Thanks for responding, and Happy New Year!
A couple things you're missing (i.e., not really allowing yourself to SEE):
1) This Sai Baba guy has MILLIONS of followers. It's not just a few fools. His example (and another HUGE favorite of mine is mormonism) is an example of how EASILY huge masses of people can become totally convinced that someone is a "magic man." I've done some sleight of hand myself (I have a close friend who is a well-known professional close-up magician). Your point about magic only IMPROVES my case, and lessens yours, IMO. People are apt to get ideas into their heads and then REPORT IT TO OTHERS in a convincing, and "factual sounding" manner. That fact is multiplied a hundred fold regarding primitives whose ability to distinguish between the evidentiary requirements of the real vs the reportedly mystical was VERY fuzzy. It's such reports that you must EXCLUSIVELY RELY UPON regarding ancient religions.
1... Who is your well-known professional close-up magician? I might even have some of his tapes or DVD's. What is your favorite close up sleight of hand trick? Mine is Michael Ammar's "Invisible Bill Switch" which he performed for Johnny Carson. It took me a long time to master the moves, but it was well worth it. I've even done the trick where I dropped the "secret", and the person I was performing for never saw the mistake I made... even though I made the mistake right in front of his eyes.
I also like Roger Klause's "Ultimate Slow Motion Bill Transposition". Even David Roth called it the cleanest version of this effect.
One of my favorite card tricks is Aldo Colombini's "Pre-Deck-Ability" which won best performance at the Magic Castle. I also like the Ambitious Card routine.
2... Anyway... back to the subject at hand.
Having millions of followers doesn't mean that their belief is correct. That is the logical fallacy called ad popolum (sp?). So i'm not impressed that there are millions of followers. Muhammed has a lot more followers and adherents than this Sai Baba guy, and yet I think they are wrong also. Heck, you say something bad about Muhammad, and you run the risk of getting killed for goodness sake. Millions and Billions of people can be dead wrong.
That is why i WANT to focus on logic and facts and reason and evidences, etc. Not emotions or blind faith or passion.
3... my point about magic does not lessen my case at all. In fact, it makes my case all that more stronger BECAUSE i understand how people can be fooled. I know just about every move and trick there is in magic, and it is difficult to trick me. I apply that very same healthy skepticism to any claims about miracles and magic. And if someone does a trick that I can't figure out, my first response IS NOT to believe that real magic had just occurred in front of my eyes. My first knee jerk response is to go and find out how the trick was done.
My friend and I used to spend HOURS AND HOURS glued to our dvd's and videos in an attempt to figure out how a trick was done. We used slow mo... and try out different scenarios... even come up with alternate ways to perform the trick. We would even go to a magic shop, ask to see the latest trick... and then instead of buying the secret, we would immediately go away and try and figure it out.
So when it comes to claims about "magic" and "miracles"... i have a very healthy skepticism and I have a very critical eye. I know all about misdirection and how to get the audience to look where you want them to... and i know all about how big movements are used to hide small movements... and how angles are important... and how psychology is important... and how easy it is to fool the eyes because of how the eyes works biologically... etc, etc. I know all about all this stuff because I love performance magic.
I'm also a filmmaker and editor, and so I know all the camera tricks and all the editing tricks. I can see things on the screen that most people do not see simply because my eyes are looking for things that non-professionals are not looking for. And I know all about how to use the film/video mediums to emotionally hook people and get them going along a certain path that I want.
I'm not saying I can't be fooled... even Houdini was fooled at times... but what I am saying is that my knowledge of performance magic does not lessen my case in the least. Far from it.
All you are pointing out is that a lot of people can be fooled. Well.. I know that already. I've fooled many people as well.
But just because a lot of people CAN be fooled.. and ARE fooled... it doesn't logically follow that EVERYONE is fooled. In the case of early disciples of Christ, you need to DEMONSTRATE why you think they were fooled. You can't just say that because a lot of people are fooled, then that must somehow magically mean that the disciples were also fooled.
If they were fooled badly, then you should be able to give us a natural explanation for the minimal facts that is more reasonable than the resurrection explanation. When you can do that, then you've shown how it is very reasonable to conclude that the disciples were fooled... and that you're natural explanation fits the facts and explains the facts better than my explanation.
2) Sai Baba is CURRENT. The things you base your ideas about Christianity on are ANCIENT, they are based on FRAGMENTS of writings and reports (we really DO NOT have a clear, unambiguous, well-formed idea of all the intrigues involved in the early christian church), and they are the REMNANTS of a LONG FOUGHT political battle to create a church--and to obliterate any christian teachings contrary to the political victors in the early church wars. Objectively, it's almost impossible to assign significant "fact value" to reports coming through such a morass of primitive gullibility and overarching political chicanery.
First of all, I completely reject your characterization of the evidence and of the history of the early church.
Secondly... your above characterization of what we are up against is neither here nor there, because none of what you list (even if it was true, which I don't believe it is) does nothing to lessen the veracity of the minimal facts as historical facts. I have kept saying that the Bible can be riddled with false information... contradictions... lies... bone headed claims... and yet none of this would effect the minimal facts. The minimal facts were gleaned from the NT documents not because of any prior commitment to it's innerrancy... but because they could be ascertained with a lot of confidence and certainty from the material... in the same way historians can glean facts with certainty from other documents that have false information and legends and miracles in them. Like we do with Tacitus' works and the biography of Alexander the Great, etc.
In fact, the minimal facts is far better multiply attested than most of what we claim is factual about ancient history.
More REALISTIC reports would be of those who were TRUE CONTEMPORARIES of Jesus. There are NO SUCH REPORTS. Apparently (and contrary to what you hold so close to your heart) Jesus did NOT make a big enough impression during his lifetime (if there even was one) for DISINTERESTED PARTIES to find cause to mention him in any writings about the general events of the times.
I disagree that the multiple attestation which I've listed in this forum for all to see... are not from TRUE CONTEMPORARIES of Jesus as you are claiming. Your statement here is just not factual at all.
And why would any "disinterested parties" hear about... or believe... or write about Jesus' supposed miracles and works? Doesn't the word you use "disinterested" supply the clue? Because they are not interested. And they had no reason to be if they were outside of Israel.
Why would the Romans have been interested in anything that this Jesus did? Weren't there all kinds of people going around saying they can do miracles? What would one more be to the Romans and the Roman government? Or to the Greeks?
Not only that... but of the records that HAVE survived time, not one of the existing records (which is very, very scant to begin with)are written FROM anyone who would have had any vested interested in anything that was happening in Israel... or even in recording about this Jesus character. I maybe be mistaken, but I think over 90% of the records that have survived are from poets and satires and playwrights, etc.
The "historical" case for the "reality" of Sathya Sai Baba's divinity, based on volume of reports, number of eager followers, "eyewitness" testimony, writings and chronicles by others, etc., are FAR superior to the murky (and church promoted) information about Jesus. Yet rational people KNOW that Sai Baba is nonsense (as are Mormon beliefs). Unfortunately for you (and any interest you have in the truth/facts), you don't apply your rational judgments to the Jesus story as you do to others...
But as I said to you before, the minimal facts is NOT just based solely on eyewitness accounts. Christians are not just uncritically accepting the claims of what people said. You have nothing of the sort of evidence for Sai Baba's claims as we do have for Christianity... and I listed several of them.
You have NO examples of any hard core critics who've been completely convinced that Baba is divine and can do bona-fide miracles as we have with Jesus. You have NO example of any hard core ENEMIES of Baba.. who wants him killed... and who hate him... and yet who have conceded that he has done miracles, as we have with Jesus versus the Jewish religious leaders. You have NO empty tomb or anything else that would demonstrate to hard core skeptics that Baba is really divine... as we have with Jesus.
We also have NO examples of any of his hard core believers who can claim that they saw Baba come back alive from the grave (visually and leaving an empty tomb that was guarded by guards). Now granted, Baba is not dead, and so he hasn't been given an opportunity to prove that he can raise himself up from the dead... but he does have available today something that Jesus didn't have... and that are video cameras. If he can REALLY do miracles... then he shouldn't be shy about letting skeptic camera operators (like me for example) film his miracles. Baba and his followers have an opportunity that not even Jesus and his disciples had to prove their claims.
Jesus' disciples had to prove their claims thru torture and death... Baba and his followers don't need to go thru that. They can verify their claims with video. And believe me... a skeptic camera operator (with a very good knowledge of how performance magic works) will know exactly how to film a "miracle" so that he is not being fooled. And anyway... a one time filming does not have to be the case. Baba and his followers should be willing to let us film him very, very often and under any conditions.
And guess what? All we have to do is look at Wikipedia to see that my skepticism and grave concerns are warranted. Here are just a few excerpts from wikipedia about Sathya Sai Baba:
---> On August 20th, 1988, Sathya Sai Baba slipped in his bathroom. Of the incident, he says,"On Saturday morning I slipped on a piece of soap in the bathroom and fell on my back. The injury I sustained was a natural consequence of the fall ..." X-rays showed he had fractured his hip bone.
---> On 4 June 2003, Sathya Sai Baba suffered another fall and broke his hip and femur.
---> In 2006, a third accident occurred. Sathya Sai Baba relates, "Once it so happened that a student was trying to tie buntings on a door while standing on an iron stool. As he saw Me coming, he felt nervous and fell from the stool. Both the stool and the boy fell on Me and My hip bone was fractured."
---> Since 2005, Sathya Sai Baba has used a wheelchair, and his failing health has forced him to make fewer public appearances.(???? What??? How does this even compare to Jesus??? This guy is supposed to have the ability to heal... and he is supposed to be divine... and yet he can't heal himself? He is in a wheelchair? C'mon.)
---> The retired Icelandic psychology professor Erlendur Haraldsson wrote that he did not get Sathya Sai Baba's permission to study him under controlled circumstances.
---> Sathya Sai Baba has explained the phenomenon of manifestation as being an act of divine creation, but refused to have his materializations investigated under experimental conditions.
---> In April 1976, Dr. H. Narasimhaiah, a physicist, rationalist and then vice chancellor of Bangalore University, founded and chaired a committee "to rationally and scientifically investigate miracles and other verifiable superstitions". Haraldsson stated that Narasimhaiah wrote Sathya Sai Baba a polite letter and two subsequent letters that were widely publicized in which he publicly challenged Baba to perform his miracles under controlled conditions. Sathya Sai Baba said that he ignored Narasimhaiah's challenge because he felt his approach was improper.
---> Documentaries produced by the BBC and the Danish Broadcasting Corporation, analyzing videos of the supposed miracles, suggest that they can be explained as sleight of hand tricks.
---> In the 1995 TV documentary "Guru Busters", produced by filmmaker Robert Eagle for UK's Channel 4, Sathya Sai Baba was accused of faking his materializations. A videotape was provided which suggested that magician's tricks were being utilized. The same videotape was mentioned in the Deccan Chronicle, on 23 November 1992, on a front page headline "DD Tape Unveils Baba Magic".
---> The magazine India Today published in December 2000 a cover story about Baba and allegations of fake miracles by the magician P. C. Sorcar, Jr.
---> In BBC documentary Basava Premanand, a skeptic and amateur magician expressed his opinion that he thinks Baba is faking materialisation and has been investigating Sathya Sai Baba since 1968.(Wow. Just as I thought. The point here is that there is absolutely no similiatries between this Baba character and Jesus. Jesus did his "miracles" in front of crowds... friendly and skeptic. None of the skeptics ever said that Jesus was a fake... but instead the Jewish religious leaders claimed that Jesus' power came from Satan.)
Anyway... like i said before, I think this comparison of yours is a category fallacy because there is absolutely NO similarity between the two people.