Hanging By a Thread

This past weekend our church hosted our second annual SWAT Seminar. SWAT stands for Spiritual Warfare and Apologetics Training. This year we were fortunate enough to be able to bring out Craig Hazen and JP Moreland to speak to our group. These guys are two heavyweights in the apologetics world. They travel all over the country and the world, going into both hostile and friendly environments giving arguments in favor of the truth of Christianity.

In his introductory talk on Friday night, Hazen laid the foundation for his talk the next day on “Christianity Among the World’s Religions” by making a very interesting point. He said that Christianity is weird. Why? Because it is the only religion that is testable. Think about it. Most religions in the world are about inward experience and a personal journey toward some form of enlightenment. It doesn’t matter about what happens in the external world, because the religion is inward-focused and no one can prove you’re not having the experience you claim to have.

In stark contrast, the apostle Paul hangs Christianity by a thread that, if able to be snipped, would cause all of Christianity to come crashing to the ground. What is that thread? 1 Corinthians 15:12-17 tells us:

“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

If Jesus was not resurrected from the dead, Christianity is useless. This makes Christianity testable, because we can look at the evidence to determine whether or not Christ really was raised from the dead. We can create hypotheses that we can weigh against each other. Hazen did so on Saturday, giving 12 minimal facts that even secular historians agree are true by a large majority. We can then pit these hypotheses against each other using the inference to the best explanation and arrive at a reasonable conclusion. Perhaps I’ll post those later, but it’s easy to see why Christianity is so targeted among the world religions: because it can be objectively tested, and therefore Christians have sufficient belief that it can be defended. No wonder Peter told us to always be ready to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15). We need not have an answer if there isn’t a reasonable one available.

So Christians, we’re a bit strange. I think we already know this, but Paul’s distinction makes that more evident than ever. And yet we have strong reasons to believe that Christianity is true, and that we do not hope in vain. Your faith is hanging by a thread, but I have confidence it is one that can and will never be snipped, until Christ returns and makes plain the truth found in His Word.

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24 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ron on March 7, 2012 at 9:42 AM

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. To date we have no physical evidence to support the assertions made by Christian apologists — i.e., no birth records, arrest warrants, court documents, trial transcripts, execution decrees, coroner’s reports, death certificates or even sworn affidavits traceable to identifiable witnesses of a resurrected man.

    Reply

    • I would urge you to read this blog post about your initial rebuttal.

      To date, we have no evidence that Socrates actually existed, because we have none of his actual writings. Do you doubt that Socrates was real? Or do you take Plato’s word for it based on Plato’s writings? Why would you take Socrates’ existence based on the writings of someone else, but not Christ’s resurrection?

      Sounds like you’re setting the bar rather high on purpose because of a pre-suppositional bias. Read that blog post, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s the difference between discovering the truth and ignoring the truth.

      Reply

      • Posted by Ron on March 7, 2012 at 1:52 PM

        “I would urge you to read this blog post about your initial rebuttal.”

        Is there a particular point that you’d like me to address? Because It appears to be a rather lengthy engagement in semantic wordplay.

        “To date, we have no evidence that Socrates actually existed, because we have none of his actual writings. Do you doubt that Socrates was real? Or do you take Plato’s word for it based on Plato’s writings? Why would you take Socrates’ existence based on the writings of someone else, but not Christ’s resurrection?”

        I don’t know whether or not Socrates existed as a real person, but the words attributed to him can be examined and judged on their own merits, regardless of who wrote them. Plus, no one that I’m aware of is asking me to worship Socrates as a divine being, or make his teachings the focal point of my existence.

        “Sounds like you’re setting the bar rather high on purpose because of a pre-suppositional bias. Read that blog post, and you’ll see what I mean. It’s the difference between discovering the truth and ignoring the truth.”

        When it comes to examining religious truth claims, I apply the same standards of evidence that I would apply to any other extraordinary claims made in everyday life. How is that setting the bar too high?

      • How do we know that the claim, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is not an extraordinary claim in itself? I think the semantics are initiated on your end, friend.

        And again, how do you determine what is an extraordinary claim objectively? Seems like you can call just about anything extraordinary, as my friend J.W.’s post explains. “I am human” could be an extraordinary claim if you examine the circumstances in a certain way.

        Regarding Socrates, you say that the words can be examined on their own merit. Yet why do you demand birth records, execution orders, etc. for Christ’s death instead of examining the words on their own merit? Perhaps it would be pertinent for me to list the minimal facts argument I referenced in the blog post, but as far as I know, the merit of the words from both Biblical and extra-Biblical sources is not in dispute currently.

      • Posted by Christopher on March 28, 2012 at 2:02 AM

        For a point of humor, I don’t thin that Socrates was a real person :p

        Jesus? I don’t know.

  2. Posted by Ron on March 8, 2012 at 2:16 PM

    I think the main point here is that dead people don’t ordinarily come over for supper two days after they’ve been declared dead and buried, so anyone claiming that Jesus rose from the dead will be challenged to provide compelling evidence in support of said claim — especially given that there’s insufficient evidence to even establish Jesus’ existence as an historical person.

    Reply

    • Define “compelling.” That’s no different than extraordinary. It’s still semantics.

      And regarding insufficient evidence of Jesus’ existence, please see this previous post of mine on the subject. No reasonable scholar (religious or secular) denies the existence of Jesus as a historical person, so this is a baseless statement for you to make. The evidence is quite sufficient.

      Reply

      • Posted by Ron on March 11, 2012 at 10:35 PM

        I’m using the dictionary definitions of the words “extraordinary” and “compelling” — so that portion of your argument has no traction. Will I now be asked to define the word “traction” as well?

        You state no reasonable scholar denies the historical existence of Jesus, but what exactly constitutes a “reasonable” scholar? Isn’t that just a polite way of saying someone who supports the majority viewpoint? I don’t think that a simple show of hands constitutes a reliable method for deciding the truth when there’s little historical evidence outside the Gospel accounts to draw upon. For the record, I have no problem accepting the existence of an historical figure named Jesus. However, like Bart Ehrman, that belief is based more on a balance of probabilities than it is on incontrovertible evidence.

        That still leaves you with the prickly problem of establishing Jesus’ divinity; and Mr. Ehrman — that reasonable secular scholar whose opinion you appealed to earlier to substantiate Jesus historical existence — claims that their is zero evidence to support that assertion.

      • You didn’t give any definitions for extraordinary or compelling, nor did you give any standards for quantifying these things. I could say it’s extraordinary to believe that your name is actually Ron and ask for compelling evidence for this. Any evidence you give me I could say is not “compelling” because I haven’t set a standard for compelling evidence. Same goes for you, friend.

        I would say a “reasonable” scholar would be one who is accepted by his/her peers, has proper academic qualification and adheres to the standards set forth by historical science. If you disagree, feel free to, but please explain why. The argument against Jesus’ existence is made almost entirely by sensationalists who are hoping to publish a new book and get their 15 minutes of fame. Again, no one with a professional career in historical science that has any significance believes that Jesus was a myth. Ehrman’s belief in the historical Jesus has to do with how one studies historical science, and the truth is we have more evidence for Jesus than we do for Caesar, Plato, Socrates, Alexander the Great. Yet no one doubts the existence of these men. People only raise the bar when it comes to Jesus because his existence as Christianity purports spells big trouble for their worldview.

        Finally, the goal of this post wasn’t to establish Jesus’ divinity — I hinted at that in the post. While I believe in Jesus’ divinity, the post was simply meant to show how unique Christianity is compared to other religions in that it bases the truth of its claims on something that is objectively testable. Any claim about Jesus’ divinity would have to be in another post. I may end up doing that, but it wasn’t the goal here. So it’s a bit of a straw man to go down that path in your objection, I think.

      • Posted by Ron on March 13, 2012 at 12:00 PM

        Like I said, I’m using the dictionary definitions of those words — so if you’re not certain what then mean, all you have to do is look them up.

        Ron may not be the most popular name in North America, but it’s still common enough to place it in the ordinary category. If I were writing under the moniker Zeus, Poseidon, Darth Vader, Bugs Bunny, or King Leopold I, you might have good reason to be skeptical, but I’d be quite surprised to learn that you’ve never encountered or at least heard of someone (Ronald Reagan, Ron Paul, Ron Howard, Ron Blomberg, Ron Harper, Ronnie Milsap, Ronnie Wood, Ronnie Ortiz-Magro, Ron Wilson, Ron Suskind, Ron Allen, etc) bearing the name Ron at some point in your life.

        As for Jesus, we can make inferences about the likelihood of his existence, but without solid physical evidence for his existence, there is no way of stating this with 100% certainty. At least Julius Caesar left coins bearing his name and likeness, and Alexander’s conquests were recorded by the historians of the nations he conquered. For Jesus, all we have are fragments of copies of the original Gospels written in Greek by unknown authors with a biased theological bent, decades after the supposed event. In any case, I’ve already conceded that I’m willing to accept the historical existence of a man named Jesus.

        You state: “Finally, the goal of this post wasn’t to establish Jesus’ divinity.”

        Perhaps not, but your post does contain the following statements:

        “If Jesus was not resurrected from the dead, Christianity is useless. This makes Christianity testable, because we can look at the evidence to determine whether or not Christ really was raised from the dead.”

        I’m now formally challenging you to provide the means by which such a claim can be tested.

      • A dictionary definition means nothing without the parameters with which you use the term. Extraordinary means “highly unusual or remarkable” according to the dictionary, but without ascribing parameters, we’re still left with the initial question.

        “Ron may not be the most popular name in North America, but it’s still common enough to place it in the ordinary category.”

        Who’s making that determination? That’s my whole point.

        “At least Julius Caesar left coins bearing his name and likeness, and Alexander’s conquests were recorded by the historians of the nations he conquered.”

        And the Bible and extra-Biblical sources bear out the life of Jesus with greater detail than either one of those. There’s no solid physical evidence for your existence as far as I’m concerned, and yet neither one of us doubts your existence. It’s all about perspective, and a historical scientist must keep the perspective the same for everyone. I know you don’t doubt the existence of Jesus — I’m just explaining why the methodology is important, just like Ehrman did in this interview.

        “I’m now formally challenging you to provide the means by which such a claim can be tested.”

        Ok. When I have time I’ll write up the post on the subject.

  3. Posted by Ron on March 13, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    “A dictionary definition means nothing without the parameters with which you use the term. Extraordinary means “highly unusual or remarkable” according to the dictionary, but without ascribing parameters, we’re still left with the initial question.”

    Except, in this case the parameters have already been clearly established: we’re discussing the bodily reanimation of a proclaimed Jewish messiah executed in Palestine some two thousand years ago, not the subtleties of how those words might be applied at some generic level.

    “Who’s making that determination? That’s my whole point.”

    Who? The government agencies charged with keeping vital statistics in every nation and state in the union, that’s who.

    Reply

    • The parameters I’m discussing are how one applies a word like extraordinary or compelling to such a case. How do we know this is “extraordinary” without defining the parameters for “extraordinary”? That’s what I’m getting at.

      “Who? The government agencies charged with keeping vital statistics in every nation and state in the union, that’s who.”

      And how do THEY decide what is ordinary and what is extraordinary? Where is that line, and who draws it? And why is that person the end-all be-all person who gets to decide? See what I’m getting at? The use of such language means it’s completely subjective where an event lies on that plane of ordinary vs. extraordinary, which is why it’s really an invalid statement to make. You might say it takes “extraordinary evidence” to convince you based on your perception of whether it is an extraordinary claim or not. But then I can’t possibly meet your burden of proof, because I can only depend on you to provide the line for what constitutes “extraordinary evidence.” If the measuring stick is subjective and movable, it ceases to be a valid measuring stick. Does that make sense?

      Reply

  4. Posted by Ron on March 13, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    What you are arguing for is points on a continuum — i.e., When does a name go from extremely popular, to slightly popular, to not very popular, to somewhat unpopular, to very unpopular, to exceedingly rare, to almost unheard of? Or how many grains of sand must be removed from a sand pile before it ceases to be a pile? Or at what volume level does a noise go from extremely loud to excruciatingly painful?

    However, that’s a moot point here, because we aren’t debating how many resurrections must take place during any given day, week, month, year, decade, century, or millennium before they can be called a common occurrence. And even if you could successfully establish them as such, how would that bolster your case given the whole premise of the crucifixion story is that this was supposed to be a special event?

    Reply

    • I’m arguing parameters on the continuum, yes, because you need to be able to define the boundaries of something in order to give it a proper label, like “extraordinary.” Otherwise it’s a subjective opinion, and there’s no possibility of satisfying a subjective burden of proof. So it’s a pointless statement to make, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” It’s sensational, but utterly useless in debate.

      I’m not trying to make the case of Jesus’ resurrection as ordinary. I’m simply pointing out the sheer ridiculousness in asking for “extraordinary evidence,” because any evidence I give you can simply bat away as “not extraordinary” based on your whims. That’s not objective measurement, and I stated that Christianity is objectively testable, not “as testable as any person wants to make their burden of proof.” That is why I argued against your initial statement, because it says nothing and means nothing in terms of objective testability.

      Reply

      • Posted by Ron on March 15, 2012 at 8:53 AM

        I think the statement “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” neatly encapsulates your predicament in five words.

        There’s no need to determine whether of not the resurrection should be classified as an extraordinary claim since:

        a) By definition, a miracle is an extraordinary event; and
        b) Christians themselves frequently attest to “the miracle of Christ’s resurrection”

        As for evidence, you’ll never be able to provide any because the claim itself is unfalsifiable given that we can’t go back in time to re-witness the non-event for ourselves.

      • So what you’re saying is, “I made an inflammatory statement that is not predicated on anything other than the desire to get a rise, because I won’t believe anything you offer anyway.” Alrighty then. Sounds quite fair and objective. Thanks for stopping by.

      • Posted by Ron on March 16, 2012 at 9:33 AM

        At what point did I make such a statement? It seems that you’re projecting your own motives here.

        To argue that “I won’t believe anything you have to offer anyway” is a cop-out. A defense attorney who withheld evidence that might exonerate his/her clients “because everyone attending the proceedings is already convinced they’re guilty anyways” would soon be disbarred. In effect, what you’re asking me to do is accept the evidence before it’s even been presented for consideration.

        1 Peter 3:15 (to which you’ve tagged this post) enjoins you to: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

        Thus far you haven’t lived up to that promise.

      • I said I would, didn’t I? Give me time to actually write it up and I’ll present the evidence for the resurrection. But you’re the one who brought the “extraordinary claims…” line into the discussion, and as a result I felt compelled to dissect it for what it really is — a phrase that says nothing because it means nothing without defining parameters. Perhaps if you were to lay out what you define as extraordinary evidence it might be better, but keep in mind this evidence must also satisfy any other historical beliefs you have (i.e. don’t ask for a birth certificate or death record for Jesus if you don’t need it to believe in any other historical figure).

    • Posted by Ron on March 18, 2012 at 10:00 AM

      There’s nothing nebulous about the phrase. It means what it means: that claims which contradict common experience require the support of solid evidence (i.e., hearsay, warm fuzzy feelings, personal anecdotes, or special pleading that “I just know it’s true” does not constitute sufficient evidence).

      If I state that rocks released in midair always fall to the ground, I’ve made a falsifiable claim (backed by a phenomenal amount of evidence in my favor) which can be tested forthwith by anyone who doubts its validity. Now, if someone claimed to have a special rock which remains suspended in midair upon release, they’d immediately be asked to demonstrate this amazing feat, because it runs counter to all known human observation.

      Similarly, there’s an extraordinary amount of data to back up the claim that corpses do not return from the grave; so those who wish to maintain otherwise assume the burden of proof.

      Reply

      • So when you say “claims which contradict common experience require the support of solid evidence (i.e., hearsay, warm fuzzy feelings, personal anecdotes…)” you can easily exclude any historical claims, because, for instance, the existence of Julius Caesar is not a common experience and the only evidence would be hearsay or personal anecdotes. So I guess that means none of history happened, right? Or perhaps your phrase is more nebulous than you suspect, and it would be wiser of you to exclude it from your vocabulary than run into the predicaments that come into play when you take it reductio ad absurdum.

        Besides, you haven’t even begun to explain what kind of evidence you deem extraordinary, so it’s not like I can satisfy your burden of proof anyway, because I have no idea what kind of target I’m shooting at. And again, keep in mind that the evidence you require must also be satisfactory for any other historical belief.

      • Posted by Ron on March 18, 2012 at 9:57 PM

        You’re missing the forest for the trees due to an unwarranted fixation over the word extraordinary. It’s a maxim concerning standards of evidence, not the words themselves.

        For instance, a statement like “I stopped off for gas on my way home from work today” is taken at face value because people often tank up on their way home from work. There’s little likelihood you’d ask someone to validate that claim unless you had valid reasons to do so (i.e. perhaps you know that they don’t own a car or that they are retired/unemployed/don’t work Sundays, etc). However, if I told you I had a private audience with the pope this afternoon you’d become highly suspicious and ask me to substantiate those claims. See what I’m getting at?

        And perhaps you missed it, but I’ve twice stated that I have no problems with accepting Jesus as an historical figure. It’s the resurrection claims I have issues with.

      • I understand your point, and I know it’s not the big issue at hand. And I haven’t forgotten that you don’t have an issue with Jesus’ existence. But I take exception when people toss around that phrase like it’s worth something. That blog post I directed you to makes it pretty obvious that it’s lacking in anything substantial because there are no parameters set for the term “extraordinary.” You’re asking me to give you evidence for the resurrection without defining what you deem acceptable boundaries for that evidence. So I could present you twenty thousand different pieces of evidence, and you could dismiss it as “not enough” or “not extraordinary,” simply based on your opinion. So how is that fair or reasonable to ask me for evidence when you don’t establish what you deem to be a reasonable burden? See what I’m getting at?

  5. […] recently “challenged” me to present the case for the resurrection of Jesus based on this post I put up a couple of weeks ago. Luckily, this very topic was also a part of our SWAT Seminar […]

    Reply

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