Ten Turning Points: Considering the Evidences for Jesus’ Resurrection

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From the series, Ten Turning Points That Make All the Difference

Last night I passed along five facts on which historians are solidly agreed.

  1. Jesus was crucified
  2. The disciples believed that Jesus appeared to them after his death
  3. Paul (Saul) was converted to faith in Christ after Jesus’ death
  4. Jesus’ half-brother James was likewise converted to faith in Jesus after the crucifixion
  5. The tomb in which Jesus was buried was empty that first Easter morning

Knowledgeable consensus is virtually unanimous on the first four of these, and just slightly less so on the fifth. These facts have been accepted on the basis of standard historical methods that give no special place to the New Testament as inspired literature, and do not take into account any broader biblical information on why Jesus died and rose again.

These facts demand an explanation. If Jesus died that Friday (and he did), and if the disciples were convinced he was with them again physically after his death, what convinced them? Various theories have been proposed; only one stands up to the test of other information.

  • Some skeptics think Jesus’ followers might have hallucinated the experience in their grief, but community hallucinations don’t happen, and Paul would not have shared that grief.
  • Some think it’s possible he didn’t really die, but fell into a coma and was buried that way; but that fails to take into account the brutality of crucifixion, the executioners’ professionalism, and the disciples’ joyful affirmation that Jesus had conquered death. Neither does it explain why Paul and James would have decided to follow Jesus.
  • Some take it that the Resurrection was a fable that developed over time, but that does not explain why Paul accepted its truth so early.
  • Some have proposed that it was a case of mistaken identity. Muslims, for example, say it was actually Jesus’ brother who died on the cross. That theory never appeared anywhere in the first half-millennium after the events, though, so this idea we can safely set aside as being a made-up fable.
  • Then there’s the other mistaken-identity theory: everyone went to the wrong tomb. But Paul and James would not have believed just because Jesus’ tomb was supposedly empty.
  • Some suppose that the disciples were lying, but this runs against the knowledgeable consensus. Multiple independent accounts indicate that they died for their conviction that the resurrection happened. Sure, many people have died for things that were not true, but nowhere in history will you find even a small group of people who died for an untruth that they themselves made up.

Christians are convinced the best explanation is that Jesus genuinely rose from the dead, making himself known as the Lord of life itself.

What’s your explanation?

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101 Responses to “ Ten Turning Points: Considering the Evidences for Jesus’ Resurrection ”

  1. I guess what bothers me about this post is the naive confidence it exhibits. E.g.:

    “Some suppose that the disciples were lying, but this runs against the knowledgeable consensus. Multiple independent accounts indicate that they died for their conviction that the resurrection happened. Sure, many people have died for things that were not true, but nowhere in history will you find even a small group of people who died for an untruth that they themselves made up.”

    First — sure they will, if they themselves believe it, or have other reasons to push the view. David Koresh, Jim Jones, Jonathan Smith, Giordano Bruno, etc. etc. They are not all technically martyrs, but they all both (a) made up stuff and (b) followed it so far they ended up in easily avoidable deaths.

    And there is a huge amount of variability in what exactly “making it up” means — conservative apologists always assume it means only and deliberate well-informed conspiracy to lie. There are pious lies, there is wishful thinking, there is rumor-mongering and partial information and “games of telephone”, there is mis-hearing and mis-interpreting people, there is conspiratorial thinking, there is telling a story so many times and getting such a positive reaction from people that you start to believe it yourself, and there is mental illness, just off the top of my head.

    And then there is the possibility of large amount of selective reporting later on, which will spread the martyr stories, not spread the stories of those who chickened out, and which will quite possibly convert any execution by the authorities for almost any reason into a tale of the execution of a pure martyr.

    If one is going to make a serious case for a miracle, one is going to have to show that all of these possibilities are improbable individually and summed.

    “Some take it that the Resurrection was a fable that developed over time, but that does not explain why Paul accepted its truth so early.”

    The basics of a legend can develop over days or weeks if you have a group of marginalized believers who are some combination of traumatized, on the run, paranoid, superstitious, and lacking modern fact-checking resources like access to the press, the government, the religious authorities, etc.

    All you need for all of this to start is for someone among Jesus’s followers to get the idea into their head that Jesus’s body is missing. For all we know Jesus’s body could have been dumped in a common pit or grave with various criminals. It wouldn’t take long at all before the body would be unfindable and/or unidentifiable without modern forensic techniques. It could all be chalked up to innocent mistakes, even. A follower of Jesus, terrified of the authorities, nevertheless tries to go find the corpse. For any of a number of reasons (darkness, wrong location, chased away by authorities, decomposition of the corpse, someone else took the body first) they fail. The story gets passed around and soon someone “puts two and two together” and suggests that the body wasn’t found because Jesus was raised. Then you’re off and running, and almost everything else in the Gospel story (a huge tomb with guards and a stone, visits to the tomb, angels, etc.) is later legendary accretion.

    Unlikely? Sure, any individual scenario would have low probability. But unlikely-but-prosaic things happen all the time — much more often than miracles, on anyone’s account. And the relevant thing to compare to the miracle hypothesis is the probability (one of these prosaic explanations is true).

    “Some skeptics think Jesus’ followers might have hallucinated the experience in their grief, but community hallucinations don’t happen, and Paul would not have shared that grief.”

    What? Crowd psychology is a strange thing. We are not restricted to positing a literal-everyone-has-an-identical-vision form of “hallucination”. Off the top of my head, UFO “sightings” and “appearances” of the Virgin Mary are some of the many candidates of situations where credulity + crowd psychology + poor information/poor sensory input = widespread belief that something fantastic has been observed.

    Basically, the problem you’ve got is that the evidence isn’t good enough to convince a reasonable, open-minded skeptic who is aware of (reasonable, rather than question-begging) alternative explanations. I personally don’t care if someone is a believer, it’s their business, but I think it should be acknowledged that faith is playing a role and it’s not a conclusion you can have any confidence in based on just the evidence. I think even a lot of Christians would agree with this.

  2. Hi Nick,

    Unlikely? Sure, any individual scenario would have low probability. But unlikely-but-prosaic things happen all the time — much more often than miracles, on anyone’s account. And the relevant thing to compare to the miracle hypothesis is the probability (one of these prosaic explanations is true).

    This seems to be the core of your argument, but it doesn’t work. The truth of Christianity entails that the resurrection of Christ was a one-time event. In other words, if Christianity is true, we would predict the resurrection to be far more unlikely that any naturally occurring event. That unlikely-but-prosaic things happen all the time — much more often than miracles, is irrelevant.

    Look, I would agree that the evidence for the resurrection is not strong enough to convince a skeptic. I do not think skeptics are being unreasonable in denying the resurrection. But the evidence is sufficient for turning back the common claim that there is “no evidence” for Christianity. For that common claim is unreasonable.

    In another thread here, I replied to someone who insisted the resurrection did not occur because it runs contrary to medical evidence as follows:

    I understand your argument, but I’m not sure of the purpose of your argument.

    If the purpose is defensive, along the lines of explaining why you are not a Christian, or why you do not accept the resurrection of Jesus, then fine, I can accept that as reasonable.

    However, if the purpose is offensive, along the lines of arguing that Christians are being irrational in accepting the resurrection of Jesus, then your argument fails.

    In other words, the argument works if you want to argue your skepticism is reasonable. It fails if you want to argue Christian faith is unreasonable.
    So what is the purpose of your argument?

    Never got an answer.

    You write:
    I personally don’t care if someone is a believer, it’s their business, but I think it should be acknowledged that faith is playing a role and it’s not a conclusion you can have any confidence in based on just the evidence. I think even a lot of Christians would agree with this.

    All people should acknowledge the role that faith plays in their worldview, as Vulcans exist only in scifi. But I wonder if you are willing to acknowledge that belief in the resurrection of Jesus is reasonable. If you think it unreasonable, you’ll need much more than a laundry list of things that “could have happened” being more “likely” than a miracle.

  3. Nick,

    Basically, the problem you’ve got is that the evidence isn’t good enough to convince a reasonable, open-minded skeptic who is aware of (reasonable, rather than question-begging) alternative explanations.

    What do you mean by open minded, Nick? I would argue:

    “Most of the skeptics reject or explain away the the historical evidence for the resurrection, not because it is unreliable, but because of they are committed to a world view that allows no room for God and the supernatural.”
    https://www.thinkingchristian.net/2012/03/ten-turning-points-some-objections-to-the-resurrection/#comment-36400

    Is that open-minded?

    I personally don’t care if someone is a believer, it’s their business, but I think it should be acknowledged that faith is playing a role and it’s not a conclusion you can have any confidence in based on just the evidence. I think even a lot of Christians would agree with this.

    So what are you saying, Nick? Believers need to retreat to their closets and keep quiet about their beliefs?

  4. Two things strike me about your comment, Nick.

    The first is the naive confidence it exhibits. You offer a few non-parallel situations and suggest that because certain people did certain things unrelated to what history tells us happened around the resurrection, therefore we can assume that what happened around the resurrection was like those non-parallel circumstances. In a moment I will explain in more detail what I mean.

    The second thing that strikes me is that you didn’t answer my question. What’s your explanation, really?

    David Koresh, Jim Jones, etc. believed what they believed about themselves or about metaphysics, yes, and they died for it. But their beliefs were mystical/metaphysical and private. The disciples’ belief concerning Jesus’ resurrection was shared, and it was a belief with respect to a physically observable event. There’s no parallel there. Plus it does not explain the conversions of James and Paul.

    You suggest that pious lies, wishful thinking, or rumor-mongering might explain the events. They do not explain James’ and Paul’s conversions. They do not explain why anyone would die for these beliefs.

    You suggest the telephone game might be a sort of explanation, but the telephone game is designed for the purpose of distorting information: low signal-to-noise ratio and no error checking. The disciples’ public affirmation of Jesus’ resurrection was exactly the opposite. The telephone game has nothing in common with that.

    The conspiracy theory depends on people defending a lie that they know to be a lie, and dying for it. You won’t find any parallel conspiracies in real history.

    And then there is the possibility of large amount of selective reporting later on, which will spread the martyr stories,

    Here you are speaking from sheer ignorance. The accounts of martyrdom are accepted by good historians for good historians’ reasons.

    If one is going to make a serious case for a miracle, one is going to have to show that all of these possibilities are improbable individually and summed.

    They are all improbable individually because none of them even counts as a viable theory. See above. They are all improbable summed because none of them is likely individually.

    The basics of a legend can develop over days or weeks if you have a group of marginalized believers who are some combination of traumatized, on the run, paranoid, superstitious, and lacking modern fact-checking resources like access to the press, the government, the religious authorities, etc.

    Right. Those fact-checking resources were not lacking.

    For all we know Jesus’s body could have been dumped in a common pit or grave with various criminals.

    First — sure they will, if they themselves believe it, or have other reasons to push the view. David Koresh, Jim Jones, Jonathan Smith, Giordano Bruno, etc. etc. They are not all technically martyrs, but they all both (a) made up stuff and (b) followed it so far they ended up in easily avoidable deaths.

    The NT situation differs from all of these. First, the belief they were defended was not some mystical “truth,” but a very physical experience. Second, it was a shared belief. I don’t think you’ll find any parallel to that in history anywhere, and I don’t think Koresh, Jones, etc. count as parallels because of those very significant differences.

    A follower of Jesus, terrified of the authorities, nevertheless tries to go find the corpse.

    The historical evidence shows that Jesus’ followers were not terrified of the authorities. And your whole long speculative, evidence free theory fails to explain the conversions of James and Paul.

    Unlikely? Sure, any individual scenario would have low probability. But unlikely-but-prosaic things happen all the time — much more often than miracles, on anyone’s account. And the relevant thing to compare to the miracle hypothesis is the probability (one of these prosaic explanations is true).

    I beat you to that objection, I think. See #2 here.

    What? Crowd psychology is a strange thing. We are not restricted to positing a literal-everyone-has-an-identical-vision form of “hallucination”. Off the top of my head, UFO “sightings” and “appearances” of the Virgin Mary are some of the many candidates of situations where credulity + crowd psychology + poor information/poor sensory input = widespread belief that something fantastic has been observed.

    The resurrection appearances were not like UFO sightings. Credulity was not the case for James and Paul. Conditions for observing were up close, physical, multi-sensory (touch, hearing, sight) and multi-dimensional (involving conversation and teaching as well as mere observation).

    Basically, the problem you’ve got is that the evidence isn’t good enough to convince a reasonable, open-minded skeptic who is aware of (reasonable, rather than question-begging) alternative explanations.

    “Reasonable” among atheists means “in accordance with materialist philosophy.” What does it mean to you? What is it about your explanations that is not question-begging, anyway?

    I personally don’t care if someone is a believer, it’s their business, but I think it should be acknowledged that faith is playing a role and it’s not a conclusion you can have any confidence in based on just the evidence. I think even a lot of Christians would agree with this.

    What do you mean by faith? I’m willing to bet it’s not what any thinking believer means by it. Yes, I acknowledge that the evidence alone does not compel assent. One also has to have an open, non-dogmatic mind, willing to accept that materialist answers need not be the only kind of answers available for consideration. Sclerotic metaphysical naturalism won’t be convinced, I’ll grant you that.

    Finally, what’s your explanation? Please provide one that accounts for the known crucifixion of Jesus, the disciples’ conviction that Jesus appeared to them alive, the conversions of James and Saul (Paul), and the empty tomb. Emphasis on and, for all of these facts require some viable simultaneous explanation.

  5. The “convince an open-minded skeptic” standard is practically useless – at best, it’s too vague to do much work. At worst, it’s self-contradictory. Is the open-minded skeptic a naturalist? Agnostic regarding naturalism? Deist? Theist, but of a vague sort? Do they have intuitions? And as others have pointed out, yes, there’s a ‘faith’ component. Indications are what Nick means by ‘faith’ is pretty different from what everyone here means by it, and what most Christians would mean by it.

    Moreover, Nick says that the resurrection is “not a conclusion you can have any confidence in based on the evidence”. First, that’s flatly wrong – there is evidence for the resurrection, and even if he finds other explanations compelling, said evidence provides some confidence in the resurrection. But second, there’s this problem: evidence is never analyzed in a vacuum. How the evidence looks to the committed naturalist will look different compared to the agnostic, whose investigation will look different compared to the deist/theist, etc.

    The problem I’m trying to outline with Nick is one I think is common. There’s this tendency to pretend that there’s some Nagel-like ‘view from nowhere’ that we’re some idealized person we know or can imagine, lacking all metaphysical commitments or biases, and who we can turn to to evaluate claims for miracles or an act of God in a perfectly objective manner. That person’s viewpoint would be extremely valuable. Pity they don’t exist.

  6. Look, I would agree that the evidence for the resurrection is not strong enough to convince a skeptic. I do not think skeptics are being unreasonable in denying the resurrection.

    That’s about all I wanted to establish.

    Tom — most of your additional evidence about the resurrection “witnesses” depends on the reliability of the post-resurrection Gospel accounts, which were written long after the fact, and which I gather many scholars doubt, which I suspect is precisely why you didn’t include them in your list of evidences.

    The “evidence” from Paul is basically a vision/bright light years after the crucifixion. And we know virtually nothing about what James experienced.

    They are all improbable individually because none of them even counts as a viable theory. See above. They are all improbable summed because none of them is likely individually.

    You appear to disagree with Mike Gene. Which is an ambitious thing to do.

    And anyway, your statement only makes sense if the texts are historically accurate with little-to-no legend in them. But that’s precisely what is in doubt. Once you concede that it is at all reasonable that there is substantial legendary content, all the hypotheses I mentioned become plausible. If it’s a choice between (any of these plausible prosaic explanations) and stupendous miracle, I think it’s more reasonable to pick the prosaic explanations.

  7. Nick, I continue to be amazed at your naive confidence in your contradicting the consensus of people who actually know what they’re talking about. The evidence of Paul and James is not unknown. The first written account of the resurrection is in 1 Corinthians 15:3-6, which scholars generally agree is a creed that goes back to within one to four years after Jesus’ crucifixion.

    I didn’t include anything at all that is doubted by any significant number of scholars; what you see above is that which is doubted by virtually no one who knows what they’re doing.

    The facts that I have relied upon here are historically accurate with little to no legend in them; that is precisely what is not in doubt among people who know how to assess these things. And once you quit pretending you know more than they do (because you don’t), then all your hypotheses run up hard against the actual knowledge that I have referred to in my previous rebuttal.

    Do you care about actual knowledge, Nick? Does it matter to you? Or is it just that you know more about these things than 95% to 98% of NT era historians?

  8. Nick,

    That’s about all I wanted to establish.

    Really? So you just want to hear you own views echoed and nothing more?? Wow. That’s quite a parochial way of looking at our reality.

    Let’s set my quote in context:

    “Look, I would agree that the evidence for the resurrection is not strong enough to convince a skeptic. I do not think skeptics are being unreasonable in denying the resurrection. But the evidence is sufficient for turning back the common claim that there is “no evidence” for Christianity. For that common claim is unreasonable.”

    Did you omit the last half because you are under the impression that it is not unreasonable to proclaim there is no evidence for Christianity?

    And from your last paragraph, you conclude:

    If it’s a choice between (any of these plausible prosaic explanations) and stupendous miracle, I think it’s more reasonable to pick the prosaic explanations.

    If it’s just your own subjective opinion, fine. But then say so. However, if you think all reasonable people are supposed to agree with you, then you need to make the case.

    You’ll need to come to terms with a truth that I posted:

    The truth of Christianity entails that the resurrection of Christ was a one-time event. In other words, if Christianity is true, we would predict the resurrection to be far more unlikely that any naturally occurring (prosaic)event.

  9. Yeah, I too would like Nick to come clean on what Mike’s pressing him on: is he merely giving his subjective opinion? Or is he arguing that belief that the resurrection took place is unreasonable, period?

    And this…

    Once you concede that it is at all reasonable that there is substantial legendary content, all the hypotheses I mentioned become plausible.

    …is just wrong, at least as stated. First because what qualifies as ‘substantial’ is yet another question – and more than that, it depends on what is and isn’t regarded as ‘legendary’. Second, the veracity of the gospel accounts are not being conceded as legendary here, as near as I can tell. It’s simply being put aside to deal with core evidence.

  10. Tom writes,

    “Finally, what’s your explanation?”

    I don’t think Nick has one. He offered up this scenario:

    For all we know Jesus’s body could have been dumped in a common pit or grave with various criminals. It wouldn’t take long at all before the body would be unfindable and/or unidentifiable without modern forensic techniques. It could all be chalked up to innocent mistakes, even. A follower of Jesus, terrified of the authorities, nevertheless tries to go find the corpse. For any of a number of reasons (darkness, wrong location, chased away by authorities, decomposition of the corpse, someone else took the body first) they fail. The story gets passed around and soon someone “puts two and two together” and suggests that the body wasn’t found because Jesus was raised. Then you’re off and running, and almost everything else in the Gospel story (a huge tomb with guards and a stone, visits to the tomb, angels, etc.) is later legendary accretion.

    He acknowledges that it is unlikely, but is able to purchase it for one and only one reason – it’s not a miracle. Basically, he is adopting the weird position that if Christianity was true, it would not include or entail miracles and that the origin of the Church would be rooted in prosaic events. Yet all he has purchased is a personal justification for his own skepticism. And as I acknowledged, I can respect that. To get beyond this, he would need to have something more substantial than “it’s not a miracle.”

    He would need to show that his explanation is the true one.

    That it was, indeed, what happened.

  11. The facts that I have relied upon here are historically accurate with little to no legend in them; that is precisely what is not in doubt among people who know how to assess these things.

    Tom,

    This is true (except maybe the “tomb” detail) about the 4-5 facts in your opening post. But it is not true about your various statements which attempt to discredit my variations on mistakes-and-legends hypotheses. E.g.:

    You suggest the telephone game might be a sort of explanation, but the telephone game is designed for the purpose of distorting information: low signal-to-noise ratio and no error checking. The disciples’ public affirmation of Jesus’ resurrection was exactly the opposite. The telephone game has nothing in common with that.

    […]

    The NT situation differs from all of these. First, the belief they were defended was not some mystical “truth,” but a very physical experience. Second, it was a shared belief. I don’t think you’ll find any parallel to that in history anywhere, and I don’t think Koresh, Jones, etc. count as parallels because of those very significant differences.

    […]

    The resurrection appearances were not like UFO sightings. Credulity was not the case for James and Paul. Conditions for observing were up close, physical, multi-sensory (touch, hearing, sight) and multi-dimensional (involving conversation and teaching as well as mere observation).

    All of these statements rely on attributing much more historical credibility to the NT accounts than is needed to accept the minimal 4-5 facts in the opening post.* And that greater historical credibility is exactly what is in doubt. So you’ve not yet made any convincing reply to the idea that those facts can be chalked up to mistakes, credulity, and the initial growth of the legend.

    (* Also, you are misinterpreting what I meant by saying “‘telephone game'”, deliberately in quotes. Obviously what I meant is that when news spreads by word of mouth, and when there is little in the way of fact-checking resources, a press, interest from governmental/religious authorities, etc., checks on superstition and credulity, etc., it is easy for some prosaic story to get converted into something remarkable. E.g. someone can’t find the body –> body can’t be found by anyone –> body disappeared into thin air –> resurrection –> empty tomb. Paul and the creed he recites don’t even mention the tomb so that might not have been present in the tradition at the beginning.)

  12. Tom

    I think the more interesting question which is so rarely brought up but is so fundamental to this discussion is this – so what if Jesus was resurrected?

    I will grant you all the miracles attributed to Jesus in the NT. I will grant you that he walked on water and fed the crowds with bread and fish. I will even grant you that Jesus resurrected himself. So what? What does this prove other than the fact that Jesus was a man who could miracles. That is the only logical inference we can make.

    If you study jewish writings you will find numerous accounts of rabbis of that age capable of performing resurrections. To tell a first century jew that jesus was resurrected would be somewhat as impressionable as telling a 21st century american that his neighbor got a ferrari. The reaction being “wow cool” and thats pretty much it.

  13. He acknowledges that it is unlikely, but is able to purchase it for one and only one reason – it’s not a miracle.

    It’s not that unlikely. If you take a group of marginalized people, put them in a quite intense cult, brutally execute the leader who the followers thought was the Messiah for raising a ruckus, and scatter and terrify the followers, you will probably get some weird beliefs coming out as a result. I’m not saying you’d get the resurrection belief every time, it could well depend on the details of e.g. an attempt to visit the body or any number of other things, but it’s not a wildly unlikely series of events. Apparently there were even stories told of the resurrection of John the Baptist after his execution, back in the 1st century.

    Basically, he is adopting the weird position that if Christianity was true, it would not include or entail miracles and that the origin of the Church would be rooted in prosaic events. Yet all he has purchased is a personal justification for his own skepticism. And as I acknowledged, I can respect that. To get beyond this, he would need to have something more substantial than “it’s not a miracle.”

    He would need to show that his explanation is the true one.

    You’re doing the investigation backwards here. I, or another hypothetical agnostic, doesn’t come into this knowing that Christianity, or at least the Christian claim of the resurrection, is true (or false). That’s precisely what they are trying to figure out. Materialists say miracles never happen. Christians say they happen but are quite rare. Everyone agrees (I’m assuming) that most religions and most supernatural events are based on legends or worse. Then, looking at Tom’s 4-5 pieces of evidence, we try and decide which explanation is most probable, i.e. (a) it was the miracle of resurrection or (b) it has one of a family of prosaic explanations. A resurrection, I admit, is a possible explanation of the data. The agnostic takes a look at the various prosaic explanations, and concludes that some of them rely on coincidences and people making mistakes, and in that sense are a bit unlikely individually, but the chances that could of them could have happened, given no resurrection, aren’t bad. And similar things have happened many times in history. But everyone admits that miracles are at most fantastically rare, almost by definition. It seems clear what the more reasonable conclusion is.

    This point, which you seem to have latched on to:

    If Christianity was true, it would not include or entail miracles and that the origin of the Church would be rooted in prosaic events

    …is misunderstanding what is going on in the argument. Whether or not the Christian claim of the resurrection is true is what is being investigated. To do the investigation without prejudging it, we admit the possibility that miracles occur. This is, of course, a Christian belief, but it’s not uniquely Christian, many religious groups have the belief that miracles sometimes occur. The problem is that, even if it is allowed that miracles are possible, it still looks like somewhat unlikely prosaic explanations are more likely than the conclusion “a miracle occurred” in the case of the resurrection story.

  14. Nick,

    If you take a group of marginalized people, put them in a quite intense cult, brutally execute the leader who the followers thought was the Messiah for raising a ruckus, and scatter and terrify the followers, you will probably get some weird beliefs coming out as a result. I’m not saying you’d get the resurrection belief every time, it could well depend on the details of e.g. an attempt to visit the body or any number of other things, but it’s not a wildly unlikely series of events.

    Actually, Nick, it seems to be exactly that. Not to mention…

    * You suggest that early Christians “were in a quite intense cult”. Where is your evidence for this?
    * You appeal to “weird beliefs coming out”. Does it worry you at all that your view here is barely better than an appeal to mere logical possibility? Basically, “You know what, sometimes people just decide to start believing weird things.” Which is fine, except…
    * You then just offhandedly decide that the course of events you’re basically admitting you pull out of thin air “isn’t very unlikely at all”. I will note this: whatever series of events you imagine may have happened that explain reports of Christ’s rising, historically we have far less historical evidence (I believe, none at all) for your view.

    Which leads me to ask the following. If we have a variety of witnesses and attestations, historically, of a given event taking place on the one hand, and on the other hand we have a theory with zero attestation that purports to explain the same event another way – given these facts alone – which is the better evidenced view?

  15. Nick writes:

    Obviously what I meant is that when news spreads by word of mouth, and when there is little in the way of fact-checking resources, a press, interest from governmental/religious authorities, etc., checks on superstition and credulity, etc., it is easy for some prosaic story to get converted into something remarkable. E.g. someone can’t find the body –> body can’t be found by anyone –> body disappeared into thin air –> resurrection –> empty tomb. Paul and the creed he recites don’t even mention the tomb so that might not have been present in the tradition at the beginning.

    This line of reasoning is terribly unconvincing for me. I think Nick should look into something called “oral tradition.” Such tradition was quite likely behind the creed that Paul received and reads in part:

    3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve.

    Notice the creed includes “that he was buried.” Those four words really blow a hole in the speculation that Jesus’s body was dumped in some unknown location. What’s more, there is no need for a mention of the tomb with that phrase, now is there? But if the lack of mention of the tomb means that it was added later, then the same logic compels us to argue that the lack of mention of the first people Jesus appeared to – the women – means the women were likewise added later. And it is at this point where the purely ad hoc nature of Nick’s position starts to become very clear.

  16. Nick,

    It is you who have the misunderstanding of what is going on in the argument. You write:

    Whether or not the Christian claim of the resurrection is true is what is being investigated.

    Really? If that is the case, then why have you twice ignored the core point I have brought up:

    The truth of Christianity entails that the resurrection of Christ was a one-time event. In other words, if Christianity is true, we would predict the resurrection to be far more unlikely that any naturally occurring (prosaic)event.

    You clearly have ignored this as evidenced by your continued assumption that it is even relevant that the resurrection is not like another prosaic event.

    To do the investigation without prejudging it, we admit the possibility that miracles occur.

    We? But the evidence indicates you have come to the table with prejudgments in mind. Note, for example that while I was easily able to acknowledge the reasonableness of skepticism without being provoked, you have been completely unable to reciprocate and acknowledge that Christian belief in the resurrection is at least reasonable (even when asked). Why is that?

  17. Nick, for all your positive assertions of what we do not know, what is your authority? How do you know what we do not know?

    e.g.,

    All of these statements rely on attributing much more historical credibility to the NT accounts than is needed to accept the minimal 4-5 facts in the opening post.*

    it is easy for some prosaic story to get converted into something remarkable. E.g. someone can’t find the body –> body can’t be found by anyone –> body disappeared into thin air –> resurrection –> empty tomb.

    take a group of marginalized people, put them in a quite intense cult, brutally execute the leader who the followers thought was the Messiah for raising a ruckus, and scatter and terrify the followers…

    Do you have any actual knowledge supporting these suppositions, such as they are?

  18. But if the lack of mention of the tomb means that it was added later, then the same logic compels us to argue that the lack of mention of the first people Jesus appeared to – the women – means the women were likewise added later. And it is at this point where the purely ad hoc nature of Nick’s position starts to become very clear.

    In fact, it’s pretty odd that the women aren’t mentioned in Paul’s statement, when in the Gospel accounts they are the first witnesses. This is precisely the kind of thing that lends itself to the legendary accretion explanation.

  19. Vadim, you say,

    What does this prove other than the fact that Jesus was a man who could miracles. That is the only logical inference we can make.

    Would it not lend some authority to his teaching?

    In terms of other resurrection accounts, how many of them were of physical, bodily (as opposed to mystical or spiritual) resurrections? Can you provide some sources?

  20. In fact, it’s pretty odd that the women aren’t mentioned in Paul’s statement,

    Short answer: no, it isn’t.

    Longer answer in the form of a question: who can you point to who actually knows what they’re talking about who can support the suppositions you present here?

  21. It seems that this happens often with you, Nick: I ask a direct question and receive no direct answer. I may be jumping the gun a bit here, since I have only asked this three times so far, and the most recent time was just a few seconds ago, but I’m going to ask it again anyway so that hopefully you’ll notice the question. I’ll repeat it in the form I first asked it:

    Do you care about actual knowledge, Nick? Does it matter to you? Or is it just that you know more about these things than 95% to 98% of NT era historians?

    Or you could look at the end of my prior comment for a different version of the same question.

  22. Do you have any actual knowledge supporting these suppositions, such as they are?

    You don’t have to do much reading about obscure religious movements and denominations and cults before these begin to become quite plausible.

    Heck, as one random example — think of the various end-of-the-world prophecies. Some preacher confidently proclaims The End is Coming. Many people believe him. Sometimes people give away all their stuff, abandon their families, etc. — high drama stuff. Inevitably, it doesn’t come. Does the preacher give up after the obvious falsification, there for everyone to see? Do his followers? Maybe sometimes they give up and move on, but quite often the truly committed double-down on the belief and conveniently have a new “revelation” and/or vision and/or revised interpretation of scripture. No lying, deliberate deception, etc., required. Just a high ratio of credulity to skepticism. Whole denominations have started this way.

  23. In other words you don’t have any knowledge about what you’re talking about. Thank you for that admission. What’s remarkable about your stream of discussion here, in light of this (which comes as no surprise), is the naive confidence it exhibits.

  24. Nick: In fact, it’s pretty odd that the women aren’t mentioned in Paul’s statement, when in the Gospel accounts they are the first witnesses. This is precisely the kind of thing that lends itself to the legendary accretion explanation.

    No Nick, it’s not odd. And this is precisely the kind of thing that undermines the legendary accretion explanation. Friendly advice – give it some thought.

    Tom,

    One thing that would help in this discussion is if you could write a blog entry that dates the creed from 1 Corinthians. I believe this letter was written in the early 50s, but the wording that introduces the creed indicates it arose much earlier. In fact, I think it would be perfectly reasonable to date the creed around 33 AD and don’t know of a single piece of evidence that would tell me I was wrong to do so. All of this would help to further flush out the purely ad hoc nature of Nick’s position.

  25. Now, having established that your aren’t working on the basis of knowledge, Nick (see #24), let’s work with one of your most naively confident assertions:

    All of these statements rely on attributing much more historical credibility to the NT accounts than is needed to accept the minimal 4-5 facts in the opening post.*

    Somehow (and this is your naivetë on display) you have concluded that the 4-5 facts I listed in the OP are supported by no other information “than is needed to accept” them.

    How did you determine what was needed for that? It boggles the mind to think you could have thought you knew.

    What is it that gives you confidence, for example, that you can deny the statement, “credulity was not the case for James and Paul”?

    How do you know that it is not well established that “Conditions for observing were up close, physical, multi-sensory (touch, hearing, sight) and multi-dimensional (involving conversation and teaching as well as mere observation)”?

    In both cases, my friend, you are wrong. Any explanation for the resurrection accounts that relies on James’ or Paul’s credulity is ruled out by the facts of the case.

    Any explanation that draws a significant parallel between UFO sightings and the disciples post-crucifixion experiences with Jesus is ruled out by known historical facts.

    You’re flailing, Nick. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

    And you still haven’t offered an explanation that takes the 4-5 known facts seriously as facts.

  26. In fact, it’s pretty odd that the women aren’t mentioned in Paul’s statement,

    Short answer: no, it isn’t.

    Longer answer in the form of a question: who can you point to who actually knows what they’re talking about who can support the suppositions you present here?

    Well, there’s Bart Ehrman, who I believe is considered somewhat well-educated on these issues. In his debate with William Lane Craig, Ehrman said:

    Third, Bill makes dubious claims and assertions. For example, Bill asserts that the story of the women going to the tomb would never have been invented by the early Christians. I should point out, Paul never mentions the women at the tomb, only the later Gospels, Mark and following. But here the problem is one that’s typical of much of Bill’s position. His claim does not take seriously the nature of our sources. Anyone who’s intimate with Mark’s Gospel would have no difficulty at all seeing why, 35 years after the event, he or someone in his community might have invented the story. Mark’s Gospel is filled with theological reflections on the meaning of the life of Jesus; this is Mark’s Gospel. It’s not a datasheet; it’s a Gospel. It’s a proclamation of the good news, as Mark saw it, of Christ’s death and resurrection.

    I know there is an older quote or two much-passed-around by eager evangelical apologists which seems to say that Ehrman thinks, or thought awhile ago, that the women story was well-attested. But I’d want to see the original context to be sure it’s not a quote-mine, and in any case it’s clear that now Ehrman thinks it is at least plausible and arguable that the story was not historical.

  27. In both cases, my friend, you are wrong. Any explanation for the resurrection accounts that relies on James’ or Paul’s credulity is ruled out by the facts of the case.

    You’re just making assertions instead of providing evidence now, Tom, and you’re clearly getting hot-under-the-collar. You expected me to play the apologists’ game and argue for the Swoon Hypothesis or something? C’mon, the legend hypothesis has been the most popular alternative hypothesis among scholars for a long time. I don’t think I’ve said anything that would be far from something that e.g. Bart Ehrman would say.

  28. Nick,

    You’re just making assertions instead of providing evidence now, Tom

    I’m making assertions based on knowledge, Nick. You’re not. We know that Paul and James were in no position to be credulous; therefore any explanation that relies on their credulity is ruled out.

    As for Ehrman and the women at the tomb, I could contest that but I’d have to go to the office for the book. Let’s just set that aside for now and leave it with the first 4 facts. What’s your explanation for the accounts that takes the first four facts seriously?

    I’m not impressed with the legend theory. You haven’t explained how it fits with Paul’s and James’s conversions. You haven’t explained how it fits with the fact that the actual disciples actually believed they saw the risen Christ. In fact, you haven’t even presented a theory; you’ve only mentioned one in passing, as if we all know what it is. I don’t know what legend theory you have in mind. I can’t think of one that accounts for these four facts.

    “Hot under the collar”? Really. Psychologizing your interlocutor is nothing more than a nice trick. I thought you were in favor of basing your conclusions on evidence?

  29. “…most of your additional evidence about the resurrection “witnesses” depends on the reliability of the post-resurrection Gospel accounts, which were written long after the fact, and which I gather many scholars doubt,…”

    Of course, none of the above is true. The Gospel accounts were written within the lifetime of the eyewitensses of the events they describe and are widely accepted by scholars.

  30. Nick is doing a commendable job of his own in response to this paint-by-number apologetic Christians trot out in defense of the resurrection.

    A few thoughts of my own:

    1. ‘Historians’ in this case seems to be heavily reliant on NT historians, a group heavily slanted to Biblical literalists. It’s a bit like walking into a north Chicago bar and asking who is the best team in baseball. Witness the rending of clothes that is currently going on in apologetic circles over Licona’s concession that Matthew’s zombie parade might be persuasive writing instead of history.

    2. It’s also fairly uncontested that among the people who were in the second circle, beyond the disciples and pre-death followers of Jesus, Christianity within Jerusalem and Israel was generally a failure. Even though, these would be the people who had a friend of a friend who knew a disciple. Some how this never seems to make the minimal fact case.

    3. There are additional ‘facts’ within the resurrection accounts that seem dubious at best. a)We are to believe Matthew’s Roman tomb guards would die for a lie and Matthew’s writer was given audience to some very private discussions. b)that arguably the most persuasive post resurrection account, Thomas’s hands on wounds, some how got overlooked until the writing of the last canonical gospels c) that James was both the biological brother of Jesus and a late conversion, despite the miracles he would have witnessed and Jesus commending the care of his Mother to John from the cross. d) despite the gospels giving fairly direct, pre-death statements by Jesus that he will come back to life, no disciple was on grave watch. e) despite their claim that only two graves have had their inhabitants raised to life, Christianity has lost track of the location of both of those tombs. f) despite Paul’s claim of direct information from God/Jesus, he still got Jesus’ return wrong – this would seem to call into doubt the reality of his conversion experience.

    3) Despite what Tom has said the accounts of the martys are mostly significantly after the fact and make highly dubious claims. As I recall once you get past Stephen and James, our first accounts are decades later and not by witnesses or even acquaintances.

    4) Strangely while we are historically skeptical of the accounts of victors, we are to consider the disciples above reproach. What seems clear to an outsider is that there was a struggle for power and doctrinal control. It’s also worth considering how we should consider the writings of followers of possible, effective charismatic cult leaders, which Jesus, if not God, surely was.

    These speak to dishonesty of the whole apologetic enterprise. Apologists aren’t in it for the truth but persuasion. They are out to present one side of the argument just like a defense attorney would.

    Minimal facts is a maximal deceit. Once revealed as deceptive, how should we evaluate the further or other claims of apologists?

  31. B. Andrew,

    The historical consensus on which these facts are based is a based on NT scholarship. I’m not very embarrassed to own up to that, you know. What other data did you think we should look to? Did you want us to consult baseball historians instead?

    Why would your information in the second paragraph have any bearing on the case I’ve presented here, even if it were true? (“Failure” is a subjective assessment, you know.)

    Your “dubious” facts in paragraph 3 are not part of the current case, or in the matter of Thomas, rest as much on “arguably” as on “fact.” If you think the James information is wrong, take it up with the scholars; otherwise your what-if is unconvincing to say the least. The grave watch lacuna you cite is what historians call “embarrassing information” that tends to reinforce confidence in the truth of an account—why would the disciples or anyone else have made up a story that revealed them to be so dense? We lost track of the tombs–so what? The tomb wasn’t the point. And Paul’s supposed error concerning the return of Jesus has been answered too often to bother repeating.

    Concerning the martyrs your recall is inaccurate. We have multiple independent attestations of the deaths of several of the disciples. At any rate, the consensus among people who know the field is that the disciples were convinced they had seen post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus. The martyr question was one I brought up as an example to illustrate one of the reasons scholars have come to that unified conclusion. Toss out the martyrdom if you want–you still have to reckon with the fact that people who know what they are talking about are convinced that the disciples were convinced they saw Jesus alive after his death.

    The NT does not consider the disciples above reproach. Neither do I. From where did you get that odd idea in (4)? Strange…

    I am of course in this business for persuasion. You wrote your comment for persuasive purposes. The NT history I’ve been relying on here includes scholarship from the skeptical side as well as the believing side. You presented only one side, and a strangely underinformed and distorted side it was.

    I am also in it for truth; to persuade people toward the truth, of course.

    How should we evaluate the claims of skeptics who raise evidence-challenged accusations of deceit among apologists?

  32. Nick,

    You seem to be missing the point. So let’s take it slow. How many members of the Sanhedrin were women? How many of the 12 disciples were women?

  33. A further note on your pejorative reference to this “paint-by-number apologetic Christians trot out.”

    This defense of the resurrection is simple, yes. That’s a virtue, not a vice, when it comes to teaching and communication. It’s not simple in its background or its historical support; it’s simple in its presentation.

    Those who want to go into it deeper can do so. Licona’s 7000page volume is not paint-by-number. I’m not Licona, but there’s no rule that says only the original researcher can talk about what the researcher has learned. You relied on a few facts (or data points that you represent as facts) yourself that you didn’t dig up on your own. That’s how the world works, as I know you know.

  34. B. Andrew.

    Nick is doing a commendable job of his own in response to this paint-by-number apologetic Christians trot out in defense of the resurrection.

    Except that Nick refuses to clarify his position. Is he simply expressing his own personal skepticism or is he implying we are all unreasonable because we don’t share in his skepticism? He refuses to answer. If he is just justifying his own skepticism, he is doing a commendable job. If he is implying we need to agree with his personal opinions or else we are being unreasonable, then he doesn’t even have an argument.

    These speak to dishonesty of the whole apologetic enterprise. Apologists aren’t in it for the truth but persuasion. They are out to present one side of the argument just like a defense attorney would.

    Let’s deal with some facts, shall we?

    Fact 1: I was willing to acknowledge that skepticism of the resurrection was reasonable without being pressed on it.

    Fact 2: Nick has been unwilling to reciprocate and refuses to acknowledge that Christian belief about the resurrection is reasonable.

    Let’s add to the facts.

    B. Andrew, do you acknowledge that belief in the resurrection is reasonable or do you think it completely unreasonable and a belief without any evidence?

  35. Mike Gene writes:

    Except that Nick refuses to clarify his position. Is he simply expressing his own personal skepticism or is he implying we are all unreasonable because we don’t share in his skepticism?

    I think it may be reasonably implied, that there are a multitude of possibilities that could account for the testimony we have, that can’t be reasonably discounted, whether you are a naturalist or a supernaturalist.

    This is really the way the question needs to be framed: What is the probability that the testimony we have could exist, even if the resurrection never happened?

    And if you can’t get that probability down to a sufficiently low number, you can’t believe the resurrection as the only reasonable explanation, given the evidence available (at least, not without adding some alternative epistemology into the picture).

  36. Oops, accidentally deleted a comment on accident… can you restore it Tom? The edit and delete links are very close to each other on this new look. Is it possible to tweak that?

  37. This is really the way the question needs to be framed: What is the probability that the testimony we have could exist, even if the resurrection never happened?

    How about framing it exactly the way Mike framed it? Namely: “If he is just justifying his own skepticism, he is doing a commendable job. If he is implying we need to agree with his personal opinions or else we are being unreasonable, then he doesn’t even have an argument.”

    Let’s hear Matzke’s reponse to that.

  38. Crude,

    The skeptic case doesn’t rely on demonstrating that some alternative possibility is true, just that there are some which can’t be shown to be false.

    The case for the resurrection depends on demonstrating every alternative possibility is false, or less probable than the resurrection.

    It doesnt matter whether one is a theist, naturalist, believer or skeptic.

    So with that in mind, I think Mike’s question is bizarre. If one admits that there are alternative possibilities which can’t be reasonably discounted, then the claim that any given possibility is true, becomes less reasonable.

    If we’re talking about what’s reasonable from an evidential and historical standpoint, there shouldn’t be any disagreement between the skeptic and the believer. Nick’s points do detract from the reasonableness of the resurrection explanation, unless they can be shown to be false, or implausible.

    If one is speaking from a standpoint where, say, the inner witness of the Holy Spirit is providing a self-authenticating experience which informs a person that certain facts point to a given explanation.. well, then that’s a different ball of wax.

  39. The skeptic case doesn’t rely on demonstrating that some alternative possibility is true, just that there are some which can’t be shown to be false.

    That’s ridiculous. Not even William Lane Craig at his most boisterous believes that, in terms of evidence, various alternatives “cannot be shown to be false”. He aims for “very/extremely unlikely” – but certainly “false”? No.

    The case for the resurrection depends on demonstrating every alternative possibility is false, or less probable than the resurrection.

    The claim that “false” is the bar to jump is, again, false. 😉 And “less probable than the resurrection”? Possibly, but as has been pointed out in this thread, there is no “view from nowhere”. People disagree about those probabilities – more below.

    It doesnt matter whether one is a theist, naturalist, believer or skeptic.

    Actually, it does matter – because whether one is a theist or a naturalist influences the evaluation of the evidence and the probabilities straightaway. That’s part of the problem.

    If we’re talking about what’s reasonable from an evidential and historical standpoint, there shouldn’t be any disagreement between the skeptic and the believer.

    And this is just wrong. Yes, we can expect there to be disagreement if their priors are different – which is the whole point. If one is a committed naturalist, then the evidence for the resurrection hardly matters in a way: the answer is ‘there was no resurrection’. Cite extremely unlikely, totally unsubstantiated (in terms of historical evidence) possibilities. The naturalist will agree with those scenarios, or punt to “I don’t know what happened, but it wasn’t a resurrection.” Nick’s vaguely hinted at scenarios, possibly even by his own standards, are “implausible”. Certainly they have either no or practically no historical evidence compared to the alternatives. It doesn’t matter: sheer logical possibility is the goal. At least it better be, because if Nick is shifting to (say) “historical evidence that the disciplines went to see Jesus’ body but just got confused on the way there and they couldn’t find it then one of them had a stroke and thought they saw Christ and then the others panicked and pretended they did because they were freaked out and suddenly they all had false memories but it seemed so real they decided to preach and even die for this belief”, he’s in trouble.

    The point is that people can disagree, or argue about evidence, while still believing each other to be / actually be rational in their belief. Hence, we have Mike asking what Nick’s going for here: is he trying to justify his doubt as reasonable? Or is he trying to say everyone else’s belief as unreasonable?

    Again, as Mike said: if he wants to justify his doubt as reasonable, that’s one hill to climb. If he wants to establish that everyone’s belief as unreasonable? That’s a whole other ballgame.

  40. Hi d,

    This is really the way the question needs to be framed: What is the probability that the testimony we have could exist, even if the resurrection never happened?

    “Probability?” Do you have a statistical test in mind? Or are you talking more loosely, where “probability” is a subjective judgment call?

    And if you can’t get that probability down to a sufficiently low number, you can’t believe the resurrection as the only reasonable explanation, given the evidence available (at least, not without adding some alternative epistemology into the picture).

    I’m the one who denies the resurrection as the only reasonable explanation. Do you believe the resurrection is the only unreasonable explanation? Or do you grant that it is reasonable?

  41. B. Andrew trots out this:

    “‘Historians’ in this case seems to be heavily reliant on NT historians, a group heavily slanted to Biblical literalists.”

    And then tries to make convincing arguments from a bunch of stuff he got from skeptic websites while failing to appreciate the irony of that.

  42. “Nick is doing a commendable job of his own in response to this paint-by-number apologetic Christians trot out in defense of the resurrection.”

    Nick is doing what he always does, fire some shots in the culture wars. He throws a bunch of stuff out there to muddy the waters and then fails to back any of it up. Mike Gene has done a good job in showing just that.

  43. “The skeptic case doesn’t rely on demonstrating that some alternative possibility is true, just that there are some which can’t be shown to be false.”

    This is nonsense. Is this the principle you live the rest of your life by. When your boss asks you to do a project do you return to him a possibility that is true or any possible explanation or one that just “can’t be shown to be false”. Isn’t the entire point of reasoned discourse (not to mention our ability to think rationally) to come to “best possible inference” not just any possible explanation (much less one which can’t just be shown to be false)? This seems part of the “if I act like I don’t know what I’m talking about I’ll be more convincing” line of thought I seem to see here fairly often.

  44. Actually, BillT, d is right, in this sense: The skeptic’s job qua skeptic is fulfilled if the skeptic can find a way not to believe. If someone’s purpose in life is to identify as many things as possible that she does not need to believe, then all she needs to do is show that for any explanation x for any data y, there is some alternative explanation z that cannot be shown false.

    I think this is what you were getting at with “Is this the principle you live the rest of your life by,” so I don’t think I’m contradicting you. I’m only carrying it a step further. The skeptic qua skeptic only wants to know, “what can I count as false?” and in that role never asks, “What is true?”

  45. I don’t think any of the skeptics commenting here are good skeptics. Good skepticism does care about the truth.
    What d, Nick and B. Andrew are doing is called debunking. They are throwing out any explanation without any regard to whether it is true or even plausible.

    Once again, there is a difference between (A) believing that your position is more reasonable and (B) being able to demonstrate that your position is more reasonable. The skeptics commenting on this thread have failed miserably at B.

  46. Tom,

    Yes, of course you’re right if we’re talking about “The skeptic’s job qua skeptic is fulfilled if the skeptic can find a way not to believe.” But is that itself reasonable? If all you’re doing is trying to be a skeptic then why bother to go through all this effort. Just thumb you nose at all of it and walk away. If I want I can convince my self the sky isn’t blue, the grass isn’t green and water isn’t wet. That’s why I mentioned “the point of reasoned discourse”. Seems that should matter if your here trying to engage in reasoned discourse.

  47. That’s right, Bill. Again, I was not trying to contradict your point but to underscore it. If I didn’t communicate that clearly enough before, know at least that I was trying to say that.

  48. Just recreating the post I accidentally deleted… that will teach me to be lazy and write the post out in the comment box instead in my text editor.

    Some skeptics think Jesus’ followers might have hallucinated the experience in their grief, but community hallucinations don’t happen, and Paul would not have shared that grief.

    Group hallucinations are not what most people think. Visions aren’t contagious, but large numbers of people can have simultaneous imaginary experiences, and even produce consistent testimonies during and after the experience.

    Groups that have these experiences, are usually fixated on one person or a few key people, called “anchors”. This person or these people lead the experience of the group, either because they are a leader or are simply charismatic or otherwise receive the groups attention. Psychological factors do the rest (like desires to conform, or share in the experience) and people in the group come to believe they all have shared the same experience.

    Think about movers and shakers, speaking in tongues, faith healers, seances, the dancing sun “miracles” of Medjugorie. Testimony abounds of groups who witness “gold dust miracles”, angel “orbs”, and weeping statues, and the like.

    Watch videos like this (they are a dime a dozen) and then ask yourself how implausible group hallucinations really are: http://youtu.be/-E2TSMOEBrg

    As for Paul, he might not have shared that grief, but dramatic, and sudden conversions do happen. Many of you reading this can probably attest to that. Many people in other religions can too.

  49. @d, Tom
    Off topic – yeah, I have that problem sometimes – maybe Tom can provide an editor link that auto-launches Notepad and can pick up the text 🙂

  50. Tom

    1) That would lend no authority to his teachings. That’s my whole point. Miracles performed in the 1st century impressed no one. Especially since the Torah (old testament) already told the jews that awesome miracle workers will arise and you should not believe them.

    2) The source is the Talmud. There are a number of stories in the Aggadah section of the talmud involving resurrections. Unfortunately I can’t send you a link since I dont think that section of the talmud has been uploaded on the internet. But it is the general understanding in judaism that many great rabbis were able to resurrect the dead. In fact that wasnt even considered an awesome miracle as far as awesome miracles go.

  51. I will have to follow up with a more substantive post tonight to respond to specific comments – but Mike Gene asks whether I think there is no evidence for the resurrection. I would not characterize the situation as no evidence; I do think it lacks verifiability, it overlooks contrary information, and it’s motivated more by desire than scholarship.

    In response to Tom Gilson, I have read both sides of this argument but more importantly I have read the primary accounts, the Gospels, even returning to them a few years ago after 20 years of atheism, to see if they pass the smell test. I find they fail that. Interesting to note that of what you responded to of what I wrote you largely dismissed me as ignorant or already answered. In my opinion, that misses the benchmark you have set for yourself here and in radio interviews.

    I would also note that NO ONE here dealt with the lack of adoption of Christianity among the Jews – who had the front row seats for what you claim was history being made.

  52. d,

    Your “glory bomb” video link has nothing to do with the kind of experiences the disciples are known to have shared. The experiences in that video are lacking in shared multi-sensory perceptual and propositional content.

    Please, think a little harder about what you believe, okay? False analogies are false analogies.

  53. Charlie,

    Mike Licona gives a very poor account of group hallucinations there. He, again, like others seems to treat the experiences as independent, and does not consider group psychology or anchoring.

    Of course its implausible that 12 or more people independently have the same hallucination. Its not implausible, that through group dynamics and leadership that people come to believe and report that they had the same experience, even when it never happened.

  54. Tom,

    I’m not sure why you would say that video depicts experiences that lack in shared multi-sensory perceptual and propositional content, or why that in particular is so important?

    There’s a wide variety of ways in which groups of people can be deceived about what they see or feel.

  55. Bill T. wrote:

    “And then tries to make convincing arguments from a bunch of stuff he got from skeptic websites while failing to appreciate the irony of that.”

    I guess I still miss the irony. I think to make the claim that ‘historians agree’ without at least footnoting that this is mostly NT historians, who have a massive personal commitment to believe it beyond their role as historians is deception at best. That many of these scholars have to take an oath to the full truthfulness of the Bible is only icing on the cake of my argument.

    I also make some arguments based on my personal reading of the Gospels – so you’ll understand if I don’t feel much sting from your claim of borrowing from internet skeptics.

    B. Andrew

  56. Note also, d, that you have yet to provide us with any account of hallucinations that parallels the perceptual and propositional experiences the disciples shared. Until you do that, your vague references to anchoring, group psychology, etc., are so much hand-waving.

  57. d, you say,

    I’m not sure why you would say that video depicts experiences that lack in shared multi-sensory perceptual and propositional content, or why that in particular is so important?

    Think, okay? I’ll give you another chance at it. The answers to these questions are obvious.

  58. B. Andrew,

    You bring us the “…‘historians agree’ without at least footnoting that this is mostly NT historians…” agrument. And I gather you get you information about biology from psychologists, your chemistry from mathematicians and your history from cosmologists?. Yes, NT historians, Who the heck else?

    And your “…who have a massive personal commitment to believe it beyond their role as historians is deception at best.” shows first you have a limited view if NT historians, many of whom are not Christians. Second, their work is published and available for criticism. Your personal lack of belief in their credibility says as much about your prejudices as theirs.

  59. B. Andrew,

    I think to make the claim that ‘historians agree’ without at least footnoting that this is mostly NT historians, who have a massive personal commitment to believe it beyond their role as historians is deception at best. That many of these scholars have to take an oath to the full truthfulness of the Bible is only icing on the cake of my argument.

    No it’s not mostly NT historians. It’s entirely NT historians. What wasn’t obvious about that? Why should I have to footnote that when I’m talking about historians and about NT events, I’m referring to NT historians?

    It includes skeptical historians, who are part of the consensus on these four to five facts, and who do not have to take that oath.

    I made that point when I introduced this topic in the previous post. I guess I thought that people would pay attention to that post, in view of the way I opened this one. Maybe that was an error on my part.

  60. FWIW, Richard Carrier has some things to say about NT Scholarship. So he claims, there is a general pattern whereby uncertainty or lack of consensus is downplayed or ignored in ways that make NT history seem more concrete and settled than it really is.

    http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2008/09/ignatian-vexation.html

    Last entry here I already mentioned one of the issues that came up: my stumbling into several muddles in New Testament studies that I thought had been reasonably resolved by now. Many issues I thought were cut-and-dried are actually mired in complexity, and my research in these areas has absorbed far more time than it should have. The two most annoying examples of this (though not the only ones) are in dating the contents of the New Testament and identifying their authorship and editorial history. There is no consensus on either, even though standard references (like Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, and The New Interpreter’s Bible) tend to give the impression there is. Even when acknowledging some disagreements, they do not accurately convey the shear number of disagreements and the complexity of determining their relative merits.

    In other words, not only is there no consensus, but there are dozens of positions, and arguments for each are elaborate and vast.

    The field of New Testament studies needs to get its house in order. Until it does, I’ll have to do without what I can normally rely upon in other fields: well-supported conclusions (or a ready consensus on the range of conclusions possible) on the most fundamental issues of evidence.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/255?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+freethoughtblogs%2Fcarrier+%28FTB%3A+Richard+Carrier+Blogs%29&utm_content=Google+Reader

    Then I discovered that the field of New Testament studies was so monumentally f—-d the task wasn’t as straightforward as I had hoped. Very basic things that all scholars pretend have been resolved (producing standard answers constantly repeated as “the consensus” when really it’s just everyone citing each other like robbing Peter to pay Paul), really haven’t been, like when the New Testament books were written (I blogged about one long rabbit hole I got lost in on that question, as just an example of countlessly many, in my Ignatian Vexation). And the relevant literature, so much of it tantalizingly pertinent, is vast beyond reckoning, over forty years of valuable papers and books, leading to discoveries I never expected (for example, real evidence of a pre-Christian expectation of a Dying Messiah). I’ve personally collected and read over 500 articles and 50 books for this project, and skimmed or read over ten times that number at the UC Berkeley and Graduate Theological Union libraries or via JSTOR and other access nodes.

    The end result was that I realized this was going to have to be two books: one resolving the problem of method (because the biggest thing I discovered is that every expert who is a specialist in methodology has concluded, one and all, that the methods now used in Jesus studies are also totally f—-d)…

    Of course, take it for what you will – Richard isnt unbiased, and also wants to sell books. But like in this thread, I see far too much certainty being applied to certain claims and testimonies, as if there’s nothing else to say on the matters.

    For example, when its said that X “has nothing to do with the kind of experiences the disciples are known to have shared” – no, that isn’t known! How can we say that’s a fact beyond reasonable question?

  61. Tom,

    Mike’s 1-minute account is a 1-minute account. He’s rather more thorough with it in his 700-page historiographical study of the Resurrection.

    Mistreatment is still mistreatment (note, I think he did little better in his debate against Carrier, when he had more time to talk about it).

  62. But you haven’t demonstrated a thing. You’ve only offered irrelevant false analogies. Mistreatment is not mistreatment unless it’s mistreatment, which you have not begun to establish.

  63. Tom,

    I was talking about the clip – its entirely misleading, and caricaturizes the view he is supposedly giving a quick rebuttal too.

    I don’t think anybody really expects mass hallucination to be spontaneous collective hallucinations of the same exact thing, as Licona seems to treat it, though I could be wrong. Excitability, suggestion, conformity and guidance can all have a hand in mass hysteria.

    We see groups being led to share a common experience of the supernatural in many contexts – in spirit mediums, seances, “Glory Bomb” style Christians, and especially in new age occultism.

    I don’t know if he does better in his 700 page work or not.

  64. Licona’s treatment is historically responsible. Everything you offer here is substantively different from what happened. Therefore no, we do not see these things all the time. You haven’t shown even one other time that we’ve seen it.

    Please pay attention. How many times must I say the same thing over and over again? Don’t present any more false analogies, please. It’s boring and tiresome. Use your head.

  65. and, if you haven’t worked through (it’s not light bedtime reading 🙂 ) Licona’s text (or any other scholarly work published by conservative Biblical scholars), then you can’t compare short interviews or summaries that can only highlight the relevant issues with the in-depth work, now can you?

  66. ‘Historians’ on it’s own is a category with ‘NT Historians’ being a subcategory (though I do wonder if it is better placed in the category of theology or like instead of history). So I see a distinction between the two – which I find relevant. I expect even non-civil war focused historians have opinions on the major events and causes of the civil war. So would the broader category of ‘historians’ agree with the conclusions that the minimal case is historically true?

    Yes, there are NT scholars who are not Christians or employed by literalist Christian colleges or universities. But what are the numbers of those with a strong personal commitment or professional commitment? As I understand while the claim of consensus has been made by Habermas he hasn’t published in depth and the makeup of the samples has yet to be disclosed. So claims of consensus, ring hollow to me without the facts. I would be less likely to trust the opinions of an imagined southern university civil war historian who personally thought yankees are yucky and whose university required a belief that the war was an act of Northern aggression.

    I recognize that NT Historians have tools and have borrowed tools from the broader historical field. I challenge whether they have used those tools correctly in reaching their conclusions.

    We all rely on experts, the question is who do we trust when our own research, reading, testing and pondering lead us to different conclusions? As does mine versus NT Historians. Many claims here of ‘already refuted’ yet few facts are being related here. This minimal facts argument only sounds persuasive until one scratches the surface. It seems more an advertising slogan (meaning a low burden of proof) than a historical claim.

    B. Andrew

  67. Tom,

    Even if none could be said to share any strong parallels to the resurrection at all, they say do say something vital about the extent to which our rational faculties can be trusted in certain situations, and the extent to which we can be deceived, and how easily groups can be influenced into self-deception, would you at least agree to that?

    I think the extraordinary claim here is really that groups of people cannot be plausibly fooled or self-deceived in remarkable ways. They can be, as a cursory stroll through human mysticism, occultism paranormal culture, and even vanilla con artistry will aptly demonstrate. A collective delusion of seeing a dead-man is hardly so far departed from the range of experiences that many people experience in groups that it must be considered absurd.

    The apologist argument here counts on a dependable rational mindedness during upheaval, that just fails to be present in so many other circumstances.

  68. To extend d’s comment versus Tom’s dismissal:

    Mormons will get all emotional about how eight witnesses ‘saw’ the gold plates Joseph Smith translated. We only know from subsequent accounts that this wasn’t visual observation but spiritual eyes after JS lead them through ecstatic worship and primed them with claims about spiritual discernment.

    We don’t know whether Peter, for example, might have done the same building on prior, possible statements of Jesus that he would again arise to life.

    I think there are clues that such might be possible: 1) the test of eating fish in the appearance to the disciples isn’t something people who are experiencing a physical person would need for verification, 2) there is a whole lot of mistaken identity going on in the gospel accounts, I’m looking at you Mary Madelene and two disciples on the road 3) how many disciples were present, we know count was down by one, despite claimed creedal words, and then there was Thomas non presence. And then what should we make of, I believe, Matthew’s disclosure that some disciples (presumably from the 70) did not believe?

    I don’t necessarily subscribe to this theory, though I consider it the most likely explanation of the locked room appearance. I just find Tom’s dismissal too glib.

    B. Andrew

  69. B. Andrew,

    B. Andrew, you give your prejudices away here:

    Historians’ on it’s own is a category with ‘NT Historians’ being a subcategory (though I do wonder if it is better placed in the category of theology or like instead of history)

    So would the broader category of ‘historians’ agree with the conclusions that the minimal case is historically true?

    I don’t know. I would hope they would give precedence to those who know what they’re talking about.

    I recognize that NT Historians have tools and have borrowed tools from the broader historical field. I challenge whether they have used those tools correctly in reaching their conclusions.

    “I challenge” is a description of your personal condition; as arguments go, it is without content.

    I cannot find anyplace anyone has said “refuted” on this page. Please help me by being more specific. Thank you.

  70. The apologist argument here counts on a dependable rational mindedness during upheaval, that just fails to be present in so many other circumstances.

    The anti-apologist argument here counts on a completely unparalleled and therefore unknown irrationality during upheaval. There is no evidence yet that this kind of mass hallucination or delusion actually happens to anyone, or ever has in history.

    Further, please explain Paul and James, who did not experience this “upheaval.”

  71. B. Andrews’ criticism seem to boil down to “I choose not to believe NT historians becasue they are NT historians and since I believe they are untrustworthy they are and since I don’t think they use historical tools properly they don’t.”

    Well I, for one, am convinced.

  72. I missed this comment earlier and its associated posts (though I had wondered if the revision to rules might be directed at me):

    Tom Gilson wrote:

    “I look forward to your more substantive comment, B. Andrew, especially to find out just how it was I failed to make substantive points myself.

    By the way, please see this clarification of The “Starbucks Standard” I hold to as part of my discussion policy. Consider yourself grandfathered in for now.”

    Tom, I’ll give you an example, when in response to ‘Christianity failed among the Jews’ your response is to call the meaning of the word failure into question, you have not given a substantive response. When it’s necessary for Paul to explain, some might say excuse away, to Roman Christians why so few Jews accepted Christianity, we can consider that a failure. I find this to be the nature of your replies in general.

    As to the Starbuck rule, I’m a fairly blunt person and wouldn’t have any trouble saying anything I’ve written here to your face over coffee. I once, in person, described Christianity to a friend and a believer as a gullibility test that only the gullible pass.

    I infer from the ‘grandfathering’ that my comments were too blunt for you blog. Therefore I will respect the rules by refraining from further comment.

    As to the strength of this argument and frankly most arguments for Christianity, good luck with that.

    B. Andrew

  73. That’s your decision, B. Andrew. If you’re comfortable treating people that way, that’s up to you.

    If you think your initial reference to “failure” was clear enough for anyone to know what you were talking about, you’re welcome to think that, too.

    If you think your understanding of “failure” rules over all discussion, you’re welcome to think that, too.

    I think you would be wrong in all three of those. Good luck with that, as they say.

    I’m comfortable with your decision to discontinue commenting here, and since you say you’re so comfortable with rude behavior, I’ll be glad to enforce your decision.

    FWIW, I consider “gullible” considerably less pejorative than “maximal deceit,” especially when “maximal deceit” is one of the first things you say. There’s something about describing someone in terms that smack of, “You’re as dishonest as you could possibly be,” that just isn’t a great way to kick off a conversation.

    It’s also about as divorced from reality as most anything I can imagine: you just don’t know me well enough to call me a liar. I’m not one, by the way.

    But you will probably never know me well enough to know that, you will probably continue to feel fine having made your evidence-free character attack on me, and you will even probably continue to congratulate yourself for never drawing evidence-free conclusions about anything. I’m just guessing, and I know I don’t have enough evidence myself to draw as definite a conclusion about you as you have done with me. But that’s my guess.

  74. “I once, in person, described Christianity to a friend and a believer as a gullibility test that only the gullible pass.”

    I’m sure he was quite apprecative of your “bluntness”. Nothing like a little arrogance and sense of superiority to liven things up. And that’s not to mention the substantive nature of that comment. Not unlike what we have seen from you.

  75. Once again, there is a difference between (A) believing that your position is more reasonable and (B) being able to demonstrate that your position is more reasonable. The skeptics commenting on this thread have failed miserably at B.

    Hi JAD,

    I think it’s worse than that. I don’t think any of the “skeptics” here are content with thinking that their beliefs are more reasonable than those of Christians. I think they’ve staked out a more Gnu-like, extremist mindset and believe the Christian position is entirely unreasonable. How else does one explain the persistent unwillingness to clarify whether or not they can acknowledge the Christian position on the resurrection as reasonable?

  76. Mike Gene:

    I thought I had been clear, but if not…

    I would say that when examining the evidence, from the perspective of a historian, and while only relying on the methods of historians (and no theological presumptions), the belief in the resurrection is very unreasonable. One with a very open mind may still believe the resurrection as a possibility, but must always acknowledge a high degree of ignorance about many of the crucial events in that period of history, making the truth of any claim about what actually happened indeterminate.

    But that doesn’t necessarily make belief in the resurrection unreasonable, at least not with respect to certain beliefs. Debates on those points wouldn’t be debates about history.

  77. d,

    When people make answers needlessly complex, the answer sometimes becomes unclear. So let me make sure I have this right.

    You think anyone who believes Jesus did indeed rise from the dead is being unreasonable, right?

  78. Do you think d realizes that his entire 2nd paragraph in post #84 is without merit. I do appreciate is ability to bluster effectively. It’s pretty impressive really.

    However, can he explain why Alexander the Great’s historical record is reasonable. Or Julius Ceasar’s. Or why no one doubts the content of the plays of Sophocles.

    All this is considered reasonable to believe but Jesus’ resurrection somehow isn’t. This despite the fact the the historical record surrounding Jesus is multiple orders of magnituide more reiliable than any of the above. Just wondering.

  79. Mike Gene,

    From the perspective of historians, yes. What I generally object too, is that many apologists act as if there really are only unassuming secular beliefs doing the heavy lifting in their case for the resurrection, and other biblical events.

    But I admit that belief in the resurrection can be reasonable, given a certain set of prior beliefs.

    Whether those priors are themselves reasonable, would be a different debate.

  80. d.,

    From the perspective of historians, yes.

    Unless you are a historian, you seem to be trying to adopt a position without having to actually take responsibility for the position. I’m not interested in the perspective of some hypothetical historian (or an imaginary roll call of historians). I was asking what you think.

    Up above, I clearly laid my views on the table and said I thought it was reasonable to deny the resurrection. No one had to ask me. No one had to drag it out of me. And my position doesn’t come with numerous qualifications. I have to wonder why there is such a difference between me and “skeptics.”

  81. I like his cartoon. Except, for all we know, the actual origin of Christianity could be much more like the second cartoon, “How other religions started”, than his first cartoon about “How Christianity started.”

    So a lack of certainty = unreasonableness? Even if the first cartoon does reflect the actual origin of Christianity, it would be possible for skeptics to argue “the actual origin of Christianity could be much more like the second cartoon.” So the fact that skeptics can argue “it could have been otherwise” tells us nothing about the truth of Christianity. It reveals only our lack of certainty.

  82. “It reveals only our lack of certainty.”

    But a lot of people seem pretty certain about the truth of Christianity, and the untruth of the other religions. Of course, the other religions feel the same way about Christianity.

    Even if the first cartoon does reflect the actual origin of Christianity, it would be possible for skeptics to argue “the actual origin of Christianity could be much more like the second cartoon.” So the fact that skeptics can argue “it could have been otherwise” tells us nothing about the truth of Christianity.

    This doesn’t logically follow. We are interested in the probability of propositions being true, given the evidence. If cartoon A represented the evidence correctly, the probability of Christianity being true would be (somewhat) higher than if cartoon B represented the evidence more correctly.

    The interesting thing is that the cartoons themselves contain the premise that if the evidence looks more like B, we shouldn’t buy the religion in question. And the problem is that to me, on the evidence, B looks perfectly possible. You have some stories that look like A, but they themselves have a lot of evidence of legendary development.

    (Note that I am not saying cartoon B is an exact representation of the legend hypothesis; e.g., replace an angel with vision of Jesus)

  83. Nick,

    Maybe you could explain what evidence you have that Jesus disciples were not proclaiming the public event of the crucified and risen Christ since very early on. Paul’s letters present evidence that this was a very early teaching.

  84. Nick,

    But a lot of people seem pretty certain about the truth of Christianity, and the untruth of the other religions.

    Not me. So let’s get back to your point:

    “the actual origin of Christianity could be much more like the second cartoon”

    Your entire argument is nothing more than asserting Christians could be wrong. If you encounter Christians who disagree, and who possess absolute certainty about their beliefs, fine, make your point to them. But for those Christians who acknowledge we could be wrong, you have no argument. None.

    Nick, since you think my Christian views are unreasonable, which would mean I need to abandon them in order to be reasonable, just when are you ever going to start making your case? Insisting that I could be wrong doesn’t cut it. After all, you could be wrong too.

    This doesn’t logically follow. We are interested in the probability of propositions being true, given the evidence.

    You love to use the word “probability.” Have you discovered an objective test to determine the probabilities here? Or are you relying on your spidey sense?

    If cartoon A represented the evidence correctly, the probability of Christianity being true would be (somewhat) higher than if cartoon B represented the evidence more correctly.

    LOL. Your only test for determine which “probability” is “higher” centers around whether or not the explanation incorporates a miracle. I see no calculations from you, Nick. And I have already explained the flaw in your reasoning here but you refuse to engage.

    Anyway, you need go back to your original claim (the one I was responding to):

    for all we know, the actual origin of Christianity could be much more like the second cartoon

    My argument is solid. For all we know, even if Christianity is true, a skeptic would still be able to come along and say, “for all we know, the actual origin of Christianity could be much more like the second cartoon.”

    Now if you want to change your position into “what we do know is that the actual origin of Christianity was much more like the second cartoon,” then go for it. If you are going to insist that we Christians are unreasonable, your appeal to the realm of possibilities and “could have been” speculations fails. Or haven’t you figured that out yet?

  85. Nick, for all we know, the actual origin of Christianity is not more like the second cartoon than the first. Unless by “we,” you mean, “Nick Matzke and other people who don’t know much, if anything, about it.”

    For those who actually do know, it’s quite clear that the second cartoon does not represent the truth of Christianity’s origins.

  86. “Paul’s letters present evidence that this was a very early teaching.”

    Well, that’s the key thing. Much of what Paul says isn’t represented in later sources (where’s the appearance to the 500, for goodness’ sake???), and later sources have a bunch of things that aren’t in Paul’s early teaching, but clearly would have been if they were anywhere near as real and fantastic and public as Christians routinely claim.

  87. @Nick
    You are saying, but not citing….
    Could you provide details of those sources, and specifically those ‘bunch of things’?

  88. Nick, listen to the podcast I linked to from Glenn Peoples, okay? Your assumptions about what would or would not have been recorded are uninformed, which would be my best explanation for why they are also wrong.

  89. Nick,

    You made this claim earlier:

    And the problem is that to me, on the evidence, B looks perfectly possible.

    The evidence we have shows that from early on Christianity was based on teaching about public events and the teaching included the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, not the passing on of a private revelation to an individual. If you are aware of other evidence that specifically shows this to be false please present it.

  90. Considering that many atheists I’ve talked to think Jesus is/was nothing more than “imaginary”, it’s no surprise that trying to discuss any actual events of his life/death with such people is difficult. Sometimes history lessons need to accompany theological discussions, I suppose.

    @B. Andrew

    when in response to ‘Christianity failed among the Jews’ your response is to call the meaning of the word failure into question, you have not given a substantive response.

    Yes, he has, and it is the same I would have given.

    When it’s necessary for Paul to explain, some might say excuse away, to Roman Christians why so few Jews accepted Christianity, we can consider that a failure

    How does that constitute a failure? It does not logically follow. A failure implies that there is a specific objective (or objectives) in mind which is not met. What objective(s) was/were not met?….

    You then proceed with further comments that show a closed-minded a supercilious attitude. You can not expect to learn and converse productively this way. But I imagine you are welcome to further discussion if that changes.