So I watched a recent episode of MythVision, in which they took another swing against the argument from undesigned coincidences. This time Derek was hosting Dr. Joseph AP Wilson, an adjunct professor at Sacred Heart University. Dr. Wilson has a lot of impressive credentials, holding a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Florida, an MS in Archaeology from Michigan Technological University, an MA in Religious Studies from the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, and a BS in Anthropology from Kent State University.
Um….yeah. Lessons were most certainly not learned; this was a mess. Here’s my bullet-pointed summary:
– Less than 2 minutes in, and Dr. Wilson doesn’t even seem to understand the way the term ‘undesigned coincidence’ is meant. He says, “All real coincidences are, in my opinion, undesigned.” Here’s a quote from Lydia McGrew’s book Testimonies to the Truth for clarification: “So what does the phrase “undesigned coincidences” mean? One response I often hear when I first introduce the phrase is, “Isn’t a coincidence automatically undesigned?” Sometimes this is said humorously. How could something be a designed coincidence, anyway? But if you understand the meaning of the word “coincidence” as Paley used it, you’ll realize that the phrase isn’t redundant at all. Paley used the word to mean co-incidence— coming together. So in an undesigned coincidence, two or more things come together, they fit with each other, they coincide, but without the authors trying to make it happen that way. An undesigned coincidence is a casual interlocking that points to truth.” (pg. 51)
– 2 minutes in Dr. Wilson says (I’m slightly paraphrasing), “Closely related literature can’t really be called coincidental.” Derek: “If it was a coincidence, you couldn’t know if it was.” Wilson: “The designing of a coincidence makes it intentional.” Yes, the Gospels are dependent. We know! No, this is not a problem for undesigned coincidences! We believe these interlockings are not well explained by design because of the casualness of their nature, despite the evangelists not being “crime scene separated.” This has been discussed many, many times. (See Lydia McGrew’s recent series on YouTube for an ongoing discussion on why partial literary dependence isn’t an issue.)
– 30 minutes of setup takes place, and we are presented with numerous facts about certain unusual ancient Indian philosophers mentioned by Plutarch, Strabo, and other Greco-Roman historians. Then for 8 minutes he gives his example of an undesigned coincidence and the punchline.
– Dr. Wilson finds one possible genuine example of an undesigned coincidence related to these Indian gymnosophists and early Indian traditions between some art.
– But nope, upon closer examination it’s actually more akin to an external confirmation. Again, an undesigned coincidence can be described as a notable and unexpected connection between two or more accounts or texts that appears unplanned by the individuals providing the accounts. Despite their apparent independence, these elements line up seamlessly, much like puzzle pieces falling into place. An external confirmation is when an author makes a mention in passing about some obscure fact that we can confirm in other non-Christian texts or archaeology. The more casual and nonchalant the mention, the stronger the evidence. And the more obscure the details, the better. Especially if there are a lot of them. The concepts are similar but I hope you can see there’s an important difference. I’m not merely being pedantic here.
– Okay, so here is the undesigned coincidence. In a Middle English manuscript, an illustration shows gymnosophists meeting with Alexander the Great.
– The most notable detail in the illustration is the gymnosophists’ nudity and the presence of forest vines wrapped around their bodies. (All images in this post are screenshots from Dr. Wilson’s slides.)
– The presence of these forest vines is considered an authentic early shaman tradition, associated with these nude philosophers.
– This tradition is closely related to Jainism, and there are megalithic statues of Jain saint Bahubali in Southern India, where he is depicted with nature growing around him.
– This ‘undesigned coincidence’ (not really an undesigned coincidence, but an external confirmation) suggests a historical connection between early Indian traditions and European medieval texts, despite the superficial differences in their portrayal.
– He admits that undesigned coincidences (again, it would be more accurately called an external confirmation) can be considered as potential sources of finding nuggets of historical information.
– But according to Wilson, these coincidences merely provide historical kernels that contrast with inaccurate material in the same document. That’s his punchline.
– The title of the video is: “OOPS Christian Apologists Prove JAINISM is TRUE.” But for the umpteenth time, we’re neither arguing that, for example, the Gospel writers were correct about the Pool of Bethesda having five covered colonnades, nor that the discovery of the Pool of Siloam validates all the miracles in the Gospels as true. Our argument is that the Gospel authors’ precise inclusion of many intricate details, which harmoniously correlate with both history and each other, is best explained by the role of memory, rather than intentional design or mere chance (more on chance shortly). This argument consists of two stages. If the Gospels reflect the unembellished testimony of the original eyewitnesses, a question arises: why would they make such claims in front of a hostile audience? Dr. Wilson has demonstrated the existence of certain ascetic Eastern philosophers, but this has no relevance to the claims of Jainism. I can’t believe this needs to be said.
– In summary, the scholar basically says something like this: “I found one single example of something that might resemble an undesigned coincidence (though it’s not an undesigned coincidence, but rather an external confirmation) related to some peculiar Eastern religious nudists and independent art that aligns, but there’s a substantial amount of unreliable content in the texts surrounding these traditions, which were recorded very late after the alleged events. Therefore, at best, undesigned coincidences provide only a historical kernel in a sea of otherwise unreliable information….again, simply because I found one potential undesigned coincidence in religious sources that Christians wouldn’t like.” (which, in fact, isn’t exactly an undesigned coincidence). That’s it.
– This video again misses the entire point that the case we are making is cumulative. Here again is what I said in my response to Dr. Jef Tripp:
Tim McGrew, has repeatedly emphasized the cumulative nature of the argument: “One undesigned coincidence like this might be an accident—like having two unrelated pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fit together, just by chance. But if we discover numerous undesigned coincidences crisscrossing the documents, and in particular if each gospel has some things that explain things in the others, it becomes ridiculous to insist that they are all just accidental.”
I can’t highlight Tim’s point enough. Discovering one undesigned coincidence in a fictional story, like the Heracles tale, or even a handful of them, doesn’t invalidate the argument by itself. McGrew isn’t basing her case on just one or two examples from a single account. Tim and Lydia have emphasized this for a while. The real strength of the argument comes from the combined weight of the evidence.
The remarkable aspect of the Gospels and Acts is their abundance of both undesigned coincidences and external confirmations. This aligns with our expectations under the assumption that the Gospels were authored by individuals intimately connected to the actual events, possessing extensive knowledge, and displaying meticulous accuracy. Such a pattern would not be anticipated if they were merely fabricating the narratives.
I acknowledge the presence of nudist Eastern religious individuals, documented by Greco-Roman historical witnesses, and the existence of unrelated statues, as well as a multitude of unreliable historical accounts composed centuries later. It’s not unexpected that this singular historical detail was incorporated into the work of independent artists. However, this lone reliable fact, set amidst otherwise unreliable legends, does not in the least affect the argument we are presenting.
Furthermore, a statue does not provide any support for their religions claims, just that these guys had an….um….interesting dress code. I’m sorry, but this shouldn’t be necessary to spell out. As with the case with Dr. Tripp, if you truly want to parody the maximalist argument, find multiple external confirmations and undesigned coincidences in some kind of fictional or unreliable account. My friend David Pallmann has also put together a good roadmap for how skeptics can defeat the argument here.
I find it mind-boggling that this is considered valid criticism of the argument from undesigned coincidences. I really like Derek Lambert as a person, but I’m left wondering what is supposed to be happening here. The title and the thumbnail promise some kind of devastating parody or refutation of undesigned coincidences, but instead we’re just left with….whatever the heck this is. What even is this? Naked statues, therefore undesigned coincidences is DEBOONKED, guys. Pack it up, you silly and stubborn apologists. This presentation was truly bizarre.
Erik is the creative force behind the YouTube channel Testify, which is an educational channel built to help inspire people’s confidence in the text of the New Testament and the truth of the Christian faith.