The "No Unique Advantages" Faith

by Brian Holtz  Jan 2004
Explaining Disagreement
Christianity's Probability
Turkel's Double-Think
The True Miracle of Christianity
Turkel's Fear of My Arguments
Turkel's Unmet Burden of Proof
Factor 1: Dishonor Through Martyrdom
Factor 2: Galilean Nativity
Factor 3: Resurrection Physicality
Factor 4: Novelty
Factor 5: Behavioral Prescriptions
Factor 6: Ancient Intolerance
Factor 7: Falsifiable Historical Claims
Factor 8: Martyrdom and Persecution
Factor 9: Divine Physicality
Factor 10: Group Orientation
Factor 11: Female Witnesses
Factor 12: Galilean Evangelists
Factor 13: Group Oriented Fact-Checking
Factor 14: Jesus' Fallibility
Factor 15: Miscellaneous Dishonor
Factor 16: "Miscellaneous Contrarium"
"Every Possible Disadvantage"

Explaining Disagreement

In his response to my critique of his essay The Impossible Faith, Robert Turkel [aka J.P. Holding, aka James Patrick Holding] writes
There is an article we often link to at to describe critics, which speaks of those who are incompetent and unaware of it, and whose misplaced self-confidence makes them mistakenly think they are more competent than they are. Such an [sic] one is our Trilemma critic.
(It's ironic that two of the four psychology experiments in Turkel's cited paper are about competence in logic, an area in which I've repeatedly demonstrated Turkel's shortcomings. And given Turkel's second sentence, it's downright hilarious that the fourth experiment was about competence in grammar.)

Turkel revealingly opens his response to me with an (apparently oft-repeated) attempt to reassure himself that his opponent's confidence must be misplaced. His mental model of our disagreement is apparently that my "incompetence" in assessing the relevant historical and sociological evidence leads me to a conclusion that anyone with the relevant "competence" could objectively recognize as mistaken. This mental model is of course simplistic wishful thinking.

A more accurate model of our disagreement is to be found in the literature about self-deception and disagreement among agents that are allegedly rational and truth-seeking:

Are Disagreements Not About Information?:
[P]ersistent disagreements on matters of fact seem ubiquitous, such as in academia, politics, and speculative trade. Such disagreements persist, even though two or more sides seem well aware of the disagreement. On the other hand, we have theory suggesting that rational agents cannot agree to disagree in this manner. Bayesians with common priors cannot so disagree (Aumann, 1976; Sebenius & Geanakoplos, 1983; McKelvey & Page, 1986; Neilsen, Brandenburger, Geanakoplos, McKelvey, & Page, 1990), even approximately (Monderer & Samet, 1989; Neeman, 1996a; Sonsino, 1995). To resolve this conflict, we might posit that people do not actually disagree as much as they seem, or that people are so irrational that it is feasible and profitable for them to disagree less than they do. A third resolution, however, is to posit that existing theoretical results are fragile, and do not hold up under more reasonable and feasible concepts of rationality.

Disagreement as Self-Deception About Meta-Rationality:
Honest truth-seeking agents should not agree to disagree. This result is robust to many perturbations. Such agents are "meta-rational" when they act as if they realize this result. The ubiquity of disagreement, however, suggests that very few people, academics included, are very meta-rational. Instead, we seem self-deceived in thinking ourselves to be smarter and more meta-rational than others. Since alerting us to this fact does not much change our behavior, we must not really want to know the truth.

Thus a more powerful explanation of our disagreement lies not in anyone's "incompetence", but rather in our respective personal histories and experiences and resulting motivations and Bayesian priors. Relevant to this is the (of course anecdotal) evidence about the asymmetry of defections between well-churched Christians and well-dechurched atheists, as well as my own story. A comparison with Turkel's belief development would of course not shed light on whether Christianity or atheism is true, but it might indeed help explain why he and I disagree in our assessments of the same historical record.

Christianity's Probability

In explaining the rise of Christianity, we must consider two audiences and two timescales: Palestinian Jews as distinct from Roman Empire pagans, and Christianity's initial survival as distinct from its ultimate ascendancy.  Contrary to Turkel's unsubstantiated assertions about how "social networks" could "vindicate" the Resurrection reports in times and places far removed from Jerusalem c30AD, the core issue is how the Jesus movement survived among his Jewish disciples after his ministry's humiliating failure. Once Jesus' disciples convinced themselves that they had not followed him in vain, the gradual spread and rise of Christianity can be explained entirely without reference to alleged "solid and indisputable testimony" supporting the "tangible certainty of a physically resurrected body".

The continued belief of the core disciples after Jesus' death was indeed unlikely, but (unfortunately for Turkel's thesis) it was by no means so unlikely as to necessitate a supernatural explanation.  The consensus of secular peer-reviewed historical scholarship comes nowhere near to endorsing Turkel's conclusion, and Turkel does not spend so much as a single word trying to explain why.

Turkel's Double-Think

Turkel's argument of Christianity as miraculously unlikely is ultimately self-defeating, much like the Divine Shyness argument that clearly convincing evidence for Christianity would violate humanity's free will. Lacking a convincing case, Christian apologists are reduced to arguing that the unbelievability of their case paradoxically helps confirm its truth. This is the same sort of doublethink by which some hardcore atheists take any evidence for Jesus' historicity as necessarily a product of deceptive Christian mythmaking. Such doublethink and circular reasoning is ultimately immune to empirical argument, which is why it will be the preferred form of Christian apology as Christianity continues to wither away.

Christian apologists rightly tend not to claim vindication by the alleged miracles among post-Pentecost events; those events are cited merely as evidence for the miracles leading up to Pentecost. However, the post-Pentecost events can more economically be explained if a few key people (e.g. Mary Magdalene, Peter, later Paul) had feverishly convinced themselves and others that the crucifixion had not ended Jesus' ministry but rather validated it. ("He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen" Acts 10:40-41.)

The True Miracle of Christianity

The irony here is that Turkel ignores what is arguably the most miraculous part of the rise of Christianity after the pentecost. Jesus was a Jewish prophet who affirmed Jewish law [Mt 5:17-18; Lk 2:27,39; Jn 10:35], observed the Jewish calendar [Lk 4:16, Mt 24:20], and preached in only Jewish temples [Mk 1:21, 1:39, 6:2; Mt 4:23, 9:35, 13:54; Lk 4:15, 4:44, 6:6, 13:10, 19:47; Jn 6:59, 18:20] exclusively to Jews [Mt 10:5, Mt 15:24] about the God of Israel [e.g. Mk 12:29] who would return Jesus "in clouds with great power and glory" [Mk 13] during the lifetime of his audience.  Although Jesus occasionally won converts in random encounters with Gentiles, he did not in the gospels ever minister to a Gentile audience or locale. Despite marketing intensely -- with miracles! -- to this narrow audience of Palestinian Jews, even direct witnesses often [Mt 11:20, Jn 12:37, Jn 15:24] did not believe, and his ministry to the Jews ended as a relative failure, almost unmentioned in Josephus' detailed history of Judaism in this period. The real miracle is the vision Peter has [Acts 10] telling him to relax Jewish dietary laws and expand Jesus' ministry from "the people of Israel " to "every nation". The real miracle is that Paul could profess to be a follower of Jesus while converting Jesus' failed Torah-abiding imminently-apocalyptic Jewish ministry into a successful Torah-transcending vaguely-apocalyptic Gentile ministry.

A truly "miraculous" revelation-based faith would be one that arose identically but independently in different places. Or one that spread even though it had a primary doctrine that it should be kept secret. Or one that became popular in spite of teaching that there is no hope of a (pleasant) afterlife. Or one that had a holy text saying no text should be considered holy. There's simply nothing miraculous about a set of mistaken beliefs not automatically going extinct in a generation's time.

Turkel's Fear of My Arguments

Curious as to who it is? He has remained unnamed for rhetorical purposes
Specifically, for the "purpose" of not letting Turkel's readers see my demolition of his arguments.
 In the ancient world refusing to name one's opponent was a way of showing contempt for their [sic] arguments
In the modern world, refusing to name one's opponent is a way of showing fear for his arguments.
(but not the opponent himself, necessarily) by depriving them [sic] of their [sic] "name" authority.
I have no professional or academic "authority"; I only have whatever respect a reader might accord me in consideration of my body of writings. Turkel evidently worries that those writings would generate significant respect for me from his readers.
Interested in knowing who it is anyway? Write me at and I'll tell you where to find him. I'm curious to see just how many people are interested.
A flimsy excuse. I offered to teach Turkel how to set up an interstitial web page on his site that would count the number of his readers who click to see my identity, but Turkel wasn't interested. He knows that far more people would click on a link (~1 sec. overhead, ~1 sec. latency) than would email him (~1 min. overhead, ~1 day latency). Turkel surely fears that readers he sends me are in serious danger of being impressed by my writings. Of the two people that Turkel claims asked for my name over a six month period, one was Tektonics guest essayist Derek Pierson.  While my subsequent discussion with Derek has yet to convert him to atheism, his assessment of my writings was sufficiently at odds with Turkel's that he sent me a $20 donation to show his appreciation!  As a well-paid software professional who cashed in at the peak of the dot-com bubble, I'm touched and embarrassed that a college student would make such a donation. If Turkel is worried about diverting potential donations from his "web ministry", perhaps I should pay him a percentage of my proceeds from the fraction of his readers -- currently 20% -- who end up paying me after finally reading my unedited writings.
Our critic is no one in particular, other than one with a high opinion of his own abilities to speak proficiently on any topic of his choosing. Such is our age of individualism, in which anyone feels themselves competent to comment on any subject merely by virtue of having teeth and a tongue.
Having "teeth and a tongue" may be Turkel's own subconscious self-justification for his apologetic incontinence, but my wide-ranging writing rests on: my ability to reason, a solid liberal arts education, easy access to humanity's best reference texts, and a confidence that the academic process and the marketplace of ideas surfaces the best theories by mercilessly exposing the weaknesses of competing ones.
Had such as our critic been known to Thomas Jefferson, the First Amendment's free speech amendment might well have suffered a series of exception clauses.
Apparently my writings are so grave a threat to Turkel's worldview that he would consider compromising the First Amendment to suppress them.
Now our critic has seen fit to address what may be regarded as our premier article, The Impossible Faith, and he does so in a fashion not unlike his previous one,
Yes, both of Turkel's essays are easily rebutted using just clear reason and citation of standard reference works.
in which he throws anachronisms, undocumented assertions, and vague generalizations into the air, and dismisses as absurd anything that does not fit his 21st century paradigms, even as scholars as familiar with the ancient world as he might be with peanuts and popcorn bespeak the very opposite.
Turkel's bluster here is (ironically) just an "undocumented assertion" and "vague generalization" that he "throws into the air". Anyone who wants to see who is winning our Trilemma debate is invited by me -- but not by the fearful Turkel -- to compare each side's unedited texts, which I (unlike Turkel) fearlessly make available on my site.

Turkel's Unmet Burden of Proof

H: the same evidence could have differing persuasiveness to different audiences, and that a religion will survive merely as long as some audience finds it believable

T: (which is the very point at issue: we need to explain with specifics why these things would be persuasive, to whom, and how they overcame the rampant stigma we enumerate from the ancient world

For Turkel to show Christianity's rise should have been "impossible", he has to show that it could not have appealed to even the smallest audience that is consistent with it surviving and later flourishing.  But all he does is try to show that it would not have generally appealed to the "ancient world" as a whole. Again Turkel assumes that if anyone could have had good reason not to believe the gospels, then nobody would have been gullible enough to believe them.

Factor 1: Dishonor Through Martyrdom

H: Christianity had no choice in the mode of Jesus' death. It would be absurd to claim that martyrdom is not a powerful propellant for religions.

T:  it doesn't explain even a bit how it propelled this "martyrdom" in a direction which honored a crucified man, who suffered the greatest disgrace imaginable in a society that regarded honor as being of primary importance. It doesn't explain why anyone would believe such a man was vindicated by God;

Turkel here merely asks "why anyone would believe" X, but asking that is hardly the same thing as demonstrating that X is impossible to believe without personal witness of miracles.
it doesn't explain why the martyrdom didn't "propel" in a direction amenable to the society at large (i.e., "Jesus? Never mind him. Here's the message we have.")
That's essentially what happened. The early church was only successful when it effectively said: "Jesus? Never mind that he affirmed Jewish law [Mt 5:17-18; Lk 2:27,39; Jn 10:35], observed the Jewish calendar [Lk 4:16, Mt 24:20], and preached in only Jewish temples [Mk 1:21, 1:39, 6:2; Mt 4:23, 9:35, 13:54; Lk 4:15, 4:44, 6:6, 13:10, 19:47; Jn 6:59, 18:20] exclusively to Jews [Mt 10:5, Mt 15:24] about the God of Israel [e.g. Mk 12:29]. Never mind that he preached God would return Jesus "in clouds with great power and glory" [Mk 13] during the lifetime of Jesus' audience. Never mind that he never said -- and repeatedly seemed to deny -- he was God. Here's the message we have instead: Jesus was God incarnate, who came to save not just 'the lost sheep of Israel' but all mankind."
H: Also, the notion of sacrifice -- even human sacrifice -- to appease Yahweh was central to the Jewish society from which Christianity arose.

T: dying in a crucifixion removed all possibiliity[sic] of this "notion" being applicable, unless there was some evidence of vindication.

"Removed all possibility"?  The notion was indeed unlikely to be applicable, and was indeed not considered applicable by roughly 99% of Palestinian Jews. Turkel's burden is to show that it couldn't have been considered applicable by his most devoted disciples, who knew that Jesus had been called the "lamb of God" [Jn 1:29, 36].
Only a certified and undeniable witness to the Resurrection of Christ could have overcome the serious, shameful stigma of a crucified man
No, the "witness" could merely have been someone who saw Jesus' faith healings, heard his wisdom, experienced his sincerity, knew he was considered the "lamb of God", remembered his predictions [e.g. Mt 16:21] of suffering and execution, and was too personally invested in Jesus to permanently lose faith in him after his death.
T: Announcing a crucified god would be akin to the Southern Baptist Convention announcing that they endorsed pedophilia!

H: It's laughable to compare a sacrificial martyrdom to a deliberate crime against innocent children.

T: We're not told why it is laughable

Because it's laughably obvious: nothing in the tradition of the SBC even hints at endorsing pedophilia, whereas the gospels quote Jesus' uniquely important herald (John the Baptist) twice calling Jesus the (obviously sacrificial) "lamb of God".
H: Christianity offered elegant monotheism

T: so did Platonism and Judaism,

Platonism was not revealed monotheism; it was non-revealed deism. Judaism was so over-revealed that Christianity had to renounce much of Judaism's laws in order to avoid extinction.
and it also offered a repulsive Trinitarianism that offended Jewish sensibilities and made the pagans want to heckle to the max with the idea that a deity could descend to earth in flesh
The self-contradictory Trinity was indeed a lame way to reconcile Jewish monotheism with Jesus' incoherent self-description. Judaism never bought into it (despite strained efforts to ground it in the Old Testament), and it caused the Christians centuries of conflict among competing misunderstandings of Jesus' status.
our critic is also oblivious to his anachronizing, as he applies a modern perception of monotheism as elegant, when there is no evidence that the ancients as a whole regarded monotheism as more or less elegant than any other variation
I said that monotheism was appealing in part because it was elegant -- not because it was considered elegant. Can Turkel discern the difference?
universal enrollment [so did the mystery religions, and Judaism, via "God-fearer" status
Yet another refutation of Turkel's assertion that Christianity "had every possible disadvantage as a faith."
freedom from elaborate Jewish dietary and circumcision rules [so did every non-Judaic religion
Yet another refutation of Turkel's assertion that Christianity "had every possible disadvantage as a faith."
instant no-effort salvation from eternal damnation [as opposed to minimal-effort mystery religions that offered salvation, too
Yet another refutation of Turkel's assertion that Christianity "had every possible disadvantage as a faith."
and (especially after the destruction of Jerusalem) an alternative to dashed hopes of an earthly kingdom [so did the mystery religions
Yet another refutation of Turkel's assertion that Christianity "had every possible disadvantage as a faith."
Frankly, none of these "advantages" were unique
Turkel thus effectively retracts his assertion that Christianity "had every possible disadvantage as a faith", and his "impossible faith" has become the "no-unique-advantages faith".
pairing all this with a man crucified and all the rest would be read, without vindicating evidence, as, "Oh, sure! They're offering all of this to cover up the bad stuff. No thanks!"
More unfalsifiable double-think: anything unattractive about Christianity is evidence of its miraculous origins, and anything superficially attractive about Christianity would have been perceived as an unattractive "cover-up" for the other unattractive stuff.  Thus Turkel simply defines Christianity as 100% unattractive, and defines its existence as 100% miraculous.
H: For a new sect to displace all the Mediterranean's non-Abrahamic religions as completely as Christianity eventually did, it pretty much had to be monotheistic, so it's not surprising that Christianity's founder came from the world's most durable monotheistic tradition.

T: I've read it five times now, and I still don't see how this answers the matter of stereotyping and prejudices against Jews in the Roman Empire.

It's obvious: if the Romans were less prejudiced against some other durable monotheisms besides Judaism, but Christianity nevertheless came from Judaism instead of one of these other monotheisms, then that would indeed count against Christianity's probability. But a religion like Christianity had to come from monotheism, and Judaism was the most likely candidate.
T: this is partly attributable to Judaism not being much of a missionary religion

H: "Not much"? Judaism is essentially not a missionary religion; you are either are or are not a descendant of Abraham, and that determines whether you are considered "chosen"

T: Actually if true this would only assist our point, but it is false: Jewish proselytes and "God-fearers" were known in the Roman Empire.

While Judaism "is" now essentially not a missionary religion, it apparently was more missionary in ancient times. It's gratifying to hear that Turkel's clarification only helps my case.

Factor 2: Galilean Nativity

H: Such a nativity may of course not have been sufficient to convince all Jews, but it surely was necessary to convince most of those who were convinced. What Jew would have believed in a Messiah who was not claimed to have fulfilled the Messianic prophecies?

T: Surely? By what reckoning?

It's obvious that to convince the few Jews who actually did follow Jesus, some argument was needed to show that he fulfilled the Messianic prophecies.  That those arguments were (and remain) weak merely helps confirm my thesis: that Jesus was neither divine nor Messiah, and that therefore few Jews would have considered him such.
Our critic has no data on persons convinced in spite of such limitations, and against the data presented;
I asked Turkel a "what Jew would have believed..." question, and he gives no answer.
as it appears, this is no more than the skeptical-chauvanist [sic], begged-question view that there must have been some suckers who believed it, because here we are!
This Turkel strawman is a poor substitute for my actual argument: "Turkel assumes that if anyone could have had good reason not to believe the gospels, then nobody would have been gullible enough to believe them."
a claimed Bethlehem birth would not have been enough to overcome the deep and ingrained stereotypes represented by hailing from Nazareth in Galilee.
For the vast majority of Jews, yes. But nevertheless a few might -- and did -- believe an apologetic argument like that used by Matthew when he claimed that being a Nazarene helped fulfill Messianic prophecy.
T: Assigning Jesus the work of a carpenter was the wrong thing to do.

H: Holding here suggests no alternative. If Jesus had been a cleric, he would have ended up just starting yet another faction within Judaism. If Jesus had been a political leader, his non-divinity would have been even more evident. If Jesus had been wealthy, it would have been less likely for him to achieve martyrdom. On the other hand, Christianity could not have succeeded at all were Jesus a woman, or if he were working outside of a monotheistic context. But he wasn't.

T: I don't see an actual answer either; the point was, carpentry trades were considered vulgar and base; being a cleric was not base, nor being a political leader, nor wealthy. It's hard to tell what our critic is trying to prove with this "answer"

Obviously, that of all the sorts of humans that could possibly have launched a dominant monotheistic religion, the most likely was a Jewish man of relatively humble social station. Turkel simply does not answer my explanations of why the other social stations he cited would have made Christianity more likely.
but he certainly isn't reducing the stigma of Jesus being a carpenter.
What "stigma"?  Jesus' employment is mentioned by the gospels in only one incident, in a context in which people from his hometown are skeptical of Jesus because of his familiarity -- no "stigma" about the trade of carpentry is indicated. They question that he is "the carpenter", not that he is "a carpenter".  Elsewhere in the gospels Jesus' critics question his sanity, his possible demonic possession, his place of origin, his observance of the Jewish calendar, his faithfulness to the Jewish Law, his satisfaction of Messianic criteria, etc. -- but never his profession. In the Passion story Jesus is mocked for being a faith healer, prophet, king of the Jews, Messiah, and Son of God -- but not for being a carpenter.
(We'll return to that bit about being a woman, and outside a monotheistic context, at the end with some similar objections.)
Turkel below merely calls the first point "absurd", and in fact does not answer the second point at all.
the Jewish God wasn't recognized by Jews as someone who would produce a human progeny
Yes, which is another reason why few Jews believed in Jesus, but is not a guarantee that no Jew could have believed in him.
 the pagans that knew Judaism knew the Jewish God to not be portrayed like Zeus either.
Turkel here tries hilariously to pretend that a preconception of Jews would necessarily be shared by pagans. Turkel also forgets that some Christians (e.g. Marcion of Pontus, fl. 144CE) denied that the Jewish God was the God of Jesus.
whatever claims were made, they apparently didn't work, as the scandalous reports of Jesus' illegitimacy "haunted" the Christian scene from Celsus to the rabbis.
Turkel again misunderstands what he needs to prove here. It doesn't suffice to prove that the paternity claims "didn't work" for most people; he needs to show that they couldn't have "worked" for enough people to allow Christianity to survive and later flourish.
Capernaum (never mind Sepphoris?) was rather larger than Nazareth; it would have been a better "hometown" than Nazareth, albeit not as good as Sepphoris.
Turkel ignores Matthew 2:23: "So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: 'He will be called a Nazarene.'"

Factor 3: Resurrection Physicality

I am saying that [a physical resurrection] was not necessary and in light of both evidential and social factors placed a tremendous burden on Christianity that it could easily have avoided with a simpler story, had it not been genuine.
A simpler story (e.g. spiritual resurrection, physical ascension) would have been easier to dismiss (e.g. as hallucination, or a stolen body). Does Turkel not agree that the vivid detailed accounts of the physical resurrection body are among the best evidence for Christianity?
It's also not explained why "a physical resurrection would have been more convincing to the most gullible." How?
Obviously, the story of inspecting a resurrected man's wounds is more spectacular than e.g. Paul's vision on the road to Damascus.
It would have disgusted the pagans (who thought the material body was garbage to be discarded at death)
It may have disgusted many pagans. Would it have "disgusted" so many pagans that the survival and later rise of Christianity would have been impossible without miraculous "vindicating evidence"?  What difference could it really have made to that survival if the core zealots [Acts 10:40-41] claiming resurrection witness had been correct instead of merely self-deceived? Turkel is not a serious scholar of religion if he thinks that contagiousness of religious beliefs is an indicator of the truthfulness of those beliefs.
and bewildered the Jews (who expected a final resurrection of all men, but not the resurrection of a single person before the end of the age).
Indeed, and most Jews did not become Christians. (However, according to Turkel, Jewish "social networks" would have ensured that most Jews knew of and believed in Jesus' three resurrections of single persons during his ministry. If the Jews had already heard of these other resurrections on the 5 o'clock social-network news, then reports of Easter would hardly have been "bewildering".)

Factor 4: Novelty

H: That established religions have certain advantages over new ones is not a good argument that new religions must be true if they become established.

T: Uh, actually, in the ancient world, as we clearly explained, this was a good argument; if your religion had no lineage, it was religio non grata. Merely saying "nuh uh" isn't an answer.

Turkel here gives no answer to my obvious point: all religions ever established were new at some point, but at most one of them has been true.  I challenge Turkel to assert: that a religion gets established is a strong indication that the religion is true.
H: And yet Jesus affirmed even 'the smallest letter' [Mt 5:18] of the Old Testament.

T: this doesn't erase in the least the innovative aspects of Christianity (it sure would not impress the pagans,

Turkel again vacillates between arguing Jews wouldn't have liked it and pagans wouldn't have liked it -- and again doesn't meet his burden of proving that not enough people could have liked it.
H:  the gospels traced Jesus' lineage directly to Adam.

T: Uh, yeah, the Jews traced the lineage of ALL men back to Adam -- everyone from the basest thief to the highest-placed politician. And the point is?

No, it's not true that "everyone from the basest thief" could name every ancestor ( i.e. "trace") in a line going back to Adam -- through David, no less.
What had been handed down was 'presumed valid and normative. [..] We refer here to practice, not merely physical lineage.
I.e. any religion whose novel practice gets established must therefore be true.
T: The idea of sanctification, of an ultimate cleansing and perfecting of the world and each person, stood in opposition to the view that the past was the best of times, and things have gotten worse since then.
H: Christianity's 'ultimately' optimistic eschatology in no way diminishes either its belief that things have indeed 'gotten worse since' Eden, or its prophecies of increasing turmoil and tribulation before the end times.

T: Uhhh. Yeah...and how does this answer my point, again?

I'm not sure how I can make this any more simple for the hapless Turkel: the Christian view that things have indeed gotten worse does not "stand in opposition to the view" that things have gotten worse.
How things started is not at issue at all
LOL. "How things started" is obviously relevant to whether "things have gotten worse".
the optimistic eschatology didn't coincide with Roman perceptions that reality was on its way to hell in a handcart, and there wasn't anything turning it back. To claim to be able to "reverse the decay" would have been seen as supremely arrogant
Jesus never said he was going to reverse the negative trend or create some merely positive trend.  He prophesied that things would continue to get progressively worse until the (imminent, in-this-generation) end of times, and that salvation would then happen all at once.
H: The bottom line here is that if Christianity were completely novel, it would have been much less likely to win converts, and if it were more Jewish, it would have become just another sect of Judaism.

T: Our critic [..] seems to be framing this as a "gray area" proposition where parts could be novel, but if other parts were not novel, that would mitigate this factor. It doesn't. Any newness at all struck the gong.

Turkel commits the fallacy of the excluded middle and does not address my argument: if Jesus had not grounded himself in the matrix of Judaism, and instead had preached about a completely unheard-of deity, then Christianity would have had a far harder time becoming established.
I myself am starting to wonder, and am starting to think that he hired someone of lesser intellect to compose this refutation, which has been of decidedly lower par than the Trilemma engagement.
Turkel evidently realizes he is badly losing our Trilemma debate, and doesn't recognize the salient difference between that discussion and this: his "impossible faith" doublethink rests on an unfalsifiable worldview, in which evidence for the believability of Christianity is accepted at face value, while evidence against that believability is taken as confirmation of its founding miracles. That Christian apologists resort to such desperate arguments -- and even consider them to be their "major foundational, all-purpose, skeptic-smashing" argument -- is a strong indication that orthodox Christianity is dying as an intellectually defensible thesis.

Factor 5: Behavioral Prescriptions

it's not clear what this "granting permission to 'render unto Caesar'" is and what the Jews lacked in this respect. Rendered what to Caesar and how?
Turkel here seems oblivious to Mat 22:21 and its obvious implication that paying taxes to Caesar was considered religiously problematic by the Jews.
H: Christianity offered to pagans a release from polytheistic superstition that for its time was so tough-minded that Romans compared it to atheism.

T: I'd like to hear more about this factoid, which is contrary to our point, it seems, that it was Judaism and Christianity that were comparable to atheism, from the Roman view. [..] I'd like some direct, source-cited evidence for that "tough-minded" part. [..] Right now I'm beginning to wonder if our critic is just making this stuff up as he goes along.

The absent-minded Turkel forgets that his article already says "Jews and Christians alike were accused of atheism". The Romans indeed often charged early Christians with atheism, and Christian writers like Athenagoras [Plea, IV], Eusebius [Ecclesiastical History, Book 3, Ch 12], and Justin Martyr [First Apology, VI] wrote defenses against such charges. Dio Cassius [History LXVII, iv; cf. Suetonius Domitianus, XV and the article "Flavia Domitilla"] tells us that Domitian executed a Christian relative on the charge of atheism. The Catholic Encyclopedia says [] "Christians denied the existence of and therefore refused to worship the gods of the state pantheon. They were in consequence regarded as atheists."
it doesn't seem that the Romans/pagans, beyond a few intellectuals and Bacchans perhaps, regarded their polytheism as superstitious
The assessment of "superstitious" obviously would have been retrospective; nobody regards his own deeply-held beliefs as "superstitious".
H: Christianity's cosmopolitanism and orientation toward the meek made it well-positioned to spread beyond its origins among the Jews.

T: There's another fascinating factoid; what was so "cosmo" about Christianity, please, from a Jewish or Roman perspective?

Turkel's question about the Jewish perspective is obtuse, since my point was about spreading beyond the Jews. Christianity would have been cosmopolitan to the Romans in the sense that it was selling a single god not of Israel but of the entire universe, in contrast to the heavily-emphasized local affiliations of the Roman gods.
As for being meek, I think our critic needs another social lesson [Handbook of Biblical Social Values, 130-1]: "meekness" as defined in the NT means humility coupled with gentleness, by one who can readily obtain and use force
Turkel needs to learn to read in context. When I intend a connotation for a word other than its obvious English meaning, I say so. My point about orientation toward the meek/humble/lowly/modest/weak/poor remains unrebutted.
H: there are far more poor and meek potential converts than there are rich ones.

T: Darn, there's that "meek" again, what does it mean?

Turkel here lamely feigns ignorance rather than answer my obvious point. Next he'll say that the absence of dollars in ancient Palestine means he doesn't have to answer my point about the "rich".
And how do we explain that Christianity had more than its expected share of wealthy converts, then (end matter)?
Turkel cites no evidence supporting his "expected share" statement, and does not even try to address the issue here: that Christianity was wise to orient its teachings toward the poor instead of the rich.
And our critic forgets the proviso thereafter: "...but not if they couldn't spend that shared dough on their favorite vice-distraction (not all of which were known to be 'self-harming' and therefore offered an ulterior motivation for giving them up."
Turkel's "not all of which" fig leaf betrays his knowledge of the weakness of this argument. The other obvious rebuttal is that it's naive to think that a doctrine of sharing will automatically generate appreciable amounts of "shared dough". The primary product of such a sharing doctrine would be to give the envious poor a justification for resenting and condemning the non-sharing rich. (Few other incidents recounted in the New Testament are as disgusting as Peter's taunting prophecy [Acts 5:9] of imminent death for the Christian woman who shared some but not all of her proceeds from a property sale.)
H: The explanation is obvious: Yahweh-fearers were rare because the Yahweh meme, finding itself in danger of extinction, had been forced to restrict its target market to one small "chosen people".

T: The, er, "Yahweh meme"...and our critic wonders why we can't take him seriously.

I know exactly why Turkel dares not take my arguments seriously: they're better than his.
If I came out speaking of a "skeptical meme" that "finds itself in danger" and so is "forced" to "restrict itself" to a "target market" of one small "chosen people" (naturalists/scientists) I doubt if I would give a moment of credence.
Such a notion might be given credence -- if skepticism were a first-order belief instead of a second-order belief about beliefs, and if it had built into it an audience targeted by ethnicity.
When skeptics start hauling up this "meme" explanation, which is the equivalent to the ultra-fundamentalist "Satan moved my car keys to bug me" paradigm, we can be pretty sure that they have no actual answers and are struggling to validate their case by any means possible, no matter how ridiculous.
Thus Turkel simply makes no reply to my point that Judaism and Christianity had obvious differences in terms of how ethnically parochial their respective messages were, and how much mythological and doctrinal baggage they carried. Instead, all the serious scholar Turkel can do is lamely try to denigrate the undeniable fact that a belief can have features that make it more or less likely to be propagated from one believer to another.

Factor 6: Ancient Intolerance

H: On the contrary: "The Romans commonly granted the local gods of the conquered territory the same honors as the earlier gods who had been regarded as peculiar to the Roman state. In many instances the newly acquired deities were formally invited to take up their abode in new sanctuaries at Rome. Moreover, the growth of the city attracted foreigners, who were allowed to continue the worship of their own gods." []

T: this appeal to an online encyclopedia, which is another of those sources great from sixth-grade reports on penguins and chlorophyll.

Turkel here is obviously frustrated that his theses are so often contradicted by fundamental historical facts available in convenient reference texts.
My reference to Romans as "grossly intolerant" refers to their personal views (not views of the Roman state, viz. religions)
Turkel "backpedals furiously", but his article explicitly talks about "Roman imperial ideology" and says "there was no aspect of social life that was secular -- religion was intertwined with public life".
The Jews, and later the Christians, in contrast were exclusivists who insisted that Yahweh was still top dog even though Rome had beat the pants off of the Jews.
The scholar Turkel should know that by the time of Jesus, the Jews had for centuries already been explaining the various conquests of them as the deserved punishment for their infidelity.  (This feature of Judaism can readily be recognized as one of the reasons why that meme-complex fared so much better than most ancient pagan religions.)
H: That Christianity and Judaism were exclusivist indeed was a crucial reason why they weren't assimilated and eventually abandoned as all the Roman pagan religions were.

T: it doesn't affect in the least the crucial "formative" and early years

Sure it does: a non-exclusivist new religion might easily have disappeared through assimilation into the Roman pantheon.
Exclusivism in the context of a Roman world enamored of tolerance was a reason for no one to join it
"No one"?  Not one person out of millions?  Turkel here again fails to meet his burden of explaining why, contrary to the consensus of secular historians, Christianity would have been so unacceptable that it could not possibly have survived in Rome unless actual miracles (and not just belief in miracles) had happened decades earlier and many weeks' journey away (in Palestine).
(without vindicating evidence)
If the gospel evidence had truly existed, then all of Jerusalem should have converted.  Matthew says [2:3] "all Jerusalem" was "troubled" that the "king of the Jews" was heralded by the star of Bethlehem -- though thirty years later nobody in the gospels or Acts ever thought to cite the star as evidence! According to Matthew, all of Jerusalem would have witnessed the Good Friday miracles [27:45-53] : three-hour darkness, earthquake, and zombies seen by "many". Acts 4:16 says "everybody living in Jerusalem" was amazed by Peter's healing of the congenitally lame man.  And yet we know from Josephus -- and from the New Testament's own admissions of Christianity's proselytic failures among 1st-century Jews -- that the "evidence" was simply not considered "vindicating" by those most familiar with it.
explain how non-exclusivism contributed to the demise of Roman pagan religions.
One obvious explanation is that the ascendancy of any particular non-exclusivist pagan religion in Rome would not contribute much toward the demise of other such religions, whereas the ascendancy of the first exclusivist religion would have rapidly led to the demise of competing religions, whether exclusivist or not.
H: Indeed, and this is why Christianity ultimately had so much more success among gentiles.

T: Tell us, please: how we know there was more success, pro rata, among Gentiles

Christianity ultimately became the religion of the overwhelming majority of the Gentiles living in the Roman Empire.  It's clear from Josephus and even from Acts that most Jews did not convert to Christianity.

Factor 7: Falsifiable Historical Claims

H: If one's 'new and wild claims' are false, then it obviously helps to include whatever extraneous truths one can.

T: Is our critic conceding that the NT contains many "extraneous truths"?

The NT is obviously not 100% fiction.  As I already admit in my book, the basic historicity of the gospel accounts is supported by their mutual agreement and their inclusion of embarrassing and vivid details.
Indeed, is he willing to grant such claims as we signified -- appearances before officials? Burial in Joseph's tomb?
Historians have little reason to doubt Paul appeared before the officials that Acts says he did -- but they don't think Acts contains a transcript of the proceedings. As for Joseph of Arimathea, there may indeed have been a prominent person who arranged a (perhaps temporary) tomb for Jesus. But Joseph doesn't really help Turkel's thesis, since John 19:38 includes the disclaimer that Joseph was only "secretly" a Christian. Turkel doesn't explain how Joseph's secret faith would have been "highly vulnerable to inspection and disproof". On the other hand, if John is wrong about Joseph's faith being secret, then Turkel can't cite Joseph as a corroborating historical gospel claim (because John's audience did not hold it against him for being wrong about Joseph).
H: Turkel confuses Acts 11 with Acts 12

T: [don't you love how skeptics think pointing out typographical errors validates their case?]

I think no such thing. However, I note that in our Trilemma debate Turkel called it "amusing" when I once  inadvertently wrote "Rome's fall" instead of "Jerusalem's fall".
H: in which Luke makes the somewhat vague claim that after failing to 'give praise to God', Herod was 'immediately' 'struck down' by an 'angel of the Lord' and 'was eaten by worms and died'.

T: [vague? how?]

Does "immediately" mean seconds, hours, or days?  "Struck down" how? What did this "striking down" look like? How did anyone know it was done by an "angel of the lord"?
T: I refer to the "eaten by worms" part! Had this been false it would have been a claim of dishonor upon Herod, amounting to slander!
H: Turkel forgets that Luke/Acts does not identify its author, and that Luke was often away on missions anyway.

T: Oh, yes, it's that old "no author mentioned" game yet again, and our critic is still not able to refute our material on Gospel authorship.

There are obvious flaws in Turkel's essays on gospel authorship, and they fail to address the point by Carrier about anonymity that I cite in the Trilemma debate. Given the easily-rebutted nature of his other "material" that Turkel has invoked in our debates, his gospel authorship material is pretty far down on my list of things worth rebutting. For present purposes, it suffices to note that Turkel's essay contains zero evidence that Agrippa II a)  knew about Acts, b) cared about Acts, c) knew who the author of Acts was, or d) could find the author of Acts.
Had Luke reported falsely [and here I would say, not just on Herod, but on any one of the numerous things he reports that involved highly-accessible and visible public figures], Christianity would have been dismissed as a fraud and would not have 'caught on' as a religion.
If Christianity could survive Matthew "report[ing] falsely" about the Herodian massacre, the Star of Bethlehem, and the Good Friday zombies, then it could easily survive Luke putting his own spin on the real event of Herod's death. Christianity stood or fell on the fervor of its first-century evangelists, and no secular professional scholar of history would agree with Turkel's hyperbolic claim that "any one" false claim about a public figure would have aborted Christianity.
H: If claim #1 is trivially true, then it does not follow that the resurrection is more probable than if claim #1 were omitted altogether.

T: That is not the point. The point is that i[f] claim #1 is NOT trivially true, then it incites doubt as to whether the Resurrection is possible or probable AT ALL. Our critic is carelessly reading the argument in reverse and standing it on its head.

1. Whether reports about an event X contain falsehoods has no bearing on whether event X is "possible".
2. Turkel's essay is an attempt to show that the resurrection is more likely to be true than not. He makes no effort to rebut my assertion that including trivial truths does not increase the likelihood of the resurrection, and instead merely points out that mishandling trivial truths would have made the gospels seem marginally less truthful.
On the various phenomena surrounding the Crucifixion, appeal to made to the usual fallacious arguments about Seneca and Pliny not mentioning it (see here, as well as here, which is not in any way damaged by anything referenced by our critic.
On Thallus, Miller's essay makes highly unwarranted inferences. For example, he says "it clear that Thallus was attempting to account SPECIFICALLY for the darkness surrounding the crucifixion". All that is "clear" is that Julius Africanus was so trying to account. Thallus might merely have been saying that any darkness element in the Passion tradition had probably developed from a memory of some solar eclipse. Also, Miller tries to identify Thallus with someone mentioned by Josephus, apparently unaware of Carrier's demonstration that Josephus named no such person. Neither Miller nor Turkel address Carrier's essay at all, and Turkel's assertion of "not in any way damaged" is a blatant dodge.

On Seneca and Pliny, Turkel's excuse for them never mentioning the Good Friday darkness is that they weren't trying to be thorough and wouldn't have credited the report anyway. Turkel's feeble excuses can't change the fact that the darkness is never once mentioned outside of Christian rhetoric -- precisely as a naturalistic thesis would predict.

Despite Turkel's formulation about "the usual fallacious arguments", he in fact identifies no fallacies in them and offers no refutation. The skeptical arguments are indeed "usual" precisely because they are unrefuted. All that Turkel can do is concoct an excuse for the historical evidence, and hope nobody notices that the evidence is better explained without miracles than with.

Only Josephus' lack of mention might have any significance,
After digressing at length about Luke's essentially irrelevant mentions of extraneous historical events, Turkel simply waves away Josephus -- whose immensely detailed history covers precisely the time and place of Jesus' ministry and its aftermath. Josephus' silence is utterly devastating, and the scholar Turkel here makes no attempt whatsoever to explain it. 
but it does not at all counter our point that these were events that were public and would have been visible (if true) to millions of witnesses. Arguing that it is NOT mentioned by certain writers does not erase the problem that it was mentioned by writers whose claims were highly open to refutation, in spite of who else said anything or nothing about it.
Turkel steps on his own argument here. According to Turkel, there should have been "millions" of converts to Christianity in Palestine if the gospel claims of a Bethlehem star and Good Friday darkness and earthquake were true. Josephus records many details of various movements and their leaders, but Christians are effectively unmentioned.

The gospels were written decades after the alleged miracles in questions, and it's in fact unreasonable to expect that every gospel-hearer in Palestine, even the most gullible, would have been motivated or able to skeptically fact-check the gospel accounts of comets and eclipses and earthquakes.

Also, note that in the missions in Acts and in all of the NT epistles to the remote churches, the evangelists manage never to mention these astronomical and geological miracles -- the only gospel claims that remote audiences could hope to independently verify.

T: people falling out of a house speaking in tongues at Pentecost (another "millions attend" event)

H: only 60,000 to 125,000 pilgrims would have visited Jerusalem for Passover, so it's just ludicrous to talk about 'attendant crowds numbering in the millions' -- especially in the context of Pentecost.

T: That festival number comes from Jeremias' work in 1966, and is made contrary to claims by Josephus that Passover pilgrims numbered, in one instance, 2,700,000. We have seen very little work done to justify reducing these figures, other than "gosh, it couldn't be that big," which is no reason at all, and our critic is merely copying others uncritically. E. P. Sanders, a more modern writer, was willing to grant 300,000-500,000.
Turkel gives neither a quote nor a citation for Sanders, and certainly doesn't explain why Turkel's mention of Sanders (or of Josephus!) isn't "merely copying others uncritically".  Also, Turkel says nothing (and cites nobody) in defense of his ludicrous implication that "millions" could have "attended" the tongues-speaking at Pentecost.
T: our critic responds to the points about "healings of illnesses and dysfunctions, even reversals of death, in highly public places" by referral to his previously inadequate treatment of the miracles in the Trilemma piece, which we have now put to bed in more detail here.
If my treatment of healing miracles had indeed been "inadequate", Turkel wouldn't now be scrambling to throw new obfuscations at it. After two rounds of debate in which he mustered not a single fact or citation or substantive counterargument against my points about conversion disorders, Turkel now finally cracks his first book on the matter and pretends that doing so merely rebuts my argument "in more detail". LOL.  Since Turkel's piece on conversion disorders is based on the same flawed arguments that I've already rebutted in our Trilemma debate, I will address it in that context there.
[O]ur critic shows how little he pays attention, yet again: [..] The ride into Jerusalem was a blatant fulfillment of Zech. 9, a well-known Messianic prophecy, and what anyone "believed" about it is beside the point in this context. The point is that is was a visible and highly "obnoxious" attempt to draw attention, whether legitimate or not -- it was yet another of the very strong, highly disprovable claims of history [..]
I indeed did not fully appreciate how weak a point Turkel was trying to make. I do not doubt that on the brink of his well-anticipated execution, Jesus would have consciously tried to satisfy any such easily-fulfilled Messianic prophecy as a "ride into Jerusalem".  While the Undisproven Messianic Ride argument might be of infinitesimal use against Jesus ahistoricists, it adds no weight whatsoever to the thesis that the executed historical Jesus later rose from the dead.
If you are trying to promote false claims, you do not advertise related claims on the TV news in ways that invite investigation and scrutiny.
(Turkel loves to bleat the charge of "anachronism", but he should use his own example of it here to better train himself how to recognize it.)
H: That many non-gullible people recognize such disproof does not mean that a false religion like Christianity or Mormonism cannot grow by converting the gullible.

T: This does not answer any of our points; it merely assumes, yet again, that there must have been people gullible enough, because well, here we are! As we have already said: Skeptics will need to find a better excuse than, "They was just stupid"!

I of course have never said the ancients were "stupid" or any less intelligent than we moderns, but the desperate Turkel cannot answer my actual arguments, and so he repeatedly and feebly attributes this strawman to me.

Turkel makes no argument whatsoever that there could not have been enough gullible people for Christianity to arise. I do not "merely assume" that there were enough gullible people; it's a reasonable inference based on an understanding of the history of humanity's ignorance and misbeliefs, particularly in the ancient Near East. Turkel is making the positive claim that, in spite of that history, the rise of Christianity cannot be explained by gullibility.  Well, I just asserted that explanation. What is his argument to the contrary? None -- he merely argues by assertion that there could not have been enough gullible people. Turkel is trying to prove that his one religion is true, but is unwilling to demonstrate that it could not have been born of the very gullibility that is evidenced by all of the other dozens of religions that he says are false. (This helps confirm a growing suspicion that Turkel's style of stonewalling and obfuscating apologetics is not intended to persuade the open-minded, but rather to buttress the shaky faith of people who are already believers for non-rational reasons.)

They need to erase the effects of these factors (and they will not be able to) by some explanation other than stupidity and gullibility, for these are factors which substantially transcend any possibility that "jus' bein' stupid" or gullible was enough to result in belief.
"Stupidity" is of course a tired and obvious strawman that Turkel can't resist resorting to. I defy the Chicken Challenger to quote me anywhere as saying or implying that early Christians (or the ancients in general) were "stupid" as opposed to ignorant or gullible.

Factor 8: Martyrdom and Persecution

H: the only resurrection witnesses who the New Testament names (John 21:18,19, Acts 12:2) as martyrs, but there is no evidence that recanting their alleged belief in physical resurrection could have saved them. Indeed, there is no direct evidence that Peter and James even believed in a physical resurrection at all.

T: Well, we still have not solved that problem of there being no other kind of resurrection to believe in;

1. Turkel's essay doesn't discuss James' beliefs at all.

2. Its only cite of Peter only strengthens (thanks!) my case: "He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit" [1 Pet 3:18]. Turkel says that the second verb here was used elsewhere to describe resurrection, but he cites only two verses, one of which [1 Cor 15] skeptics argue is clearly in the context of a spiritual resurrection. Turkel's reasoning is circular, and he does not try to claim that the verb isn't used elsewhere in contexts other than physical resurrection. More importantly, Turkel ignores Peter's "in the body" qualification -- if "made alive" means that Jesus' corpse was reanimated, then the "in the body" qualification serves no purpose.

3. Turkel ignores my point that "there is no evidence that recanting their alleged belief in physical resurrection could have saved them".

4. The gospels themselves give precedent for the idea of a dead person being “raised from the dead” [Mk 16:14] by inhabiting the body of some other person currently living. When some [Mk 6:14, Mk 8:28, Mt 16:14, Lk 9:19] -- including Herod [Mk 6:16, Mt 14:2] -- thought  that John the Baptist had been "raised from the dead", at least a few of these people would have known that Jesus' body had (like the Easter gardener's) been animate before the Baptist's death. There is no record that anyone ever considered checking the Baptist's body (the grave of which was known his disciples [Mk 6:29, Mt 14:13]), and there is no record that anyone wondered why Jesus' neck did not show signs of John's earlier beheading.

and at any rate, we're talking about more than just resurrection witnesses but believing the Resurrection and Christianity at all in light of multiplied social factors, which is the focus of the point at hand.
Thus Turkel abandons outright the standard martyrdom apologetic, and trades it in for a watered-down point about the unlikelihood of belief.
H: Many false religions (such as Mormonism) have thrived despite persecution, no doubt partly because persecution can easily make believers even more cohesive and zealous.

T: Since he only chose Mormonism, we note in reply that we specifically made a comparison with Mormonism in one of the accompanying essays, which was not commented upon by our critic at all -- the analogy is not relevant, as we show.

Does Turkel claim that Mormonism is the only "false religion" that has thrived despite persecution? Turkel here simply ignores all other such religions, and he of course fails to "show" that the Mormonism analogy is not relevant. He admits:
Joseph Smith was Mormonism's martyr par excellence, but far from the only one, and persecution was inflicted upon the Saints in every place they ventured. Mormons were shot at, killed, beaten, and hounded from place to place. Officials called for their removal or extermination. Armies pursued them even to Utah. Their homes were burned and their innocents murdered.
Turkel's only argument for "irrelevance" is that the Mormons were able to abandon their communities and flee for many months' journey into the frontier. Ironically, fleeing such a distance is what makes Mormonism perfectly relevant to Turkel's claim that "it is quite unlikely that anyone would have gone the distance for the Christian faith at any time -- unless it had something tangible behind it."  He mentions the catacombs but otherwise ignores the fact that Christians in the Roman Empire were dispersed and usually secretive, whereas Mormons generally lived in an obvious grouping.
What is at issue is not intangibles like eternal punishment and reward, but the very tangible claim of the Resurrection and of God acting in history through Jesus and his Apostles, and thus, the failure to "desolidify" the Resurrection also causes our critic's reply to fail.
If anyone can explain to me how this sentence can be interpreted as demonstrating that the martyrs or persecution of Christianity were significantly different than those of other false religions, I would appreciate it.

Factor 9: Divine Physicality

T:  Earl Doherty [writes] "To believe that ordinary Jews were willing to bestow on any human man, no matter how impressive, all the titles of divinity and full identification with the ancient God of Abraham is simply inconceivable."

H: It was indeed unlikely that all Jews would consider a human like Jesus to be divine, and most Jews of course did not. But it is eminently 'conceivable' that some fraction of Jews and Gentiles would believe the gospels.

T: It is not in the least conceivable, and merely asserting that it is conceivable does not make it so!

Merely quoting Doherty does not establish the inconceivability of a small fraction of Jews later considering Jesus to be divine. Also, as I point out here, the New Testament did not at all ascribe to Jesus "all the titles of divinity and full identification with the ancient God of Abraham".

Factor 10: Group Orientation

H: The inclusiveness of Paul's Christianity would indeed have prevented it from completely converting any single ethnic or religious group, but this inclusiveness was quite well-suited for a missionary religion trying to establish itself throughout the Roman Empire.

T: What! Our critic skips over entirely the very key point: "Malina and Neyrey note that in the ancient world, people took their major identity from the various groups to which they belonged. Whatever group(s) they were embedded in determined their idenitity [sic]. Changes in persons (such as Paul's conversion) were abnormal. Each person had certain role expectations they were expected to fulfill." We are showing, here and in what followed, that "inclusiveness" was the very offense that made Christianity impossible to swallow!  This does not answer the argument; it merely restates the matter as though the ancient world was itself like the modern one, and open to social inclusivism!

Does Turkel claim that today people do not "take their major identity from the various groups to which they belong"? Nothing in the vague generalization attributed (without quotation) to Malina and Neyrey warrants a conclusion that Christianity was "impossible to swallow".  Turkel's argument is a non sequitur, and he of course cannot quote any peer-reviewed mainstream scholarship directly saying that the sociology of early Christianity can only be explained by the gospels being true.
H: Turkel is mistaken if he thinks there are no practical benefits in having a hope of eternal reward, a sense of identity, an excuse for self-righteousness, a deliverance from doubts, an exemption from critical thinking, etc.

T: as for those things: as we noted, the mystery religions [also] provided eternal reward and deliverance from doubts;  their "ingroup" [also] provided a sense of identity

Yet another refutation of Turkel's assertion that Christianity "had every possible disadvantage as a faith."
without any of the social shortcomings we have listed.
Merely hand-waving toward other alleged (and already answered) "social shortcomings" does not negate my point.  I defy Turkel to assert: "there are no practical benefits in having a hope of eternal reward, a sense of identity, an excuse for self-righteousness, a deliverance from doubts, an exemption from critical thinking, etc."
T: We are talking here about material (i.e.,. tangible) benefits; this is what the reference to "practical terms" is made with, and the things listed do not at all alleviate slavery or poverty.
Becoming Christian of course could not magically end a person's condition of slavery (an institution that Jesus failed to condemn), but neither could converting to any other religion. As for poverty, early Christianity was explicitly communitarian, and so the poorest could expect to materially and tangibly benefit -- especially since the consequence of not sharing enough was sometimes death [Acts 5:9].
And we challenge our critic to show that any putative ancient convert sought out Christainity [sic], or any faith, looking for an "excuse for self-righteousness" [the ancients, as collectivists, were little concerned with "self-" anything!] or "exemption from critical thinking"!
I did not say that any ancient convert was consciously seeking these things.  Is Turkel so unschooled in psychology as to think that everyone always knows why they believe what they believe? I merely said that Christianity provided these benefits, and that by providing them Christianity avoided two more of the "all possible disadvantages" that Turkel hyperbolically claims Christianity faced.
This is merely a prejudicial and snide skeptical remark aimed from the barrel of our critic's personal complaints against modern Christians!)
Peter's behavior in Acts 5:9 showed that self-righteousness got an early start in the Jesus movement. Similarly, human rationality is thoroughly denigrated by Paul in Christianity's earliest writings:
Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel--not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. [..] For it is written:  "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;  the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate." Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? [..] Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom [..] Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; [..] But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise [1 Cor 1]

I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. [..] message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power. [..] This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment [1 Cor 2]

If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. [1 Cor 3]

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. [Col 2:8]

If the New Testament ever had a kind word for human rationality, I challenge Turkel to cite it.
H: Turkel is oblivious to the possibility that the dogmas and rituals and cohesiveness of the Christian community could be a perfectly adequate substitute for what he admits was for Jews a workable "defense mechanism" against the scorn of others.

T: A substitute, yes -- obviously! Adequate? That's that ananchronist speaking again! The central importance of kinship in this society meant that family and family connections were paramount! Being cut off from your family was a high price to pay, even as you entered a new community -- a price that would never be paid without confirmation that it was worth being paid in the first place!  Our critic does not answer the argument

"Would never be paid without confirmation" is not an argument, it's an assertion -- one that is obviously false to anyone even vaguely familiar with the phenomenon of religious belief among Homo sapiens. Again: if becoming Christian does not mean doing without a group identity, then the need for group identity is simply not a disadvantage that Christianity can be said to have overcome.
but merely frames the matter once again in modern, individualistic terms as though loss of family ties were something that could be easily and readily accepted!
Strawman. "Easily and readily" are Turkel's words, not mine.
The issue here is not need for a group identity, but losing the most familiar and by far most valuable group identity.
Joining a cult like early Christianity was indeed rare. But it's laughable to argue that people joining a cult constitutes significant evidence for the truth of the cult's claims.
H: Turkel here is simply confused by the tension between designing a religious sect for maximal conversion of some pre-existing group, and designing a cult to cherry-pick the disaffected and marginalized from a broad range of groups.

T: And what is this supposed to mean?!? There is no "cherry-picking" of "the disaffected and marginalized" in view;

Turkel confesses his non-comprehension of my point, and closes his eyes to the obvious fact that Paul's Christianity was tailored to appeal to the disaffected and marginalized of a broad range of groups. I challenge Turkel to assert the negation of this fact.
the point is that conversion meant you would become disaffected and marginalized, when you were not before, or more so than you were before! You would be perfectly acceptable in this society if you recognized and stayed in your place. Christianity shattered the boundaries, blurred the distinctions, and said that your identity was of no importance at all in terms of salvation in Christ.
Paul's genius was indeed to universalize Jesus' Jewish ministry, but that universality hardly constitutes evidence Jesus was resurrected.
This is now the second time our critic has turned one of our arguments upside-down and misconstrued it!
In both instances, Turkel made a trivial observation -- some gospel details are true, and joining a new religion is socially risky -- and tried to parlay it into significant evidence for the historicity of the Resurrection. I merely pointed out that Turkel's observations can't bear the load he puts on them, and Turkel responds by accusing me  of misconstruing his arguments.
T: Moreover, a person like Jesus could not have kept a ministry going unless those around him supported him. A merely human Jesus could not have met this demand and must have provided convincing proofs of his power and authority to maintain a following

H: Merely human religious leaders attract and keep followers all the time, and there is no reason why a human Jesus would have necessarily been an exception.

T: That's it! Yet another "nuh uh" and a completely unsubstantiated, generalized answer.

I gave four specific explanatory factors (see below), each of which Turkel himself responds to with a "nuh uh".
To even come close we need to find such religious leaders in a collectivist society -- then make a detailed comparison in terms of demand for belief ratio. As it is our critic can do no better than try to apply positive "spin" yet again:
It's amusing to review how much freight Turkel has piled upon the insight that ancient society was "group-oriented" and "collectivist". At a minimum, Turkel has claimed that Now Turkel claims that Jesus' group-oriented followers could not have remained as such unless Jesus had provided supernatural "proofs of his power and authority". (Turkel's "proofs" must be supernatural, or else his point is consistent with my case and irrelevant to his.)  "Group orientation" and "collectivism" are just buzzwords that Turkel chants without ever quoting a mainstream scholar asserting any one of the above claims. Indeed, the closest he's come is to quote "Malina and  Neyrey" that Jesus would have needed a group to reinforce his delusion -- a point with which I concur.

It's also interesting to note that even the gospels admit that these "convincing proofs" were often not very convincing: Mt 11:20, Lk 10:13, Jn 6:66, 10:32, 12:37, 15:24.

H: Jesus' combination of charisma, appealing teachings, faith-healing, and exploitation of Jewish mythology can easily be seen as a non-divine explanation for why he attracted converts and why they in turn were able to recruit successive cohorts of converts.

T: Charisma? What charisma? Where is this to be found?

People who attract followers tend to be charismatic. Turkel here offers no argument against the charisma part of my explanation.
Appealing teachings? Which ones, and how "appealing" in comparison to the radical and offensive teachings?
To deny my explanation, Turkel must assert that nobody would have found Jesus' teachings on the whole appealing.  Does Turkel dare assert this?
"Faith-healing"? Only if the healings actually worked, and we have been through that mill before with our critic failing to make the grade (see link above).
My argument stands unrefuted: The three people Jesus allegedly reanimates [Mk 5/Lk 8; Lk 7; Jn 11] might not actually have been clinically dead, and the gospels report not a single indication supporting such a diagnosis. Any cases of blindness, paralysis, or demonic possession cured by Jesus could have been psychogenic. The one case of congenital blindness is recorded as disputed, and only in the latest gospel [Jn 9].
"Exploitation of Jewish mythology...?" May we have some specifics, or is this merely "hot air" to impress the skeptical masses? Let's have some examples of such exploitation,
If the scholar Turkel is not familiar with the reliance of Jesus' ministry on Jewish doctrines, then he should research a concept called 'Messiah'.
and an explanation as to how this "exploitation" could have garnered converts in ways that subsumed the negative aspects we have listed.
Turkel's "negative aspects" have been rebutted point by point.  What is absent is a convincing demonstration by Turkel that the Jesus movement could not have attracted any converts unless it had a "certain, trustworthy, and undeniable witness" to the physical resurrection of Jesus or indeed to anything divine about him.  My point remains: Jesus' combination of charisma, appealing teachings, faith-healing, and exploitation of Jewish mythology can easily be seen as a non-divine explanation for why he attracted converts and why they in turn were able to recruit successive cohorts of converts.
H: Believers in apocalyptic cults often remain faithful even in the face of undeniable failures (e.g. of apocalyptic prophecy). This of course applies directly to Christianity, since (as I demonstrate in our Trilemma debate) Jesus' clear Olivet prophecy [Mk 13:26-30] of an imminent return went blatantly unfulfilled.

T: Our critic demonstrated nothing whatsoever on the Olivet Discourse in the Trilemma debate; his answers to our material on that subject amounted to little more than variations on the comment, "That's ludicrous!"

Turkel does not dare deny that believers in apocalyptic cults often remain faithful even in the face of undeniable failures. In our Trilemma debate, Turkel made no specific reply to my May 2002 assertion that
none of Holding's obfuscations can make it plausible that some preaching in Rome and the destruction of the Temple makes the Olivet prophecy true.
Indeed, Turkel's reply didn't even dare quote (let alone answer) my point that
The the city of Rome is not the same thing as the "whole world", and being in "heaven" is not the same thing as "appear[ing] in the sky" and being "see[n as] coming on the clouds of the sky". The prophesied things plainly didn't happen during "this generation", and the prophecy is plainly false.
Turkel's characterization of my position -- "little more than.." -- is a transparent attempt to cover up his inability to answer my arguments.

Factor 11: Female Witnesses

Here our critic entirely dodges the question of women being regarded as unreliable witnesses,
Flatly false. I explicitly acknowledged Turkel's point about the first empty-tomb witnesses: "The gospel myths were not even concocted competently enough to agree on whether the women saw Jesus (yes in Matthew, no in Luke), so it's not surprising that those traditions fail to give these witnesses an optimally credible resume in terms of gender." The only "dodge" here is Turkel not daring to quote (let alone answer) my point here about the inconsistency in what the women "witnessed".

Since Christianity was aimed at the marginalized and disaffected (at first among Jews, then universally after Jesus' humiliating failure), it's not too surprising that women are more prominent in the gospels than cultural norms would otherwise have suggested.

Turkel waves away Paul's omission of women witnesses in 1 Cor 15, saying the passage is about "the church's leadership".  Turkel's excuse is specious, since Paul cites an appearance (unmentioned in the gospels or Acts) "to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time", but omits the crucial witness Mary Magdalene. In contrast to these 500 anonymous "leaders", Mary Magdalene was (as I've written elsewhere)

a longtime disciple [Lk 8:2] "out of whom [Jesus] had driven seven demons" [Mk 16:9, Lk 8:2] and who (unlike any apostle) attended both the crucifixion and entombment. She was the first to visit the tomb on Easter [Mt 28:1, Jn 20:1], and the possibility of removal [Jn 20:2,14,15] was not unimaginable to her. She weepingly lingered [Jn 20:11] after the apostles left the empty tomb, and thereupon was the first [Mk 16:9, Mt 28:9, Jn 20:14] to claim seeing an appearance.  Her claim was initially "not believe[d] [by the apostles] because [the women's] words seemed to them like idle tales" [Lk 24:11]. After the apostles start having the visions too, she is expunged from Paul's list [1 Cor 15] of appearances, and indeed not mentioned again in all of Acts or anywhere else in the New Testament. (In the apocryphal Gospel of Mary, Peter tells her "we know that the Savior loved you more than any other woman. Tell us the words of the Savior that you know but which we haven't heard." She answers "I saw the Lord in a vision" and relates the conversation she had with him.)
Thus it may be the case that Christianity indeed relied entirely too much on the highly suspect witness of one particular woman: Mary Magdalene.
and diverts attention instead to the issue of alleged disagreement among Gospel accounts
Turkel doesn't dare quote, let alone answer, my point that the gender of the Easter witnesses is hardly the biggest problem with the Easter evidence that Christianity had to overcome:
The gospel myths were not even concocted competently enough to agree on whether the women saw Jesus (yes in Matthew, no in Luke), so it's not surprising that those traditions fail to give these witnesses an optimally credible resume in terms of gender.  It's amusing that Turkel picks this one little subtlety as a gospel weakness overcome by Christianity, and yet ignores much more serious inconsistencies [..]
Turkel could ostensibly strengthen his argument by asking why a religion would handicap itself with such glaring inconsistencies.  He wisely chooses not to, because it would then be obvious that Christianity's success was built on the gullibility of its particular converts, and not on its ability to overcome the doubts of the average skeptic.
Turkel continues:
(which was brought up in the Trilemma debate, and to which we gave link-answers which he did nothing about other than call them names, for he has no answer to them otherwise) and alleged errors (such as the eschatology issue noted above). We have in fact dealt with all of these issues, as our critic well knows, and he has not an answer in reply, and therefore has a great deal of nerve telling his readers that we "wisely" choose not to deal with them!
1. I have answered every substantive defense offered by Turkel for the inconsistencies I identify, as is plain to anyone (i.e. not Turkel's readers) who has access to the full unedited text of both sides of the debate.

2. Turkel completely misses the point here, which is not that he thinks (wrongly) that he can answer the infamous inconsistencies.  The point is rather that these prima facie inconsistencies would have been a bigger disadvantage for the gospel stories to overcome than the peripheral issue of the gender of a few minor Easter witnesses. Turkel pretends to exhaustively enumerate the disadvantages Christianity overcame, but the gospel stories' inconsistencies are glaringly absent from his list. Turkel senses that a comprehensive catalog of the evidentiary weakness of Christianity would stop belief in it like a brick wall, and so he instead he discusses a list of minor speedbumps.

Factor 12: Galilean Evangelists

T: Only Paul may have avoided this ["bumpkin"] stigma among the apostolic band

H: Paul is the reason why Christianity is a global religion instead of a Jewish sect.

T: That's actually a vast overstatement.

It's actually just a statement of the standard scholarly evaluation of Paul's role in early Christianity.
T: Paul did not found the three largest churches (Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem) and only founded a few of the smaller ones,
Paul is of course generally credited with having universalized the movement beyond the Jewish ministry of Jesus and the Jerusalem leaders.

Factor 13: Group Oriented Fact-Checking

T: and he nevertheless had to depend on the witness of "bumpkins" for practically all of his information about the historical Jesus, as well as confess his ties to a 97% bumpkin-owned-and-operated movement. His advantage on this count was far from enough to explain global growth, much less any growth at all in the Roman Empire, without vindicating evidence.
Paul's ministry took place many days' journey from where the gospel events happened, and many years later. Acts and the Pauline letters never mention the remote missions invoking any knowledge spread through "social networks" as "vindicating evidence". Acts instead often mentions alleged new miracles as evidence, but Turkel apparently is too embarrassed to cite those local and contemporary miracles as "evidence" that "vindicates" Christianity.
Sure enough: Paul would not get the response, "A bumpkin! Beat it!" The reply to Paul would be, "Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad." (Acts 26:24)
Here we have a rare treat in Turkel's debates with me: an actual cite from the New Testament. This cite, however, does not tell us what kind of "vindicating evidence" was wielded in the Apostles' ministry. Thus, contrary to Turkel's claims about "social networks" supplying "vindicating evidence" about the Resurrection, there is not a single instance in all of Acts in which any missionary of Jesus cites a knowledge of Jesus' resurrection among anyone other than Jesus' original followers. Indeed, there is no evidence in Acts of "social networks" ever being cited to or by an audience to check a claim of a remote supernatural event. Turkel's "social networks" are just like his claims about "group orientation": irrelevant invocations of vague scholarly conclusions, devoid of any scholarly citations supporting the particular claims that he freights them with. Turkel does not cite a single instance of peer-reviewed secular scholarship that asserts any of the particular conclusions he derives from his "social data".
T: Christianity held none of the power cards. It was not endorsed by the "power structure" of the day, neither Roman nor Jewish. It could have been crushed merely by authority if necessary. Why wasn't it?

H: Religions die from within, not from without. Religions are easy to suppress, but almost impossible to exterminate.

T: This is yet another vague social factoid from our critic, who has no wherewithal to provide the necessary sociological analysis and so can offer nothing but this vague generalization,

Turkel generalized that Christianity "could have been crushed merely by authority". I countered his bald assertion with my own counter-assertion. In the absence of any "sociological analysis" by Turkel showing that Christianity could have been exterminated, I leave it to our readers to evaluate our competing assertions.
T:  with no specifics showing that (especially within this context) it would have been "impossible to exterminate" Christianity (or force it to conform).
What "context"? Turkel's scholarly assertion about "power cards"? Turkel can type words like "context" and "sociological" all he wants, but it won't fool anyone into thinking his three sentences about "power cards" constitutes a demonstration that the suppression Christianity received was so inexplicably ineffective as to constitute evidence for Christianity's supernatural claims.
T: I do wish I could get as much credence with statements like, "Skeptics are all running from God," or, "Skeptics have guilt complexes," or, "Skepticism appeals to those who rebel against authority."
Statement 1 assumes the existence of the entity in dispute, and is ludicrously categorical. Statement 2 is contrary to common experience, but statement 3 is arguably true. If Turkel dares to discuss the personal psychology of (un)belief, I invite him to compare for us his personal story with mine and these others.
T: In a society where nothing escaped notice, there was indeed every reason to suppose that people hearing the Gospel message would check against the facts

H: There is little evidence that much checking against the facts ever took place, or that any such checking didn't always produce disconfirmation of the gospel accounts.

T: Once again our critic delivers a rounding chorus of "nuh uhs" entirely ignoring the highly relevant social data about the constant vigilance of a group-oriented culture.  The group-oriented vigilance provides all the evidence that is needed that the facts were checked, that the persons presenting the message were checked, and that this did not produce disconfirmation. Our critic is oblivious to the relevance of the social data which he chooses not to address, for it is beyond his means and ability to address, and destroys his counter-argument.

What are Turkel's "highly relevant social data"?  Let us review:
Malina and Neyrey note that "in group-oriented cultures such as the ancient Mediterranean, we must remember that people continually mind each other's business."  [..] Neighbors exerted "constant vigilance" [quote unsourced] over others [..]
A hollow generalization, providing zero evidence that anyone checked the Gospel message against the facts and found it vindicated.
Pilch and Malina [115] add that strangers were viewed in the ancient world as posing a threat to the community, because "they are potentially anything one cares to imagine...Hence, they must be checked over both as to how they might fit in and as to whether they will subscribe to the community's norms." Missionaries would find their virtues tested at every new stopping point!
Another generalization, that simply does not support Turkel's breathless exclamation that Gospel fact-checking must have occurred. Try as he might, Turkel simply cannot put between quotation marks any words of Malina's that actually assert Turkel's particular conclusions.
"[T]he Pharisees seems [sic] to mind Jesus' business all the time," [183]
Monitoring a trouble-maker is simply not the same as fact-checking a report of past supernatural events.
Philo notes that there were "thousands" who kept their eyes on others in their zeal to ensure that others did not subvert the Jewish ancestral institutions -- Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 379
Again, not an instance of fact-checking a report of past supernatural events.
The empty tomb would be checked. Matthew's story of resurrected saints would be checked out. Lazarus would be sought out for questioning.
This wishful thinking by Turkel is contradicted by the NT itself. When some [Mk 6:14, Mk 8:28, Mt 16:14, Lk 9:19] -- including Herod [Mk 6:16, Mt 14:2] -- thought  that John the Baptist had "risen from the dead", there is no record that anyone ever considered checking the Baptist's body (the grave of which was known his disciples [Mk 6:29, Mt 14:13]).  Indeed, Turkel does not dare let his readers see my point that "the only recorded [fact-checking] is disconfirming: the gospel admission that there was a widespread belief that a secret removal explained the empty tomb."

Thus Turkel's "highly relevant social data" contains not a single NT instance of fact-checking a remote supernatural claim, and not a single quote from a scholar saying such fact-checking would have been expected. By contrast, I've above cited fifteen different NT instances in which such fact-checking is glaringly absent, and I've pointed out that the NT's single recorded instance of such fact-checking actually supports my thesis. Despite all this, Turkel exclaims (in italics) that he has "all the evidence that is needed". Turkel's hand-waving about "social data" has now clearly degenerated into pathetic self-parody.

There is no "mistake" of "assuming" that "if anyone could have had good reason not to believe the gospels, then nobody would have been gullible enough to believe them" -- it does not even get to the level where there would have been enough vagueness of doubt to the point where anyone the least bit gullible would have been affected!
Turkel cannot even muster an answer to my point that not every recipient of the gospel message would have been equal in their gullibility and their potential reasons to believe or not believe.  Instead, he baldly and ludicrously says that no hearer could have doubted the gospel claims -- even though Josephus makes no mention of any widespread adoption of these indubitable and fact-checked claims, and even though the gospels themselves repeatedly admit [Mt 11:20, Lk 10:13, Jn 6:66, 10:32, 12:37, 15:24] that eyewitnesses to so-called miracles sometimes remained unconvinced.
Again: Just begging the question by saying, "They obviously must have been that stupid and gullible, because here we are," is not an answer, but is merely skeptical chauvanism [sic].
This point by Turkel is as weak here as it was above, so I'll merely repeat:

I of course have never said the ancients were "stupid" or any less intelligent than we moderns, but the desperate Turkel cannot answer my actual arguments, and so he repeatedly and feebly attributes this strawman to me.

Turkel makes no argument whatsoever that there could not have been enough gullible people for Christianity to arise. I do not "merely assume" that there were enough gullible people; it's a reasonable inference based on an understanding of the history of humanity's ignorance and misbeliefs, particularly in the ancient Near East. Turkel is making the positive claim that, in spite of that history, the rise of Christianity cannot be explained by gullibility.  Well, I just asserted that explanation. What is his argument to the contrary? None -- he merely argues by assertion that there could not have been enough gullible people. Turkel is trying to prove that his one religion is true, but is unwilling to demonstrate that it could not have been born of the very gullibility that is evidenced by all of the other dozens of religions that he says are false. (This helps confirm a growing suspicion that Turkel's style of stonewalling and obfuscating apologetics is not intended to persuade the open-minded, but rather to buttress the shaky faith of people who are already believers for non-rational reasons.)

H: [Holding] also mistakenly assumes that everyone within the reach of the gospel message would have had similar access to independent evidence about the gospel events. In fact, Christianity was generally more successful the farther one got (in space and time) from the Easter events.

T: There is no mistake in assumption here, either.

Oh?  Then Turkel must have some actual data that makes his assertions qualify as conclusions instead of assumptions.  Let's see how he sources his assertions:
Early converts and potential converts did have the same level of access to the evidence as anyone else could practically have, [1] the same ability to track down and question witnesses, [2] to check things like the empty tomb, Matthew's saints, and Lazarus. Jewish pilgrims (whether we say hundreds of thousands, or millions) travelled [sic] regularly to Jerusalem for festivals and had [3] the means and the time to confirm (or if they desired, disconfirm) the truth claims. Wealthy Gentile converts (again, as noted in end matter, who represented [4] an unusual number of the converts, out of proportion with the rest of the society) had [5] the means and the motive to get the access and pursue the issues, or to send someone to do so. Nor in fact did everyone need to have such access -- only enough credible witnesses with the means and the motives to make the check.
Aside from the disputed numbers on Jewish pilgrims, all we have here are five unsubstantiated and unsourced  assumptions by Turkel about what the ancients must have thought and must have done. By contrast, I've above shown with fifteen separate cites that Turkel's omnipresent and ubiquitous fact-checking of remote supernatural claims is in fact absent in the NT -- except for a 16th case about a widespread belief that the Empty Tomb story had been fact-checked and found fraudulent.
In fact, the evidence of converts from the Roman middle/upper class indicates that these key early converts were people who set out to disprove the faith, out of normal social concern for control of deviant groups -- and failed.
Turkel of course cannot cite a single instance in which anyone in the first century set out to fact-check the gospel stories and found them vindicated. No such instance exists.
H: Humans routinely hold beliefs -- especially religious ones -- that their neighbors think are unjustified.

T: This is yet another non-answer, as we are not dealing merely with "humans" but with humans in an agonistic culture who controlled deviant behavior via social censure. Our critic is again describing a modern condition as though it applied in the ancient world, and as though the neighbors were like those in America today who would perhaps mock a bit, but who would still invite the weirdo over for a BBQ as long as he wasn't doing something illegal.

Turkel can fantasize all he wants that this sophomoric strawman argument is mine, but that won't make it so. Turkel is simply ignorant if he thinks that there were not bitter and fractious disputes in the ancient world over religion, and that these disputes were often among people living in the close proximity.
H: If three out of four gospels did not report the widespread secret-removal story, how many other counter-explanations were in circulation that four out of four gospels omitted?

T: One may as well take the omission to mean that at the time Matthew wrote, the counter-explanation was dying for lack of evidence, and when and where Luke and Mark and John wrote, it had been thoroughly discredited and was no longer held seriously enough to rebut.

Turkel's wishful thinking is transparent to anyone familiar with how NT scholarship characterizes the audiences of the various gospels.  Matthew is the gospel that is most aimed at a Jewish audience, and so it is the one gospel that can't be expected to ignore the Empty Tomb counter-explanation that it admits "has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day."

Factor 14: Jesus' Fallibility

T: [Scholars of all persuasions have long recognized the "criteria of embarrassment" as a marker for authentic words of Jesus. Places where Jesus claims to be ignorant (not knowing the day or hour of his return; not knowing who touched him in the crowd) or shows weakness are taken as honest recollections and authentic (even where miracles stories often are not!).]
H: Is [Holding]'s astonishment here feigned, or does he really not grasp the difference in believability between a man being reported as not omniscient and a man being reported as causing miracles?

T: There's that non-answer paradigm again.

It seems that Turkel's word-of-the-day calendar is stuck on May 4 1973: 'paradigm'.  (Has Turkel even read the landmark work of philosophy that made that term so trendy?  Can Turkel even name the work I'm referring to?)
T: I'm not making any comparison here between levels of believability; I am highlighting what would be seen as an obvious, honking big inconsistency: If Jesus were deity incarnate, he shouldn't be ignorant of anything; [..]
It eludes Turkel's grasp that my comment was in response to his earlier parenthetical remark, which he omitted in his current response and which I restore in brackets above.
Our critic is confused about what we are actually arguing again,
Hardly. Turkel himself admitted that this point "is a lesser cousin of the crucifixion factor above", which I already pointed out could be sold to a gullible minority as some allegedly divine plan. Turkel makes no substantive response at all to my comparison of the implausibility of Jesus' ignorance with the implausibility of Christianity's divine works, concerns, decisions, and policies:
and not surprisingly, collapses into an apoplexy of begged questions in which it is suposedly [sic] problematic that the Gospels confirm what he regards (with no proof beyond argument by outrage) as embarrassing beliefs in the events of the OT ("...El/Yahweh: his pedestrian works, parochial concerns, petty decisions, and primitive policies," and I suppose many other things beginning with P.)
All Turkel can muster here are stock dismissals ("begged questions", "argument by outrage") in response to my four-paragraph indictment of El/Yahweh's biblical record -- an indictment containing 41 separate particulars making that record implausible. Turkel baldly admits that he is "not making any comparison here between levels of believability", and by omitting my indictment ensures that his readers will not make that comparison either.
In other words, it's the same prejudicial commentary our critic could not defend in the Trilemma series, and which we refuted, with him refusing to provide any answer other than to claim victory even as he lay senseless on the canvas.
Turkel's impotent bluster here is proportional to the quantitatively-documented extent to which he is losing our Trilemma debate.

Factor 15: Miscellaneous Dishonor

Despite the many new details, our critic merely dismisses this as a "rehash" of Factor 1, which at any rate he has still failed to overcme [sic].
Turkel's "many new details" are just three "dishonors" -- Jesus' conviction, his pre-execution mocking, and his paucity of burial mourners -- that of course are minor compared to factor #1: Jesus' actual execution as a failed and blasphemous prophet. I've already explained how Jesus' climactic failure might have been interpreted otherwise by his most fervent and gullible admirers.  But if Turkel is foolish enough to bring up the pre-execution mocking, it provides a fine opportunity to note that in the Passion Jesus was mocked as a purported prophet, healer, king of the Jews, Messiah, and "Son of God" -- but never once for being actually divine or actually God.

Factor 16: "Miscellaneous Contrarium"

We provided a nice long list here, and our critic deals with none of these points in detail, only muttering the non-answer, "...these contraria are just variations on the theme that the Jesus movement was different from Judaism."
Turkel dares not quote me 1) quoting him admitting that "Some of these will to some extent overlap with factors above", or 2) specifically saying they overlap with #4 Novelty and #10 Group Orientation. Turkel does not even attempt to answer my diagnosis of overlap and irrelevant variation.

"Every Possible Disadvantage"

T: Christianity, as we can see, had every possible disadvantage as a faith

H: Obviously false. There are many possible disadvantages that Christianity lacked.

T: Then our critic engages a game of trying to list off possible greater "disadvantages" -- which doesn't circumvent our argument in the least!

Note that Turkel does not dispute my diagnosis of his ludicrous "every possible disadvantage" claim. Turkel's false claim here is indeed logically independent of his false thesis in general -- which is why I independently demonstrate the falseness of each.
H: It could have been founded by a woman, slave, or child.

T:  None of whom would have gotten even an initial hearing! It's absurd to demand disadvantage to this level!

The scholar Turkel should look up 'impossible' in a dictionary -- and then retitle his article "The Somewhat Disadvantaged Faith".
H: It could have been founded independently of any religion (viz., Judaism) that its founder claimed already worshipped the right god(s).

T: Since, as we have shown, it had enough breaks with Judaism as conceived in any event,

On the contrary -- as I show above, Jesus taught so few "breaks with Judaism" that his followers were initially confused as to whether they should fully (or only partially) uphold Jewish Law.
 it essentially had this disadvantage!
LOL. Turkel's exclamation point of course does not demonstrate that already worshipping the right god(s) -- by the same names and the same holy texts -- is "essentially" the same as not doing so.
H: It could have been founded in a culture that already had a monotheistic belief in some other god.

T: It's far from clear why this would be a greater disadvantage; there seems to be a begged premise here!

Turkel admits missing my point, and then hilariously demonstrates his "begged question" spinal reflex. I challenge Turkel to identify what "premise" of mine here has been "begged".  But I doubt he will, since he can't even understand why a culture monotheistically worshipping some other god would be more resistant to Christianity than one that already worships Yahweh.
H: It could have been founded in a time or place in which literacy was low enough that no gospels were written.

T: Literacy WAS as low as it could practically get in any culture with writing;

Irrelevant, since there in fact were multiple written gospels within just decades of Jesus' ministry.
but it would make no difference, for completely oral cultures have ways to transmit data that are just as accurate.
It's laughable to say that there is no difference in reliability between a written tradition and an oral tradition.
H: It could have been founded in an age in which durably-recorded journalism preserved contemporary accounts of skeptics.

T: This was such an age, thank you, added in with the social control factor 13 above,

False. There are zero instances of contemporary skeptical accounts of Jesus' ministry by the non-believers that we know (from Josephus and from the NT itself) were legion.  (And as I showed above, there are zero instances of "social control" being used for independent verification of remote supernatural events.)
and this at any rate begs the question that anyone would have been able to make such an account in the first place.
False. The NT itself tells us that Christianity had many ex-believers and enemies, and even if mistaken their accounts would have been preserved if the ancient world had diverse durably-recorded journalism.
H: It could have been founded outside of a cosmopolitan empire that enabled its message to spread widely.

T: It is hard to see how the Empire being "cosmo" would have made any difference. When it got down to it, the main mode of travel over land was the same as it was anywhere else: two feet!

Turkel betrays his ignorance of comparative history. Only in select places -- the Mediterranean region, and Southern and Eastern Asia -- were there wide-ranging communications networks. If Jesus had lived in North America or South America or Northern Europe or Africa or Australia, his teachings could not have spread nearly so easily to nearly so many people.
H: It could have been founded in an age in which a scientific understanding of physics enabled skeptical examination of its alleged miracle evidence.

T: This is the same begged question as the one just above!

Turkel does not dare dispute that the modern scientific understanding of physics makes it in general harder for reports of miracles to be accepted.
H: It could have taught a doctrine of personal destiny less appealing than salvation by faith alone to a life of eternal happiness.

T: Obviously; it could also have taught, and it could have been true, that anyone who said the name of Jesus would have been felled by a ten-ton boulder appearing over their head,

No religion has ever taught such a doctrine, whereas many religions (e.g. Buddhism, Hinduism) have taught a doctrine of personal destiny less appealing than Christianity's.
but again, we have already shown, and our critic has failed to respond effectively, that the Christian doctrine of personal destiny and salvation WAS unappealing in its context, and was not enough to overcome the other stigmas.
Turkel has "shown" no such thing, as can be seen above.
In short, while it is possible of course to come up with what we perceive to be even greater disadvantages
Thus again contradicting Turkel's assertion that Christianity "had every possible disadvantage as a faith."
(i.e., the Apostles could have miraculously appeared to be wearing clown noses and KICK ME signs), there is a limit before it gets ridiculous
Indeed, and that limit is precisely between 1) the real-world examples I give of actual disadvantages of actual religions and 2) Turkel's sophomoric fantasies about boulders and clown noses.


T: what Christianity had to offer would not appeal to the ignorant -- or else would be balanced out by the many things that would have made the ignorant suspicious and mistrustful.

H: [Holding] here 'backpedals furiously' from his ludicrous claim that Christianity 'would not appeal to the ignorant'.

T: he is accusing me of backpedalling [sic] from an initial statement that he has just now responded to! How can I "backpedal" prior to a secondary reply?!?

Easily: by making an unsupportable initial statement ("would not appeal"), and then immediately backing down from it.
H: Christianity in fact taught [1 Cor 1:20] that human wisdom is mere folly

T: consult what we have here and here -- our critic makes the same egregious hermenutical [sic] error as Delos McKown did on this verse.

Not a single sentence in either of Turkel's essays changes the fact that Paul is here disparaging human wisdom and rationality. In neither essay does Turkel quote a kind word from the NT about human rationality.  I defy Turkel to present a single sentence from his essays or a single NT quote that contradicts my assertions here.
T:  [enough early witnesses (as in, the 500!) with solid and indisputable testimony (no "vision of Jesus in the sky" but a tangible certainly of a physically resurrected body)]

H: [In fact, there is no reliably first-hand testimony to the physical resurrection of Jesus...]

T: In closing, our critic replies to the point about the data supporting the need for the likes of the 500 witnesses with the non-answer that the reports are second-hand or the product of delusion (which does not defeat the point at issue, which is that to overcome all the social stigmas, the witnesses had to be more substantive than that to be believed)

My point is clearly in response to Turkel's parenthetical exclamation that "the 500" constitute "witnesses with solid and indisputable testimony". Turkel's characterization of that testimony as "indisputable" is merely an untenable surmise, and is in fact contradicted by the NT itself. The gospels admit that the resurrection not only was "disputable" to hearers of the alleged eyewitnesses [Lk 24:11, Mk 16:13], but was also ambiguous even to the alleged eyewitnesses themselves [Lk 24:15-16; Mk 16:11-12; Mt 28:17; Jn 20:14-15, 21:4]. The NT itself seeks to excuse the disputability of the resurrection witnesses by admitting they were only "witnesses whom God had already chosen" [Acts 10:41] who "had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem" [13:31].
and the same old arguments[1] about Gospel anonymity and development which he hauled up before, which we refuted [2] in our previous Trilemma encounter and which he has not improved upon [3]. As we predicted, when our critic gets out of the realm of places where he can readily throw out explanations like "delusion" or other non-tangibles [4], he is lost and without hope [5]. We fully expect a reply to this response, and a series of replies to follow, which will undoubtedly end the same way [6]: With our critic claiming victory even as he runs for the hills with his backside aflame [7].
Here he have a typical paragraph of Turkel bluster, making seven separate nonsubstantive claims of polemical victory, containing merely three words (anonymity, development, delusion) characterizing my position and zero words rebutting it. Turkel's argument ultimately fails, and Christianity overcoming the disadvantages he lists is entirely consistent with Jesus being a merely human preacher, faith-healer, and apocalyptic prophet whose followers transformed a belief in his spiritual resurrection into the myth of his physical resurrection.