How Do We Investigate Whether a Resurrection Occurred? – #7 Post of 2011

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Very few skeptics with whom I’ve interacted have actually investigated the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ (there are some exceptions, but they are few in number).  The typical response is to dismiss all miracle accounts as either impossible or so improbable as to not be worth researching – taking cues from arch-skeptic David Hume.  Some take Bart Ehrman’s lead and argue that a miracle such as the resurrection cannot, in principle, be investigated.

The armchair skeptic has always puzzled me, because investigating the claim of a resurrection seems relatively straightforward.  Thomas Sherlock, a writer in the 18th century, saw this as well, in his book The Trial of the Witnesses of the Resurrection:

Suppose you saw a Man publickly executed, his Body afterwards wounded by the Executioner, and carry’d and laid in the Grave; that after this you should be told, that the Man was come to Life again; what would you suspect in this Case? Not that the Man had never been dead, for that you saw yourself: But you would suspect whether he was now alive: But would you say this Case excluded all human Testimony, and that Men could not possibly discern whether one with whom they convers’d familiarly was alive or no? Upon what Ground could you say this?

A Man rising from the Grave is an Object of Sense, and can give the same Evidence of his being alive, as any other Man in the World can give. So that a Resurrection considered only as a Fact to be prov’d by Evidence, is a plain Case; it requires no greater Ability in the Witnesses, than that they be able to distinguish between a Man dead and a Man alive; a Point, in which I believe every Man living thinks himself a Judge. I do allow that this Case, and others of like Nature, require more Evidence to give them Credit than ordinary Cases do; you may therefore require more Evidence in these, than in other Cases; but it is absurd to say, that such Cases admit no Evidence, when the Things in Question are manifestly Objects of Sense.

What evidence could be given for a resurrection?  “It requires no greater Ability in the Witnesses, than that they be able to distinguish between a Man dead and a Man alive; a Point, in which I believe every Man living thinks himself a Judge.”

We look at the testimony of those who claimed Jesus rose from the dead and we determine whether they are to be believed or not.  This is what needs to be done before we dismiss, with a wave of our hand, the question of the resurrection.  For those of you wanting to know whether Jesus actually rose from the dead, you’re going to have to carefully inspect the testimony; you are not going to arrive at an answer by sitting in your recliner and pronouncing, “Miracles can’t happen.”

Philosopher John Earman takes David Hume, the hero of modern miracle skeptics, to task for his failure to critically examine the evidence:

Hume pretends to stand on philosophical high ground, hurling down thunderbolts against miracle stories. . . . When Hume leaves the philosophical high ground to evaluate particular miracle stories, his discussion is superficial and certainly does not do justice to the extensive and vigorous debate about miracles that had been raging for several decades in Britain.

Earman concludes with these remarks about verifying miracles:

I acknowledge that the opinion is of the kind whose substantiation requires not philosophical argumentation and pompous solemnities about extraordinary claims requiring extraordinary proofs, but rather difficult and delicate empirical investigations . . . into the details of particular cases.

If you want to start digging for yourself, might I recommend three books?  The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach  by Mike Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, and The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright.

184 thoughts on “How Do We Investigate Whether a Resurrection Occurred? – #7 Post of 2011”

  1. Well…what we have does not equate with modern day “testimony” within a trial setting. We have second (or more) hand accounts that would be barred as inadmissible hearsay statements today. Further, the stories have washed through time, memory, and other persons causing more credibility issues. We also have cultural differences and legendary development, as well as conflicting details.

    Look…we have what we have. Is it historical evidence? Yes. (although this isn’t necessarily saying much. ALL historical accounts, no matter how fanciful, can be considered “evidence.”) Attempting to bolster it to more than what it is only demonstrates concerns over the reliability of the evidence.

    Unfortunately we only have so many hours in the day—not enough time to fully investigate every claim outside our normal experiences. If we read three (3) books on the Resurrection, shouldn’t we also read three from Scientologists regarding their claims, three from Mormons regarding their claims, three from Muslims regarding their claims, three from Buddhists regarding their claims, etc?

    Sometimes “armchair skeptics” have to rely upon us skeptics who have actually investigated the historical evidence, just like we do in many other fields.

  2. “We have second (or more) hand accounts that would be barred as inadmissible hearsay statements today. Further, the stories have washed through time, memory, and other persons causing more credibility issues. We also have cultural differences and legendary development, as well as conflicting details.”

    The conflicting details are really the only thing we know we have. And even there, those they can be resolved in the way apparent conflicting but true testimonies of witnesses in a court case can be resolved when all the details are compared to what actually happened when finally divulged.

    All of the other points are assumptions or minor issues. As some have made the case, the resurrection in the best explanation of the facts that we do have and are agreed upon by most believer and skeptic scholars alike, as documented by Gary Habermas.

    The argument by Hume only holds for purely naturalistic causes. Yes men don’t rise from the dead naturally. So, indeed extraordinary claims have to be made in order to be worth investigating, otherwise, who cares whether some supposed miracle happened? (We don’t have to accept every claim of miracle, only some that might be significant to our own lives.) Since the resurrection is an important and extraordinary claim, it should be investigated. Yes, most don’t have the time to do the primary research, nor have the ability to do so, but to review the arguments from both sides for something so significant and important, would be a worthy thing to take the time to do. Especially since the resurrection is the only thing that distinguishes Jesus from other religious figures and the evidence of it is what distinguishes it from legendary claims of others.

    As far as a court case goes, Simon Greenleaf, a Harvard trial lawyer considered the evidence admissible. Another more recent lawyer, who escapes me at the moment, has done more work in that area updating what Greenlieaf did.

    The problem is that most of the comments against the resurrection are based on assumptions or hearsay, not really dealing with the facts.

  3. Walt,

    You may be thinking of John Warwick Montgomery. If anyone is interested, I wrote at length against using the American legal system (including terms like “admissible” or “testimony”) when reviewing the New Testament accounts regarding the resurrection.

  4. Walt: “As some have made the case, the resurrection in the best explanation of the facts that we do have”

    Sorry, but what facts DO we have? Outside the bible, what facts about Jesus exist?

  5. Bill,
    From your last post: “I am trying to challenge your extraordinary claim that the resurrection goes against reason, that there is literally no reason to believe it whatsoever, that Christians are basically checking their brains at the door.”

    This post does not inspire me to read a book about the testimony of those who claim they witnessed a resurrection. Not because I doubt the testimony. If indeed the Christian brain is not checked out, it should be clear that resurrection from the dead requires supernatural intervention, regardless of the testimony of the witnesses. If 1 million people told us they watched a man turn lead into gold, should we believe that the laws of physics were bent? I’m not advocating that 1M people would have lied; I’m advocating that alchemy and resurrection fall into the same category of impossibility. The only way to prove the claim would be to have the alchemist demonstrate his craft then test the product. It is the same with resurrection (or any miracle). Let’s test the veracity of the claim under proper observing conditions. Impossible you might say because the time is past. In that case, we should dismiss the claim (the same as we dismiss all supernatural claims from ancient history as fanciful) until the time that another demonstration can be performed.

    Now, tying resurrection to Christianity, the only reasonable explanation of his reappearance would be that he did not actually die; in which case we are talking about resuscitation, not resurrection. But if that is the case, then we are not arguing what Christianity wants to believe is true. From my last post:

    “Regardless of how you interpret the text of the bible, the clear intention is to have the reader believe that Jesus was killed, then 3 days later brought back from the dead. It is a central tenant of Christianity. For this, I do not think there is room for interpretation, nor is there reason to believe it possible.”

    So… when a man is murdered, to expect him to return to life 3 days later, regardless of the testimony of those who claim it to be true still requires supernatural intervention, which besmirches reason and to me means there is still literally no reason to believe it whatsoever, which is directly the claim of Christianity.

  6. Actually it was Pamela Binnings Ewen. She was not a trial lawyer, but a corporate lawyer. Greenleaf was the trial lawyer prof at Harvard from a while back. Ewens, is an update.

    There is a book titled, Paul on Trial, that is written by a lawyer who makes a case that Luke and Acts were written as legal documents of the time.

    I looked at your article. I have not read Montgomery on this subject. So you might be addressing his claims. But that the claims of the NT are not themselves involved in legal proceedings in the American context, it does not follow that claims of the NT have no evidential value if they were to be introduced into a legal argument. Greenleaf is arguing that there is evidential value, not that that evidence is fits a modern context.

  7. Todd, your alchemy example does not make the point you are trying to make. The resurrection does have a supernatural claim, as you said. The alchemy does not. Indeed an alchemist would have to demonstrate a repeated process. However, a supernatural event does not lend itself to such. So I think the analogy is a false analogy, or maybe we can say it is even a categorical mistake.

    I think the fallacy that I keep seeing made by skeptics is that they want proof that dead men can rise from the dead prior to believing Jesus could have been risen from the dead when again, they are different categories. No one is saying they have a method to bring dead men to life. What they are saying is that indeed dead men don’t rise, but Jesus did. If dead men rise all the time, Jesus’ rising wouldn’t be a big deal. It IS impossible for dead men to rise naturally! No one, I think, is arguing anything counter to that. What they are arguing is that a supernatural event took place as evidenced in Jesus’ rising from the dead. There is a kind of cart before the horse problem going on when saying it is impossible for Jesus to rise just because naturally dead men don’t rise when it is the case that Jesus’ rising is to point to a supernatural reality.

    The question is not whether dead men can rise from the dead, but whether the evidence that Jesus did rise from the dead gives a reason to believe it very well may have happened and the impossible was made possible by an act from outside the natural realm. But that does not stand alone in making the case for the Christian faith. There are many pieces of the puzzle that when put together point to the reality of the faith.

    The resurrection doesn’t stand just as a miracle to verify Jesus’ divinity claims, although that is important, but is the centerpiece of the claim that those who have faith are made new as Jesus was. If that wasn’t true, we wouldn’t give a didly that Jesus rose.

  8. Thank you, Walt. I had not heard of Pamela Binning Ewen until you mentioned her. The reviews (if they accurately state what her position is) are not…encouraging. Of course I have already read Greenleaf, who did O.K. for the information and legal standard of his time. But since then, the legal standards have modified, and we have more information, making him outdated.

  9. Walt,

    To be clear, Dr. Habermas lists the scholarly position of numerous individuals, and what arguments they are convinced by. Not so much “facts” but what certain scholars are convinced happened. Indeed, over time he has modified downward the percentage who are convinced there was an empty tomb from 75% to “more than 66%.” Does this make the empty tomb slightly less “factual”? Of course not. I would agree there are certain facts (namely copies of written documents, with the copies appearing in the 2nd Century) and it is the interpretation of that fact—those written documents–where we differ.

  10. I replied and it seemed to have gotten lost.
    Anyway, Pamela Binnings Ewen was who I was thinking of. She is not a trial lawyer, but a lawyer nonetheless. Greenleaf was a trial lawyer professor at Harvard and her work is an update to that.

    There is a book called, Paul on Trial, written by a lawyer making the case the Luke and Acts were legal documents to be used in Rome in Paul’s defense. We don’t know that to be the case, but he makes a good argument.

    I have not read Montgomery, so I don’t know if you are addressing his claims or not. But I don’t think anyone in their right mind would say that the testimony/evidence of the NT is meant to be a trial testimony in the context of the American judicial system. What Greenleaf was arguing is that the testimony in the NT has evidential value – a different point than you are arguing.

  11. Someone mentioned her earlier this week. I just looked up the reviews and I have to agree with you on that one.

  12. Todd,
    Please read the blog post again. It is directly addressing your position – you are the classic armchair skeptic. You have ruled out even the possibility of the resurrection of Jesus occurring before you ever look at evidence. Professor Earman is speaking directly to your position.

    You have said that in order to verify a miracle that occurred in the past, the miracle must be repeated again in the present “under proper observing conditions.” But that is setting up an impossible standard, and you even admit that’s what you’re doing. A particular miracle, by definition, can only occur once in history. So, in effect, you’re saying, “We need to see something that can only happen once in the past, happen again today in front of our eyes.” Your position is very similar to David Hume’s position on miracles, which has been thoroughly refuted by numerous philosophers again and again over the last couple hundred years.

    You keep saying that the resurrection must have required a supernatural intervention, and that, therefore, it goes against reason. I have 2 comments here. First, it is possible that the resurrection had nothing to do with supernatural intervention, that there is some natural explanation. But, by your methodology, you would never bother to investigate that possible natural cause because you have ruled it out a priori as a possiblity. That seems unreasonable to me.

    Second, you have not shown why supernatural intervention goes against reason. You have made that statement several times, but you have never given reasons for your statement. You seem to take it as a maxim, or first principle. But surely you understand that when you take something to be a first principle, and that 90+% of all the people alive today disagree with your first principle, you owe us an argument to support your first principle. The vast majority of people alive do not think that supernatural intervention goes against reason, so please give us some reasons for your position.

  13. erm… I’m not sure if i’ll be able to word this correctly.

    I guess i’ll be lumped in with the ‘skeptic’ category, and that’s fine. Believe in the resurection if you want. I suppose it’s really quite pivotal of christianity.

    But, Skeptic or not Bill, I still see the resurection as purely allegorical.

    As a christian, how would you view this approach? to me, it doesn’t much matter if it did, or didn’t happen, I see (most biblical stories) as a form of moral instruction through allegory.

  14. I agree.

    I will also note that it is not the written documents themselves that are at issue when we say “minimal facts” per Habermas (to address Andrew’s question). It is the creeds/hymns that are found in those written documents, and thus predating the documents as confessions of faith of believers within five to thirty years of Jesus’ death that are at issue. There is still a matter of interpretation of the creeds, but the ones written in the epistles are more clear cut at what was believed than arguing about the dating of the gospels (which I believe 3 of the 4 predate 70 AD).

  15. I would point you to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, chapter 15, verses 12-19 (emphasis below is mine):

    But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

    Christianity, stripped of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is a false and deceitful religion that should be completely abandoned.

  16. Chisel,

    I know you addressed your question to Bill, but I would think he and I are on the same page on this. So if you don’t mind, I would like to give a reply.

    The resurrection being an historical event makes a huge difference. If it only had to do with moral instruction, what is the instruction of the resurrection? Jesus could have taught moral principles as done in all other religions and in the Old Testament without having to rise from the dead.

    The significance of the resurrection is that mankind is incapable of living perfectly moral lives. I’m not saying there aren’t people who live pretty good lives compared to everybody else, but the fact of the matter is that no one can live a perfect life. This is evidence of the claim in the Old Testament that man is separated from God. All people are born outside of fellowship with God. If we were perfectly moral by godly standards, we would be called righteous and would be in fellowship with God. However, since we are born apart from God, we are born unrighteous, not knowing God (who is righteous). This is called in biblical terms, being born into sin. And because of that, we have a propensity to do acts of sin which further keep us from God. There is nothing we can do about that. It is like being born in another country of high poverty unable to keep the laws needed to enter into a country of zero poverty. Poverty tends to cause inward thinking and kick in survival instincts. These inclinations are offensive in a zero poverty nation and must be obliterated in order to gain citizenship.

    As is it, only God has the righteousness needed to be in His own presence (heaven). That would seem rather obvious – practically by definition. Only He knows what it takes to be righteous. So only He can remedy the situation. He did so in literally becoming a human being (the Son of God became man) and living the perfectly righteous life, as a human being, that only one in the knowledge of God can do. That by itself does zippo for us. It is a great example, but we still can’t do it because we are just too inclined to be selfish. We still don’t have the divine knowledge Jesus did to live it out. And since our selfishness leads to further separation from God, to the point of having no relationship to God’s goodness upon physical death, the consequence for that separation is death (physical and spiritual). But Jesus’ death was due to sin – unrighteousness. He died just as we as human being die. Yet we die because of our sin. He died, not because of any sin He committed, but because of our sin. If things would have stopped at that point. We still wouldn’t be any better off. He died for our sin, but that doesn’t make us any better. However, that is not the end. He was resurrected, literally. There was an empty tomb. Why an empty tomb if it was allegorical? It would have been hard to prove a physical resurrection if there was not a physical empty tomb. Yet, His resurrection is more that that. His perfect humanity conquered death and overcame sin. The resurrection is proof of that. He is the “new man.” All of our unrighteousness was taken away at the cross of Calvary in His death. We gain His righteousness through faith (belief AND trust) in that we will be like Him in our resurrection at the end of the age. He has already taken away our unrighteousness and His righteousness is available to all who believe. Believe leads to a type of marriage, and binding, to Christ spiritually which leads to ultimate physical union (not sexually) at the end. Those who do not trust in Him are left without righteousness and can not stand in the presence of God. Even if they did, it would be as much hell as being separated from Him.

    If Jesus did not physically rise, we are left in our sins and will be forever separated from holiness. No amount of trying in our part can get us there. It is like being in a deep deep hole without a ladder, rope, or anything. Only one who is outside the hole, can lower a life ring and carry us out on His own shoulders.

    So is is vitally important and thus worth investigation!

  17. Well said Bill. Without the resurrection, death is not destroyed, our nature is not healed, and we have not hope. Without the resurrection, there is no point in being a Christian.

  18. I am completely familiar with the evidence for the resurrection. it consist of a number of ancient religious texts written at best from two to six decades after the events they purport to describe. I am aware of no evidence that would persuade me that early followers of a religion can be relied upon to accurately upon the events surrounding the origin of their religion. On the other hand, I am aware of instances (e.g., Mormons) where early proponents of a religion lied through their teeth about such events. Why should I believe that early Christians were any more reliable than early Mormons, early Muslims, or early Scientologists?

  19. What evidence could be given for a resurrection?

    How about a flash of light in the desert? That’s what Paul’s companions are reported to have seen on the road to Damascus.

    How about a dream? In the Gospel of Matthew, that’s supposedly how the angel supernaturally “appeared” to Joseph.

    The problem with proving a miracle isn’t that we know they can’t happen. The problem is that we know that ignorance, gullibility, and wishful thinking often leads people to attribute natural events to supernatural causes.

  20. Vinney,

    You say you know of the deception by Joseph Smith. Of course we know about the Book of Abraham as a verified deception. We also know there is no archeological evidence to support any of the claims in the Book of Mormon. With Scientiology, there is no connection to anything verifiable, the theology is beyond credibility, and the founder’s intentions are questionable (money making scheme). With Islam, we have the biographies of its founder from Islamic scholars that show he didn’t not represent the character of godliness with his terror campaigns on caravans and it is contrary to previous revelation it supposedly follows from (Abrahamic faith).

    So, I think you have already answered your question and may have not realized it. We have definitive reasons to not trust these others. With the resurrection, you have a consistent story of an historical figure (as mentioned by non-biblical sources) and no negative evidence (except that fabricated by people thousands of years removed). You have documents written within the lifetime of those who could dispute it (since you agree with the two to six decades). We have no evidence against the character of the apostles who died for their faith and were radically different after the resurrection than they were before. You have testimony of women that normally wouldn’t be admitted. You have no natural explanation that explains the empty tomb and the radical faith these early believers had. I think a lack of negative evidence is a positive in contrast to these other religious movements you mentioned.

    Someone might ask why God didn’t make it more obvious if the resurrection was true and so important? I think that is a good question – at least one I ask. Ironically, God seems to allow just enough evidence to believe and just enough to deny if a person is intent on doing so. The resurrection is the center piece, but I think the Christian faith has more going for it than just the resurrection so that on the whole it can be seen to be a consistent story with the reality we see. The claim is that Christians turn off their minds. I’ll admit that many seem to do so. But as I see it (one trained in science and philosophy), one has to turn off logic and fabricate excuses to not believe. A person can not absolutely say miracles absolutely don’t happen to make the case against the resurrection – because in this one case, it may very well have happened as a verification of God’s hand in the world.

  21. T.O.F,

    If that was all there was to it, I’d agree with you (but of course with different words). Christ’s death is not a human sacrifice in neanderthal terms (not to demean neanderthals). In order to have resurrection, there must first be death. All humans die. If God is to bring life back to humans dying in the midst of their drifting at sea (so to speak), He must go to where they are and pull them back in. To apply righteousness to unrighteous humans requires bringing life to what is dead by destroying that which leads to death. Jesus is the one who came to the lost, died as the unrighteous do, removing the sting of sin and conquered death (as only God can do). The resurrection is that new life that is needed for eternal communion with God. The opposite is eternal separation from God.

    I don’t think of it as a sacrifice in the way you are thinking, but that death is necessary for there to be resurrection.

  22. Vinny,

    I agree with you on the last statement. However, that it happens so often does not mean it happens in absolutely all cases that way. We have more than a flash of light and a dream to go on here. Why did the Romans or the Jewish leadership not show Jesus to still be in the tomb if He was still there? What was it that over 500 people saw that they thought was the risen Jesus if it was not? There is more here than wishful thinking.

  23. Walt,

    If I were to re-state my point outside of the alchemy example, it might be that regardless of the testimony, resurrection is not possible, therefore no amount of testimony or conjecture should convince anyone of its validity unless direct evidence is presented to the contrary.

    Without evidence, faith is all that is left. But faith is a fallacy in itself. To say you believe in resurrection on faith is the same as saying that regardless of the impossibility of resurrection you choose to believe it based on the authority of someone who told you it was true.

  24. Todd,

    For a long time I didn’t believe in the resurrection – especially a physical one.
    Faith is not a blind hope as many claim. You have faith in lots of things – like that you can think correctly, in your doctors, that your car will work, that the sun will come up, etc. Faith is trusting in future events based on past experience. Blind faith IS stupid. There MUST be a reason for any faith, whatever it is in. You have faith in your understanding that Jesus’ resurrection is impossible.

    My question to you is why are you so certain that the resurrection absolutely could not have happened? The evidence you have pointed to so far is what happens NORMALLY, not with regard to what might have happened once for a very specific, predicted, and non-fluke reason. It seems to me you are making an assumption in the face of the evidence. As far as direct evidence goes, what evidence do you have that any historical person existed or did any one thing attributed to them? It is ridiculous to demand direct evidence for something that happened 2000 years ago in any way different than you have evidence for anything else that happened 2000 years ago, namely by writings and archeology of the time.

  25. “For those of you wanting to know whether Jesus actually rose from the dead, you’re going to have to carefully inspect the testimony; you are not going to arrive at an answer by sitting in your recliner and pronouncing, “Miracles can’t happen.”

    I will admit that I haven’t read several books on the subject, but might I suggest that instead of calling me an armchair atheist, you might put some of the reasons you believe in resurrection in text for us to examine. I grew up as a Christian and know the stories well. If there is a natural cause as you allude, what is it? who made the claim? what evidence is there to back it up? and, if it was natural then does that negate the Christian belief?

    Until there is evidence presented to the contrary I think the resurrection falls into the same category as proving that god exists. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” The onus should be on Christianity to provide that evidence. In the mean time I think it’s reasonable to reject the idea a priori (the dead don’t rise) and a posteriori (there is evidence that the dead don’t rise).

    Your point that my requirement for a historical miracle to be repeated under proper observational conditions as unreasonable is well taken, but it would certainly put to rest the question of miracles. However, the idea of resurrection is not so unique in the bible that it would be a completely unreasonable request. Elijah did it twice while alive; (1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 4); and once while dead (2 Kings 13:21). Jesus did it several times; a young man in Nain (Luke 7:14); Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:41-42), Lazarus (John 11:43-44). (Matthew 27:52), several of the saints were re-animated; Peter rose Dorcas (Acts 9:40), Paul rose Eutychus (Acts 20:9-10). In almost all of these circumstances a crowd was there as witness. I’m sure we can find a worthy human, have a team of doctors verify the death, then allow as many ‘healers’ as would like the opportunity to raise the corpse, including the pope himself, until there is a resurrection. Why do you think god would not allow that to happen? I would convert immediately.

    As for why supernatural intervention goes against reason, to say that simply because %90 of the world believes in the supernatural still does not make it reasonable. Was there not a time where the majority believed that the earth was flat? 6000 years old? the center of the universe?

    However, to that majority I would say supernatural events (miracles) go directly against nature and therefore reason. This is why faith healers, psychics, mediums, etc… cannot reproduce their supernatural ‘powers’ in a controlled environment. Put under a microscope, the miracles disappear. In order to believe in miracles, one must first prove that something outside of nature exists. This has not been done to date. To engage in semantics, you might say that we can ‘reason’ anything. But if there is to be meaning behind what I’m calling reason, we might also say miracles go against reality.

    If you’ve read the books and done the legwork, perhaps your next post could be on the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection for us to examine?

  26. That it happens so often does not prove that it happens in every case. However, without some objective method for distinguishing miracle stories that are based on actual supernatural events from those that are the product of ignorance, gullibility and wishful thinking, we have to assess the probability of the latter higher than the former in any given case.

    When I went to Catholic grade school in the 1960’s, the nuns would tell us about how the Virgin Mary appeared to tens of thousands of people at Fatima. As it turns out, lots of people who were there said they didn’t see anything and the people who claimed to have seen something didn’t agree about what they saw. However, I have no doubt that the nuns who told us the stories truly believed them.

    The fact that Paul claimed that Jesus appeared to 500 people at once doesn’t provide me with any better evidence for what happened than the nuns stories did. All it tells me is that Paul passed along a story he believed to be true just as those nuns did.

  27. I know bill has said before that according to my views i would not be considered christian in the traditional sense, and i’ve pretty much given up on it.

    But this whole thing about being born into sin? that wasn’t anything Christ said. ever. It was formulated by Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century AD, and i just don’t buy into it.

    and as for *how* an empty grave could be percieved allegorically, perhaps it’s a lesson that we cannot take anything, deeds, possesions, fame, fortune, with us through death. Perhaps the lesson is to live well, because none of that follows us.

    I dunno.

    You guys have your resurection, and that’s cool.

    I guess i’m trying to say that for me, I don’t need a resurection to be spiritually, or emotionally, or philosophically complete. I don’t know what kind of skeptic you would call that.

  28. The only reason I can be as confident as I am about the early history of Joseph Smith and the Mormons is because I have primary sources outside the Mormon church. I have first hand accounts from non-Mormons who dealt with Smith and his followers and ex-Mormons who left the fold. If all I had were the stories that the Mormons told about their own activities, I would have no reason to doubt the character and integrity of Joseph Smith or any of his followers.

    During the lifetime of Joseph Smith, there were plenty of people who knew the truth about him and publicized it. That didn’t stop him from attracting many converts who willingly accepted the Mormon versions of events. Why should I believe that early Christians would have been any more likely to abandon their beliefs?

  29. Let’s clarify, using (for the moment) the legal nomenclature of evidence. Suppose Lucy is in the stand and testifies, “The car was red.”

    What is the evidence? It is NOT: “The car is red.” The actual evidence is, “Lucy testified, ‘The Car was red.’” Later we may learn Lucy is color-blind, or was looking into the sun, or is biased, and the car’s color would give her financial benefit. Do any of those subsequent discoveries change the evidence? Not at all—the evidence still is “Lucy testified, ‘The car was red.’’—the only difference is that testimony’s credibility is impacted by other evidence; her colorblindness, etc.

    Here we have documents that are copies of previous documents providing information from over 100 years from the copy. The authorship, timing, place and intended recipients are argued from various standpoints. The evidence is these documents. However, to verify the veracity of the contents requires some speculation, interpretation and application of methods. I often watch Christians leap to assuming the contents themselves are “evidence.” It is not—there is background information taken into consideration.

    As much as “armchair skeptics” are criticized for insufficient research, I have equally found most (if not the vast majority of Christians) have equally failed to research. (Heck, how many Christians have read all three (3) books Bill Pratt asked the skeptics to read?) Christians don’t read about sedar, they haven’t read Josephus (other than one (1) paragraph), they haven’t read Tacitus. The ONLY contemporary authors they have read are when the authors mention Christianity. The haven’t read Tracate Sanhedrin, or the Talmud, or Philo. They haven’t even bothered with Tertullian or Polycarp, or Enoch. Or Gospel of Thomas or Gospel of Peter or…oh…the list goes on and on. They haven’t read context theory with Bruce Malina. They don’t care nor understand the Synoptic Problem. They haven’t read the Gospel of Signs, or Acts of Pilate, or Acts of Peter, or Acts of Paul.

    Nuts, Christians often feel they are entitled to a gold star if they managed to slog their way through the entire Bible, let alone any other readings.

    And we skeptics are chastised for not reading enough? For not being as familiar with the works when even Christians can’t be bothered?

    Sorry, Walt, to pick on you, but your statement is a good jumping off point for my position:

    Walt: We have no evidence against the character of the apostles who died for their faith and were radically different after the resurrection than they were before. You have testimony of women that normally wouldn’t be admitted.

    We don’t have very good evidence the apostles “died for their faith.” In fact, we have legendary development that most Christians reject as accurate. Again, information they haven’t read. Mark is bios not history. Certainly not testimony. There are very good reasons why Mark would use women at the tomb—the fact their testimony wouldn’t be admissible within the Sanhedrin is completely irrelevant, ignores the genre of Mark, and is a red herring designed to bolster the story.

    We know this. If most Christians do not even know what bios is (or why Mark would use women, or Acts of Peter), why should we re-read books we already read, and be convinced?

  30. Chisel,

    What Augustine formulated was a view of original sin called “natural headship” which says that all of humanity was in Adam and that all participated in his sin. As a result, the taint of sin is passed on to all who descendant from him.

    The idea of original sin predates that and I think is much simpler than that. Romans 5:12 is the basis for the New Testament understanding. Romans 5:12 does not say how the effects of sin are passed on however and I think Augustine is reading more into that verse than is there.

    Original sin goes back to Gen 3:23. The best analogy I can think of is this: Let’s say A&E were citizens of the U.S. and violated a law for which the penalty is expulsion from the country. (We have such laws.) Let’s say they end up living at sea – we’ll call that the “wilderness.” All of their descendants would then also be born at sea with a propensity for sea life without knowledge of what life is like in the U.S. Legal proceedings would have to ensue for descendants who want to return to the U.S. to do so. A lawyer for the U.S. goes out to sea, shows them what it is like to live as a U.S. citizen, does the legal work. He returns and prepares a place for the sea people to return. But for the time being, there is a large population of these sea people and those that met the lawyer need to tell as many other sea people as they can about the opportunity to return to the U.S. At some point, it will be their time to return. The descendents of these people who know about the opportunity to return also are born at sea. They need to learn about the opportunity. Only those who believe in the opportunity will take it. All others remain ignorant of it or choose to not want to return and thus never get the opportunity to return. They remain at sea for ever. This is how original sin works. All people are born in the wilderness and need to return to the garden. Only Jesus can make that possible and has for those who will accept it.

  31. Todd,

    I am not aware of anyone who makes the claim that there is a natural cause to the resurrection. If there were, then you request would make sense.

    You are right that the evidence for the claims fall on those who make the claim. Bill suggested books. Habermas’ book on the Historical Jesus and Licona’s histiographic book on the Resurrection are resources. It would be a bit to post all that they say and argue here. And why do it if the books are available?

    Per your claim that there are other resurrections – first those others are not resurrections in the same sense as Jesus’ They are more like resuscitations. However, I will grant you that they are dead people brought back to life. Second – I found hope in your conversion. Go to India! I was there this summer and was shocked beyond belief. Verifiable resuscitations are happening every month there. I asked a Ph.D. professor there telling me about it if he had published anything on it. He looked at me funny and said it happens so often, why would I do that? It is not something that can be done with every person, but is something that occurs on occasion in the most difficult villages with the greatest spiritual warfare going on. Many of these people were confirmed dead by doctors. Once it happens in a village, it does not usually occur again. The miracles seem to be used by God as in the 1st century to bring people to faith, but once that happens, the miracles of this type subside – as they have in the U.S. Although, bizzare things still happen. My brother, who snapped his neck last January was paralized and within 48 hours had all sensation back. It made a believer out of him. The doctor literally called it a miracle.

    No one says we should believe anything because 90% of people do. Rather, we should believe what there is evidence for and that has a significance to it that makes a difference in our lives. I don’t have to belief in a cancer cure, unless it turns out I or someone I know needs it. If there is some evidence, maybe not 100%, but enough evidence, I would trust such a cure.

    Because something goes against nature does not mean it goes against reason. It actually goes against reason that anything exists at all, yet I’m sure you believe the world does exist. What you say is only true if there absolutely is nothing but the natural world. I have yet seen your proof that that is true. I bet you can’t prove it anymore than you think I can prove without a doubt there is a God. You see, you ask for proof of something you can’t prove the negative of either. Yet, I think there are sufficient reasons to believe there is a God, that the world is a fallen place, and even that Jesus did rise from the dead. And I believe I am also within reason for such beliefs. They only defy reason of logic if it is proved that there is no supernatural entity.

  32. Vinny, can you cite me something that you know was a fraud and had no negative accounts against it? When something is a fraud, the evidence shows up eventually.

  33. That probability is higher in the natural case than the supernatural case does not mean the probability and thus possible likelihood of the supernatural case is zero. Higher probability makes it more likely, but necessarily true. There is a very low probability of an electron going through a barrier, but if it didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have transistors, lasers, and other cool things today.

    I agree that nuns are fooled all the time. And that does increase the possibility that the resurrection was misunderstood. But the best explanation for what happened is that Jesus rose from the dead. There is no reasonable alternative explanation of the resurrection.

  34. Walt,

    As Dagoods pointed out, the evidence for which an explanation is sought is a collection of ancient stories whose authorship and sources are uncertain. The fact that we don’t know with certainty exactly how these stories came to be told in the way they were hardly makes supernatural events the most likely explanation, particularly when we recognize man’s penchant for credulously embracing supernatural stories.

  35. DagoodS,

    Okay, I’ll admit I haven’t read Gospel of Signs (hadn’t even heard of it), Acts of Pilate, Acts of Peter, Acts of Paul, or Bruce Malina. That the average Christian hasn’t read all the others that you have cited (which I have read), does not mean much on impacting their view. I am aware of of scribal alterations in Josephus, the synoptic problem, and so. Yet I don’t see that the women at the tomb is a red herring because of the genre. Mark was the writer for Peter. Who else would better know what happened than Peter? This essentially IS the testimony of Peter. Of course it is biased – because it is what Peter wants to say. But does that mean it is a lie? The only reason I can think of as to why Mark would include the women in the empty tomb story is because it is what happened. If Mark was fabricating the story, it is unlikely he would have use the women’s “testimony” as anything. He could have made Peter look better. He could have made the resurrection more clear. He could have not lost the ending or not finished it, or whatever happened. All of those OTHER gospels and books of Acts and so on that you mentioned would be what a fabricator would write with all its embellishments.

    That the gospels are not literally legal testimony does not make them invalid historical testimony.

    Now, all that said, I agree that there should not be a double standard of what skeptics should be held to versus the Christians. Most Christians unfortunately are quite ignorant of the history of their faith, what all is in the Dead Sea Scrolls, scribal indiscretions and so on. Bottom line is most Christians do not even know the facts of the faith itself and it is hard to say they are really Christians. But that aside, there are evidences that many of the most vocal skeptics are ignorant of – skeptics who have hatred for the faith and yet don’t know what they are talking about (except that they were treated wrongly by a hypocrite somewhere along the line). Clearly, you seem to be up on the details. You also appear to be a very rational person. (Ought to be for a lawyer.) But what drives me nuts is irrational atheists who claim Christians are not rational. Clearly you are not in that group, but it seems to me to be the majority of those who call themselves atheists (not just skeptics). But I will agree that most Christians are no better. Regardless, that does not change the facts and what the truth may be of those facts.

  36. Vinny,

    I don’t know. Do you have something to the contrary to show it is? I’m generalizing, but it seems to be something that holds up in my experience and knowledge.

  37. Vinny, you have a point to a degree. However, we do have a pretty good idea of how these stories unfolded through the writings of the early Christians.

    But I still maintain that what happens in general does not mean that one happened in one case had to be the same way.

    For example, Crossan says that Jesus’ body was thrown in the trash dump because that is what was done with criminals bodies. While it is true that is what was done with criminals’ bodies in general, there is also a story that Jesus’ body was treated differently. That the story exists doesn’t by itself make it true, but it raises the question of whether Crossan is right just because he cites what is usually done.

    Anyway, I think we have enough to base a higher probability on Jesus’ resurrection than not. I am hoping to write a paper for publication on that fact over the next few months.

  38. It seems I type too fast and some of my words come out wrong. Above I meant to say, “Higher probability makes it more likely, but NOT necessarily true.”

    I’ve probably botched other wordings too and said exactly opposite of what I meant to say.

  39. Walt,

    I will confess that the only frauds for which I have evidence are ones for which the evidence came out. However, I don’t think that I can infer from that that the only frauds that have ever taken place are those for which the evidence has come out.

  40. Walt, how is that claim falsifiable? If there are frauds that do NOT get uncovered, then by definition you would not know about them to have your claim proved wrong!

  41. Walt,

    Looking at your own response; at the top you posit, “You are right that the evidence for the claims fall on those who make the claim.” but your last sentence “They only defy reason of logic if it is proved that there is no supernatural entity” is exactly the opposite stance. I can’t of course prove there is no god or that there is something outside of nature. But that is not my claim. By claiming resurrection, it is yours. Buck passed back!

    So far in this post there has been no evidence provided to support a resurrection, only claims that such evidence exists. At a minimum someone should provide a cliff note or two as to what grand evidence is provided in these books. In the end, I think it will once again fall to the reader to have faith in yet another authority claiming the testimony of the witnesses is true; leaving me staring once again at an empty chasm of evidence. Am I wrong?

  42. Walt,

    I would agree many non-theists are not as studied in the Resurrection accounts. Yet, again—why should they be? I understand Christians hold the Resurrection in high regard—indeed it is the very key and foundation to their belief. Yet non-Christians obviously do not hold it in this regard.

    I would think it is partially the responsibility to convince non-Christians first the necessity to study the Resurrection. Honestly, telling us to “go read a 641 page book” isn’t persuasive the topic is worthy of consideration. Mormons tell us to read the Book of Mormon. IDer’s tell us to read this book or that book, written by the current flavor-of-the-month from the Discovery Institute. We all have more to read than humanly possible in 10 lifetimes.

    It is human nature to be interested in certain topics. Likewise it is human nature to believe other humans should also be interested in these topics. While I, personally, AM interested in the Resurrection accounts, I can understand why other skeptics are not. To be honest, I am not all that interested in the evolution/creation debate. Some people (skeptics included) would consider this a serious character flaw on my part. I haven’t read the correct books, let alone “sufficient” material to qualify as a conversation participant.

    *shrug* I think it is our first priority to persuade a topic is important, rather than demand the other person first read a book. (Again, I would be curious how many Christians recommending we read these books have read the books themselves!)

    Walt: That the gospels are not literally legal testimony does not make them invalid historical testimony.

    I quite agree. They should be taken for what they are—products of their times. It is the reason I do not prefer the comparison to legal testimony except, perhaps, in the broadest of terms. It is the reason I find Greenleaf, Montgomery, and what little I read, Sherlock mis-guided. They aren’t legal documents, so trying to fit them into this mold is doomed for failure. Both practically and methodologically.

    And in looking at the other historical documents of the time, we routinely discard the included miracle accounts while retaining the basic historical nature. Is there a single historian who claims Vespasian healed a blind man, despite Tacitus, Cassius Deo and Suetonius all mentioning the event? None that I know. Do we hold to Josephus’ miraculous signs surrounding the fall of Jerusalem? No. Do we believe the accounts of Apollonius of Tyana?

    In fact most Christians even claim the miracles in non-canonical books (like those I previously mentioned) did not occur. Yet these are written in the same genre.

    What makes the resurrection any different to us non-Christian?
    Walt: Mark was the writer for Peter.

    Ah…but what is our evidence for this? It is: “Papias claims, “Mark wrote what Peter said to him.’” But Papias also says it was not in order—yet Mark very carefully writes in chiasmic order. Papias says Matthew wrote in Hebrew or Aramaic. The Matthew we have was written in Greek. So Papias was talking about another Gospel we don’t have, or was wrong about Matthew.

    Papias gives an account of Judas death contradicting both Matthew and Acts. Papias quotes Jesus as making a statement from 2 Baruch. Papias obtains his information through John, yet does not make any mention of John’s gospel. (Or Luke’s for that matter.)

    We have numerous reasons to question Papias’ credibility (even Christians question his being accurate on these other points), why should we accept his accuracy with Mark and Peter?

    Again, the evidence still is “Papias claims, ‘Mark wrote what Peter said to him’”—there is just a question as to how accurate that is.

    Finally, if you are interested, Mark routinely embraces reversal of expectation. Those who should support Jesus (his disciples, his family, his hometown), abandon him. The Centurion (a non-Jewish foreigner) gets it correct as to who Jesus is. The very person who condemned him, bury him. “The first shall be last; the last shall be first.” It goes on and on.

    Not surprisingly, whoever would be the last person we would expect to discover the empty, is the first Mark would utilize.

  43. Todd,
    On my blog, I have mentioned evidence of the resurrection many times, but here are two posts to get you started: Is There Evidence of the Empty Tomb? and What Historical Evidence Exists for the Resurrection?.

    However, as Walt mentioned, there is a lot of information on this topic that has been published by many scholars over the years. Two short blog posts will not give you all the evidence. You will have to read much further to get an idea of the breadth of evidence.

  44. Did you ever believe in traditional Christian doctrines, or have you always been outside the traditional Christian belief system? I’m just curious.

  45. Also (adding to Bill), I had a link towards the beginning of all of this to Gary Habermas. I have a presentation I could give the link for, but better to go to the experts.

    As far as who has the onus of proof, indeed Christians have the onus on the resurrection and the links have been provided. However, the onus on the idea that miracles are absolutely impossible is on the skeptic. To not even entertain the possibility puts a dead end on looking at the evidence we have said exists.

  46. It is not falsifiable. It is an inference and would have to have a likelihood estimate involved. Of course it is impossible to provide an actual example unless you know you have committed fraud of the magnitude of establishing a new religion open for inspection to the public and was able to keep the fraud a secret. For personal stuff, it is most possible, I think. But for a religion on the size of Christianity, even in the first century, I don’t think so.

    I was looking more for an example of a possible scenario.

  47. All good points. You are indeed well studied on this.

    First, Book of Mormon, I didn’t get the feel in my gut they want. What kind of evidence is that? I get a better feel when I eat my award winning chili. Should I worship it? : )

    On the other gospels, the miracle stories, you have to admit, are much more fanciful. It is one thing to say a man who was dead is not walking around, even if it is not normal. Yet, giant crosses walking around and such? I really think you have a night and day comparison there. The miracles in the gospels are not so fantastic. They are healings. Granted walking on water is bizarre and not a healing, but still not as fanciful as those other gospels. The types of miracles in the others ones do fit the genre of the day. The NT gospels have a more subdued, practically naturalistic, nature to them (although I’m not saying they were naturalistic). I think they are more than metaphor, but they have that aspect as well.

    As far as my pal Papias – he may exaggerate a bit, but I don’t take him for a liar. Mark’s account actually is chiastic. When I read it, I use that fact for interpretation of a passage. Portions may follow an historical sequence, but I don’t think all of it does. I don’t agree that Mark was written first. I believe tradition knows what they are talking about on this matter and that Matthew was the first, however it may have been written in Aramaic first. There are many Aramaicisms in Matthew. The Greek may have been written later and used some combinations of the original Matthew, Luke and Mark. I doubt that the name of Mark was added in the early 2nd century only because of Papias. I suspect it was widely known then by the bishops in Antioch, Rome, and so forth that it was written by Mark.

    I see your point about the women, but using them that way makes sense if the details are fabrication. I may say the book is chiastic, but I think the details are real history. So I don’t think Mark put the women to make the least the greatest for literary purposes, but because that was something that Jesus taught. I believe, and have even preached on, that the women were given the privilege of being first at the tomb because of their low standing in society and their closeness to Jesus. The point in the apologetic is that their being there was not hidden as could be expected if the gospels were fabrication.

    As far as reading books. I understand. I have approx 100 sitting on my desk right now that are in the queue for reading. I have a natural curiosity. I am also in seminary. But Habermas’ book is much smaller than Licona’s and gets the point across. Do you agree that someone should not make claims they know nothing about? Many skeptics make claims about the resurrection that they are ignorant of. Of course I think it is critical that people believe in Christ so I see that they should want to learn of what they do not know. Of course as long as anyone is going to say resurrections are impossible before even looking at those works, they don’t need to waste their time. I think they must be read with an open mind on the possibility, however remote.

  48. Walt,

    If I am standing outside on a pitch black night and I feel water on my head, I am going to assess the probability that it is raining as higher than the probability that I am being attacked by a CIA predator drone armed with squirt guns. This is because rainfall is a common ordinary phenomenon whereas a predator drone attack would be completely unprecedented.

    I absolutely agree that what happens in general need not happen in every case. However, in order to believe that the completely unprecedented phenomenon has occurred rather than the common one, I would need some objective criteria that points exclusively towards the former. In the case of the water on my head, perhaps there might be some unique sound that pointed to a predator drone or some unique sprinkle pattern that points to squirt guns.

    In the case of a miracle story (and particularly an ancient one), no apologist has ever suggested any objective criteria that points exclusively towards a supernatural explanation rather than gullibility, ignorance and wishful thinking. The apologists may claim that Christian miracle stories are different from other miracle stories, but none has ever suggested any objective criteria upon which to base the conclusion that those particular differences exclusively point to an actual supernatural cause

  49. Walt,

    I think the Zombie saints of Matthew 27:52 are pretty darn fanciful.

    In any case, by what objective criteria does one determine the level of fancifulness that is unique to miracle stories that are founded on actual supernatural events?

    If less fanciful is more likely to be true, isn’t a natural account of events always more likely to be true than a supernatural one?

  50. Vinny: “If less fanciful is more likely to be true, isn’t a natural account of events always more likely to be true than a supernatural one? ”

    I have no disagreement with you that a natural explanation is more likely to be true than a supernatural one in the face of ignorance. I think you are claiming we are in that state about the resurrection and thus cannot conclude it really happened since dead men don’t normally rise. If all I was told was that a dead man rose, I would agree with you on even Jesus’ resurrection, because I wouldn’t have enough to say the odds of it being a true supernatural account to have increased.

    Again, when I was in India this summer, I was told of a story of a dead man coming back to life. My first thought was the man was not really dead – just thought to be dead. I had no reason to doubt the man’s story, but I also thought he might have been gullible – just as you are saying is the normal case. The facts in favor or his story improved (it is still possible the guy was not really dead, but the probabilities for the greater explanation swapped) when I talked to more people who have witnessed such things, some with Ph.D. credentials, who I did not find to be the typical gullible types. They claim many of these dead were clinically identified as dead and were so for as much as 12 hrs or more. My frustration is that they did not document it.

    Now, back to Jesus’ resurrection, it was documented in the way things were documented in those days. You have asked for “objective” evidence. I would appreciate if you could be more specific to what you mean by “objective” evidence. I would contend in my understanding of the word that we have “objective” evidence that concludes a higher probability that the resurrection did happen and we do not have such probabilities for the fanciful miracle stories. As I said earlier, I am hoping to get some time over the next few months to write a paper for publication on the probabilities of the resurrection being true. It has been addressed, but I don’t think very well by Swinburne and others. Plantinga’s misuse of it prompted me to take a look at it using my background in the systems that identify targets on those very drones you mentioned. Probabilities are used heavily in designing and training targeting systems. It is that very theory I intend to use for the resurrection.

    But, anyway, please state what you mean by “objective.” I might ask what objective evidence do we have that Socrates ever existed and drank poison to his death? What objective evidence do I or you have that we are alive and this is not a dream? Objective evidence in the truest since of the word is rare if exists at all. Repeatability is not a requirement for objectivity. The earth is here. We can’t duplicate it. But do we not have what you would call objective evidence that the earth exists? I am married to my wife. I don’t need to repeat it to prove the point. Rather I can show you a marriage certificate – a written document. Is it possible I have been divorced since? Sure, but if I say nothing about it and no one can find a divorce certificate somewhere, isn’t it likely that I am still married?

    On the zombies – I know that has come up to haunt Licona. I don’t have a good answer for that one. However, if I have enough reason to believe the resurrection actually occurred, then I also have a basis to trust the Gospels. Some might say that is circular, but Habermas’ historical argument does not rely upon the gospels themselves for the objective evidence. He does rely upon Paul’s writings and some extra-biblical writings, even taking into account some scribal liberties. But, if I can trust the gospels, then I have to trust that something happened of which that zombie story tells or represents. There is no external or otherwise support for the zombie story for me to say anything objective about it.

  51. Walt,

    Yeah, I got more “burning” from spicy food than the Book of Morman, too.

    I am sorry, you have been hoodwinked. Humans have a natural tendency to be initially adverse to non-familiar concepts. Since many biblical stories (walking on water, feeding 5000, healing blind, etc.) are familiar even to the American public at large, scholars play off this familiarity by first introducing the non-familiar stories of non-canonical works, and then mocking them as “outlandish” or “too fantastic.” People naturally assume, due to the initial aversion, the stories ARE fanciful and made up.

    What scholars do not do is provide any method or criteria to determine what is too fanciful and what is not. Because if they did so–absent utilizing an ad hoc method—they would reveal there is no method that would keep the stories of the canonical works in, and the non-canonical works as “too fantastic.”

    Matthew has a star leading the wise men to Jesus’ house; Josephus has a comet lasting a year—which tale is “too fanciful”? Tacitus reports Vespasian heals a blind man using spit; Mark records Jesus healing a blind man with spit—which story is “too fanciful”? Gospel of Peter indicates a voice came from an apparition of a cross; Matthew states a voice came from the sky—which account is “too fanciful”? Josephus tells of doors opening on their own; so does Acts of Apostles—which one is “too fanciful”?

    The Gospels have Angels and visions and people coming back from the dead (both recent and ancient). Magic teleportation, magic bread, magic fish. Earthquakes and darkness and the veil ripping.

    It is with no small sense of irony, I note many biblical scholars mock the events of non-canonical works, as being too outlandish, but when the very similar events of the canonical works are equally inspected by us skeptics, in the exact same manner, they are aghast we do not accept it as true. As you note, Dr. Licona is being blasted by many in the Evangelical community for questioning the resurrection of the saints—a pretty fanciful event. (Personally, I think Peter’s healing shadow even eclipses the resurrection of the saints as the most outlandish. Acts. 5:12-16)

    Walt: Do you agree that someone should not make claims they know nothing about? Many skeptics make claims about the resurrection that they are ignorant of.

    Oh, I don’t mind so much initially. (Hey—we all have to start somewhere.) But I agree, after a bit, if the person continues to do so, it is annoying. Again, though, this cuts both ways. I have lost count how many times people have told me the apostles died for their beliefs, and when I question them on it, realize they haven’t a clue for the sourcing of this claim, They know they “heard it somewhere” and believe it to be true.

    Then I press them on it. The first thing I hear is “tradition.” But where did the tradition come from? After some digging, the person comes up with Hippolytus (without knowing when it was written, or the controversy), or Eusebius. Maybe I can squeeze them all the way back to Tertullian. But you know who I have NEVER heard a Christian start with, when discussing the death of Peter? The very first source regarding the events surrounding Peter’s death—Acts of Peter! Never hear regarding Paul? Acts of Paul—the first source surrounding the specificities of Paul’s death. (I am aware of 1 Clement, and of course the implication of Peter’s death in John 21 and 2 Peter—there are no specifics in these accounts.)

    Sure, for James they come up with Josephus and Hegesippus; always skip over the Second Apocalypse of James, of course.

    And finally, after much prodding and pushing and shoving, I may get 1 in 10 of the persons discussing with me to actually read those original accounts. And you know what they do when I ask about the (“outlandish”) miracles in those accounts? They reject the miracle accounts contained therein while retaining the general historicity of the account.

    The very same method I employ for New Testament documents!

    Oh, irony—thy name is “biblical studies.”

    Walt—do you have a blog or forum where you post? I have wanted to discuss with a person holding to Matthean priority how they respond to the more difficult passages of Mark and fatigue in Matthew. This is off-topic; I wondered if there was another forum you would be willing to respond. I would be happy to give you my blog to do so; be aware the comments in blogger are limited, and may be too restrictive for you to amply reply.

  52. DagoodS,

    My regular website does not allow for this kind of dialogue ( I was going to start a new blog in January. We can use your blog. Maybe Bill wants to host it. But, give me a week before we start that. I have three finals and a paper due this week (the paper on the writings of the early church fathers relative to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed). I have already spent more time in this discussion than I had time to do.

    By the way, a criteria for assessment of miracles sounds like a good Ph.D. project – unless you know somebody has already done that. I have not read the Acts books you mentioned. I have read some of the gnostic gospels. I have a couple of scholarly books on miracles sitting on my to-read pile here in front of me.

  53. Walt,

    What I have asked for is not objective evidence, but objective criteria. I am using “objective” in the sense of equally accessible to all observers and equally applicable to all cases. I think Dagoods has explained the idea well in his last comment. I don’t expect the criteria to be fool proof or flawless, but I think that there should be identifiable characteristics that enable us to distinguish a genuine miracle story from a bogus one.

  54. Walt,

    One of the things that I sometimes see apologists say is that the gospel miracles are reported soberly without exaggeration. This seems to me to be a variant of the less fanciful argument.

    Like Dagoods, I suspect that this impression is a result of our familiarity with the canonical accounts, however, I also wonder whether there is any objective reason to expect reports of legitimate supernatural events would appear more sober and less exaggerated than false reports. I can imagine that someone who witnessed actual supernatural events might be so discombobulated by the experience that there account might seem less coherent than the person who invented a story.

    What we would need would be some sample of verified supernatural events so that we could compare those reports to those of dubious origin. Then we might claim to have some objective criteria by which to judge miracle stories.

    I suspect that every religious group that makes claims about the historicity of their supernatural events can point to some factor that distinguishes their claims from those of other groups. The problem is coming up with some basis for believing that there is any real correlation between that factor and the legitimacy of the supernatural claim.

  55. Vinny, looks like there is a limit to how far down you can keep replying. This is in reply to you point about test cases.

    What you say makes sense. However, where do you propose we get the test cases that everyone would agree on? I think the criteria cannot be with regard to the nature of the miracle itself, but the context and what surrounds the miracle. That is what we have with the resurrection. I would agree with you if the resurrection was stand alone, as I’ve said before. Could the other miracles in the NT be exaggerated but real, I doubt they are exaggerated, but they could be. It doesn’t really matter as much to me. The resurrection is the key and only crucial miracle that is of any significance. If it is true, I have every reason to make the case for others to believe. If it is not true, I’m wasting my time. My beliefs do not stand or fall on the other miracle claims, only on the resurrection. As far as criteria goes, I think it must settle on the best explanation of the “facts.” I agree with others when looking at the whole of it, that the resurrection, despite it being miraculous, explains it. Now I would say that if it could be proved that all of the other miracle claims in the Bible are bogus, then there is less likelihood the resurrection is real. But I don’t think a criteria can be established to say they can be thrown out since they can’t really be evaluated on their own.

  56. Walt,

    Some blogs allow more levels of reply, but the columns get extremely narrow and difficult to read.

  57. Dagoods,
    You frequently bring up the miracle of Vespasian as a prime example of an ancient miracle claim. David Hume used the same example back in the 1700’s. Are you familiar with any of the scholarship that has challenged Hume on this example of Vespasian?

  58. Bill Pratt said: “If you want to start digging for yourself, might I recommend three books? The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by Mike Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona, and The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright.”

    You are showing your bias; perhaps you can recommend a more balanced sample?

  59. :continued from reply string:

    “However, as Walt mentioned, there is a lot of information on this topic that has been published by many scholars over the years. Two short blog posts will not give you all the evidence. You will have to read much further to get an idea of the breadth of evidence.”


    Everything that you’ve pointed towards would have someone believe the testimony of ancient texts to prove that resurrection happened, even though we know it to be a medical impossibility. What I don’t understand is why you believe testimony is more convincing than the science behind death. I think any rational person would have to admit that it is more likely the resurrection story is not based on fact.

  60. Walter Tucker,

    I will put something up on my blog within the next few weeks, and provide a link here. No rush! (I am working on another blog project and am struggling to figure out a way to cohesively present it.) Good luck in your studies.

    To answer your question—I don’t see much difference (other than the obvious astronomical, time and purpose) between Matthew’s star and Josephus’ comet. Both were typical miraculous astronomical events utilized as portents of upcoming significant event. Commonly incorporated in tales of the time. Like earthquakes, darkness, stars blotted out, etc.

    Bill Pratt,

    I didn’t even know Hume referred to Vespasian’s miraculous cure. (I was a little pleased to be associated with a pretty smart thinker like Hume.) A brief perusal of the responses revealed them to be sadly incomplete.

    Can you point out a historian who claims the three (3) historical accounts are sufficient evidence (contra Hume) that Vespasian performed a miracle? What I found were weak and inconsistent excuses as to why Christians are entitled to dismiss Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio, but embrace Mark, Matthew, Luke and John.

    Seems to me, if we are discussing how to investigate a miracle claim in the First Century Mediterranean, and our “evidence” consists of written accounts surrounding this period, Vespasian’s miracle is as well-attested as other miracles Christians claim happened. (Indeed, more so, if one takes into account single miracles like water into wine, Peter’ shadow, etc.)

    If historians rightly reject Vespasian’s miracle, using the exact same method, isn’t it consistent to reject these Christian-claimed miracles as well?

    That is what I did not find in looking at the responses to Hume. If you know a better rebuttal, please provide a link. Thanks.

  61. It seems like every month or so, I read a story about a man being released from prison after being exonerated by DNA evidence that was not available at the time he was convicted. In many of these cases, the conviction had been obtained with eyewitness testimony. Apologists love to use analogies to the trial process, but in our legal system, when an eyewitness says one thing and science says another, we go with science because we know that the laws of science are more reliable than eyewitnesses.

  62. There are historical figures contemporary with Jesus for whom we have direct quotes, portraits, multiple third person accounts – all from when that person was still alive. None of that exists for Jesus, as far as I’m aware.

    What’s more, supernatural claims need more evidence to support them. I can’t prove Jesus didn’t fo magic things, but have no reason to believe he did either.

  63. Well an obvious example of frauds not uncovered is that there are numerous competing religions, and at least all of them (minus 1) must be false. I’ll presume you believe Joseph Smith carried out a fraud when he started the Mormon religion, and likewise Ron L Hubbard when he created Scientology. Yet neither has been busted and they both still have millions of followers.

  64. Andrew, What are some names of contemporaries of Jesus that we have these things from? I am curious to see how those are any different than the gospels and third party accounts related to Jesus. Do you discount Socrates? Did Plato not represent his words accurately? How do we know?

  65. As you said, those have been busted. That people aren’t aware of the busting isn’t the point. I agree that we can’t know of an actual example if it hasn’t been busted. But I was thinking it would have to be a hypothetical example

  66. I said ‘they haven’t been busted’ and you reply ‘as you say, they HAVE been busted’. Not what I said!

  67. At least with Socrates you are being consistent. How much of Julius Caesar’s history do you figure has been made up? What parts of it do you figure are fictitious?

  68. I figure people were probably mistaken when they declared Ceasar to be divine! Further than that, I haven’t studied it enough to say. With Socrates, the wisdom in the words attributed to him stand on their own, regardless of who it came from. They would not be diminished if it turned out he never existed. Neither, hypothetically, would they be enhanced if we found out he was supernatural.

    But anyway, evidence for Caesar’s existence far outweighs that for Jesus. As expected, of course, given his greater status when he lived. But biblical events such as the mass rising of the dead after the crucifixion – one would expect extra-biblical reports of such an event, no?

  69. How have they shown to be frauds? People can claim ANYTHING has been a fraud – from the moonlandings to 9/11 to JFK’s shooting.

  70. um… I think i’ve always been on the outside bill. I mean, many moral teachings I understand and live by. But others… *shrug* I dunno.

    any particular reason why?

  71. uh, did you just compair your religion to immigration law?

    Why does that seem just… weird and kinda wrong?

  72. I don’t know. My guess is that you missed something or I didn’t explain it well enough. It seemed obvious to me. Current immigration law is unfair in many cases if that is what you are getting at.

  73. Andrew, the discovery of the Rosetta Stone showed the translation of hieroglyphics by Smith in the Book of Abraham to be fraudulent. Also, there is no archeological evidence for any of the Book of Mormon. Together, that points to fraud of the whole thing.

    For Scientology, I wouldn’t say it was proved to be fraud as much as a pure money making scheme. I can imagine someone saying that same about the church of history. Fact is, there has been a lot of fraud there. That was one reason for the Reformation.

  74. “one would expect extra-biblical reports of such an event, no? ”

    You’d think. But then we don’t have a lot of writings from back then. Any writing that hasn’t been copied in mass is rare. That is true even of writings about Caesar.

  75. I found a chapter in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, written by Timothy and Lydia McGrew, called The Argument from Miracles. In this chapter, they take Hume to task for using the miracle of Vespasian as an example of a miracle story of the ancient world. I think I will write a blog post on their analysis, as I’ve never run across this material before.

    One of the points they make in their chapter is that when you actually dive down into the testimony for other miracle stories and compare the testimony to that for the resurrection, there are always significant differences.

    In essence, Hume was intellectually lazy. His approach was to reference miracle accounts that he knew his opponents would not believe, and thus argue that all these opposing miracle accounts cancel out the preferred miracle accounts of his detractors.

    He argues that since some miracle accounts are bogus (which his opponents would agree with), all must be bogus. The problem is that he never bothered to examine any of these miracles in detail. He felt that once he had merely mentioned a few miracle accounts that nobody believed, his case against all miracles was made. That argument simply doesn’t work, though.

  76. Walter, as you know, there are Mormon apologetics answering your claims just as there are Christian apologetics explaining problems with the bible. To an outsider this is evidence of fraud, while the insider loftily dismisses the lack of hermeneutic sophistication of the outsider.

  77. We don’t have a lot of writings from back then? That’s your answer for why a mass rising of the dead isn’t more widely reported? It doesn’t even get reported in the other three Gospels! If genuine, this would be the most extraordinary event in history. You think people wrote about it and then the event quickly got forgotten?

  78. Bill Pratt,

    1) I was looking for historians, not philosophers like the McGrews, but *shrug,* I guess I’ll have to take what I can get.

    2) I am not defending Hume’s adequacy or lack thereof in researching Vespasian’s miracles. If someone else feels he was inadequate, let Hume defend himself. What I AM looking at is how similarly attested Vespasian’s miracles are to Christian accounts, and the differing methodologies employed by Christians so they can dismiss Vespasian, but embrace Jesus.

    3) What I was looking for was a historian, employing this “evidence investigation” as proposed by the blog entry–using the same method to come to the conclusion Vespasian could perform miracles. Providing scholars (McGrews) who agrees with me Vespasian did NOT commit miracles actually supports my position. Of course, one could highlight the difference in attestation.

    4) Ironically, the McGrews take Hume to task for inadequate research, yet they, themselves, fail to even note Suetonius or Cassius Dio’s accounts as well. Bad form to claim the other person didn’t research it, when one’s own poor research is there for all to see.

    5) Further, McGrews’ article is not the best presentation. It takes only the best support for Christianity, often ignoring alternative positions, and sometimes even embracing things they don’t hold to, just to support their current statement. For example, they hold to Matthean priority (Walter Tucker should like that! *grin*) yet in the article, make a claim, asserting, “some scholars hold Mark to be the first Gospel” in order to support the claim. Which is it—was Matthew first or Mark? Switching back and forth as convenient is not persuasive—it is Christian apologetics. (O.K., that was a cheap shot, but there it is.)

    6) Even more ironic—in this blog entry you suggest we read Dr. Licona’s “Resurrection of Jesus: Historiographical Approach.” Yet on pages 116-117 of that Book, Dr. Licona refers to McGrew’s use of Bayes Theorem, and “An Argument from Miracles” specifically, informing the readers such attempts are not productive and should not be used. Dr. Licona notes philosophers who refer to Bayers Theorem and the Resurrection, but indicates no historian would use it—too subjective.

    If you think McGrew’s “An Argument from Miracles” is informative on this subject, and Dr. Licona suggest not using it…well… Are you chiding “armchair skeptics” for failing to read a book you think is wrong?

  79. I wrote a paper which I want to improve and expand for publication on the Bayes theorem use. It can be subjective and Licona’s comments are correct in general, however, I think a more objective case can be made, as I hope to publish. Licona’s comments are his opinion as he understands the state of that problem. I don’t agree with the McGrew’s epistemological approach either because it is not as tight as it needs to be.

    All that said, Licona’s opinion on that subject does not invalidate the content of most of his book. Many agree with him. However I think all they have seen is ad hoc approaches which I agree are meaningless. I will be building off of Swinburne for the most part (his work is the basis for the McGrew’s work).

  80. One of the points they make in their chapter is that when you actually dive down into the testimony for other miracle stories and compare the testimony to that for the resurrection, there are always significant differences.

    Yes. There are always significant differences, but what apologists can never show is any empirical basis for believing that those particular differences are correlated with the legitimacy of an alleged supernatural event. It is all ad hoc

    I think we have arguably better evidence for the appearances of the angel Moroni and the Golden Plates than we do for the resurrection.

  81. Walter,

    We don’t need criteria by which to evaluate the “facts.” We need criteria by which to evaluate the evidence and the evidence in this case is ancient stories of uncertain authorship recorded decades after the fact using unknown sources. Licona and Habermas try to bootstrap the problems by extracting intermediate facts from these stories and claiming that the resurrection is the best explanation of those facts.

    I compare it to trying to second guess an umpire’s call based on a fuzzy picture taken from the stands in the sports section of the local newspaper. 5000 hometown fans may agree that the ump blew the call. Heck, you might even get 500 fans of the other team to agree that the picture makes it look like the ump blew the call. It doesn’t improve the quality of the evidence. It doesn’t change the fact that we can’t see the play the way we need to see it in order to make the call.

    Every one of your “minimal facts” is a guess based on shaky evidence. Assuming arguendo that they are the best guesses based on that evidence, it doesn’t change the fact that they are all subject to considerable uncertainty. It is possible that Jesus’ body was thrown into a common grave for criminals or left on the cross to rot because those were common Roman practices. It is possible that the empty tomb story was invented later. It is possible that the first appearances took place in Galilee (which is what Mark seems to think) and that the resurrection wasn’t proclaimed in Jerusalem until many months later. It is possible that Paul, who provides our only first person appearance account, suffered a heat induced hallucination on the road to Damascus. It is possible that many people invented appearance stories to increase their status in the group in the same way that some of Joseph Smith’s confidants claimed to have seen Moroni or the Golden Plates. For almost every fact that you claim the resurrection best explains, there is a non-trivial probability that it was invented by someone for apologetic purposes.

    Even if every one of the proposed minimal facts is more likely than not true individually (which I think is far from clear), the odds that all of them are true may still be pretty small. That’s just how the math of probability works. As a result, the best explanation may not be one that accounts for all the facts. The best explanation may be one that is robust enough to withstand the possibility that one or more of facts turns out to be false.

  82. Also, there is no archeological evidence for any of the Book of Mormon. Together, that points to fraud of the whole thing.


    Earlier you wrote, “if I have enough reason to believe the resurrection actually occurred, then I also have a basis to trust the Gospels.” I suspect that a Mormon would say, “if I have enough reason to believe Joseph Smith received the Golden Plates from the Angel Moroni, then I also have a basis to trust the Book of Mormon.”

    When it comes to Mormon claims, you want me to reject some specific claims based on problems with others. On the other hand, when it comes to Christianity, you want to use the specific claims you find persuasive as a basis to ignore the problematic ones.

  83. Vinney, to your last post on the “facts.” First of all, I think you’ll just have to wait until I get my paper completed about the probability of the resurrection. When it comes to that, that any one detail is fuzzy does not negate the big picture. It is the aggregate that is important. If you missed one piece of a picture puzzle, do you still have a good idea of what the picture is of? Yet, if you work with pieces individually, you don’t know, you can only guess. Collectively, there is enough evidence.

    As to your distinction between “evidence” and “facts.” I disagree with the distinction. Evidence is facts. What is variable is the interpretation of those facts or evidence. Facts do not stand without interpretation. In other words, they have no meaning without interpretation. A fact by itself may not be interpretable. But, a collection of facts with contexts surrounding those facts, lead to a picture, which is an interpretation, but a picture none the less. You can put a set of miracles from one context together and get one picture. You can take another set of miracle accounts and put them in their context and see you can get a different answer. That is what we have here.

    Also, I disagree that we don’t know who wrote the gospels, when, and so forth. I will admit there are details we are fuzzy about and I will also admit that there is a possibility of being wrong about it (as in anything). But, there is sufficient evidence as well that the names put on the four gospels we have (at least the first three) are indeed from the people they are purported to be from. Where they have been modified and by how much is a whole other matter. We are NOT working in a vacuum. Unfortunately, most are coming in with their own preconceived notions. That is why I am working on this paper. It is worthwhile seeing how objective probabilities (based on target and image recognition theory) can sort the “facts” out to arrive at the most probably answer and to see how wide separated the various scenarios are from each other.

  84. Vinney, to your Mormon claim. I obviously am seeing a distinction you don’t see. The claim by Smith to have used the golden plates is nothing like the resurrection account. Smith is the only witness and we have no reason to trust his claims, especially in light of the objective evidence against him – the book of Abraham.

    Let’s say Paul was the only purported witness of the resurrection and he created a religion. We wouldn’t have a reason to believe him either, except that we don’t have a reason to doubt him either given there is no evidence against him and he did not profit from his venture. Paul is important, key as a matter of fact, but there are more witnesses who wrote about the resurrection from the first century than Paul – some in conflict with him.

  85. Walt: “Smith is the only witness and we have no reason to trust his claims”

    The bible is the only source on the claims of Jesus’ resurrection. The same book makes other claims, such as a point so high on the earth that one can see the four corners of the world.

  86. Walter,

    It is my understanding that there are about a dozen people besides Smith who claimed to have seen either the Golden Plates or the Angel Moroni and I think we can probably document the hardships and threats they endured for the sake of those beliefs. Moreover, some of them maintained their claims even after being driven out of the church over disputes with either Smith or Brigham Young when they might have been motivated to expose a hoax. I haven’t studied the evidence very closely, but from what I know, I think the Mormons can make an argument that nobody would have gone through what they went through for something they knew to be a lie with better documentation than Christians have.

    There may be no evidence against Paul, but only the Christians’ side of the story was preserved. If only the Mormon side of their story was preserved, we might well think that Joseph Smith was the faithful husband of a single wife and a self servant of his followers.

    “[T]here are more witnesses who wrote about the resurrection from the first century than Paul” is an interesting way to phrase it. Paul is the only one who writes “Jesus appeared to me.” I don’t think that anything else can fairly be claimed as a first person account of a post-mortem appearance.

  87. Walt,

    In the legal system, facts and evidence are two different things. (I think Dagoods will back me up on this.) Facts are determined from the evidence.

  88. Andrew a book and a person are not the same. Why not compare the book of Mormon to the Bible rather than Smith to the Bible? Why not compare Smith to Paul? Also, the Bible is not the only source of claims of Jesus’ resurrection. On comparing the Bible to Smith, one can’t make a claim for something by using a parallel that is an entirely different category. Even analogies have to have a degree the sameness to them. As an analogical comparison Mormonism (the basis for its religion) does not hold up as a good example against Christianity (the basis for its religion). Remember, it is the total sum of the facts that make a case, not individual isolated ones that tend to be discussed of forums like this and that can be twisted any which way bu the proponent of one view or another.

  89. Vinney, to your last post on Mormons and other witnesses.

    First, I am not an expert and might have it wrong, but it was my understanding that no one actually saw those plates but Smith. The others were standing around when he was supposedly deciphering. They indeed believed it, but they didn’t see it. Also, they were not aware of the discovery of the fraud around the book of Abraham. They might have changed their testimony once they would have learned about that.

    Second, to claim that Paul is the only one to claim to have seen the risen Jesus is a matter of bias against the other writings and rejection of Paul’s own words to a church that still could have taken exception with his claim by consulting with the leaders in Jerusalem with whom they had contact.

  90. Vinny: “In the legal system, facts and evidence are two different things. (I think Dagoods will back me up on this.) Facts are determined from the evidence. ”

    Well then we are arguing semantics. How many other semantic discrepancies are we wasting our time with? I come from a physics background and am now studying philosophy. If facts are determined rather than discovered, then how much science have we gotten wrong? No wonder people can’t communicate anymore, if facts are determined. Sounds like a bunch of post-modern mumbo jumbo to me.

  91. I’m not making an analogy. I’m pointing out that a single source claiming that, say, 100 people witnessed an event, does not count as 100 pieces of evidence. It all comes down to the reliabilty of that single source – a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

  92. Andrew, “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” is true only for a sequence, i.e, a chain. A weak element in a parallel structure does not cause the structure to collapse – i.e., my picture puzzle analogy. The evidence for the resurrection consists of many parallel links, not all sequential. (Some is sequential, which collapses certain paths in the parallel structure, but not necessarily the whole structure.) It seems that some of you guys have simplified the argument for the resurrection so much, that you have destroyed the argument and thus see it as absurd. I grant parts are absurd (and I have been granting it) on their own, but as part of the overall picture, context, and so on, is not so absurd.

  93. All the accounts come from the same source. I can tell you about a dozen different people’s accounts of an event, but all of them are being filtered through me. If I’m lying then all 12 accounts are useless.

  94. Vinny JH,

    The short answer is yes, we consider “evidence” the items we are putting into the record (testimony, documents, exhibits, etc.) and “facts” what we are trying to prove. Of course we manage to muddle the situation because we sometimes call evidence “facts” (they are, after all, “facts.” Exhibit A is a gun—what we would normally call a “fact.”) And we tend to use the word “evidence” both in its individual sense AND as a corporate body, as in “The Evidence will show…” as compared to specific evidence(s).

    Sorry…the English language is messy. We use evidence to argue for/against a particular historical fact. Whether the Defendant did/did not rob the victim. Whether the car did/did not run the red light. The base required items to prove one’s case, we tend to use the term “fact;” the multiple little items adding up to the base requirement we term “evidence.”

    For example, to prove negligence, we have to show:

    1) The Defendant owed a duty to the Plaintiff;
    2) The Defendant breached that duty (was “negligent.”);
    3) The Defendant’s negligence as a proximate cause of injury to the Plaintiff; and
    4) The Plaintiff was injured.

    Those would be our “facts.” The evidence would be each individual item supporting the “facts” even though one could technically call them a “fact” I guess. A doctor’s report we tend to call evidence to support the “fact” of Plaintiff’s injury.

    I don’t know if that made sense or not.

    The reason I differentiate between “evidence” and “fact” in these debates is that I am tired of hearing (for example), “You have to deal with the fact of the Empty Tomb.” No, I have to deal with the evidence of documents dated around 200 CE, written in Greek, with variances. From those documents, we attempt to extrapolate as close as possible to the original, written about 35 years (at the earliest) after the claimed events.

    We have to take in the evidence of the culture, the language (and language barrier), and other similar documents of the time. The evidence the documents do not attribute an author; we don’t known to whom, by whom or when precisely they were written. As well as the evidence of other documents indicating Jewish burials, archeological evidence, Roman law, etc.

    After taking in all those evidences, we are left looking at the probability of the “fact” of the Empty Tomb.

    Again, the evidence is the documents to prove the facts; Christians want to skip evidences and go right to facts.

  95. Andrew, If you were the only person who knew of the accounts, you would be exactly correct. You can never convict someone on one person’s testimony (not supposed to be able to anyway). Again, you are assuming only one person knows about the account. First of all, you had 12 other accounts. So why should someone not ask them what happened? You have character witnesses. You have circumstances surrounding an event. You have possible motives. Your thinking about all of this is way too narrow Andrew. No body lives in a vacuum. I assume you are talking about the Bible here (maybe you were talking about Mormonism). But if you are, then surely you know that It didn’t just pop into thin air one day and all of the sudden everybody believed it.

    I find it half way credible (but still a stretch) to say, as has been stated by others here, that all those folks in the 1st century were gullible/dupped and no one actually witnessed anything, yet they all thought somebody else did. That I would entertain, but I think it still ignores these gullible people knew Jesus and that he was a different kind of bird and that something bizarre actually happened. But this nonsense about no evidence, the Bible being the only source and that it isn’t trustworthy whatsoever, comparing the Bible to Joseph Smith, talking about weak links for something that isn’t a chain, and so forth, doesn’t argue anything to convince anybody of anything except for the person who already believes the resurrection didn’t happen.

    The ironic thing is that it is claimed there is no objective evidence for the resurrection, but there is none against it either. A prior statement that there is no supernatural does not make an argument for the fact that there isn’t. We don’t believe there are unicorns, but no one can prove that there absolutely never has been one. No doubt, it is highly unlikely, but it can’t be proved with 100.00% certainty. I’m not advocating the existence of unicorns, but I am trying to make a point that you can’t prove the negative of something you can’t get your hands on. If there truly is no evidence for the resurrection, than it can’t be disproved either – only shown to be highly unlikely. But, there is evidence and it improves the probability. Granted it isn’t 100%. But it is high enough to warrant consideration.

    I will be sure to let Bill know when I have finish my paper on the probability of the resurrection happening or not using all pertinent collective evidence which includes probabilities assigned to evidences against it.

  96. Dagoods,
    I was referring to the specific section in the chapter where the McGrew’s talk about Vespasian’s miracle. I never even mentioned Bayes’s theorem, which has nothing to do with their treatment of the Vespasian miracle (which I will feature in a blog post soon enough).

    Regardless, do you honestly expect every author and every book I cite to be in 100% agreement? If you would like to continue pursuing this line of attack, I assure you that you will find hundreds, if not thousands of examples where authors I cite disagree on all sorts of issues. That’s the nature of scholarship and acacdemia.

  97. If there is a theistic God who intervenes in nature from time to time, and this God has told you very directly, using numerous witnesses, that a resurrection occurred, then the only rational thing to do would be to, at the very minimum, examine the testimony to see if what they say really happened.

    If there is no theistic God and if nature always behaves the same, and there are people claiming that a miraculous resurrection occurred, then I agree that the rational thing to do is to disbelieve them.

    But you do not have a monopoly on rationality. You are merely acting rationally given your particular metaphysical presuppositions (no God, nature always behaves the same). I’m afraid that you will never look at the evidence as long as you fail to question your metaphysical beliefs.

  98. Thanks. That is helpful.

    For the record – not being a lawyer but a scientist/engineer, I call a fact what is, or corresponds to reality. I call something I’m trying to prove with the evidence (which consists of known facts that have to be interpreted) an hypothesis. In my language the empty tomb claim would be a hypothesis if you were trying to prove it. Whereas, it is a fact that it either was empty or not. One of those two is a fact, whether we can come to know it as a fact or not. The claim from the Bible that the tomb was empty would be evidence – not that it was empty, but that a claim was made. It is a fact that the claim was made.

    Your last part is exactly what I’ve been trying to convince Andrew and Vinny. Nothing is in isolation. All relevant data has to be brought to bear on the question. The assumption that the resurrection is impossible is a non starter and apriori ignores an attempt to look at the larger scope of data (evidences). The documents are evidence, but there is more evidence than that – the Jewish & Roman culture, the Qumran scrolls, the Jewish religious beliefs about the Messiah and all the various sect views, the writings of the 1st and 2nd century Christians, etc., etc. By the way, there IS evidence to support the view that we DO know who wrote the gospels and it is rather strong if not absolutely definitive. I would also say that we have evidence that three of the gospels were written prior to 35 after the claimed events, not after. The evidence for after is weak. The only one that we are not sure when it was written, except that it was prior to 120A.D. was John. There is a LOT of conjecture in critical biblical scholarship. They do a lot of good work, but unfortunately, too much is conjecture and historical evidences are written off too often.

  99. Walter,

    I did not say that Paul is the only one who ever claimed to have seen the risen Jesus. I am saying that his is the only first person account we have. I would guess that there were more people than Paul who claimed to witness an appearance, but there is nothing biased about recognizing the difference between a first person account and one that is second hand (or third, fourth, fifth or sixth hand for all we know). Only the first person account counts as eyewitness testimony.

    I’m pretty sure that every copy of the Book of Mormon includes the testimony of eleven people who claim that Joseph Smith showed them the Golden Plates: Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Martin Harris, Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sr., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel H. Smith. I personally don’t believe that anyone, including Joseph Smith, ever saw them, but that’s what the Mormons claim.

    I do find it interesting that the same conservative Christians who criticize skeptics for failing to personally examine the evidence for Christianity don’t have any trouble rejecting the historical claims of other religions without really knowing what they are.

  100. I’m not trying to monopolize rationality, only search for reality in whatever form it takes. If there were a theistic god, and that was reality, that is what I would see as rational. But the evidence that I’ve been presented, from you and a multitude of other ventures, has not exposed any such notion.

    I’m afraid that you too will not see the evidence as long as you fail to question your metaphysical beliefs unbiased.

  101. Bill,

    If there is a God who has communicated in such a way, it would certainly be a good idea to pay attention. The problem is that neither you nor any other apologist can suggest any rational way to infer from the evidence that he has acted that way in any particular circumstance.

    I don’t know about Todd, but both Dagoods and I started with the assumption that such a God did exist and we analyzed the evidence from that world view. We only abandoned the assumption because we found that there wasn’t any objective criteria by which it could be determined when God had intervened or when he had communicated. We couldn’t figure out any principled reason to conclude that one person’s claim to have witnessed a miracle or to have received a revelation from God was superior to any other.

  102. Unfortunately, the language is rather sloppy.

    I would say that what we are trying to do is to infer the causes of the particular evidence that we have. The evidence is writings and we are trying to infer the events that caused them to be written in the way that they were.

  103. Vinny,

    That is interesting. I started from the opposite position and ended up a believer 100% convinced (well 99.9%) God has spoken and acted in history (albeit amidst much noise and confusion which seems to throw some off the scent).

    I take it you either are still seeking a glimpse of Him speaking/acting, or because of a lack of recognizable speech/activity, you now want to convince others who hear his voice or those who might still be seeking that he is not speaking? In other words, I’m curious why you are engaged in these dialogues?

  104. “So why should someone not ask them what happened? You have character witnesses. You have circumstances surrounding an event.”

    Can you tell me when the accounts of the crucifixion were written? Any more than 70AD and eye witnesses would be hard to find.

    If your point is that were the accounts to be false, the bible would not have gained followers, you yourself have claimed that the claims of Mormanism were swiftly shown to be false, and yet the faith continued to gain followers. Therefore one cannot claim Christianity could not have done the same.

    “The ironic thing is that it is claimed there is no objective evidence for the resurrection, but there is none against it either”

    Where is the irony here? We’re discussing whether there is sufficient evidence to support a claim.

    “no one can prove that there absolutely never has been a unicorn”

    So what?

  105. Walt,

    I was raised Catholic but embraced evangelical Christianity for a couple years in my late teens. For most of my adult life, I bounced between agnostic and liberal Christian. For the last few years, I have felt most comfortable labeling myself an agnostic.

    For most of that time, I didn’t pay much attention to conservative Christians. A few years back however, my son appeared in a high school production of The Laramie Project, which stirred up some conservative Christians in the community. They managed to elect one of their own to the school board where she unsuccessfully tried to get a number of books removed from the curriculum. When she was up for reelection, I began commenting on a blog that was supporting her. The bloggers kept challenging me to examine the evidence for their positions on various issues, and the more I did, the less evidence I saw. That’s what got me into discussing these issues in the blogosphere.

    I am not opposed to religion and I can imagine myself turning back to theism someday, however, I think that matters of public policy should be decided by critical analysis of empirical data rather than faith based commitments to revealed truths. I think that people who insist that the truth of the Bible is a matter of empirical evidence have a distorted view of what evidence is and how conclusions are logically drawn from it which can effect their thinking in other areas as well.

  106. 1 Corinthians was written at least in the 50s. It contains a creed in chapter 15 that preambles a discussion on the implications of the resurrection. Paul implies there are plenty of eyewitnesses still alive. Due to the timing of when Paul received that creed, it would have been recited within 5 to 15 years of the resurrection.

    I didn’t say anything about having not gained followers. I was talking about falsification. And it so happens that Mormonism has been falsified. Hundreds saw the resurrected Jesus. No one say the plates that Smith claimed to be using. They admitted they did not see them, but believed he was using them.

    Andrew, isn’t saying “the resurrection is impossible” a claim? And who made that one? It sure wasn’t me. And the unicorn comment is to make a point. I’m sorry you missed it. I’m finding you are missing the point on nearly everything I say. I don’t think you have to agree with me, but I feel like all my statements are going into a black hole. Is what I say that hard to understand?

  107. Thanks Vinny.

    I would say that many decisions made by evangelical Christians in the public arena are not based on biblical principles and, as I see it, are driven by public persuasion rather than truth. As Dagood has said, most are seriously ill informed. I am dismayed that it puts a bad light on Jesus.

    But on the matter of evidence, people might not use terms as precisely as they should, but that the use of the word “evidence” doesn’t fit the legal definition for evidence does not mean it is not rational and that it is not capable of establishing an argument from a philosophical perspective. I perceive that your definition of evidence is more rigid than is realistic for any topic of discussion. Knowledge is not that perfect in any realm. If it were, the post-modern era (an overblown reaction) probably would have never come about.

  108. Walt,

    I am not really sure whether I am using a legal definition of evidence or not. I think of evidence as something from which we can draw inferences about the events or circumstances that gave rise to it.

    For example, fingerprints on a gun are evidence of who may have fired it. The reason they are evidence is because we understand the natural processes of cause and effect by which the patterns found on the human finger come to appear on other objects and we believe that these processes act consistently. If we thought that these patterns appeared randomly or by divine fiat, we couldn’t draw any inferences from their appearance on a gun handle.

    That is why I am skeptical that we can ever have evidence that points to a supernatural event. We don’t understand the processes by which supernatural events occur and we can have no expectations about the particular effects they are likely to cause. On the other hand, we do understand how human error can lead to reports of supernatural events.

  109. “Hundreds saw the resurrected Jesus.”

    But what’s your evidence for that? What evidence OUTSIDE the bible is there that hundreds saw the resurrected Jesus?

    Your point regarding unicorns is that we can’t PROVE they don’t exist, right? That seems a rather pointless point. Sure, we can’t PROVE all sorts of things. You can’t prove that I’m not a cat who is good at typing. But we’re discussing what the evidence supports.

    “Andrew, isn’t saying “the resurrection is impossible” a claim? And who made that one? It sure wasn’t me”

    It sure wasn’t me either.

    “Paul implies there are plenty of eyewitnesses still alive.”

    How do you know he wasn’t just wrong about that? What if the bible just made up that there were hundreds of witnesses? Perhaps quite a few people at the time said “This is nonsense”, just as people said the same about Mormanism, and yet the bible’s popularity grew and eventually there was no-one left to say “I couldn’t find any witnesses to back up that story!”.

  110. If the Bible was in a vacuum (broken record here), I would 100% agree. It is not. We have sufficient reasons to believe Paul did not fabricate at least the claim that others saw Jesus. I think for your case you have to make Paul out to be a cult leader (in the derogatory sense) and show that the other apostles had nothing to do with him. There is evidence outside the Bible that these guys existed. Now, it is not entirely out of the question that there was a conspiracy, but usually conspiracy is for private gain – seen in all cult leader activities (unless you can cite me one who did it out of pure charity). Where was the private gain in these guys? Do you assume (without facts) that they hid the private gain very well despite all the persecution that went on? (I will admit some private gain in the 4th century on.)

    Sorry if I thought you had said miracles were impossible. There are four conversations going on. Maybe that was Todd.

    How do I know Paul wasn’t wrong? Again, I think it is unlikely. But what if he was right? Just because a person might be wrong (all people could be wrong about something at some point), it does not follow that you can ignore everything they say (unless they have a pretty good track record of deceit going on).

    You say I can’t prove you are not a cat good at typing. I think is is reasonable to expect you are not a cat given the coherence of your sentences. Most of life is lived practically by reasonableness, not 100% absolute epistemological certainty.

  111. Vinny, I agree with just about everything you said. However, context is the key. I agree that random supernatural claims have no basis for belief. I have no basis for believing one person rose from the dead in India. But when I start talking to multiple people who give similar accounts from different occasions, I have to at least come to the realization something is happening worth investigating. In my own life, one apparent event that seems to be God’s hand can be purely coincidental. Even two can be so depending on how radical the events. Yet, when time after time, there are things that happen that are just too coincidental, the possibility of God’s hand is increased. By itself, I could still be misled. However, taking those events, taking other things that don’t naturally occur, like people being raised from the dead in India, the coherence of the Bible and the context of the NT out of the OT, so on and so forth, the cards start to get stacked. If no reasonable argument could be made to answer these “facts” I couldn’t justify the belief that God is at work. And I will admit just having an argument doesn’t either, but the coherent whole does increase the probability – substantially. Then, when I go back and look at the historical evidence (without bias against it as some critical scholars are prone to do), I have a case. It is not as clean as finger prints. It is complex. But it exists nonetheless.

  112. Walter: “How do I know Paul wasn’t wrong? Again, I think it is unlikely. But what if he was right?”

    Sure, he might have been right. Equally, there are countless other examples of people making extraordinary claims – alien abductions, miracle sitings for other people’s religions. For the most part, we require evidence for their claims. People tend to give their own religions a free-er pass on such claims though.

    So from what you know about the cognitive abilities of cats, and the coherence (mostly!) of my posts, you accept it as unlikely that Andrew Ryan’s cat is successfully posting under his master’s name. You can’t rule it OUT, but you’ve got no good reason to believe that something so against your every day experience of cats is occurring.

  113. It’s all in the context Andrew. If you had told me your cat was trained to type coherent messages, I have no reason to doubt you (until proven to be deceitful) and I would have a reason to think that indeed your cat is doing it. I might be surprised your cat has such an ability and I might be suspicious, but I wouldn’t right it off because I would give you the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.

    I am astounded at your insistence there is NO evidence. You say, we require evidence for claims. I AGREE!!!!! But we don’t stick our heads in the sand. Most, if not almost all, of these other claims you cite have been explained in way or another. Again, context is important. Most might give their own religion a free ride. I don’t doubt that. But I have no evidence from you that you have even looked at the evidence. I have no reason in my experience so far that you know the evidence. What I think you know, best I can tell, is that you are discounting Christian claims by analogy to other supposedly similar claims. That all swans are white does not mean automatically there are no black ones. Experience says there are not, but it is not entirely impossible. That there are so many mistaken and/or fraudulent religions and miracle claims, makes for a lot of noise to mask a possible reality, but doesn’t automatically negate the Christian claims when the Christian claims envelope a larger context that makes sense if there is a God. There is reason to believe there is a God. That is a whole other discussion. But, given that, is that God the God of the Bible, the God of another religion, or the God of none of them? The theology of the Bible is consistent with the reality of human nature. The theology in the Bible is consistent with philosophical ideas and the workings of nature. It is one of the most consistent with respect to morality and the reason for evil in the world. Then, given consistency, given a consistent message throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, does the history match up? There are some questions, but it aligns more than it is misaligned and the misalignments may have to do with the difficulty of doing history with absolute certainty. The NT is a direct product of what is expected from the OT. There might have been confusion about whether to expect a conquering king Messiah in the first century versus a suffering servant Messiah, but looking at the complete expectations, two aspects still fits. Then looking at the writings of first and early second century Christians, we see a consistent story that supports, not reduces, the stories in the gospels. There is evidence that the gospels were written (at 3 of them) prior to 70.A.D, while many enemies of the early movement would have been still alive to counter it. There is much more to this than simply whether dead men can rise. Are there things that are hard to reconcile in the Bible. Yes there are. Does that mean they aren’t true? No, it means that we don’t understand it, have misinterpreted it, or have just lost some key information (which, for over 2000 years is likely to happen). Has some of the story been distorted in the history of the church? Probably. Has the church been a bad example? Yes it has, but only to prove the point that men have selfish tendencies. But, does all of that override that something significant happened in the first century? I don’t think so, especially in light of my own experiences in my Christian walk over the last 11 years. We have many pieces of a puzzle. Each piece alone can be accepted or denied. When put together, though, a picture emerges. False analogies only cause unnecessary detours. The analogy of and wide spread existence of false religions does give reason to question the Christian claims, but not to say there is no evidence and that by analogy, thus, the Christian claims are false from the start.

  114. Tacitus, reporting on Vespasian’s miracle says, “Both these incidents are still vouched for by eye-witnesses, though there is now nothing to be gained by lying.” Suetonius, on the same incident states Vespasian “tried both things in public before a large crowd and with success.”

    Paul reports a tradition, “And after that, he [Jesus] was seen by over 500 brethren at once, of whom the greater remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.” (NKJV)

    Historians review Tacitus’ statement, and conclude just because he claims there were a number of eye-witnesses; this does not mean the miracle happened. No one calls the historians “biased” or “critical.” Historians review Suetonius’ statement, and conclude just because he claims there was a crowd; this does not mean the miracle happened. No one calls the historians “biased” or “critical.”

    But if the historian dares to review Paul’s statement and likewise, with the same method conclude just because Paul claims 500 saw Jesus, does not mean a resurrection occurred, allegations of “bias” and “critical” (as a pejorative) and “metaphysical presuppositions” abound!

    I suspect Christians (understandably) hold their own Scripture in such high regard, that daring to question its veracity the same way we question any other document of the period is seen as an affront with nefarious motives. When all historians are doing is treating the Bible’s claims like they would any other. The Bible has become a sacred cow; we are not allowed to question it with the same rigor Christians question other historical accounts.

    Frankly, the 1 Cor. 15 tradition does more harm than support to the Christian’s claim. Look, we all agree stories were made up about Jesus’ resurrection appearances. (Unless one holds Gospel of Peter, Acts of Peter, Acts of Pilate, etc. are historically accurate.) Most Christians hold the earlier stories are the more accurate. Yet here we have the earliest account of all—and every single Gospel abandons it! If “earlier is accurate”—by consistent methodology the Christian would have to agree the Gospels are INaccurate!

    Not a single appearance in 1 Cor. 15 is recorded in the Gospels. (At best, if one assumes Cephas=Peter, then Luke infers an appearance to Peter without a single detail.) This also means not a single appearance in the Gospels is recorded in 1 Cor. 15. Christians claim, “If Christians were lying, they would never have used women as witnesses.” Er…isn’t that exactly what the Christian is claiming the early tradition did? Cut out the women?

    Christians attempt to manhandle “The Twelve” into a title (realizing Judas was dead, so there wouldn’t be twelve) yet this contradicts Matthew comfortably using “the Eleven” when there were eleven, and Luke using “the Eleven” when there were only 10! Again, if the earliest tradition is to use “the Twelve” when there were 11 or 10, and “earlier is accurate”—aren’t we now demonstrating Matthew and Luke as INaccuarate when they use “the Eleven”? Why did the tradition allegedly change?

    No appearance to apostles in the Gospels. No appearance to James in the Gospels. (Indeed, Acts does not indicate the James who led the early church is James, Jesus’ brother!)

    A conflicting historical account, given in the same language as other miracle accounts in the period, is not convincing to us “armchair skeptics” once we began investigating the resurrection as this blog entry requests us to do.

    Walter Tucker: Where was the private gain in these guys?

    They gained honor—the highest commodity available in First Century Mediterranean. Just because we 21st Century Americans value possessions, and gauge “gain” in terms of how rich one becomes, doesn’t mean every culture does so.

  115. “I am astounded at your insistence there is NO evidence.”

    I don’t think I ever said that. My point all along is that the evidence seems to come from one source. You talk about context, and I think I addressed that already.

    “The analogy of and wide spread existence of false religions does give reason to question the Christian claims, but not to say there is no evidence and that by analogy, thus, the Christian claims are false from the start.”

    Again, I don’t think I claimed that. My point about ‘false religions’ is that one can make the same claims for them. You seem to be citing as ‘context’ or evidence the fact that one would expect people around the time of Paul to have been able to verify or dispute his testimony. You appear to be saying it is significant that we don’t have evidence of such dispute.

    However, one can say the same thing about other religions. You obviously accept that it’s not a point for Mormanism that it has persisted – you accept that it persisted DESPITE people pointing out its falsehood. Therefore, by your own reasoning, the same could easily have happened for Christianity.

    “many enemies of the early movement would have been still alive to counter it”

    Sure, and perhaps they did. If Mormanism had risen a thousand years earlier, before it became possible to wipe out your enemies’ testimonies, and become the main religion, then the enemies of Joseph Smith could easily have become forgotten about.

    We already know that early Christians persecuted rival religions, destroyed their temples and burned their holy texts. In fact, even rival branches of Christianity such as Arianism got wiped out, which made very different claims for who Jesus was. Why expect that we’d have well preserved accounts of people disputing claims of the resurrection?

  116. Honor for claiming what they didn’t see? I don’t think that even in ancient Palestine or Greek cultures that lying was a virtue.

    Paul indicates James is the brother of Jesus in Gal 1:19 and it is understood this same James is the leader of the church that he also had dialogue with in Acts and mentions in 1 Cor 15.

    Are you saying Matthew, Luke, and John don’t count as gospels when you say the gospels do not give accounts of the resurrection? What do you call the post resurrection accounts accounts of?

    What does the issue with calling the apostles “the Twelve” when there were only 11 actually prove about inaccuracy? I’ll grant you 90% of the numbers throughout the Bible are rounded and sometimes figurative. But I wouldn’t call them “INaccurate” in the sense of which they are being used.

    One issue with the critical study of the Bible (and I don’t mean critical as in negative, but in how it is used in scholarship), is the context. Based on methods developed in Germany in the 19th to early 20th centuries, the supernatural can not be taken into account. Well, if there is a supernatural involved, that distorts the whole view of the Bible doesn’t it? I will agree that assuming supernatural involvement when there is not also distorts the picture. But I am one to take the facts and build the picture from them, not create a picture that I want to create before interpreting the facts. And I am not going to discount a priori an interpretation that fits the context just because I don’t like it. (At least that is how I’ve done science for the last 26 years.) So, critical scholarship of the Bible is only valid if God had nothing to do with it. If He did, there is a serious problem. If someone says they were abducted by aliens and I a priori write off their story because I think they are nuts, I might miss the truth of what did happen as I try to find alternative explanations. The alternative explanations should be sought, but the primary one by the person who says it, should not be tossed out too early, at least until a verifiable alternative is sought.

    All the talk about miracles so far has had to do with miracle events in isolation of context. Outside of CONTEXT we cannot assess anything. Even the individual miracles of Jesus are difficult to asses individually. The question is where did the early tradition about the resurrection come from (the one cited in 1 Corin 15)? It was believed very early.

    I was impressed with your post (as I have been with every one you’ve done). Unfortunately, this one misrepresented a number of details in order to make your case that wouldn’t be made if represented correctly. Your conclusion might be correct, but not based on what was said.

  117. I’ll declare this a dead horse. Again, sorry if I confused your comments with those of another. I’ll have to go back and reread your comments to get straight what you did and didn’t say. Regardless, the horse is dead. Thanks for your replies and have a merry Solstice Day.

  118. Walter,

    Once again, we only have the Christians’ accounts.

    If we only had the Mormons’ we would be unable to make the case that Joseph Smith was a fraud. We would be unable to make the case that Smith was the only one who ever saw the Golden Plates.

    However, because we have contemporary accounts from outsiders, we are reasonably confident that Smith was a liar and that the other eleven claims to having seen the Golden Plates were invented later for apologetic purposes.

    So we know that a religion can start with one man inventing an outrageous story and his followers later fabricating corroborating stories.

    I don’t know that this happened in the case of Christianity, but I know that it can happen.

  119. “Honor for claiming what they didn’t see? I don’t think that even in ancient Palestine or Greek cultures that lying was a virtue.”

    Clearly Dagoods is referring to honour from one’s peers. Your honour is only dispoiled if you are KNOWN to have lied, no?

  120. Walter,

    How can you think you have sufficient context when you only have the accounts that the most fervent believers in the resurrection chose to preserve? Don’t you know from your own experience that only getting one side of a very controversial story makes any conclusions you draw precarious?

  121. Walter Tucker,

    Apparently I was not clear, so let me attempt to clarify.

    1 Cor. 15 lists post-resurrection appearances in certain order:

    1. Cephas. Not listed in any Gospel. If Cephas = Peter (as some argue), then implied in Luke 24:34.

    2. “the Twelve.” As we know, there weren’t twelve, since Judas was dead. Matt. 28:16 says “the Eleven” which makes sense as Matthew has killed off Judas, so he realizes there are only eleven. Luke 24:33 also has “the Eleven” which also makes sense considering Luke has also whacked off Judas. (Won’t tell us about it until Acts, of course.)

    BUT, the problem is, to align John with Luke, the appearance in Luke 24:33-51 must be the same appearance as John 20:19-24, where Thomas was not present, so at the most there were only 10.

    Indicating Luke has no problem using the designation “the Eleven” as a title, when there are only 10. If one is to claim (as I so often have heard), “the Twelve” was a title, not a specific number, my question is when did “the Eleven” become a title? Why was the original title—“the Twelve”—abandoned for the subsequent title—“the Eleven”?

    3. 500 Brethren at Once. Not listed in any Gospel. First referred to in “Acts of Pilate.”

    4. James. Not Listed in any Gospel

    5. All the apostles. (Meaning “many.’) Not Listed in Any Gospel.

    6. By Paul. Listed in Acts, but Acts’ biography on Paul conflicts with Paul’s biography in Galatians.

    Now look at the appearances in the Gospels. We have;

    1) the Women (however one likes to account): not listed in 1 Cor. 15.

    2) Mary Magdalene. Not listed in 1 Cor. 15.

    3) The eleven in Galilee. Not listed in 1 Cor. 15.

    4) The two on Road to Emmaus. Not listed in 1 Cor. 15.

    5) The ten in Jerusalem. Not listed in 1 Cor. 15.

    6) The eleven in Jerusalem. Not listed in 1 Cor. 15.

    7) The fishermen of John 21. Not listed in 1 Cor. 15.

    8) The apostles at ascension; Not listed in 1 Cor. 15. (although perhaps one could infer it.)

    Walter Tucker, I am do claim there are Resurrection appearances listed in the Gospels—just that the same appearances do not appear in the earliest tradition. Demonstrating people were more than willing to fictionalize and create legends. Just like we see in even later accounts, Acts of Peter, Acts of Pilate, etc. (Whether Gospel of Peter is later is of some dispute.)

    If we all agree legend development was occurring, why cut it off (conveniently) at the canonical works, when we can see it occurring within the canon?

    Walter Tucker: Honor for claiming what they didn’t see? I don’t think that even in ancient Palestine or Greek cultures that lying was a virtue.

    Oration, not accuracy, was esteemed in Greek culture. The ability to speak well, not speak truth, was praised and honored. Who thought the disciples were lying? People, within the culture, constantly had altered states of conscious. Holy men were revered—the crazier, the more likely they were holy!

    Even by Christian accounts, these men went from Galilean workers to high esteem in their own in-group. People came to them for theological questions, resolutions to problems. People were selling land, donating money, and giving it to the disciples to administer. They became leaders in community.

    No one was accusing them of lying; they were being honored in their in-group. Not sure how this could be any more clear they gained by proclaiming a resurrected Jesus. I understand it is de rigueur in Christian apologetics to paint the disciples as poor woe-begotten souls, much maligned, abused and down trodden for their beliefs. However, once one studies the culture and looks at the works themselves, this is simply not true.

    As for James, I am aware Paul refers to James, brother of Christ in Galatians. (Curiously, Paul uses the term “brother” throughout his writing to refer to fellow Christians, and only on ONE occasion do we presume an actual familial relationship. I understand why, just an interesting anomaly.)

    I specifically referred to Acts not mentioning James the leader of the church was the brother of Jesus. An interesting experiment. Read through Luke/Acts. Then answer, just using those books, this question:

    1) What is Jesus’ brother’s name?

    Even though Luke used Mark and/or Matthew, who DO list Jesus as having a brother named “James”—Luke takes out the name. Then, although referring both to Jesus’ brothers AND this leader named James, Acts never makes the connection. Not once.

    Why not? What possible reason would Luke have for not equating the Leader James (who Luke knows) with the brother of Jesus (who Luke knows)? Unless Luke does not believe they are one and the same.

    Where did the early stories of Jesus’ resurrection come from? Easy, one or two disciples had an altered state of consciousness or sleep paralysis, thought they saw Jesus, reported it to the other disciples and the rest…as they say…is history. Simple, straightforward, and explains ALL the data without convoluted text-twisting.

  122. I know from experience on counseling couples that I definitely need both sides of the story. When questioning someone’s actions, there are always differences from the perspective of the different parties. But when it comes to events, they are events without intentions. There is no perspective in an event except in the interpretation of the event. For example, there are perspectives on what happened in Florida in the Bush Presidential election a few years back. But there is no quarrel that Bush was elected President. I don’t need both sides of an event when there is only the event. Whereas if I want to know what the controversy was, I need to talk to several people.

    I am aware of all of the theories about how to explain the resurrection. I do consider them. But that is not at all what I mean by context. The context is the whole picture, which is greater than the resurrection accounts alone, in which to place an interpretation of the resurrection. The interpretations are not the context.

  123. Do you think all ancient documents should have been written with the precision you require?

    Why does “Eleven” have to be a title just because “Twelve” may be? Who was Luke writing to? Would that audience care that James was Jesus’ brother? Your problem between the gospels and 1 Cor 15 is a non-sequitor. If I were writing a letter to somebody, I might very well condense into the simplest form to make my point what I need to say. 1 Cor 15 wasn’t an apologetic for Paul that he had to rewrite the gospels (which would have been in infancy then, if at all), he was concerned about the Corinthians thinking they would not be resurrected. By reciting to them the most basic evidence, a creed they already were aware of, he would explain to them that in a sense their resurrection had already taken place in Jesus’. They just needed to wait out seeing it completed in reality for themselves.

    Your explanation of what happened is reasonable except that nobody bothered to go back to the tomb to see Jesus was still there. Wouldn’t somebody, especially the Jewish officials who didn’t like hearing Peter (Cephas) and John preaching at the temple, try to show the tomb was not empty? There were enemies to the message that would have wanted to kill it in its tracks. They were unable to do so. Maybe better is that His body actually was stolen and the disciples took that to think He was raised. Of course the gospels would then have had to been embellished with the post-resurrection appearances. Then it is hard to explain why no one second guessed the whole thing realizing that maybe His body was stolen. Maybe they were too far down the path to have the guts to recant. Yet, them being fooled would not have had the impact on Paul that it had. Paul had plenty of honor before turning to work with the “enemy.” And when he was arresting people and having them killed, why didn’t he, a very smart guy of the times, investigate the disappearance of Jesus’ body more? A guy like that being convinced by a bright light that was nothing more than a hallucination? What was that light that others heard rumblings from? A UFO?

    The theology of the gospel is so deep and profound that I don’t think anyone could have taken the OT and created so perfect of a story that fits together so well and not provide commentary to go with it to help people understand it at the time. If they didn’t need to understand it, then why is it so deep and profound? I know of no Greek myths so complex. I know of many copy cats that followed Christianity, but nothing so intricate. Why were the gnostic gospels not accepted? First because their authors were not known. Second because their theology was not consistent with the Jewish roots of Christianity.

    Anyway, I’m spending way too much time on this and have a final that I need to study for. Thanks for the dialogue all of you. I will collect all the comments and assimilate what is relevant into that paper I said I want to work on during the break. All good comments, I just think they are misguided as I am sure you think mine are.

    Peace and God bless!

  124. Walter Tucker: Do you think all ancient documents should have been written with the precision you require?

    Yep. Alas, they were not. So I deal with what I have. I deal with 1 Corinthians the same I deal with Tacitus, the same as Josephus, Mark, Suetonius, Philo, Gospel of Hebrews, Papias, John, Irenaeus, Ignatius, Tertullian, Cassius Dio, Lucian…and so on.

    That is the point. I deal with the miracle accounts in Josephus just like the miracle accounts in Luke, just like the miracle accounts in Tacitus just like the miracle accounts in the Martyrdom of Polycarp. As I said previously, we have reached the point where treating the New Testament documents with the same magnifying glass as any other documents is seen as outlandish, because the New Testament documents are a sacred cow—untouchable.

    Walter Tucker: Who was Luke writing to? Would that audience care that James was Jesus’ brother?

    Great! Now you are starting to ask the critical questions. Of course, we can only answer that question by looking to Luke. He thought it important to mention Jesus had brothers. Important enough to note they moved in with the disciples in the upper room. (Acts 1:14). A key element in Acts is continuity of message from Jesus –> disciples –> Paul –> 3rd generation Christians. James, being the brother of Jesus and a leader in the church would bolster that continuity.

    Base upon those items, unless someone has proof otherwise, I think it very probable Luke would think his intended recipients would find James being the brother of Jesus important.

    Walter Tucker: Your problem between the gospels and 1 Cor 15 is a non-sequitor.

    Too bad. We were having such a pleasant conversation where you actually addressed our concerns as best you can with the material you have. A comparison of an earlier account to a later account surrounding the same events is a “non-sequitor”? Good to know the next time someone brings up one of those later Second Century works. I’ll just quietly inform them that is a “non-sequitor.”

    Walter Tucker: Wouldn’t somebody, especially the Jewish officials who didn’t like hearing Peter (Cephas) and John preaching at the temple, try to show the tomb was not empty?

    Ah, ah, ah! Let’s not forget the discussion on evidence. I don’t have to address “an empty tomb.” I have to address, “Mark, some decades beyond the event, claims there was ‘an empty tomb.’” Christians want to skip that bit. When did the story regarding the empty tomb first surface? When would anyone wanted to debunk/confirm it? If Mark was written post 70 CE, you can kiss any debunking/confirmation whatsoever good-bye. There was no possible way to do either. Mark could have easily made up the empty tomb story.

    Who says Jewish officials had any problem with Christianity? What is your primary source regarding large Jewish persecution of Christians? Oh…that’s right…it is Acts! (and perhaps an inference in Mark.) The only source we have regarding Jewish Persecution is the Christians themselves. Again, our evidence is NOT, “they were enemies to the message and wanted to kill it in its tracks.” Our evidence is, “Acts claims Jewish leaders were “enemies to the message and wanted to kill it in its tracks.”

    In fact, anyone who does even a cursory study of the religious make-up of the time would see how unlikely it was Jewish religious leaders would even bother with Christianity. The Sadducees had their hands full with the Romans and Pharisees. The Pharisees had their hands full with the Sadducees. Plus we had the Essenes, the Qumran society, and the Samaritans. Not to mention the Galileans in an almost constant state of revolt, Roman governors repeatedly asserting Roman power, Jewish kings, and wars with foreign powers.

    Along comes some group claiming the Messiah was here and gone, but will come back and re-establish his kingdom (gee, they’ve heard that tale a few times). Part of the group insists they continue to follow Mosaic Law. And pretty quickly the group splinters off, and focuses on converting Gentiles—something the Jewish leaders have no interest in whatsoever.

    I know Christians think they were this impressive influence in the First Century, but frankly they don’t even manage to be a blip on the radar compared to the problems the Jewish leaders were having. Problems bad enough, might I add, they resulted in a Jewish war, the destruction of the temple, and a complete re-working of the Jewish faith! And they would be worried about some crazies claiming the Messiah died, came back to life, and is going to establish a kingdom “someday”? A group that is providing no competition, and no real disagreement?

    Walter Tucker, the biggest problem in responding to these claims is that Christians have bought their own propaganda.

    Good luck on your finals…see you on the other side!

  125. Do you think all ancient documents should have been written with the precision you require?

    It has nothing to do with how they should have been written. It is a matter of the inferences that can reasonably be drawn from the way they were written. If the documents are imprecise, that creates uncertainties. We cannot simply ignore those uncertainties just because it was the best that they could do.

    Your explanation of what happened is reasonable except that nobody bothered to go back to the tomb to see Jesus was still there. Wouldn’t somebody, especially the Jewish officials who didn’t like hearing Peter (Cephas) and John preaching at the temple, try to show the tomb was not empty?

    There are so many logical possibilities that I am surprised you would even ask the question: (1) We don’t know whether anybody went back. The fact that Christians don’t record it isn’t evidence that it didn’t’ happen. (2) Nobody knew where Jesus was buried. The empty tomb story was a later invention. (3) The appearances took place in Galilee as Mark and Matthew suggest. By the time the message was preached in Jerusalem, nobody remembered where the body was buried and it wouldn’t have been recognizable anyway. (4) Messianic cults were a time a dozen at the time. Nobody bothered trying to logically refute their claims. If they were sufficiently annoying, the Jewish authorities dealt with them by stoning or the Romans dealt with them by crucifixion.

    Good luck on your exams!

  126. “Great! Now you are starting to ask the critical questions.” Staring? I’ve gone through a lot of critical questions before getting to this point. I was rhetorically asking the question. Number one, and we’ll likely discuss this when discussing the Matthean priority, I think 3 of the gospels precede the early 60s at the latest. So you can say whatever you want to say to others about 2nd century works. It doesn’t relate to what I was saying about the gospels and 1 Corin. The non-sequitor is that your points in contrasting the gospels and 1 Corin do not follow because they serve two different purposes. You are creating conflict where it does not exist. Also, the creed in 1 Corin 15 is the earliest known confirmation of an empty tomb (v4). It doesn’t say “empty tomb.” But being raised after being buried is the implication. Pharisees understood resurrection from the dead to be a physical resurrection.

    If we consider the theory that Luke was writing a legal document for Paul’s trial in Rome and the gospel is just the background material, then he may have figured identification of James as Jesus brother in Acts really had no value. It would not have gained Paul any credibility. And yes it is Acts that states the religious leaders animosity with the first followers of The Way. If Luke was writing a legal document, it should be accurate. If it is not a legal document, what would be Luke’s reason for writing Acts in the 60s?

  127. Walt,

    Well that took a long time to read… lol. You gents have been diligently debating! To put in some clarity, I made the claim there is no reason to believe in resurrection, not that evidence did not exist. Reading the debate thus far has been interesting. I particularly enjoyed your post on events and perspectives, as well as DagoodS breakdown of what was interestingly not mentioned in 1 Cor.

    However, what I think Christians
    continue fail to address head-on is the medical impossibility of resurrection. If it happened it would require supernatural intervention, which is askew to reality. As such, I think it is reasonable to dismiss the claim a priori. At that point, what arguement is left except faith? If you address that in your paper, I would love to read it.

  128. Todd, if you dismiss the claim a priori because it required supernatural intervention, then faith is not even an argument. How can one have faith is something they have dismissed? The idea of faith being belief in something that is impossible is a false notion of faith that some atheist came up with to explain Christian faith. Faith is trust in someone or something based on past experience or evidences. It is blind to the future, but based on the past (like a rear view mirror). One might have faith or a lack of faith in the American financial and political systems. A “leap of faith” can be made based on not having sufficient evidence for certitude (which is the case with almost everything in life to one degree or another), but in having strong reasons to believe. Thus if one discounts any evidence or reasons for belief, they can’t rightfully have faith. If they claim to have faith in such a case, what they really have is complete stupidity.

    Faith can be false if it is held with regard to something that is not true. For example, the belief in the statement that there absolutely cannot be any supernatural intervention is a faith statement based on the evidence and reasons you have. It could be false (and I think is). My faith in Jesus is based on more than just the resurrection. Yet if the resurrection didn’t happen, it is so vital to why I have faith in Jesus that I could no longer hold such faith. My justification for the belief in the resurrection does have some (but not all of its) basis in the reliability of the Bible. My trust in that reliability is not outside of a reasoned understanding of how and why it can be considered reliable. I don’t just consider it reliable because it is a religious book. The basis for that reliability is the main content of the paper. The “evidence” for Jesus in total, as I see it, outweighs the “evidence” against – substantially!

    The paper calculates the most likely scenario of what really happened from the probabilities of the claims being true from various explanations for the individual claims. In the past, such attempts have not been very scientific in their assignment of probabilities and have not correctly taken into account the conditionals. For example, they are often multiplied when that can only be done for independent probabilities. A proper multidimensional probability function has to be developed to arrive at the proper results. How I do that is based on what I’ve done in the past for the military in determining probabilities that a target is a hostile target of a particular class in the face of uncertainty.

  129. Walt, Perhaps I should have said faith is the only argument left for Christians, while I dismiss it a priori. I appreciate your views on faith. Mine are similar but I choose to use different wording. You say “Faith is trust in someone or something based on past experience or evidences.” I say faith is believing what one has been told, or indoctrinated into. As opposed to ‘trust’ I characterize it as gullability. I understand that I believe in authority everyday and fall victim to what I’m told quite often, but that is another topic…

    “My justification for the belief in the resurrection does have some (but not all of its) basis in the reliability of the Bible.” I hope the ‘not all’ includes addressing why one should not believe the medical imposibility of resurrection. Should that also be part of your calculation or does your paper only focus on calculating the events based on the testimony of ancient texts? Nowhere in this long thread or the links provided has anyone tried to refute that fact.

    I hope to see your paper when its finished.

  130. Todd, of course you are free to define words however you want, but your definition of faith is not what faith is. The definition I gave, that it is trust, is the official definition. A child has faith that his/her parents will take care of them. Some definitions say faith is trust without proof, but what they mean is absolute certainty. A child has reason to trust their parents, but no guarantee. No doubt the term is used at times to speak of unsubstantiated or blind belief, but that is NOT what the Bible calls for except with respect to trust in God going forward. As a matter of fact, the Bible (which was withheld from the people for centuries by an institution which wanted to control people) says to “test the spirits,” meaning to check out claims. It may be better to call what you call faith “your view of Christian faith” so that is is clear that it is a view of faith and not the definition. No doubt the church has not always done well in justifying its position and many people’s faith may not have a foundation in their own epistemic framework. But to be honest, many people don’t have a foundation in a lot of their beliefs – they just seem right. We don’t all have time to investigate everything to the nth degree (as was said at the beginning of all this by Dagood) and so there is some level of faith that is based on having reasons to trust those who have done the investigations.

    I don’t understand your issue with “the medical impossibility of resurrection.” That the resurrection is medically impossible does not detract from the supernatural possibility. The paper will address the medical facts on resurrection. But, you seem to think that if the resurrection of Jesus occurred that the medical impossibility is false. It is only made false if the resurrection has a natural explanation. I don’t think anyone who is saying the resurrection happened is saying that there was a natural explanation. If there was, it would defeat the resurrection being a sign of approval by God of Jesus’ ministry.

    I have mentioned previously the stories of people being resuscitated from the dead in India in significant numbers. These stories are eyewitness accounts from people I have no reason to doubt and in many cases are after doctor verifications of the deaths. If miracles are impossible, then there has to be a natural explanation to what is going on there. And if that be the case, then your insistence that resuscitation (not the same as resurrection, which is permanent) is impossible must go out the window. How do you know that Jesus wasn’t naturally raised and everyone mistakenly took it to be a supernatural cause? Obviously, I don’t think that is the case, but how can you be so sure that wasn’t the case, as it might be the case in India?

  131. I think it is inaccurate for Todd to say that he dismisses supernatural claims a priori since I understand that term to mean “prior to experience.” In fact, it is because of observation and experience that the overwhelming majority of people reject the overwhelming majority of supernatural claims without independent investigation. It is only when it comes to the supernatural claims of their own religion that people seem to think that investigation of the evidence is warranted e.g., the ancient miracle claims of Vespasian hardly merit a second thought.

    On the other hand, I am willing to concede that Walt’s faith is founded on experience, but the evidence is subjective and experience is personal. When it comes to evidence that can be considered in any sense objective, Walt’s faith is the result of applying a different set of criteria to that evidence that supports his subjective spiritual experience than he applies to all similar evidence. Well documented human propensities (which are recognized in the experience of every other religion) are ignored or discounted as explanations for ancient myths and legends in favor of completely unprecedented supernatural events. Ad hoc and arbitrary criteria such as fancifulness and theological profundity are used to justify the desired conclusion.

  132. Walt/Vinny,

    Saving the faith discussion for another time, perhaps you are right that I cannot dismiss resurrection a priori. My thought process was that ‘dead people don’t come back to life’ was independent of experience. One should not need to craft an experiment for this to be held self-evident. As you mention in your post, if we are to apply the same level of scrutiny to all such claims why is this one any different? Thus I dismiss it a priori. But perhaps one must experience seeing death before it can be justified in the strictest sense of the language; although I still think of it as arguable. We can however safely say that ‘dead people don’t come back to life’ can be made a posteriori, which I offered earlier somewhere in this long chain.

    “That the resurrection is medically impossible does not detract from the supernatural possibility. The paper will address the medical facts on resurrection. But, you seem to think that if the resurrection of Jesus occurred that the medical impossibility is false.” – Quite the opposite, the medical impossibility of resurrection is an axiom. It is self-evident. Because resurrection is a medical impossibility, one MUST invent an explanation from the supernatural to explain the phenomena. That would be my point for the claim of resurrection in a nutshell. If we can categorize resurrection plainly in the realm of the supernatural, we need no further examination to determine it as fanciful.

  133. Walter Tucker: Your problem between the gospels and 1 Cor 15 is a non-sequitor. If I were writing a letter to somebody, I might very well condense into the simplest form to make my point what I need to say. 1 Cor 15 wasn’t an apologetic for Paul that he had to rewrite the gospels (which would have been in infancy then, if at all), he was concerned about the Corinthians thinking they would not be resurrected. By reciting to them the most basic evidence, a creed they already were aware of, he would explain to them that in a sense their resurrection had already taken place in Jesus’.

    The non-sequitor is that your points in contrasting the gospels and 1 Corin do not follow because they serve two different purposes. You are creating conflict where it does not exist.

    Even when documents have different purposes, if they rely upon claimed historical events, we can look at discrepancies within those claimed historical events. This avoidance of the conflicts between the earliest tradition (1 Cor.) and later traditions (Gospel) by claming a difference in purpose, is a cop-out.

    Look, if three people wrote on the battle of Gettysburg—one concerning the terrain, another regarding military tactics and the third regarding the town itself—this would be three different purposes. But if one said the battle lasted 3 days, another says it lasted 3 months and another said it lasted 3 years—we would not ignore those conflicting statements simply because the authors had different purposes!

    Regardless of purpose, if one makes historical claims we look at those historical claims. It would seem this blog entry should say, “Investigate the Resurrection…just not too closely!”

    But it gets funnier…

    You refer to Paul’s purpose in writing 1 Cor., but we are in agreement, Paul is NOT the author of 1 Cor 15’s tradition. Pauls’ purpose in quoting the tradition may be of some interest, but the REAL question is what is the purpose behind the quoted tradition itself.

    Most Christians claim the 1 Cor. 15 tradition is attempting to account for real historical facts. Indeed, your very next statement in the comment above does exactly that: “Also, the creed in 1 Corin 15 is the earliest known confirmation of an empty tomb (v4). It doesn’t say ‘empty tomb.’ But being raised after being buried is the implication.”

    Seems the Christian is claiming the tradition DOES have the purpose of portraying historical events—the exact same purpose the Christian claims the Gospels have!

    Paul’s purpose is irrelevant if we are comparing purposes; it is the tradition’s purpose that would be the question. Therefore, in order to accuse me of non-sequitor, you must employ the very tactic you are decrying—using the non-sequitor of Paul’s purpose! As I’ve said before, one must have an appreciation of irony to get into biblical studies.

    I’ve just had a long conversation about dating Luke/Acts (ala J.A.T. Robinson) and the very unsupported argument regarding Acts being a Legal brief, and am completely uninterested in reiterating that debacle.

    I’ve posted my questions regarding Matthean v Markan priority. I understand it may be a few weeks before you can get to it. Just save the link, and when you get a chance I appreciate it.

    Nice talking to you.

  134. Todd, I agree with your response to my reply. However, unless I misunderstood your previous comments, for you that the cause must be supernatural makes it a “no go,” an impossibility (however I asserted that you can’t be so sure there wasn’t a natural cause that was out of the ordinary, even if I think it is highly unlikely). Then, I think you said that with it being an impossibility, one must assert faith (belief in something that couldn’t have happened – your definition of faith, which is contrary to the standard definition). I’m thinking I’m missing something from your argument. It is not clear or it is missing something to connect the dots. I don’t know whether you are talking about something like belief in Santa Claus (gullible – which you did say), or you are saying the the resurrection may have happened and if one is to accept it, they must accept it on blind faith (a particular category of faith that must still have some sort of gut feel to it or something, otherwise it is pure unfounded hope in the face of reality.) Could you clarify what you mean?

  135. Vinny, I will admit I have not investigated every religion and all miracles claims to the same level. But I will disagree that I have different criteria. I am just as critical of many claims made by Christians as I am of anything else. I don’t look at the one claim by itself (again, the broken record). I look at the larger picture and see how the pieces fit. Most of these other claims are random or don’t support the bigger picture. There are some that confound me, both outside and inside of Christianity, that I don’t know what to make of. But, the resurrection I am more certain on. Not because I hope it happened, or that I think it happened, but that it fits well with the big picture. But to your point, if I had not had the experiences that I have had, I would probably to this day still not be a Christian, especially with the willingness to quit my high paying and well positioned job of 26 years to become a missionary in some place I would rather not live. Does that I did and am doing that make what I claim true? No. But it does show I am convinced that it is the best answer to what ails mankind. And, I have put the rigidity to coming to that conclusion, as much as is possible anyway, as to what I did as a physicist and engineer in the laser and sensors field.

  136. You were citing perceived conflicts, not real conflicts. They are perceived conflicts because you seem to think they should write the same thing. They wrote differently because they had different purposes. I see nothing between 1 Co 15 and the gospels of the type you mentioned about Gettysburg. Those types of discrepancies just aren’t there. And I said they were a non-sequitor because they don’t follow. Not one thing you cited was a clear and obvious contradiction.

    Since I hold to late 50s to early 60s dating of Luke/Acts and belief the legal brief is a possible scenario (I am not saying it is certain), I would be interested in reading what you wrote. Could you give a link for that?


  137. Walt,

    I appreciate that you are looking at the big picture, but don’t you think that Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Scientologists, Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, and Muslims are all trying to look at the big picture as well? It is in man’s nature to hunger for some meaning and purpose in his existence. I suspect that it is an evolutionary adaptation that was hard wired into man’s psyche in order to cope with the profundity of being conscious of his own mortality. On the other hand, one of the reasons that I consider myself an agnostic rather than an atheist is that I have never completely satisfied myself that it’s not man’s soul yearning for the divine. In a sense, it doesn’t really matter since the psychological need is just as real either way.

    You find orthodox conservative Christianity’ explanations for why man is the way he is and why the world is the way it is satisfying and hence you believe in the resurrection even though the case in somewhat less than airtight. By the same token, the Mormon believes that his religion provides meaning to his life and he is willing to overlook the lack of archeological evidence for the Book of Mormon accordingly. After all, who’s to say that God might not have acted in such a way as to confound the wisdom of those who reject his revelation? By the same token, every member of every religion accepts doctrines and teachings that seem silly to members of other religions because he finds his religion’s big picture explanations sufficiently compelling.

  138. Vinny, some try to defend what they have already invested in. Since they have already invested in it, they tend to not look beyond it. Others survey the landscape, fit the pieces of the puzzle to the big picture and then make a judgment, in the midst of uncertainties, what explains it all the best and is closest to representing what likely the truth. I’m in the latter camp. As an agnostic, I would think you are i the latter camp and just have not come to a conclusion yet other than that you are not certain you can come to a conclusion. What I think you may have done (and I may be entirely wrong since I don’t know you that well yet) is to discredit what might be the answer because you see too many competing answers. I have taken that fact into account and it is a legitimate issue that requires an answer. And I have also taken into account man’s tendency to create his own gods. The experiences I have mentioned don’t have to fit only the Christian context. But they do indicate there is something beyond my everyday experiences.

    What I mean by big picture is not the idea of purpose, nor the yearning for something bigger than ourselves. That yearning is only one piece of the puzzle. The worldviews that all these religions you mention have are big pictures. But there is only one big picture than account for all that we know. Each religion has its own picture but I think they conflict in many areas with the world in which we live. In actually, the existence of so many religions supports the fact that mankind chases idols that they think they can control and thus control and manipulate their own salvation. Reality is that idols control the person. As an example, a person cannot control their greed, it controls them.

    I keep mentioning this “big picture.” I use that in systems engineering training and gave a presentation on the concept. How do engineers find the “big picture” of a problem to ensure they are solving the right problem and don’t end up with a catastrophe? The link to the presentation, which might help with understanding what I mean by “big picture” is: You will find there that I use this idea of puzzle. I even mention the 7 blind men from Hindu parables.

  139. Walt,

    They all might be the answer. Once you allow for the possibility of divine revelation and supernatural intervention in the world, there is no way to conclusively eliminate any religion’s claims other than one’s own subjective beliefs about how God might be expected to act in the world. Moreover, if you are allowing for the possibility of God who acts supernaturally in the world to make Himself known, I not sure I can see any justification for judging religions based on the extent to which they conflict with the world in which we live.

    The question also arises as to how one reaches the conclusion that one’s own religion conflicts least other than cherry picking what counts as a conflict. I don’t think that anyone has more than a handful of pieces to the puzzle and extrapolating from them is risky.

  140. Vinny,

    “Once you allow for the possibility of divine revelation and supernatural intervention in the world, there is no way to conclusively eliminate any religion’s claims other than one’s own subjective beliefs about how God might be expected to act in the world.”

    Obviously, I disagree with that statement. Have you tried to objectively examine them? Everybody’s views have to be subjective for your statement to be true. Unless you have objectively evaluated them all to show all of their views are indeed subjective, the statement is subjective as well – based on a mere hunch from one’s own subjective beliefs about how God might act in the world.

  141. What I lack is objective criteria by which to distinguish a true claim of supernatural revelation from a false one or a true miracle story from a false one. I cannot objectively prove that God did not reveal Himself to Joseph Smith. I can only say that it doesn’t seem to me like that’s the way He would do things.

  142. Okay, more reason to get that paper done – to show how an engineering approach to this problem gives as objective criteria as much as anything else we do. By the way, I will repeat that I agree you can’t tell by one claim alone – “the whole thing” has to be taken into account. If there is one obvious killer, then one option can go away, like the Book of Abraham for the Mormons.

  143. Vinny-“Once you allow for the possibility of divine revelation and supernatural intervention in the world, there is no way to conclusively eliminate any religion’s claims other than one’s own subjective evaluation of how God might be expected to act in the world.”
    I would have to agree here. Once you allow for supernatural intervention, then anything outside of reality is possible. The ‘subjective evaluation of how God might expect to act in the world’ is the sort of personal rationalization someone would have you believe as truth, regardless of reality. But truth, if it is to be shared, must be based on a reality that is shared. When I evaluate religious claims, I start with asking if it is consistent with my reality. Is resurrection consistent with reality (mine)? No. Do I have evidence that it is inconsistent with our reality (shared)? Yes. We can extend that question to, “is the supernatural consistent with reality?” No. Has anyone who claims there is something supernatural proven it to be true? No. Then should I believe in it? No.
    Walt-“Then, I think you said that with it being an impossibility (resurrection), one must assert faith (belief in something that couldn’t have happened – your definition of faith, which is contrary to the standard definition).”
    My definition of faith “is believing what one has been told, or indoctrinated into.” I can see how someone would want to believe resurrection possible if they were told by an authority they trusted, even to defend that authority. When you trust that authority to tell you the truth; that is gullibility (of which I am often a victim). However, when you examine the evidence; then continue to believe something to be true that can be clearly demonstrated as false…

  144. Todd,

    I would replace your word “reality” in the first half with “experience” Reality is reality. It isn’t yours or mine. Post-modern terminology is nothing but word games. We live as if there is a reality, most likely because there is one. There is a degree of faith involved in believing there is a reality, but all indications are pretty strong that there is an objective reality beyond us.

    However, I’d go with you on testing claims (at least whether they are worth considering any further) against your and another’s experience. That something passes or fails that test does not make it true or false, but gives you reasons to consider it further or not. To say the resurrection is not consistent with anyone’s experience is a good statement. To say it is inconsistent with reality is a statement you can’t make from your experience. I happen to know about men who walked on the moon from my experience, I think all of them, if not most are still alive, so I can believe it. But, another person unfamiliar with NASA and so forth may have no experience of men walking on the moon. They might find it hard to believe because it is outside their experience. But if they were the curious sort, like me, they would probably look into it. On the resurrection, it most definitely is outside anyone’s experience and yet that is the point of the claim – that it is unique – not something that was happening all the time in the first century. Some of the Athenians laughed at Paul on the claim thinking it nonsense. However, I’ve mentioned India and that dead people can be resuscitated is not outside of the experience of a number of people there. The ones that have experienced this are more likely to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, although I, being conservative, think they owe it to themselves to investigate it more and not just accept it on face value.

    Whether the resurrection happened or not is not subjective to your experience. It is subjective to the “facts” of the time. If you’ve read Habermas (and Licona, but Habermas should suffice), and you aren’t convinced, then you aren’t convinced and that is the way it is. I would be curious about what part of it you are not convinced by? However, if your experience causes you to say it is not worth your time to consider Habermas, then I can only guess you’ve been burned too many times to take a message as serious as the gospel as serious. Otherwise it should be taken serious since the claim of the resurrection isn’t just a miracle claim, but one that has eternal implications. It is evident that at least Dagood has looked into these claims. He has found more to object to than agree with as far as I can tell. But based on the objections he has cited, I’d say he has stacked the deck with supposed contradictions that aren’t contradictions. Why he has done that I can’t say. Maybe it is something you learn to do in law school. They don’t teach you to do that in philosophy or science. But I do believe that the resurrection requires serious consideration. An honest denial of the argument is one thing. Saying it didn’t happen because of one’s personal experience is not giving it the credit that it is due.

    So, why is this so different than other miracle claims? Should just any miracle claim be accepted? NO. NOT AT ALL! Most miracle claims do not have the support that even the resurrection has. Most are arbitrary and isolated random events. They have no consequence to belief. And thus, they don’t need investigation. Joseph Smith has been brought up several times. What about his claims? Initially they may have been believable. But, even then, there was not the implications the resurrection has on what he taught. He merely started a new religion off of Christianity. The problem is that while he was alive, he could not show anyone the plates. That is a suspicious problem. Since then, the fraud has been revealed. Mormonism has grown beyond Smith and so showing him to be a fraud doesn’t necessarily show contemporary Mormonism to be of the same ilk. Yet, what are they based on if not the very writings of the man that was shown to be a fraud?

  145. Walter Tucker: It is evident that at least Dagood has looked into these claims. He has found more to object to than agree with as far as I can tell. But based on the objections he has cited, I’d say he has stacked the deck with supposed contradictions that aren’t contradictions. Why he has done that I can’t say. Maybe it is something you learn to do in law school.

    There is some truth here. Part of trial experience is noticing differences within testimonies, questioning why the difference occurred, and then exploring the reasons behind the difference.

    But isn’t that exactly what we were asked to do? This blog entry is titled “How do we Investigate whether a Resurrection occurred?” And the author answers his own question:

    Bill Pratt: We look at the testimony of those who claimed Jesus rose from the dead and we determine whether they are to be believed or not.

    In short, we look at accounts recorded almost 2000 years ago to determine what conforms to reality, what we can’t tell, and what does not. Yet when I want to compare accounts, I am told that is a “non-sequitor” because those are only “perceived conflicts”…not “real conflicts.”

    If I was confronted with such conflicting testimony (again, I dislike the comparison of these historical accounts with actual testimony; just keeping with the vernacular and analogies utilized throughout this discussion) in a trial and ignored it, because it was only a “perceived conflict”—the jury would resoundingly punish me for my malfeasance. Indeed, my client would rightly sue me for malpractice!

    All 1 Cor. appearances (Peter, the Twelve, 500, James, all the apostles and Paul) are not listed in Matthew, Luke or John. [I am skipping Mark because it has no appearances.] All Matthew’s appearances (Women, the eleven on Galilean Mountain) are not listed in 1 Cor., Luke or John. All Luke’s appearances (road to Emmaus, eleven in Jerusalem, Bethany) are not listed in 1 Cor., Matthew or John. All John’s appearances (Mary Magdalene, ten in Jerusalem, eleven in Jerusalem, by Sea of Galilee) are not listed in 1 Cor., Matthew or Luke.

    Every single canonical account lists exclusive appearances not listed in any other account!

    Matthew and Mark put the Sanhedrin trial at night; Luke in the morning. Matthew has soldiers in conflict with Mark and Luke. John puts the death on a completely different day (the day of Preparation before Passover) than Matthew, Mark and Luke (the day of Passover.) Matthew and Mark place the appearances in Galilee; Luke modifies it to Jerusalem. John splits the difference by combining accounts from both Jerusalem and Galilee.

    Let alone trying to figure out when the stone rolled away, what women were where, having the disciples dashing back and forth to Galilee, or when and where Jesus ascended. All delightful nuances the inerrantist must hop through to align the accounts.

    (And I’ll not go into the conflicts with the Sanhedrin trial, the trial(s) before Pilate, Barabbas, the very likely fictional character Joseph of Arimathea, Jewish burial practices, and Roman law with opening graves; all topics one would be familiar with if investigating these accounts)

    If I had such witnesses on the stand and ignored these discrepancies—claiming they were only “perceived conflicts”—I really should give up my career. I have no business investigating anything.

    It reminds me of the urban legend regarding the three students who came back from a fun-filled vacation one day after a scheduled exam. They informed their professor a flat tire had prevented them from returning the previous day and begged for a chance to take the test. The professor agreed and after separating them, gave them the test. It had one question: “Which tire?”

    I hope the point is made; even if one has a “big picture” there was a flat tire—it was within the details the story begins to break down.

    Walter Tucker, I suspect we have different definitions regarding “contradiction.” I suspect you define “contradiction” within the philosophical realm, where any logically possible resolution means there is no contradiction. Whereas I define “contradiction” to be, if it is more likely a contradiction than a resolution to a neutral party, then it is a contradiction.

    If the Resurrection was a philosophical hypothetical, then it may be appropriate to use the “logically possible resolution” definition of contradiction. The Resurrection claim is not. Christians claim this is an actual historical event, and by doing so we need to utilize historical analysis—not philosophical. And under historical analysis, we look at whether it is more or less likely a contradiction.

    Look at the flat-tire story. If one student indicated front-driver, another front-passenger and a third said rear-passenger, it is “logically possible” there is no contradiction. One could propose the philosophical hypothetical they had three (3) flat tires in succession, and when being asked, said “A” flat tire, because each was thinking of an individual flat-tire.

    Yet is that how we practice historical analysis? Of course not! The very humor in the story is our expectation the students will each indicate different tires, thus revealing their subterfuge. We don’t say, “I don’t get it? What does it matter which tire, since they could list any one, and there is no logical contradiction, so the professor wouldn’t know if they were lying?” No…we get it that when they list different tires there is a contradiction.

    In the same way, it is logically possible Jesus appeared 1000’s of times, ascended more than once, made numerous statements, and people were running all over the countryside in a very short period. And Matthew (but no one else) recorded a few of those events. And Luke (but no one else) recorded a few of those events. And Mark and John and 1 Cor. (but no one else) recorded a few of those events.

    Logically possible—yes; Historical analysis—no.

    And by employing this “logically possible” standard, Christians grant these accounts “special pleading” they would not grant to any other historical account. Not even an urban legend about flat tires.

    No…I haven’t stacked the deck. Not at all. I am treating these claims just like I would any other claims within the time period. The Christian has just taken out all the Hearts and Diamonds—creating a “special deck”–for so long in discussing these claims amongst themselves, that when I use the whole deck (just like another claim) the appearance of more cards makes the Christian think it is stacked.

  146. Dagood, thanks for the feedback. It is most helpful for clarification.

    Yes, I use the philosophical “contradiction” I believe philosophy deals with questions of truth and has the language to deal with it.

    You yourself have said (again, unless I’m misquoting) that you wouldn’t call the gospels testimony in a legal sense. Given that, why treat the “testimonies” in a legal sense? I do not see contradiction, even as you defined it, between Paul and the gospels because they had different purposes for what they were writing. I can’t take, even in historical analysis, two things with different purposes and make up contradictions that are not clearly there. Obviously, if there was a bold faced contradiction, I would have to say there is a contradiction. Even if there is contradiction in what they say, even if not bold faced, I would accept it. But, most of what you claimed are not.

    When I write something on here, it may not seem so, but I am brief. It is quite different than what I write in a paper. What I preach in a sermon is even different than that. The audience and the context of the situation will dictate that I say things in different ways. Hopefully I don’t contradict, but I am not going to cite certain references in a sermon that I will in a paper. I have learned by experience that if I don’t keep my sermons simple, I will have failed to communicate. But when I write a paper, if I don’t be precise, I’ll lose people like you. And here, where I want to be precise, everything is from the top of my head since I don’t have the time to write a scholarly blog in these rebuttals. But if someone said that what I write here contracts what I write in a paper because I’m not telling you everything I say in a paper, I laugh. I sure hope law doesn’t work that way. It is one thing to question differences between testimonies, it is another to make up differences. I can see that OJ Simpson’s lawyers might do that. Maybe all do that. I sure hope not.

    Besides my disagreement on this matter of testimony and contradictions, I do like what you write. It hasn’t changed my position, but it is helpful for understanding an alternative position. I wish everyone, including myself, did so well.

  147. Walter Tucker: You yourself have said (again, unless I’m misquoting) that you wouldn’t call the gospels testimony in a legal sense. Given that, why treat the “testimonies” in a legal sense?

    Ha ha ha ha. Because I can’t help it. I am, after a, a trial lawyer. You asked whether it was something taught in law school—it is not, actually. It is taught in actual trials. As much as I may or may not like it, I treat ALL accounts with my litigator mindset—whether it is history, philosophy, or my son explaining what happened in school.

    I laugh, Walter Tucker, because I struggle so hard to NOT treat the gospels as testimony (even though it is how I treat almost all communications) yet it seems Christians constantly want to shove these accounts back into a mold I am trying to avoid. You would think, as a lawyer, it is a mold I would prefer (since it actually helps my case—these are terrible testimonies) yet conversely I find myself working to evade the very thing the Christians insist upon—a process I am far more familiar with than the Christian.

    If nothing else, you should know I appreciate irony—especially self-deprecating irony.

    You are free to use the philosophical definition of contradiction, of course. It is just not how historians use it to determine historical events. (If you even smiled in your mind at the flat-tire story, then I would equally argue it is not how YOU would use it, either, in a historical sense. Because there is a philosophical possibility there would be no contradiction, therefore the professor’s question was not helpful for finding the “truth,” therefore there is no humor in the students writing differing accounts.)

    Again I understand differing purposes result in differing focus on accounts. (Although Paul’s purpose is irrelevant; I am looking at the tradition –a tradition Paul didn’t write. Paul’s use of it may be mildly interesting—what is important is the purpose behind the tradition itself.)

    Yet we can’t have differing historical facts, even with differing purpose. What I see are completely different accounts and, taken in conjunction with other contradictions, explain the why behind the differing accounts.

    Here is an oft-used example:

    Mark, writing the first gospel (I know you hold to Matthean priority, but for this example it won’t change the analysis.) has the angel at the tomb telling the women Jesus will meet the disciples in Galilee. (Mark 16:7) Matthew, following Mark (or if you prefer, “writing what Mark would copy”) places the words in Jesus mouth, but they are the same—“Jesus will meet the disciples in Galilee.” Matt. 28:10.

    Unsurprisingly, Matthew has Jesus meeting the disciples in….Galilee. (Matt. 28:16)

    Luke, however, does not follow suit. Luke has the angels say, “Remember what Jesus said in Galilee, about how he would be raised from the dead.” (Luke 24:6-7) Luke has nothing about meeting Jesus in Galilee. [It is my opinion Luke was well-aware the word “Galilee” was associated with announcements about Jesus’ resurrection, and makes this modification from “see you in Galilee” to “what he said in Galilee” to keep the key word “Galilee” but modify the actual announcement. This is supported for two reasons:

    1) There is no significance about the “where” Jesus said it. Jesus said a lot of things, why now care “where” it was?

    2) Jesus ALSO said this in Judea. (Luke 18:33) Again, indicating the “where” was not important.)

    Unsurprisingly, Luke has Jesus appearing to the disciples in…Jerusalem. (Luke 24:49) They were never told to go to Galilee.

    [One can really appreciate the humor if one attempts to align the appearances amongst the accounts. Jesus has the women tell the disciples, “Go to Galilee” (Matt. 28:10), so they do the opposite by staying in Jerusalem! (Luke 24:33) There, Jesus tells them to “stay in Jerusalem” (Luke 24:49), so they do the opposite by going to Galilee! (Matt. 28:16; John 21:1) Each time Jesus says to do something, the disciples do the exact opposite!

    At least I find that funny….]

    Now I would agree, on the face, saying “Matthew has Jesus appearing to disciples in Galilee; Luke has Jesus appearing to disciples in Jerusalem” may not be a conflict due to differing emphasis by the authors. Two different appearances; each author happening to focus on one but not the other. However, once we take in the totality of the accounts, and see the other conflicting statements, we being to understand why Matthew’s Galilean appearance and Luke’s Judean appearance are actually in conflict, because the entire accounts are in conflict!

    Now, I am fully aware how to present “logical possibilities” to resolve these contradictions, and under a philosophical hypothetical, remove the contradiction.

    That’s not the problem. The intent of this blog entry is to get armchair skeptics off their lazy hind-end and investigate the resurrection. If the best the Christian apologist can offer is convoluted hypothetical logical possibilities to resolve what are clear contradictions on their face—no armchair skeptic has any interest in further pursuing the subject.

    These appear to be rationalizations to sustain one’s own belief. Frankly, the Christian will have to do more to make any armchair skeptic interested.

  148. Yes, I use the philosophical “contradiction” I believe philosophy deals with questions of truth and has the language to deal with it.

    With all due respect Walt (which of course means that I am about to say something disrespectful), as all apologists do, you use whatever you need at any given time to achieve the desired result.

    Apologists love to you the language of historical methodology when it comes to the women finding the empty tomb first. “It’s multiply attested.” “It’s embarrassing.” Ergo, it must have been a well known fact that none of the evangelists could have gotten away with changing. However, when the skeptic concludes that there were multiple traditions concerning the appearances precisely because they change in each gospel, the apologist takes off his historian’s hat and puts on his philosopher’s hat.

    Apologists love to cite Luke’s prologue as evidence that he was a first rate historian who can be relied upon to report historical facts. If that is so, what about the changes that Luke makes? Clearly Luke knew about the appearance traditions associated with Galilee. Why shouldn’t we conclude that Luke thought those were wrong? As Paul’s companion, Luke would have known about the creed in 1 Cor. 15, but he consciously omitted the appearance to the 500.

    With Luke, moreover, the old “everybody reports things from their own perspective” dodge doesn’t fly. Luke says that he went out and investigated the facts behind the stories. Luke was familiar with many other accounts and he was providing the definitive version so that Theophilus would know the exact truth about what really happened. If Luke changes Mark’s story, it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that he thought things didn’t happen the way Mark reported them.

    Apologists are happy to use the historian’s methodology when it achieves the desire result. When it doesn’t, they will try the lawyer’s or the philosopher’s or the engineer’s. I would like to contribute some insights I have gleaned in the field of financial derivatives.

    In 2008, Wall Street’s financial engineers brought the world financial system to the verge of collapse via mortgage backed securities. Some geniuses got the idea that they could turn no-doc, pick-a-payment, negative-amortization, sub-prime mortgages into AAA bonds by carefully slicing, dicing, and repackaging them. Unfortunately, all their mathematical wizardry could not overcome the insidious garbage-in/garbage-out effect. All they managed to do was hide it in a fog of hideously complex mathematical analysis.

    The unfortunate problem for conservative Christian apologetics as well as for historical Jesus studies in general is that the evidence consists of ancient writings of uncertain origins written decades after the events they purport to recount. No matter how much you try and slice and dice those writings with techniques like the “minimal facts” approach, the conclusions can never be any more certain than the problematic source material allows. I cannot help but suspect that your engineer’s approach is just going to be another complex analysis that obscures the simple and immutable problems with the sources.

  149. Did you mean economists rather than engineers? Any engineer thinking up securities would not be an engineer. But economists did do that. But of course it is passing the buck. Greed is the bottom line of the whole financial mess which the securities were only a part of.

    There is uncertainty in hitting the right target and occasionally there is a miss identification. But the more information you have to work with, the better the probability of hitting it. I believe everybody twists and turns things to their benefit. That is the root of sin. However, it is easiest to do with individual facts and much harder to do on the whole. Most people make their big decisions off of a smaller ones or off what seems right without analytical details. Proper analysis with enough data yields more accurate answers.

    The problem with the economists you called engineers (they might have had a high level math background) is that they used models that don’t represent reality. They can’t because they don’t understand human behavior in a predictive manner against a system where one small perturbation can blow the thing up and another doesn’t do anything. There is no way for them to do the experiments that provide better models. It is essentially trial and error. That these guys created these securities was idiocy in thinking their models represented something real. Of course their bonuses were tied to being creative.

    You are right to question my method, which you haven’t seen yet. I would question such claims. The proof is in the result when you see it.

  150. Walt,

    I used the term “financial engineers” because they imagined that what they were doing had that degree of precision. However, you are absolutely correct about the many of things they misjudged. They had a lot of data, but they didn’t recognize the hidden correlations or the fat tails. It is possible to twist individual facts, but there are plenty of logical fallacies that can be committed with collections of facts as well.

    Christians regularly recommend books or articles to me that they claim make sockdolager arguments. Sometimes I read them if I think that there will be something that I haven’t seen before, but there are not enough hours in the day to read everything. I respect the way that you have presented your arguments here, but I don’t really think you have broken any new ground so I won’t make any promises about reading your article.

  151. Walt,

    Todd may not have read Habermas but I am familiar with some of his work and I would be happy to share some of the reasons that I do not find him persuasive:

    (1) The “minimal facts” approach reminds me of the kind of cherry picking that conspiracy theorists use to make their case. For example, the 911 Truthers cherry pick very specific video clips and bits of eyewitness reports. Then they reject any theory that doesn’t explain those cherry picked bits of evidence regardless of how well it explains the totality of the evidence. Not surprisingly, the theory that best explains their evidence is the Truthers’ theory that the Twin Towers were brought down by a government engineered controlled demolition. Of course, when all the evidence is considered, there can be no doubt that terrorists were behind the 911 attacks. Similarly, there is no reason to think that a theory which is limited to explaining the facts that Habermas cherry picks is the best one or even a good one.

    (2) There is no justification for limiting our consideration to those facts upon which there is consensus. Suppose that the only facts agreed upon at a murder trial were that the defendant had motive to kill the victim and that he was seen in the vicinity of the victim’s house at the time he died. On the other hand, many other potentially determinative facts were in dispute such as who else had motive and opportunity, who had access to the murder weapon, and whether the victim’s death was accidental or self-inflicted. It wouldn’t make any sense to reach a conclusion based solely on the agreed facts just because they were agreed. In the case of the resurrection, there are tons of things we aren’t sure about that might completely change our conclusions. Basing our conclusion on a handful about which there is consensus is illogical.

    (3) The sampling in Habermas’ survey is highly problematic. The majority of scholars writing about the resurrection are Christians just as most of the scholars who write about Joseph Smith are Mormons and most of the scholars writing about Mohammed are Muslims. The majority of scholars surveyed were trained in theology or New Testament studies, not historical methodology.

    (4) Habermas does not in fact base his argument only upon those facts upon which there is broad consensus. For example, the overwhelming majority of scholars might well believe that some followers of Jesus had some experience that they understood to be an appearance of the risen Christ. That is a minimal fact. However, a significant number of scholars do not accept the details of the appearance accounts as factually accurate. When Habermas rejects the hallucination theory on the grounds that people do not share hallucinations, he is assuming the truth of the multiple appearance stories which is going beyond the minimal facts. When rejecting alternatives to the resurrection, Habermas frequently relies upon details in the gospels about which there is not consensus.

    (5) The agreement of scholars is not sufficient to turn speculations into historical bedrock. For example, Habermas calls the conversion of James the skeptic a minimal fact, but there is nothing in the New Testament that tells us that James converted as a result of an appearance of the risen Christ. On the other hand, some early traditions place James within Jesus’ inner circle prior to the crucifixion and many Catholic scholars identified James with James the son of Alpheus who was one of the twelve apostles. There is simply no evidence to tell us when James converted regardless of how many scholars guess that it happened after the resurrection.

  152. Vinny, I appreciate your response very much.

    Do you have a list of the facts which Habermas does not cherry pick that you think are relevant. I will make sure they are covered in my paper.

  153. Walt,

    The first fact that comes to mind is one upon which almost every scholar and scientist who has every examined the question agrees: People who die stay dead.

    In short everything we know about how the world works as well as everything we know about the gullibility, wishful thinking, and ignorance of both modern and ancient people regarding the supernatural. Among the things we don’t know that could affect our conclusions are all the uncertainties about the authorship, sources, and transmission of the resurrection stories. We should consider all the inconsistencies and fantastic stories in the gospel stories when deciding how much weight to put on those few matters upon which scholars may in fact agree.

  154. :continued from the ever expanding thread: – in Reply to Walt

    Walt – “I would replace your word “reality” in the first half with “experience” Reality is reality. It isn’t yours or mine.” Now we’re getting to the place where I get out of my armchair! I would agree that personal experience is what we use to define our own model of reality. However, we’re not really trying to define reality. Reality is defined by the state of existence. (We can perhaps discuss questions of reality elsewhere, but from your post I think we agree on the basic concept). What we are trying to do is model our view of reality with the state of existence, which we hold as ultimate truth. Your model includes god, mine does not. If we agree there is ultimate truth, and that truth is the state of existence, then one of us is right.

    If we are to search for truth, which I assume is at the heart of this matter, then we need to look closely at how consistent our model of reality is with observation of death. If there is truth in the models we create, then there must be consistency of observation when they overlap. In my model, the dead stay dead. In your model, the dead might reanimate. So there is a conflict. Assuming we want to reconcile the conflict (otherwise what is the point of our debate), what recourse do we have? In my model, observation of nature creates predictable results. The dead always stay dead. This is true in your side as well, but you make an exception that is neither observable nor predictable. The justification for this exception is based on interpretation of ancient text, philosophy, statistics, etc… never based on observation of nature and never with predictability of outcome.

    The closest argument you’ve made to reconcile our realities is, “Go to India! I was there this summer and was shocked beyond belief. Verifiable resuscitations are happening every month there.” This sets the groundwork for an argument that could change my mind. However, from the beginning I am skeptical. You don’t say ‘resurrection’ which is really what we are discussing, and later you say “I was told of a story of a dead man coming back to life” so we know it’s not an event you witnessed. You also mention “My frustration is that they did not document it.” Me too. And most distressing, it is not observable or predictable. I think you are a victim of faith in this case, which I previously defined as ‘believing what someone told you’… but I digress.

    If there is truth to your reality, and it does not rely upon observation of death or predictability of outcome, what then do you use to reconcile your reality with the nature of existence?

  155. “Carefully inspect the testimony”

    That’s a real knee slapper!!!

    Because the “testimony” of a bunch of anonymously written religious tracts, written perhaps decades to a century after the events to which they proclaim, and by authors who never even attempt to state that they ever personally witnessed a single event that they write about or to have met a single person in which they write about, is surely beyond reproach, right!?

    And a bunch of ancient-minded, pre scientific, superstitious, mostly uneducated and illiterate peasants from two thousand years ago would never allow themselves to believe something to which there were not astonishing evidence for, right!!?

    Wow, this blog is really funny!!!

  156. Those guys might be laughing as hardily at someone from two thousand years later, who never met them, judging their character and misrepresenting them. Who are you to say they never personally witnessed a single event or met a single person in which they write about? That is quite contrary to their own statements. It is one thing to say they might have fallen for superstitious thinking, but quite another for most of what you claim ad hoc and without direct evidence. So much for truth over faith, huh? Seems like faith in egocentric elitism overrides truth. Next time you might actually state why what you said is true rather than playing politician and doing an unsubstantianted smear campaign.

  157. You are making progress. At least this time when you commented, every other word was not profanity. Now you just need to work on actually stating facts and making reasoned arguments instead of merely expressing emotional outbursts..

  158. Who are you to say they never personally witnessed a single event or met a single person in which they write about?

    He didn’t say that Walt.

  159. Vinny, I agree TOF didn’t literally say it, but it is quite strongly implied within his sarcastic statement, which is based almost entirely on assumptions and just as ridiculous – especially the last half of it.

  160. Walt,

    I disagree. He certainly was sarcastic but he was careful in his characterization of the evidence.

    I think the implication is that someone who doesn’t claim to be an eyewitness can reasonably be treated as someone who wasn’t an eyewitness. I think this is fair because I don’t think an account should be treated as an eyewitness account without good reason to think it was which should at least include the writer’s claim that it was.

    I may be wrong, but I would guess that the ancients understood the difference between eyewitness accounts and second hand accounts and could reasonably be expected to claim eyewitness status when warranted.

  161. Vinny,

    What do you make of Luke 1:1-4; Jn 21:24-25; 2 Pe 1:16-21; 1 Jn 1:1-7? Only Luke is claiming to be a second hand account, but from firsthand witnesses he personally talked with.

  162. Walt,

    I’m guessing you already know the responses.

    Luke speaks of what was “handed down” by eyewitnesses which suggests that it was filtered through several stages. If Luke was as good a historian as claimed, he would know how to make it clear that he had spoken to the eyewitnesses himself.

    Second Peter has the worst pedigree of any writing in canon. We have to accept the possibility that it is a second century forgery.

    John 21:24 is on its face a claim by someone other than the author about the author. It is not the author’s claim to be an eyewitness.

    I have no idea what the author of 1 John is claiming to have seen.

  163. Vinny, What TOF said was, “by authors who never even attempt to state that they ever personally witnessed a single event that they write about or to have met a single person in which they write about”

    Regardless of who the authors were, and even if they were liars, which everyone is so quick to assume, they made the attempt. Whether anyone wants to believe their claims is a whole other matter.

    Of course, every response you gave to each of the verses I mentioned are opinions based on a particular view of the New Testament. There is nothing any more objective to holding those opinions than to hold the view that what the authors claimed was true. It seems there is a “faith” issue no matter which side of the fence one stands.

  164. Walt – “Regardless of who the authors were, and even if they were liars, which everyone is so quick to assume, they made the attempt. Whether anyone wants to believe their claims is a whole other matter.”

    Why indeed. What is it that makes biblical testimony so compelling to you, that you would believe these accounts of supernatural events in the face of obvious natural contradiction? If we cannot be sure of the events, which I think each side has conceded, what makes you take their side of the story as truth? The only conclusion I can draw is that you ‘want’ to believe it regardless of plausibility. Is that the case?

  165. Todd, I don’t believe the supernatural events on their own account, although I do think the resurrection must hold up if I’m to believe any of it. I do not apriori reject the possibility of supernatural intervention. I can be suspicious, but see no reason to outright reject and keep my eyes closed to it.

    I have no good reason to call these guys liars. I know some will say they were just gullible. I think moderns are gullible to think ancients were really all that gullible. People then were just as suspicious of claims of resurrection as now (see Acts 17:32, and pay attention to the words of 2 Pe 1:16; 1 Jn 1 – they were confronted by skeptics then). Anyway, the only reason that I can see that people are calling these guys liars (and that IS what they are calling them) is because of the supernatural claims. Dagood has me looking at the criteria for whether there is a double standard on my acceptance of these writings verses others. I’ll table that here for now.

    But why do I find this compelling? As much as I think there is a rational basis for the entire gospel when looked at honestly, there is more than reason that compels me. One day (I’ve mentioned this already, either here, on on Dagood’s site) something happened to me that was an experience that is beyond reason. Since that day, I couldn’t disbelieve, even if I wanted to. I don’t even believe because I want to. My life was just fine (despite blindness about my condition), and I had no need that I know of to seek out Jesus. So, I don’t believe because I want to, but because, as you said, I AM COMPLELLED TO. See John 14:16-17; 3:3-8. Anyone who has not had this experience cannot understand. Even believers who have not had this experience don’t know what it means to have it. That is why there are some who think they are believers, and can drift from the faith (Mt 13:19-23; Heb 2:1;5:11-44).

    I know I have referenced Scripture here. In my old days, when some one would have quoted Scripture to me, it would have gone in one ear and out the other. I didn’t believe the Bible so their quoting had no basis for my believing them. However, after the experience, there was a new clearness that I didn’t see before and Scripture then came to make sense (See Mark 8:22-26, the first healing was natural revelation through human teaching which left the disciples fuzzy on their understanding – they easily could have still fallen away at that point, but yet were followers of Jesus; the second healing was complete and sealed them into their eternal salvation – it represented the coming Holy Spirit.)

  166. Walt,

    No they are not opinions based on a particular view of the New Testament. They are simply acknowledgements of the ambiguities in the text. When someone writes “We know that he was an eyewitness,” it is the “we” who are making the claim, not the “he.” When Luke says that he is writing of things that were “handed down,” that is ambiguous as to the number of intermediate steps particularly since we have good reason to think that he copied from an earlier account that itself was not written by an eyewitness. The author of 1 John is clearly claiming to be an eyewitness to something, but he never narrates a single event from Jesus’ life so I’m not sure that he is not merely claiming to be a witness to what the risen Christ has accomplished in the church. As far as the poor pedigree of 2 Peter goes, that goes back to the early church fathers who questioned its authenticity.

    As apologists often do, you have to fall back on accusations of bias when someone tries to apply the same standards to the New Testament that they apply to other writings. You accuse me of bias yet you have no trouble rejecting the claims of all the witnesses to the Golden Plates.

  167. Walt,

    I don’t think that the ancients were “all that gullible.” I merely think that they no less gullible than the 19th century Americans who believed the claims of Joseph Smith and the 20th century Americans who believed the claims of L. Ron Hubbard.

  168. Vinny, I’m not “accusing” you of bias as in a negative sense. We all have some bias, our perspective, when we approach something. The hope is that we are not limited by those biases and can overcome them if there is reason to do so.

    Also, I agree with you, if there is gullibility, it is the same now as then. That does not mean I think those guys (NT writers) fell for a lie.

    No problem citing ambiguities of things that are perceived to be in the text. Those are topics for discussion. My issue that started this particular discussion was the comments by TOF thinking that if he can jump in and out while thinking he can embarrass one, he has some how won the day – a common atheist tactic which is shows immaturity. Much better to have discussions as the majority are having here without the stupid remarks. I knew a person who used to call people stupid all the time. It seems everybody was stupid to her. What I later found out was that she was called that most of her growing up life and deep down saw herself as stupid, but projected that onto others. A real intellectual will engage the argument, not ad hominems.

  169. Walt,

    Your irritation with obnoxious atheists is understandable. There are many people in the blogosphere whose tactics I don’t find constructive even if I generally agree with their conclusions.

    The reason I chimed in however is that I am careful not to make blanket claims in discussions like this, but I often get responses that assume that I did. For example, I might say “I don’t think that any of the gospels claim to be eyewitness accounts” only to get in return “Who are you to say they never personally witnessed a single event or met a single person?” I consider that setting up a straw man.

    I also consider “you think they are all liars” a straw man as well, because I don’t. Nevertheless, I think that it would be very surprising if no one lied because there are always liars among us. Sometimes they are calculating and sometimes they are well intentioned and sometimes they are pathological, but there are always some floating around. All you need is one person who gains some status in a community by saying that Jesus appeared to him and you will have others who will lie in the hopes of enjoying the same status and you will have others who sincerely convince themselves that Jesus appeared to them. There would be people who misinterpreted or exaggerated their own experiences as well as people who misinterpreted or exaggerated the stories they heard about what others experienced. These things are just human nature.

  170. Vinny,

    Saying, “I don’t think that …” or “… because such and such” is a reasonable way to approach a discussion. Ridicule is not, regardless of which camp they sit in.

    A strawman is setup to be knocked down. I have no intent of knocking down the “liar” claim. But, you are right that I was hasty to make the claim as a generalization. Indeed not all would be lying, they sincerely believed for whatever reason, and honest skeptics will admit that as you do.

  171. continued…

    “One day (I’ve mentioned this already, either here, on on Dagood’s site) something happened to me that was an experience that is beyond reason. Since that day, I couldn’t disbelieve, even if I wanted to. I don’t even believe because I want to. My life was just fine (despite blindness about my condition), and I had no need that I know of to seek out Jesus. So, I don’t believe because I want to, but because, as you said, I AM COMPLELLED TO. See John 14:16-17; 3:3-8. Anyone who has not had this experience cannot understand.”


    The argument from personal experience is probably the most convincing to me when someone tells me they believe something that does not have basis in reality. Because reality is somewhat personal, in that we all create our own model of reality, it is more than reasonable given all of the religious people in the world that personal experience plays a role in religious belief. However, reality that cannot be observed cannot be shared, so I would question any ‘experience’ that does not provide empirical evidence of its claim.

    On a side note, I find it interesting that the religion most often attributed to mystical experience is geographical in nature. i.e. – an American will have a Christian experience; a muslim, Islamic; Indian, hindu; etc. But even I admit that rationality is flimsy, just interesting.

    However, the biggest issue I have with what you claim is that personal experience is just that, personal. As you said, “Anyone who has not had this experience cannot understand.” But precisely because the experience cannot be shared; how can we know it was not just delusion, even if temporary? How do you know? I find the answer is usually, “I just know… or … It was too real not to be true, etc…” There is never a reasonable explanation sufficient to prove that god exists or to prove the supernatural. Faith is usually the explanation. I do not question that you believe in your experience and that it may have caused you to change your model of reality. What, I wonder, would cause you to believe that your experience was not based in reality?

  172. Todd, I’m with you on this. I don’t think experience is an argument for God. There can be all kinds of experiences. I don’t remember if I was responding to you, Andrew, or Vinny, but I was giving “my” reason. I still think there are logical, reasonable answers to faith. It isn’t merely hopeful, wishful thinking. If I ever finish that other paper, it will prove the point. However, I am indeed compelled to believe because there is something beyond me that has influenced my belief – it isn’t based on reason alone.

Comments are closed.