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Refuting Liam’s Arguments for the Resurrection

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Liam, a frequent Christian commenter on this blog, left the following comment regarding the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus under another post.  Let’s read it and examine it.  I will divide up Liam’s comment and address each point he makes:

Liam:  Category errors – there is no evidence that any of the closest disciples of Jesus ever recanted their belief that Jesus was raised, despite persecution. Now if they were the ones making up the story, under pressure they could and probably would have gone back on their made up story. This didn’t happen.

Gary:  I have never claimed that the disciples made up anything.  However, we have massive evidence of many people, from many different religions, enduring horrific persecution and even death for mistaken beliefs.  I believe that the earliest Christians truly believed that Jesus had appeared to them in some fashion, no different from the thousands of people today who believe that the Virgin Mary, Elvis, or their dead grandma has appeared to them.  But what does that prove? Hyper-religious people are very superstitious and susceptible to believing some of the most bizarre, fantastical claims ever known to humankind (a prophet riding a flying horse; a prophet receiving golden plates from an angel whose name rhymes with macaroni; a prophet who can make water buffalo speak in a human language; a prophet whose dead, bloated corpse is  “resurrected”, etc., etc..)

Liam:  The belief in the resurrection was not something that one or two people convinced everyone else had happened. Numerous, independent experiences of the risen Jesus convinced his followers that He was alive after He had been dead, by crucifixion.  We have groups, pairs, crowds, and individuals all seeing Christ for themselves.

Gary:  Correction!  We have STORIES that groups, pairs, crowds, and individuals CLAIMED to have received appearances of the risen Jesus.  The question is:  Are these stories historically reliable?  Can we be certain who wrote these stories?  Were the authors of these stories eyewitnesses to these alleged events?  Christians such as Liam may believe that the answer to all these questions is “yes”, but most scholars, including most Christian scholars, do not believe that eyewitness nor even the associates of eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels.  Finally, even if multiple people, including crowds of people, claimed to have received appearances of the resurrected Jesus, why should modern, educated people today believe these 2,000 year old claims when we don’t believe the claims of crowds of people in modern times who claim to have received an appearance of Jesus’ dead mother, Mary ??

Liam:  You accept the empty tomb. Who stole the body? In their despair the disciples wouldn’t have stolen the body. So who would have? The Romans? Couldn’t have cared. The Jews that had Jesus killed? Wouldn’t have done it.

Gary:  How do you know the Romans didn’t care or that the Jews wouldn’t have done it? Maybe Pilate changed his mind about giving a proper burial to the alleged usurper to Caesar’s throne.  Maybe the Sanhedrin considered the burial of Jesus’ body in the tomb on the slope of Golgotha as a temporary measure.  Maybe they moved Jesus’ body Saturday night, under the cover of darkness, to an unmarked dirt grave.  Maybe the rich Mary Magdalene wanted the body of Jesus all to herself and therefore hired her servants to secretly open the tomb and take the body.  (Most scholars doubt that the Guards at the Tomb story is historical.)  And there are many other potential suspects:  Grave robbers, thieves in the religious relic trade, family members of Jesus who were not believers, and many more. Any one of these possible suspects, regardless of how implausible Christians might believe them to be, are infinitely more plausible than a never heard of before or since “resurrection”.

Liam:  Also, the belief in the Resurrection – and the only Resurrection the early mostly Jewish would have meant when they spoke of a resurrection was a bodily one – was central to the teaching of the early church. Without it, there would be no Gospel. The whole New Testament centres on Jesus being alive after His crucifixion. Paul gives us the earliest creeds dating back to within 2 years of the Resurrection – 1 Cor 15, Romans 10:9, see also Galatians.  We also see that they were proclaiming a resurrected Christ 50 days after Jesus had been crucified.

Gary:  According to Paul, many devout Jews in Asia Minor believed in the resurrection of Jesus without ever seeing a  resurrected body, giving us evidence that a body was not necessary for first centuries Jews to be convinced that an individual had been resurrected.   The Asia Minor Jews apparently took Paul’s word for it.  So how do you know that the disciples did not come to belief in the resurrection of Jesus in a similar fashion?  One disciple had a vision (a vivid dream) and became convinced that the resurrected Jesus had “appeared” to him.  This one disciple (Peter?) convinced the other disciples and some of Jesus’ family that his experience (a vivid dream) had been real, not imagined.  They believed him.  All subsequent “sightings” of Jesus were either vivid dreams, day dreams (trances), or illusions brought on by the same gullible religious fanaticism that we see today during alleged sightings of the Virgin Mary.

Your evidence for the alleged resurrection of Jesus is poor, Liam.  Accept the facts.

 

 

 

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Is There Any Evidence that Perceived Sightings of Jesus were the Cause of the Resurrection Belief?

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Ask any conservative Christian, “What caused the Resurrection belief?” and you will get this response:  Multiple people, sometimes in large groups, saw the resurrected Jesus.  But is there any evidence to support this claim other than the Appearance Stories found in three of the four Gospels—books which even Roman Catholic scholars, who very much believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, doubt were written by eyewitnesses or the associates of eyewitnesses?

If there is any other evidence, I would like to see it!

If one takes a look at the Early Creed quoted by Paul in First Corinthians 15 nowhere in that passage does it state that anyone believed in the Resurrection because Jesus appeared to him or her.  This creed simply lists people to whom the resurrected Jesus allegedly appeared.  For all we know, the perceived appearances were manifestations of a pre-existent belief in Jesus’ resurrection.

The fact is, we have no idea why the earliest Christians believed in the resurrection of Jesus!

I have suggested before on this blog the possibility that the Empty Tomb triggered the Resurrection belief.  In their despair at the loss of their leader and the loss of all their hopes and dreams, the discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb gave the disciples of Jesus a glimmer of hope.  As long as there was a dead body, no one could claim that Jesus was risen from the dead; that he really was the messiah; that the New Kingdom of God, the New Israel, would still be created; or that the Twelve would reign as princes on thrones with Jesus.  But with a missing body, there was still hope that their fantastical dreams could still come true!

This glimmer of hope lead to speculation as to the cause of the Empty Tomb.  At first the obvious was considered:  Someone took the body (this is even suggested in the Gospel accounts)!  But then someone suggested that maybe God had raised Jesus from the dead, as had (allegedly) happened on at least two occasions in the Old Testament.  “Think about it!  A risen Jesus could still defeat the Romans and re-establish the throne of David!”

But then these devout Jews began to wonder, “What about the Resurrection of the Righteous Dead? Isn’t that supposed to happen with the establishment of the New Kingdom of God?  What if…  What if the general resurrection of the dead has begun, with Jesus as the first fruits!”

Impossible, you say?

Here is an example of a modern religious sect grappling with the massive disappointment and disillusionment of a failed prophecy.  Question:  If one has invested one’s entire being and livelihood into a belief, which is easier:  Admit that you were wrong or reinterpret the “failed prophecy” into a fulfilled prophecy?

Dorothy Martin (aka “Marian Keech”), the cult leader in Leon Festinger’s cult group study (credit: AP Photo/Charles E. Knoblock).

Excerpt from Matthew Ferguson’s Celsus blog (guest article written by Kris Komarnitsky, author of Doubting Jesus’  Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box?):

The cult group Leon Festinger studied consisted of eleven hardcore members and numerous transitory participants. It was led by a woman who believed she was receiving mental messages from spacemen on another planet. This woman, Dorothy Martin (aka “Marian Keech”), received a message from the imaginary spacemen in August of 1954 that said a great cataclysm would ensue around the world on December 21st of the same year. The cult group publicly declared this belief, which attracted a lot of attention from the media and the public. Additional messages from the spacemen led the cult to believe that at midnight on the eve before the cataclysm they would be removed from the planet and spared from the destruction. In order for this to happen, they were instructed to wait inside certain identified parked cars and the spacemen would then transfer them from the parked cars to a flying saucer where they would be whisked away. Imposter cult members – two social psychologists and sometimes up to five hired participant-observers – infiltrated the group and were able to observe firsthand over a period of weeks the buildup to these expectations and the reaction of the hardcore believers to the shock of disconfirmation on December 21st when none of the events occurred as they expected.

When none of the events occurred as they expected, two of the hardcore cult members rejected their beliefs and left the group. But the other nine did not. Instead, they went through a period of intense group rationalization over a period of hours (Festinger et al. 1956: 158-170). Many explanations were floated as the group wrestled with their catastrophic disappointment. For example, they reasoned that the spacemen must have given them the wrong date. Another explanation was that the events had been postponed, possibly for years, so that more people could prepare to “meet their maker”. Yet another was more complex: The message from the spacemen, which had them waiting inside parked cars from which they would be moved to the flying saucer, must be symbolic because parked cars do not move and hence could not take anyone anywhere; therefore, the parked cars must symbolically refer to their physical bodies, and the flying saucer must symbolically refer to the importance of their own inner “strength, knowing, and light” for their rescue. The cult group even considered leaving the disconfirmation unexplained while insisting that the plan had never gone awry and accepting that they did not have to understand everything for it all to still be essentially true.

During this rationalization period, one of the participant-observers feigned frustration and walked outside. One of the hardcore members, a medical doctor, followed and offered verbal support. Here are the words of a normal human being who has staked everything on a belief, only to have that belief cruelly disconfirmed by reality:

I’ve had to go a long way. I’ve given up just about everything. I’ve cut every tie. I’ve burned every bridge. I’ve turned my back on the world. I can’t afford to doubt. I have to believe. And there isn’t any other truth.…I won’t doubt even if we have to make an announcement to the press tomorrow and admit we were wrong. You’re having your period of doubt now, but hang on boy, hang on. This is a tough time but we know that the boys upstairs are taking care of us….These are tough times and the way is not easy. We all have to take a beating. I’ve taken a terrific one, but I have no doubt. (Festinger et al. 1956: 168)

In the end, the group settled on an explanation provided by the group’s leader, which was based on a timely message she received from the spacemen. She said that the steadfast belief and waiting by their group had brought so much “light” into the world that God called off the pickup and the cataclysm (Festinger et al. 1956: 169). This explanation was jubilantly received by the group. According to Leon Festinger, “The group was able to accept and believe this explanation because they could support one another and convince each other that this was, in fact, a valid explanation” (1989: 255-256).

 

 

 

 

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Religion: The Most Deadly of Superstitions

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Imagine a world without science.  Imagine a world without reason.  Imagine a world in which every unusual event is seen as the act of a good or evil spirit.  Imagine a world of fear and ignorance.

That is the world of unrestrained religion.

Historically religion has denounced and resisted virtually every major scientific advancement.  Proponents of religion have referred to reason  as a “whore” and insist that superstitious wishful thinking, which they call “faith”, is a virtue.

We non-supernaturalists are engaged in a great, historic struggle.  A struggle against great powers and vested interests.  We are at war with the merchants of fear.  We must continue the fight; for the sake of our children, our grandchildren, and many generations to come.  If we are successful, one day, no child will be taught that she will be doomed to eternal punishment simply for what she believes.

 

 

 

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Using The Twelve Minimal Facts Argument for the Bodily Resurrection of the Buddha

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Siddhartha Gautama, otherwise known as “the Buddha”, founder of Buddhism.

When asked for evidence to support the foundational claim of Christianity—the bodily resurrection of Jesus—conservative Christian apologists will frequently point to The Twelve Minimal Facts Argument formulated by evangelical Christian theologian Gary Habermas.

Are these “facts” convincing?

I don’t think so, but maybe I’m biased.  Let’s use the Outsider Test for Faith (OTF) to see if these facts really are strong evidence for a bodily resurrection, or, do only Christians find these facts convincing simply because these facts are about the founder of their religion.  What will happen if we substitute the name of the founder of a different world religion in the place of Jesus’ name in these “facts”?  Let’s see how many Christians will find these “facts” convincing for the supernatural claim of a bodily resurrection when the facts involve some other religion’s founder.  We could substitute “Mohammad” or “Joseph Smith” for this exercise but let’s use the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, otherwise known as, the Buddha.

  1. The Buddha died by crucifixion.
  2. The Buddha was buried.
  3. The Buddha’s death caused his disciples to despair and lose hope.
  4. The Buddha’s tomb was found empty.
  5. The Buddha’s disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Buddha.
  6. The Buddha’s disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.
  7. The resurrection of the Buddha was the central message of this new religious belief system.
  8. The disciples of the Buddha preached the message of the Buddha’s resurrection in the largest city in India.
  9. Buddhism was born and grew.
  10. Devout Vedics (the dominant religion in India at that time) changed their primary day of worship.
  11. The brother of the Buddha converted to Buddhism when he saw the resurrected Buddha (The brother was a family skeptic).
  12. A Jewish scribe and elder converted to Buddhism. (He was an outsider skeptic).

Dear Christian:  Would these facts convince you that a man living in India thousands of years ago really did come back from the dead?  I doubt it.  So why do you believe the same weak claims about Jesus of Nazareth??

Abandon ancient superstitions.  Embrace reason and science!

 

 

 

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Examining Gary Habermas’ 12 Minimal Facts with John Loftus’ Outsider Test for Faith

At approximately minute 12:00 in the above video, Christian New Testament scholar Michael Licona reveals that at one point in his life he too experienced serious doubts about “his faith”. What does Dr. Licona say helped to reassure him that Christianity is true? Answer: The 12 Minimal Facts of the Resurrection by evangelical Christian theologian, Gary Habermas.  I would encourage every Christian to memorize these 12 facts. Here they are:

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
  2. He was buried.
  3. His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope.
  4. The tomb was empty (the most contested).
  5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus (the most important proof).
  6. The disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.
  7. The resurrection was the central message.
  8. They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.
  9. The Church was born and grew.
  10. Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship.
  11. James was converted to the faith when he saw the resurrected Jesus (James was a family skeptic).
  12. Paul was converted to the faith (Paul was an outsider skeptic).

Source:  Gary Habermas

Next, I recommend doing the following, my Christian friends. Re-examine this list using a technique formulated by counter-apologist John Loftus called “The Outsider Test for Faith (OTF)”. Here is how you do it:

Substitute the name of the founder of another world religion into the Twelve Minimal Facts in every location in which Jesus’ name appears. Then ask yourself this question: Would I believe that the leader of another religion was raised from the dead based on the above twelve historical facts? If your answer is “yes”, then the above evidence has passed the OTF test:  The evidence is strong enough that a bias is not needed to believe it. If your answer is “no”, then there is some other reason (a bias) why you believe these 12 facts about Jesus, but would not believe these 12 facts about the founder of another religion.

 

 

 

 

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Does the Catholic Church Believe that the Gospels were Written by Eyewitnesses? Part 4

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Debate the evidence for the alleged resurrection of Jesus with any evangelical or conservative Protestant Christian and you will usually get this claim:  “The historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is as good if not better than any other event in ancient history.  This is true because we have multiple eyewitness accounts of this event, found in the four Gospels of the New Testament.”

When presented with the fact that most modern New Testament scholars doubt or even reject the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels, the conservative Christian will usually respond:  “Most modern New Testament scholars are liberals, agnostics, or atheists.  They are biased against the supernatural.  Therefore, conservative Christians can ignore the opinion of the majority of New Testament scholars.”

But there is a big problem with this argument.  If the only scholars who doubt the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels were liberals, agnostics, and atheists, then the claim that this position is based on a bias against the supernatural might be credible.  The fact is, however, that a large percentage of New Testament scholars who very much believe in the supernatural, miracles, the virgin birth, and the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus also doubt or reject the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels.  Who are these scholars?   Roman Catholic New Testament scholars.

So conservative Christians must ask themselves this question:  If the evidence for the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels is good, why do so many scholars who do not have a bias against the supernatural doubt or reject it?  Let’s see what the Catholic Church says about the last Gospel in the New Testament, the Gospel of John:

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Statement by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

The Gospel According to John:

Critical analysis makes it difficult to accept the idea that the gospel as it now stands was written by one person. Jn 21 seems to have been added after the gospel was completed; it exhibits a Greek style somewhat different from that of the rest of the work. The prologue (Jn 1:1–18) apparently contains an independent hymn, subsequently adapted to serve as a preface to the gospel. Within the gospel itself there are also some inconsistencies, e.g., there are two endings of Jesus’ discourse in the upper room (Jn 14:31; 18:1). To solve these problems, scholars have proposed various rearrangements that would produce a smoother order. However, most have come to the conclusion that the inconsistencies were probably produced by subsequent editing in which homogeneous materials were added to a shorter original.

Other difficulties for any theory of eyewitness authorship of the gospel in its present form are presented by its highly developed theology and by certain elements of its literary style. For instance, some of the wondrous deeds of Jesus have been worked into highly effective dramatic scenes (Jn 9); there has been a careful attempt to have these followed by discourses that explain them (Jn 5; 6); and the sayings of Jesus have been woven into long discourses of a quasi-poetic form resembling the speeches of personified Wisdom in the Old Testament.

The gospel contains many details about Jesus not found in the synoptic gospels, e.g., that Jesus engaged in a baptizing ministry (Jn 3:22) before he changed to one of preaching and signs; that Jesus’ public ministry lasted for several years (see note on Jn 2:13); that he traveled to Jerusalem for various festivals and met serious opposition long before his death (Jn 2:14–25; 5; 7–8); and that he was put to death on the day before Passover (Jn 18:28). These events are not always in chronological order because of the development and editing that took place. However, the accuracy of much of the detail of the fourth gospel constitutes a strong argument that the Johannine tradition rests upon the testimony of an eyewitness. Although tradition identified this person as John, the son of Zebedee, most modern scholars find that the evidence does not support this.

Source: http://www.usccb.org/bible/john/0

 

 

 

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Does the Catholic Church Believe that the Gospels were Written by Eyewitnesses? Part 3

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St. Peter’s Basilica

Debate the evidence for the alleged resurrection of Jesus with any evangelical or conservative Protestant Christian and you will usually get this claim:  “The historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is as good if not better than any other event in ancient history.  This is true because we have multiple eyewitness accounts of this event, found in the four Gospels of the New Testament.”

When presented with the fact that most modern New Testament scholars doubt or even reject the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels, the conservative Christian will usually respond: Most modern New Testament scholars are liberals, agnostics, or atheists.  They are biased against the supernatural.  Therefore, conservative Christians can ignore the opinion of the majority of New Testament scholars.”

But there is a big problem with this argument.  If the only scholars who doubt the eyewitness authorship of the Gospels were liberals, agnostics, and atheists, then the claim that this position is based on a bias against the supernatural might be credible.  The fact is, however, that a large percentage of New Testament scholars who very much believe in the supernatural, miracles, the virgin birth, and the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus also doubt or reject the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels.  Who are these scholars?   Roman Catholic New Testament scholars.

So conservative Christians must ask themselves this question:  If the evidence for the eyewitness/associate of eyewitness authorship of the Gospels is good, why do so many scholars who do not have a bias against the supernatural doubt or reject it?  Let’s see what the Catholic Church says about the next Gospel in the New Testament, the Gospel of Luke:

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Statement by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:

The Gospel According to Luke:

Early Christian tradition, from the late second century on, identifies the author of this gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles as Luke, a Syrian from Antioch, who is mentioned in the New Testament in Col 4:14, Phlm 24 and 2 Tm 4:11. The prologue of the gospel makes it clear that Luke is not part of the first generation of Christian disciples but is himself dependent upon the traditions he received from those who were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word (Lk 1:2). His two-volume work marks him as someone who was highly literate both in the Old Testament traditions according to the Greek versions and in Hellenistic Greek writings.

Among the likely sources for the composition of this gospel (Lk 1:3) were the Gospel of Mark, a written collection of sayings of Jesus known also to the author of the Gospel of Matthew (Q; see Introduction to Matthew), and other special traditions that were used by Luke alone among the gospel writers. Some hold that Luke used Mark only as a complementary source for rounding out the material he took from other traditions. Because of its dependence on the Gospel of Mark and because details in Luke’s Gospel (Lk 13:35a; 19:43–44; 21:20; 23:28–31) imply that the author was acquainted with the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by the Romans in A.D. 70, the Gospel of Luke is dated by most scholars after that date; many propose A.D. 80–90 as the time of composition.

Luke’s consistent substitution of Greek names for the Aramaic or Hebrew names occurring in his sources (e.g., Lk 23:33; Mk 15:22; Lk 18:41; Mk 10:51), his omission from the gospel of specifically Jewish Christian concerns found in his sources (e.g., Mk 7:1–23), his interest in Gentile Christians (Lk 2:30–32; 3:6, 38; 4:16–30; 13:28–30; 14:15–24; 17:11–19; 24:47–48), and his incomplete knowledge of Palestinian geography, customs, and practices are among the characteristics of this gospel that suggest that Luke was a non-Palestinian writing to a non-Palestinian audience that was largely made up of Gentile Christians.

Source: http://www.usccb.org/bible/luke/0

 

Next post:  The Catholic Church on the authorship of the Gospel of John

 

 

 

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