.

4-Regarding properties related to persons (rationality, intentionality, free will, intelligence, moral responsability, etc.), Crick's citation mentioned above is typical.

But we could add Alex Rosenberg's view based on a naturalistic (physicalistic) reading of neuroscience:

If beliefs are anything they are brain states—physical configurations of matter. But one configuration of matter cannot, in virtue just of its structure, composition, location, or causal relation, be “about” another configuration of matter in the way original intentionality requires (because it cant pass the referential opacity test). So, there are no beliefs

If physical matter is all what exists and natural science is right, then Rosenberg's argument is sound: Natural science has NOT found in matter ANY evidence of "intentionality" or "aboutness".  Moreover, the evidence known about physical matter positively rule out intentionality.

Hence, if the brain is purely physical (and no spiritual, non-physical substance exist), beliefs "about something" cannot exist.

Now, such view is clearly false. Beliefs certainly exist (e.g. Rosenberg himself "believes" that beliefs don't exist, so his own denial of beliefs is ABOUT beliefs). Hence, what produces such false conclusion is Rosenberg's naturalism.

This philosophical point was made by William Lane Craig in his debate with Rosenberg (note Rosenberg's silly reply in the minute 2:20 of the following brief video):


Rosenberg says that "that question has nothing to do with atheism or theism". But surely it HAS to do with theism and atheism, since on theism God is a conscious and rational being endowned with beliefs. And since God is spiritual, the problem of a "chunk of matter being "about" another chunk of matter" dissapears. The latter is a problem for materialists and naturalists, not for the dualistic theist.

I'm amazed by atheists who don't seem to grasp this basic and elemental point.

5-Regarding the beginning of the universe, atheists have been forced to choose among two (implausible) alternatives:

a-To deny the evidence for the beginning of the universe

b-To claim (more obscurantistically) that the universe "came from nothing". A sheer act of faith.

Note that, on theism, the universe began to exist BECAUSE God created it. So, the theist is happy and confortable with the scientific evidence of the Big Bang.

At least, regarding such evidence, theism seems to be metaphysically superior than naturalism.

Other pieces of evidence could be discussed and added, and other kinds of worldviews could be considered (pantheism, idealism, etc.).

But the above evidence is the most obvious and undeniable ones, and the best and most sophisticated alternative worldview to theism is metaphysical naturalism.