Proof of Jesus’ resurrection?

I’m always prattling on about how, if presented with actual evidence and logical arguments, I would change my mind and convert to whatever religious belief system provided that compelling evidence. That’s why I feel like I ought to examine carefully the supposed compelling evidence put forward by theists, at least from time to time. Yesterday, I stumbled upon this page in About.com’s Christianity section purporting to give “7 Proofs Of The Resurrection: Evidence the Resurrection of Jesus Christ Happened.” If Jesus was actually resurrected as the Bible describes, that wouldn’t on its own be proof that every aspect of Christianity is true, but it would go a very long way toward making it look believable. So, it seems as good a time as any for me to check: should I convert to Christianity?

(Spoiler: nope.)

Let’s go through each of the seven proofs this article lays out, and see if they meet reasonable evidentiary and logical standards. It’s important to remember that they are each presented as proofs — not as bits of evidence that add up to a most likely conclusion, but as seven separate and complete proofs — so I think the standards I apply are more than fair. After that, I’ll touch on a few of the things that are mentioned offhand in the intro to the article and linked but are not listed as key points.

The Resurrection Proof #1: The Empty Tomb of Jesus

Wait, what? How is this evidence? The only reason anyone thinks Jesus’ tomb was empty is because the Bible says so. Obviously if you believe the Bible is true, you would believe that Jesus was resurrected. But in order to prove that the accounts of the Bible actually happened, you would need to cite something other than the Bible itself. Especially if you’re going to write things like, “Angels said Jesus had risen from the dead.”

The Resurrection Proof #2: The Holy Women Eyewitnesses

Again, we’re simply citing something from the Bible as evidence that the Bible is a reliable source. Here, at least, the argument is slightly more nuanced: why refer to female witnesses at a time when women were seen as inferior and couldn’t even offer their testimony in court? Well, I’m not sure. But “This would have been stupid unless they had a good reason, so they must have had a good reason” totally ignores the “it was stupid” option. It’s maybe a hint or a suggestion, but it’s a far cry from proof.

The Resurrection Proof #3: Jesus’ Apostles’ New-Found Courage

I agree that, at various points in history, people have felt extremely strongly about their belief in Christianity. People have also felt very strongly about their belief in Islam, their belief in Judaism, or their belief in Hinduism. Clearly, someone holding a belief strongly is not evidence that their belief is true, as Matt Dillahunty articulately explains in this video with a cute analogy. There are so many other ways I could refute this idea, but that’s sufficient so I’ll leave it there.

The Resurrection Proof #4: Changed Lives of James and Others

Belief in Christianity has changed many people’s lives. Belief in Islam has also changed many people’s lives. Becoming an atheist, for that matter, changes people’s lives. The fact that people’s beliefs are related to the events of their lives (in whatever direction, probably both) should not come as a surprise. This can’t be proof of the veracity of one set of beliefs without being proof of them all — so by (a metric ton of) contradiction, it fails. Not a proof of anything.

The Resurrection Proof #5: Large Crowd of Eyewitnesses

Yet again, citing many verses in the Bible as proof that the Biblical account is correct. We get it, guys, the text of the Bible supports belief in Christianity! No one is surprised by this, and it isn’t actual evidence for belief. Here is my favorite part, though it is utterly beside the point: “The hallucination theory is further debunked because after the ascension of Jesus into heaven, sightings of him stopped.” Could use some background research … maybe start here and read on down the page?

The Resurrection Proof #6: Conversion of Paul

Ah, yes. Because no one else has ever gone from feeling strongly about one set of religious beliefs to feeling strongly about a different set of beliefs unless they were converts to Christianity. Especially not when “hardships” might result from such a change. Look: given that you wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) accept it as proof of Islam, Judaism, or atheism, don’t offer it as a proof of Christianity.

The Resurrection Proof #7: They Died for Jesus

I wish I were making this up. But the article actually says, “Countless people have died for Jesus, absolutely certain that the resurrection of Christ is an historical fact.” (Eurgh. They even said “an historical.”) It seems to acknowledge that this is not unique to Christianity and therefore not good evidence — see above — going on to say, “An isolated group may give up their lives for a cult leader, but Christian martyrs have died in many lands, for nearly 2,000 years, believing Jesus conquered death to give them eternal life.” Yet again, asserting, “This would be amazingly stupid without a good reason” is not the same thing as proving a good reason exists. Without any actual evidence, I’m forced to conclude that it’s much more likely Christian martyrdom is an amazingly stupid — and amazingly tragic — phenomenon.

Some final remarks

I would be remiss not to point out that the article also opens with assertions that archaeology has repeatedly verified the historicity of the Bible, and that the Gospels and the book of Acts are all “eyewitness accounts of the life and death of Jesus.” It also points to Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, and the Sanhedrin as sources which verify Jesus existed. These are warranted by hyperlinks to other ridiculous articles, so I’m going to refute them with the hyperlinks I’ve added to this paragraph — no further discussion needed. (Well, I will say that the Sanhedrin-linked site talks about differences between the Talmud and the New Testament but, shall we say, does not share my point of view.) Of course, even if the Bible was written by contemporaries of a guy named Jesus (or, Yeshua) who really did make all the claims the Bible says he did — it doesn’t prove the Bible accurate; see that Atheist Experience video again.

At the end of the day, this is just sad. I almost feel mean posting this, honestly. But I also feel mean asking for evidence in my blog posts and elsewhere and relatively rarely wrangling with the evidence that’s supposed to be out there. As always, if you have some better evidence — for Christianity or any other supernatural belief — that you would like me to look into, I’ll be happy to do so. I genuinely want to be informed enough to change my mind if my current views are incorrect. If this kind of garbage is the best you’ve got, though … I definitely remain unconvinced.

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40 Comments

  1. I can see where you come from. Most of your refutation of Christianity (and other religions, for that matter), stems from the precept that “just because it’s written in a book doesn’t make it true.” And that’s a fair assertion. It nullifies most of the ‘proofs’ presented to you.

    So I guess my question to you is this: what kind/type of proof are you looking for?

    Keep searching. Keep writing. I always enjoy your thoughts.

  2. Assuming ALL the points are true it does not prove that g0d is real, that yewWowWay is real, that mary got screwed by yewWowWay. Ya Cheeses may be a real person, and some others had some really weird ideas about him…SO?What?
    Adrian….How about multiple sources from impartial archeology? How about some of the schite Cheeses says being true?…i.e. when he says prayers WILL be answered but I have yet to see any amputee get his limb back or any mountains move.

  3. Aristarchus

     /  January 19, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Ok, L.Long, what do you think you’re accomplishing with this “yeeWowWay” stuff? You realize it makes you look like an idiot, right? Really, it just makes me embarrassed to actually agree with any of your points.

  4. NFQ:

    The empty tomb can also be explained by much more mundane events than resurrections if, for some reason, it can be shown that the tomb was indeed empty.

    Oh, and by the way, I also tend to write “an historical”. I don’t like glottal stops, even mental ones :-)

    Adrian:

    When Christians ask what sort of evidence is necessary for me to believe in the resurrection, I usually have to break it to them that that boat has sailed.

    The alleged resurrection happened far too long ago for any decent evidence to have been collected. The only way we can be confident that a person dies (*really* dies) and then comes back to life again, is if she is hooked up to the best medical equipment we have. Some second-hand accounts in a book simply don’t cut it.

    In other words, if I am to believe in the resurrection, God will have to do another one :-)

  5. @Adrian: Maybe the resurrection isn’t the best place for Christian apologists to start trying to prove anything. If a one-time miracle occurred in the case of Jesus some 2000 years ago, there wouldn’t be any reliable way to prove it had happened now. (No controlled experiments, for sure.)

    But the Bible makes lots of testable claims, as do other religious texts. For example: if members of one religious sect always got whatever they asked for in prayer (as the Bible repeatedly promises), or even if they just got the things they prayed for way more often than an outside group, I would consider that a good start. If a supposedly divine message actually revealed scientific facts to ancient people who were unable to figure them out themselves – e.g. germ theory of disease before there were microscopes – or if it revealed specific prophecies about future events that couldn’t have been predicted by informed observers at the time of writing (and weren’t edited in after the event happened), I would consider those things good evidence in favor of revelation from some higher power.

    I’ve written rather a lot on this subject, actually, so you might be interested in these links:
    - what I’d like to hear from people who claim to talk to God
    - prayer as proof of the Bible
    - whether it’s permissible to “test” God
    - my responses to a ChristianAnswers.net essay arguing that there’s evidence proving the Bible true
    - my responses to a Gregory Koukl piece arguing that the Bible is authoritative
    - how to convert atheists (referring to Adam Lee’s great article on the subject, laying out what he would accept as evidence – and I largely agree with his list)
    - fine tuning arguments and why I don’t find them convincing (includes epic comment thread)

    @L.Long: Seriously … Aristarchus is right. And I know I’ve asked you to chill out with this before. Abstract antagonism doesn’t help, and it actually makes it harder to follow what you’re even talking about (even for those of us who are “on your side” – I spent an awkwardly long moment over here wondering why you were talking so much about cheese).

    You also missed my caveat right in the introduction of my post:

    If Jesus was actually resurrected as the Bible describes, that wouldn’t on its own be proof that every aspect of Christianity is true, but it would go a very long way toward making it look believable.

    Of course proving one of a hundred claims doesn’t prove the other 99. It just helps establish the claimant as a more reliable source the more of those claims are proven true (and the fewer of them are demonstrably false).

  6. Sidetracking with Keith for a moment: I feel like I would have to do a Cockney accent (“an ‘istorical”) for “an” to make sense. I pronounce the H, though. (And I would definitely say “a high mountain” instead of “an high mountain.”) Anyway, I think I’ll cut you some slack. ;) I am much more bothered by things like this when I’m reading something stupid than when I’m reading something intelligent and interesting….

  7. NFQ: Shortly after posting my original comment on “an historical”, I realized there wasn’t actually a glottal stop in “a historical”. So I’m not sure I can explain why I use the former. Like you, I also say “a high mountain”.

    Henceforth then, my mind is changed. Begone, “an historical”, I love you no more!

  8. “Of course, even if the Bible was written by contemporaries of a guy named Jesus (or, Yeshua) who really did make all the claims the Bible says he did — it doesn’t prove the Bible accurate…”

    You lost your line of logic by including Yeshua. Inadvertently you have stumbled into objective history. It is known by objective scientific archeology that Yeshua (Y’shua bar Yoseph) was a real man. See a shortened version of the Talpiot Tomb documentary, by Simcha Jacobovici here, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcASM4mhR5g&context=C399f228ADOEgsToPDskKIBPNXY6EMIJCZbCnPk7Qj This archeological evidence combined with extant documentation are statistically convincing for the existence of a real man, NOT A MAN-G-d called J*esus. Now you need to find out the real story about a Torah observant Jew named Yeshua/Yehoshua.

    Remember we are talking about a man who lived and died and his bones were recovered in an authentic 1st century tomb in Yrushalayim (Jerusalem).

    You said,
    “I’m always prattling on about how, if presented with actual evidence and logical arguments, I would change my mind and convert to whatever religious belief system provided that compelling evidence.”

    Time to keep your word and learn about Torah, not religion.

    http://www.proofexistencegod.com/
    netzarim.co.il

  9. Eliyahu: While I appreciate your attempt to provide me with evidence, I have to say I have no idea what you are on about. You quote me saying that whether a particular man with a particular name lived doesn’t on its own prove the claims of a holy text, then go on to say that a particular man with a particular name DID live. Uh, okay. There have been many Torah observant Jews throughout history. Their existence does not make the Torah true, any more than the existence of observant Christians makes the New Testament true or the existence of Muslims makes the Qur’an true.

  10. Ubi Dubium

     /  January 21, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Adrian,
    I could even go with good evidence god has one special book that he wants us to read and believe in. For instance, if any of these happened, I’d sit up and take notice:

    - If bibles woudn’t burn.
    - If bibles grew on trees.
    - If every culture in the world somehow had copies of the same bible, even cultures that had never been in contact with the western world.
    - If translations were unnecessary, because everyone who looked at the original text was instantly able to read it in their own language. Even illiterates.
    - If everybody magically understood the text in the same way and never found a need to argue about it.

    Those kind of things would lead me to think there was something special about that book, and that I should consider what it says. As it is, it’s just a big book of Hebrew mythology and Roman-era mysticism. Why should I believe it and not, say, The Iliad?

  11. “We get it, guys, the text of the Bible supports belief in Christianity! No one is surprised by this, and it isn’t actual evidence for belief.”

    Why should we automatically ignore an ancient document, simply because it was eventually chosen to form part of what we now refer to as “The Bible”?

    If Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead 2000 years ago, I wonder what evidence we would expect to see. I suggest we’d have something like what is found in the synoptic gospels.

  12. Trav: You’re probably right. If a resurrection really did happen 2000 years ago, we’d probably expect to see written reports about it.

    The question is whether this is *enough* evidence to convince us, after the fact, that the resurrection occurred.

    I would argue not, and here’s why: There are written reports about many things that supposedly happened a long time ago, and not all of them are true. There are reports of miracles and divine interventions from all over the world, performed by all manner of preachers and gurus, involving all sorts of gods. Not all of these are true.

    Even reports of normal things like natural and political events are, in many cases, factually incorrect.

    In short, we have good reason to suppose that some ancients claims are false. To determine which are false, and which are true, further evidence is required. Unfortunately for the resurrection, no further evidence is available.

  13. What makes the difference when compared to other ancient reports is this: The quality of the reports relating to the resurrection (early and multiple attestation), the quality of the surrounding evidence- people who had no reason to convert who did- and the lack of plausible, coherent, alternative explanations of the data.

  14. Trav: The quality of the reportage is not, as far as I’m aware, particularly convincing. Many theologians admit that much of the NT accounts was added long after the fact.

    The “surrounding evidence”, namely people converting for “no reason”, is simply an indication that people are easily convinced to believe just about anything. If you don’t believe me, look at Scientology. You cannot use people’s religious fervor to argue that a physical event actually occurred.

    As to the lack of alternative explanations, I would encourage you either to use your imagination or to look up the many plausible explanations that have been offered over the centuries.

  15. Keith, we aren’t discussing “Much of the NT”, we’re discussing the resurrection. The data surrounding the resurrection is attested to by virtually all scholars and theologians (except the empty tomb, which only the vast majority agree with, but not virtually everyone as with the other data).

    Scientology relates to religious fervour, but I’m talking about large numbers of people dying for something they knew to be false. Totally different situation.

    And I’m having an unimaginative day today, so why don’t you give me some of these many plausible explanations?

  16. Aristarchus

     /  February 8, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    The data surrounding the resurrection is attested to by virtually all scholars and theologians

    What “data” are you talking about? This sentence makes no sense to me.

  17. Trav: Perhaps you are right that scholars are in agreement that the resurrection accounts were in the original four gospels rather than being added later.

    But this still does not make for a particularly convincing story.

    The gospel authors were not independent individuals who witnessed the resurrection. Indeed, no one witnessed the resurrection, and the gospel authors all wrote their accounts decades after it. Furthermore, they were simply recording, in writing, the oral tradition that was circulating at the time, so that cannot be regarded as truly independent.

    As to people dying for their beliefs, that is not even close to being unique to Christianity, unless you wish to deny the spate of suicide bombings that the Islam has produced over the last few decades.

    Just because someone believes something so sincerely that he will die for that belief, does not indicate that that belief is true. It simply indicates that the person was thoroughly convinced by his belief, nothing more.

    Regarding plausible explanations, the most plausible to me is that the resurrection is a legend, plain and simple. It probably developed in the early years following Jesus’ death, and became embedded in the narrative of the nascent Christian movement. We know that there were many conflicting viewpoints among the very early practitioners of Christianity, some of which did not proclaim the resurrection (certain gnostics, for instance).

    Just look around at all the miracle claims you see in the world today: some statue of Mary starts bleeding, or a holy man in India makes things vanish, or a faith healer cures someone’s back pain. Some people, especially if they are poorly educated in critical thinking, will believe just about anything, and they’ll pass the story along to their gullible friends. This, to me, is infinitely more plausible than a man actually dying and coming back to life three days later.

    And then there are the explanations for the empty tomb, if indeed there was a tomb to begin with. Any number of possibilities occur here: Jesus’ family bribed the guards and took his body to their own burial plot, the guards themselves took the body and sold it to some of Jesus’ followers. The mere presence of an empty tomb does not make a compelling case for a resurrection, it makes a compelling case for a missing body.

  18. Aristarchus, the data I’m referring to is this: Jesus dies by crucifixion, Jesus disciples believed that he appeared to them after his death and then died for this belief, Paul’s bizarre conversion- going from a murderer of Christians to a devout Christian preacher who was willing to suffer for his own faith, and the empty tomb.

    These data are all well attested historically, and they make sense if a resurrection happened. If a resurrection didn’t happen, then how do we make sense of the evidence?

    Keith, Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was written less than two decades after, and he was referring to oral tradition that was circulating only a couple of years after.

    People dying for their beliefs is not unique, but remember what I said in my previous comment: people dying for something they knew to be false. 21st century suicide bombers believe Islam is true, but the 1st century followers of Jesus were in a position to know what happened. This is not a subtle distinction, this is a huge difference.

    The comment that “the resurrection is a legend” is not actually an explanation. I asked you to provide me with some of the “many plausible” alternative explanations for the data. Saying “it’s a legend” does not achieve this. I could say to you “Barack Obama is a legend” and that would do nothing to explain the vast evidence for his existence. I’m not saying the resurrection is as sure as the existence of Obama, I am saying that you must provide an explanation of the data, rather than just pretend it isn’t there. The reason “it’s a legend and developed years after” does not fly is because we know Paul was repeating Christian testimony from shortly after the alleged event. We know Christians were proclaiming the resurrection only a few short years after the alleged event.

  19. Trav:

    I think you’ve misunderstood me. I’ve never claimed that any early Christians actually understood the story of Jesus to be false, but put their lives on the line for it anyway. That would be absurd indeed.

    It is simply not the case that the 1st century followers of Jesus were in a position to know what happened. To start with, not a single person actually saw Jesus rise from the dead. Second, a small handful of people claimed to have visions of Jesus after his death. I cannot fathom how you can go from these tenuous wisps of anecdotal reportage to the idea that the 1st century followers of Jesus, which surely numbered in the thousands, were in a position to know what really happened!

    As it happens, the 1st century followers of Jesus had quite a number of versions of “what happened” to pick from. There was no consensus about Jesus during the early years.

    Concerning legend, I honestly have no idea exactly how the legend might have arose. Legends and myths arise about a variety of topics every day of our lives, and their development depends on all sorts of incidental details which, in the case of Christianity, are no longer available to us. What we *do* know, is that legends and myths are commonplace, and that they are therefore infinitely more plausible than a man actually rising from the dead.

    What we also know is that there was no early consensus in the Christian community about exactly what happened to Jesus, or what his role was in the grand scheme of things. The final version that made it into the NT was certainly not decided by everyone getting together and having an objective look at the evidence!

    Finally, remember that if you are dead set against the formation of legends, especially in the deeply superstitious culture of the Middle East, then you have lost one of your strongest tools for disposing of all the other religious myths that crowd the planet today.

  20. Keith,

    There may have been competing ideas in the early church about “Exactly what happened” or “What Jesus’s role was”, but I’m not sure I understand the relevance of this. Remember when we speak of the early church, we speak of the period up to a couple of hundred years after. We’re discussing whether or not Jesus rose from the dead. What is clear is that this particular claim was made within a few short years of the alleged event.

    The followers might not have “seen Jesus rise from the dead” but they saw him die and then they saw him appear to them again in physical form. I can’t blame them for putting two and two together. Their making of this claim is a historical fact, their predispositions to the contrary have been well documented, and their action on behalf of their belief likewise. Combine all of this with an empty tomb as well. Again, the question is what explains all of this? The situation “leaves a resurrection shaped hole in history”, as one scholar puts it, and so it’s more than plausible to think that a resurrection happened, based on the evidence.

  21. Trav:

    The variety of beliefs in the early years of Christianity is relevant because it indicates that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to produce consensus among believers.

    When evidence is short, hypotheses are many.

    You can see this today in the numerous hypotheses put forward for the formation of the universe. As yet, not enough evidence is available to indicate which of these hypotheses is better.

    To summarize, all you have to rely on are the original claims, and the fact that some Christians were ready to die for their beliefs. This is not a compelling case for the claim that the laws of nature themselves were suspended.

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and there is none for the resurrection claim.

    One final question: the author of Matthew describes a multitude of people rising from the dead at the moment of Jesus’ death. Do you believe these occurred also?

  22. Keith,

    To summarise, “all” we have are the following well established historical data: Jesus was crucified, the tomb was empty and the body was missing, many people believed they saw him appear to them in the flesh, and then some of them died for this belief despite having strong predispositions to the contrary. That is, they had every reason not to believe it, but they believed it extremely strongly.

    The question is how to explain this data. A resurrection can explain this data quite well, but you think not. So I asked you to provide us all with a plausible alternative scenario, of which you claimed there were many. But when pressed, you couldn’t come up with any explanation at all, except for some vague and general statements about legends being common. You admitted that you “had no idea” how the “legend” arose. It’s only fair of me to take this as an admission that you have no idea how to explain the historical evidence.

    Whether a claim is “extraordinary” and whether or not it requires extraordinary evidence depends on the context and other background factors. That is ripe for a separate discussion. In this situation, we have strong evidence of Jesus claiming divinity, and this provides the backdrop for the end of his life. Unless your mind is already closed to the supernatural, then the Resurrection appears quite plausible, because as I’ve shown, that’s where the evidence points.

  23. Trav:

    “A resurrection can explain this data quite well…”.

    Well yes, of course it can. You can also explain everything that happened in the Lord of the Rings by positing that Middle Earth really exists, and that Tolkien was writing about things he really saw there.

    But there are other ways of explaining the Lord of the Rings that are *far* more likely, like the idea that it’s complete fiction.

    Similarly, there are explanations for the resurrection claims that are far more likely than an actual resurrection. And yes, I cannot claim to know the details behind any of the alternatives. But I do know some important facts: time and time again, people have believed and proclaimed ideas that, unknown to them at the time, were completely false. People have also deliberately invented such ideas, time and time again.

    Even without knowing the details, then, it is still far more probable that the resurrection can be explained by what we *know* happens to people and their beliefs all the time, rather than on the sort of event which never happens.

    And that is all you need to know that the resurrection is an extraordinary claim: resurrections NEVER HAPPEN. They’re not everyday events. They’re not even once-in-a-year or once-in-a-thousand-year events.

    It is a little strange that you should resist this, since most Christians say that their religion is uniquely precisely because it is the only one to have a resurrection claim.

    And yet you’re willing to accept such an extraordinary claim on the basis of a few documents written by people who were openly and enthusiastically biased toward promoting the claim as true! You have no independent reportage from impartial historians of the time (unless you really want to dredge up the ten words or so that are thought to have been inserted by Christians into Josephus’s works).

    And the fact that people believed it “strongly”. Have you already forgotten my point about Muslim suicide bombers? They believed strongly, didn’t they? In fact, I think it would be safe to say that in today’s world, the most zealous believers generally belong to Islam, not Christianity.

    It looks like we’re at risk of going around in circles here, so I suppose there is little point in continuing. All I would suggest is that you carefully consider that many other religions have their historical claims, and many have their zealous believers willing to give their lives. Christianity does not stand out as having a much better case than any other.

  24. Keith,

    How do you “know” that resurrections “NEVER HAPPEN” and that “they’re not even once in a year or once in a thousand year events”? You seem quite certain of this. On what basis?

    The disciples were around in the first century and therefore, as I explained earlier, were in a position to know what happened. This is totally different to your example of zealous Muslims in the 21st century, 1500 years after the founding of that religion. The two examples are not even comparable, nor are they even examples of the same thing. It’s apples and oranges to compare people who were present at the time, with people who are around 1500 years later. Maybe a more apt comparison would be watermelons and spinach. (In fact there is no comparable alleged historical event of Islam either, that’s another reason why they aren’t comparable, aside from the 1,500 year time difference).

    Your attempt to discredit historical documents on the basis that the authors were “openly and enthusiastically biased” is simply begging the question. If you saw a man die and then appear to you in the flesh, would you “openly and enthusiastically” proclaim his message? I bet that you would. If you throw out any history that might be tainted with bias then you might as well cease doing history altogether, because independent history is virtually non-existent. The actual historical question is whether the original disciples had any other discernible motives or reasons for spreading falsehoods. They didn’t. Given the persecution they faced, they had every reason NOT to tell Jesus’s story.

    Yes, it is true that people have believed falsehoods, but I would challenge you to find instances with all of the factors that exist here: 1. People were in a position to KNOW the truth of their claim, 2. They died for it’s truth and 3. It is extremely difficult to find a plausible natural explanation which makes sense of the historical data. There are other factors at play here, but those three alone are the truly significant ones. Please, go ahead and give me plenty of examples of situations with those three factors. I doubt you could accurately claim it has happened “time and time again”.

    “All I would suggest” is that you would consider that Christianity IS unique for two reasons. Firstly because its cornerstone event IS actually capable of historical investigation, and secondly because there is evidence, showing that believing in the event is reasonable.

  25. Trav:

    I’m not sensible to think that resurrections never happen? Care to name a few, and supply the forensic evidence? Or do resurrections just happen quietly, and don’t ever get reported?

    Second, don’t confuse the disciples with the people who wrote the gospels. They’re not the same people.

    Third, the fact that the gospel writers were around in the same *century* as Jesus does not give them some special pipeline to firsthand knowledge of Jesus, that is pure wishful thinking. Scholars generally agree that the gospel authors likely never met Jesus – their writings are simply too late. Do you dispute this?

    If I thought I saw a man come to life, I wouldn’t be proclaiming his message. I would be launching a full forensic investigation into what I saw, to make sure I hadn’t been fooled by some sort of conjuring trick, or perhaps an hallucination. (Indeed, the fact that Jesus’ resurrection story persists today is partly because no proper scientific investigation could be done at the time, and because it’s too late for it to be done now.)

    Moreover, I’m not in the habit of proclaiming messages simply because they come from people who can do impressive party tricks. I proclaim messages if they make sense and can be corroborated by the evidence.

    You keep suggesting that it is “extremely difficult” to find a natural explanation for the resurrection. It may be difficult to find the evidence for a specific, detailed, natural explanation, but that’s only because we have no firsthand accounts of Jesus’ life. Instead, we have much later stories infused with all sorts of theological devices (unless you really think Jesus was born of a virgin – I suppose you do).

    As I’ve already indicated, it’s perfectly easy to come up with *generally plausible* natural explanations. These include rumor and legend and outright fabrication, yet you seem bent on insisting that everyone involved in the Jesus story was a paragon of honesty, objectiveness and diligent historical note-taking. This, once again, is pure wishful thinking. The gospel writers’ main goal was to preach their theology, not to write an impartial, factually accurate historical account of Jesus’ life.

  26. Keith,

    I asked for the basis on which you “know” that resurrections “NEVER HAPPEN”. I never claimed you weren’t sensible or anything like that. You suggest that resurrections never get reported. Well, actually they do- Craig Keener’s new book contains examples of eye witness accounts of modern day resurrections. This question is very relevant to the discussion.

    I am not confusing the authors with the disciples. On the topic of authorship, there could be arguments in either direction but it isn’t relevant here. Scholars accept the evidence for crucifixion, appearances, and the vast majority scholars accept the empty tomb, regardless of their beliefs on authorship. These data are well established and do not rely on any theory of authorship.

    I’m thoroughly confused by you saying that you’d “launch a full forensic investigation”. If you were a first century Jew, you wouldn’t have those tools at your disposal! We cannot make the mistake of imposing our 21st century ideals on 1st century writings.

    This discussion has been fascinating, but strawmen serve no purpose at all. Where have I claimed that “everyone involved in the Jesus story was a paragon of honesty, objectiveness and diligent historical note-taking” or anything like that?

    The “main goal” of the gospel writers might have been history, or it might have been theology. In actual fact, I believe it was a mix of the two.But that is not relevant here. The “purpose” question is similar to the authorship question in that it isn’t relevant to the data surrounding the resurrection and how to explain it.The historical data is well established, and doesn’t rely on any particular theory of what the author’s intentions were. The reason the data is considered well established by the experts is because it meets the standards and criteria used to evaluate history.

    How we interpret the data is a separate issue, more of a philosophical one. It is clear from your dismissal of the whole idea of resurrection that you are a priori opposed to any supernatural explanations. It is inevitable that our philosophical presuppositions will come to bear on our interpretation of historical data. So that’s something worth discussing- what is it about the supernatural that you find to inherently difficult to believe?

  27. Trav, for the sake of clarity in this discussion, could you define what you mean by “supernatural”? I have some trouble with this term, especially in figuring out how it differs from the term “nonexistent.” (I’ve written about this before.) How do you distinguish between that which is supernatural and that which is natural?

  28. Trav:

    Regarding reports of resurrections, I’m confused about your stance: either resurrections happen all the time, in which case Jesus’ resurrection is just one among many, and is therefore nothing unique or special to Christianity. Or, Jesus’ resurrection is among the one or two that have actually happened throughout history, meaning that it *is* something unique to Christianity. But in this case, you have to conveniently discount all other reports of resurrections and only accept the account of Jesus’ resurrection, which seems tremendously biased. So which is it?

    Also, you haven’t said whether you believe that the mass resurrections mentioned by the author of Matthew actually occurred. Do you think they did?

    “If you were a first century Jew, you wouldn’t have those tools at your disposal!”

    That’s the exact point I’m trying to make. First century culture simply didn’t have the ability to determine if a person really came back to life from the dead. How did they know that Jesus was actually dead for three days rather than in a coma? How did they know that the sightings of Jesus were not simply hallucinations? These questions involve knowledge of human biology that wasn’t accessible to people at that time. They therefore did not have the appropriate tools to judge the veracity of the resurrection story. They simply had to accept it on the hearsay of the oral tradition.

    “The “purpose” question is similar to the authorship question in that it isn’t relevant to the data surrounding the resurrection and how to explain it.”

    Are you honestly trying to say that the reliability of the gospel accounts has nothing to do with who wrote them, when they were written, and what the motivation of the authors were? Seriously?

    “”The reason the data is considered well established by the experts is because it meets the standards and criteria used to evaluate history.”

    I’m sorry, but the resurrection of Jesus is not considered “well-established” by the experts.

    “What is it about the supernatural that you find to inherently difficult to believe?”

    Two things: The supernatural, as NFQ’s comment hints at, is poorly defined. What does it actually mean? How do I know that something supernatural isn’t simply imaginary? In short, the entire concept is incoherent. Related to this is the fact the supernatural explanations don’t really explain anything at all, they simply put a placeholder instead of an explanation. (The “soul” is a perfect example: don’t know how consciousness is generated by the brain – easy, just call it the “soul” and move on!)

    Second, there is no evidence for anything supernatural. Notice how, as scientific understanding has deepened, all sorts of phenomena once thought to be supernatural (like epileptic seizures, for instance, and hallucinations) are now well understood as natural phenomena. The realm of supernatural explanations is steadily and inexorably shrinking, indicating that it is simply a misunderstanding of nature on our part that gave rise to supernatural thinking in the first place.

  29. Keith,

    Resurrections do get reported, as in Keener’s book titled Miracles, you can read the first chapter here. The fact that they get reported doesn’t mean we should accept them, it just means that it is an event which is claimed to have happened (I raised this in response to your confident claim that resurrections “NEVER HAPPEN”. What makes you so confident?). Whether or not the resurrection of Jesus is unique is unrelated to the question of whether resurrections happen all the time or are reported all the time. The reason the resurrection of Jesus is unique is because it exists within the context of him claiming divine power, in the context of Israel’s story, and because of the evidence for it- as I asked you earlier, provide me with other examples where the following factors exist: 1. People were in a position to KNOW the truth of their claim, 2. They died for it’s truth and 3. It is extremely difficult to find a plausible natural explanation which makes sense of the historical data.

    To define supernatural, I find wikipedia’s definition to be simple and accurate.

    Supernatural:

    “The supernatural (Medieval Latin: supernātūrālis: supra “above” + naturalis “nature”, first used: 1520–30 AD)[1][2] is that which is not subject to the laws of nature.”

    Law of nature:

    “a theoretical principle deduced from particular facts, applicable to a defined group or class of phenomena, and expressible by the statement that a particular phenomenon always occurs if certain conditions be present.”

    Again allow me to clarify my argument for you, as you’ve misconstrued it at two crucial points. The “data” is the historical events that need explaining: Crucifixion, appearances, belief in appearances, empty tomb. These do not rely on the “general reliability” of the gospels. As one example, take Jesus Seminar scholar JD Crossan. He is on the fringe of NT scholarship, and he argues that Jesus never actually said most of the sayings attributed to him. But he will tell you that the crucifixion is as historically certain as an event can be. This takes me to your second misunderstanding- I am not claiming that the resurrection itself is historically established, I am saying that the above data are established, and that the resurrection is the best explanation of that data.

    Since your last post, I discovered your website and I have spent some time reading through your critical essay on religious belief (not all, just parts). You claimed in this conversation that there is no evidence for the supernatural, and I now know (from part one of your essay) that scientific evidence is the only evidence you are willing to accept (Sub heading “Critical thinking and faith”, quote “Therefore, no miraculous religious claim from the monotheistic traditions has any chance of being shown to be true (or false)”). So on this basis, it appears that no first century evidence could ever possibly convince you. Thus, I don’t see why you are bothering yourself with having this conversation! If this is your view, you should’ve clearly stated this from the start, instead of only subtly implying it and instead troubling yourself with responding to my arguments.

    In this context, the first question is whether we have an open mind to the possibility of the supernatural. I argue that we should, because I do not accept naturalism. If you accept naturalism first, before considering the historical evidence, then clearly the evidentiary burden will be higher in your eyes because your philosophical presuppositions differ to mine. So firstly, you are a naturalist but secondly, not only are you a naturalist, but your essay makes it clear that your mind is closed to all types of evidence except one. Historical events are once off and therefore unprovable by the scientific method, as you seem to be aware. So we can’t expect scientific evidence for them!

    Your mind is closed, a priori, to all forms of historical evidence and to any explanation that is not directly provable by the scientific method. My mind is, firstly, open to actually considering historical evidence and secondly, my mind is open to considering various types of explanations for that evidence. It seems to me that you could’ve been more upfront from the very beginning, with admitting that you are not interested in the historical evidence, because your mind is closed to considering the evidence.

    Because your mind is closed, and my mind is open, I don’t see us ever reaching any kind of reasonable disagreement here. That in itself isn’t a tragedy, because increasing mutual understanding and learning is still possible. But this discussion seems to have gotten to a point of diminishing returns whereby this isn’t happening.

    Thanks for the conversation, it’s been illuminating.

  30. Trav:

    “The fact that they get reported doesn’t mean we should accept them.”

    So you agree, then, that we shouldn’t be expected to accept the New Testament reports of Jesus’ resurrection at face value, any more than we should accept any other report of a resurrection at face value. Good.

    “The reason the resurrection of Jesus is unique is because it exists within the context of him claiming divine power”

    Two things here: what does uniqueness have to do with how true something is? I don’t see the connection. Lies can be unique too.

    Second, the scenario you describe is not, in fact, unique. Consider Asclepius, Alcmene, Castor, Heracles, Melicertes, Romulus, etc. Jesus is by no means the first among these.

    “The “data” is the historical events that need explaining: Crucifixion, appearances, belief in appearances, empty tomb.”

    False. You’re jumping the gun. The data are not the events themselves. The data are the REPORTS of these events. We can’t simply assume, a priori, that these reports are accurate, as you seem to be doing here.

    “These do not rely on the “general reliability” of the gospels.”

    Of course they do. If the gospels were shown to be unreliable, then we’d be unable to have confidence in their historical reportage. It is crucial, then, that the reliability of the gospels be properly established.

    As for the crucifixion, I don’t see how it can possibly be as “certain as an event can be”, no matter what Crossan thinks. Simply telling me that Crossan is confident in this belief is not an argument. There are other scholars who are just as confident that Jesus didn’t even exist, let alone that he was crucified.

    Of course, crucifixions were common at that time, so it’s not a huge stretch of the imagination to accept that Jesus was crucified. But we don’t know that he was for certain.

    “I am not claiming that the resurrection itself is historically established, I am saying that the above data are established, and that the resurrection is the best explanation of that data.”

    Fair enough, but I disagree that the data are established. There is no independent information – not a single description outside the gospels – that attests to the empty tomb or the appearance of Jesus to his followers.

    “You claimed in this conversation that there is no evidence for the supernatural, and I now know (from part one of your essay) that scientific evidence is the only evidence you are willing to accept”

    For the record, I regard historical evidence as a subset of scientific evidence. It is not as compelling as other forms of scientific evidence, but it is admissible nonetheless. Indeed, many sciences are historical (geology is probably the best example).

    If you’re talking about some sort of evidence that is not historical, and not scientific in some other sense, then I’m not sure what sort of evidence you’re talking about.

    “So on this basis, it appears that no first century evidence could ever possibly convince you.”

    Actually yes, first century evidence could convince me, under the right conditions. The historical method has among its characteristics the following, in case you need reminding (some biblical scholars take a very relaxed attitude to the historical method):

    1. The method is fundamentally a probabilistic endeavor. No historian worth his salt would ever claim to be 100% certain about anything (Crossan should know better).

    2. An event can only be said to have a high probability of having occurred if it is attested by multiple independent sources. Claims like the empty tomb and the appearance of the risen Jesus to his followers are conspicuously lacking in this area.

    3. Extraordinary events, especially those which claim to suspend the laws of nature, require a much higher level of evidence than ordinary events (like a crucifixion). Inferring a resurrection from nothing more than apocryphal stories written decades after the event, simply doesn’t cut it.

    “In this context, the first question is whether we have an open mind to the possibility of the supernatural. I argue that we should, because I do not accept naturalism.”

    I do have an open mind to the supernatural. If someone could provide solid evidence of the supernatural, I would accept it.

  31. Keith,

    Please keep checking back. I will continue our discussion and respond to you again, despite signing off, but not for at least a few days.

  32. Keith,

    Bullet points may be easier because they allow me to cover more ground, and more efficiently. As always, you have raised many good points!

    - I’m unable to reconcile your statements in your essay with your statements here. I’m not sure how historical evidence could be scientific, given your descriptions in your essay. It sounds to me like you’ve changed your stance, which is a good thing in my view. So, let’s continue then.

    - Data vs “events”. Historians believe the events happened because the data stands up to historical scrutiny.

    - Yes, historical events are more based on probability, and absolute 100% certainty is almost impossible to come by.

    - No serious historians in top universities doubt the existence of a historical Jesus. Yes, there is a very small handful of sensationalists of various disciplines who boost their profiles by making the claim that Jesus is an amalgamation of myths (eg: Price, Harpur) but let’s not kid ourselves that this actually means anything! There are also “scholars” who believe the world is 6000 years old, but you, being a scientist, would no doubt laugh them out of town. Likewise, 99% of real historians don’t even take the “Jesus-mythers” seriously, much less consider their arguments to have any merit. There are varying views amongst the scholarly community, but there is broad consensus on certain key points about Jesus’s existence and his life.

    - It is not true that we must have multiple, independent attestation. There are instances where we dont have this but historians consider events to be historical. There are plenty of different criteria that historians use. Yes, independence and multiple attestation are important but they are not the only criteria. Nonetheless, in the case of the empty tomb and appearances, we DO have multiple, independent attestation!

    - “Extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence” is a simplistic statement that requires huge qualification. It is not the truism that many skeptics wish it was. For example the following issues are highly relevant to determining what an extraordinary event is and what evidence is required: Background considerations, prior evidence, and the likelihood of the same evidence in alternative scenarios. We have already discussed this to some degree, but I am happy to shelve it until later, because it mostly relates to explaining the evidence. This comes after discussing what evidence there actually is. Based on your responses, I had falsely believed that you accepted the established historical data on which I base my explanation.

  33. Trav:

    Thanks for getting back to the discussion!

    “- I’m not sure how historical evidence could be scientific, given your descriptions in your essay.”

    It’s not that the evidence itself can be called “scientific”. Science is a process, not a quality. What I’m suggesting is that historical data can be weighed and tested using the same basic scientific methodology that any observation is weighed and tested.

    The only difference with using historical data, as opposed to freshly generated experimental or observational data is that the former carry a greater degree of uncertainty with them, especially when the data involve human culture and all the biases associated with it.

    “- Data vs “events”. Historians believe the events happened because the data stands up to historical scrutiny.”

    This only applies to certain events, such as the existence of Jesus. It does not apply to supernatural events like the resurrection. There is no consensus among historians, or even the more biased biblical scholars, that the resurrection took place.

    “- It is not true that we must have multiple, independent attestation. There are instances where we dont have this but historians consider events to be historical.”

    There may, indeed, be some examples of historical events that are taken to be true even without independent attestation. Usually this is because the person claiming the event has a good historical track record. For example, if an historian from 500 years ago wrote about twenty different events, every one of which has been corroborated by independent sources, then we can be fairly confident that the 21st event he reports is accurate, even if it cannot be corroborated.

    We have no such reliable track record for the gospel authors. We don’t even know who they are! We have no idea if they wrote anything else aside from the gospels (with the possible exception of the Luke-Acts link), so we do not know how reliable their reportage is. We also have little reason to believe that they were writing as impartial historians rather than proselytizers, because they advocate very strong personal points of view – they are not simply reporting events. All of this casts considerable doubt on the gospels’ historical reliability, especially when it comes to highly improbably claims like the resurrection.

    “Nonetheless, in the case of the empty tomb and appearances, we DO have multiple, independent attestation!”

    We have multiple (at least 2) attestations but they are NOT independent. Consider the following: If an oral tradition is being propagated through a population and two separate people decide to write it down, you cannot say that the events they record have been independently attested. All you can conclude is that the oral tradition itself has been independently attested.

    In other words, the best the historian can do is conclude that yes, indeed, there was an oral tradition going around concerning the resurrection of a man called Jesus, because more than one person independently attested to that tradition.

    What we don’t have are independent witnesses of the actual events themselves. This is a crucial difference. In fact, we don’t have the attestation of even a *single* witness. For all we know, the entire resurrection narrative could easily have sprung up as a legend in the years following Jesus’s death – but we’ve already stamped those grapes!

  34. The easiest way to disprove the resurrection is to prove if there was ever a Jesus miracle worker,crucified and resurrected from the dead to begin with.And i can tell you there is not one iota not one ounce of reliable proof he ever existed as an earth walking flesh and blood person.Yes,there were plenty of Jesus’es(people named Jesus)in the first century but no historian or philospher contemporary with Jesus time knows anything about a miracle worker,crucified and resurrected Jesus.
    Philo was born about 10 B.C.and died about 45 A.D.he lived all the way through Jesus supposed time he wrote extensively about the Jewish religion and happenings right in Galilee but even he knows nothing about about a miracle worker,crucifixtion or resurrecting from the dead Jesus.Seneca lived all the way through Jesus supposed time he tracked and wrote about earthquakes and sun eclipses but he knows nothing of an earthquake or sun darkening that supposedly happened at the crucifixtion.The town of Nazareth has been proved by archaeologists to have not existed in the first century,it is a town having beenj started in the late second century and third century,if there was no town of Nazareth in the first century there could be no Jesus of Nazareth in the first century.The 4 gospels are not historical documents they are religious works.
    Would religions lie about their gods?Prove that to yourself do you believe the Koran or other religions supposedly Holy books?Christianity likes to base their beliefs on circular reasoning which is it’s so because the Bible and N.T.says it’s so.That is not proof or evidence it’s faith,pure blind faith.The 4 gospel writers are anonymous writers no one,ZERO knows who wrote them.The claimed authors Matthew,Mark,Luke & John were not claimed to be the authors until 150 years after they were supposedly writen.Nowhere in them does it say who wrote them,neither do they say whoever the writers were that they themselves were eyewitnesses to the crucifixtion and resurrection,they only claim to have heard it from someone who were eyewitnesses,in other words heresay.Actually Jesus is yet another sun god out of thousands of other ancient sun gods developed by the Roman Empire because they needed a state religion to govern over the many different nationalities they governed over that had many different sun god beliefs.
    Jesus is called “The Light of the World”what is actually the light of the world?Of course the sun is.The powers of darkness attached to Satan is merely the night time darkness.And so you have Jesus(the sun)fighting against the darkness of night(Satan).Christianity did not defeat paganism,christianity became the new paganism.Every symbol and custom in christianity came from paganism(sun god worship).Christmas,Easter the cross,salvation,belief in a burning hell all came from paganism,christianity merely adopted copied,counterfeited it all from paganism and attached it to the Jesus tale.I will probably never run across your site again so if there are any new posts or refutes to what i am sending send it to my email address and we can get a lot deeper into this subject.Thanks.
    In Real Truth,
    Jay Osborne

  35. nelleke zwarteveen

     /  November 10, 2012 at 10:53 am

    oOfcourse Jesus existed, there is no doubt of. And that is the truth….

  36. Todd Reeder

     /  November 26, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    People say that people willing to die for what they believed is proof of Jesus resurrection. They name a few people who wrote about a person named Jesus who lived at that time. But is there any proof from Jewish history or Roman history that Jesus came back to life? I have searced online and have only found a few references of people who wrote there was a Jesus in that time. And have found not real wriiten proof outside of the new testament that it happend. It would be front page news and lots of reports in history of it occuring. M. M. Mangasarian says in The Truth About Jesus. Is He a Myth? If Jesus had come back to life why didn’t he present himself to the Jewish leaders and the world and say I have come back to life. That would have proved it to the world. You can find The Truth About Jesus. Is He a Myth? Online in an audiobook.

  37. hoffbegone

     /  April 1, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Some people latch onto facts and proofs because they dont trust their other senses and use those facts and proofs as their source of absolute truth. Some people dont believe in the holocaust, for example, so it does not surprise me that some people either dont want to or just refuse to believe in other historical figures or events, we all pick and chose. I find history books, secular or otherwise, to be full of fairy tales anyhow and should not be so easily trusted. Anybody who believes in their favorite history book or newspaper or blog is exercising the same faith as those that believe their favorite religious texts. For the time being it does not matter as long as our temporal needs are met. How much it matters in the end, if there is an end, depends on absolute truth.

  38. People want proof of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
    Why?

    Even if indisputable proof was given…

    … would man serve in obedience the Will of the One Creator, whose Son is Jesus Christ?
    OR
    …would man desire to be free to serve his own will, to do what is right, his RIGHTS, in his own eyes, to serve and magnify oneself (XES), to know / establish “good and evil” in his own eyes?

    Satan and the fallen angels lived in the presence (proof) of the existence of the One Creator and they also acknowledged that Jesus Christ is the Son of the One God….and yet they embraced the desire to do their own will…to be FREE FROM the Will of their Master so as TO BE FREE (disobedience in eyes of God) to do their will, their freedom rights.

    BUT note…soon The Lord Jesus Christ will return to rule the earth in power according to and in obedience to the Will of the Jehowah Elohim and NOT according to man’s first love for his “freedom / self-rights”.

    John Stefanyszyn
    …a bondman of the One King Jesus Christ, Son of the Only God

  39. agree with John Stefanyszyu. It’s choice. I’ve talked with so many who have chosen their way not to believe any spiritual evidence but for those who believe in Jesus as Saviour god has promised to do amazing things in their lives. I’ve seen and experienced this. Even an atheist friend says that when you believe the Bible it works . nev richards

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