If You Pray, No Matter the Outcome, God Answered Your Prayer

An anonymous Christian’s comment on a Christian blog: My brother had pancreatic cancer, stage 4. His doctor told him he had three months. My mom took him to a cancer specialist in Seattle. He said that there was almost ZERO hope for him, but agreed to try chemo to try and shrink the tumor enough to perform something called a Whipple Procedure. My brother was NOT “into God.” It was my MOM who prayed incessantly. Lo and behold, the tumor DID shrink enough to be dealt with surgically. The doctor told my mom that he could understand the PATIENT praying and overcoming, a “mind over matter” thing, but admitted that there HAD to be something Divine at work, in this case, as, and I’m quoting here, “This (the chemo) just DOESN’T work,” that he had done the chemo to give my mom hope. My brother had already given up.

I realize prayer doesn’t always render the outcome prayed for, but one way or another, God’s will is done, and in the end is understood by the person of faith…

Gary: Christians often use “terminal cancer cures” as evidence that prayers to their god, Jesus the Christ, work. But Christians are not the only people who occasionally recover from “terminal” cancer. The fact is that in rare cases, people of all religions and even atheists sometimes recover from terminal cancer. Are all these rare cancer recoveries due to the actions of Jesus or due to random chance? So, did Jesus answer the above Christian mother’s prayer or was her son’s recovery a coincidence?

Notice, however, the Christian’s final comment (paraphrase): Prayer doesn’t always result in the desired outcome, but either way, God’s will is done.

What?? If no matter what happens after you pray, you claim that your God’s will was done, how can anyone ever disprove that your God did not answer your prayer; that your God does not exist? You have invented a fail-proof belief system, my Christian friend. You are operating under an illogical delusion.

Even this Christian seems to admit that Jesus answers prayer in the affirmative no better than random chance. He almost seems to say, “We got lucky!”

Christians learn over time not to ask Jesus for anything “big”. They ask Jesus to bless their food and to keep their children safe. Rarely anything bigger than that. They never ask Jesus to reattach a severed leg or put back together someone blown into a million pieces by a bomb. Nope. Jesus told his followers that if they pray for anything in his name, including prayer to move a mountain, he would do it. When was the last time you heard a Christian pray for something as spectacular as moving a mountain? They don’t. They don’t pray to Jesus for the really big stuff because they know that the chances of Jesus answering those prayers are slim to none.

Prayer doesn’t work. Anyone using an ounce of common sense or evaluating individual “healing” claims with critical thinking skills should be able to see that.

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God Is So Good! He Allowed Ten Thousand Children to Starve to Death Today

Each day, 25,000 people, including more than 10,000 children, die from hunger and related causes. —the United Nations

Bellator Christi evangelical Christian blog: Dr. John Lennox explains it this way, “could God have created a world without suffering? Yes, He could have, but you and I would not live in it because, it would empty the world of something most precious to our humanity, and that is the capacity to love, and our capacity to love, hinges on our capacity to choose. In any possible world in which there is no free will, love can never truly exist because love, requires freedom.

Gary: Ten thousand children die of starvation every day. 10,000! Dying of starvation is a slow, very painful experience. As a non-Christian, non-religious person, I would give up my ability to love and my free will in exchange for these ten thousand children not starving to death. Would you be willing to do that, dear Christians?

According to your holy book, your God is omnipotent, omniscient, and the very essence of what is good and just. Yet he allows 10,000 little children to slowly starve to death each and every day, week after week, month after month, year after year, century after century… And you tell us that the reason your God allows 10,000 little children to starve to death each and every day is because their ancient ancestors ate some of his forbidden fruit??? Is that just? Come on, dear Christian. Open your eyes! Your god is either the epitome of evil or your god does not exist.

Bellator Christi blog: the best possible world God could have created is a world in which free will exists, and the possibility to freely choose and to freely reject.

Gary: No, in the best possible world, little children are not punished with starvation for the sins of their ancient ancestors.

Your world view is sick, my Christian friends. Who today would starve a child for the sins of his parents or grandparents? No one with any ounce of decency. So why does your god do it? No, your God is not good. The next time you sit down for dinner with your children and ask Jesus to bless your food, think of all the little children he is allowing to starve to death that day.

Belief in the Inner Presence of Jesus is the Achilles Heel of Evangelical Apologetics

Tony Williams, evangelical apologist, Bellator Christi blog: This is where we can take our [atheist] interlocutor back to the beginning and provide a new view of reality that starts with the metaphysical and leads to the physical as opposed to the world’s [atheistic, naturalist] opposite assumption. We can show them the clear idea of Creatio Ex Nihilo, or creation out of nothing. We can give God the glory for His creative works, as well as the unseen and immaterial realities that are from Him like love that we all know is as real as any apple that drops on our head due to an invisible and highly powerful force we call gravity.

Gary, non-supernaturalist: This is an excellent approach against a hard atheist, someone who insists he or she knows as fact that a “spirit world” does not exist. But many modern counter apologists, such as myself, are not hard atheists. We accept the possibility that gods, angels, and devils exist, we just don’t see any convincing evidence that these beings currently operate within our universe. Our position does not involve a bias against religion or the supernatural, as apologists will claim. We apply the same rational for non-belief in gods, angels, and devils as we do for non-belief in unicorns, leprechauns, and flying witches. In regards to the origin of the universe, I personally never debate this topic with Christians or other theists. Why? Scientists have not reached a consensus opinion on this issue. If the experts (scientists) can’t agree on the origin of the universe, who am I (or any other non-expert) to claim that he or she knows the answer to this question. Therefore, I simply accept the possibility that our universe was created by an intelligent being and then ask the Christian: “Please provide good objective evidence that your god, Yahweh/Jesus the resurrected Christ, is our creator.” And that is when the discussion gets interesting!

Question for you, Tony: Do you perceive the presence of Jesus within you?

Tony Williams: [no response]

Gary: I have found that most evangelical apologists don’t want to answer this question. In fact, they avoid it like the plague. It is the achilles heel of Christian apologetics. Evangelical apologists are embarrassed to discuss this subject with skeptics. It is as if I claimed that the ghost of Jimmy Hoffa lives inside me, whispering to me in a still, small voice the truth about his disappearance. You and every other educated, rational person on the planet would think I’m delusional! And you know that is exactly what educated non-Christians will say about you if you admit that you believe the ghost of Jesus lives somewhere inside your body, communicating with you in some inaudible fashion. That is why you and most other Christian apologists refuse to answer this question!

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Evangelical Bible Scholarship is Hopelessly Biased

Dr. Brian Chilton, Liberty University, evangelical theologian: I, myself, believe the inner witness (or “inner testimony”) of the Holy Spirit is an important topic to consider.

Gary: So you do perceive the presence of Jesus within you. Very good. How certain are you that the spirit presence which you perceive within you is the resurrected Jesus Christ? 100%?

[This question is then repeated four times with no response from Dr. Chilton.]

Gary: You seem reluctant to express the certainty of your belief in the presence of Jesus within you, Dr. Chilton. Isn’t that a problem? If you were to ask me if I perceive the presence of my wife, I would not hesitate a second to state that I am 100% certain of her presence. I see her. I hear her. I can touch her. I have no doubt. Do you have doubts about the presence of Jesus, Dr. Chilton?

Dr. Brian Chilton: No, none at all.

Gary: Wow! 100% certainty. Not one shred of doubt. No wonder you are a believer.

Who needs historical evidence for the Resurrection with that kind of certainty! And that is why it is a waste of time for counter apologists and other skeptics to debate evangelical Christians regarding the resurrection of Jesus. No amount of historical evidence is ever going to change the evangelical Christian’s mind if he or she can perceive the presence within them of the dead man in question. If we could find the bones of Jesus they still would not believe.

Can you see how your perception of the presence of the resurrected Jesus within you taints/biases your evaluation of the historical evidence for the Resurrection, Dr. Chilton? How can it not?

This is why the scholarship of evangelical New Testament scholars and apologists cannot be trusted. Their objectivity is tainted by their delusion that the ghost of Jesus dwells somewhere within their bodies.

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Must Skeptics Provide Evidence to Support Hypothetical Alternative Explanations for the Resurrection Belief?

Gary: I believe cognitive dissonance may very well explain the development of the Resurrection Belief, notwithstanding your objections (and those of other Christian apologists), Joel. I would bet good money that this or something like this scenario is what happened:

The disciples were preparing to reign on thrones with Jesus the Jewish Messiah in a re-established Kingdom of Israel. They expected to defeat Rome, govern Israel, and the entire world would be at peace, according to the Jewish Scriptures. These men were fishermen, peasants, and tax collectors, yet their dreams were filled with visions of ruling a nation!

Then, their hopes and dreams were suddenly and violently crushed with the unexpected execution of their “messiah”.

“What happened??” they asked themselves? Where in the Jewish Scriptures does it talk about an executed messiah? We were so sure that Jesus was the real messiah, and not a pretender.” Horrific despair and depression set in.

Then days, weeks, or months later, someone, probably women, find the tomb of Jesus empty.

“Why is Jesus’ grave empty?? Maybe God raised Jesus from the dead, just like he raised people from the dead in the OT! Maybe the empty tomb means that Jesus is still alive and will soon return to us to establish the New Kingdom!”

The empty tomb has given the disciples a glimmer of hope. Their hopes and dreams are still alive! This glimmer of hope triggers vivid dreams, daytime trances, and maybe even hallucinations of Jesus, possibly first occurring with Peter. In a very vivid dream, Jesus tells Peter that he has returned from the dead, he forgives Peter’s betrayal, and appoints Peter as the new leader of their movement. He instructs Peter to preach the Gospel with boldness because he, Jesus, will return to establish the Kingdom at any moment.

Peter’s vivid dream triggers other disciples to have vivid dreams, trances, maybe hallucinations. Then groups of disciples experience illusions (bright lights) or false sightings (seeing someone in the distance, on a hill top for instance, and believing it to be an appearance of Jesus).

“But why does Jesus keep appearing for brief encounters but never stays??” a disciple asks. “Well, maybe he wasn’t just raised from the dead, maybe the resurrection of the dead has begun! Jesus is in Paradise collecting the righteous dead and will soon return with them to establish his kingdom. Maybe Jesus was the first fruits of the general resurrection, the rest of the righteous dead will be raised…tomorrow!!! The Kingdom is nigh! Sell everything you have, move to Jerusalem, the city of David, fast and pray. Jesus’ coming will happen any second now! We are soon to be rulers of a nation!!!

And that is how cognitive dissonance led to the Resurrection Belief without anyone ever actually seeing a flesh and bone resurrected corpse!

Joel Edmund Anderson, Christian blogger: That is a very imaginative scenario…with absolutely zero written or textual evidence anywhere.

Gary: It is very perplexing to us skeptics why Christians insist that we provide evidence for our hypothetical, possible, natural explanations for the origin of the Resurrection Belief. If you were to ask me for a possible/plausible explanation for the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, I would respond: “Her plane probably crashed into the Pacific and she died.”

Must I provide evidence of her plane crash to posit such a hypothetical explanation?? No. No evidence is required. The only criteria that must be met is that my hypothetical explanation does not contradict any existing, established evidence.

Ditto for the Resurrection Belief. We skeptics do not need to provide one shred of evidence that the disciples experienced illusions, vivid dreams, cases of mistaken identity, and/or hallucinations as plausible explanations for the origin of the Resurrection Belief. Not one shred.

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Never Believe an Extra-Ordinary Claim When the Eyewitness Status of the Person Making the Claim is in Dispute

If someone on the street comes up and tells you that someone told him that someone told him that a guy named “Bob” saw an angel appear to him, would you believe this story? Of course not, and not just because it is a very extra-ordinary claim. It is hearsay! For all you know someone made up this story. To even consider believing this story, you would insist on speaking to Bob himself or at least obtaining Bob’s undisputed testimony, right?

If you have ever debated a conservative Christian apologist regarding the evidence for the appearances of the resurrected Jesus, you know that the first argument the apologist will present is that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts and eyewitness testimony is second only to DNA evidence in a court of law. Therefore, if one is rational, without holding a bias against the supernatural, one will accept as fact the eyewitness testimony found in the four Gospels (and the Book of Acts). After all, Christianity does not have just one eyewitness account for the resurrection of Jesus, but multiple. Eyewitness testimony from multiple eyewitnesses is fantastic evidence in any court of law, the apologist will remind you.

And don’t bother pointing out to the apologist that supernatural claims are extra-ordinary claims and extra-ordinary claims require stronger evidence than just eyewitness testimony, at least for most modern, educated people. After all, just because a group of Elvis Presley fans claim they all saw Elvis at one time and place is not going to convince very many modern, educated people that they really did see “the King” alive again. The apologist will scoff at this argument. If eyewitness testimony is the accepted standard in a court of law, it doesn’t matter how extra-ordinary the claim. Eyewitness testimony from multiple eyewitnesses will win every time in court, in particular when the good character of the eyewitnesses is taken into account. The eyewitnesses to the resurrection were of good character and had nothing to gain and everything to lose by making such an outrageous claim.

But not so fast, dear apologist!

IF the Gospels were indeed eyewitness accounts, the Christian argument for accepting the historicity of the stories within those four ancient texts, might have merit. But Christians have a BIG problem: The eyewitness status of the Gospels is disputed among the experts. Yes, some scholars, mostly evangelicals and conservative Protestants, believe the traditional/eyewitness and associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels. However, many other scholars, including many Christian scholars who believe in miracles and the bodily resurrection of Jesus, do not.

So what should modern, educated people believe about the eyewitness status of four ancient middle eastern texts when the experts can’t agree on their eyewitness status? Answer: Withhold judgment! Withhold belief until and if better evidence becomes available.

Bottom line: Modern, educated people should not believe any extra-ordinary (supernatural) claim if the eyewitness status of the person making that claim is in dispute. Therefore, modern, educated people should NOT believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

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Why Do the Synoptic Gospels Fail to Describe the Same Jesus Appearance?

Christian blogger: Greetings, Gary, and welcome. Thank you for your interest in truth, however you seek it, and for your comment. You said:The bigger question is: Is there any good evidence that the supernatural operates in our universe?

In what context is the ‘supernatural’ supposed to be operating, and what would you accept as ‘evidence’?

Much of the sectarianism, violence, and war in our world is based on religion (belief in the supernatural).

Man has always been violent. We have no history of a non-volent era, whether that violence is based upon a religious goal or a sectarian one. I fail to see your point.

If the supernatural is not active in our world, shouldn’t the people of the world know this? Wouldn’t such information be extremely useful for how we treat our fellow human beings?

According to Christian understanding, God is always active in our world. Our very existence, whether we are righteous or unrighteous depends upon his keeping us alive and here. If God is **not** active as you suggest above. No one would know, because no one would exist. If God **is** active, unless he causes us to ‘know’ it, by what power of our natural senses could we sense the spiritual? The Spirit cannot be seen, heard, felt, smelled or tasted. How would we know, unless God made himself known, vis-à-vis through our natural senses? Concerning its usefulness, God is not a tool that could be used. According to Christianity, loving one’s fellow man has to do with obedience to God. It is not something that is done, because we’ve picked up on the Presence of the spiritual. If Christians are violent, they are disobedient. If other folks are violent, they are simply living out their rebellion against the God they’ve only heard about.

Your beliefs may be very comforting for you, Eddie. Most religious people, of all religions, find great comfort and security in their “faith”.

But what is the trade off for your fellow human beings for your personal comfort and sense of security? If I am obedient to the Lord, and if that translates to comfort and security for me, then I suppose the ‘trade off’ would be others would be able to feel comfort and feel secure in my presence, because I would do them no harm. But, once again, it is a matter of my obedience to the Lord. My sense of comfort and security is not a tool I could use to cause others to sense the Presence of the Spirit.

Bottom line: Humanity needs to know, one way or the other, if the supernatural operates in our world.

The only way I know that one could reasonably use to know truth is to be obedient to what Jesus said in John 7:16-17 “My doctrine isn’t mine but his who sent me. If a man would do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself.” In secular terms that would be the scientific method. You have an idea, which you believe is true. Next, you predict what would occur, if you applied your idea. Then you test your idea in a ‘laboratory’ (wherever the test can be made). If the result is according to your prediction, you know the truth, if not, then its back to square one, or at least square two and make a different prediction! 😊Christianity says it does. Christianity says they have eyewitness evidence to supernatural events. I say that if one looks at the Christian evidence using good critical thinking skills, the evidence for these claims is very, very poor.

Well, you are offering a mixed bag here, aren’t you? According to the YouTube video I watched on your site, some folks who claimed to be Christian also claimed to have had special ‘appearances’ of angels or Mary etc. From where I sit, that’s like someone telling me they saw Sasquatch or the Lock Nest Monster. Did they? Well, I hate to call anyone a liar, and I suppose it is possible it occurred in accordance with their claim, but ‘saying’ something is true isn’t evidence. On the other hand, the evidence of eye-witness reports in the Gospels and Acts is closer to what one finds used to define the truth in the legal systems we use throughout the world. Unless you are willing to throw out eye-witness testimony everywhere and in all cases, then what we find in the New Covenant text is valid, at least valid enough to consider further, just like any jury who must decide, if the ‘eye-witness’ testimony they heard was the truth or a tale.

I hope that you and your readers will at least keep an open mind to the possibility that eyewitness testimony is not always reliable.

I do understand that all eye-witness testimony isn’t truth, after all, the Gospel records, themselves, record the eye-witness testimony of liars who thought to offer evidence against Jesus, but their testimonies couldn’t be used to agree with one another. They had to have contradicted one another, or their testimonies were about different matters that couldn’t be used to support one another .As I said previously, Gary, I’m not disposed to debating with you, which is why I didn’t comment on your website. On the other hand, I have no control over you being the aggressor and commenting on my blog. I will reply to you here, but only so far. There will come a point, when further commentary would be pointless. For now, there is value in this for others who might read. If you wish to continue, fine; if not, that’s also fine with me. Have a good evening.

Gary:

-Let’s define a supernatural event as any event which defies the laws of physics.

-If you do not see belief in the supernatural as a problem, then this is a moot point, although I will bet that you would agree that the world would be much better off without the supernatural beliefs of Islam, Hinduism, and the traditional religions of Africa and South American indigenous peoples.

-You said, “Our very existence, whether we are righteous or unrighteous depends upon his keeping us alive and here. If God is **not** active as you suggest above. No one would know, because no one would exist.” I don’t think you can provide any good evidence for this claim. I am not an atheist. So there is no need for us to debate the evidence for the origin of the universe. I believe our universe was most likely created by an intelligent being. But isn’t it entirely possible that our creator is dead? That is what the evidence indicates to me. Getting to the point: I believe our universe most probably had a creator but the evidence that Yahweh/Jesus the Christ is that creator is very, very poor. Christian apologists assume that evidence for a creator is evidence for their god. This is a logical fallacy.

–You said, “How would we know, unless God made himself known, vis-à-vis through our natural senses?” I’m not sure what you are referring to. Are you speaking about the testimony of the Holy Spirit? Do you perceive the presence of the Holy Spirit, Eddie? If so, through which of your five senses?

-You said, “The only way I know that one could reasonably use to know truth is to be obedient to what Jesus said in John 7:16-17 “My doctrine isn’t mine but his who sent me. If a man would do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself.” In secular terms that would be the scientific method. I strongly disagree. The scientific method is the most accurate method of determining universal truths ever known to humanity. There is no Baptist scientific method. There is no Lutheran scientific method. No Roman Catholic scientific method. No evangelical scientific method. No Muslim scientific method. Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, evangelical, and Muslim scientists all eventually come to the same conclusion using the scientific method. Not so with determining “God’s doctrine”!

-You said, “The evidence of eye-witness reports in the Gospels and Acts is closer to what one finds used to define the truth in the legal systems we use throughout the world.” False. The four Gospels do not expressly state their authorship. They are written in the third person. And, the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels is disputed among the experts, even among Christian scholars (many Roman Catholic scholars, who believe in the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus, doubt the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels.) So I must disagree, this is NOT the type of eyewitness testimony we find in our legal systems. In what court would a judge allow eyewitness statements to be entered into evidence when the eyewitness status of the statements is disputed by the experts; the documents are not signed by the authors; and the statements continuously refer to “they” and “them” and never to “I” or “we”! No way would a judge admit these statements into evidence. Mormonism, on the other hand, has eyewitnesses with signed affidavits claiming to have seen an angel/golden plates. THAT is the type of evidence we see in our legal systems. So why do you reject these eyewitness statements, Eddie??

-You said, “I do understand that all eye-witness testimony isn’t truth, after all, the Gospel records, themselves, record the eye-witness testimony of liars who thought to offer evidence against Jesus, but their testimonies couldn’t be used to agree with one another. They had to have contradicted one another, or their testimonies were about different matters that couldn’t be used to support one another.” Please present ONE resurrected Jesus appearance sighting described by all three Synoptic Gospels. You can’t. The original Gospel of Mark has no appearance stories. The appearances in Matthew all occur in Galilee, except the appearance to the women in the Garden in which they touch his feet. The appearances in Luke all occur in the vicinity of Jerusalem and Bethany, and there is no mention of an appearance to women. Yes, we have numerous dead person sightings, but no dead person sighting with multiple sources attesting to that particular event. That is a problem, my friend. You do NOT have multiple eyewitnesses attesting to the same event! (The Gospel of John was written several decades after the Synoptics. It is therefore possible that the author of this Gospel had access to the appearance stories in Matthew and Luke.)

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Should We Always Believe Eyewitness Testimony?

Christian apologists claim that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts and therefore can be trusted as accurate, historically reliable descriptions of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Are they right? Should rational, intelligent people always believe eyewitness testimony?

Answer: Of course not.

If Christian apologists really believed this, they would be forced to accept as fact that the eleven Mormon eyewitnesses really did see an angel and/or golden plates. They would be forced to believe that the angel Gabriel really did appear to Mohammad, giving him a new testament from the Creator. They would be forced to believe in the reality of hundreds of Virgin Mary sightings. They would be forced to believe every ghost sighting ever recorded!

The fact is that when it comes to eyewitness testimony involving supernatural claims even Christian apologists are dubious…unless the claim is found in their holy book. So if even Christian apologists are skeptical of most eyewitness testimony involving supernatural claims, why shouldn’t we be skeptical of theirs?

“But, there are good reasons why the eyewitness testimony of the supernatural claims in the Gospels are more credible than the claims of Mormonism, Islam, and all the other world religions,” Christian apologists will then say.

“We have multiple, independent, eyewitness statements of these events.”

No. This is not true. There are no resurrected Jesus sightings in the original Gospel of Mark. Only the author of Matthew records a Jesus appearance to a group of women in the garden in which they grab his feet. Only the author of Luke records a Jesus appearance on the Emmaus Road. Only the author of Luke records an ascension from a mountain near Bethany. Only the author of John records a Jesus appearance and fish fry on the Sea of Tiberius. Only the Gospel of John records a special Jesus appearance for Thomas in which the disciple is asked to inspect Jesus’ wounds. Sure, one can claim that many different sightings occurred, but you cannot claim that there are multiple accounts of the same sighting! These stories describe very different events. Therefore, Christians cannot claim that they have multiple eyewitness statements to the same alleged Jesus sighting.

“The disciples would not die for a lie.”

While it is true that most people will not die for a lie, hundreds of thousands of human beings throughout history have died for a mistaken belief. Is it possible that the disciples truly believed that Jesus had appeared to them, but were mistaken? Cumulative human history says, yes.

“But the attitude and behavior of the disciples changed so dramatically.”

Dramatic conversions and changed lives happen all the time, and not just in Christianity. See here:

“But Christianity grew so dramatically, even under intense persecution.”

And so have many other religions, cults and sects. Today, the followers of Falun Gong suffer intense persecution in China, yet the movement is still growing! This spiritual movement began in the 1990’s and today has seven to twenty million followers. That is much more rapid growth than what occurred with Christianity.

“Christianity became the largest religion on earth! How did that happen if the claims are false?”

This is a logical fallacy. Just because a lot of people believe something does not make it true. Will Christian apologists admit that Islam is true when and if Islam overtakes Christianity as the world’s most populous religion in the next century, as many statisticians are predicting?

“The eyewitnesses for Islam, Mormonism, and other religions are known liars and persons of questionable character.”

Simon Peter is probably the world’s most famous liar, publicly lying about his association with Jesus three separate times. He was also a short-tempered, impetuous, violent man, allegedly cutting off someone’s ear with a sword. Even after Jesus’ alleged resurrection, Peter’s character was questioned by Paul, as Peter acquiesced to the prejudices of the “Judaizers”. The apostle Paul, a man guilty of murder and violent physical attacks against people whose only crime was holding a different world view from him according to the author of Acts, said in his own epistles that he was willing to say and do almost anything to convert people to his new belief system, Christianity. And to top it off, both men were prone to visions and trances. Not exactly the stereotypes of upstanding citizens and reliable courtroom witnesses.

Conclusion: There is no good reason to believe the supernatural claims of Christianity!

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Even If The Gospels Were Eyewitness Accounts, I Still Wouldn’t Believe

Christian Research Institute: Dear Gary,

Greetings in the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and thank you for contacting the Christian Research Institute!

Wow, that is quite the impressive list of books you have read on subjects related to Christianity.

Regarding radical Jesus scholars, I’ve personally read Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus, Forged, and Lost Christianities. Others read include: The Five Gospels by the Jesus Seminar, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg, and New Testament & Mythology and Other Basic Writings by Rudolf Bultman. Atheist titles I’ve read include: The God Delusion and The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins along with God is not Good by Christopher Hitchens, Why I Am Not A Christian by Betram Russell, and The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey. I’ve also viewed popular antichristian media productions like Zeitgeist: The Movie by Peter Joseph and Religulous with Bill Maher.

You mentioned currently being “agnostic.” Can you clarify?

I understand an agnostic to be someone who suspending judgment for lack of evidence. So, are you suspending judgment for lack of evidence that the New Testament preserves eyewitness testimonials to Jesus Christ and the resurrection? Are you simultaneously making a positive judgment that the New Testament lacks any eyewitness testimonial to Jesus Christ and the resurrection?

If there could be evidence to believe the New Testament preserves eyewitness testimonials to Jesus Christ and the resurrection, what would it be? Are you settled with the conviction that nothing ever could be produced as evidence for the New Testament preserving eyewitness testimonials to Jesus Christ and the resurrection, and any further search would be an exercise in futility?

Why would [evangelical NT scholar Mike] Licona’s take on Matthew 27:52-53 being a poetic device undermine the contention on the historicity of the resurrection? Does he not explain the point on pp. 548-553? Could not New Testament writers blend factual history with metaphor for effect? Don’t modern writers do the same? So, FDR’s statement “Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy” alludes to both the historical fact and the moral outrage of the Pearl Harbor attack. Of course, there is no place called “infamy” where the December 7, 1941 presently resides, — it’s metaphorical. Why dismiss Licona’s work just on his take on Matthew 27:52-53? Either one can agree or disagree with Licona on Matthew 27:52-53 but one can still glean other important research on the resurrection form this work. Right? Why not? 

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always!

In Christ,

Warren N.
Research Consultant
Christian Research Institute

Gary: Hi Warren. Nice to hear from you again.

“You mentioned currently being “agnostic.” Can you clarify?”

I don’t remember using that term. I refer to myself as a “non-supernaturalist creator-ist”. Simply put, I believe that there is sufficient evidence to believe that our universe had an intelligent creator, but, the evidence also suggests that this creator is/was most likely mortal and definitely fallible, not immortal and infallible as described in the Christian holy book. My guess: Our creator was a scientist in another universe whose experiment went…BANG…and voila, our universe came into existence. Where did the original universe come from? I have no idea. As to the gods of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, etc., I am an atheist. I do not believe that there is sufficient evidence to believe that any of these beings exist.

Bottom line: Once scientists reach a consensus on the origin of our universe, I will accept the consensus expert opinion, whatever it may be. Period. Currently, there is no expert consensus.

I am impressed that you have read works by atheists and other skeptics of the claims of Christianity. Good for you. I hope you would encourage all Christians to be well-read on the claims of Christianity, reading the works of both Christians and skeptics. Here are my reading recommendations:

Christian: “Evidence that Demands a Verdict” by Josh and Sean McDowell; “The Death of the Messiah” by Raymond Brown.

Skeptic: “The Outsider Test for Faith” and “The Case Against Miracles”, both by John Loftus.

“So, are you suspending judgment for lack of evidence that the New Testament preserves eyewitness testimonials to Jesus Christ and the resurrection?

No, I accept majority expert opinion on all issues and the majority expert opinion is that the Gospels were not written by eyewitnesses or by the associates of eyewitnesses but by non-eyewitnesses living one or more generations removed from the alleged events they describe. However, if the majority of experts were to change their mind on this issue, I would have no problem accepting it. Why? I don’t believe that eyewitness authorship of the Gospels makes dead person sightings any more probable or believable! Thousands of people throughout history have claimed to have seen dead people. You don’t believe most of these stories. I don’t believe any of them!

“Are you simultaneously making a positive judgment that the New Testament lacks any eyewitness testimonial to Jesus Christ and the resurrection?”

Absolutely not. It is entirely possible that both Homer’s Iliad and Matthew’s Gospel contain accurate eyewitness testimony (and fictional tall tales). The tricky part is figuring out which parts are historical and which parts are fictional.

“If there could be evidence to believe the New Testament preserves eyewitness testimonials to Jesus Christ and the resurrection, what would it be?”

The same type of evidence professional crime investigators use to determine if someone really was an eyewitness to an event. Once again, I must remind you, even if four authors in Antiquity were eyewitnesses to alleged dead person sightings, that in no way convinces me that these dead person appearances really took place. Ample court evidence has demonstrated time and time again that eyewitnesses, even groups of eyewitnesses can be mistaken. Eyewitnesses can “see” things that were not there. It is entirely possible that the disciples experienced vivid dreams, trances (day dreams), illusions, cases of mistaken identity (seeing someone in the distance and thinking it is Jesus), delusions, or hallucinations. Groups of people CAN experience the same illusion (a bright light) or case of mistaken identity (a group of excited disciples seeing “Jesus” on a distant hill for a brief few seconds in the morning mist…when in reality it is just a shepherd separated from his flock).

“Are you settled with the conviction that nothing ever could be produced as evidence for the New Testament preserving eyewitness testimonials to Jesus Christ and the resurrection, and any further search would be an exercise in futility?

I have no idea. I am not a textual critic of ancient Near East literature. If the majority of Near East literature textual critics change their minds about the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels, I will accept their new position. Eyewitness authorship of the Gospels and Acts is not a threat to my non-supernatural belief system, as I have explained above.

“Why would Licona’s take on Matthew 27:52-53 being a poetic device undermine the contention on the historicity of the resurrection? Does he not explain the point on pp. 548-553?

You tell me. If the Gospel authors were mixing poetic metaphor with historical facts…and not explicitly telling the reader they were doing so…how would the reader know which parts of their stories are historical and which parts are fictional? When the Gospel authors precede a story with, “Jesus then told a parable…”, we know not to take that story literally. But the author of Matthew makes no such statement regarding his story of an earthquake shaking dead saints out of their graves to wander the streets of Jerusalem. This story is told as fact, no different from “Matthew’s” story of Jesus walking on water, his story of guards at the tomb, or his story of women disciples touching Jesus’ feet in the garden. If any scholar or apologist thinks he knows as fact that “Matthew” meant this particular story to be read as “poetic”, he is delusional or a liar. We have no indication in the text or from other sources that the author of Matthew meant this story to be understood figuratively.

Could not New Testament writers blend factual history with metaphor for effect? Don’t modern writers do the same?”

Absolutely. And I will bet that this is exactly what the Gospel authors were doing! They weren’t trying to deceive anyone. It was totally acceptable to a first century Greco-Roman reading public for an author to mix fact with embellishments. It is only later Christian readers who insisted that every detail of these stories had to be 100% historical fact.

But the big question for Christians is: Since neither the authors of the Gospels nor their scribes are still living, how do we know which parts of their stories are historical fact and which parts of their stories are literary/theological embellishments (fiction)? What if the original sightings of Jesus all involved sightings of bright lights??? What if the original stories, as told by the eyewitnesses themselves, did not involve anyone seeing a walking, talking corpse? What would that do to your faith, Warren?

Gary

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Christian Research Institute: Gary, You Obviously Have Not Read Enough Books

Christian Research Institute: Dear Gary,

Greetings in the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and thank you for contacting the Christian Research Institute! I doubt the NT Wright video really says what you are trying to say. (The same uncertainty to the blogger too.) What do you think of the discussion from Resurrection of the Son of God? You said nothing about that.

What in Richard Baukham have you found to be problematic? You never really read the book did you? What is so compelling about the point that most modern scholars doubt the gospels were not written by eyewitnesses? This is not a popularity contest. 

Cognitive dissonance? How would you respond to NT Wright’s comments on the issue of cognitive dissonance in Resurrection of the Son of God? Please also read the portions of cognitive dissonance in The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by Michael R. Licona. Let me know your comments and criticisms.

What do the apparitions of Mary and the like offer? Do not the apparitions presuppose an exalted view of the Virgin to begin with? How do they really answer the question why first century Jews would change their views on key social structures for their believe in a resurrected Messiah? While there were messianic expectations among Jews of the first century, where is the evidence that there would be a dying and rising messiah? 

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always!

In Christ,

Warren N.
Research Consultant
Christian Research Institute

Gary:

Good evening, Warren! I hope you had a very nice day.

NT Wright’s words speak for themselves, my friend. He clearly states he has no idea who wrote the Gospels.

That does NOT mean that NT Wright rejects everything in the Gospels as legend and hearsay. Absolutely not, however, if you read, “The Resurrection of the Son of God”, cover to cover as I have, you will see that Wright trusts the historical reliability of the Gospels not because they were written by eyewitnesses but because he believes that neither first century Jews nor first century Greeks/Romans would make up a resurrection story of one single individual.

In “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”, Bauckham bases his conclusion that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses on the assumption that first century Jews would never allow fictional embellishments into their oral stories. He also appeals to the fact that one study demonstrated that the Jewish first names of individuals used in the Gospels are similar to the first names used in other historical records of Jewish first names used in Palestine in the first century. That was his best evidence, in my opinion. Are you aware that Bauckham states in his book that he does not believe that the apostle Matthew wrote the Gospel of Matthew found in our Bibles? Are you also aware that Bauckham does not believe that John, son of Zebedee, wrote the Gospel of John?

“What is so compelling about the point that most modern scholars doubt the gospels were not written by eyewitnesses? This is not a popularity contest.”

You are absolutely correct, but in our culture, most educated people trust majority expert opinion on all subjects about which they personally are not experts. Neither you nor I are textual critics of first century Near East literature. Therefore, the prudent course of action is to accept majority expert opinion on the subject of the authorship and dating of these five (the four Gospels and Acts) ancient texts. You and I both may have spent a lot of time studying these issues, but that does not make us ancient Near East textual critics.

“Please also read the portions of cognitive dissonance in The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by Michael R. Licona. Let me know your comments and criticisms.”

Yes, I have read this book. I find it interesting that you appeal to the research of Michael Licona. Do you agree with Dr. Licona that “Matthew’s” story of dead saints shaken alive out their graves by an earthquake is theological allegory, not literal history? If Licona is correct, doesn’t that open Pandora’s box? What other stories in the Gospels are “allegory”? Jesus walking on water? Jesus turning water into wine? Jesus appearing to his disciples in a “heavenly” body at a fish fry on a seashore?

“How do they really answer the question why first century Jews would change their views on key social structures for their believe in a resurrected Messiah? While there were messianic expectations among Jews of the first century, where is the evidence that there would be a dying and rising messiah?”

I believe I have satisfactorily and fully answered these questions in our previous discussions. Obviously you do not believe that I have, so let me suggest something: Take your questions and ask 10 Muslims, 10 Hindus, and 10 Shinto which scenario is more likely to be the cause of a small group of first century Jews radically changing their beliefs: a bodily resurrection or illusions/vivid dreams/hallucinations/and or false sightings/cases of mistaken identity. I will bet you $100 bucks these 30 people, people who have no bias against the supernatural, will agree that my scenario is MUCH more probable than a bodily resurrection.

Bottom line, Warren. Disputed eyewitness testimony is not strong evidence. You and other conservative Christian apologists can claim that the majority of scholars is biased on the authorship of the Gospels, but isn’t it equally possible that it is you and your experts who are biased? Regardless, without any strong evidence, there is no good reason why any modern, educated person should believe this ancient Christian supernatural tale.

I look forward to hearing from you again,
Gary

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