A Debate on the Nativity for Christmas

Posted on 12/24/12 42 Comments

Today the “Reasonable Doubts” podcast released a one hour forty minute debate between Jonathan Pearce and myself on the historical reliability of the nativity narratives of Matthew and Luke. The debate consists of twenty minute opening statements, fifteen minute rebuttals, seven minute rebuttals, five minute rebuttals, and two minute closing statements.

Whew! I get tired just thinking about it!

It wasn’t in real time. Rather, we each wrote and recorded our opening statement and then each response after hearing our opponent’s previous response. This maximizes the time allowing us to deliver content more effectively.

My worthy opponent Jonathan blogs as “A Tippling Philosopher”: http://skepticink.com/tippling/

He also wrote a book on the nativity called The Nativity: A Critical Examination (Onus Books, 2012).

It was a fun, collegial and engaging debate. Unfortunately Jonathan keeps complaining that he was not given enough time.  A sign of desperation perhaps? ;)

You can listen to / download the debate here:

http://freethoughtblogs.com/reasonabledoubts/2012/12/24/rd-extra-the-nativity-debate-with-jonathan-pearce-and-randal-rauser/#comment-10003

And now for my special seasonal greetings.

 

Merry Christmas to my Christian readers.

Seasons Greetings to my non-Christian readers.

A joyous Winter Solstice to my atheist readers.

Happy Kwanzaa to the African-American community.

And best belated Dwali and Hanukkah wishes to my Hindu and Jewish readers.

Holly wreath

 

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  • epicurus

    I wonder if there has ever been a debate where the participants felt they had enough time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/erroll.treslan Erroll Treslan

    Downloading now. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  • AD Simpson

    Randal: Just listened to your debate and I must say you did an excellent job! You argued your position so well. I have been reading your blog for quite some time and I commend you for taking the time to write so many interesting articles that challenge and stimulate thinking. We need more people like you who are honestly pursuing truth. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  • http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/ Bilbo

    Thanks for giving me something to do on Christmas Eve. A Merry Christmas to you and yours.

  • Funguy

    Wow, very disappointed with your performance here. Your tortured analogies were literally painful for me to listen to. :(

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Which analogies are you referring to and in what way are they “tortured”?

  • Kerk

    Merry Christmas!
    I’d still prefer to listen to you and Pearce live. Not for the sake of truth and clarity, but for the sake of your brilliant improvised wit.

  • http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/ Bilbo

    I just finished listening to the debate, and I’m not sleepy, yet. So I’ll make a couple of comments:

    1) Randal suggests that the eyewitness for Matthew’s account was Joseph. We don’t know for sure that Joseph was dead by the time Jesus began his ministry, but nowhere is he mentioned as still living, while Mary and his brothers are mentioned. Also, in John’s gospel, while Jesus is dying on the cross, he asks the disciple whom he loved to take care of his mother, which suggests that Joseph is no longer around to take care of her. So I wonder how likely it is that Joseph was the eyewitness.

    2) Randal suggests that Mary was the eyewitness for Luke’s account. Luke is the account that has the Quirinius census taking place, which I think Randal agrees couldn’t have been sooner than 6CE. The problem is that Randal maintained in the debate that Jesus’s birth took place in 4BCE. So either Mary remembered incorrectly why she was in Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus, or Luke got that part of her story wrong. This doesn’t refute claim that Mary was the source for Luke’s story, but it adds doubt.

    3) Randal maintains that Matthew and Luke give independent witness to Jesus’s virgin conception, place of birth, and parentage. But we can understand why both Matthew and Luke would have invented stories that Jesus was born of a virgin in Bethlehem: The Messiah was expected to be born in Bethlehem, and if Jesus was divine, as both Matthew and Luke believed, then it would be easiest to explain that by way of a virgin conception. So both Matthew and Luke would have had motives for inventing stories that were similar regarding Bethlehem and the virgin conception. (As to the parentage, that seems to be common knowledge in all of the Gospels.) So it’s not clear that we should think that Matthew and Luke are independent witnesses to these events.

    4) Like Matthew and Luke, I believe that Jesus was divine, and this seems best explained by a virgin conception. Therefore I believe that’s what happened. As for Bethlehem, Micah 5:2 doesn’t say that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. It just says he would “come forth” from Bethlehem. In other words, his origin could be traced to Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David. So I don’t feel as strong a need to believe that Jesus was born there, but I’m willing to accept that he was.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Bilbo, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      In response to your first point. First, my argument doesn’t depend on Joseph being the source of the M account. Second, if Joseph was dead by the time Jesus was crucified the account could still be from a tradition that traces back to Joseph’s testimony given during his lifetime. Third, while Joseph’s absence in the gospels can be explained by his death, it could also be explained by the desire of the gospel writers to downplay his role in the life of Jesus, perhaps in part as a way of emphasizing Jesus’ divine paternity.

      While it is possible that there was another census of Quirinius, this is about as plausible as suggesting that there were two cleansings of the temple. But even if one has doubts about a census of Quirinius in the nativity, that is a different issue from multiply attested claims.

      On your third point, in order to marginalize multiple attestation you’d have to demonstrate that there was a strong messianic expectation at the time that the Messiah would be virgin born in Bethlehem and that both Matthew and Luke constructed their narratives based on these widely held motifs. If you have some evidence of this I’d like to see it. Otherwise, multiple attestation retains its veridical value.

      • http://bilbos1.blogspot.com/ Bilbo

        Matthew supplies the evidence that there was a strong expectation that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. I don’t think that there was a strong expectation that he would be born of a virgin, but given that Matthew and Luke thought that Jesus was divine, and given that Isaiah’s “alma” could mean “virgin,” I think the early Jewish-Christian community would be inclined to invent a virgin birth narrative.

        Thinking it over, if Mary was found to be pregnant before she married Joseph, I think there would be a strong motive for the couple to relocate, in order to raise their son in a community where there wouldn’t be the constant hint of scandal. So it would make sense to move from Bethlehem to Nazareth. And it would make sense for the Jewish-Christian community to supply some other explanation for the move, to cover for Mary. So both Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts may be different ways of dealing with the problem.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          I’m looking for a source outside Matthew since many of his messianic prophetic fulfillments were not understood to be messianic expectations at the time.

  • Lev Bronstein

    Pearce is a worthy opponent? Sheesh,,,as Loftus likes to say; maybe on this occcasion, but noramally he is a sarcastic jerk.
    Oops…was that an ad hominem?
    I am soooooooooooo sorry.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Interestingly, I read at least one atheist at a skeptic website complaining that I was a “sarcastic jerk” in the debate. No doubt sarcasm is at least in part in the ear of the listener.

      I can only speak to my experience and I found Jonathan a cordial and informed opponent.

      • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

        Thank you Randal. I have always found the same about you.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

      I to take that to be a rather sad ad hom, and a little unnecessary.

  • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

    Randal, you did well with your tortured empty rhetoric. ;-) You really DO believe because you have an inner witness of the Holy Spirit, don’t you? It’s surely NOT because of the evidence or arguments. You really think that all you must do is leave room for any possibility, no matter how small, because of this witness you claim to have. Pity.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      This debate was on the nativity, not IIHS and proper function foundationalism.

      Funny that a bloke who has no epistemology apart from the facile mantra “I believe probabilities” would busy himself making potshots at the epistemologies of others.

      • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

        It is the reason you believe, isn’t it Randal, because of a contentless subjective private religious experience based upon a few verses in an ancient pre-scientific superstitious set of hindsight selected holy texts from out of the many available, as interpreted by the historical contingencies of your place in time? If that’s called an epistemology I’ll go with the probabilities any day. Faith has no method at all. You can’t even understand this.

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          John, let’s cut through the baloney (or, if you prefer, the bologna). Please just summarize your theoretical account of the conditions you believe must obtain for one to believe p rationally and to know p (where p is any proposition).

          • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

            Randal, don’t you know by now? I don’t believe anything. Stop with the Tu quoque informal fallacy. Is that all you’ve got? Now answer the question: Is the reason you believe because of a contentless subjective private religious experience based
            upon a few verses in an ancient pre-scientific superstitious set of
            hindsight selected holy texts from out of the many available, as
            interpreted by the historical contingencies of your place in time? A yes or no will suffice. Or, since you’ll consider the question a fallacious complex one then disambiguate it and answer it afterwards.

            This is typical of apologists:

            http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2012/09/do-you-want-to-be-christian-apologist_26.html

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              Given that by your own admission you’re completely ignorant in the discipline of epistemology, why don’t you read up on the subject before you launch criticisms of the epistemologies of other people?

              • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

                I took a master’s level Epistemology class taught by Stuart C. Hackett and master’s level class on Plantinga’s thought taught by Bill Craig before you were in elementary school. And I’ve kept up on it to some degree. I might be wrong but you cannot claim I’m ignorant. I have changed my mind with good reasons. Now, answer the question either here or on my recent blog post. You can stop skirting this issue any time now.

                BTW: Claiming I’m ignorant because I disagree against the majority for good reasons is not an argument. It’s an assertion.

                • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

                  I don’t really care that you took a class in epistemology “before I was in elementary school”. What I’m interested in is your current understanding of epistemology as evinced in your ability to define basic terms like rationality and warrant.

                  I got my scuba diving license in 1995 but you better not get any diving advice from me since I haven’t done it in years. Indeed, I’m probably as ignorant in the area of scuba as you seem to be in epistemology.

                  At least I won’t be brash enough to sit on the dock and critique people preparing for a dive out of my own blushing ignorance.

                  • Kerk

                    This man is SO obnoxious! He can’t win the game by obeying its rules, so he denies the rules and proclaims himself the winner. Why couldn’t you find someone better to write a book with, Randal?

            • Walter

              I don’t believe anything.

              John, everyone has beliefs. You “believe” that Christianity is false and atheism is true for starters. Do you mean that you have no dogmatic beliefs, only provisional ones?

              • http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/ John W. Loftus

                Walter, this is nomenclature I reject. It’s a theistic language game that most people have adopted due the prevalence of the gospel in the western world which demands belief unto salvation. So, everyone holds to conclusions, has opinions, hopes for the future, accept propositions as true, knows some things, and entertains ideas, yes. We all do this. But belief is not what we do. Belief is always an irrational leap over the probabilities which causes the believer to overestimate confirming evidence and underestimate disconfirming evidence.

                • randal

                  John, the word “belief” (meaning assent to the truth of a proposition) is not part of a “theistic lanuguage game”. But congrats for making the silly claim of the week.

                • Matthew

                  John as someone who is allegedly proficient in epistemology why have you just used the word belief in a way you know almost every epistemologist would reject. Most epistemologist a if not all would consider a believing something a necessary condition of knowing it. Are you trying to pretend you know something when you don’t?
                  I doubt anyone who had really done the epistemology study you say you have would make the claim you just did

  • markpm

    Wow, I was definitely not expecting this. It be cool if you were involved in more debates. Good podcasts often dry up during the holidays so this is a nice Christmas bonus :)

  • Jeff

    Might be water under the bridge at this point, but I just remembered to check out the debate and had a few thoughts:

    First, I enjoyed it! I thought you did well, Jonathan. And Randal, I’m impressed that you took on this topic–not an easy position to defend, it seems to me!

    About Jonathan’s principles of historiography: Ideally I’d replay the debate to listen a little more carefully here, but it seemed to me Randal that your responses, generally, were either inadvertently off the mark or else aimed mainly at scoring rhetorical points. In most cases, all one has to do to understand Jonathan’s point is to preface it with, “All other things being equal.” And so your elaborate refutations and counterexamples didn’t do much to address Jonathan’s content, it seems to me. Your repeated claim that Jonathan was constructing desperate, ad hoc principles to undermine the gospels struck me as an incorrect and uncharitable claim.

    To your main contention, Randal, about independent double attestation: I’ll certainly grant you that the Matthean and Lukan accounts were written independently of one another (since they differ so severely), but beyond that, your argument and your responses to Jonathan’s related criticisms struck me as positively ludicrous. (I mean that in the kindest possible way, of course!) So when Jonathan demonstrated at length that the two accounts differ radically from one another, he was inadvertently (poor sucker that he is) making your own case for you? What he demonstrated is that the two accounts differ so fundamentally that they simply cannot plausibly both trace back to eyewitness testimony. Furthermore, that each account is by itself so implausible if taken as literal history (even apart from the virginal conception) that neither one can plausibly trace back to eyewitness testimony. But none of that is even worth addressing, because both agree on Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem, and virginity?

    Let’s focus on the issue of virginity for a moment. What could explain the double attestation? Twin eyewitness testimony? Jonathan refuted that possibility pretty well, and you did nothing to challenge him there. Could it be that there was a late-developed, not-anchored-in-literal-history, bare-bones tradition about virginity that Matthew and Luke both drew upon and created narratives around? Of course, neither Paul nor Mark mentions a virgin birth, so we have no evidence whatsoever that there was an early virgin birth tradition. If it was a late, fabricated, bare-bones tradition, what motive would there have been for such a thing? Well, if indeed Joseph was not Jesus’ father, and that fact was known, or at least rumored (could the reference to “illegitimate children” in John 8:41 hint at this?), Jesus’ birth would have been associated with scandal. Could it really be that Jesus, the ostensible Messiah and Son of God, was a bastard? Surely this would have been embarrassing to early Christians, and it’s no wonder that a virgin birth tradition was finally introduced. And there are several other reasons a virgin birth might have been ideologically appealing to early Christians.

    Furthermore, the debate didn’t really touch on this, but there are other narrative details that must be grappled with as well. Here’s one notable such detail: Mark 3:21 reads (NIV): “When [Jesus'] family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” Several verses later in Mark 3:31, we read that Mary herself was among Jesus’ family members who thought he was “out of his mind” and who came to “take charge of him.” This episode, near the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, illustrates that Jesus’ own family didn’t perceive his Messianic role, at least initially. Not even Mary his mother, who purportedly had conceived him as a virgin, and who purportedly had been visited by the angel Gabriel and told by Gabriel that Jesus would be “the Son of the Most High” and conceived by the “power of the Most High.”

    All of this is to say that there’s a very good reason that–as you mentioned–Brown, Pannenberg, and other orthodox theologians have taken the positions on this issue that they have.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      “it seemed to me Randal that your responses, generally, were either inadvertently off the mark or else aimed mainly at scoring rhetorical points.”

      Perhaps you should listen to the debate again. I stand by my observation that Jonathan stated his histioriographical principles as he did with the intent of marginalizing the gospel accounts. The proper phrasing of his historiographical principles would have rendered them rhetorically useless to him. I assume that’s why he opted for the tendentious phrasing.

      ‘In most cases, all one has to do to understand Jonathan’s point is to preface it with, “All other things being equal.””

      All other things being equal, a wife that is 5’10” is better than a wife that is 5’5”. That’s about where most of Jonathan’s principles are.

      “So when Jonathan demonstrated at length that the two accounts differ radically from one another, he was inadvertently (poor sucker that he is) making your own case for you?”

      Yup. Since he was suggesting that M and L might have the same source. Did you miss that he argued that?

      “What he demonstrated is that the two accounts differ so fundamentally that they simply cannot plausibly both trace back to eyewitness testimony.”

      Perhaps on the points where they would disagree. As I noted, those points could have midrashic force. But for the points where they agree? That does provide solid historical evidence for particular historical claims.

      “This episode, near the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, illustrates that Jesus’ own family didn’t perceive his Messianic role, at least initially.”

      So when you have a miraculous experience you are disallowed from having any subsequent doubts, questions or confusions? Come on man.

      Anyway, thanks for listening to the debate and offering some criticisms. I appreciate it.

      • Jeff

        The proper phrasing of his historiographical principles would have rendered them rhetorically useless to him.

        Not at all. Let’s take two of the examples:

        1) [All else being equal] We will prefer an earlier to a later document. Seems pretty reasonable. Why do you think conservative Christians and apologists try to push the dating of the New Testament materials as early as they possibly can?

        2) [All else being equal] We will prefer an account from a writer who does not display obvious, direct biases as regards the subject in question. Again, seems pretty reasonable. Why do you think apologists consider extra-biblical evidence for Jesus (from Josephus, etc.)–as scant and shaky as most of it is–to be so valuable? And you even conceded this point by saying that you wouldn’t give the time of day to a Nazi historian.

        Yup. Since he was suggesting that M and L might have the same source. Did you miss that he argued that?

        Well, maybe I should listen again, but I got the impression that his suggestion was similar to mine: Namely, that the common “source” doesn’t appear to trace back to any eyewitness testimony but rather appears to have been a late, fabricated, bare-bones tradition about virginity.

        But for the points where they agree? That does provide solid historical evidence for particular historical claims.

        No, because the accounts are rather obviously fictional accounts, certainly not directly or even indirectly related to eyewitness testimony. They simply aren’t good evidence for anything, other than that there was some sort of bare-bones virgin birth tradition by that time.

        So when you have a miraculous experience you are disallowed from having any subsequent doubts, questions or confusions? Come on man.

        A few points: First, it’s one thing to have some doubts, whereas it’s another thing altogether for Mary to have thought Jesus was crazy and in need of forcible restraint. Second, remember that Mary herself is purported to have, not long before, pushed Jesus into his ministry at the wedding in Cana. So she herself instigates his ministry and then soon thereafter thinks he’s crazy and in need of forcible restraint? Which leads to my next point. Is this rather bizarre turn of events re: Mary possible? Perhaps, I suppose. But remember that the position you’re arguing for here is that the virgin birth provides the best (ie, most probable) explanation of the data. Or at least I think that’s what you’re arguing. If not, perhaps you should side with Raymond Brown after all, that the virgin birth is to be accepted primarily on faith, apart from the findings of historical inquiry.

        Anyway, thanks for listening to the debate and offering some criticisms. I appreciate it.

        Any time!

        • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

          So let me deal with Jeff’s two principles which are different from Jonathan’s. Not only have you added a ceteris paribus clause, but you have also narrowed your focus to “documents” which I take to mean first-order evidence that historians use to construct their historical narratives. Fine, I don’t have any problem with this principle. What you have to do now in a debate is show that M and L fall below a critical threshold of reasonable belief relative to that principle. You haven’t. As I pointed out, it is reasonable to date Luke to the early 60s. And that obviously places the L source earlier.

          As I argued, people don’t start by assenting to the virgin conception based on the documentary evidence. Rather, for those who already have reasonable grounds to accept other claims about Jesus, there are no defeaters to the reasonable belief in the virginal conception. Consequently, whether the documentary evidence that constitutes the narratives of M and L is sufficient for Jeff or Jonathan to attain belief in the virginal conception is quite different from whether it is sufficient for Randal to retain that belief. That’s where this debate lies. And neither you nor Jonathan have said anything that provides a defeater to the core claims, whatever one might say of other secondary claims particular to M and L.

          • Jeff

            So let me deal with Jeff’s two principles which are different from Jonathan’s.

            Your responses in the debate appeared to assume that Jonathan outlined such principles as “We should always and under all circumstances prefer an earlier document to a later one.” I don’t recall that he said anything of the sort, and so I’m not sure what the substantive difference is between “my” principle here and “his.”

            What you have to do now in a debate is show that M and L fall below a critical threshold of reasonable belief relative to that principle.

            Well I’m not trying to demonstrate that, and I don’t think Jonathan was either. I took him to be commenting rather generally on the types of evidence that the gospels are, and saying that the gospels are certainly not ideal pieces of evidence. But that’s not at all to say that we should therefore ignore or discard this evidence. By all means, let’s dig into the texts and see what we find, and that’s exactly what Jonathan proceeded to do (and you almost totally refused to do).

            Rather, for those who already have reasonable grounds to accept other claims about Jesus, there are no defeaters to the reasonable belief in the virginal conception.

            So your position in the debate was merely to protect the virgin birth from defeaters? Well then what was the point of the debate? You could have spared yourself a lot of time and work and simply stated that the virgin birth can’t be definitively disproved. Of course it can’t be–I don’t know that anyone would dispute that. But I thought you were trying to argue for the high probability of the virgin birth on historical grounds. And so now I’m not at all clear about how your position differs from Raymond Brown’s.

            • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

              “I don’t recall that he said anything of the sort,”

              This is Jonathan’s verbatim third principle: “The closer a source is to the event which it purports to describe, the more one can trust it to give an accurate historical description of what actually happened.”

              This is false. And I pointed out that Jonathan doesn’t even follow it because he discounts miracle accounts at Lourdes which are eyewitness testimony contemporaneous with the events allegedly described.

              My responses in the debate assume that in a formal debate one should say what one means. Despite your protests, that’s not a particularly unreasonable standard.

              “Well I’m not trying to demonstrate that, and I don’t think Jonathan was either.”

              He was trying to show that. He clearly believes based on the historical evidence that it is unreasonable to believe the virginal conception.

              “So your position in the debate was merely to protect the virgin birth from defeaters? Well then what was the point of the debate?”

              These two sentences fit rather strangely together. “Your point was defending p? Well then what was your point?”

              If you think that removing a defeater to rational belief in the virginal conception of Jesus isn’t a significant accomplishment in the so-called skeptic community then you’re not familiar with the skeptics.

              • Jeff

                My responses in the debate assume that in a formal debate one should say what one means. Despite your protests, that’s not a particularly unreasonable standard.

                Well, ideally Jonathan would have explicitly said, “All else being equal,” but I think that was clearly implied. And so you could certainly have pointed that out in the debate, but to carry on as you did (and to accuse Jonathan of concocting bogus ad hoc principles) just ends up being a waste of time, I think. Maybe scores some rhetorical points, but doesn’t add anything of value to the discussion.

                He was trying to show that. He clearly believes based on the historical evidence that it is unreasonable to believe the virginal conception.

                I was responding to your suggestion that, “What you have to do now in a debate is show that M and L fall below a
                critical threshold of reasonable belief relative to that principle.” But I don’t think Jonathan was trying to draw that conclusion about the gospels directly from his historiographical principles. He was simply making the first few steps in a cumulative case. But speculations about Jonathan’s intentions aside, it seems to me that by far the better use of time in a debate like this is simply to dig into the texts themselves. And that’s just what he proceeded to do. I’m still not sure why you chose to almost completely ignore the textual data, because that’s by far the most important item of debate.

                If you think that removing a defeater to rational belief in the virginal conception of Jesus isn’t a significant accomplishment in the so-called skeptic community then you’re not familiar with the skeptics.

                The debate synopsis at Reasonable Doubts says this: “Check out this debate between Jonathan Pearce and Randal Rauser on the historical reliability of the Nativity narratives.”

                To me that suggests that your task in the debate was to argue, on historical grounds, that the events in question most probably happened as described. But now you’re saying that your task, rather, was the much more modest task of defending the virgin birth from defeaters. Looks like some crossed wires here. Let me ask you this: Are you of the position that, if one is suitably able to suspend one’s metaphysical commitments [you can rephrase that a bit if you want], that he/she will conclude that the virgin birth best explains the historical data? For clarity’s sake, would you say that about the physical resurrection of Jesus?

                • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

                  Thanks Jeff. I think you have nailed lots of the issues with the case constructed by Randal. I DID assume ceteris paribus as stated above. I think that is patently obvious, otherwise any criteria are utterly useless.

                  Eg If I said, as a principle, “It is dangerous to drive at more than 50 miles an hour on a 30mph road” this would be a ceteris paribus statement. i should not need to qualify this in a generalised context. You cannot come along and attack me for that simply because, in a situation where you were being chased by a crazed psychopathic murderer driving a car which could only do 50 max, it would actually be safer to do more than 50. Well, yes, but you are introducing a whole host of further variables which render any generalised statement pointless.

          • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

            My points assumed ceteris paribus. That much should be pretty obvious, otherwise they are useless points. If there are a multitude of other variables, then there is no way of knowing the effect of these criteria. It is how scientific experiments are controlled. I should not have had to have mentioend this (and so I didn’t) but I DID have to say this in the Reasonable Doubts thread.

  • Nick

    Randal I listened to the debate. One quick point given this is a old post. Your point about Abraham Lincoln would of worked better if the same period of time in his life was used. I see your point though. A good example of accepted historicity can been seen in modern history. If you read about a military campaign like the Guadalcanal operation you will find what you discussed well. One can read several books and find a huge degree of diversity represented in the writings. Some books brush over details, others omit them altogether, others have the only account of an actual event the rest do not have. All these stories are historically accurate. Perhaps it is a good example of seeing how historians and writers do this in our time. This is not perfect but highlights nicely the basic point you made.

    • http://www.randalrauser.com/ Randal Rauser

      Thanks. Good point. I’ve been meaning to blog a debrief on the debate prompted by the fact that virtually all the commentators on it at “Reasonable Doubt” didn’t even follow my argument which was frustrating, but not surprising.

  • Pingback: Some reflection on my Nativity debate with Randal Rauser | A Tippling Philosopher

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