Sunday, August 27, 2017

The BGV Theorem Revisited

Did this universe have a transcendent beginning? How strong is the scientific evidence for a beginning? If you read the comments in this blog you know that one reader and I have been discussing the question of the beginning of this universe and if there is a necessary transcendent cause. In parallel to our discussion, I have been reading a book by Robert J. Sptizer called New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy. Spitzer is a Jesuit priest and philosopher and was the president of Gonzago University in Spokane, Washington. In Spitzer's book, Bruce L. Gordon, who has a Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science and physics, has written a nice postscript talking in some depth about the Borde-Guth-Vilenkin (BGV) theorem.1  One of my firsts blog posts that I wrote discussed the BGV theorem, but given my recent dialogue and my recent reading, I think it is worthwhile going into a little more depth about this theorem and its ramifications.

The theorem deals with any universe that is, on average, expanding and says that all such universes are past incomplete, which means they had a beginning. The theorem is so inclusive that even oscillating universes (ones that expand and collapse repeatedly), or multi-verses (many universes) are subject to its constraints. In other words, even if there are many universes either before this one or in parallel with this one, as long as the condition is satisfied, they all had to ultimately have a beginning. Scientists have been looking for theoretical scenarios that would avoid the beginning required of the BGV theorem, but such a solution is quite evasive. For instance, M. Gasperini and G. Veneziano have proposed a string theory model in which the universe doesn't expand on average.2 However, this model suffers from the fact that their required string-vacuum has a finite duration, and so requires some initial conditions to be finely tuned and still have a beginning of this universe.

It should be noted that the BGV theorem is based on known physics. Consequently, the attempts to avoid a beginning of this universe are all based on speculative physics without any observational or theoretical confirmation. So any appeal to an idea that would avoid the beginning of our universe is not science, but just speculation conjured up partially to circumvent the philosophical and theological problems associated with a beginning. If we want to make conclusions based on what is scientifically known, rather than on what is speculative, we are forced to conclude that this universe had a beginning.

The scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning is undeniable. In interviews, Vilenkin makes it clear that the known physics behind the BGV theorem requires a beginning. He says, "With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the possibility of a past-eternal universe. There is no escape: they have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning." Vilenkin will not ascribe the beginning of this universe to God, but he does affirm that given the BGV theorem the only way to avoid a beginning is to appeal to unknown physics. Vilenkin would like to ascribe the beginning to some kind of quantum fluctuation. I have discussed the idea of a quantum fluctuation that brought this universe into existent in my article about A Universe from Nothing, but I'll revisit that idea in more detail in a future post.

At this point, we must be careful with our terminology. If this universe had a beginning, as the BGV theorem and all known observations and theory attest to, then the cause of this universe must not be a part of this universe. The cause must be transcendent which means outside of this universe. Now a transcendent cause may or may not be a "super"-natural cause, or a deity. Who or what is the transcendent cause is a separate question from whether or not this universe had a transcendent cause. What we can say with absolute certainty is that all observations and theories based on known physics attest to a transcendent cause of this universe. Any ideas counter to this conclusion are based on speculative, rather than known, hypotheses.

This is the extent of what science can tell us. The universe had a transcendent beginning though we don't know the cause of that beginning, and some even claim it is a transcendent quantum event which they say is uncaused. (I will discuss this claim of lack of causality in the future.) This is in total agreement with the Bible which makes no statements about the existence, non-existence, or beginning of other universes, only that this one had a beginning. So we end up in a place where theists are extremely comfortable and non-theists are extremely uncomfortable: with a required transcendent beginning. Does it have to be God? Well, no it doesn't. But look at the evidence just from science. The universe had a transcendent cause. Hmm, that looks a lot like the Christian God. But maybe the transcendent cause is natural and not supernatural? Hmm, oh yeah, the Christian God claims to work through natural events not just through the supernatural. But maybe there is a multi-verse? Hmm, the BGV theorem says the multi-verse still has a transcendent beginning that looks a lot like the Christian God. In addition, the universe seems to be designed. Hmm, that looks a lot like the Christian God.

Is the Christian God the only possibility from scientific inquiry alone? Of course not. But what science has discovered is about the best scenario possible if the Christian God wanted to show his existence through the natural world. The findings of science align perfectly with the claims about God in the Bible. The non-theist can appeal to what we don't know, an atheism of the gaps, to try to avoid what we have learned from science. But beware. Hiding in the gaps may be a dangerous place to be since the discoveries that have filled the gaps in the past look a lot like what would be predicted by those who believe in the Christian God.

1A. Borde, A. Guth and A. Vilenkin, Inflationary space-times are not past-complete, Phys. Rev. Lett. 90 151301 (2003)
M. Gasperini and G. Veneziano, The Pre-Big Bang Scenario in String Cosmology, Phys. Rept. 373, (2003).


  1. I definitely agree that most scientists believe that the universe had a beginning. I just question the use of the word “transcendent”. Yes, you are correct, it can mean “not of this universe” but I would bet that when most people hear that word they automatically think, “God”. But if that is the term most scientists use, then so be it.

    So the real question is: Does the current state of science (in particular, cosmology and physics) lend support to the Christian claim that the Christian god created the universe. Dr. Strauss strongly feels that it does. I am not a scientist, but I would have to say that my perusal of the scientific literature indicates that the verdict on this question is “out”. Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t. I would encourage Christians AND non-theists to continue to examine the evidence; and always check out both sides of this debate; don’t just read your side’s stuff.

    The link below is to a fascinating article from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy which discusses this issue in depth and brings up an interesting point: If the creation of the universe was a miracle of the Christian god, why do Christians search for physical evidence for this event? Aren’t miracles, by definition, unconstrained by physical evidence? Do Christians need physical evidence to believe in the resurrection of Jesus? No. If you are a Christian, ask yourself this: "If not one shred of historical evidence existed regarding the resurrection of Jesus, would I still believe that Jesus is my Lord and Savior?" Of course you would, wouldn’t you? Why? Because ultimately the belief in the resurrection of Jesus is a matter of faith. So why not apply the same thinking to the origin of the universe??

    And think about this: Even if the universe was created by a Divine Being, why assume it was the Christian god? Why not the Muslim god or one of the Hindu gods, or the god of a group of Indians in the Amazon rain forest? And why couldn’t it have been a god who has never identified herself? Yes, Yahweh claims that he created the universe at one point in time, but so does Huracan, the god of the Mayans, and I will bet so do many, many other gods.

    Let’s not jump to conclusions, folks. Let’s wait for more evidence.

    1. William Lane Craig has stated that even if there were ZERO historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, a Christian without any education whatsoever can know for sure that the Resurrection really happened simply by the internal witness of the Holy Spirit in his heart. Do you disagree?

  2. Bruce Gordon is a good lecturer. Here is a video and a article that I found very informative:

    Dr Bruce Gordon - Contemporary Physics and God Part 2 - video – 1:50 minute mark - video

    BRUCE GORDON: Hawking's irrational arguments - October 2010
    Excerpt: The physical universe is causally incomplete and therefore neither self-originating nor self-sustaining. The world of space, time, matter and energy is dependent on a reality that transcends space, time, matter and energy.
    This transcendent reality cannot merely be a Platonic realm of mathematical descriptions, for such things are causally inert abstract entities that do not affect the material world. Neither is it the case that “nothing” is unstable, as Mr. Hawking and others maintain. Absolute nothing cannot have mathematical relationships predicated on it, not even quantum gravitational ones. Rather, the transcendent reality on which our universe depends must be something that can exhibit agency - a mind that can choose among the infinite variety of mathematical descriptions and bring into existence a reality that corresponds to a consistent subset of them. This is what “breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe.” Anything else invokes random miracles as an explanatory principle and spells the end of scientific rationality.

  3. Dr. Strauss,
    A related point, that might be of interest for you, is that since atheists deny that the Agent Causality of God is true, then they end up denying that they themselves have agent causality (i.e. free will). As a result, they wind up in what I term to be catastrophic epistemological failure. Here are two references that get this point across fairly clearly:

    Do You Like SETI? Fine, Then Let's Dump Methodological Naturalism - Paul Nelson - September 24, 2014
    Excerpt: "Epistemology -- how we know -- and ontology -- what exists -- are both affected by methodological naturalism (MN). If we say, "We cannot know that a mind caused x," laying down an epistemological boundary defined by MN, then our ontology comprising real causes for x won't include minds.
    MN entails an ontology in which minds are the consequence of physics, and thus, can only be placeholders for a more detailed causal account in which physics is the only (ultimate) actor. You didn't write your email to me. Physics did, and informed (the illusion of) you of that event after the fact.
    "That's crazy," you reply, "I certainly did write my email." Okay, then -- to what does the pronoun "I" in that sentence refer?
    Your personal agency; your mind. Are you supernatural?,,,
    You are certainly an intelligent cause, however, and your intelligence does not collapse into physics. (If it does collapse -- i.e., can be reduced without explanatory loss -- we haven't the faintest idea how, which amounts to the same thing.) To explain the effects you bring about in the world -- such as your email, a real pattern -- we must refer to you as a unique agent.,,,
    some feature of "intelligence" must be irreducible to physics, because otherwise we're back to physics versus physics, and there's nothing for SETI to look for.",,,
    A Professor's Journey out of Nihilism: Why I am not an Atheist - University of Wyoming - J. Budziszewski
    Excerpt page12: "There were two great holes in the argument about the irrelevance of God. The first is that in order to attack free will, I supposed that I understood cause and effect; I supposed causation to be less mysterious than volition.
    If anything, it is the other way around. I can perceive a logical connection between premises and valid conclusions. I can perceive at least a rational connection between my willing to do something and my doing it. But between the apple and the earth, I can perceive no connection at all. Why does the apple fall? We don't know. "But there is gravity," you say. No, "gravity" is merely the name of the phenomenon, not its explanation. "But there are laws of gravity," you say. No, the "laws" are not its explanation either; they are merely a more precise description of the thing to be explained, which remains as mysterious as before. For just this reason, philosophers of science are shy of the term "laws"; they prefer "lawlike regularities." To call the equations of gravity "laws" and speak of the apple as "obeying" them is to speak as though, like the traffic laws, the "laws" of gravity are addressed to rational agents capable of conforming their wills to the command. This is cheating, because it makes mechanical causality (the more opaque of the two phenomena) seem like volition (the less). In my own way of thinking the cheating was even graver, because I attacked the less opaque in the name of the more.
    The other hole in my reasoning was cruder. If my imprisonment in a blind causality made my reasoning so unreliable that I couldn't trust my beliefs, then by the same token I shouldn't have trusted my beliefs about imprisonment in a blind causality. But in that case I had no business denying free will in the first place."

  4. Gary, Methinks, despite your apparent animosity against it, that Christianity is doing quite well as far as modern science is concerned, thank you very much (atheism not so much):

    Gödel, Infinity, and Jesus Christ as the Theory of Everything - video

    1. The label "atheist" has a negative stigmata attached to it so you won't find a lot of people describing themselves by that term. However, a recent Pew study found that 25% of Americans self-identify as "non-religious". That is a MASSIVE change in our culture. That doesn't mean necessarily that these "non-religious" do not believe in some form of spirituality but it does not bode well for traditional Christianity and other organized religions.

      If one looks at the membership numbers, and in particular, the baptism statistics for all major US Christian denominations, Christianity is in decline in the United States. America is following the same trend as Europe. Thousands of churches are closing each year. Christians may blame this trend on materialism in the West, but I believe it is due to the influence of the Internet. Prior to the Internet, if one wanted to investigate the truth claims of his religion, he had to go to a library or bookstore. Now, he or she, can "google" any subject at the breakfast table and access massive material, both pro and con, for his religion's teachings.

      Yes, Christianity is growing in some parts of the world, but if you take a look, these are areas where poverty and mortality are very high, and education and access to the internet are very low. Give these people a higher standard of living, an education, and a computer...and I believe these areas will soon be following the trends in Europe and North America.

      I don't think Christianity will cease to exist anytime soon, but I do think the traditional/conservative form of Christianity will no longer exist in just a few generations. Most educated people frown on superstitions (unless they are a part of their religion). The belief in superstitions is in decline in the West, thank goodness.

    2. There is a difference between education and indoctrination. For prime example, Darwinian evolution does not even qualify as a testable science but is more properly classified as an unfalsifiable pseudoscience. True education, free from the atheistic bias found in secular institutions, overwhelmingly supports Theism in general and Christianity in particular.

      Darwinian Evolution: A Pseudo-Science based on Unrestrained Imagination and Bad Liberal Theology - video

    3. Among the overwhelming majority of scientists, evolution is just as much scientific fact as is the Law (theory) of Gravity. (And most scientists are theists, not atheists.)

    4. That's right, ALL scientists (except Dr. Strauss) are involved in a conspiracy to destroy Christianity and are indoctrinating the American people with atheistic pseudoscience.

      Most scientists are BELIEVERS (theists). There is no conspiracy. There is EVIDENCE. Lots and lots of evidence to support Evolution. I suggest you actually read about it and stop listening to paranoia and conspiracy schemes.

    5. Perhaps you should, instead of accusing me of being in bad faith, actually address the facts that my video highlighted? Darwinian evolution, simply IS NOT a rigorous and testable science. That is a undeniable fact, which even many leading evolutionists admit. A fact that is above any prejudice that I might like to invoke.

      Seeing as YOU apparently are not interested in a reasonable discussion about the facts, but only in appealing to consensus, and rehashing talking point, than I think this conversation has just about run its course for me.

      --- Dr. Strauss, as hopefully you can see by now, Gary's arguments are paper thin and lacking in any real substance. Goodbye for now. I'm off this thread.

    6. Dear BornAgain,

      No, I will not debate you on Evolution for the same reason I would not debate someone on a Flat Earth. The evidence is overwhelming that Evolution is fact, just as the evidence is overwhelming that the earth is NOT flat. I will not waste my time listening to non-experts explain why we should deny Evolution OR a spherical earth. I (as well as most educated people in western societies) trust the experts on matters which we ourselves are not experts.

      Imagine the UTTER CHAOS if our society stopped trusting experts. Imagine large segments of the population and large sectors of our economy following the (conspiracy) theories of non-experts for various truth claims. An advanced society DEPENDS on a population which trusts experts. Anyone who advocates for mistrusting experts is dismantling the very foundation of our country.

    7. Gary, I made a video that highlighted and refuted your claim that "evolution is just as much scientific fact as is the Law (theory) of Gravity."

      Darwin vs. Embryos,, For you created my inmost being;,, (Psalm 139:13)  - video
      - paper

    8. Dear Bornagain,

      I'm sure you are a very intelligent guy, but let see what the experts have to say on this subject. Here is a statement from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine:

      "Is Evolution a Theory or a Fact?

      It is both. But that answer requires looking more deeply at the meanings of the words "theory" and "fact."

      In everyday usage, "theory" often refers to a hunch or a speculation. When people say, "I have a theory about why that happened," they are often drawing a conclusion based on fragmentary or inconclusive evidence.

      The formal scientific definition of theory is quite different from the everyday meaning of the word. It refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence.

      Many scientific theories are so well-established that no new evidence is likely to alter them substantially. For example, no new evidence will demonstrate that the Earth does not orbit around the sun (heliocentric theory), or that living things are not made of cells (cell theory), that matter is not composed of atoms, or that the surface of the Earth is not divided into solid plates that have moved over geological timescales (the theory of plate tectonics). Like these other foundational scientific theories, the theory of evolution is supported by so many observations and confirming experiments that scientists are confident that the basic components of the theory will not be overturned by new evidence. However, like all scientific theories, the theory of evolution is subject to continuing refinement as new areas of science emerge or as new technologies enable observations and experiments that were not possible previously."

      Gary: And there you have it, folks. The leading scientific research organization in our country states that the basic principles of Evolution are just as certain to be true as the fact that the earth revolves around the sun. Period.

      You have a choice, conservative Christians. You can subscribe to unfounded conspiracy theories that the world's scientists have conspired to hide the "real truth" or you can behave like an educated, modern member of a technologically advanced society and accept expert opinion.

    9. Source:

    10. Gary, your fallacious appeal to authority to support your atheistic position, while I appeal to actual facts, does not bode well for your position in the debate. Your personal bias, literally drips drips off word you type.
      Moreover, it might surprise you to learn that Einstein, with General Relativity, rendered the Copernican principle null and void.
      - Humanity - Chemical Scum or Made in the Image of God?
      “Can we formulate physical laws so that they are valid for all CS [coordinate systems], not only those moving uniformly, but also those moving quite arbitrarily, relative to each other? […] The struggle, so violent in the early days of science, between the views of Ptolemy and Copernicus would then be quite meaningless. Either CS could be used with equal justification. The two sentences: “the sun is at rest and the earth moves” or “the sun moves and the earth is at rest” would simply mean two different conventions concerning two different CS.”
      Einstein, A. and Infeld, L. (1938) The Evolution of Physics, p.212 (p.248 in original 1938 ed.);

  5. Gary, If there was no shred of historical evidence, then the "shreds" contained in the gospels and NT would not be available either, which would make belief in Jesus, let alone the resurrection, a blind faith at best. Unless it is a blind faith, one's trust/faith should be supported by the weight (strength/reliability) of available evidence. The reliable witness of the gospels, and the New testament as a whole, rests on the strength/reliability of the historical evidence, which provides a strong foundation upon which to rest one's faith. Truth must be discernible from that which is false, which requires evidence. (Anyone can make claims.) And the strength of the evidence for what is true should not only be discernible in the special revelation (scriptures), but should also have supporting non-contradictory correspondence with what is discoverable in general revelation (the world/universe around us). As in a crime scene investigation, a good investigator doesn’t allow mere assumptions to be the basis for their conclusions. Go where the strength of the evidence leads - which is what this informed Christian has done.

    Christians apply the tools of science to learn and discover the limits to which those tools apply - the material universe. Accordingly, Christians aren't necessarily looking for the cause or the "how" of the creation event since there are no tools of experimental science that can reach beyond the bounds of the creation itself. The "how" of the creation by a transcendent cause is simply beyond the reach of our material-universe-bound tools of science.

    1. The majority of modern New Testament scholars believe that the Gospels were NOT written by eyewitnesses nor the associates of eyewitnesses, therefore it is difficult to claim that these texts are a "reliable witness" of anything.

    2. Minimal Facts on the Resurrection that Even Skeptics Accept - Gary Habermas

      Defense Of The Historical Jesus From Supposed Higher Criticism Of Biblical Text And Historical Reliability - William Lane Craig - video

      William Lane Craig: The Evidence for Jesus's Resurrection. Southampton Guildhall, October 2011 - video

      Jesus Existed
      Excerpt: Contrary to some circles on the Internet, very few scholars doubt that Jesus existed, preached and led a movement. Scholars' confidence has nothing to do with theology but much to do with historiographic common sense.

      William Lane Craig: Are there historical grounds for belief in the resurrection of Jesus? - March 30, 2017
      Excerpt: "Indeed, the evidence is so powerful that one of the world's leading Jewish theologians, the late Pinchas Lapide, who taught at the Hebrew University in Israel, declared himself convinced on the basis of the evidence that the God of Israel raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead."

      also see "Undesigned Coincidences'

    3. Good grief. ONE Jewish scholar believes this tale and it MUST be fact.

      Get real.

      Once again: The majority of scholars do NOT believe that the Gospels are primary source documents, regardless of what Craig (and Lapide) believes. It is interesting that Christians only demand that we listen to majority expert opinion when the expert opinion agrees with their preconceived beliefs. I, and most educated people, accept majority expert opinion on ALL issues of which we ourselves are not experts.

      If the majority of scientists believe that the universe had a "transcendent" cause, I accept that position. If the majority of experts state that evolution is fact, I accept that position. And if the majority of experts say that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses nor the associates of eyewitnesses, I accept that position.

      Can Dr. Strauss say the same???

    4. Gary,
      I have answered this question before but you don't seem to understand my answer. I absolutely do NOT simply accept the majority opinion about something. I have a brain and the ability to read the evidence for and against something so I'm able to make judgements based on the facts. I'm able to understand logical arguments and weigh good evidence vs bad evidence, and consider bias. As bornagain77 says, you are buying into the fallacy of argument from authority. If you simply accept the majority opinion you would have been wrong about the Hittite civilization in the late 1800's wrong about the existence of Pilate in the 1900's and wrong about the existence of David in the late 20th century. You would have accepted that Jews were to be exterminated in Nazi Germany and accepted that blacks were just property in 1857.

      Do you accept a 51% majority the same as a 99% majority? Do you accept a majority that is biased? Most historians deny miracles a priori, so their conclusions are prone to be biased regarding any possible supernatural event.

      No, I do not simply accept the majority opinion. That is a small minded and often incorrect thing to do. It often leads to a wrong conclusion that is later shown to be totally false. Instead I examine the evidence carefully using logic, statistics, and weigh the evidence including known biases to come to my conclusions. If you want to simply go with the majority you may chose to do so. But I don't think it is something to brag about or challenge others to do.

  6. Seriously Gary, the fallacy of 'argument from authority'? That is what you are arguing? You can't be so desperate? Remember the flock of sheep diving headlong off the cliff because that is the 'consensus' view? Only the cliff you are diving off of is far more precipitous , than a cliff, since it involves your eternal soul.

    "I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had."
    - Michael Crichton

    Anyways, the resurrection is attested to, besides the New Testament, by extra-biblical sources.

    “And you realize that 99.9% of scholars across the world will acknowledge that Jesus is an historical person. They may not say that Jesus is the Son of God, but they will say there was an historical figure named Jesus of Nazareth. But Tom [Harpur] has very grave doubts about this, so he claims. Now that floored me right there. Because, we have copious evidence for Jesus’ existence. If you don’t like the gospels, go to the Roman historian, Tacitus, who talks about the great fire of Rome and how Nero got blamed for it. To save himself, he blames the Christians. This Roman historian says that they are named for a Christus, who was crucified by one of our governors, Pontius Pilate. What more do you need? That quote alone would establish the historicity of Jesus. Suetonius mentions Christ in connection with the riot of those for or against Jesus across the Tiber. Pliny, the younger, Governor of Asia Minor, says that these Christians get up on Sunday morning and sing hymns to Christ as to a God. The Jewish rabbinic traditions mention Jesus of Nazareth in their own language. Whatmore do we need of witnesses? Josephus mentions Jesus twice.
    I want to point out that Christian faith is based upon fact and not on fiction. The problem nowadays is that so many people are trying to turn fact into fiction.”
    - Dr. Paul Maier (recently retired Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University) quoted from the 100 Huntley Street telecast on March 30/04

    1. What??

      I never once questioned the historicity of Jesus...or Mohammad...or the Buddha. What I question are the supernatural claims about these human beings.

      I question that the Buddha caused a water buffalo to speak in a human language for 3/4 of an Hinduism claims. I question whether Mohammad flew on a winged horse to Islam claims. And I question whether the three-day-brain-dead corpse of Jesus exited his sealed tomb and later flew off into outer Christianity claims!

      Educated, modern, adult, men and women should NOT believe supernatural claims UNLESS (and this is very important) VERY extra-ordinary evidence is presented to support this claim.

      Even if we could be certain that the eleven disciples of Jesus believed that they saw, talked to, and ate with a walking/talking corpse in the first century (and we cannot because we cannot be sure that the Gospels are first person accounts of this alleged event; most experts say they are not), that STILL would not be sufficient evidence! Eyewitness evidence may be sufficient for car accidents and murder trials, but it is not sufficient for supernatural claims!

      If five hundred people claimed that they were abducted by Martians, taken to the Red planet, and subjected to mind probes for three days, would anyone in their right mind believe this claim simply because there are so many alleged eyewitnesses???

      No. Of course not. Why? Answer: Because it is a preposterous story.

      Let me give you another example of why eyewitness testimony is inadequate for outrageous, very extra-ordinary claims:

      If a story existed that a couple of decades ago, one thousand people in the highlands of Guatemala claimed that they saw a man turn into a volcano after eating magic beans, should we believe this story simply because there were so many eyewitnesses?

      No! Why not? Because it is a preposterous story!

      But what if every one of these one thousand villagers were willing to be tortured and to die in defense of the veracity of this claim? Should we believe their story then?

      No! Why? Because it is a preposterous story!

      So should we believe four, two thousand year old, books (which the majority of experts believe are NOT eyewitness accounts) which state that approximately five hundred people saw a walking/talking/broiled-fish-eating corpse walk through locked doors, teleport between cities, and eventually fly off into outer space...simply because there are so many eyewitnesses, some of whom were willing to die for this claim???

      No! Why? Answer: Because it is a preposterous story!

      Eyewitness testimony is NOT sufficient for supernatural/out-of-this-world/very extra-ordinary claims!

  7. A few more notes, out of many more notes

    Apologetics Conference - Why the New Testament Can be Trusted - Sean McDowell - video 2015

    J. Warner Wallace Lectures on the Evidence for Christianity - video
    Description: Cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace, and author of Cold-Case Christianity, presented this lecture via Skype at Reasonable Faith Belfast on Monday, 3rd December 2012. He talks about the nature of evidence, possibility and reason, the chain of custody for the New Testament documents, and much more. The lecture is about an hour (with great visuals), followed by about 30 minutes of Q&A.

    As well, the Shroud of Turin simply refuses to be so easily dismissed as a fake as atheists try to pretend that it is.

    The Shroud Of Turin - An Enduring Mystery - Dr. Ray Schnieder - 5 part lecture series
    Dr. Schneider Five Part Series - Part 1: Introduction
    Dr. Schneider Five Part Series - Part 2: Science
    Dr. Schneider Five Part Series - Part 3: History
    Dr. Schneider Five Part Series - Part 4: Skeptics
    Dr. Schneider Five Part Series - Part 5: Conclusion
    The Shroud Of Turin - An Enduring Mystery - Dr. Ray Schnieder - homepage with links to powerpoints for each lecture

  8. Mike, here is something for you (and your Christian readers) to consider: Is the Creation Story in the Bible an accurate description of the origin of the universe, or, is it simply a beautiful folk tale of an imaginative, but scientifically ignorant, ancient people?

    I believe that the evidence strongly favors the latter conclusion.

    There are actually three creation stories in the Bible, not one. Two of these creation stories sound similar but if you look closely there are some big differences. These two creation stories are found in the first two chapters of Genesis. Some fundamentalist Christians try to merge these two stories into one story, but here is the evidence that these two stories are not the same story. They may be two versions of a more ancient story, but these two stories are not the same story; they are not factually compatible (although fundamentalist Christian apologists will never admit this).

    Discrepancy #1: If you read Genesis chapter one, humans are created AFTER the animals. In Genesis chapter two, humans are created BEFORE the animals.

    Sorry, fundamentalist Christian apologists, but it is either humans first, animals second, or, animals first, humans second. There are only two choices. You cannot harmonize this discrepancy.

    Discrepancy #2: In Genesis chapter one, the first man and the first woman are created simultaneously. In Genesis chapter two, the man is created first, then the animals, then the woman is created from one of the man's ribs.

    Once again, it is one or the other. You cannot harmonize this discrepancy.

    And there are more discrepancies:

    --Were plants created before or after humans?
    --When were the stars made?
    --From what were the animals created?
    --From what were the fowls created?

    These two stories may simply be two different versions of the same original story, but over time, one group of Hebrews changed the details in the story, or, two groups of Hebrews changed the original story (which was different from both stories)giving us two new versions. Some scholars suggest that one of the stories was possibly from northern Israel and one southern Israel.

    This explanation for the major differences in these two creation stories makes much more sense than the DESPERATE attempts by fundamentalist Christians to harmonize these two tales.

    And we haven't even discussed the THIRD Hebrew creation story, told in a later book of the Hebrew bible (the Christian OT), in which God creates the earth after a great battle with a sea monster, a story that is eerily similar to the creation story of many other ancient peoples in the Fertile Crescent!

    So where does this leave us? We have to ask ourselves this question, based on the above evidence: Which is more probable: An ancient Bronze/Iron Age people were given divine (supernatural) guidance to accurately describe the origin of the universe using metaphors such as "day" meaning "age" not a literal 24 hour day, or, these are simply ancient folk tales by very imaginative but scientifically-ignorant people; any similarity to actual science is simply coincidence?

    The answer is obvious to anyone without an agenda.

  9. Dear Gary,
    I just stumbled onto this blog and was reading yours and others' comments. You have clearly given these topics a lot of thought. I'd like to revisit one issue in which I have a little bit of expertise (I teach NT at a University). You are right that many respected new testament scholars (though discerning "majorities" can be tricky), esp of the 20th century, considered the gospels to be written by non-eyewitnesses or their associates. This is primarily because they were influenced by Rudolph Bultmann's method of "form criticism," which has been severely challenged from numerous quarters. You may find interesting the recent work of two highly regarded biblical scholars, Richard Bauckham and Samuel Byrskog. Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and Byrskog's History as Story attempt to understand the gospels with new categories that reflect more recent research. Even if one disagrees with the particularities of their positions, many would now concede that the old "form criticism" model is so problematic that it should be discarded. Of course, Bauckham and Byrskog have their biases too, and their positions are debated vigorously in the academy. Or, you might read Dale Allison's work. Dale Allison is one of the most, if not the most, widely respected historical Jesus scholars alive. He is by no means a fundamentalist or evangelical. His relatively recent work Resurrecting Jesus (2005) represents one of the best critical treatments of the resurrection to date, and he doesn't give easy answers for those on either side of the debate. Just as scientific notions change, so do positions re: biblical studies. Just some food for thought.

    take care.

    1. Hi JEL,

      Thanks for your comment. I've read Bauckham's "Jesus and the Eyewitness". It is an interesting read, but to be honest, I was amazed and disappointed at the amount of assumptions and conjecture in the book.

      Let me give a couple of examples:

      1. Bauckham states that the named individuals in each pericope were given the responsibility of maintaining the accuracy of that story until the time that the Evangelists wrote these stories down. In other words, we can trust the reliability of every story within the Gospels in which individuals are NAMED because these individuals served as "guardians" of the accuracy of these stories.

      Evidence given for this claim: None! It is pure conjecture.

      2. How do we know that John Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark and how do we know that John Mark's source was Peter the Apostle?

      Answer: Literary clues within the text and the reliable testimony of the "falsely maligned" Papias. That's it.

      And what are the literary clues?

      1. Peter is mentioned more than any other disciple in this text.
      2. John Mark was using an "inclusio": Simon Peter is the first and the last character mentioned in the story.

      And what about Papias? Papias himself never claims to have received information directly from an eyewitness. Bauckham believes that Papias received information from some of the disciples of two disciples of Jesus based on ONE statement by Papias, quoted by Eusebius, in which Papias refers to two men in Asia Minor as "disciples of Jesus". One of these men is "John the Elder" of Ephesus (whom Bauckham does NOT believe was John the Apostle). Bauckham believes that this John the Elder was...THE BELOVED DISCIPLE...the author of the Gospel of John.

      Evidence for this claim: Scant to non-existent.

      Question: Is this good evidence, folks? I don't think so. Just because Peter's name is mentioned more than any other disciple why should we assume that he was the source for the details in this gospel? After all, Peter was the chief disciple; isn't it only natural that he would figure so prominently in the story? And what about the alleged "inclusio"? Well, Bauckham is creating an "inclusio" where none exists! Why? Answer: Because JOHN THE BAPTIST is the first character mentioned in the Gospel of Mark, not Simon Peter. If Bauckham is claiming that an inclusio, which was an ancient literary technique which infers a source, exists in the Gospel of Mark because Peter is the first and the last named DISCIPLE in the text, then he is inventing an entirely new definition of "inclusio".

      It is one conjecture after another!

      And I wonder how many conservative Christians are aware that Bauckham does NOT believe that the Gospel of Matthew present in our Bibles today was authored by Matthew the Apostle? In addition, how many conservative Christians are aware that Bauckham does NOT believe that John the Apostle wrote the Gospel of John?

      Can't conservative Christians see just how shaky the foundation of the claim that "eyewitness or their associates wrote the Gospels" really is when one of the premier conservative Christian scholars questions the traditional authorship of the ONLY two Gospels that conservative Christians claim were written by eyewitnesses??? In particular when the majority of all scholars say that NONE of the gospels were written by eyewitnesses nor the associates of eyewitnesses.

      And if the Gospels are unreliable sources, what does that say about the author of the Gospel of John's claim that Jesus was present at Creation; the very Creation that Dr. Strauss is trying to convince us occurred due to the ancient deity, Yahweh, to which Jesus prayed?

      It is all a house of cards, folks. I'm sorry if that is upsetting, but isn't it better to know the truth?

  10. And what about the Gospel of Luke, which we haven't discussed?

    Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first,[a] to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. ---Gospel of Luke 1:1-4

    Many Christians read this passage and believe that the author of Luke is inferring that he obtained his information directly from eyewitnesses of the events described in his Gospel. But is that what he is claiming?

    I don't think so, and here is why:

    It is estimated that the author of Luke utilizes 65% of the content of the Gospel of Mark in his Gospel, sometimes word for word. Was the author of the Gospel of Mark an eyewitness? I don't know of any evangelical or other conservative Christian scholar who makes this claim. The near unanimous consensus of evangelical and other conservative Christian scholars believe that John Mark, the traveling companion of Peter, wrote the Gospel of Mark, and, that John Mark was not an eyewitness, but an associate of an eyewitness.

    So If Luke copied large sections of John Mark's Gospel into his Gospel (the Gospel of Luke), and John Mark was not an eyewitness, how can the author of Luke claim that he obtained his information directly from eyewitnesses?

    Christians may counter that since John Mark was (allegedly) repeating stories which he had heard Peter preach during his lifetime that this counts as eyewitness testimony. Really? If Jimmy tells you a story that he says Bobby told him, which, according to Jimmy, Bobby said he obtained from Eddie, an alleged eyewitness, is that eyewitness testimony? I don't think so, folks. Even if John Mark told Luke that Peter had told him the details of Jesus' life, that is NOT eyewitness testimony. Eyewitness testimony comes directly from an eyewitness. Something that Jimmy tells you that allegedly Bobby told him that allegedly Eddie saw and heard is...hearsay!

    [legal definition of "hearsay": the report of another person's words by a witness, usually disallowed as evidence in a court of law]!

    And think about this: If the author of Luke had actually interviewed John Mark for his story, why would he then copy John Mark's book for these stories? Isn't it highly probable that the author of Luke never interviewed the author of the Gospel of Mark; he simply copied his stories from his book??

    And what if John Mark didn't write the Gospel of Mark? The majority of all New Testament scholars (most of whom profess to be Christian believers) doubt that John Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark. The majority of New Testament scholars doubt that any of the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses or by the associates of eyewitnesses.

    Dear Christians: Doesn't the above discussion and evidence strongly indicate that depending upon four ancient, middle-eastern books to determine ultimate reality, truth, and, even the origin of the universe, is not rational?

    1. Of course you deny that Luke is claiming he actually investigated the evidence from eyewitnesses. You deny any historicity of the New Testament that you don't agree with including the eyewitness claims in John, Peter, and Luke who actually says, "just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word." Why would you accept the word of someone who claims he did interview the eyewitnesses when you can just deny it and ignore the evidence?

    2. First, the author of Luke does not say that HE received eyewitness testimony directly from eyewitnesses, he says that this testimony was "handed down" to him. This statement is ambiguous. It could mean he received his information directly from eyewitnesses or it could mean that he received his information from persons who believed that they were passing on eyewitnesses testimony but they themselves were not eyewitnesses.

      Evidence exists which points to which of these situations is most likely to have happened: the fact that the author of Luke copies 65% of the Gospel of Mark into his Gospel. John Mark (if he was the author of the Gospel of Mark) was NOT an eyewitness. Even the overwhelming majority of conservative Christian NT scholars agree with this. Therefore, the fact that the author of Luke incorporated such a large body of statements from someone who everyone agrees was not an eyewitness, is proof that the above passage was not meant to infer that the author of Luke HIMSELF received all of his information directly from eyewitnesses. Therefore it is possible that he received NONE of his information directly from eyewitnesses.

    3. Your accusation that I refuse to acknowledge Luke's eyewitness sources due to a bias is false. I reject it because the majority of experts (NT scholars doubt this claim).

      To demonstrate that I am not biased, I fully accept that at least seven of the epistles of Paul are genuine; they were written by Paul. I accept this fact because it is the position of the majority of scholars. Therefore, I AM willing to accept as fact evidence which does not support my overall theory on the origin of the Christian Resurrection belief.

      I am consistent. I accept majority expert opinion on ALL issues of which I personally am not an expert. I suggest that everyone do the same. Trusting expert opinion on subjects in which you are not an expert is the bedrock of an advanced modern society.

  11. Gary:
    If I may.
    I truly believe you ought to read J Warner Wallace, Cold Case Christianity.
    Of ll the books written on the subject this should convince you of the truth of Christ. Wallace is a firmer homicide detective and he brings all his experience to bear in the quest to identify the truth of the bible.
    I am confident that once you have taken the time to read his book and understood his methodology I feel confident you will return to being a Jesus follower. I will pray that this book works the same miracle for you as it did me.
    God Bless you in the name of Jesus.
    And if it doesn't try Lee Strobel's The Case For Christ.

    1. Could you give me a brief summary of the BEST argument presented in each of these books, Mr. Arkenaten? I'm curious if there is something I have missed in my readings of New Testament scholars NT Wright, Richard Bauckham, Michael Licona, William Lane Craig, Gerd Luedemann, Raymond Brown, and others that these two non-scholars have discovered.

  12. The new Geneva on John clearly states John the Son of Zebeede.

    You should be aware of the terminology used in your arguments. Your definition of hearsay evidence is at odds with Rule 803 as regards exceptions.

    Statements in authentic ancient documents (at least 20 years old)

    This is only one of 26-30 exceptions to the admission of evidence presented in the absence of the source person.

    You should assess your position of majority scholarship as to your clear cognitive dissonance. You are using/quoting/referencing the works of NT scholars who state their unequivocal belief in the bodily resurrection of Christ ( a three-day braindead corpse in your words) while disbelieving their writings as being based on their eyewitness testimony. How does one include the opinions on critical matters of evidence you favor while considering their views on the essence of Christian faith to be preposterous and unsupported by rational thinking people. You might consider speaking with another sort of expert concerning such condition.

    1. I would bet that the scholars you refer to would agree with me that there is a significant difference in the fact that the majority of scholars believe that the literary evidence suggests that the Gospels were NOT written by eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses and the faith position of those same scholars who believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

  13. AS to the book of Luke...He does not claim to be an eyewitness but rather a scrupulous and through interviewer and investigator of the corpus of texts and the eyewitnesses who prepared them. Again the New Geneva holds that Luke is the author.

    The rule in scientific and legal investigation is to set a standard such as the preponderance of the evidence, the probability of the proposition converging to near certainty based on the evidence presented or clear and convincing and beyond a reasonable doubt. I believe most Christians who hold the Resurrection to be truth would adopt the standard of Clear and Convincing and many Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

    1. "Luke...He does not claim to be an eyewitness but rather a scrupulous and through interviewer and investigator of the corpus of texts and the eyewitnesses who prepared them."

      If that is true, then why did he "copy and paste" almost 65% of the Gospel of Mark into his gospel?

  14. Gary In the full context of this string on Michael's Blog I have based my argument on the readings from my private library and referenced such. One of my first purchases was in the mid seventies. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary is a favorite for its clarity of language and the fact that its contributors number fifteen denominational backgrounds, forty-eight writers and twenty-five Christian schools of education. In every case the writers of the Gospel sections proclaim their scholarly conviction that the writers were as named and excepting Luke were eyewitnesses to the events or having access to verified witnesses direct accounts. In the case of Matthew the Tax Collector the writer Homer Kent of Grace Seminary notes that Matthew by profession and interest was a shorthand scribe and familiar with numbers, accounts and statistics and very capable of capturing the Words of Our Lord contemporaneously in many cases.

    While you have repeatedly argued for the vast majority of modern NT scholars as supportive of your position on writers and eye witness etc. you have never defined your term NT Scholars, nor the number and extent of such. Such argumentation is deficient since every seminary graduate is likely more schooled in NT than you or is an earned PhD required for such status. In any case you have no idea how many would be rightly included as highly qualified to render substantive opinions and certainly no idea of the statistics that would serve to define a so called majority opinion. I find your arguments quite lacking and utterly unconvincing not to mention dependent on various logical fallacies.

    1. Do you believe that Richard Bauckham qualifies as a "NT scholar"?

  15. Here is one Christian's review of Wycliffe Bible Commentary. It can be found on Amazon:

    "This commentary has some significant limitations for a Neo-Orthodox Protestant such as myself. The first problem is it is based on the KJV, which while a very poetic translation suffers from obsolete language and scholarship. The second problem is there is little explaination/analysis of the OT Hebrew compared to other commentaries (such as the New Interpreter's Bible). Finally, the commentary tends towards a fundamentalist/literalist view.

    Still, it is useful as one needs to look at multiple points of view when studying the Bible or preparing adult Sunday School material. It also might be good for one just starting out in the faith. I have found the International Bible Commentary, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, and New Interpreter's Bible more useful."

    Gary: Why am I not surprised? It is a KJV fundamentalist book. You need to expand your reading list, Keith. May I suggest scholar Raymond Brown?

  16. Dr. Strauss,
    Being a physicist as you are, you may appreciate this recent video I uploaded onto youtube:
    Atheistic Naturalism vs. The Laws of Nature - video