Even if all of the opposing theories conjectured by skeptics fail to account for the collection of historical data on an individual basis, what if a few of these explanations were combined? As an example, let’s make up a combination theory and call it the “theft/multiple psychosis theory”. —Habermas and Licona, p. 120
Gary: Finally! Thank you.
I believe that this is exactly what happened. Jesus was delusional just like most self-proclaimed “prophets”. After his death, one or a couple of his grieving disciples hallucinated “seeing” him alive again and then convinced other disciples that Jesus had been resurrected, who then had their own hallucinations, illusions, false sightings, and other misperceptions of reality, and voila…the Resurrection belief was born! James, the brother of Jesus, could have converted for any number of reasons. We don’t know. The New Testament says nothing about his conversion. Christians assume James converted due to his alleged appearance experience. Paul’s conversion is odd, it is true, but odd conversions are not proof of the existence of walking/talking corpses, only that human beings can and do make very odd life decisions.
I believe that the detailed group appearance stories in the Gospels that describe the resurrected Jesus eating broiled fish and allowing Thomas to poke his fingers into his wounds are most likely later literary inventions written by non-eyewitnesses in far away land writing Greco-Roman religious biographies.
I believe that the Empty Tomb may well also be a later literary invention. Paul seems to know nothing about a Joseph of Arimathea or his rock tomb. However, even if the Empty Tomb is historical, there are many naturalistic explanations for empty tombs.
Therefore, a combination of factors are likely to be the source of the early Christian Resurrection Belief.
“At least four problems beset all combination theories. First combination theories generally lead to higher improbability, not a more probable solution. If a combination theory is to be true, all of its subtheories must be true. If one is not, then the theory fails to account adequately for all the data. If one subtheory fails, the combination fails. …Realizing that all the theories must be true in a combination theory, even if one assigned an 80 percent probability of the five opposing theories posited in our example (such would be straining it to say the least), the probability of the combination of all of these theories being true is much less likely (.8 x .8 x .8 x .8 x .8 =.328 or 33 percent) than the theory being false (67 percent).” —Habermas and Licona, p. 121
Gary: Maybe its me, but this seems like a really silly statement. H. and L. seem to be insinuating that the claims for the Empty Tomb, the group appearances, the conversion of the Eleven, the conversion of Paul, and the conversion of James are interdependent factors in a probability math equation. I don’t think they are. I believe that they are independent variables. Peter’s conversion could have been based on one phenomenon, Andrew’s another, Thomas’ another, James’ another, Paul’s another, and so on. To say that the probability that a combination of factors led to the early Christian resurrection belief is lower than the probability that they all saw a walking, talking, laws-of-nature-defying, three-day-dead corpse is just preposterous! Only a Christian who presupposes the existence of the magic-producing (miracles) god, Yahweh, would arrive at such an outrageous calculation!
“Second, while combination theories do a better job of accounting for more of the data, many of the problems that are present when considered individually remain when considered together. …there was no indication that James was in a frame of mind to hallucinate.” —Habermas and Licona, p. 121
Gary: You have no idea what was going on in James’ mind. We have no idea when, where, and why James converted. Christians assume that James converted due to an “appearance” of Jesus, but there is zero evidence anywhere in the New Testament or elsewhere else for this assumption. James may have already been a believer at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and may have participated in the same emotional hysteria in response to his death that produced hallucinations, vivid dreams, and illusions in other followers of Jesus.
“Third, it ends up sounding ad hoc. …it appears that the theory was contrived to make everything fit.” —Habermas and Licona, p. 121
Gary: Oh boy. Skeptics are not obligated to propose alternative, naturalistic explanations for the origin of the Christian supernatural tall tale, but we do so when pushed by Christians to explain why we don’t believe them—why we don’t believe them when they try to convert us, or, when they threaten us with eternal damnation for leaving “the fold”. If your alcoholic neighbor claims that he was abducted by aliens last night, it is not “ad hoc” for you to suggest an alternative explanation that he was drunk.
“Fourth, even if no problems remained and no signs of an ad hoc component were present, the mere stating of an opposing theory does nothing to prove that this is what really happened. The burden lies on the shoulders of the one with the opposing theory to demonstrate that this is not only possible but that each component is a probable explanation of the facts.” —Habermas and Licona, p. 121
The onus is NOT on skeptics to prove the higher probability of alternative, naturalistic explanations to the very extra-ordinary, supernatural Christian claim of the reanimation/resurrection of a first century, three-day-dead, corpse which later flew off into outer space! No sirs! The onus of responsibility is on YOU. We skeptics are simply demonstrating that alternative, naturalistic explanations exist. We leave it to the reader to decide which explanation is more probable.