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Some Alternative Explanations for the Resurrection of Christ

I have argued in the past that the possibility of an argument does not necessitate probability. The idea is that just because someone offers an alternative explanation for something, this does not make it likely. For example, if I were to point my remote at the TV and push the power button and the TV turned on, the most probable explanation is that the radio waves from the remote triggered the TV’s main power switch. Are there other possible explanations for this? Sure. There could have been a glitch in the TV. My neighbor’s remote could have somehow activated my TV at the exact same time as when I pushed the power button. There could have been a timer set on the TV to turn on and it happened to be when I pushed the remote. There are infinite possibilities. The question is, what is the most probable?

When it comes to the resurrection of Christ, there are an infinite number of possible alternative explanations for the rise of a belief in a risen Christ other than opting for the most obvious (i.e. Christ actually rose from the grave). For centuries skeptics and non-believers have offered their possibilities, but, in my opinion, they are never a probability.

Recently I read these possibilities:

1) Jesus’ body was taken straight from the cross to the criminal graveyard by a devout Jew. We know that the Jews did not want to leave a person hanging on a tree or a piece of wood overnight. Deuteronomy 21:23 says: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged [is] accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee [for] an inheritance.

Is this a possibility? Absolutely. Probability? I don’t think so. How could it be? There is simply no evidence to believe such. It would take a blind leap of faith to turn this possibility into a personal creed. 

2) Jesus’ body was taken straight from the cross and thrown into Gehenna. Perhaps a Roman soldier did this. Louis Feldman has argued that it was the Romans who put Jesus to death and that the Jews had nothing to do with it. See Who Really Killed Jesus? A Critical Response to “The Passion” , 2004. Feldman maintains that the gospel accounts, which place the blame on the Jewish leaders, are so full of mistakes that it obviously did not happen the way they describe it.

Here we are again with a possibility without any historical warrant to make it responsible to believe. (Notice the overstatement here: it “obviously did not happen the way they describe it.” Obvious to whom?

3) Jesus’ body was taken by Joseph of Arimathea and placed into a different tomb. We know that the first tomb where Jesus is said to have been placed was a new family tomb and maybe Joseph had another tomb somewhere else to which he moved the body. The Bible says he was a rich man, so it is reasonable to assume, he may have had another tomb.

Yes, it is reasonable to believe that he may have had another tomb, but…so? It is reasonable to believe that Joseph’s son had another tomb that Jesus was taken to. It is reasonable to believe that Josephus donated tombs out of his good fortune to many who were in need so he had dozens of tombs. But because a possible condition of a historical theory (i.e. Joseph could have had another tomb) has been met, this does not mean that people are justified in placing their faith in such a theory over another that is much more probable, being supported by real evidence.

4) The empty tomb story was a later embellishment of the gospel narrative. In other words, the story as we have it in the gospels did not happen at all. This is certainly possible. We know that the earliest account of the resurrection in I Cor. 15 contains no mention of the empty tomb nor of the women visiting it. The earliest gospel record, Mark, ends abruptly with the women leaving the tomb scared and silent. As Robert Price remarks: Isn’t it obvious that the claim that the women “said nothing to anyone for they were afraid” functions to explain to the reader why nothing of this had been heard before. By This Time He Stinketh, 1997.

Yes, this is certainly possible, but it has no evidence to back it up. It purports, but does not create any reasonable doubt in the event of the resurrection. Especially since there is so much other collaborative evidence that Christ did rise from the grave besides the tomb (i.e. the phenomenon of the rise of Christianity in a hostile environment, the willingness of the Apostles to die for their confession, the early testimony of the New Testament, the embarrassment factor in the Gospel accounts, and the inability of skeptics to produce a body in the first century. Not to mention how foreign it was for such a belief (i.e. a crucified and risen Messiah) to arise in this first century Jewish setting.

In the end, there can be all kinds of possible alternative explanations (I could come up with a thousand more), but we should never be fooled into thinking that just because an explanation is possible that this makes it worthy of actual consideration.

In the end, the simplest explanation is that Christ did rise from the grave. If you do not start with anti-supernaturalistic presuppositions (i.e. dead bodies can’t rise, therefore, Christ did not rise from the grave), then you can truly follow the evidence and not search for far-fetched, yet possible, explanations. It is because of acrobats like these that I think it takes more (blind) faith not to believe in the resurrection of Christ than to believe.

87 Responses to “Some Alternative Explanations for the Resurrection of Christ”

  1. Michael,

    My wife once met a woman who claimed that God had made her invisible. This happened at a women’s luncheon at an Assemblies of God church that my wife attended at the invitation of a friend. After the luncheon, women were invited to share what God had done in their lives during the past week.

    It seems that this woman had gone to the hospital to visit a friend in the intensive care unit. According to hospital rules, only relatives were allowed in the ICU, but the woman was able to walk right past the nurses’ station without being challenged. While she sat and prayed with her friend, nurses came in and out of the room without taking notice of her. Therefore, the woman concluded that God must have made her invisible so that she could visit her friend.

    I have no evidence that this woman did not turn invisible and according to your logic, the simplest explanation would seem to be that God really did make her invisible. Nonetheless, I consider other explanations far more likely. For example, it could be that the nurses were busy and simply did not pay any attention to her. It could be that they thought she was a relative. It could be that her friend had had so few visitors that the nurses did not have the heart to enforce the policy.

    In a similar vein, I attended a retreat several years ago at which a man testified that God had once fixed his vacuum cleaner. Unlike the invisible woman, he did not provide any details of the event nor did he suggest what God’s motivation might have been. He simply insisted that the nature of the malfunction was such that the vacuum cleaner could not have resumed normal functioning without supernatural intervention. Again I have no evidence that God did not fix his vacuum cleaner and I cannot even speculate as to a possible natural explanation for the event. Nonetheless, I do not find his story credible.

    Would you say that I have no basis for doubting these two miracle stories other than an anti-supernaturalistic presupposition?

  2. Vinny,
    I reject both their claims based on my supernatural presuppositions. I don’t believe God gives revelation to people today based on teaching in the Scripture. Therefore, no one can say that God did this or that to them or for them beyond a general idea that God works in our lives. So I reject any claim that the person knows God did this or that based on my metaphysical beliefs.
    However, I don’t see how someone who is an empiricist can make any metaphysical claims, which is why empiricism is self refuting. Empiricism must assume the belief that all knowledge must be empirically obtained or verifiable. Yet that belief is not empirically obtained and verifiable without first using and assuming naturalistic empiricism. Hence, it is self refuting.
    You, therefore, have no ability to make metaphysical claims either way based on empirical data, nor is a self refuting belief system the appropriate standard to measure other belief systems. How would you overcome these observations?

  3. To restate: An empiricist should be agnostic toward metaphysical claims. Yet, you are rejecting metaphysical claims. How exactly do you acquire the knowledge through empirical means that gives you insight into metaphysical claims? Are you not therefore rejecting your empiricism, since no knowledge of the metaphysical can be gained either way through it?

  4. CMP is dead on that possible is not necessarily probable. False doubt is often cast upon our beliefs.

    On the other hand, I have some difficulties with arguments like “the phenomenon of the rise of Christianity in a hostile environment, the willingness of the Apostles to die for their confession,” because it seems to me that the same could be said of Islam which was opposed early on but eventually grew rapidly and had many adherents die in its name. Do we therefore accept that God truly spoke to Muhammed?

    Also, to Bryan:

    Perhaps empiricism as a system is self defeating, or perhaps it is just another kind of presuppositionalism.
    Empiricism can address whether a person is actually invisible or not. That is purely a physical assertion. You’re right that whether God had anything to do with it can’t be said by Empiricism. Also Empirical skepticism applies to the man’s judgment that his vacuum cleaner was beyond human repair. Again, that is a physical assertion. As Vinny notes, he cannot claim evidence about these things. He does not say it, but I suspect that Vinny doubts these physical claims, and therefore sees no need for any assertions about the supernatural.

    Also, your assertion that 1) God doesn’t give revelation and 2) the two people therefore cannot know they received miracles doesn’t seem to add up. Are you saying that supernatural revelation is the only way they could identify God’s work on their behalf? You do say no one can say that God did this or that to them or for them beyond a general idea that God works in our lives. I am curious how this works with topics like assurance of salvation and the like. The statement seems to imply a human inability to distinguish between natural and supernatural activity at all.

  5. Vinny,

    I think you are confusing things here. Michael’s argument is that the evidence for the resurrection are stronger than the arguments against it and, therefore, the resurrection is the most probable explanation. He didn’t say we should believe in the resurrection because there is no proof that it didn’t happen. We should believe it because the historical evidence is strong enough. In the case of the woman you mentioned, the evidence for invisibility is very poor, so I would conclude she didn’t disappear.

  6. “the inability of skeptics to produce a body in the first century”

    That’s a bit unfair. The first century skeptics would not necessarily have been in Jerusalem with access to such-and-such a tomb. Or enough years might have passed that any body would have been unrecognizable – Jewish belief was that after only three days a body was so decomposed that its own spirit no longer recognized it.

  7. Michael, thank you for not including the Swoon Theory! It never was much more than a straw man.

  8. Bryan: when did Vinny claim to be an empiricist? All he did was give two examples of stories he didn’t find credible and ask whether that showed some bias on his part, so all your stuff on the doom of logical positivism doesn’t seem to connect with Vinny’s comment, even if Vinny happens to be an atheist: most atheists aren’t logical positivists.

    Asking why Christians reject other people’s miracle stories (even those of other Christians if they’re conservative and they’re talking to charismatics, say) is an interesting question: it doesn’t show the resurrection didn’t happen, of course, but it does make you wonder why people believe it happened.

    BTW, in some sort of blog synchronicity, there’s also an interesting discussion about the resurrection going on over at Common Sense Atheism, which people might enjoy contributing to.

  9. Bryan,

    So is it only the fact that these people attributed their miracles to God that causes you to reject their stories? Had the woman simply claimed to have turned invisible without identifying the cause, would you have believed her?

    Paul,

    Bryan is basing his assertion on a discussion in the comments to another post.

  10. One thing in particular troubles me about this post. Point #1 is dismissed without discussion – presumably because it is understood as an “alternative” to resurrection. But plenty of scholars, including Christians among them, have viewed this scenario as precisely what the Gospel of Mark implies happened. Raymond Brown, Byron McCane, Craig Evans and myself are among those who’ve made the case for this understanding: Joseph, a member of the Jewish ruling council who is not said in the Gospel of Mark to be a disciple of Jesus, places his body in “a tomb” without involving Jesus’ family members and doing the bare minimum (wrapping in a linen sheet). The anointing beforehand and attempt to anoint afterwards both indicate an understanding that Jesus did not when he was buried receive the honorable treatment his followers deserved.

    This is not an alternative to resurrection, but a plausible historical scenario with respect to the burial of Jesus. Why is it dismissed out of hand?

  11. J – your comparison with Islam is a non-starter. When Mohammed died his died he left a fiefdom with a political system which revolved around what he tought, the continued because of what he said and died in BLIND faith not dissimilar to we see in the middle east today, Mohammed providied NO evidence. Wheras the apostles continued and died believing due to EVIDENCE, the supernatural things they whitnessed.

  12. To pile on James point, scenario #1 would be the default assumption if we did not have any other information. The “evidence” is what we know about Jewish practice and belief in the first century.

    As it is we have to weigh the quality of that evidence against the quality of what is presented in the Bible. Judging by (so-called?) scholarly opinion, this is no slam dunk for the Resurrection team.

  13. To link the point that Scott and James make to my example, our evidence is not limited to the stories we are told in Gospels. If we know that the Roman practice was to place the bodies of executed criminals in a common grave, that would be probative evidence. If we know that grave-robbing was a problem at the time, that is probative evidence. It might not be as strong as direct eye-witness testimony, but we don’t have that either.

  14. I think McGrath’s point (and Evans, etc.) seems right. On the other hand, Vinny makes a point about Roman culture that we know to also be true. The problem with plausibility comes when Ken Pulliam (and Carrier and others) try to combine the two very distinct ideas.

    A pious Jew taking Jesus off the cross and following the standard custom (as James outlined above) isn’t unthinkable at all. In fact, it makes sense. In fact, it’s what the New Testament says happened. On the other hand, we know that Roman soldiers typically removed the bodies from the crosses and placed them in a common criminal grave. Again, if that’s the standard situation it has some credibility.

    The problem comes when Ken Pulliam tries (unsuccessfully IMO) to combine the two ideas. It makes sense for a pious Jew to keep the law by following Jewish burial customs in regards to the deceased. It doesn’t make sense for a pious Jew to follow the methods of the Roman soldiers in disposing of the body.

    Craig Evans (who James mentions above) has a free article on Jewish Burial Practices and the Resurrection that should be brought into discussion:

    http://www.craigaevans.com/Burial_Traditions.pdf

    According to Jewish traditions, what we read in Mark seems to make sense (which is why McGrath, Brown, Evans, etc.) seem to stick with what we read in his gospel in regards to the burial.

  15. Costoms, norms, and patterns don’t provide evidence, only possibilities. In light of other evidence, they have to be adjusted.

    For example we could say that a large percentage of men in America die of a heart attack. Another large percentage die of cancer. Therefore, it is a possibility that Kennedy did not die from being shot, but from one of these MUCH more common ways to die.

    Yes, we will have to figure out how such a “theory” arose, but there are more possibilities than you can imagine, including borrowing from 21st century martyr theory.

  16. I cannot speak for historians, but in a court of law, customary practices are considered evidence.

    However, Michael, I would still be interested in your opinion of the invisible woman and the miracle of the broken vacuum.

  17. Did someone actually see her become invisible? In other words, are their witnesses? How many?

    We must judge them subjectively.

    If it is just the woman who claims this, we no other witnesses, it would not parallel the resurrection story at all. Therefore, there are many other subjective or delutional possibilities that are just as strong as the woman’s.

    In the case of Christ, if we only has one line of evidence, no witnesses, testimony, appearances, or empty tomb, but just one guy named Jesus who claimed to have risen from the dead, then it would parallel your story.

    But I would say that your story is attempting to present a possibility that would be irresponsible to parallel to the Christ story.

  18. Michael,

    No. All the evidence I have about the specific incident is her testimony that she became invisible. It is only my knowledge of how things usually happen in the world that causes me to think that she did not.

  19. Vinny,
    No, I would not believe her claim that she can turn invisible either because supernaturalism isn’t a belief that everything is just supernatural without being natural as well. The supernaturalist accepts two means of obtaining information: empirical data and divine report/revelation. I was responding to your example that these people claimed that God did these things for/to them. I have no doubt that the vacuum cleaner may have worked when the man tried it again, as this commonly occurs (empirical observation). I do not believe the woman turned invisible because I have no cause, empirically or revelatory, to believe that claim due to what those two sources reveal (no pun intended) to me.

  20. J,
    With those assertions I am saying that there is no way to know that God did something specifically to/for them, as though they received revelation from God on that. I do believe that all things that occur are due to divine providence, so generally speaking, all things done to/for us are ultimately from God for some particular reason. We just don’t know the reason, and we don’t necessarily know if He is the direct agent in all of that.

  21. Just a minor point on the ‘invisibility’ story, which i think is a very good illustrative comparison.

    A person who was invisible would have no way of knowing whether or not they were invisible save for looking in a mirror and not seeing themself. So unless they stated that as evidence, their testimony would be quite weak I think.

    Alternatively: someone die and a few days later, walking around would be within their rights to assume that dead person had come back to life. And this testimony would be stronger than the invisibility claim I think.

    However, if the observer had seen someone go into hospital graveley ill, heard they had died, then seen them a few days later – this would be substantially weaker as a testimnoy. So, where along this spectrum do the resurrection ‘testimonies’ lie? Scholarship seems to be split on this, some sayng there are good reasons to assume eye witness accounts, others saying the accounts are surely fabricated (and yet others somewhere in the middle).

  22. oops a bunch of my second para got deleted (insert key).

    It should read:

    Alternatively: If a person actually saw someone die and a few days later, saw them walking around, they would be within their rights to assume that dead person had come back to life. And this testimony would be stronger than the invisibility claim I think.

  23. Also J,
    Empiricism, of course, is a kind of presuppositionalism. The problem is that it a priori rejects the attainment of knowledge apart from itself. Hence, attainment to the truth concerning empiricism cannot be obtained through empiricism, since one must first presuppose it in order to verify its truthfulness. If all that we say is true must be empirically verified then empiricism is self refuting. It makes metaphysical assumptions that it cannot make, but must make in order to be a viable system.

  24. Vinny,
    “It might not be as strong as direct eye-witness testimony, but we don’t have that either.”

    Is this empiricism? Were you there, Vinny? Do you know who wrote those accounts or are you speculating? You can say, based on your empiricism, that you do not believe the reports are true because dead people don’t come back to life after being dead for three days, but it seems odd to me for you to accept some of the claims of critical scholarship when it comes to whether the reports are eyewitnesses or not. Can you clarify how you come to this conclusion?

  25. Michael,

    Sorry, I was going off the e-mail notification I got about the post.

    The only parallel I am drawing is that I have no evidence to support any other possibility. Since you pointed this out as one reason to reject alternative explanations for the resurrection, I wanted to know how this principle would apply to other miracle claims.

    I agree that there are many subjective and delusional possibilities for the woman’s belief. Would you agree that I am justified in considering those possibilities even when I have no testimony or reports to support them?

  26. Bryan,

    I base that statement on the fact that none of the gospel writers asserts that he personally witnessed an appearance of the risen Christ. The gospels are all written as third person accounts. The only New Testament writer who says that he personally witnessed an appearance is Paul.

  27. Vinny,
    Thanks for responding. I was just curious how you justified that claim. Fair enough. My only question to you would be, Do you think that your obtainment of this knowledge is based in empiricism or belief in a report? Or both? I should say.

  28. Empiricism contemplates reports based on personal observation. It even contemplates second or third hand reports. I don’t expect to observe everything myself.

  29. Have you looked at all eyewitness accounts and determined that they are always in the first person? Remember that the Gospels are not letters or monologues.

  30. BTW, Do you believe the author of the epistles of John is the same as the author of John? The author claims to have seen, heard, and touched Jesus personally. Do you have different criteria for accepting or rejecting this testimony?

  31. As a side note, I’m completely agnostic on the subject. My supernatural view of the Bible actually allows me to consider all options, as the human agents as eyewitnesses are not necessary, since God is behind the text. So it could have been written yesterday for all I care. This says nothing to the accuracy of the report based on metaphysical claims.
    Once again, this shows how a non-empiricist viewpoint is more open than an empiricist one. The empiricist must have eyewitnesses or the reports are suspect. Even then, the reports are suspect if they do not accord with empirical data. This narrow and self refuting idea, therefore, ought to be rejected.

  32. Bryan,

    I don’t know whether the same person wrote the epistles as the gospel. I also am not sure what it is that the author of 1 John is claiming to have seen or touched. A Roman Catholic might conclude that he was talking about the Eucharist.

  33. Bryan,

    It is true that an eyewitness could write an account of an event without placing himself at the scene or indicating that he had observed it. I will happily modify my statement:

    We only have one account of the resurrection that purports to be an eyewitness account.

  34. Vinny,

    Thanks again for the civil discussion. I am quite intermittent right now as I am preparing for a speaking engagement in MD.

    You said,

    “I agree that there are many subjective and delusional possibilities for the woman’s belief. Would you agree that I am justified in considering those possibilities even when I have no testimony or reports to support them?”

    Again, I just find a hard time drawing any parallel between the TYPE of supernatural event involved in a woman who professes to have been made invisible with no eye-witness testimony and the resurrection of Christ which is based primarily (if not exclusively) on eye-witness testimony from multiple sources.

    Is it a possibility that all the apostles were delusional? Of course. Is it probable, not really. At the very least, without a bias against miracles, I would suspect that any rational person would have to go with the explanation that is the most simple (the “razor”), that Jesus did indeed raise from the grave.

    The best way to discredit this, in my opinion, would be to discredit the testimony of the Apostles. Not in the sense that they were lying or delusional, but that they never really claimed to have seen Christ living after death. This option, like so many others, can produce endless possibilities, but they, in my opinion are not probable.

    That is the point of this post. Possibility does not equate to probability. I have seen so many people act as if they offer a multitude of alternative possibilities, this somehow automatically discounts the most probable one, making it a leap of blind faith to believe.

    In the end, people should at least always concede that the resurrection of Christ is a good possibility so long as you don’t have an anti-supernaturalistic bias. Would you be willing to concede to this last claim?

  35. Thanks, Vinny. I was just trying to get a handle on that. The author of the epistles of John is claiming physical contact with Christ. The “we” is most likely a reference to the apostles, and even if that is not enough, it is clear that the text is attempting to refute Docetism, which denies that Jesus has come in the flesh. So the eucharist is not really in view (even though one could strain the text in that direction, I’m not sure how one “hears” the eucharist with their ears unless we’re talking about what is preached along with the eucharist). Either way, it would seem like a weak argument to say that we know that Jesus has come in the flesh because we have a practice that testifies to his coming in the flesh. The claim that all who have fellowship with Jesus must have fellowship with “us,” once again, seems to indicate that the author is claiming to be an apostle.

  36. Once again, revisiting the my statement that there is no “evidence” for #1: I would propose that in the absence of alternative evidence and claims, this would be just as good a possibility as any others.

    Most people die a natural death. But this could not be put forward as “evidence” that James Dean died a natural death? Why? Because there is stronger support and testimony that he did not. Therefore, for me to say that there is not any evidence for the first is valid. There is not. Customs provide likelihood in the alternative explanations are absent.

  37. As well, I was speaking to the implications that the author had with #1. The idea that Jesus was placed in criminal graveyard is not really the issue. The issue is that the author implies that this is an alternative to the resurrection. In this, the assertion would be that not only are the Gospel writers wrong about the resurrection, the evidence that they are wrong is because Jesus body was placed in a criminal graveyard (like all other crucified Jews). If they were wrong about this, they were probable wrong about the resurrection too.

    I don’t think I am reading too much into this as the author of the original post says this right before offering the three “alternatives”:
    “In addition to the scenario I have already outlined, there are also other possibilities to explain the phenomena before one has to resort to a supernatural explanation.”

  38. At the same time, I would agree with the premise of many of the responses. We should attempt to find a naturalistic explanation for a phenomenon, historic or contemporary, before settling on a supernatural one. This is why, from a Christian standpoint, it is so easy to dismiss the majority of other religious claims. They are not quite so incarnation. In other words, they don’t allow themselves to be tested historically. In those cases, if believe, it is a blind leap. Whereas the resurrection of Christ is totally unique in its historicity and its implications (and you have to have both).

    However, I do, oddly enough, appreciate those who do everything they can to give alternative explanations. From one perspective, like anything else, it helps to strengthen rather than weaken the case for Christ resurrection.

  39. Vinny,

    This is my impression of what’s happening:

    Michael is arguing, “When a claim about a supernatural event is supported by evidence like X and Y, then it’s not reasonable to be skeptical based on Z.”

    You’re reading that as, “When anyone makes any claim about a supernatural event, then it’s not reasonable to be skeptical based on Z.” (That seems to be how you’re crafting your attempted parallels.)

    In other words, Michael’s argument depends on the supporting evidence for the supernatural claim. If you want to draw a parallel to critique Michael’s post, you have to extend your parallels to the nature of the supporting evidence.

  40. “Is it a possibility that all the apostles were delusional?”

    This is a pretty strong claim and not one anyone is making. I can, however, draw parallels to the Millerites who faced absolute disconfirmation, pivoted to a spiritual interpretation and remain with us to this day as the Seventh Day Adventists.

    One can say that Jesus’ story is completely different, but the above illustrates how confrontation with direct, contradictory evidence does not necessarily defeat belief.

  41. Can Liberal and Real Christians ever come together? When they have such different views of the nature of the underlying documents, how can common ground ever be reached?

  42. Scott,
    I don’t mind the differing liberal view, I just can’t along with their hairstyles.

    I’m joking, of course. Every scholar, conservative or liberal, including this would be scholar, doesn’t know how to comb his hair. 🙂

  43. The absence of a credible explanatory alternative to a theory does not mean that that theory is true.

    So, for example, we have no theory of how gravity works that explains all the extant data. The presence of a theory that explains most of the data, or that is the most convincing of all the theories, does not mean that that theory is true. I could think of other examples but that will do for now.

    So what explanations do we have for Christ’s missing body (assuming it was missing)? Several, including the explanation that he rose again / was resurrected. Now CMP and many others argue that a resurrection best explains all the extant data, and therefore that explanation is probably true.

    I would maintain, however, that that only makes it possibly true and does not raise the probabilities to greater than the flip of a coin (though I do believe in the resurrection).

    It is just as reasonable to believe that no one rises from the dead, and that there are no other potential examples other than this singular one (Lazarus, etc. don’t count because there are no other historical records of such events other than the Bible, which document assumes the truth of Christ’s deity). If people do not regularly rise from the dead, it is reasonably to suppose that no one ever has, including Christ, and that there must be some other explanation for missing body which we have just not developed yet (just as we haven’t yet figured out gravity, or why galaxies spin faster than they are supposed to).

    If one starts out with the supposition that there is an omnipotent God, well, then nothing is impossible and one doesn’t really need any proofs for Christ’s resurrection.

    If one starts out with the supposition that there is not an omnipotent God, then the missing body is not sufficient to strongly doubt one’s belief that bodies do not rise from the dead. The atheist may not have a current explanation for the missing body of Christ, but she does not need one in order to be reasonably justified in the rejection of the Christian explanation. Her observation that bodies do not rise from the dead justifies her belief that Jesus did not either and that we should continue to look for explanations of the missing body that do not involve supernatural action.

    Note that I wrote “strongly doubt”. I’m talking about justified belief and probabilities here. The lack of a good alternate explanation does not make it more likely than not that the Christian explanation is correct. The lack of a good alternate explanation to Ptolemy’s epicycles for the orbits of planets in perfect spheres did not mean that his explanation was more probably correct, even though there was no good alternate explanation for thousands of years. He was still wrong; planets have elliptical orbits.

    regards,
    #John

  44. Scott F,

    I think we are actually in an exciting period where re-engagement will be increasingly possible as the epistemology of academia rapidly switches from a modernist, materialist understanding of things to a more postmodern way of seeing things. The question is will the Church see this opportunity and be willing to engage post-moderns.

    Far too often we are caught fighting the battles of the last century which simply no longer exist. You see a lot of popular preachers railing against postmodernism these days while at the same time implicitly (without realizing it) embracing modernism in their approach to theology and truth claims which was probably worse. Christianity (ideally) has it’s own epistemology which is neither modern or postmodern and (at least I believe) a proper understanding of Christian epistemology probably has more in common with postmodern epistemology then modern.

  45. John 1453,
    “If people do not regularly rise from the dead, it is reasonably to suppose that no one ever has, including Christ, and that there must be some other explanation for missing body which we have just not developed yet”

    Why??? I sense some presuppositions here which can’t be proven. I’ve never seen a lot of things (including any event in history before 1983), yet I believe them to have occurred.

    You only offered two sets of starting presuppositions for approaching the resurrections. Let me offer a third. There MAY be a God and Jesus MAY have risen from the grave. Ultimately you only make CMP’s point which was that unless you start with a unprovable set of naturalistic presupposition, one of which is that resurrection is impossible, then the resurrection is the most probable explanation for the evidence. I don’t think CMP’s motive was to get atheists to suddenly surrender, but rather to lay bear their presuppositions.

  46. I think John is saying that the common human experience that one can comfortably accept based on recent, reliable reports includes no cases of people raising from the dead. Even most Christians would agree with that (Please let us know if you have a story of a modern resurrection!)

    A lot of weasel words in that definition but it is a body of experience that is not chiseled in stone and yet serves as a background to the way we experience the world in modern times. The problem is that when someone expresses it in more definite terms, people jump on his head and cry “presupposition!” 🙂

    I might add that this modernistic world view has been very successful and has allowed us to advance our knowledge in ways that have produced tangible benefits in medicine agriculture and technology. None of us would be having this conversation if methodological naturalism hadn’t made possible the semi-conductor. No wonder scientists hew to it so tightly. This thing produces the goods (no, not grants – knowledge).

    One further refinement to the above defined view would be that recent experience is generally regarded as more reliable. Reliability is felt to be inversely proportional to age. Here may be one of your presuppositions. Do scholars sufficiently guard against it?

  47. I saw David Cooperfield make an elephant disappear. Which is more likely:

    1) I was tricked
    2) The elephant really disappeared

    I saw my car door open when I pulled on the door handle. Which is more likely:

    1) I was tricked
    2) The car door really opened

    The underlying probability of a resurrection has a lot to do with which events are more probable. Even if it is possible that a resurrection could occur the probability is far lower than virtually any other reasonable explanation.

    And #4 has lots of evidence. Not the least of which is dozens of rising savior Gods becoming fashionable at the same time the Christian one did. Not the least of which is the fact that the gospels we have, have both internal and external evidence of having evolved implying an evolving story. Not the least of which is how ambiguous the early accounts are.

    #4 offers a picture of the resurrection fully consistent with dozens of known cases of religious evolution. An actual resurrection offers a picture fully consistent with 0 known cases.

    I believe in quantum physics. I believe it is entirely possible that a car could spontaneously jump 30 feet to an new location without crossing the distance in between. I just happen to think the odds against it are astronomical. So much so that the evidence that the car jumped on its own rather than some other explanation would be discounted unless there was massive evidence in support of the car jumping.

  48. Re presuppositions

    The presupposition that dead people don’t rise and the presupposition of naturalism are no less rational and defensible than the presupposition that dead people can rise.

    If someone starts with the presupposition that dead people can rise because God can do it, then no evidence at all is necessary to support their belief. God said it / God can do it, I believe it, that settles it.

    If someone starts with the presupposition that dead people cannot rise from the dead, then the story of Jesus’ resurrection will not be enough to convince them. Why should they believe a report of 1900 years ago? Why not also believe in reports of dragons and cyclops? At least the latter two are physically possible. One would have to attack their presuppositions first. Just because Christians have a plausible explanation for the missing body doesn’t mean that their explanation is correct, even if there were zero other possible explanations.

    As for someone who is wavering or uncertain or doubtful about their presuppositions, one can’t convince them to accept a presupposition of belief in the supernatural using the very story that one wants to convince them of! That would be begging the question (i.e., using a premise that assumes the truth of the conclusion).

    “Evidence that demands a verdict” and similar literature is crapola as far as I am concerned and has extremely limited apologetic value.

    The Christian explanation of the empty tomb (a miraculous intervention by God) is certainly a rational and good reason to believe in the resurrection, but it doesn’t prove anything. I accept the explanation as a good reason for my beliefs, but my faith isn’t founded upon the human evaluated probability of the explanation being correct. Certainly, if there were good evidence that Christ didn’t rise from the dead (e.g., a tomb like Mohammed’s with bones inside) that would act as a potential defeater for my beliefs (though I could pull a Seventh Day Adventist and claim a spiritual resurrection of Jesus, to be followed by a future physical one).

    CMP’s states, “In the end, the simplest explanation is that Christ did rise from the grave. If you do not start with anti-supernaturalistic presuppositions (i.e. dead bodies can’t rise, therefore, Christ did not rise from the grave), then you can truly follow the evidence and not search for far-fetched, yet possible, explanations. It is because of acrobats like these that I think it takes more (blind) faith not to believe in the resurrection of Christ than to believe.”

    To which I reply, “so what?” Just because it’s the “simplest” explanation does not make it probably true or even possibly true. And why should I hold supernaturalist presuppositions instead of anti-supernaturalist ones? The reports of Christ’s resurrection cannot be used to justify the presuppositions that are then used to accept the supernatural natue of Christ’s resurrection.

  49. Edward T. Babinski 2009-12-03 at 5:42 pm

    I second what McGrath wrote above.

    Also, Mike, you wrote that Christianity was at a “disadvantage” and mentioned three cases that do not seem quite as disadvantageous as you presume:

    1) “Christianity arose in a hostile environment,” but it was also a superstious environment which was NOT hostile to miracle tales (read Josephus), nor even to tales of a divine Roman emperor (Augustus). In fact Christians composed no less than three endings to the earliest Gospel, endings not found in the oldest copies we posses of Mark, but only in later copies. The most popular of those endings involved three supernatural promises: “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” Secondly, there is nothing “hostile” about people’s strong wishes and desires to believe in a personal afterlife and cling to tales and even rumors of such. Thirdly, the Roman world provided a lingua franca and roads by which tales and stories might spread geographically to many people far from the original events. That in itself was an enormous advantage that was fully in place when Christianity arose. Even the newness of any belief provides an advantage, that of initial curiosity.

    2) “The willingness of the Apostles to die for their confession.” Most scholars agree there is less evidence concerning the deaths of the apostles than concerning the death of Jesus on a cross. Also, dying for a cause has little do with with the truth or falisity, rightness or wrongness, of the cause itself. People have suffered and died or been persecuted at the hands of others for as long as their have been hands. And Christians became the persecutors after Constantine and his descendants ruled the Empire, i.e., in their wars against the gods, against non-Christians and heretics. “Let anyone who does not accept the Trinity be viewed as anathema and demented and the Empire shall use force…” “Let the books of Porphyry and Arius be burnt and let no one be found reading them,” etc.

    3) “The embarrassment factor in the Gospel accounts.” Which factors exactly? The apostle’s thick-headedness in Mark? We don’t know if they were as thick-headed as THAT, or whether expressions of doubt were sui generis when it came to telling miracle tales to make them sound more convincing (as was the case in examples provided by Price). It is also a convenient way to promote belief without sight as in the case of the fourth Gospel which uses the tale of Thomas’ doubts to promote belief without having seen anything for one’s self, “Blessed is he who has NOT seen, yet believed.” Personally, I think the two inserted verses in the Gospel of Matthew about the “many raised saints” are an embarrassment. Along with the tale of two earthqukes, which all the other Gospel authors seem to have forgotten or left out.

  50. Are presuppositions always bad thing? If you believe the accusations being thrown around, we all are plagued with them (or is this a presupposition). Can we judge each of them by their results? If we claim that we are so hemmed in by our assumptions that we can’t even perceive the “truth” then we have arrived firmly at post-modernism – be sure to visit the gift shop 🙂

    Hi, my name is Scott and I have presuppositions. And you know what? I stand by them with pride! They are good presuppositions which have served me and my species well over the last century or two. Besides my presuppositions could beat up your presuppositions any day of the week!

  51. John,

    Not sure if I follow. Everyone starts with an supposition that the supernatural is not likely. As a matter of fact, I would say that to suppose a miracle is self-contradictory as miracles, by definition, are not regulars and therefore not to be supposed!!

    Anyone who starts with the supposition of miracles or the supernatural in an individual circumstance would need to be criticized by both Evangelicals and others.

    However, the point is to say that miracles are not impossible since there is no way to test or know if they are impossible. Then you have to get into the definition of a miracle!

    Either way, the point is that starting with a supernaturalistic bias or an antisupernaturalist bias is not the job of the historian. To be neutral and let the evidence create the suppositions is. If the evidence is more probable that Christ raised from the grave, then that is the direction it should take, not a “Dead people can’t raise therefore no matter what the evidence says, we must go in a different direction.”

    If I applied the same methodology to creation, we would be in a great deal of trouble. For example, things don’t just come into existence (by observation), even in quantum mechanics. Therefore, in order to explain existence, we must deny existence.

  52. “I might add that this modernistic world view has been very successful and has allowed us to advance our knowledge in ways that have produced tangible benefits in medicine agriculture and technology. None of us would be having this conversation if methodological naturalism hadn’t made possible the semi-conductor. No wonder scientists hew to it so tightly. This thing produces the goods (no, not grants – knowledge).”

    We need to make a distinction between the scientific method and philosophic naturalism. Everyone uses the scientific method to test and discover truths about firsthand data. Historical events and their relation to metaphysical claims is a completely different animal.

  53. CD,
    Nothing you said here makes the resurrection less probable except your naturalistic presuppositions.

    What is more probable given that God most likely exists?

    He interacts with the world that He purposely made.
    He doesn’t interact with the world He purposely made.

    What is more probable given that God most likely interacts with the world?

    A person can be raised from the dead.
    A person cannot be raised from the dead.

    It’s all in your presupps, My Friend. I can believe everything you’ve stated and still believe that the resurrection was a genuine event, and that it is more probable given my presupps.

  54. Edward T. Babinski 2009-12-03 at 6:06 pm

    To continue with the points Michael raised:

    4) “the inability of skeptics to produce a body in the first century.” A body? Even the book of Acts says the apostles did not begin preaching the resurrection until seven weeks after Jesus’ death, at the following large festival in Jersualem. And if Lazarus stinketh after only three days being dead in the climate and land, what would “Jesus’ body” have looked like, the face sunken in, rotting? They didn’t exactly have fingerprints back then. I ALSO DOUBT the priests or Romans thought the newly born Jesus cult, when compared with all the other political messiahs and cult leaders was large enough or dangerous enough at that time to require direct intervention.

    Even Josephus, writing in the first century only mentions Jesus in a few sentences, probably based on what some Jesus cultists or people who knew Jesus cultists believed. And most scholars don’t even believe all the sentences were written by Josephus but were either inserted, or added to, by overzealous Christian scribes copying Josephus. Josephus also mentions apocalyptic leaders like “The Egyptian” who had “tens of thousands” of followers (something he does not say about Jesus), and who predicted Jersualem’s destruction. Apparently it was a common enough prediction back then, and another fellow who also predicted Jerusalem’s destruction. Jesus was far from being the only one, or the only true prophet when it came to such dire thoughts. Even the Pharisees and Sadducees feared such a thing might happen. And the Dead Sea “War Scroll” talked about a final battle between the sons of light and darkness centered round Jerusalem with all the world’s people’s fighting each other there, and that was before Jesus’ day or the book of Revelation were composed.

    5) “Not to mention how foreign it was for such a belief (i.e. a crucified and risen Messiah) to arise in this first century Jewish setting.” But the Jews knew suffering, their land and neighboring lands being invaded for centuries by all manner of larger more powerful armies. Like living in the middle of a bowling alley. The invasions of the Assyrians, Babylonians, then Alexander’s generals, forced the Jews to rethink their theology time and again. In fact the period before Jesus’ day was one in which the Jews had revolted against their Greek overlords and Jews were martyred en masse, such that the Jews came up with the idea that so many brave devout Jews could not have all died in vane, but their death had to have been redemptive in some way. That’s the conclusion they were FORCED to come to, otherwise it would make that bloody rebellion meaningless along with the loss of so many lives of devout believers in Yahweh. Followers of Jesus, like followers of John the Baptist were seeking the return of Elijah, a messiahnnic figure. There were others as well, if you read the Dead Sea Scrolls, great expectations were afoot. Eveyone wanted to know when deliverance from the…

  55. Well, of course, if this blog was going in such a direction, some of us would just punt to everyone’s transcendental presupposition! 😉

    Can’t even make an argument without properly basic beliefs or a presupposition of some sort of transcendent God…but we will leave that for another day.

    I’ll just refer you to 6 and 7 (I think) here: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2008/11/10-arguments-for-gods-existence/

  56. Edward T. Babinski 2009-12-03 at 6:13 pm

    To Continue from above…

    Eveyone wanted to know when deliverance from the Romans would arrive (the Jews had eventually beaten back the Greeks and ruled their own kingdom for a while but at great cost with many deaths). And so people were asking John the Baptist if he was the Messiah, and asked Jesus as well. There were others too, both military people and priestly people, whom the people might be the “anointed ones” (messiah’s) to lead the Jews to freedom from Rome. When Jesus died, just as in the case of all the devout Jews who died at the hands of the Greeks, his followers could not accept he had died in vane.

  57. Ed, those are good answers. Thanks. However, sticking with the original posts, rebuttles do not mean that they are good rebuttles! I would rebut just about everything I said two with completely different rebuttles, but that does not mean that these possibilites are probablilities. I think that your positions are possible, but not likely.

    Sorry so short, I am way too busy right now.

    Quick question to others (that got missed earlier):

    If you did not have a anti-supernaturalistic bias against the possibility of the resurrection, wouldn’t you say that a belief that Christ rose from the grave is at least a good possibility for the evidence?

  58. In the end, people should at least always concede that the resurrection of Christ is a good possibility so long as you don’t have an anti-supernaturalistic bias. Would you be willing to concede to this last claim?

    I am afraid that I wouldn’t Michael, because even if I had a “anti-supernaturalistic bias” (which I do not concede), I am confident that I don’t have a bias against amazing stories that I cannot explain. I have heard stories of miraculous healings that seem to pretty-documented. Based on my knowledge and experience, I believe that there is probably a natural explanation for the healing, but I don’t expect that I am always going to be able to figure it out. If confronted by a Christian who attributes it to prayer, I don’t think I would have any problem saying “That’s pretty amazing. That sure is a good one for your side.” However, in the case of the resurrection, I think that the evidence is extremely thin and the alternative explanations perfectly plausible.

    One problem is that I cannot verify any testimony of the apostles. My earliest Christian source is Paul who never mentions the apostles providing eyewitness accounts of any of the events described in the Gospels nor does he demonstrate familiarity with those events. In fact, he says that he learned nothing from them and that they added nothing to his message. I think the evidence points at least as strongly towards legends that grew over time as to testimony from eyewitnesses.

    Another problem is illustrated by the miracle stories in my first comment: There are people with a supernatural bias. The woman who thought she had been made invisible wouldn’t have had any trouble explaining the incident naturally if she’d had any inclination to do so. The guy who told the vacuum cleaner story also described several other miracles that God had performed for his benefit, none of which were any more impressive than the one I described. I suspect that you know people who see God’s supernatural intervention every time they find a parking space near the grocery store. These people prefer supernatural explanations to natural explanations.

    In addition to people who have a bias towards supernatural explanations, there are people who take for granted that such things happen and do not scrutinize the stories they are told. I would put into this category the first Mormons. They might have been entirely rational about events in their own lives, but when Joseph Smith told them his story about the angel Moroni and the golden plates, they were perfectly willing to accept the story on his say so.

    Christianity arose in a culture in which the occurrence of miracles and supernatural events was commonly accepted. Even historians of the day recorded miracle accounts. Throw in people with a supernatural bias and my inability to trace the stories back to eyewitnesses, and I don’t see any need to posit an actual historical resurrection as the best…

  59. That a boy, Mike! That of course is pretty much the trump card.

  60. Regarding the failure to produce the body and all other arguments premised on the notion that someone would have disproved the early Christians claims had it been possible to do so, there is an indisputable law of human nature: Fanatics are impervious to facts.

    In our present day, we have people who deny the holocaust. We have people who deny that man landed on the moon. We have people who believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. We have people who believe that a controlled demolition engineered by the Bush administration brought down the Twin Towers. We have people who believe that the U.S. government created the AIDS virus in order to kill Black people. We have people who believe that Jewish scientists created the AIDS virus to kill Black people. I could go on and on. There is more than enough evidence to render all of these beliefs absurd and in the age of information it is readily available at the click of a mouse. Nevertheless, people believe these theories with a passion that is frightening. What possible reason could we have for thinking that the earliest Christians would have been deterred by a corpse?

    One variation on this theme that I have found particularly unpersuasive is the notion that the Romans would have produced the body in order to kill this new movement if they could have done so. I do not believe that it was the Roman Empire’s practice to logically demonstrate the fallacies in the beliefs of indigenous people that it found annoying. The Roman practice was to nail a bunch of the trouble makers to crosses and leave their bodies to rot as an example to similarly minded individuals. The Romans did not debunk. They dispatched.

  61. Bryan —

    I’d tend to dispute your theory about which is more reasonable but at least for the purpose of argument I can grant all of:

    1) God exists
    2) He interacts with the world
    3) A person can be raised from the dead.

    And it still doesn’t have much influence on the probability of Jesus’ resurrection. It doesn’t come down to the possibility but rather the probability. Actual human resurrections are very rare events. Claims of actual human resurrection are much more common events. Hence most claims are likely to be false and the evidentiary burden on a particular claim is high. The evidence in this particular case is weak and quite a bit of it argues against a bodily resurrection. It comes no where near meeting the burden. There are some resurrections in Nigeria which happened recently which are far far more likely to be true, multiple witnesses, datable documents, photographic evidence, easily identifiable people involved in verifying the claims….

    You keep making this claim that everything comes down to presuppositions. I don’t see it. There are no presupposition of empiricism, the argument for it starts with the self verifiable claim, “I experience (what appear to be) sense impressions”.

  62. Just a quick note. Remotes work on IR (infrared) beams, not radio waves. So while “the radio waves from the remote” may be a probable explanation, its still wrong.

    Patrick
    P.S. Read the above with the big grin I have right now, not in any negative way 😉

  63. CD,
    If you grant me those propositions, your case that a particular miracle did not occur due to empirical observations is over.

    Let me explain,
    Empiricism does not just claim that “I experience (what appear to be) sense impressions.” That is not what has been claimed in these comments. Everyone believes in empirical observation, which is what you are describing here. The empiricism that you have been advocating throughout is verificationism, naturalistic empiricism that obtains knowledge through firsthand experience (either by experiencing the event for oneself or evaluating the report of the event by one’s firsthand empirical knowledge).
    The idea of verificationism is based on the philosophic naturalistic claim that only the physical universe exists, and therefore, only things that are observable in the physical universe are knowable and meaningful to talk about. Hence, empiricism (not empirical observation) functions from the idea of philosophic naturalism, which assumes knowledge of metaphysical reality (ironically what it cannot do).
    To deny the philosophically naturalistic presupposition is to deny the validity of verificationism as the only means through which knowledge of an event can come, which in turn means that you cannot deny the resurrection of Christ based on what you firsthand observe in the normal pattern of the world (since empirical verification is not the only way to receive knowledge of the event).
    Now, if you want to say that the resurrection makes no empirical sense, that’s fine. But you cannot deny it based on empiricism, if in fact, it is possible that God exists and interacts in the world, and can therefore both accomplish such a thing, and report it apart from your firsthand empirical verification of that report.
    You, therefore, have to deny those propositions, or abandon your methodology of inquiry as the sole source of verification of an event.

  64. Bryan —

    I don’t think you are correct here that empiricism needs to make naturalistic claims. Lets take an example:

    Sam — There exists a fairy world separate from our own.
    Ben — Does it influence our world?

    Here we fork

    a) Sam — Yes it does influence our world
    Ben — Are those influences verifiable. That is there is sense data attributable to the fairy world in a consistent, possibly reproducible manner?
    Sam — Yes
    Ben — Then fairies are not supernatural they are natural.

    b) Sam — No it does not influence our world
    Ben — Then in a material sense the Fairy world doesn’t exist.

    To quote Russel, If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense.

    Now I think you are going to come in with

    c) Sam — Yes it does influence our world.
    Ben — Are those influences verifiable. That is there is sense data attributable to the fairy world in a consistent, possibly reproducible manner?
    Sam — No the influences are non verifiable and non predictable.
    Ben — Then whether fairies exist is indeterminant. We are going to need to construct a probabilistic model for the existence of the fairy world. However if after investigation the existence of a Fairy world remains low probability it will be reasonable to dismiss these “influences” as being in error rather than our naturalistic model of the world as being in error.

  65. CD,
    This is a great example of what I was talking about before in the other post. There seems to be no reflection of the very system you are using. You have assumed everything I just said in my previous post that you assume, and then continue to argue as though that is true, whether my system is as probable within your system.

    “Now I think you are going to come in with

    c) Sam — Yes it does influence our world.
    Ben — Are those influences verifiable. That is there is sense data attributable to the fairy world in a consistent, possibly reproducible manner?
    Sam — No the influences are non verifiable and non predictable.
    Ben — Then whether fairies exist is indeterminant. We are going to need to construct a probabilistic model for the existence of the fairy world. However if after investigation the existence of a Fairy world remains low probability it will be reasonable to dismiss these “influences” as being in error rather than our naturalistic model of the world as being in error.”

    No, I would come in with:

    Ben- Are those influences verifiable? That is, there is sense data attributable to the fairy world in a consistent, possibly reproducible manner?
    Sam- Why should it be only verifiable within your philosophic assumptions? It is verifiable through belief in a report, not through empiricism, which you are assuming is the only meaningful avenue through which knowledge can be obtained. I don’t need to assume your criteria that is limited by your worldview in order to hold my worldview and obtain knowledge through the criteria consistent with it.
    Ben- But I’m just looking at what’s in front of me and arguing from that.
    Sam- No, you’re assuming that what’s in front of you is all that exists, and is therefore meaningful to discuss. All else is indeterminate. That assumes philosophic naturalism, and hence, you are making a predetermined judgment of metaphysical claims based upon that naturalism. Is the metaphysical reality that empiricism assumes verifiable via empiricism?
    Ben- Well, no. I would have to believe that empiricism and all of its metaphysical assumptions are true in order to believe it is the way I ought to conduct my methods of inquiry in order to obtain knowledge of an event.
    Sam- Then the claim that a lack of empirical verification makes something improbable is self-refuting because the metaphysical reality that empiricism assumes cannot be empirically verified (as you said yourself, they are indeterminate or even unknowable). Hence, a claim of an historical event cannot be solely dismissed on the basis of a self refuting system.

  66. BTW, I agree with Sam in my post because he’s my favorite hobbit. 🙂

  67. BTW, I agree with Sam in my post because he’s my favorite hobbit.

    He was great in the book, but I couldn’t take his sobbing in the movie.

  68. OK, well, I need to bow out of this conversation, as it is my anniversary today, and my wife isn’t going to be too happy about me being on the computer. I leave the conversation to all other able minds on both sides. This has been fun. CD, I’ll read your response still, but leave it with your closing comments. Thanks for the good conversation.

  69. OK, last comment.

    Vinny, I agree. What was with all that?

  70. Re posts 49 and 52 about presuppositions

    It’s not that everyone starts with the presupposition that resurrections are unlikely, it’s that many start with the presupposition that they are impossible.

    If one thinks that resurrections are possible, even if unlikely, then one can argue about the probability that Christ’s resurrection did happen. Only then would the relative plausibility of resurrection story versus still dead stories be relevant to the assessment of the probability of resurrection.

    However, if one believes that resurrections are impossible, then the relative plausibility of the resurrection story is irrelevant. There is mighty good evidence that resurrections are impossible, and if they are impossible then there must be a good “he is still dead” story even if we do not know it yet.

    Christ’s appearances would have been very relevant for that first generation of believers, and very convincing. Not so for us 20 centuries later unless we already believe that the Bible is the word of a living God. If we don’t, then it’s just one more fantastic tale.

    Being a believer, the stories of Christ’s resurrection are very important to me, and I would expect that there would be such stories, and I do believe that they are true. However, I don’t see much apologetic value in them in relation to the unsaved. There might be some apologetic value to the unsophisticated (i.e., not sophisticated in the use of philosophical logic and historiography). The current lack of a good, alternative “he is still dead” story is also good reason to have some doubt about whether Christ is dead and should lead an atheist to question his beliefs. However, it is by no means a clincher. But that is at it should be, God evidently does not want to give us “clincher” evidence, for reasons that may be related to faith, to real relationship, etc. or reasons that we cannot fathom (Moser has a book on the Hiddenness of God that is good).

    regards,
    #John

  71. John 1453,

    “However, if one believes that resurrections are impossible, then the relative plausibility of the resurrection story is irrelevant. There is mighty good evidence that resurrections are impossible, and if they are impossible then there must be a good “he is still dead” story even if we do not know it yet.”

    I think you right to an extent, however I think this again only proves one of CMP’s points about naturalistic presuppositions that the supernatural is impossible being the ultimate issue here. However, at the same time this is to me fighting last centuries battles. Many post-moderns are willing to entertain the possibility of the supernatural thus making this modernist controversy increasingly obsolete. As a result to a true postmodern some of these arguments might have some weight since they are willing to entertain the supernatural. On the other hand they might just ignore them since truth and what really happened is unknowable. CMP’s presentation may be a good one since it couches it’s language in probability not certainty.

  72. Yes, I agree with your Michael T.

    Good points.

    When I was disparaging the “evidence that demands a verdict approach”, I was referring primarily to it’s modernist approach to the “evidence” and to the apparent belief entailed in that approach that one could convince a modernist skeptic who did not believe in resurrections.

    As soon as one is open to the possibility (as many postmoderns would be), then the high plausibility of the Jesus resurrection story in relation to the less plausible Jesus is still dead stories, and the absence of a really good Jesus is dead story, would go some distance in convincing a post modern (or to at least removing some barriers to belief).

    If someone is not open to resurrections at all, the plausibility of the Jesus story would go some ways to perhaps getting that person to doubt or question their belief in “no resurrections”. But that underlying belief would still have to be addressed through other approaches as well.

    regards,
    #John

  73. For those interested in reading about how unlikely option 1 (temporary burial) is, go read the article at:

    http://www.christian-thinktank.com/shellgame.html

    It’s not really plausible at all.

    regards,
    #John

  74. Thanks for reading my blogpost (http://formerfundy.blogspot.com) this subject. I am glad to know some believers are reading my blog.
    You said the following about my 4 naturalistic explanations of the Empty Tomb.

    1) Jesus’ body was taken straight from the cross to the criminal graveyard by a devout Jew.

    “Is this a possibility? Absolutely. Probability? I don’t think so. How could it be? There is simply no evidence to believe such. It would take a blind leap of faith to turn this possibility into a personal creed. “

    Why do you say there is “no evidence” for this position? There is no evidence in the gospels but of course one would not expect there to be since the early Christians believed that Jesus was raised.

    There is plenty of evidence in the Talmud and other sources to know that Jews were very concerned about a body being kept on a tree overnight and we also know there was a criminal graveyard in Jerusalem where the crucified were buried (if they were not left to hang on the cross and be eaten by birds of prey).

    So why would the burial of Jesus be any different? The Gospels introduce a man named Joseph of Arimathea but what reason do we have to believe that story is true? It seems to me that if it were true, J of A would have had a prominent role in the book of Acts and no doubt would have been mentioned by Paul somewhere since they were both supposedly members of the San Hedrin.

    2) Jesus’ body was taken straight from the cross and thrown into Gehenna.

    “Here we are again with a possibility without any historical warrant to make it responsible to believe. (Notice the overstatement here: it “obviously did not happen the way they describe it.” Obvious to whom?”

    Well it was obvious to Louis Feldman. Not so obvious to me but I am not the Jewish scholar that he is. As far as no historical warrant? We know that this did happen sometimes to the remains of criminals. Jesus was considered a criminal by the Romans. Why couldn’t it have happened? You would not expect anything to be said in the Gospels about it because again, the Gospels were written by believers.

    3) Jesus’ body was taken by Joseph of Arimathea and placed into a different tomb.

    “Yes, it is reasonable to believe that he may have had another tomb, but…so? It is reasonable to believe that Joseph’s son had another tomb that Jesus was taken to. It is reasonable to believe that Josephus donated tombs out of his good fortune to many who were in need so he had dozens of tombs. But because a possible condition of a historical theory (i.e. Joseph could have had another tomb) has been met, this does not mean that people are justified in placing their faith in such a theory over another that is much more probable, being supported by real evidence.”

    Just a theory but again its more likely than the resurrection. We know things like this have happened in the past but we don’t know that a resurrection has ever taken place.

  75. 4) The empty tomb story was a later embellishment of the gospel narrative

    “Yes, this is certainly possible, but it has no evidence to back it up. It purports, but does not create any reasonable doubt in the event of the resurrection. Especially since there is so much other collaborative evidence that Christ did rise from the grave besides the tomb (i.e. the phenomenon of the rise of Christianity in a hostile environment, the willingness of the Apostles to die for their confession, the early testimony of the New Testament, the embarrassment factor in the Gospel accounts, and the inability of skeptics to produce a body in the first century. Not to mention how foreign it was for such a belief (i.e. a crucified and risen Messiah) to arise in this first century Jewish setting.”

    I think there are naturalistic explanations for each of the “collaborative evidence” (6 points) that you make. One can explain all of these points on the basis of a BELIEF in a raised Jesus without postulating a PHYSICAL resurrection. Of course, liberals and neo-orthodox have been doing this for years

    “In the end, there can be all kinds of possible alternative explanations (I could come up with a thousand more), but we should never be fooled into thinking that just because an explanation is possible that this makes it worthy of actual consideration.”

    I did not list every possible explanation but only the ones that I feel have some historical basis.

    “In the end, the simplest explanation is that Christ did rise from the grave. If you do not start with anti-supernaturalistic presuppositions (i.e. dead bodies can’t rise, therefore, Christ did not rise from the grave), then you can truly follow the evidence and not search for far-fetched, yet possible, explanations. It is because of acrobats like these that I think it takes more (blind) faith not to believe in the resurrection of Christ than to believe.”

    Its interesting how Christians like to claim that it is the unbeliever who is biased. The Christian is biased. He has come to believe in the truth of Christianity and he/she is unlikely to allow anything to disconfirm that belief (as William Craig freely admits).
    The truth is that based on human knowledge and experience, any one of the possible scenarios I laid out are more likely than a supernatural act. A supernatural act, in and itself, is full of assumptions. First, there is a supernatural being (cannot be proven); Second, this supernatural being is actively involved in the world (has not been shown); Third, this supernatural being was confirming his acceptance of the death of Jesus as a substitute for man’s sin. (this is the theological explanation given by Paul in the NT but it is full of problems and assumptions. For example, why does the punishment of an innocent man in the place of a guilty run counterintuitive to man who is supposed to be made in the image of this supernatural being and endowed with rational and moral principles like his creator. )

  76. Ken,
    Thanks for your response. I think you make the point clear about presuppositions that others have been making.

    As you make clear, your naturalistic interpretations have no textual evidence, but are based on speculations from traditions written hundreds of years later that don’t deal with the specific situation (Mishnah – 3rd century and Gemera – 6th century). These are important for interpreting 1st century Judaism since some goes back to the first century, but they’ve also undergone centuries of transmission and editing with all the bias that you claim against the gospels.

    Does the Talmud tell us about this specific situation? Probably not. The Yeshu narratives in Talmud Sanhedrin may be a reference to Jesus, but they are heavily corrupted and incorrect (the date is a century off, Jesus was hung vs. crucified, although you can work around this…He was apparently held for forty days while the Sanhedrin looked for defendants of him and found none, etc.). No living scholars thinks these stories (if referencing the historical Jesus) are more reliable than the passion narrative beneath the gospels.

    So how would your method of arguing work with regards to John the Baptist, or Julius Caesar?

    Let’s look at John the Baptist first. The vast majority of people living in the first centuries died naturally without being murdered. In my personal experience, most people I know have died naturally. Medical journals tell us that most people die naturally without being murdered. Unless there is some pretty extraordinary evidence, we should assume that both John the Baptist died of natural causes without being murdered.

    Why would anyone think that John the Baptist died another way? Well, the gospels say that he did. But as we know the gospels (if they weren’t concerned with history) would have a vested interest in painting John the Baptist as a political martyr. So why should we trust the gospels in this situation against everything we know about how people typically die? As you imply above, we should distrust biased accounts for secondary evidence when the claims are spectacular.

    How about Caesar? Our earliest sources for Caesar’s death are Plutarch and Suetonius, both writing 150 years later in documents that are extremely politically biased. Both would have clear reasons for making up Caesar’s assassination.

    In both situations, our best sources were written long after the actual events by people with strong political/theological biases. So why trust either story against our common experience of people dying naturally without being murdered?

    With a healthy dose of skepticism, you can write off just about any abnormal historical event, but a healthy dose of skepticism requires all sorts of assumptions as well (just as many as you gave in regards to supernaturalism).

  77. Of course, we do have rare experiences that teach us that people occasionally die from stabbings or beheadings so the analogy to resurrection isn’t perfect. But the resurrection isn’t the only one time event that has happened in history. When you get specific enough, there are all sorts of events that only happened once with biased sources from long after the event. Most of these we take at face value or at least mostly true, because they don’t imply the supernatural, which seems to be the real issue that nobody wants to admit since they still believe the old modernist myth of objective neutrality.

    Here’s how I see your methodology:

    1. You have no personal experience of seeing a resurrection, know nobody who has personally experienced a resurrection and history only has a few claims of people resurrecting. Therefore, the clear historical precedent is against people resurrecting.
    2. Resurrections require all sorts of presuppositions (as you listed above…although your last assumption concerning the theological interpretation of the event has nothing to do with the historicity)
    3. You no longer have personal reasons to believe these presuppositions.
    4. All of the textual (let’s call it primary) evidence deals with this specific situation and it all points to some type of resurrection, and the writers clearly believed a resurrection had occurred.
    5. Secondary evidence tells us about death/burial practices that were more common.

    Therefore, alternatives trump the primary evidence. Why? Because you see no reason to believe the underlying presuppositions are true. So what is the deciding factor in how you deal with the textual evidence when making abnormal, spectacular or even supernatural claims? It’s your assumptions about the text. These assumptions bias everything from texts, to videos to personal experience. As such, I don’t think it’s right for believers to claim unbelievers are overly biased or vice versa…we’re both so bound up in our presuppositions that it takes something miraculous to change them.

  78. Comparatively, I (Ranger) have good reasons to believe that theism is true and thus God can interact in history (there are countless other posts at this site dealing with this topic so I won’t get into it here).

    Therefore, my syllogism looks like this:

    1. I have no personal experience of seeing a resurrection, know nobody who has personally experienced a resurrection and history only has a few claims of people resurrecting. Therefore, the clear historical precedent is against people resurrecting.
    2. Resurrections require all sorts of presuppositions
    3. I have reasons to believe these presuppositions
    4. All of the textual (let’s call it primary) evidence deals with this specific situation and it all points to some type of resurrection, and the writers clearly believed a resurrection had occurred.
    5. Secondary evidence (which is indirect and doesn’t tell of the specific situation) tells us that these types of deaths/burials occurred in a similar but different fashion.

    Therefore, I can follow the primary evidence where it points in this situation because I have different assumptions than you. Since I believe theism is true, I have no problems with the primary evidence in this situation.

    In conclusion, I see no reason to believe your statement that “based on human knowledge and experience, any one of the possible scenarios I laid out are more likely than a supernatural act.” 1. My knowledge and experience tells me that theism is true. 2. Thus, the primary evidence outweighs secondary evidence. 3. I believe it more reasonable to trust stories with evidence for the specific situation (unless there is better historical evidence against them) over stories with speculative secondary evidence.

    Thanks for a fun discussion Ken, and for a great response. I hope my perspective helps you better see where some of us are coming from to further your own thoughts on the topic.

  79. Ranger,

    You seem to be skeptical of the Talmud’s record regarding the burial practices of Second Temple Judaism but I am not sure why. What motivations would one have to invent the idea of a criminal graveyard? Even Jesus talked about Gehenna, so it seems you ought to at least believe that place existed. I don’t believe the Talmud speaks directly of the burial of Jesus but rather of the general burial practices of that period of time.

    With regard to John the Baptist, a murder is not that unusual. Believe me, I live in Atlanta and every day on the news, the first 15 minutes is taken up with reporting the latest murders in our city. While obviously more people die of natural causes, we know that some die from murder. We don’t know that anyone has ever been raised from the dead.

    With regard to Caesar? I am not expert in Roman history so I don’t know what other evidence there may be for the assassination of Ceasar. If all of the evidence is from Plutarch and Suetonius, then there may be reason to be skeptical. But once again, we know that political assassinations happen, so why not believe it happened then?

    You say that there are other “one time events” like the resurrection and I don’t just wave them off. You would have to be more specific in order for me to deal with this point.

    You say that “alternatives trump the primary evidence. Why? Because you see no reason to believe the underlying presuppositions are true. So what is the deciding factor in how you deal with the textual evidence when making abnormal, spectacular or even supernatural claims? It’s your assumptions about the text. ”

    But the canonical books are not unique. There are all kinds of reports of the supernatural in the ancient world. You would probably reject all of them except for the ones recorded in your canon. That tells me that you presuppose the truth of the text. You treat the text differently than other books written during this time. I don’t. I treat them all the same.

  80. Ranger,

    You say: “I (Ranger) have good reasons to believe that theism is true and thus God can interact in history.In conclusion, I see no reason to believe your statement that “based on human knowledge and experience, any one of the possible scenarios I laid out are more likely than a supernatural act.” 1. My knowledge and experience tells me that theism is true. 2. Thus, the primary evidence outweighs secondary evidence. 3. I believe it more reasonable to trust stories with evidence for the specific situation (unless there is better historical evidence against them) over stories with speculative secondary evidence.”

    I understand your presuppositions about the truth of the Bible will lead you to accept what it says as true. (seems like circular reasoning to me). The ultimate question comes back down to whether your presuppositions that “God is there and he is not silent” (to quote Schaeffer) is defensible. You obviously think it is; I used to think it was but do not any more.

    I think the academic study of the Bible has pretty much shown that the Bible is not unique and there is no good reason to believe its the Word of God than there is to believe the Book of Mormon, the Koran, the Vedas, or any other holy book is the Word of God. I would suggest the book by Hector Avalos (Ph.D. Harvard) entitled “The End of Biblical Studies.” I met Avalos recently. He is an interesting individual. Began life in a Pentecostal home, was a boy preacher and then later came to conclude that his beliefs were naive and uninformed.

  81. Hey Ken,
    Thanks for a charitable and interesting response. This will probably be my only further comment since I don’t have time for these types of discussions online (I’ve got enough in person, haha).

    To clarify, you said, “You seem to be skeptical of the Talmud’s record regarding the burial practices of Second Temple Judaism but I am not sure why.”

    Actually, that’s not what I said nor implied. As in my comment above (#14), I think they give a good indicator for these practices, but I’m often skeptical of their discussions of individuals and events as they have undergone significant editing and revisions in the tradition prior to the 4th century…but that’s beside the point. In fact, what I actually said before mentioning their corruption was “These are important for interpreting 1st century Judaism since some goes back to the first century.” I see plenty of value, just not evidence that would cause me to take their general descriptions of general events over multiple specific descriptions of a specific event.

    I’ve also met Avalos, and (like you and Hector) have degrees in Biblical Studies to hang in my office as well. Who cares? Avalos did not make a strong case in his work, and ultimately I agree with Kortner in RBL who says, “Schon deshalb ist es von Avalos wohl etwas voreilig, das Ende der biblischen Studien zu verkündigen.” Much too early indeed.

    What’s much more interesting is your comment about circular reasoning and privileging the Bible over other texts. My point in the latter parts of my comments was restating what others have said about how our presuppositions guide our interpretation. That’s true of you and me both.

    I gladly admit that I’ve been convinced through years of professional study and believe the Bible is the Word of God. Therefore, I’ve taken a different route than you. I’m a confessional scholar and make no qualms about it. That reality has made me more accepted in some circles and more scorned in others. I agree that my baseline presuppositions (Christian theism) are circular as are everybody else’s on the face of this earth. I’d suggest Dooyeweerd and more recently Roy Clouser (The Myth of Neutrality) for an analysis of this point.

    Your personal rejection of theism also skews your work. If Christianity is true, then your assumptions are clearly misguiding your interpretations. As a former Christian you bring lots of baggage to the text whether you like it or not and that still affects your interpretation. In our post-Derrida/Rorty, et. al. world, there’s no such thing as objective, unbiased analysis of texts.

    Three of the best Jesus scholars I know right now are Maurice Casey (an atheist), Dale Allison (a skeptical, lifelong Christian) and Craig Keener (an adult atheist to Christian convert). All three lay their assumptions on the table for everyone to read and then do the best historical research they can.

    Thanks again for the manner in which you…

  82. Ranger,

    Thanks for the dialogue. When I was a Christian, I was a presuppositionalist after the mode of Van Til, Frame, Rushdoony, etc. When I taught apologetics, I used Norm Geisler’s book because it discussed the other apologetic methods used by Christians through the years. While I personally did not agree with Geisler’s Thomism, I still liked his book as a text. In my lectures, though, I argued that presuppositionalism is the correct method.

    Much of what I disagree with today in apologetic writings goes back to what I taught years ago. In other words, evidentialism will never work because events have to be interpreted. The classic arguments for the existence of God, I don’t find convincing. And even if they were valid, they do not prove the God of Bible.

    I agree that our presuppositions dictate how we interpret what we hear, see, etc. BUT our presuppositions can be changed. Mine changed. I am sure you are familiar with Thomas Kuhn’s classic, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. He shows how paradigm shifts have occured in science. These shifts do not come easily and a lot of people are never able to change their worldview but slowly the new paradigm takes hold because it is a better hypothesis. This is similar to what happened to me.

    AS for Avalos, I do not like the title of the book either. I am not sure Hector picked it, it was probably the publisher. But I do think he makes some excellent points in the book about how the Bible, even in secular universities, is often taught by people with a faith committment to what it teaches thus perpetuating “exceptionalism.” What he wants and I am in agreement is to treat the Bible as any other ancient writing. When you do that, all of the mystique disappears.

    Ken

  83. Bryan —

    You mentioned you were signing off but…

    Why should it be only verifiable within your philosophic assumptions? It is verifiable through belief in a report, not through empiricism, which you are assuming is the only meaningful avenue through which knowledge can be obtained. I don’t need to assume your criteria that is limited by your worldview in order to hold my worldview and obtain knowledge through the criteria consistent with it.

    If we are going to use the criteria of belief in a report, then non-belief in the report constitutes disconfirmation. That was easy.

    Take care and enjoy your time off.

  84. …You might want to take a look at

  85. “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

    —Sherlock Holmes

    Yet, how many times have you heard a Christian apologist say one of the following:

    —“It is implausible that any first century Jew would have moved the body of Jesus resulting in the Empty Tomb. The miracle of the Resurrection is much more probable than that a first century Jew would move a dead body.”

    —“It is implausible that the Jews and Romans would not have brought out Jesus’ body to disprove the Christian claim of a Resurrection if they knew the whereabouts of his corpse. The Resurrection is much more probable than that the Jews and Romans had moved the body and did not care what a small band of religious fanatics were saying about their dead leader.”

    —“It is implausible that the authors of the Gospels made up stories in their Gospels when so many eyewitnesses would still have been alive to challenge their false claims. The miracle of the Resurrection is much more probable than that the Empty Tomb and the Appearance Stories are literary fiction.”

    —“It is implausible that the Jewish rabbi, Saul/Paul, would have converted to Christianity if he had only experienced a vivid dream or hallucination. The miracle of the Resurrection is much more probable than the conversion of a Christian-hating, devout, first century Jewish rabbi to Christianity.”

    —“It is implausible that Paul did not know all or many of the five hundred eyewitnesses listed in the Early Creed of First Corinthians chapter 15. The miracle of the Resurrection is much more probable than that Paul was simply repeating something he had heard but not verified.”

    —“It is implausible that Christianity would have grown so quickly under such difficult circumstances if the disciples had not really seen a resurrected body of flesh and blood. The miracle of the Resurrection is much more probable an explanation for the growth of Christianity than that this belief was based on hallucinations, illusions, or false sightings.”

    —“It is implausible that so many disciples would have been willing to die for their belief in the Resurrection if their belief in this alleged event was based on a lie, hallucinations, or illusions. The miracle of the Resurrection is much more probable than human misperception.”

    —“It is even more implausible (and practically impossible) that all these very implausible events, added together, explain the early Christian Resurrection Belief. The miracle of a once in history Resurrection is much more probable than these very implausible naturalistic explanations.”

    Dear Christians: Even the extremely unlikely scenario that a group of disciples, at the same time and place, experienced simultaneous hallucinations in which they each believed they in some general sense saw a resurrected Jesus is still much more probable than a true resurrection of a dead corpse. The only reason Christians cannot see this is that they have presumed the existence of the Christian god, Yahweh, and his unlimited supernatural (magic) powers, before the debate on the probability of the Resurrection has even begun. We skeptics, on the other hand, are not claiming that a Resurrection is impossible, we are simply saying a Resurrection is much, much less plausible/probable in our cumulative human experience than any combination of very improbable naturalistic explanations. A miracle, by definition, is a very rare and very unusual event.

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