The Secular Outpost: Erik Wielenberg: An Inconsistency in Craig’s Defen...: Abstract. I argue that William Craig’s defence of the moral argument is internally inconsistent. In the course of defending the moral argume...
An Inference to the Best Explanation: Jesus as a Failed Eschatological Prophet (Re-posted)
I agree with mainstream scholarship on the historical Jesus (e.g., E.P. Sanders, Geza Vermes, Bart Ehrman, Dale Allison, Paula Fredriksen, et al.) that Jesus was primarily an apocalyptic prophet of an imminent end of the age (and, by implication, a false prophet). Such a hypothesis, if true, is a simple one that makes sense of a wide range of data, including the following twenty-one (or so):
D1. John the Baptist preached a message of repentance to escape the imminent judgment of the eschaton. Jesus was his baptized disciple, and thus accepted his message -- and in fact preached basically the same message.
D2. Many (most?) of Jesus’ “Son of Man” passages are most naturally interpreted as allusions to the Son of Man figure in Daniel. This figure was an end of the world arbiter of God’s justice, and Jesus kept preaching that he was on his way (e.g., “From now on, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matt. 26:64). Jesus seems to identify himself with this apocalyptic figure in Daniel, but I'm not confident whether this identification is a later redaction. Either way, it doesn't bode well for orthodox Christianity.
D3. The earliest canonical writing (I Thess): Paul taught of an imminent eschaton, and it mirrors in wording the end-time passages in the synoptics (especially the so-called "Little Apocalypse" in Mark, and the subsequently-written parallels in Matthew and Luke).
D4. Many passages attributed to Jesus have him predicting the end within his generation (“the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15); “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (Mark 13:30); “truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:23); “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” (Mark 9:1); "From now on, you shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds..." (Matthew 26:64)).
D5. A sense of urgency permeates the gospels and the other NT writings. E.g., the disciples must hurry to send the message to the cities of Israel before Daniel’s “Son of Man” comes; Jesus' statement that even burying one’s parents has a lower priority; Paul telling the Corinthians not to change their current state, since it’s all about to end (e.g., don’t seek marriage, or to leave one's slave condition, etc., since the end of all things is at hand; and on and on, all the way through the NT corpus).
D6. Relatedly, Jesus and Paul taught a radical "interim ethic" (e.g., don’t divorce, radical forgiveness, don’t judge others, love one’s enemies, etc.). This makes sense if they believed that the eschaton would occur within their generation, and that all needed to repent and prepare for its arrival.
D7. Jesus had his disciples leave everything and follow him around. This makes sense if Jesus believed that he and they were to be God’s final messengers before the eschaton.
D8. Jesus gathered twelve disciples, which is the number of the twelve tribes of Israel. He also said they were to sit on twelve thrones and serve as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel. This reflects the common expectation that at the end of days, all twelve tribes would return to the land. The twelve are a symbolic representation of restored Israel.
D9. There is a clear pattern of a successive watering down of Jesus’ prediction of the eschaton within the generation of his disciples, starting with Mark (widely believed among NT scholars to be the first gospel written), and continuing through the rest of the synoptic gospels. By the time we get to John, the last gospel written, the eschatological "kingdom of God" talk is dropped (except for one passage, and it no longer has clear eschatological connotations), along with the end-time predictions, and is replaced with "eternal life" talk. Further, the epistles presuppose that the early church thought Jesus really predicted the end within their lifetimes. Finally, this successive backpedaling continues beyond the NT writings and into those of the apocrypha and the early church leaders, even to the point where some writings attribute an anti-apocalyptic message to Jesus. All of these things make perfect sense if Jesus really did make such a prediction, and the church needed to reinterpret his message in light of the fact that his generation passed away, yet the eschaton never came.
D10. Jesus’ base followers were all considered to represent the “bottom” of society in his day: the poor, sinners, prostitutes, outcasts, tax collectors, lepers, and the demon-possessed. This is perfectly in line with the standard apocalyptic doctrine of the reversal of fortunes when the kingdom of God comes: “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first”.
D11. Jesus performed many exorcisms, which he claimed marked the in-breaking of the kingdom of God on Earth. They were thus signs of the imminent apocalypse. Satan and his minions were being cast out of power, and God’s power was taking its place.
D12. Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem for the Passover Celebration, and his subsequent activities there, are best explained in terms of his apocalyptic message and his perceived role in proclaiming it. Jesus went to the temple during the Passover Festival, and spent many days teaching about his apocalyptic message of the imminent coming kingdom of God. The apocalyptic message included the idea that the temple in Jerusalem would also be destroyed.
D13. Relatedly, Jesus caused a disturbance in the temple itself, which appears to have been a symbolic enactment of his apocalyptic teaching about the temple’s destruction.
D14. Jesus’ betrayal by Judas Iscariot, and Jesus’ subsequent arrest, is best explained in terms of Judas’ betraying to the religious authorities (the Sadducees and the chief priests) Jesus’ teaching (to his inner circle of disciples) that he would be the King of the Jews in the coming Kingdom of God.
D15. Jesus was executed on the charge of political sedition, due to his claim that he was the King of the Jews. His execution was therefore directly related to his apocalyptic message of the imminent coming of the kingdom of God.
D16. The fact that not just Paul, but also all the other NT authors believed the end would occur in their generation makes perfect sense if Jesus really did make such claims.
D17. The fact that the early church believed the end would occur in their lifetime makes perfect sense if Jesus really did make such claims.
D18. Consider also E.P. Sanders’ argument: the passages that attribute these predictions to Jesus and Paul satisfy the historical criteria of multiple attestation (and forms), embarrassment, earliest strata (Mark, Q, M, L, Paul’s earliest letters, the ancient “Maranatha” creed/hymn) etc., thus strongly indicating that these words go back to the lips of Jesus.
D19. Virtually all of Jesus' parables explicitly or implicitly teach a message about an imminent eschaton.
D20. Jesus’ “inversion” teachings (e.g., "The first shall be last, and the last shall be first") were a common theme in apocalyptic literature and among Jewish apocalypticists generally. The general message of apocalypticists is that those who are evil and defy God will not get away with it forever. The just are trampled, and the unjust prosper; thus, this situation needs to be inverted – as it will be when the “Son of Man” from the book of Daniel comes to exact God’s judgment at any moment.
D21. The earliest Christians believed that Jesus' putative resurrection was (to use Paul's terminology) the "first fruits" of the general resurrection of the dead at the end of time. This is an agricultural metaphor. When farmers reaped and ate the first fruits of the harvest, they would then reap the full harvest the very next day -- the "general" harvest was "imminent", as it was "inaugurated" with the reaping of the first-fruits. Similarly, the earliest Christians believed that the final judgement and the general resurrection were imminent, given their belief that Jesus' resurrection was itself the inaugurating event of the general resurrection and the end of all things. Thus, there is a continuity between the beliefs of the early Christians and the beliefs of many Jews of his time: Jesus' resurrection was fundamentally construed in these eschatological terms
D22. The fact that the first generation church didn’t write biographies about Jesus, but instead the second generation church wrote the gospels composed of bits of sayings attributed to him, would make sense if his followers believed that the End would occur so quickly (based on Jesus’ teachings) that such a task would be pointless.
But suppose all of this is wrong -- or at least wrong in the one respect that Jesus didn’t mean “this generation” in the way it seems. Still, Jesus did say that the end would come soon, and his apostles said that these were “the last days” etc.
D23. Certain relevant data in the book of Revelation:
-The author is talking about events within his day
-He attributes a quick return to Jesus -- one that would occur in his day.
-Using cipher language, he names Nero as “the Beast” (in ancient languages such as Hebrew and Greek, letters served double-duty as numbers. Thus, it was common to refer to someone without actually saying their name by stating the number that the letters in their name adds up to). Well, Ceasar Nero’s name adds up to 666, and he was ruling and persecuting the church during the time that the book of Revelation was written. In fact, some manuscripts of the Book of Revelation have the number read ‘616’, which turns out to add up to a slightly less formal version of Nero’s name!), thus clearly indicating that the end was supposed to be imminent.
-But it’s been about 2,000 years since then, in which case the author of the Book of Revelation was flatly wrong.
And so, no matter which way you slice it, the “statute of limitations” has run out on Jesus and his apostle’s claim for an imminent end. But if so, then by OT standards, Jesus was quite simply a false prophet, in which case he’s not a person that a reasonable and ethical person should follow. In fact, the Bible itself tells us that God doesn't want us to listen to or follow false prophets. So, for example, here's a statement attributed to God in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 18:21-22):
"You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD ?" If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him."
And here's another:
"The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart." (Jeremiah 14:14-15)
It needs to be emphasized that this line of reasoning isn't controversial among mainstream, middle-of-the-road NT critics. I'm not talking about a view held by the Jesus Seminar, or earlier "radical" form and redaction critics like Norman Perrin. Rather, I'm talking about the kinds of considerations that are largely accepted by moderates who are also committed Christians, such as Dale Allison and John P. Meier. Indeed, conservative scholars of the likes of none other than Ben Witherington and N.T. Wright largely admit this line of reasoning. Why are they still Christians, you ask? I'll tell you: by giving unnatural, ad hoc explanations of the data. For example, Meier gets around the problem by arguing that the false prediction passages are inauthentic (i.e., Jesus never said those things; the early church just put those words on the lips of Jesus, and they ended up in the gospels); Witherington gets around the problem by saying that what Jesus really meant was that the imminent arrival of the eschatological kingdom might be at hand(!); Wright gets around the problem by adopting the partial preterist line that the imminent end that Jesus predicted really did occur -- it's just that it was all fulfilled with the destruction of Jerusalem (Oh, really? So are we also to think that since he's already come again, he's not coming back? Or perhaps there will be a *third* coming? But even putting these worries aside: why does Paul tell various communities very far *outside* of Israel about the same sorts of predictions of an imminent end that would affect *them* -- one that, like the one Jesus talked about, involved judgement, destruction, and the gathering of all the elect? And again, what about the author of Revelation's detailing the end-time judgment, which includes the Roman Empire *outside* of Israel, during the reign of Nero?). Are you convinced by these responses? Me neither. And now you know why nobody outside of orthodox circles buys them, either.
To all of this, I say what should be obvious: you know, deep in your gut (don't you?) that such responses are unnatural, ad hoc dodges of what we know to be the truth here: Jesus really did predict the end within the lifetime of his disciples, but he was simply wrong.
Notice that the claim here is different from one often confused with it, viz., that Jesus happened to say some things that could be interpreted as asserting that the end would occur in his lifetime. This isn't the claim I'm making. Rather, it's the much stronger one that Jesus was an eschatological prophet -- the end time message was what he was all about. It wasn't tangential to his central message; it was his central message: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"
Putting it all together, we get the following abductive argument for Jesus as a failed apocalyptic prophet:
H1= the hypothesis that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet of an imminent eschaton.
H2= the hypothesis that Jesus is the Son of God of orthodox Christianity.
And let D1-D23 be the data sketched above. Then the argument can be expressed as follows:
1. H1 is a better explanation of D1-D23 than H2.
2. If H1 is a better explanation of D1-D23 than H2, then H1 is more probable than H2.
3. Therefore, H1 is more probable than H2.
I'd like to mention a related point. If the mainstream scholars of the historical Jesus are right and the points above are correct, then it looks as though this line of reasoning undercuts Craig’s abductive argument for the resurrection of Jesus. For it seems extremely unlikely that a god would resurrect a false prophet (recall, for example, the passage from Deuteronomy above). In any case, it would have been interesting to see how William Lane Craig would have responded if Bart Ehrman brought up this point in their debate on the resurrection of Jesus (Ehrman himself is a proponent of the "eschatological prophet" account of Jesus. See his book, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millenium (OUP, 1999)). See also Dale Allison's Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet, E.P. Sanders' The Historical Figure of Jesus, Paula Fredriksen's From Jesus to Christ, Fredriksen's Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, Geza Vermes' The Changing Faces of Jesus, and of course Albert Schweitzer's classic The Quest of the Historical Jesus. A quick case that utilizes some of the lines of data mentioned above can be found in Allison's "A Plea for a Thoroughgoing Eschatology", JBL 113:4 (1994): 651-66, and his "The Eschatology of Jesus".
Decosimo, David. Intrinsic Goodness and Contingency, Resemblance and Particularity: Two Criticisms of Robert Adams's Finite and Infinite Goods", Studies in Christian Ethics 25 (4):418-441 (2012)
Abstract: Robert Adams’s Finite and Infinite Goods is one of the most important and innovative contributions to theistic ethics in recent memory. This article identifies two major flaws at the heart of Adams’s theory: his notion of intrinsic value and his claim that ‘excellence’ or finite goodness is constituted by resemblance to God. I first elucidate Adams’s complex, frequently misunderstood claims concerning intrinsic value and Godlikeness. I then contend that Adams’s notion of intrinsic value cannot explain what it could mean for countless finite goods to be intrinsically valuable. Next, I articulate a criticism of his Godlikeness thesis altogether unlike those he has previously addressed: I show that, on Adams’s own account of Godlikeness, a diverse myriad of excellences could not possibly count as resembling God. His theory thus fails to account for a whole world of finite goods. I defend my two criticisms against objections and briefly sketch a more Aristotelian and Christian way forward.
Anyone have a copy?
"It's like the idea that Americans have a fundamental constitutional right to own automatic assault weapons: its consequences apart, it's simply a very funny idea, and there's nothing much one can do about it except to make a joke of it. You certainly wouldn't want to invest much time in an argument with someone who would believe it in the first place."
-Peter van Inwagen
-Peter van Inwagen
(Reposted with minor revisions)
I. Plantinga's Reformed Epistemology and His Mature Account of Warranted Belief
Since the 60s, Alvin Plantinga has been arguing that belief in God is "properly basic". That is, like belief in material objects, the past, and other minds, belief in God can be rational in a direct, non-inferential way, wholly apart from propositional evidence and argument. This thesis constitutes the core idea of his version of so-called "Reformed Epistemology".
Plantinga's mature defense of his thesis is grounded in a proper functionalist version of epistemic externalism. Plantinga summarizes his account as follows:
"Put in a nutshell, then, a belief has warrant for a person S only if that belief is produced by cognitive faculties [e.g., perception, memory, introspection, reason, and testimony -EA] functioning properly (subject to no dysfunction) in a cognitive environment that is appropriate for S's kind of cognitive faculties, according to a design plan that is successfully aimed at truth."
So that's what's required for a belief to have any warrant at all on Plantinga's account. But he allows that warrant admits of degrees, and he ties the degree of warrant a belief enjoys to the degree of firmness with which it is believed: "We must add, furthermore, that when a belief meets these conditions and does enjoy warrant, the degree of warrant it enjoys depends on the strength of the belief, the firmness with which S holds it." Thus, for such a belief to have a degree of warrant sufficient for knowledge, it must be held with a very high degree of firmness.
Putting these points together, Plantinga's account can be summed up as follows:
I. Conditions of warrant are not met = no warrant (whether the belief is held firmly or not)
II. Conditions of warrant are met + low degree of firmness = low degree of warrant.
III. Conditions of warrant are met + high degree of firmness = high degree of warrant.
So that's Plantinga's account of warranted belief in a nutshell. But how does this account connect to his account of warranted theistic belief in particular?
II. Plantinga's Mature Account of Warranted Theistic Belief: The A/C Model
Plantinga argues that it's epistemically possible (consistent with what we know or reasonably believe) that God has designed us in such a way that we are naturally endowed with a cognitive faculty -- what he (following John Calvin) calls the sensus divinitatis -- that, when functioning properly in an epistemically congenial environment, spontaneously and reliably produces true beliefs about God. So, for example, when one looks at the starry heavens, the sensus divinitatis is (when functioning properly) naturally disposed to spontaneously trigger the belief, "God made all this"; when doing something wrong, it's disposed to trigger the belief, "God disapproves of what I've done"; etc. Therefore, if such belief meets all of the conditions of warrant -- viz., (a) it's produced by a properly functioning cognitive faculty (viz., the sensus divinitatis), (b) the faculty is successfully aimed at truth, and (c) the environment in which such beliefs are formed is epistemically congenial --, Plantinga's account entails that such belief enjoys at least some measure of warrant. And if (d) such belief is held with a very high degree of firmness, the degree of warrant it enjoys is sufficient to constitute knowledge (assuming the belief isn't subject to undefeated defeaters).
We've now looked at Plantinga's account of warranted belief in general and his account of warranted theistic belief in particular. It is now time to take a look at his account of warranted Christian belief.
III. Plantinga's Mature Account of Warranted Christian Belief: The Extended A/C Model
Very roughly, on Plantinga’s model of warranted Christian belief, the Holy Spirit acts on the believer by repairing the sensus divinitatis from the ravages of sin, so that it naturally, spontaneously, and reliably produces true belief about God in the basic (i.e., non-inferential) way. It also repairs the person's affective equipment, so that it is no longer hostile to God and his purposes, but is rather attracted to them and delights in them. Finally, the Holy Spirit functions as an analogue to a properly functioning cognitive faculty by acting directly on the "heart" of a person to produce belief in the core truths of Christianity (what Plantinga calls the Great Things of the Gospel) when they are presented to them (if the person wills to accept the gospel message). Therefore, as with warranted theistic belief as described in Plantinga's A/C model, if Christian belief formed in the way described in his Extended A/C model meets all the conditions of warrant, i.e., (a) it's produced by properly functioning cognitive faculties, (b) the faculties are successfullly aimed at truth, and (c) the environment in which they're formed is epistemically congenial, then it enjoys at least some measure of warrant. And if (d) (due to the internal instigation of the Holy Spirit) the belief is held with a very high degree of firmness, the degree of warrant it enjoys is sufficient to constitute knowledge (again, assuming the belief isn't subject to undefeated defeaters).
We've now seen a sketch of Plantinga's account of warranted belief in general, warranted theistic belief, and warranted Christian belief. What to make of these accounts? I mention eight criticisms below from the literature that have real bite (for more elaboration, click on the links).
IV. Criticisms of Plantinga's Account of Warranted Belief that Have Real Bite
With respect to his accounts of warranted theistic and Christian belief: (i) His analysis of warranted Christian belief can't adequately account for the variability of belief among Christians; (ii) his postulation of a sensus divinitatis in human beings is at odds with the empirical evidence regarding the demographics of theistic belief; and (ironically) (iii) his account entails that the belief of most Christians has little by way of warrant. And of course there's (iv) the Great Pumpkin Objection. But deeper problems lie with his basic account of warrant (see below).
With respect to his account of warranted belief in general: (i) His case for a theistic version of proper functionalism is undercut; indeed, (ii) his theistic version of proper function entails that no beliefs have warrant; (iii) his proper functionalist amendment to straight reliabilism is unmotivated; and (iv) his account of warrant is subject to counterexamples with respect to both to the necessity and sufficiency of the conditions he proposes.
For these reasons, Plantinga's proper functionalism fails to show that Christian or theistic belief can be warranted in the basic or non-inferential way, or even how beliefs can be warranted in general.
 Warranted Christian Belief, p. 156.
 (Plantinga calls his account of warranted theistic belief The A/C Model, inspired as it is by the writings of Aquinas and Calvin.) The following is a rough summary of some key points in ch. 6 of Warranted Christian Belief.
 Question: If all human beings are endowed with a sensus divinitatis, then why do very many people fail to form theistic belief -- at least in the basic, non-inferential way Plantinga describes? Answer: The sensus divinitatis has been damaged by the Fall of Man and human sin. More on this in the next section.
 The following is a very rough summary of some key points in chs. 7-9 of Warranted Christian Belief.
 This part is a bit tricky. For, again, according to the model, the Holy Spirit doesn't produce warranted Christian belief via the cognitive faculty of the sensus divinitatis. Rather, it produces it by acting directly on the "heart" of the person. Therefore, strictly speaking, specifically Christian belief isn't produced by a reliable cognitive faculty, but rather by a reliable process. As you might have guessed, people have raised concerns about this. See, for example, Craig and Moreland's Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (IVP, 2003), pp. 168-169; Beilby, James. Epistemology as Theology: An Evaluation of Alvin Plantinga's Religious Epistemology (Ashgate, 2005), pp.151-153.
 Cf. Beilby, Epistemology as Theology, pp. 153-156.
 Cf. Maitzen, Stephen. "Divine Hiddenness and the Demographics of Theism" (Religious Studies 42 (2006), pp. 177-191.
 See, for example, Beilby. "Plantinga's Model of Warranted Christian Belief", in Peter-Baker, Deane. Alvin Plantinga (Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 146; DeRose, Keith."Are Christian Beliefs Properly Basic?" APA Eastern talk, 1998. Available here; Chignell, Andrew. "Epistemology for Saints: Alvin Plantinga's Magnum Opus", Books & Culture (March/April 2002), p. 21.
 Cf. Wunder, Tyler. "Anti-Naturalism and Proper Function”, Religious Studies 44 (2008), pp. 209-224 (notes); Bardon, Adrian. “Reliabilism, Proper Function, and Serendipitous Malfunction”, Philosophical Investigations 30:1 (Jan. 2007), pp. 47-64 (notes); Graham, Peter. "Intelligent Design and Selective History: Two Sources of Purpose and Plan" (in Jonathan Kvanvig, ed. Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion, Volume 3, 2011). (A link to the paper can be found here)
 In addition to my formulation of the objection at the link above, see R. Douglass Geivett and Greg Jesson. "Plantinga's Externalism and the Terminus of Warrant-Based Epistemology", Philosophia Christi 3:2, pp. 329-340.
 Feldman, Richard. “Proper Functionalism”, Nous 27 (1993), pp. 34-50.
 See, for example, Greco, J. 2003. “Virtue and Luck, Epistemic and Otherwise,” Metaphilosophy 34:3, 353-6; Lehrer, Keith. "Proper Function vs. Systematic Coherence", in Kvanvig, Jonathan. Warrant in Contemporary Epistemology: Essays in Honor of Plantinga's Theory of Knowledge (Rowman & Littlefield, 1996), pp. 25-46, esp. pp. 32-33; Feldman, “Proper Functionalism”, pp. 34-50; Senor, Thomas. “A Critical Review of Alvin Plantinga’s Warranted Christian Belief”, International Philosophical Quarterly 42:3, Issue 167 (September 2002), 395-396.
"...my supposition is that most Christians would be unimpressed if they were told that the explanation of how Christian beliefs could have warrant could also be used by Advaita Vedanta Hindus, ‘Voodoo Epistemologists,’ and maybe even atheists. They would, I think, reject Plantinga’s Extended A/C Model as a good explanation of the epistemic status of their religious beliefs and maybe conclude that this state of affairs was supportive of some version of religious pluralism. Of course, Plantinga would be pleased by neither of these conclusions. In the final analysis, therefore, a consideration of the Great Pumpkin Objection focuses attention on what may be the most disturbing problem with his approach to religious epistemology – its applicability to Christian belief."
-Beilby, James. "Plantinga's Model of Warranted Christian Belief", in Baker, Peter-Deane (ed.). Alvin Plantinga (Contemporary Philosophy in Focus Series), p. 145 (Kindle edition).
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