Jeremy, Reformed Baptist: What is considered good evidence? What is interesting is that a large majority of the western world considered the evidence [for the resurrection of Jesus] good until the mid to late 19th century. Although there is much to discuss in this avenue (works of Locke, Immaneul Kant, Descartes, Diderot, Hume, Gottfried, and many others), your question begs the argument what good evidence is. Certainly we cannot argue that what is in history books by definition is good evidence because that would assume the culture of our time is correct. If that was true and it was before the mid to late 19th Century then the resurrection would have been assumed as true and taught in every history book across every public institution in the land.
Gary: I question that as late as the mid to late 19th century (the 1800’s) that the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth was considered an historical fact by most historians, included in most public university history text books as an historical fact. I would need to see some evidence to concede this point.
I would be willing to concede that the resurrection of Jesus was probably included in the public university history text books of Christian Europe as an historical fact prior to the Enlightenment, as the Christian Church held full sway over universities and even governments, routinely burning at the stake anyone who dared to challenge Christian orthodoxy.
But I must point out the obvious: Yes, during a very long period of the last two millennia, all of Christian Europe believed the resurrection of their Lord and Savior to be true, but why didn’t the overwhelming majority of Jews?? If Jesus was truly the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, then why did so very few Jews accept him as their Messiah? Some scholars estimate that no more than 1,000 Jews converted to Christianity in the first century after Jesus’ death. That is a pitiful conversion rate! Why was the evidence so good to pagans and Romans but so pitiful to the overwhelming majority of Jews, the very people who would know the ancient Jewish teachings about “messiah” best?
“Certainly we cannot argue that what is in history books by definition is good evidence because that would assume the culture of our time is correct.”
Sadly, this statement reflects the deep suspicion and distrust with which many conservative Christians view experts in the sciences and humanities. The ongoing success of our advanced industrialized nation depends on the lay public trusting and having confidence in the knowledge and expertise of experts. When each individual believes that he or she is the final authority on all matters—“because the experts are biased”—our culture will descend into chaos. Trust the consensus opinion of modern experts, Jeremy! Most of them are not foaming-at-the-mouth God-hating atheists. In fact, the overwhelming majority of them are theists, and in this country, the overwhelming majority identify as Christians. The overwhelming majority of historians in the United States and in the West as a whole identify as Christians. There is no bias against the Christian god, Jeremy. That is a conservative Christian conspiracy theory. If there were, the majority of historians would write Jesus of Nazareth off as a fictional character, as the evidence for his existence is slim. But…evidence for his existence does exist, and it is sufficient for most historians to conclude that Jesus was a real historical person. The same cannot be said for his alleged resurrection.
Bottom line: If we can’t trust modern historians regarding their position on the historicity of the resurrection, then we should not trust modern historians regarding their position on the historicity of Jesus! Conservative Christians can’t have it both ways.
Jeremy: In fact, your example crossing the Rubicon in 49 BC is primarily documented by four ancient writers at least two or three generations after the events. Some apologists have come out against this comparison. (one example) Now we can do a lot of assumptions about those authors including the “Civil Wars” allegedly wrote by a scribe dictated by the Caesar himself. But their truthfulness to what they heard via oral tradition or Caesar made up, one could try to argue it didn’t happen and that the whole thing was made up. The Jesus Seminar has done that very same thing with the Scriptures. Certainly, I would trust the sources of the crossing of the Rubicon are enough evidence to provide a degree of certainty to the event. However, where the issue lies (especially for the naturalist) is if we think it is possible Casesar crossed the Rubicon, or Jesus raised from the dead. The naturalist assumes one is possible and the other is not.
Gary: We can be very certain that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon without the four ancient writers you refer to having written a single word! Why? For the simple reason that Caesar would not have been able to return to Rome with his troops without crossing this river! And we know by extensive documentation that Caesar showed up with his troops in Rome and overthrew the Republic.
However, where the issue lies (especially for the naturalist) is if we think it is possible Caesar crossed the Rubicon, or Jesus raised from the dead. The naturalist assumes one is possible and the other is not.
True. If one has decided in advance that regardless of the evidence, the supernatural does not exist, then there is no point in continuing the debate. I personally do not hold this position. But isn’t it also a problem when the theist asserts that the probability of a miracle is just as great as a natural cause for odd, difficult-to-explain events? This isn’t the case in every other area of the Christian’s life, so why is it the case in regards to the alleged resurrection of Jesus? If the Christian wakes up and finds his keys missing, is a supernatural explanation at the top of his list? No, it is way down at the bottom. So why do Christians insist on asserting a miracle as the most probable explanation for an empty tomb and a few ghost sightings when other, much more probable (based on cumulative human experience) natural explanations are available?
Jeremy: ‘What is good evidence, but more importantly is there such thing as truth and ultimately can we know truth?’
Gary: I would use the same standard of “good evidence” that I would use for any very unusual claim, natural or supernatural. And, yes, I believe that alleged events are either historical or they are not historical. They are either true or not true.
For ordinary claims, I will accept ordinary evidence. For very extra-ordinary claims, whether natural or supernatural, I will demand extra-ordinary evidence. If I claim that I drove my car yesterday to the store, you are probably going to take my word for that claim. However, if I claim that I am in richest man in the world, you would be a fool to take my word for that claim. If you are intelligent (which I believe you are), you will demand a higher standard of evidence to believe that I am richer than Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.
So if you ask me to believe that Jesus of Nazareth existed, simply based on the fact that multiple authors in the first three centuries CE refer to him, I am willing to accept that as sufficient evidence. But if you ask me to believe that this same man came back to life after being brain-dead for three days and later lifted off the surface of the planet into outer space without any mechanical assistance, just because multiple authors tell some version of this story, I am not going to accept that as sufficient evidence. It has nothing to do with it being a religious claim. I would do the same thing for alleged sightings of Martians and alien abductions. I am consistent. It is Christians who are inconsistent. For UFO sightings and alien abductions, I doubt that most Christians would accept eyewitness testimony as sufficient to believe these claims, yet they insist that we skeptics should accept contested eyewitness testimony from 20 centuries ago for a claim of dead corpse reanimation!
Jeremy: I have no such belief that I perceive the resurrected Christ in my body. The passage of still small voice (1st Kings 19:11-13) has been clearly misinterpreted by evangelicals for years. Sadly, many times we take
our belief from ‘proof texting’ which ends up devoid of the context and meaning to the original reader. To help clarify I do believe that I have been given a new nature, one that desires to please God. That the
Holy Spirit (third person of the one being of God) has placed a seal upon me because I am being saved to the hope of a future resurrection. This isn’t a feeling or the ability to hear God’s voice. I believe in a closed cannon (finished scriptures) and no more revelation from God personal or otherwise. I believe in a relationship, and in prayer, but that relationship is more of a relationship status and an inner
testament to what I believe than a two-way dialogue.
Gary: Would you agree that, if you do consider yourself an evangelical, that yours is a minority position in evangelicalism? Do a google search for “having a personal relationship with Jesus” and you will find A LOT of evangelical websites telling you that you can perceive the presence of Jesus within you and that Jesus will “lead you” and “move you” to do things (speaking in a still, small voice). Jeremy, if you can honestly say that your belief in the resurrection of Jesus is entirely evidence and intellectually based, then I believe that it is possible for you to evaluate the historical evidence without a disqualifying bias.
But just to clarify: Are you stating for the record that you do not now, nor have you ever, perceived the presence of the resurrected Jesus?
Jeremy: In conclusion what standard will you use in evaluating the evidence I was to give you? What would you use as tools to evaluate it?
Gary: As I said above, I will use the same standard of evidence for any unusual, very out-of-the-ordinary claim, regardless of whether the claim is natural or supernatural.
End of post.