The Resurrection of Jesus: A Minimal Facts Argument

An atheist that came on this blog 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 that took place about a month ago, and Craig Hazen presented what we call a “minimal facts” argument that the best explanation of the knowledge we have is that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead.

It’s called a “minimal facts” argument because the facts used don’t say very much (in length), but the argument uses only statements that both religious and secular scholars will agree are true. Believing and unbelieving (perhaps also termed “skeptical”) historical scientists will stipulate to the veracity of each of these statements, so we don’t need to debate their merits. When put together, they actually say a great deal. The debate centers around which hypothesis best fits the historical information we all agree on.

Before I give these statements (of which there are 12), it’s important to note the method for discovery and explanation. The scientific method is not the preferred method when discussing history. Rather, the method of inference to the best explanation is more commonly used. To steal from another blog post of mine, let me explain.

…We must use the evidentiary method, which is rooted in abductive reasoning. The problem is that in abductive reasoning, the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent is possible. For example, no one doubts the existence of Napoleon. Yet we use abductive reasoning to infer Napoleon’s existence. That is, we must infer his past existence from present effects. But despite our dependence on abductive reasoning to make this inference, no sane or educated person would doubt that Napoleon Bonaparte actually lived. How could this be if the problem of affirming the consequent bedevils our attempts to reason abductively? Philosopher and logician C.S. Peirce: “Though we have not seen the man [Napoleon], yet we cannot explain what we have seen without” the hypothesis of his existence. Peirce’s words imply that a particular abductive hypothesis can be strengthened if it can be shown to explain a result in a way that other hypotheses do not, and that it can be reasonably believed (in practice) if it explains in a way that no other hypotheses do. In other words, an abductive inference can be enhanced if it can be shown that it represents the best or the only adequate explanation of the “manifest effects.”

In modern times, historical scientists have called this the method of inference to the best explanation. That is, when trying to explain the origin of an event in the past, historical scientists compare various hypotheses to see which would, if true, best explain it. They then select the hypothesis that best explains the data as the most likely to be true. But what constitutes the best explanation for the historical scientist? Among historical scientists it’s generally agreed that best doesn’t mean ideologically satisfying or mainstream; instead, best generally has been taken to mean, first and foremost, most causally adequate.

So let me give the 12 statements that historical scholars almost universally agree are true and valid, and then perhaps you can decide for yourself what the best explanation of these truths is. For my money (and soul, consequently) the best explanation is that Jesus rose from the dead.

1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. Jesus was buried.
3. Jesus’ death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope, believing that his life was ended.
4. The tomb was discovered to be empty just a few days later.
5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus.
6. The disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers of His death and resurrection.
7. This resurrection message was the center of preaching in the early church.
8. This message was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and was buried shortly before.
9. As a result of this preaching, the church was born and grew.
10. Sunday became the primary day of worship.
11. James, who had been a skeptic, was converted to the faith when he believed he also saw the resurrected Jesus.
12. A few years later, Paul was also converted by an experience which he likewise believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus.

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56 responses to this post.

  1. “So let me give the 12 statements that historical scholars almost universally agree are true and valid”

    True and valid based on reports over ten years after the events are supposed to have happened.

    That makes them questionable at best for normal claims, let alone supernatural ones.

    Reply

    • Aren’t people still discussing new evidence on JFK’s assassination and Watergate, which both happened over 40 years ago?

      Also keep in mind that the oldest information we have on things like Caesar’s Gallic Wars is 1,000 years after the fact? Yet you would be hard-pressed to find someone questioning its authenticity. Ten years in the historical science world is like a day. If you can get information within ten years of an event, it’s like you’ve won the lottery.

      Besides, even if it was ten years apart, most of the people alive at the supposed time of Jesus’ resurrection would have still been alive and could have easily shot down any mythical claims. And yet we don’t see that happening. Your scale is titled because you’re biased on this account, I think.

      But most importantly, these statements aren’t just touted by Christian historical scientists. Even the greatest skeptics in the field to Jesus’ deity stipulate to these facts as true. So length of time doesn’t even matter when weighing the evidence if everyone says the data we have supports the argument.

      Reply

      • “Aren’t people still discussing new evidence on JFK’s assassination and Watergate, which both happened over 40 years ago?”

        Yes. But we also have evidence and reports from the time they took place. We also have physical evidence, and visual records. And nothing about those events are supernatural.

        “Yet you would be hard-pressed to find someone questioning its authenticity.”

        Again, show me someone who believes that Caesar was descended from a goddess based on his writings about the fact.

        “Even the greatest skeptics in the field to Jesus’ deity stipulate to these facts as true.”

        What facts?

        They admit that Jesus or a Jesus-like character probably existed, and was probably killed. So what? That doesn’t matter, because the supernatural claims don’t have anything to back them up.

      • We’re not comparing natural to supernatural here. We’re talking about it as a historical event, and the evidence for its truth as an actual event in history. You’re making the wrong argument here.

        “What facts? They admit that Jesus or a Jesus-like character probably existed, and was probably killed. So what?”

        Did you even read the post? They admit much more than that, and there are no supernatural claims in any of these facts. The comprehensive evidence makes the best explanation of this evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. Sounds like you’re operating off of a pre-suppositional bias, friend, and selective reading.

  2. “Sounds like you’re operating off of a pre-suppositional bias, friend, and selective reading.”

    I’m sorry, but if you read claims that were written over a decade after the supposed event, and your conclusion is ‘a man rose from the dead’, then you don’t understand what evidence or probability are.

    I have met people alive today with claims that they were abducted by aliens. Multiple eye-witness testimony with very similar stories. Which means, there’s better evidence for aliens than Jesus existing, let alone rising from the dead. And we don’t believe the alien stories because they don’t have any additional evidence.

    Reply

    • “then you don’t understand what evidence or probability are.”

      So people who have devoted their entire lives to researching such claims and have degrees in historical science don’t understand? I think your war is with them then, and not with me. I’m only using information that is almost universally accepted by both believing and unbelieving scholars. I’m not asking for special circumstances. You’re being rather picky I would say.

      “I have met people alive today with claims that they were abducted by aliens. Multiple eye-witness testimony with very similar stories.”

      Do they all corroborate the same alien account, like we see from the resurrection? And your argument against any additional evidence doesn’t make sense, because the ENTIRE POST points to the additional evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Really, I think you’re just grasping at straws and throwing red herrings out. You can’t dispute the facts in the argument, so you dispute the time length, and then point to alien encounters. This has nothing to do with the argument at hand. Give me something substantial, and then we can talk.

      Reply

      • “So people who have devoted their entire lives to researching such claims and have degrees in historical science don’t understand?”

        If they believe that historical records, contemporary or otherwise, are good enough evidence by themselves to confirm supernatural claims…then yes, they don’t understand. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve studied or researched.

        “I’m only using information that is almost universally accepted by both believing and unbelieving scholars.”

        Unbelieving scholars accept that the character probably existed. Not that he rose from the dead or did any of the other extraordinary claims.

        “Do they all corroborate the same alien account, like we see from the resurrection?”

        Do you? Where? Because I see 4 different descriptions of a somewhat similar event in the Gospels, and all are dated much after the event was supposed to happen. Not very convincing.

        Your ‘additional evidence’ isn’t evidence. It’s a list of, essentially, claims and then statements that people believed those claims. Not. Convincing.

      • “If they believe that historical records, contemporary or otherwise, are good enough evidence by themselves to confirm supernatural claims…then yes, they don’t understand.”

        Wow. If that doesn’t unearth the bias and close-mindedness of your position, I’m not sure what would. Besides, these scholars are not confirming a supernatural claim. They’re confirming historical information, which is what I referenced in my blog. The best explanation of this information, as I laid out, is that Jesus did actually rise from the dead.

        “Unbelieving scholars accept that the character probably existed. Not that he rose from the dead or did any of the other extraordinary claims.”

        And again, if you read my blog, you would see that’s not what I’m presenting.

        “Your ‘additional evidence’ isn’t evidence. It’s a list of, essentially, claims and then statements that people believed those claims. Not. Convincing.”

        I admit that someone as biased as you probably wouldn’t be willing to listen to any type of evidence that might shatter his worldview. Sorry you’re not convinced. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. “Wow. If that doesn’t unearth the bias and close-mindedness of your position, I’m not sure what would.”

    No. It reveals my respect for evidence and what it is possible for a given kind of evidence to tell us.

    “The best explanation of this information, as I laid out, is that Jesus did actually rise from the dead.”

    No, it really isn’t. Unless or until you give evidence for anyone rising from the dead, to determine its possibility, then ‘this guy rose from the dead just like these people wrote he did’ is necessarily the worst explanation. Because we have evidence for all sorts of other possibilities, including but not limited to someone faking a death, someone writing a legendary story that doesn’t correspond completely with reality, and people simply being mistaken.

    “I admit that someone as biased as you probably wouldn’t be willing to listen to any type of evidence that might shatter his worldview.”

    Sure I would. It’s not my fault that the evidence you have is bad evidence, if it’s evidence at all.

    Reply

    • “It reveals my respect for evidence and what it is possible for a given kind of evidence to tell us.”

      Evidence as long as it doesn’t point to the supernatural. That’s bias and close-mindedness.

      “Unless or until you give evidence for anyone rising from the dead, to determine its possibility, then ‘this guy rose from the dead just like these people wrote he did’ is necessarily the worst explanation.”

      You clearly don’t understand how historians use evidence. Did you read the part about the inference to the best explanation? The best explanation is considered to be the most causally adequate, not whatever you feel constitutes it.

      “It’s not my fault that the evidence you have is bad evidence, if it’s evidence at all.”

      Again clearly showing your bias and unwillingness to listen. Why are you still pursuing this discussion if you’re unwilling to be objective about it?

      Reply

      • “Evidence as long as it doesn’t point to the supernatural. That’s bias and close-mindedness.”

        Isn’t it interesting that all your ‘evidence for the supernatural’ is just anecdotes? Maybe if they were better than just anecdotes, then I’d give it some interest.

        I have a bias towards what the good evidence shows. And the good evidence does not show supernatural things.

        “Why are you still pursuing this discussion if you’re unwilling to be objective about it?”

        Because I hope to make you realize that you have a strange unnatural bias towards Christianity, and you would ignore similar bad evidence for anything that isn’t Christianity.

      • What I’m offering is historical evidence–pieces of history that are not in dispute. You can use abductive reasoning to make an inference to the best hypothesis given the data. I’m not doing anything crazy or outlandish here. I’m using accepted methods of historical science to show we have excellent reason to believe that the best hypothesis is that Jesus actually rose from the dead. The fact that you’re calling them “anecdotes” shows either your ignorance of historical science research, your laziness in learning about such methods, or both.

        It’s funny that you consider it “bad evidence” because it doesn’t fit YOUR worldview, and yet you’re accusing me of my bias. Pot, meet kettle.

  4. “It’s funny that you consider it “bad evidence” because it doesn’t fit YOUR worldview”

    Wrong.

    I consider it bad evidence because it’s bad evidence.

    “Ten years before I’m writing this, there was this guy who rose from the dead” is bad evidence, regardless of my worldview.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Ron on March 21, 2012 at 12:57 PM

    I have to admit that I’m rather disappointed, because I specifically asked you to “provide the means by which such a claim can be tested.” Instead I’m being served the same apologetic fare as before — all sizzle and no steak.

    In one of his video lectures, Hazen boldly claims that faith is not necessary because “God left an amazing trail of evidence leading back to these amazing events.” Unfortunately, he seems somewhat remiss in sharing that information with his audience during the remainder of the lecture. Perhaps that revelation is reserved for paying customers only. In any case, it’s an incredible statement to make in light of the fact that God didn’t even see fit to have the life and ministry of Jesus documented by contemporaneous sources. Imagine how much more convincing these events would be if we had genuine artifacts of Jesus’ historical existence: birth certificates, portraits, trial proceedings, execution orders, an inscribed burial chamber, personal writings by the Lord himself, some graffiti (“Jesus was here, Summer of ’29”) chiseled in a rock where the Sermon of the Mount took place, or even a few sticks of furniture engraved with Joseph & Sons.

    One also wonders why the same God who meticulously guided the pens of those composing the original autographs would later became so ambivalent about keeping them in circulation, thus forcing later generations to rely on less accurate copies of copies instead. The Gospels we read today can’t even agree on the facts leading up to the resurrection, so how can we trust their accuracy when it comes to the supernatural elements?

    Point 3 – So what? Many people mourn the loss of a dear leader.
    Point 4 – By whom? The Gospel accounts provide conflicting details.

    Points 5, 11 and 12 rely on personal testimony. How do we know those beliefs were founded on truth? Paul himself claims he never met the physical Jesus. His testimony is based on a revelation that supposedly occurred while he was traveling on the road to Damascus. How can we be certain he didn’t suffer from a heatstroke or epilepsy?

    Points 7 – Again, so what? Islam is founded on the divine revelation of the prophet Mohamed. he Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is founded on the divine revelation to Joseph Smith. The Church of Scientology is founded on the revelations of L. Ron Hubbard. Do you assign the same credibility to any of those beliefs?

    Points 8 & 9 – Religions usually spread from their point of origin. What’s so special about that?

    Reply

    • “I specifically asked you to ‘provide the means by which such a claim can be tested.'”

      And I did. The entire italicized portion explains how we test historical information — through abductive reasoning. The scientific method doesn’t work for everything, friend. It’s time you realized that.

      “Imagine how much more convincing these events would be if we had genuine artifacts of Jesus’ historical existence: birth certificates, portraits, trial proceedings, execution orders, an inscribed burial chamber, personal writings by the Lord himself, some graffiti”

      Is that what you demand for proof of every person who existed in history, or every event? If not, lower your standards.

      “The Gospels we read today can’t even agree on the facts leading up to the resurrection, so how can we trust their accuracy when it comes to the supernatural elements?”

      Wrong, but that’s a different debate.

      “Point 3 – So what? Many people mourn the loss of a dear leader.”

      Point 3 serves as the basis for point 6, which is the transformation of the disciples. Why would they proclaim Him resurrected if they believed Him to be dead? Something had to happen to change their minds.

      “Point 4 – By whom? The Gospel accounts provide conflicting details.”

      Irrelevant. Consensus is that there was an empty tomb. Who discovered it and when doesn’t matter.

      “Points 5, 11 and 12 rely on personal testimony. How do we know those beliefs were founded on truth?”

      Historically, what matters is what piece of evidence is presented. If the disciples and James and Paul all really believed it, that’s important historically. The fact that a complete skeptic (James) and an enemy (Paul) would be transformed based on the experiences they believed happened, then as a historian you have to ask yourself “why would this transformation happen?” And that’s abductive reasoning.

      “Points 7 – Again, so what?”

      If the resurrection didn’t actually happen, the early church could’ve focused preaching on many other aspects of Christ — His miracles, His parables, some other great teachings. Why would the resurrection even need to be a part of this, unless it actually happened? Clearly they would’ve had enough material to not need to not only make this up, but make it the centerpiece of the religion.

      “Points 8 & 9 – Religions usually spread from their point of origin. What’s so special about that?”

      If it was a legend or a myth, why not start it somewhere where it’s hard to corroborate the evidence of the crucifixion and the empty tomb, like Greece or Rome? Why proclaim this message where anyone could dispel the myth of an empty tomb by just saying, “Let’s go check the tomb and see if he’s there?” They proclaimed the resurrection where people were witnesses to both the life and death of Jesus, because those people could testify to its truth or falsehood. I haven’t seen any documents showing objectors from this time period, have you?

      I encourage you to think like a historian, and not like a skeptic when weighing the evidence. It will allow you to be more open-minded and follow the evidence where it leads, instead of using your bias to start the whole process.

      Reply

  6. Posted by Ron on March 21, 2012 at 10:27 PM

    “And I did. The entire italicized portion explains how we test historical information — through abductive reasoning.”

    Yes, and Peirce’s maxim for abductive reasoning was that the “Facts cannot be explained by a hypothesis more extraordinary than these facts themselves; and of various hypotheses the least extraordinary must be adopted.”

    Claiming the resurrection was a miracle violates that maxim from the outset by postulating a supernatural cause.

    “Is that what you demand for proof of every person who existed in history, or every event? If not, lower your standards.”

    Christians often assert that this was the most important event in all of human history. If you want to argue for a supernatural event, then the supernatural entity behind that event should also be capable of leaving a bigger and more convincing trail of evidence — i.e, real empirical evidence, not ad hoc explanations and hypotheses derived through abductive reasoning. And as I mentioned in my previous post, this supernatural entity isn’t even capable of keeping the original manuscripts in circulation, or keeping the stories congruent in subsequent translations.

    The real problem here isn’t that there’s insufficient evidence for the existence of God; it’s that the evidence contradicts the Christian concept of God.

    “Wrong, but that’s a different debate.”

    If you read the Gospels in parallel the discrepancies become glaringly obvious. Bart Ehrman (amongst others) has written entire books on the subject and has several on-line videos explaining them in detail.

    “Point 3 serves as the basis for point 6, which is the transformation of the disciples. Why would they proclaim Him resurrected if they believed Him to be dead? Something had to happen to change their minds.”

    My first question is how do you know that this transformation even took place? My second question is how would you determine they weren’t simply mistaken, or deluded, or simply made the whole thing up?

    “Irrelevant. Consensus is that there was an empty tomb. Who discovered it and when doesn’t matter.”

    Irrelevant? If the evangelists can’t even agree on: how many women went to the tomb; when they went; whether or not the stone was already rolled away when she/they got there; whether she/they met one man, two men, or none; whether he/they were inside or outside the tomb; whether he/they were sitting or standing; where they were sitting/standing; whether Mary went once or twice and met Jesus the second time; whether the women were instructed to tell the disciples to go meet Jesus in Galilee or Jerusalem; whether she/they went and told the disciples or ran away and told no one — then how can one be certain they even went to the right tomb?

    “Points 5, 11 and 12 rely on personal testimony. How do we know those beliefs were founded on truth?”

    “Historically, what matters is what piece of evidence is presented. If the disciples and James and Paul all really believed it, that’s important historically. The fact that a complete skeptic (James) and an enemy (Paul) would be transformed based on the experiences they believed happened, then as a historian you have to ask yourself “why would this transformation happen?” And that’s abductive reasoning.”

    You’re engaging in circular reasoning by using the scriptures to prove the scriptures. Anyone can write or edit a book to say what they want it to say. In this case the authors/redactors are promoting a religious ideology that’s so blatantly obvious you’d have to be blind not to notice it.

    Fine, let’s run with the assumption that James and Paul were indeed skeptics/antagonists and changed their minds. So the question “Why would they change their minds unless they were convinced Jesus had risen?” can be answered thus: for the same reason that there are still people who honestly believe that Elvis is alive, or that 9/11 was an inside job, or that the Illuminati is attempting to take over the world, or that the Holocaust was a hoax, or that they are receiving messages from God/demons/space aliens.

    BTW, you never did answer how you can be certain that Paul’s epiphany wasn’t due to heatstroke or an epileptic seizure. If you can’t rule it out with certainty, then it remains the most likely explanation.

    “If the resurrection didn’t actually happen, the early church could’ve focused preaching on many other aspects of Christ — His miracles, His parables, some other great teachings. Why would the resurrection even need to be a part of this, unless it actually happened? Clearly they would’ve had enough material to not need to not only make this up, but make it the centerpiece of the religion.”

    Every religion needs to conduct a strong marketing campaign to attract interest. It so happens that in Hellenistic Palestine resurrected Messiahs and virgin births were all the rage and there was stiff competition amongst the competing religions of the day, so anyone offering less than that had a tough sell. Economics 101.

    “If it was a legend or a myth, why not start it somewhere where it’s hard to corroborate the evidence of the crucifixion and the empty tomb, like Greece or Rome? Why proclaim this message where anyone could dispel the myth of an empty tomb by just saying, “Let’s go check the tomb and see if he’s there?” They proclaimed the resurrection where people were witnesses to both the life and death of Jesus, because those people could testify to its truth or falsehood. I haven’t seen any documents showing objectors from this time period, have you?”

    Someone once said: “The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it.”

    The truth is that few people fact check even when they have ample opportunity to do so. How many people do you reckon get taken in by Internet scams every day despite the fact that a quick on-line search would advise them it’s a scam?

    Reply

    • “Claiming the resurrection was a miracle violates that maxim from the outset by postulating a supernatural cause.”

      Based on your bias that a supernatural explanation is more extraordinary than another hypothesis GIVEN THE DATA. I would disagree with your assessment.

      “If you want to argue for a supernatural event, then the supernatural entity behind that event should also be capable of leaving a bigger and more convincing trail of evidence”

      I’m arguing for a historical event, therefore I need causally adequate historical evidence. I’ve presented that. You’re the one making it into more than it is. Again, lower your standards or admit your bias.

      “My first question is how do you know that this transformation even took place? My second question is how would you determine they weren’t simply mistaken, or deluded, or simply made the whole thing up?”

      The transformation is accepted almost universally. I’m taking every historian’s word for it because they’ve done the research. Mistake or delusion could easily be answered by visiting the tomb, and the disciples had no incentive to make this up because there was believed to be no previous text suggesting that the Messiah would be crucified and resurrected. Only after the fact did people go back and see the Old Testament pieces fit the data, but at the time there was no reason for them to make it up.

      “Then how can one be certain they even went to the right tomb?”

      You would have us believe that such ardent followers of Jesus would visit the wrong tomb on multiple occasions, and it would happen to be a tomb covered with a huge stone and guarded by Roman soldiers? Sounds like a more extraordinary hypothesis than the one I’m arguing for. The “wrong tomb theory” has long been discredited by historians.

      “You’re engaging in circular reasoning by using the scriptures to prove the scriptures.”

      What incentive would Paul and James even HAVE to write Scriptures? That’s what at debate here. As a historian you must ask yourself why a skeptic and an enemy would have such a radical transformation and what the best explanation for that is. No one doubts the authenticity of Paul’s and James’ letters. You’re only arguing against the message, although it’s because you disbelieve it and therefore are biased against it. Historically though, the “why?” question remains most important.

      “BTW, you never did answer how you can be certain that Paul’s epiphany wasn’t due to heatstroke or an epileptic seizure. If you can’t rule it out with certainty, then it remains the most likely explanation.”

      But it happened on the road to Damascus, a short ways from Jerusalem. If people thought he was hallucinating, visit the tomb! And why would not being able to rule something out with certainty make it the most likely explanation. That’s like me saying unless you can show me with certainty that you weren’t born from a purple alien with 3 legs, that makes it the most likely explanation. Absurd.

      “It so happens that in Hellenistic Palestine resurrected Messiahs and virgin births were all the rage and there was stiff competition amongst the competing religions of the day, so anyone offering less than that had a tough sell.”

      Read this article from Bart Ehrman. Claims of resurrected Messiahs and virgin births, as you state, are simply false according to a skeptical scholar. Don’t believe everything you read. Do your homework.

      “Someone once said: “The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it.” The truth is that few people fact check even when they have ample opportunity to do so.”

      And you’ve just made that statement quite clear in your laziness to check the previous data. Did you know that someone once did a study to see how long it takes a good legend to gain traction? The answer was about 600 years. And again, if it was a lie, people easily test it by simply VISITING THE TOMB. This continues to be the obvious answer to any sensationalist arguments, including many of the ones you’re making here.

      Remember we’re talking about the most causally adequate hypothesis that fits the data. It seems clear to me that the resurrection of Jesus is still the best explanation, despite your attempts to explain it away.

      Reply

      • Posted by Ron on March 26, 2012 at 4:22 AM

        “Based on your bias that a supernatural explanation is more extraordinary than another hypothesis GIVEN THE DATA. I would disagree with your assessment.”

        My bias is well founded. If we created a list of items under two separate columns labeled “things once attributed to supernatural causes now having natural explanations” and “things once attributed to natural causes that now have supernatural explanations” the former list would have many entries, while the latter remained completely empty.

        “I’m arguing for a historical event, therefore I need causally adequate historical evidence. I’ve presented that. You’re the one making it into more than it is. Again, lower your standards or admit your bias.”

        No, you’re arguing for a supernatural historical event; and once you go that route you automatically raise the bar to supernatural standards of evidence.

        “The transformation is accepted almost universally. I’m taking every historian’s word for it because they’ve done the research.”

        I specifically asked “how do YOU know that this transformation even took place?” — not what others think. And since you’ve staked your beliefs on the words of historians, what happens if the majority consensus should suddenly sway in the opposite direction? Will you then just as quickly abandon those beliefs?

        “Mistake or delusion could easily be answered by visiting the tomb, and the disciples had no incentive to make this up because there was believed to be no previous text suggesting that the Messiah would be crucified and resurrected. Only after the fact did people go back and see the Old Testament pieces fit the data, but at the time there was no reason for them to make it up.”

        Yet Matthew 16:21 clearly states that Jesus told the disciples he would be killed and resurrected on the third day. During the last supper he mentions his imminent death and resurrection again, and mentions that certain events (like Judas betrayal and his desertion by the disciples) must occur to fulfill OT prophecies. And according to Matthew 27:63 even the Pharisees were aware of this teaching.

        “You would have us believe that such ardent followers of Jesus would visit the wrong tomb on multiple occasions, and it would happen to be a tomb covered with a huge stone and guarded by Roman soldiers? Sounds like a more extraordinary hypothesis than the one I’m arguing for. The “wrong tomb theory” has long been discredited by historians.

        Well, first off, how ardent were they if they fled from and/or denied Jesus immediately after his arrest? Second, only Matthew mentions that there was a guard posted at the tomb (and the text doesn’t make clear whether this was a Roman guard or a Jewish guard, or how many men were posted). Third, according to Matthew and Mark, only the women went to the tomb — there’s no mention of any of the disciples ever going there to check it out even once. Luke and John state that only two disciples went to the tomb — but only once, and (like most men) it appears they never bothered to ask for directions before heading out.

        “What incentive would Paul and James even HAVE to write Scriptures?…”

        How should I know what motivated them? None of us were present when the texts were written, so all we could ever do is speculate.

        “But it happened on the road to Damascus, a short ways from Jerusalem. If people thought he was hallucinating, visit the tomb!”

        Paul didn’t say he met a physical Jesus — he reported that he heard a voice and saw a light shining from heaven.

        “And why would not being able to rule something out with certainty make it the most likely explanation.”

        Because in this specific case, a mental disorder is the best probable natural explanation. And as always, those who posit supernatural explanations where natural ones will suffice bear the burden of proof.

        “Read this article from Bart Ehrman. Claims of resurrected Messiahs and virgin births, as you state, are simply false according to a skeptical scholar. Don’t believe everything you read. Do your homework.”

        The First Apology (St. Justin Martyr)
        http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm

        Chapter 20. Heathen analogies to Christian doctrine

        And the Sibyl and Hystaspes said that there should be a dissolution by God of things corruptible. And the philosophers called Stoics teach that even God Himself shall be resolved into fire, and they say that the world is to be formed anew by this revolution; but we understand that God, the Creator of all things, is superior to the things that are to be changed. If, therefore, on some points we teach the same things as the poets and philosophers whom you honour, and on other points are fuller and more divine in our teaching, and if we alone afford proof of what we assert, why are we unjustly hated more than all others? For while we say that all things have been produced and arranged into a world by God, we shall seem to utter the doctrine of Plato; and while we say that there will be a burning up of all, we shall seem to utter the doctrine of the Stoics: and while we affirm that the souls of the wicked, being endowed with sensation even after death, are punished, and that those of the good being delivered from punishment spend a blessed existence, we shall seem to say the same things as the poets and philosophers; and while we maintain that men ought not to worship the works of their hands, we say the very things which have been said by the comic poet Menander, and other similar writers, for they have declared that the workman is greater than the work.

        Chapter 21. Analogies to the history of Christ

        And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, was produced without sexual union, and that He, Jesus Christ, our Teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter. […]

        Chapter 22. Analogies to the sonship of Christ

        Moreover, the Son of God called Jesus, even if only a man by ordinary generation, yet, on account of His wisdom, is worthy to be called the Son of God; for all writers call God the Father of men and gods. And if we assert that the Word of God was born of God in a peculiar manner, different from ordinary generation, let this, as said above, be no extraordinary thing to you, who say that Mercury is the angelic word of God. […] And if we even affirm that He was born of a virgin, accept this in common with what you accept of Perseus. And in that we say that He made whole the lame, the paralytic, and those born blind, we seem to say what is very similar to the deeds said to have been done by Æsculapius.

        “Did you know that someone once did a study to see how long it takes a good legend to gain traction? The answer was about 600 years.”

        Citation please.

      • “No, you’re arguing for a supernatural historical event; and once you go that route you automatically raise the bar to supernatural standards of evidence.”

        Says you. Historical scientists disagree with your assessment. We’ve already established that your burden of proof is rather higher than most of the professional world.

        “I specifically asked “how do YOU know that this transformation even took place?” — not what others think.”

        How do YOU know that Shakespeare existed? Geez – if we can’t accept the findings of guys who devote their entire lives to this stuff, why don’t we just throw out history? You’re again showing your standards to be remarkably higher than anyone I’ve talked to. I’m surprised you believe anything at all with that burden.

        “Yet Matthew 16:21 clearly states that Jesus told the disciples he would be killed and resurrected on the third day.”

        And verse 22 shows Peter’s disbelief in such a claim. We’ve already discussed your cherrypicking elsewhere. Besides, what Jesus taught would happen could easily be answered by simply visiting the tomb to see the body. You have yet to put forth a hypothesis to explain the empty tomb, which is a generally accepted fact.

        “How should I know what motivated them? None of us were present when the texts were written, so all we could ever do is speculate.”

        That is the question historical scientists must ask and answer abductively, and place hypotheses next to each other to sort out the data. No one doubts that these men were the authors of their letters, so when they say that Jesus was raised from the dead, why not take them at their word? Answer: bias against doing so. The explanation for such a radical transformation can be found in their own writings, and their belief that they had experiences with the risen Jesus is not in dispute.

        “Paul didn’t say he met a physical Jesus — he reported that he heard a voice and saw a light shining from heaven.”

        Whom he believed was Jesus. If he thought he was wrong, and others who he proclaimed this to thought he was wrong, VISIT THE TOMB!!!

        “Because in this specific case, a mental disorder is the best probable natural explanation.”

        There is no evidence of any mental problems in any of the New Testament writers, unless you invent one to explain away the entire theology. Many historians believe Paul to be one of the greatest writers of all times. Surely if he had mental problems this would have shown up in his work. Where do we see this?

        “The First Apology (St. Justin Martyr)
        http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm

        Justin Martyr was speaking to the Romans. You said such beliefs were the rage in Hellenistic Palestine. The two are not synonymous. Try again.

      • Posted by Ron on March 28, 2012 at 10:02 AM

        “Historical scientists disagree with your assessment.”

        Which “historical scientists” are you referring to? Thus far you haven’t named any. Moreover, exactly which “historical sciences” are you appealling to? Because archaeology and paleontology provide no empirical evidence to support the “minimal facts” you’re trying to extablish; and history, philosophy, and religious studies are normally classified under the term humanities, which Wikipedia defines as: “academic disciplines that study the human condition, using methods that are primarily analytical, critical, or speculative, as distinguished from the mainly empirical approaches of the natural sciences.”

        “How do YOU know that Shakespeare existed? Geez – if we can’t accept the findings of guys who devote their entire lives to this stuff, why don’t we just throw out history?”

        As I’ve already explained on the other thread, I don’t KNOW whether or not Socrates existed. Nor can I definitively KNOW whether or not Shakespeare existed. All I can ever KNOW is that we have works attributed to them. However, I didn’t ask you to prove the physical existence of Jesus and his disciples — I asked you how you know that the disciples were transformed from non-believers to believers via a physical manifestation of Jesus when neither you nor the historians you rely on were there to witness the event firsthand?

        “And verse 22 shows Peter’s disbelief in such a claim.”

        But your argument was that “the disciples had no incentive to make this up because there was believed to be no previous text suggesting that the Messiah would be crucified and resurrected.” My point is that they didn’t need a text to make this up because Jesus had given them this information directly. Whether or not they initially believed him is irrelevant.

        “We’ve already discussed your cherrypicking elsewhere. Besides, what Jesus taught would happen could easily be answered by simply visiting the tomb to see the body. You have yet to put forth a hypothesis to explain the empty tomb, which is a generally accepted fact.”

        It’s not a generally accepted fact (how many Islamic scholars agree?), it’s a tentatively accepted opinion held almost exclusively by Christian scholars. Besides, I addressed that point in my previous post and you completely ignored it, so who’s really guilty of cherrypicking here?

        “That is the question historical scientists must ask and answer abductively, and place hypotheses next to each other to sort out the data.”

        And “historical scientists” seek out natural explanations because science is based on empirical evidence. Only theologians start out with supernatural hypotheses.

        “No one doubts that these men were the authors of their letters, so when they say that Jesus was raised from the dead, why not take them at their word?”

        Because people are known to embellish the facts and/or harbor mistaken beliefs?

        “The explanation for such a radical transformation can be found in their own writings, and their belief that they had experiences with the risen Jesus is not in dispute.”

        No, but the basis for those beliefs is.

        “Whom he believed was Jesus. If he thought he was wrong, and others who he proclaimed this to thought he was wrong, VISIT THE TOMB!!!”

        Yet no where does it state that anyone actually took advantage of that opportunity, does it? If there were indeed early skeptics (as 1 Corinthians 15:8 suggests) then why didn’t Paul just say “Hey guys, GO VISIT THE TOMB!!!” to prove them wrong?

        “Many historians believe Paul to be one of the greatest writers of all times. Surely if he had mental problems this would have shown up in his work. Where do we see this?

        According to Acts (9:3-4, 9:12, 16:9, 18:9), Galations 1:11 and 2 Corinthians 12:1-5, Paul seems to have had quite a number of “visions” during his ministry. In fact, Paul acknowledged he had so many “surpassingly great revelations” that he was given a thorn in his flesh to prevent him from becoming conceited. (2 Cor. 12:7, NIV)

        “Justin Martyr was speaking to the Romans. You said such beliefs were the rage in Hellenistic Palestine. The two are not synonymous.”

        Of course he was speaking to Romans — they were the ones questioning the basis for his beliefs. His defense was to call attention to the fact that his beliefs were very similar to other religious beliefs within the Roman Empire. In Chapter 54 (Origin of heathen mythology) he even goes on to accuse those religions of being cheap counterfeits invented by demons to lead the human race astray before Christ came.

      • “Which “historical scientists” are you referring to? Thus far you haven’t named any.”

        Posted elsewhere: Take a look here for some names of believing and non-believing historians which make up the list of approximately 2,200 published documents from 1975 to the present by historical scholars that corroborate these minimal facts: http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005.htm#ch3

        “All I can ever KNOW is that we have works attributed to them.”

        And that’s what we KNOW about the disciples. The works attributed to them attest to this transformation. The same burden used for Shakespeare can be used for the disciples.

        “My point is that they didn’t need a text to make this up because Jesus had given them this information directly.”

        But if they genuinely despaired at the death of Jesus (attested to in point #3) they would likely believe that Jesus was then not the Messiah he claimed to be. Only with a resurrection could he continue to fulfill prophecy. And what kind of transformation would take place to where people were willing to die for it if it was a lie? Makes no sense historically.

        “It’s not a generally accepted fact (how many Islamic scholars agree?), it’s a tentatively accepted opinion held almost exclusively by Christian scholars.”

        Go look at that link I posted. Bart Ehrman might disagree with you, as well as a few others. Complete laziness on your part with such a claim.

        “And “historical scientists” seek out natural explanations because science is based on empirical evidence.”

        Historical scientists look at ALL hypotheses. Only someone with a bias towards naturalism would winnow the field down before testing hypotheses. So who’s got the faulty line of thinking then? I think it’s easy to see that testing all possibilities allows for the best explanation to be discovered. Scientific method doesn’t always work, as I’ve tried repeatedly to drill into your head.

        “Because people are known to embellish the facts and/or harbor mistaken beliefs?”

        Wouldn’t that be up to historians to decide? If you assume all people embellish, then why do you believe anything historical?

        “No, but the basis for those beliefs is.”

        And what basis is in dispute?

        “According to Acts (9:3-4, 9:12, 16:9, 18:9), Galations 1:11 and 2 Corinthians 12:1-5, Paul seems to have had quite a number of “visions” during his ministry.”

        For starters, only three of these even relate to Paul’s visions. The rest are visions of others. And one of the three is what we’re talking about in the minimal facts argument. But regardless, you’re suggesting that not only Paul had mental problems, but so did James, all of the disciples and more than 500 different people in Jerusalem at this time? Because they all believed they saw the risen Jesus. So if you want to go with the mass hallucination theory, be my guest. That seems far less plausible to me than what I’m offering.

        “Of course he was speaking to Romans”

        Then your claim that these were the rage in Palestine is false based on this evidence.

      • Posted by Ron on April 1, 2012 at 9:50 PM

        “Posted elsewhere: Take a look here for some names of believing and non-believing historians which make up the list of approximately 2,200 published documents from 1975 to the present by historical scholars that corroborate these minimal facts: http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005.htm#ch3

        Habermas is a theologen. Only two paragraphs in he writes:

        “Since 1975, more than 1400 scholarly publications on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus have appeared. Over the last five years, I have tracked these texts, which were written in German, French, and English. Well over 100 subtopics are addressed in the literature, almost all of which I have examined in detail. Each source appeared from the last quarter of the Twentieth Century to the present, with more being written in the 1990s than in other decades.[1] This contemporary milieu exhibits a number of well-established trends, while others are just becoming recognizable. The interdisciplinary flavor is noteworthy, as well. Most of the critical scholars are theologians or New Testament scholars, while a number of philosophers and historians, among other fields, are also included.”

        So right off the bat you’re 800 documents short of 2,200 and he’s already established that “most of the critical scholars are theologians.”

        Further in he notes: “By far, the majority of publications on the subject of Jesus’ death and resurrection have been written by North American authors. Interestingly, my study of these works also indicates an approximate ratio of 3:1 of moderate conservative to skeptical publications, as with the European publications. Here again, this signals the direction of current research.”

        Gee, do you think? If most of the scholars are theologians does it surprise anyone that 75% of the publications are pro-resurrection and empty tomb?

        The remainder of the article is mostly apologetics. Of the few skeptics he highlights, none are convinced of a resurrection. Crossman, isn’t even convinced Jesus made it to the tomb and Ehrman’s only contribution is “Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution.” — not exactly a ringing endorsement for the minimal facts consensus you’re trying to establish.

        “And that’s what we KNOW about the disciples. The works attributed to them attest to this transformation.”

        Well, to date we have found no written works attributed to the disciples themselves, and the gospel narratives are all secondhand accounts written by Greek authors many decades after the events supposedly occurred.

        “The same burden used for Shakespeare can be used for the disciples.”

        Except no one is asking me to believe in Shakespeare’s ghost of Caesar, or beseeching me to turn my life over to Socrates. (In fact he implored his followers to “Think not of Socrates, but think of the truth.”)

        “But if they genuinely despaired at the death of Jesus (attested to in point #3) they would likely believe that Jesus was then not the Messiah he claimed to be. Only with a resurrection could he continue to fulfill prophecy.”

        Or perhaps their belief that Jesus was the Messiah was so strong that they convinced themselves into believing they’d seen him resurrected. There are plenty of people who genuinely believe that they are in direct communication with their departed relatives, even today.

        “And what kind of transformation would take place to where people were willing to die for it if it was a lie?”

        First off, we don’t know that the transformation actually took place. Mark’s original account ends with the women running from the tomb and telling no one. For all we know, the crestfallen disciples returned to Galilee and resumed their mundane lives. Second, we have no reliable records indicating how, when or where any of the disciples died. Finally, we have more than ample evidence that people are willing to die for all sorts of beliefs, including those which are completely unfounded.

        “Go look at that link I posted. Bart Ehrman might disagree with you, as well as a few others.”

        Ah, the Courtier’s reply. Ehrman doesn’t believe in a resurrected Jesus; but nonetheless, an opinion is not a fact no matter how many letters you place behind your name. And as I suspected, there isn’t a single Islamic or Hindu scholar on the list — so if you want to argue that historical truths are determined by theological head counts, then Christianity’s truth claims are outnumbered by at least a 2:1 margin.

        “Historical scientists look at ALL hypotheses.”

        People possessing proper academic credentials will always refer to themselves by their respective disciplines — i.e., historians, scholars, archaeologists, paleontologists, philologists, etc. In the interview clip you linked to, Bart Ehrman at various times referred to himself as an historian, a biblical scholar and a textual critic. Not once did he call himself an “historical scientist.” The only people who employ that term are religious apologists (usually creationists from the ID camp) who wish to lend themselves an aura of respectability.

        “Only someone with a bias towards naturalism would winnow the field down before testing hypotheses.”

        That’s because by its very definition science is: “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”

        “Scientific method doesn’t always work, as I’ve tried repeatedly to drill into your head.”

        How’s that list of “things once attributed to natural causes that now have supernatural explanations” coming along? Got any entries yet?

        “Because people are known to embellish the facts and/or harbor mistaken beliefs?”

        “Wouldn’t that be up to historians to decide? If you assume all people embellish, then why do you believe anything historical?”

        The historian’s job is to separate the facts from the fiction, and the historical man from the myths built around him.

        “And what basis is in dispute?”

        The supernatural explanation.

        “For starters, only three of these even relate to Paul’s visions. The rest are visions of others.”

        Read them again. All claim Paul had a vision, with the exception of Acts 9:12 where Ananias has a vision that Paul had a vision of Ananias — i.e. a vision within a vision.

        “But regardless, you’re suggesting that not only Paul had mental problems, but so did James, all of the disciples and more than 500 different people in Jerusalem at this time? Because they all believed they saw the risen Jesus. So if you want to go with the mass hallucination theory, be my guest. That seems far less plausible to me than what I’m offering.”

        Got names for those 500 different people? Because only Paul–the man of surpassingly great revelations–makes that claim and he doesn’t mention the women. Moreover, how could Jesus appear to “the twelve” when Judas had already killed himself (either by hanging or by falling headlong and bursting his guts, depending on the whether you go with Matthew’s version or the one in Acts)?

        When Jesus heads off into the clouds (Acts 1:1-9), the event is witnessed only by his eleven disciples (Acts 1:12-13), plus maybe the women and his brothers (verse 14). Even if I grant you the full 120 believers (of which at least 100 remain anonymous since it includes the disciples and relatives) stated in verse 15 that still leaves 380 people unaccounted for. Did they all have visions too? Paul must have thought so, because there is certainly no mention made of them in any of the other Gospels. Plus, doesn’t it seem rather strange that Jesus wandered Jerusalem for 40 days without anyone other than his disciples and closest followers noticing that a dead man had come back to life three days after being executed? Wouldn’t this sort of thing have come to the attention of Pilate and everyone else who was party to the execution?

        The facts are that according to the Gospels: not a single disciple witnessed the crucifixion; not a single disciple witnessed Jesus being removed from the cross; not a single disciple witnessed Jesus’ burial or knew his place of interment; and not a single person (not even the women who went to the tomb) witnessed the actual resurrection. Of the four Gospels, only Matthew mentions the posting of the guard, and this occurred THE DAY AFTER Jesus had supposedly been buried, which left plenty of time for grave robbers to remove the body from the tomb (assuming that’s where he was even brought).

        “Then your claim that these were the rage in Palestine is false based on this evidence.”

        Not at all. In case you’ve forgotten, Jerusalem was under Roman occupation during the time this all supposedly took place. According to Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, Augustus had priests offering sacrifices in the Temple on his behalf and Herod built a port named Caesarea (complete with a temple to worship the emperor) so he could maintain favor with Agrippa, Augustas’ right-hand man. There were several competing Jewish sects and hopes for a coming Messiah were at a fever pitch. So the areas under Roman control were inundated with a diverse mixture of pagan cults, mysticism, religious beliefs and superstitions.

      • So you disregard at least 350 skeptical scholars who corroborate the account? That’s quite enough sample to work with. Regardless, wouldn’t believing scholars abandon the faith if the data didn’t line up with their belief? That’s what many “Christians turned atheists” claim to do, right?

        Well, to date we have found no written works attributed to the disciples themselves, and the gospel narratives are all secondhand accounts written by Greek authors many decades after the events supposedly occurred.

        1 and 2 Peter? 1, 2, 3 John? Jude? Revelation? The Gospel of John (almost universally attributed to the disciple)? Bad form, friend.

        Or perhaps their belief that Jesus was the Messiah was so strong that they convinced themselves into believing they’d seen him resurrected.

        Easy enough to dispute as a skeptic at the time by VISITING THE TOMB.

        Second, we have no reliable records indicating how, when or where any of the disciples died.

        Tertullian and Origen both record Peter’s death by crucifixion upside down. Reliability of these writers is also largely undisputed.

        Finally, we have more than ample evidence that people are willing to die for all sorts of beliefs, including those which are completely unfounded.

        Yes, but what caused those beliefs, and what is the best explanation for such a radical transformation? We’re talking about why they were transformed, because we need to hypothesize the explanation. We don’t know for certain like some of the other things I’m guessing you’re talking about. You’re arguing a posteriori, which doesn’t make sense in this context.

        That’s because by its very definition science is: “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.”

        So science leaves out possible hypotheses, which makes it NOT the best available method of discovery. Glad we got that covered. Thanks.

        The historian’s job is to separate the facts from the fiction, and the historical man from the myths built around him.

        And they’ve done that, to the tune of 1,400 documents. I think we can put this one to rest.

        Got names for those 500 different people?

        Do you have names for all of the people that died at Gettysburg? Does it mean that no one was there? Re-think your burden of proof here.

        The facts are that according to the Gospels: not a single disciple witnessed the crucifixion;

        False. John was there with Mary, mother of Jesus.

        not a single disciple witnessed Jesus’ burial or knew his place of interment;…which left plenty of time for grave robbers to remove the body from the tomb…

        Do you see the absurdity of arguing both sides of the coin here? You believe this to be a more logical explanation than what I’m offering based on the data?

        I’m trying to keep it to the 12 minimal facts at hand. Please try to stick this rather than going off on tangents about the prevalence of myths, the disciples’ writings, the disciples’ deaths. I know you’re trying to confuse the argument, but I’m tired of battling straw men in this discussion. Thanks.

      • Posted by Ron on April 11, 2012 at 1:26 PM

        “So you disregard at least 350 skeptical scholars who corroborate the account?”

        You can’t corroborate what you didn’t witness firsthand. And let’s not equivocate here: the majority of those (350?) “skeptical” scholars are liberal theologians (like Marcus Borg) who do not believe in a bodily resurrection.

        “Regardless, wouldn’t believing scholars abandon the faith if the data didn’t line up with their belief?”

        Yes they would, and there are entire websites devoted to presenting the testimonials of former clergy and seminary students who have lost their faith after critically examining the data which forms the basis for their beliefs.

        “1 and 2 Peter? 1, 2, 3 John? Jude? Revelation? The Gospel of John (almost universally attributed to the disciple)?”

        Yes, those manuscripts are traditionally attributed to the authors bearing their names. However, none of those authors attest to a sudden transformation from disbelief to belief within those writings. Furthermore, the very authorship of those documents still remains contested. It’s doubtful that Peter or John could have written the works attributed to them when even Acts 4:13 (NIV) acknowledges that they were perceived as “unlearned and ignorant men.”

        “Easy enough to dispute as a skeptic at the time by VISITING THE TOMB.”

        So what? Perhaps the skeptics visited the tomb and found nothing amiss but were unsuccessful in convincing the disciples to abandon their beliefs, much in the same way that conspiracy theorists can’t be dissuaded from relinquishing theirs regardless of how much evidence to the contrary they are presented with. And as I already pointed out earlier, Paul never invited his skeptics to investigate the empty tomb, nor does he give any indication that he did so himself.

        “Tertullian and Origen both record Peter’s death by crucifixion upside down. Reliability of these writers is also largely undisputed.”

        Tradition has it that this is how Peter died, but there are conflicting reports and neither 2nd century author was a direct witness to the event — so ultimately, their reports are based on hearsay.

        “Yes, but what caused those beliefs, and what is the best explanation for such a radical transformation?”

        Again, you have no evidence to support claims of a radical transformation, and in any case there are plenty of reasons why people choose to hold on to their personal convictions, not the least of which is the sense of personal comfort they derive from maintaining them.

        “So science leaves out possible hypotheses, which makes it NOT the best available method of discovery. Glad we got that covered. Thanks.”

        To the contrary. Science has demonstrated over and over that it is the most reliable method of discovery — a fact attested to by your inability to provide even ONE example of something that was once attributed to natural causes but now has supernatural explanations.

        “And they’ve done that, to the tune of 1,400 documents. I think we can put this one to rest.”

        You might be willing to put this one to rest, but 1400 documents authored by those with a vested interest in maintaining their a priori theological beliefs instill no more credibility than the hundreds of tobacco company studies discounting the health risks associated with smoking.

        “Do you have names for all of the people that died at Gettysburg? Does it mean that no one was there?? Re-think your burden of proof here.”

        You can visit the Gettysburg National Cemetery and read the names on the gravestones. Some even display portraits of the deceased. In any event, one doesn’t need to establish the name of every last individual killed in that particular war because we have sufficient evidence (such as newspaper archives and photographs) to corroborate the event’s occurrence.

        “False. John was there with Mary, mother of Jesus.”

        The “disciple whom Jesus loved” is never mentioned by name and the attribution to John remains contested.

        “Do you see the absurdity of arguing both sides of the coin here? You believe this to be a more logical explanation than what I’m offering based on the data?”

        Thus far, any natural explanation is more logical than what you are offering.

        “I’m trying to keep it to the 12 minimal facts at hand. Please try to stick this rather than going off on tangents about the prevalence of myths, the disciples’ writings, the disciples’ deaths. I know you’re trying to confuse the argument, but I’m tired of battling straw men in this discussion. Thanks.”

        The tangents I’m addressing are ones which you brought into the discussion, so you have no one to blame but yourself.

      • You can’t corroborate what you didn’t witness firsthand.

        Ok, so disregard all of history. Otherwise, lower your standards.

        Yes they would, and there are entire websites devoted to presenting the testimonials of former clergy and seminary students who have lost their faith after critically examining the data which forms the basis for their beliefs.

        And many more websites presenting testimonials of how perfectly the data fits together. Not a very good argument on your end, I think.

        However, none of those authors attest to a sudden transformation from disbelief to belief within those writings.

        The purpose of their writings were either 1) to document the historical nature of the life of Jesus, or 2) to equip fellow believers. The transformation wasn’t the point of any of the writings, so it’s absurd for you to demand that it be included. That’s like me saying that because you didn’t document your birth in your last comment it probably didn’t happen. C’mon, man.

        Perhaps the skeptics visited the tomb and found nothing amiss but were unsuccessful in convincing the disciples to abandon their beliefs

        Perhaps we would have the writings of some of these skeptics, no? I mean, if we could find the New Testament documents multiple times over, surely it would be possible for us to have at least one writing of someone who visited the tomb and found nothing amiss, right? Or maybe that hypothesis is far more extreme and unlikely.

        And as I already pointed out earlier, Paul never invited his skeptics to investigate the empty tomb, nor does he give any indication that he did so himself.

        Why would he need to? He went around testifying that he saw the risen Jesus in Jerusalem and abroad. Surely if the tomb wasn’t empty he would have been corrected at some point and told to go visit the tomb. The fact that no one went speaks more to the fact that no one needed to go because the question was already answered than it does to some grand conspiracy like it seems you’re inventing.

        Tradition has it that this is how Peter died, but there are conflicting reports and neither 2nd century author was a direct witness to the event — so ultimately, their reports are based on hearsay.

        Then pretty much all of history must be hearsay and unreliable, so go burn all of the books in the historical section of your library. Or…..lower your standards!

        Again, you have no evidence to support claims of a radical transformation

        Peter went from a denier of Jesus to avid proclaimer to martyr. Nice try.

        Science has demonstrated over and over that it is the most reliable method of discovery — a fact attested to by your inability to provide even ONE example of something that was once attributed to natural causes but now has supernatural explanations.

        Not in history. The scientific method can only be used on observable and repeatable experiments. History doesn’t fall into either category. Again, thanks for playing.

        In any event, one doesn’t need to establish the name of every last individual killed in that particular war because we have sufficient evidence (such as newspaper archives and photographs) to corroborate the event’s occurrence.

        And in the Bible we have eyewitness testimony as to the appearances of Jesus, which is certainly better than archives and photos, which can be doctored. Again, lower…your…standards.

        The “disciple whom Jesus loved” is never mentioned by name and the attribution to John remains contested.

        Even if you contest that the disciple whom Jesus loved is John, it still goes to the argument that one of the disciples was at the crucifixion, no matter who it was. So your objection is still easily refuted.

        Thus far, any natural explanation is more logical than what you are offering.

        Give me one that makes any sense given the data. You haven’t. I’ve given you one that makes sense given the data. I think I’m ahead on this venture, whereas you are asserting your a priori bias. I think any reader of our discussion can see that clearly.

      • Posted by Ron on April 13, 2012 at 8:08 PM

        Ok, so disregard all of history. Otherwise, lower your standards.

        I’m not disregarding all of history; just the supernatural elements woven into them. And why should I have to lower my standards to accommodate your miracle claims? Would you entertain such requests from the advocates of other religions? If not, then asking me to grant preferential treatment to your cherished beliefs amounts to little more than special pleading.

        And many more websites presenting testimonials of how perfectly the data fits together. Not a very good argument on your end, I think.

        Well, it wasn’t my goal to keep tallies, so much as to point out that many have left the faith because they found the evidence less than convincing.

        It’s also worth noting that evidence-based reasons are seldom cited as the deciding basis for maintaining any particular set of beliefs, religious or otherwise. To a large extent, we adopt the values and cultural practices of our parents and/or the society we’re born into — i.e. children raised in predominantly Christian nations become Christians, whereas children raised in predominantly Islamic nations become Muslims, etc. In countries where religious freedom is permitted, a certain percentage of the population may switch its religious affiliations, or abandon them entirely; but generally people die with more-or-less the same religious beliefs they started with, even if they weren’t actively engaged in practicing them.

        The purpose of their writings were either 1) to document the historical nature of the life of Jesus, or 2) to equip fellow believers. The transformation wasn’t the point of any of the writings, so it’s absurd for you to demand that it be included.

        So then you’re retracting your statement of March 30, 2012 (1:03 PM) where you wrote:

        “And that’s what we KNOW about the disciples. The works attributed to them attest to this transformation.”

        Perhaps we would have the writings of some of these skeptics, no? I mean, if we could find the New Testament documents multiple times over, surely it would be possible for us to have at least one writing of someone who visited the tomb and found nothing amiss, right? Or maybe that hypothesis is far more extreme and unlikely.

        Well, considering Christianity’s long and sordid history of suppressing opposing viewpoints by burning anyone and anything deemed heretical to its orthodoxy, it’s quite conceivable that most of those skeptical writings you seek perished in flames along with their authors.

        Why would he need to? He went around testifying that he saw the risen Jesus in Jerusalem and abroad. Surely if the tomb wasn’t empty he would have been corrected at some point and toldurning w to go visit the tomb. The fact that no one went speaks more to the fact that no one needed to go because the question was already answered than it does to some grand conspiracy like it seems you’re inventing.

        All of which substantiates my earlier contention that then, as now, few people bother to do any fact checking to substantiate their beliefs once they’ve convinced themselves that they’re right.

        Then pretty much all of history must be hearsay and unreliable, so go burn all of the books in the historical section of your library.

        As mentioned above, burning works of historical significance and suppressing opposing viewpoints tends to be the purview of the religious fanatic, and such actions have set humanity back many centuries.

        Peter went from a denier of Jesus to avid proclaimer to martyr.

        Based on what evidence? Because according to Peter’s account he was already more than convinced at the time of the transfiguration (see 2 Peter 1:16-18, Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-9, and Luke 9:28-36). Nor is this the only time that Peter has a vision (See Acts 9:9-16).

        These tales of recurring visions are a comment element shared by Peter, Paul and John.

        Not in history. The scientific method can only be used on observable and repeatable experiments. History doesn’t fall into either category.

        I submit that that’s a rather pedantic view of how the scientific method works. While it’s true that we can’t repeat or directly test historic events, we can assign probabilities as to their likelihood based upon inferences drawn from other sources of data (many of which can be independently verified or tested).

        For instance, we can’t witness or recreate the sinking of the Titanic, but we can assign a high degree of certainty to said event’s occurrence based purely on ancillary information (ship blueprints and photographs, newspaper archives, passenger manifests, log books, Marconiograms, obituary notices, copies of insurance claims, and of course, the the actual wreckage itself). We also have records of other shipwrecks resulting from collisions with icebergs lending support to notion that such naval disasters are entirely within the realm of possibility.

        What supporting evidence corroborates the actual resurrection claims?

        And in the Bible we have eyewitness testimony as to the appearances of Jesus,

        Eyewitness testimony is often wrong, as the following video demonstrates.

        …which is certainly better than archives and photos, which can be doctored.

        Are you suggesting that the entire Civil War was fabricated from whole cloth? That would have been a major undertaking, to say the least.

        Even if you contest that the disciple whom Jesus loved is John, it still goes to the argument that one of the disciples was at the crucifixion, no matter who it was. So your objection is still easily refuted.

        Except that none of the other Gospels (or Epistles) mention such a disciple. A rather strange omission, wouldn’t you say?

        Give me one that makes any sense given the data. You haven’t. I’ve given you one that makes sense given the data.

        I’ve given several. Choosing to ignore (or summarily dismiss) them doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

        I think I’m ahead on this venture, whereas you are asserting your a priori bias.

        You’ve leveled that accusation a few times now, so let me set the record straight. I won’t burden you with the details, but suffice it to say that my a priori bias was once that of a hard-core believer until I left the faith; and that loss of faith occurred as a result of diligently reading the very texts it was based upon.

      • I’m not disregarding all of history; just the supernatural elements woven into them.

        Based on not witnessing it firsthand. Special pleading to make this argument only in specific instances.

        It’s also worth noting that evidence-based reasons are seldom cited as the deciding basis for maintaining any particular set of beliefs, religious or otherwise.

        It’s absolutely not worth noting here, because evidence-based reasons ARE being used here. So this is simply a straw man attack based on a generalization of religion. See what I mean about you leading us off on tangents?

        So then you’re retracting your statement of March 30, 2012 (1:03 PM) where you wrote:
        “And that’s what we KNOW about the disciples. The works attributed to them attest to this transformation.”

        No I’m not. The purpose of the writing wasn’t to specifically state that they had a transformation, but it was clear from WHAT they wrote that such a transformation took place. The two work in tandem. Nice try twisting my words though.

        Well, considering Christianity’s long and sordid history of suppressing opposing viewpoints by burning anyone and anything deemed heretical to its orthodoxy, it’s quite conceivable that most of those skeptical writings you seek perished in flames along with their authors.

        And considering that early Christians were the persecuted, not the persecutors, this makes absolutely no sense. Besides, the persecuted Christians still had writings that made it through the times, so it’s more likely than not that at least one skeptical author’s writings would be found. Your conspiracy theory doesn’t add up when you actually look at what happened historically.

        All of which substantiates my earlier contention that then, as now, few people bother to do any fact checking to substantiate their beliefs once they’ve convinced themselves that they’re right.

        I couldn’t have said it better myself. Considering how clear you’ve made it that you’re as set in your ways as anybody, I think the sword cuts both ways.

        As mentioned above, burning works of historical significance and suppressing opposing viewpoints tends to be the purview of the religious fanatic, and such actions have set humanity back many centuries.

        Again, nice try, but you’ve completely missed the point, which is that if you’re going to attack hearsay, then you must attack everything you read as hearsay. Otherwise, special pleading.

        For instance, we can’t witness or recreate the sinking of the Titanic, but we can assign a high degree of certainty to said event’s occurrence based purely on ancillary information (ship blueprints and photographs, newspaper archives, passenger manifests, log books, Marconiograms, obituary notices, copies of insurance claims, and of course, the the actual wreckage itself).

        And none of this has ANYTHING to do with the scientific method. I think that’s clear. Rather, it’s the method inference to the best explanation (abductive reasoning), which allows us to follow the evidence where it leads. So you’ve actually made my point for me, and for that I thank you.

        What supporting evidence corroborates the actual resurrection claims?

        Um, see the entire blog post.

        Eyewitness testimony is often wrong, as the following video demonstrates.

        Then our entire justice system in basically any country in the world is a complete failure and useless, because many convictions are based on eyewitness testimony. Wait for it……….special pleading.

        Are you suggesting that the entire Civil War was fabricated from whole cloth? That would have been a major undertaking, to say the least.

        And yet you’re making similar claims about the resurrection? One more time……..special pleading.

        Except that none of the other Gospels (or Epistles) mention such a disciple. A rather strange omission, wouldn’t you say?

        How many of the rest of them were written by a disciple that was there? If four people wrote a biography on your life, but only one person was at your 16th birthday party and detailed it, would you consider it a strange omission that the other three didn’t mention it? Or would you say, “Well, he/she was the only one that was there, so it makes sense that none of the others would talk about it?” Makes a little more sense when you lower your standards and think about it that way.

        I’ve given several. Choosing to ignore (or summarily dismiss) them doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.

        And what are those again? What theory of the events makes more sense than the resurrection given the truth of the 12 data points? Or are you just picking pieces and trying to develop the conspiracy theory?

        suffice it to say that my a priori bias was once that of a hard-core believer until I left the faith

        Well, it just means that you admit bias, just that it’s shifted. But I’m curious what it was that caused you to, as you say, “leave the faith.” What things did you see that didn’t make sense initially? Clearly you’ve crafted a whole (admittedly biased) worldview from that, so I’m asking sincerely, what got it started?

      • Posted by Ron on April 17, 2012 at 12:44 AM

        Based on not witnessing it firsthand. Special pleading to make this argument only in specific instances.

        Again, the historian’s sole function is to express an opinion on the likelihood that certain historical events occurred as stated. Questions pertaining to any supernatural elements attached to those events are left for theologians to sort out. In your case, all the historians have to work with is a bunch of contradictory second-hand accounts decades removed from the events they attempt to describe; so the only definitive thing they can say is that an unknown number of first- and second-century authors were motivated to write several conflicting theological treatises centered upon the purported teachings of a self-proclaimed Jewish messiah who may or may not have been executed (because we have no other contemporaneous records to confirm the circumstances surrounding his death).

        It’s absolutely not worth noting here, because evidence-based reasons ARE being used here. So this is simply a straw man attack based on a generalization of religion.

        It’s hardly a generalization when Christian colleges across the country make signed “professions of faith” and regular church attendance an integral part of the admission requirements. How can students be expected to conduct an impartial investigation if prior affirmation is required before that investigation can even commence?

        No I’m not. The purpose of the writing wasn’t to specifically state that they had a transformation, but it was clear from WHAT they wrote that such a transformation took place. The two work in tandem. Nice try twisting my words though.

        The writings attributed to the disciples either directly attest to their transformation or they don’t — pick one or the other — but please stop reading more into the texts than what’s actually being presented.

        And considering that early Christians were the persecuted, not the persecutors, this makes absolutely no sense. Besides, the persecuted Christians still had writings that made it through the times, so it’s more likely than not that at least one skeptical author’s writings would be found. Your conspiracy theory doesn’t add up when you actually look at what happened historically.

        Who said it was a conspiracy? The epistles themselves openly acknowledge the internal conflicts and schisms within the faith — divisions affirmed by later Church historians with a keen desire to stamp them out by whatever means possible. And once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire the persecution escalated. The works of dissenting factions were destroyed and whatever information we have about them now comes to us via heavily-filtered, one-sided condemnations written by the victors. Sure, the odd text surfaces now and again, but the majority of those works are lost forever.

        I couldn’t have said it better myself. Considering how clear you’ve made it that you’re as set in your ways as anybody, I think the sword cuts both ways.

        No, I’m completely open to examining solid evidence in support of your position. It’s just that no one ever presents any, and in this particular instance I’m being asked to lend assent to opinions masquerading as facts.

        Again, nice try, but you’ve completely missed the point, which is that if you’re going to attack hearsay, then you must attack everything you read as hearsay. Otherwise, special pleading.

        I’m not “attacking” hearsay — I’m simply reserving an opinion on the circumstances surrounding Peter’s death because the question hasn’t been settled. And when historians are confronted with unresolved matters they leave them open to further investigation rather than making definitive pronouncements.

        And none of this has ANYTHING to do with the scientific method. I think that’s clear. Rather, it’s the method inference to the best explanation (abductive reasoning), which allows us to follow the evidence where it leads. So you’ve actually made my point for me, and for that I thank you.

        Well, if knocking down straw men is the only way you can claim victory in this discussion then I guess I’m happy to grant you that tiny outlet of satisfaction. 😉

        Um, see the entire blog post.

        Yeah, but I was hoping for something a bit more concrete than impassioned appeals to scholarly opinions and generic “facts” which could apply equally well to every other belief system in the world.

        Then our entire justice system in basically any country in the world is a complete failure and useless, because many convictions are based on eyewitness testimony.

        That seems to be the premise of the program and countless other studies investigating the reliability of eyewitness testimony.

        Hey, even Mary Magdalene mistook Jesus for a gardener at the tomb.

        And yet you’re making similar claims about the resurrection?

        If only we had as much corroborating evidence for the resurrection of Jesus as we have for the Civil War. Apparently the same God who exacts such high standards from mankind was incapable of leaving enough evidence to establish proof of his earthly existence and now you want me to lower the bar to accommodate that failure. For shame!!

        How many of the rest of them were written by a disciple that was there? If four people wrote a biography on your life, but only one person was at your 16th birthday party and detailed it, would you consider it a strange omission that the other three didn’t mention it? Or would you say, “Well, he/she was the only one that was there, so it makes sense that none of the others would talk about it?”

        That still fails to explain why no other author mentions a “disciple whom Jesus loved.” It seems highly unlikely that Jesus’ special fondness for one particular disciple would have gone unnoticed by the others especially when the author of John himself makes mention of Peter’s unbridled jealousy towards that disciple — that is, unless the author of John embellished his story.

        And what are those again?

        Scroll up and you’ll find them. I’ve also raised a number of questions which still remain unanswered.

        Well, it just means that you admit bias, just that it’s shifted.

        We all come to the table with biases. There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with that so long as those biases can be justified — and after critically examining my faith bias, I realized that it had no firm grounding in reality.

        But I’m curious what it was that caused you to, as you say, “leave the faith.” What things did you see that didn’t make sense initially? Clearly you’ve crafted a whole (admittedly biased) worldview from that, so I’m asking sincerely, what got it started?

        It happened a long time ago (pre-Internet), so I honestly can’t remember what initially sparked my doubts leading away from faith; but the journey lasted more than two years and was fraught with severe depression along the way. Thankfully, I eventually reached the light at the end of the tunnel and that light turned out to be the light of reason. 🙂

      • Again, the historian’s sole function is to express an opinion on the likelihood that certain historical events occurred as stated. Questions pertaining to any supernatural elements attached to those events are left for theologians to sort out.

        And since we’re discussing it as a historical event, there should be no problem here.

        It’s hardly a generalization when Christian colleges across the country make signed “professions of faith” and regular church attendance an integral part of the admission requirements.

        Wow how far off-topic is this? See what I mean about leading the discussion astray? Complete straw man, not to mention still a generalization.

        The writings attributed to the disciples either directly attest to their transformation or they don’t — pick one or the other — but please stop reading more into the texts than what’s actually being presented.

        They writings of the apostles strongly imply the transformation; the writings of Luke confirm them. You’re making much more out of this than is there.

        The epistles themselves openly acknowledge the internal conflicts and schisms within the faith — divisions affirmed by later Church historians with a keen desire to stamp them out by whatever means possible. And once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire the persecution escalated. The works of dissenting factions were destroyed and whatever information we have about them now comes to us via heavily-filtered, one-sided condemnations written by the victors. Sure, the odd text surfaces now and again, but the majority of those works are lost forever.

        The epistles don’t acknowledge early Christians killing those who don’t believe. This is what I’m talking about. We’re discussing early church history, not the time of Constantine. This is another straw man attack. Early Christians were not in the habit of burning writings, but rather creating them. It was the Jewish and Roman rulers of the time that were the destroyers of works, and they certainly wouldn’t have destroyed works that proved their skepticism. Sorry, but this is a terrible argument you’re making.

        No, I’m completely open to examining solid evidence in support of your position. It’s just that no one ever presents any, and in this particular instance I’m being asked to lend assent to opinions masquerading as facts.

        It’s solid enough that 1,400 scholars believe them to be true, including at least hundreds of skeptical historians. Are you saying that they’re all deluded, even the skeptical ones?

        And when historians are confronted with unresolved matters they leave them open to further investigation rather than making definitive pronouncements.

        I didn’t realize “generally accepted” was synonymous with “unresolved.” If that’s the case, then why do you believe anything from the Middle Ages, which is generally accepted but still hearsay? Seems to me if you’re going to accept one based on those merits, then you must accept the other. Or you can admit your bias–I don’t particularly care which way you choose.

        That seems to be the premise of the program and countless other studies investigating the reliability of eyewitness testimony.

        So let me get this straight. You’re of the opinion that eyewitness testimony is ALWAYS unreliable and therefore should not be counted as solid evidence? Because you can dismiss the eyewitness accounts if you’re willing to stipulate to that belief. Otherwise, it’s just a ridiculous claim.

        If only we had as much corroborating evidence for the resurrection of Jesus as we have for the Civil War.

        Ok, so pick any ancient historical event that is generally accepted. The existence of Socrates, Caesar’s Gallic Wars, the writings of Hammurabi. You honestly think they didn’t have as much corroborating evidence 150 years after the resurrection for the event as we do for the Civil War? Maybe a bit less because fewer people were involved in the resurrection, but I don’t think it’s a far leap for me to make there.

        That still fails to explain why no other author mentions a “disciple whom Jesus loved.”

        Completely off-topic at this point.

        Scroll up and you’ll find them. I’ve also raised a number of questions which still remain unanswered.

        I’m lazy. Help me out and condense them into one paragraph. You know, the theories based on these 12 points that make far more sense than the resurrection. That’s what you claim to have offered.

        It happened a long time ago (pre-Internet), so I honestly can’t remember what initially sparked my doubts leading away from faith; but the journey lasted more than two years and was fraught with severe depression along the way. Thankfully, I eventually reached the light at the end of the tunnel and that light turned out to be the light of reason.

        So you don’t remember what sparked your doubt, but are convinced that the thing you don’t remember must be the truth. That seems like a rather strange position to hold. Perhaps instead you can give me some specific examples of what led you on your journey to your current beliefs.

      • Posted by Ron on April 30, 2012 at 2:21 PM

        And since we’re discussing it as a historical event, there should be no problem here.

        And as I stated in the very next sentence (which you conveniently truncated):

        “In your case, all the historians have to work with is a bunch of contradictory second-hand accounts decades removed from the events they attempt to describe; so the only definitive thing they can say is that an unknown number of first- and second-century authors were motivated to write several conflicting theological treatises centered upon the purported teachings of a self-proclaimed Jewish messiah who may or may not have been executed (because we have no other contemporaneous records to confirm the circumstances surrounding his death).”

        Wow how far off-topic is this? See what I mean about leading the discussion astray? Complete straw man, not to mention still a generalization.

        You raised the issue you now claim is off-topic on April 6 when you asked:

        “Regardless, wouldn’t believing scholars abandon the faith if the data didn’t line up with their belief? That’s what many “Christians turned atheists” claim to do, right?”

        On April 11, I replied: “Yes they would, and there are entire websites devoted to presenting the testimonials of former clergy and seminary students who have lost their faith after critically examining the data which forms the basis for their beliefs.”

        On April 12, you then responded: “And many more websites presenting testimonials of how perfectly the data fits together. Not a very good argument on your end, I think.”

        On April 13, I replied: “Well, it wasn’t my goal to keep tallies, so much as to point out that many have left the faith because they found the evidence less than convincing. It’s also worth noting that evidence-based reasons are seldom cited as the deciding basis for maintaining any particular set of beliefs, religious or otherwise. To a large extent, we adopt the values and cultural practices of our parents and/or the society we’re born into — i.e. children raised in predominantly Christian nations become Christians, whereas children raised in predominantly Islamic nations become Muslims, etc. In countries where religious freedom is permitted, a certain percentage of the population may switch its religious affiliations, or abandon them entirely; but generally people die with more-or-less the same religious beliefs they started with, even if they weren’t actively engaged in practicing them.”

        On April 15, you responded: “It’s absolutely not worth noting here, because evidence-based reasons ARE being used here. So this is simply a straw man attack based on a generalization of religion. See what I mean about you leading us off on tangents?”

        On April 17, I replied: “It’s hardly a generalization when Christian colleges across the country make signed “professions of faith” and regular church attendance an integral part of the admission requirements.”

        This is how a discussion progresses. If you don’t want me to respond to your questions or post follow-up comments in response to yours then conversation becomes a rather stilted and one-sided dialogue.

        And as for generalizations, what I wrote on April 17 can be verified on-line. The sources you cite for your “minimal facts” argument are both employed at universities that stipulate a pastoral recommendation is required from prospective students. Here are the admissions pages from their respective websites: Libery University (where Gary Habermas takes up residence) and Biola University (where Craig Hazen is employed). On the Campus Culture – Spiritual Life page it states: “Biola offers you the unique opportunity to strengthen and explore your faith in the context of an authentic all-Christian community. Professors who pray in class, fellow students spontaneously organizing trips to the beach for praise and worship, volunteering locally and internationally to impact the world for Christ — these will be hallmarks of your spiritual experience at Biola.”

        Are you going to tell me with a straight face that professors who pray in class are not in the least bit biased?

        They writings of the apostles strongly imply the transformation; the writings of Luke confirm them. You’re making much more out of this than is there.

        Again, you are reading in what isn’t given — and Luke’s account is relaying second- or even third-hand testimony (as he himself attests in the opening chapter.)

        The epistles don’t acknowledge early Christians killing those who don’t believe. This is what I’m talking about. We’re discussing early church history, not the time of Constantine. This is another straw man attack. Early Christians were not in the habit of burning writings, but rather creating them. It was the Jewish and Roman rulers of the time that were the destroyers of works, and they certainly wouldn’t have destroyed works that proved their skepticism. Sorry, but this is a terrible argument you’re making.

        My point is that any and all criticism that challenged later heterodoxy was destroyed once the Church attained power.

        It’s solid enough that 1,400 scholars believe them to be true, including at least hundreds of skeptical historians. Are you saying that they’re all deluded, even the skeptical ones?

        So now we’ve gone from 1,400 scholarly publications to 1,400 scholars? It’s bad enough that a good number of those 1,400 documents were written by the same authors or groups of authors (Habermas even cites his own works) without unnecessarily inflating the number of contributors themselves.

        And “believe” is the operative word here — because as I stated earlier, the majority of those ‘skeptical’ scholars are liberal theologians who “believe” in Christian doctrines I’m fairly certain you don’t subscribe to.

        I didn’t realize “generally accepted” was synonymous with “unresolved.”

        If it’s unresolved and/or contested then it can’t be generally accepted, and even for things which are generally accepted historians still couch their opinions with: “according to,” “it’s generally thought,” “it’s reported,” “it’s believed,” “we’re told,” “historians believe,” “historians think,” “tradition has it” and similar cautionary phrases.

        If that’s the case, then why do you believe anything from the Middle Ages, which is generally accepted but still hearsay? Seems to me if you’re going to accept one based on those merits, then you must accept the other. Or you can admit your bias–I don’t particularly care which way you choose.

        Lest I repeat myself, I don’t believe anything wholesale if it can’t be verified with supporting evidence — especially accounts of resurrections from the dead.

        So let me get this straight. You’re of the opinion that eyewitness testimony is ALWAYS unreliable and therefore should not be counted as solid evidence? Because you can dismiss the eyewitness accounts if you’re willing to stipulate to that belief. Otherwise, it’s just a ridiculous claim.

        I never said that eyewitness testimony is “ALWAYS” unreliable. What I’m relaying is the fact that eyewitness testimony alone is not always reliable and needs to be supported with other evidence. Please note the difference between the terms “always unreliable” and “not always reliable” because they do not mean the same thing.

        Ok, so pick any ancient historical event that is generally accepted. The existence of Socrates, Caesar’s Gallic Wars, the writings of Hammurabi. You honestly think they didn’t have as much corroborating evidence 150 years after the resurrection for the event as we do for the Civil War? Maybe a bit less because fewer people were involved in the resurrection, but I don’t think it’s a far leap for me to make there.

        Caesar’s Gallic conquests are evidenced by his own writings, contemporaneous accounts and coins commemorating those conquests, while the Code of Hammurabi is an artifact etched in stone.

        Completely off-topic at this point.

        It’s entirely proper to cross-examine and/or question the reliability of witnesses you’ve called upon in defense of your argument.

        I’m lazy. Help me out and condense them into one paragraph. You know, the theories based on these 12 points that make far more sense than the resurrection. That’s what you claim to have offered.

        Why should I need to repeat myself? Furthermore, it proves my point about fact checking — if you’re too lazy to search out statements I’ve made within the same thread of your own blog, then what reason is there for me to believe that you would seek out information contained elsewhere?

        So you don’t remember what sparked your doubt, but are convinced that the thing you don’t remember must be the truth. That seems like a rather strange position to hold. Perhaps instead you can give me some specific examples of what led you on your journey to your current beliefs.

        Does it please you to twist my words? I wrote that I don’t remember what initially sparked my doubts (mainly because it happened over three decades ago and I didn’t keep a journal at the time). As to contributing factors, there were several, but the main ones were: a god who never manifest himself in real life, the inhumane deity described within the OT, the existence of evil in the world, internal inconsistencies within the scriptures themselves (both factual and theological), and external inconsistencies with the scientific evidence around me.

      • Wow, what a novel. You’ve taken us way off course here, despite your pleas to the contrary. We’re no longer discussing the minimal facts in the argument, so I see no reason for this to continue. If you wish to raise any objections specific to these facts that haven’t been answered, feel free. Or condense your alternate theories into one paragraph so we can see how they stand up to scrutiny. But I’m not going down any more rabbit trails with you.

  7. Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on March 22, 2012 at 2:12 AM

    Here’s some facts against the resurrection:

    1. The earliest gospel Mark is dated to 70 AD, around 30 years after the supposed event.
    2. The earliest versions of Mark end after verse 8 in Chapter 16 – which means the account of his appearing to the disciples from verses 9-19 are a later addition.
    3. None of the gospels are contemporary
    4. None of the gospels are written by anyone who knew Jesus
    5. There are no independent sources that confirm any of the events depicted in the gospels
    6. None of the gospels agree with each other about what happens after Jesus supposedly rose from the dead
    7. It’s a very common phenomena for followers of a particular person to deny their death – look at the recent example of Elvis, or Jim Morrison. A more religious example would be Haile Sellassie I whom the rastafari believe did not die.
    8. As Hume noted: “No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless the testimony be of such kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish” – your presentation of ‘facts’ does not meet this standard.
    9. Other religious figures such as Osiris, Adonis, Dionysus, and Mithra are purported to have risen from the dead, why should one myth out of many be considered a historical truth rather than a myth like all the others?
    10. Why should objective historians consider a few miracles accounts (all of whom are biased and draw from one another, as well has being non-contemporary and not corroborating each other) and reject the miracle accounts that are attributed to Mohammed, Buddha, Jim Jones etc?

    I think these things cast sufficient doubt over the resurrection myth being a historical fact.

    Reply

    • Most of your arguments are irrelevant, because I’m using historical facts generally accepted by all historians. So the dates of the gospels are irrelevant if everyone corroborates the veracity of the claims, and they do. So this is a straw man argument and a red herring meant to distract from the truth of the claims. But let’s try a few of these on for size.

      “5. There are no independent sources that confirm any of the events depicted in the gospels”

      Did you know that based on additionally-found writings of historians and the first-century writers we could reconstruct the entire New Testament except for eleven verses? I don’t think this argument holds any weight.

      “7. It’s a very common phenomena for followers of a particular person to deny their death – look at the recent example of Elvis, or Jim Morrison. A more religious example would be Haile Sellassie I whom the rastafari believe did not die.”

      No one denies that Jesus died. Look at the first minimal fact in the argument — “Jesus died by crucifixion.”

      “8. As Hume noted: “No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless the testimony be of such kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish” – your presentation of ‘facts’ does not meet this standard.”

      And which hypotheses would be less miraculous GIVEN THE TRUTH OF THESE 12 FACTS? I would love to hear one. And don’t say, “Any naturalistic hypothesis.” Give me an actual hypothesis to compare. All of the other ones proffered fail to meet the standard and would be more HISTORICALLY miraculous (by a causually adequate definition) than Jesus’ resurrection. And we’re talking about history here, not science.

      “9. Other religious figures such as Osiris, Adonis, Dionysus, and Mithra are purported to have risen from the dead, why should one myth out of many be considered a historical truth rather than a myth like all the others?”

      Because this one was objectively testable. They could visit the tomb!

      “10. Why should objective historians consider a few miracles accounts (all of whom are biased and draw from one another, as well has being non-contemporary and not corroborating each other) and reject the miracle accounts that are attributed to Mohammed, Buddha, Jim Jones etc?”

      We’re not talking about all of Jesus’ miracles in this instance; we’re talking about the resurrection. No serious historian disputes the 12 facts I’ve given, so you have to compare hypotheses to see what best fits this data if true. We follow the evidence where it leads. Think like a historian in this instance, and not like an atheist. You can be more objective and less biased that way.

      Reply

      • Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on March 22, 2012 at 2:10 PM

        Your claim that these 12 “facts” somehow are sufficient to establish the truth of the resurrection is frankly ridiculous.

        As I stated, the earliest gospel, Mark, was written around 30 years after the supposed resurrection of Jesus. The account was most likely not written by one of the disciples, because they were Palestinian peasants, and just like most people in the ancient world, they would not have been literate (there are even references in the Bible itself mentioning the illiteracy of at least some of Jesus’ followers) – the author of Mark was well versed in classical Greek, and some scholars have noted parallels with Greek literature such as Homer’s Odyssey.

        Mark isn’t written as you’d expect a historical narrative to be written. A historical account you’d expect to be written in 1st person. Mark is not, for example when Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14) his followers are asleep during some of the narrative, so you have to ask who observed these events other than Jesus himself? This omniscient narrator style is more consistent with story telling than historical documents.

        So what we have is a document written well after the fact, most likely by a non-eyewitness whose style is more consistent with story telling than a piece of history writing. Why is this important? Because its widely known that the other gospels draw upon Mark – so if Mark is questionable then so are all the others.

        Your proclamation that these are ‘facts’ simply doesn’t hold any water. It might well be true that Jesus was a historical figure (I see no reason to doubt that), and it might well be true that he was executed by the Romans, however given the state of the evidence that is pretty much all we can say. Your facts do not meet Hume’s criteria that I quoted.

        Now lets assume Jesus was executed by the Romans, its also fairly reasonable to assume that they would have been somewhat concerned if one of the executed criminals suddenly arose from the dead and was wandering around once again. Yet throughout the book of Acts we don’t see the Romans ruthlessly hunting down the disciples and inquiring as to the location of their miraculous escapee. What we hear about is mainly disputes with the Jewish authorities about the blasphemy of the disciples, nothing more. Why was the mighty Roman empire not concerned about tracking down Jesus?

        Given these facts, there are many more explanations for the origin of the resurrection myths, that their historical accuracy. Perhaps it was just made up by the early Christians in their embarrassment over the death of their supposed messiah, or maybe it was invented for some other reason. There are many explanations that are completely consistent with the facts. The falsehood of this particular miracle story is far from miraculous, in fact I think given the evidence, its quite likely that it is a myth, just like the miracle claims attributed to the Buddha and Mohammed.

      • Did you even read my last comment? Your argument against Mark is completely irrelevant, because these are historical facts that are not in dispute. Skeptical scholars would likely reject these facts if the book of Mark was all they were drawn on. But no historians dispute these twelve points, so they are ironclad regardless of the Gospels.

        As I said before, which hypotheses would be less miraculous GIVEN THE TRUTH OF THESE 12 FACTS? To satisfy Hume’s argument, give me a hypothesis that fits all twelve data points that is less miraculous than the resurrection. Otherwise, this objection is meaningless and I’ve satisfied Hume’s criteria.

        “Why was the mighty Roman empire not concerned about tracking down Jesus?”

        Who says they weren’t? If they believed Jesus to still be dead, they would know where the tomb was and check it out, right? Unless the Romans also knew that something like the resurrection had happened, which would make sense if Roman guards were at the tomb when the resurrected Jesus appeared, as is testified to in the Gospels. And once again it all fits together!

        “Perhaps it was just made up by the early Christians in their embarrassment over the death of their supposed messiah, or maybe it was invented for some other reason.”

        Easily corroborated. Visit the tomb!

        “There are many explanations that are completely consistent with the facts.”

        Care to give me one that meets all 12 data points? Since none of these points are in dispute historically by anyone with a pedigree, you must satisfy all 12 data points with your hypothesis. Oh, and it has to be less miraculous than the resurrection hypothesis. Have fun!

  8. Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on March 22, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    “Did you even read my last comment? Your argument against Mark is completely irrelevant, because these are historical facts that are not in dispute. Skeptical scholars would likely reject these facts if the book of Mark was all they were drawn on. But no historians dispute these twelve points, so they are ironclad regardless of the Gospels.”

    Can you give some names and quotes of historians that support your completely unfounded assertion that ‘no historians’ dispute those points? There are no contemporary, unbiased accounts that corroborate these points. Regardless even if the Bible was accurate, your assertion that no historians doubt those points was correct, and there was some other contemporary historical evidence for them – it would not establish the truth of the resurrection.

    “4. The tomb was discovered to be empty just a few days later.”

    Doesn’t prove that Jesus was resurrected. I personally strongly doubt that this is a ‘fact’ by any stretch of the imagination. However even if it were, there are other non-miraculous explanations, perhaps the followers decided that the burial was not respectful enough and decided to move the body unbeknownst to the women who went to the tomb where Jesus was meant to have been buried. Any of these explanations are more reasonable than a dead, decomposing corpse coming back to life – those things are much more likely to be the stuff of exaggeration and mythologizing than anything else.

    “5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus.”

    There are people all over the world who are convinced that they have been abducted by aliens. There are people all over the world who are convinced that they have encountered loved ones after they have died. The human mind is incredibly prone delusion and hallucination. Even this were an undisputed fact, it proves nothing.

    “6. The disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers of His death and resurrection.”

    If this were true it doesn’t establish the truth of the resurrection myth. People can turn form doubters into bold proclaimers of falsehoods.

    “Who says they weren’t? If they believed Jesus to still be dead, they would know where the tomb was and check it out, right? Unless the Romans also knew that something like the resurrection had happened, which would make sense if Roman guards were at the tomb when the resurrected Jesus appeared, as is testified to in the Gospels. And once again it all fits together!”

    Because if they were why didn’t the author of Acts record it? I think perhaps they did check the tomb out, and saw nothing amiss, which would explain why they weren’t concerned about the rumors of a convict having risen from the dead and was wondering around under their noses. If they knew it had happened why didn’t they care?

    None of your facts establish that someone once rose from the dead in 1st Century Palestine…

    Reply

    • “Can you give some names and quotes of historians that support your completely unfounded assertion that ‘no historians’ dispute those points?”

      Take a look here for some names of believing and non-believing historians which make up the list of approximately 2,200 published documents from 1975 to the present by historical scholars that corroborate these minimal facts: http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005.htm#ch3

      “Regardless even if the Bible was accurate, your assertion that no historians doubt those points was correct, and there was some other contemporary historical evidence for them – it would not establish the truth of the resurrection.”

      Not to a certainty, no. But historians in every other case accept the hypothesis that is most causally adequate to be most plausible. And that’s what you must do here.

      ““4. The tomb was discovered to be empty just a few days later.” Doesn’t prove that Jesus was resurrected. I personally strongly doubt that this is a ‘fact’ by any stretch of the imagination.”

      Well then you would disagree with the majority of historical scientists who have far greater credentials than you. Tough to see why we should believe you over them. Your disbelief carries no weight, only bias.

      “Perhaps the followers decided that the burial was not respectful enough and decided to move the body unbeknownst to the women who went to the tomb where Jesus was meant to have been buried.”

      And unbeknownst to the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb 24/7? Maybe they overpowered them and wiped their memories clean, eh? Sounds a bit more miraculous than what I’m offering.

      “Any of these explanations are more reasonable than a dead, decomposing corpse coming back to life”

      You mean the one (aka any in your mind) explanation you offered that is far more ludicrous when you look at likelihood objectively? Absurd.

      “The human mind is incredibly prone delusion and hallucination. Even this were an undisputed fact, it proves nothing.”

      Taken alone, perhaps not. Taken in tandem with similar experiences by skeptics (James) and enemies (Paul), one has to consider the entire body of work when discussing this. Were they all delusional? And if they were, why not (as I repeat over and over) GO TO THE TOMB?! Find out for yourself.

      “If this were true it doesn’t establish the truth of the resurrection myth. People can turn form doubters into bold proclaimers of falsehoods.”

      And how could they show this was false? GO TO THE TOMB! Seriously, it’s like you guys don’t even think it through before bringing your objections.

      “Because if they were why didn’t the author of Acts record it?”

      Um, the author of Acts was Luke. He did record it…in the Gospel of Luke.

      “I think perhaps they did check the tomb out, and saw nothing amiss, which would explain why they weren’t concerned about the rumors of a convict having risen from the dead and was wondering around under their noses. If they knew it had happened why didn’t they care?”

      Why don’t we have ANY documents from that time period (especially given that we have a lot of information about the Romans of this time — Nero, Caesar Augustus, etc.) that the Romans checked it out and everything was as it should be? Not a one. Why is that? If you can turn up that piece of evidence, you’d get the Nobel Prize in history I’m sure. Why make up information without documentation, which is the opposite of what I’m doing? Seems your suggestion is far less plausible and evidentially supported.

      “None of your facts establish that someone once rose from the dead in 1st Century Palestine…”

      And as I’ve shown yet again, they all do. Thanks for stopping by.

      Reply

  9. Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on March 25, 2012 at 12:03 PM

    Let me expound some more reasons why these facts are completely insufficient to establish that Jesus actually rose from the dead.

    1. The ancient world was not full of sceptics, people the world over were incredibly credulous and willing to believe anything based upon very little evidence. As Richard Carrier notes: “It is crucial to understand how different the situation was in the first century, in comparison with what we take for granted today. Skeptics and informed critical minds were a small minority in the ancient world. Superstition and credulity ruled the day. Though the gullible, the credulous, and those ready to believe or exaggerate anything are still abundant, they were far more common in antiquity and taken far more seriously. We are talking about an ago of fable and wonder, where magic, miracles, ghosts, and gods were everywhere and almost never doubted.” and he goes on to note further; “how would a myth be exploded in antiquity? They had no newspapers, telephones, photographs, or access to public documents to consult to check a story. There were no reporters, coroners, forensic scientists, or even detectives. If someone was not a witness, all people had was a man’s word, and they most likely base their judgement not on anything we would call evidence, but on the display of sincerity by the storyteller, by his ability to persuade, and impress them with a show, by the potential rewards his story had to offer, and by his ‘sounding right’ to them… In times like these, legends had it easy.”

    2. Willi Marxsen states “There were no eyewitnesses to this event [the resurrection]. We do not know of anyone in the earliest church who claimed, ‘I was there when the dead Jesus came to life”‘. All we have are according to Keith Parsons “What we have are, at best, second-, third-, or forth-hand reports of those experiences as recounted in the Gospels. There is no reason think that the Gospels are particularly reliable. On the contrary, how much confidence can we have in documents (1) written by persons unknown, (2) composed forty or more years after the events they purport to describe, (3) based on oral traditions (4) containing many undeniably fictional elements, (5) each with a clear theological bias and apologetical agenda (6) contradicting many known facts, (7) inconsistent with each other, (8) with very little corroboration from non-Christian sources, (9) testifying to occurrences which, in any other context, would be regarded as unlikely in the extreme.”

    3. There are many inconsistencies in the accounts of the resurrection. Did 1, 2 or 3 women come to the tomb? Was it “while it was still dark” or “just after sunrise”? Did they come to “look at the tomb” or “to anoint the body with spices”? Did they see one angel, two angels, a man dressed in white, or Jesus himself? Who saw the resurrected Jesus first, Peter or Mary Magdalene? What did they do as they left the tomb did they say “nothing to anyone” or did they run “to tell his disciples”? Was the stone rolled away in the presence of the women or before they arrived? Was Jesus on his way to Galilee by the time the women arrived, or was he in Jerusalem on the first Easter Sunday? Luke says that the disciples “stayed continually in the temple” because Jesus told them to wait in Jerusalem until they had been “clothed with power from on high” but John has the disciples returning to their fishing trade in Galilee. John’s order of appearances doesn’t square up with Paul’s.

    Does Jesus’ ascension take place in Bethany on the same day of his resurrection as in Luke? Or does it take place on the Mount of Olives forty days after his resurrection as in Acts? David Edwards writes: “It has proved impossible to construct a fully harmonized version of the resurrection stories, despite many attempts to do so… the stories as given constitute not a jigsaw puzzle, but an insoluble mystery” Michael Martin notes that “the great differences among postressurection appearance stories and the difficulty of reconciling them certainly suggests that oral transmission has generated inaccuracies.” In other words the accounts were subject to revision and exaggeration countless times before they were written down.

    4. Now you mentioned that Romans were guarding the tomb. Did they know that Jesus was supposed to rise from the dead? Why would they believe this, and why would they guard at a tomb? Even if they did Matthew’s report of their conversation is not credible in the slightest. We are expected to believe that the guards at the tomb saw an angel roll back the stone and sit on it, causing them to ‘shake and become like dead men’, they saw all this plus the empty tomb yet somehow they were paid off to spread a stupid denigrating lie about themselves? They reported that they had been asleep, why would they openly admit to have failed in their duties in order to protect people whom they didn’t care for? Especially in light of their supposed experience and the fact that they may have faced punishment for neglecting their duties as soldiers.

    In any case, Matthew tell us that a guard wasn’t placed at the tomb until the day after Jesus was crucified: “The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.”

    So it is entirely plausible that the body was stolen on the day prior to the guards being sent (if that ever even happened).

    5. Uta Ranke-Heinemann states: “The empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning is a legend. This is shown by the simple fact that the apostle Paul, the most crucial preacher of Christ’s resurrection, says nothing about it. Thus it also means nothing to him, that is, an empty tomb has no significance for the truth of the resurrection, which he so emphatically proclaims. Since he gathers together and cites all the evidence that has been handed down to him, he certainly would have found the empty tomb worth mentioning. That he doesn’t proves that it never existed and hence the accounts of it must not have arisen until later… The belief in the resurrection is older than the belief in the empty tomb; rather, the legend of the empty tomb grew out of the faith of Easter.”

    During Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Jerusalem why didn’t he say “see for yourselves the tomb where Jesus lay is empty”? People say that they just assumed the empty tomb, but I don’t think this is likely. Apologists today cite the empty tomb left right and centre when talking about the resurrection, why didn’t the apostles?

    So in short:
    1. People in the ancient world were extremely credulous, and it is plausible that the legend of the resurrection began and spread simply through lack of scepticism.

    2. The Gospels are not reliable

    3. The accounts of the post resurrection appearances are contradictory and impossible to reconcile with each other – this is consistent with the exaggeration and mythologising that tends to happen with oral traditions.

    4. Why guard the tomb? Why would the guards tell such a stupid lie about themselves? The tomb wasn’t guarded on the first day after Jesus’ death – which (even if we assume that Matthew is accurate) could have given time for the body to be stolen.

    5. The bodily resurrection and the empty tomb are not important to the apostles. This indicates that the empty tomb is a later fabrication.

    Reply

    • Let me respond to each of your points:

      1) It is well-documented that the Pharisees and Saducees, as well as the Jewish Sanhedrin and the Roman officials, were quite skeptical of Jesus’ claim to divinity. That is not a fact in dispute either. That said, I don’t think there is anything to a claim that there was a lack of skepticism surrounding Jesus at this time. Regardless, this skepticism could easily be quelled by visiting the tomb.

      2) As I’ve said before, the reliability of the Gospels is irrelevant here, because we’re talking about historical facts that are accepted almost universally. Did you check out the link I sent you to some of Habermas’ research? The 12 facts listed are not debated, so referencing the Gospels is attacking a straw man, and completely pointless in your rebuttal.

      3) The resurrection accounts, whether linked or different, are also a straw man attack. Please reference only the 12 points I have listed, and not whose account says what. The 12 facts are not in dispute, and we can offer up hypotheses based on the veracity of these claims.

      4) Do you remember that the Romans actually used the “stolen body” theory when it happened, in an attempt to save face? Besides, records (Biblical and extra-Biblical) indicate the disciples did not leave the room they were staying in for fear of persecution by the Sanhedrin or Roman soldiers. When would they have had time to steal the body? And why would 1) the disciples despair over Jesus’ death if they were planning such an outlandish myth, and 2) why would they be completely transformed to the point of being willing to die for such a lie when they could easily produce the body and admit deception to spare their lives? If they were willing to lie to save face, surely they would be willing to tell the truth to save face. It’s these questions that a historian must ask and come up with a good answer for. The best possible answer is that the disciples didn’t steal the body.

      5) The fact that Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:4 that Jesus died, was buried and was raised on the third day implies his belief in the empty tomb. Just because he didn’t say, “Oh and by the way, the tomb was empty,” doesn’t mean he didn’t believe the tomb was empty. If I were recapping a hit-and-run, and I said, “He got in his car and fled the scene,” does the fact that I didn’t say “He fled the scene BY DRIVING HIS CAR AWAY” mean that you can’t infer what happened? To ask for such a clear description when the inference is clearly there is, I’d have to say, a burden you would not place on any other text you weren’t pre-disposed to be biased against. Regardless, the fact that the tomb was empty is not in dispute, so attempts to discredit the empty tomb is a failure to recognize the historical acceptance of the claim. Historical scientists agree that there was an empty tomb believed to have contained the remains of Jesus.

      So I think we’ve seen that your rebuttals are either irrelevant or easily dismissed based on the evidence. In the future, please limit the discussion to these 12 arguments, as that’s all I’m inclined to defend from here on out.

      Reply

  10. Posted by Doctor Bad Sign on March 27, 2012 at 9:52 AM

    Points 2 & 3 are relevant because some of those facts you cite are based upon the Gospels, there is reason to doubt their validity due to the factors I mentioned. You’re saying it is independent of the Gospels, when there are no independent sources confirming these events you describe – they are all either from the Gospels or the writings of Paul.

    On point 4. Why did the Romans guard the tomb in the first place? Did they know that Jesus was going to rise again? If someone was going to steal the body why would they care? Why would they tell such a transparent and stupid lie about themselves? Anyone who heard their account would say ‘well why didn’t any of you wake up when the thieves rolled the stone away?’ or ‘if you were fast asleep, how did you know what happened?’ – are we really supposed to believe that these soldiers would have told such an appalling lie that would possibly have landed themselves in trouble?

    I think this account was fabricated and the literary motif of Mark were expounded upon as an apologetic attempt to give evidence for the resurrection.

    On point 5. why wouldn’t Paul mention the empty tomb? He was preaching the resurrection, why didn’t he say ‘and if you go to Jerusalem, you can see that Jesus’ tomb is empty’? I think if the empty tomb was known to Paul then it would have been as important to him as it is to modern apologists. Consider his writings in I Corinthians 15:3-5 “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:” he is dealing with people in Corinth who do not accept the resurrection – why would he ignore something that would bolster his argument? The simple answer is that he ignored it because the myth hadn’t been invented yet.

    Imagine you’re Paul for a moment, and you know about the empty tomb. A huge piece of evidence to support your claim, would you not mention it to people whom you’re trying to convince? Why is the empty tomb so insignificant to Paul, but integral to your case?

    Reply

    • “Points 2 & 3 are relevant because some of those facts you cite are based upon the Gospels, there is reason to doubt their validity due to the factors I mentioned.”

      Not entirely. Besides, if most historical scientists don’t doubt their validity as it pertains to these facts, then why would you?

      “There are no independent sources confirming these events you describe – they are all either from the Gospels or the writings of Paul.”

      And what basis do you have to discredit the writings of Paul?

      “Why did the Romans guard the tomb in the first place?”

      To keep people from stealing the body and trying to fulfill Jesus’ prophecy. They wanted to show that he was not who he said he was.

      “Are we really supposed to believe that these soldiers would have told such an appalling lie that would possibly have landed themselves in trouble?”

      Read Matthew 28. They did so because it was supposed to keep them OUT of trouble, not land them IN trouble: “When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.”

      “I think if the empty tomb was known to Paul then it would have been as important to him as it is to modern apologists.”

      Paul was not an apologist. He was an evangelist. He didn’t need the empty tomb if he had seen the risen Jesus, did he? Isn’t eyewitness testimony stronger?

      “He is dealing with people in Corinth who do not accept the resurrection – why would he ignore something that would bolster his argument?”

      How easy would it be to get from Corinth to Jerusalem to see the tomb in those days? And if they didn’t believe his personal testimony, why would they need to see the tomb? And if they DID believe his testimony, why would they need to see the tomb? This is a straw man argument, it’s safe to say.

      “Why is the empty tomb so insignificant to Paul, but integral to your case?”

      It’s just one piece of the puzzle. You’re making a far bigger deal out of it than I am, friend.

      Reply

  11. Posted by thom waters on March 30, 2012 at 9:55 AM

    Starting with your first “fact” I looked for compelling and satisfactory evidence that one Jesus actually died by crucifixion. Unfortunately I could find none. I did find some stories, the gospels, that claim he did, but I could find no “data” or evidence that he did. Irrespective of the claim that this “fact” is not disputed by any historian with a pedigree, perhaps you could point me in the direction of the “data” to support this claim that Jesus died by crucifixion.

    Thanks.

    Reply

    • Both Josephus and Tacitus describe Jesus and having been condemned to the cross. Tacitus spoke to it more plainly. Here are some links.

      http://www.bede.org.uk/Josephus.htm

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tacitus_on_Christ

      Historically, this is the type of “data” that you look for. That and a reason to completely reject the letters of Paul, which also state that Jesus died, was buried and was raised from the dead. This data strongly supports this claim, which is why scholars see no plausible explanation other than that Jesus actually died by crucifixion.

      Reply

  12. Posted by thom waters on March 30, 2012 at 11:36 AM

    Thanks for the reply. However, I think you might have missed what I am looking for with regard to “data” or evidence to support the Christian claim that Jesus died by crucifixion. It appears to be historically factual that one Jesus was actually crucified. Josephus, Tacitus, and other writers from antiquity seem to add to this “fact”. They certainly add nothing to the claim that Jesus died by means of crucifixion. They add nothing to that proposition because they cannot. Paul, obviously cannot add anything to it either. He can mention and write about what was believed, which is exactly what he does. What I am looking for is “data” that attests to or corroborates the claim that Jesus died. I’m not saying that he didn’t. I’m simply investigating the first “fact” in your list and looking for anything that serves as acceptable or compelling “data” that gives evidence to the Christian claim or belief. So far my research has proved fruitless.

    Thanks.

    Reply

    • Perhaps it would be helpful for you to explain what you mean by “data.” What I’ve given you is the kind of “data” needed by historians to make a credible inference. I’m not sure what more you’re looking for.

      Reply

  13. Posted by thom waters on March 30, 2012 at 2:33 PM

    By “data” let’s say anything that independently attests to or confirms a claim or result of an action.

    If you’re asking me to buy into this notion of someone being raised from the dead, I think it very logical and permissible for me to ask, “Are you sure this person was dead to begin with?” After all, a crucifixion is not quite like a beheading. A beheading as a form of execution needs no attestation or confirmation of a death. By definition, the victim is dead if you can establish that the victim was, in fact, beheaded. A crucifixion from what little we know about crucifixions was not only an execution but a form of torture and humiliation. Many times victims lived for days before they died and often their bodies were ravaged to pieces by scavenger birds and other wild animals. To say that someone was crucified is to say nothing more than that the process was begun. The element of Time played a significant role in the desired end. If the process were interrupted, apparently, a victim might survive.

    Josephus even mentions coming upon three of his friends who were crucified and he gets them taken down. We know nothing about their circumstances or how long they had been on the cross, but it is recorded that one survived.

    What if someone said that person X was stoned? You might infer or jump to the conclusion that this person was killed. Would this always be the case, however? Apparently it would not. We know this from the account in Acts 14 of Paul’s being stoned at Lystra. Stoned and actually dragged out of the city, Paul is believed dead and left. He must have been in pretty bad shape to be considered dead. However, not only is he not dead, but he travels to Derbe the next day where he and Barnabas continue preaching. It must have been quite a recovery.

    From what we know, death by crucifixion was something that happened as a direct result of an uninterrupted process. It was not pronounced. There was no need. Soldiers or centurions would have no experience in such pronouncements because they were not required. Death happened and many times scavengers added the final insult to the process.

    From your response I would take it that your Fact #1 needs to be reworded to something like this: Jesus was crucified and it was believed that he died. It seems to me that the story of a supernatural resurrection from the dead is off too a shaky beginning if , in fact, it begins with a death by inference. Just a thought.

    Thanks.

    Reply

    • Well we have eyewitness testimony from John, who was at the cross, that says that Jesus died. But even so, recorded in the gospels and writings of the early church fathers is the account that the soldiers were going to break the legs of the men on the cross to hasten death, but when they got to Jesus “they saw he was already dead,” and so didn’t need to break his legs. These guys (the soldiers) were experts on the nature of crucifixion; would they have made such a mistake with Jesus? Not to mention that crucifixion deaths most often occurred by asphyxiation (physiological studies confirm this), and yet Jesus was stabbed in the side by a spear and blood and water poured out — an indication that the spear punctured his lung.

      So not only has he been beaten within an inch of his life prior to this, made to walk up a long hill carrying a heavy wooden beam part of the way, been stabbed in the hands and feet with nails, been having trouble breathing due to being crucified, punctured in the lung, and you want to speculate he survived? And not only did he survive, but the Roman soldiers had no idea even though they had seen probably hundreds of crucifixions done? And not only that, but when they took him down from the cross, he somehow fooled them too, not to mention those who carried his body all the way to the tomb and prepared his body and buried him? What is the better explanation?

      The data we have comes from eyewitness testimony and what we know about the nature of crucifixions. That is why even the most liberal historical scholars with a pedigree attest to the fact that Jesus did, in fact, die by crucifixion. I don’t think we’re on any short of shaky ground here, because historians make an inference to the best explanation of the available data, and the available data says Jesus died on the cross. I think you’re barking up a very questionable tree here. The data is pretty clear.

      Reply

      • Posted by thom waters on March 30, 2012 at 5:38 PM

        Interesting last response. I can almost see the veins popping out of your neck as you recite the party line and what might be considered the classical exegetical mistakes make by many apologists through the recent years.

        When you engage in such remarks as ” . . . beaten within an inch of his life . . .” you mostly reveal your faith based bias that comes from perhaps listening to and watching too many party line apologists who have simply engaged in eisegetical liberties, because they and others like them need to believe such things when you can find them nowhere in the New Testament documents. This probably comes from watching movies like the Passion of the Christ. You need this picture to be the case so you imagine it to be true. We simply do not know the actual physical condition of Jesus prior to the cross and to paint the picture as you have tried to do that we do know it simply shows your tendenz and bias. You not only want this picture to be true, but you need it to be true to further your ice-like thin case.

        I also find it intriguing that you revert to the oldest of the gospels, perhaps written between 70-100 years after the events, the only gospel to mention such details. So much for the criteria of early development and multiple attestation. Use whatever you want. If its in the Bible it must be so. The methodology is most convincing.

        I believe the speculating is actually on your part. You speculate or infer that one Jesus died on the cross. You ask me and others to buy into this speculation and my response is that you simply lack sufficient “data” to do so.

        “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never gave suck. Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Do you recognize this quote? Does this sound like a man beaten within an inch of his life?

        It appears that you might need to differentiate between “fact” and something that is believed. Because it is believed does not mean that it might not be a “fact”. However, believing something doesn’t automatically make it so. Nothing wrong with belief, per se, but it is best to call it what it is.

        Thanks. A topic worth discussion especially because this is the first of your “facts”.

      • Thom,

        I’m glad that you think your own “party line” is so much more convincing than mine. You must have a tremendous amount of knowledge and intellect to be capable of knowing something that hundreds of historians who have devoted their lives to the study of this time period must have missed out on. They must all be delusional, right?

        Oh wait, almost all of them agree that Jesus died by crucifixion based on the available data? That would mean someone asking for the “data” must be looking for something other than what is generally accepted in historical science, which sounds exactly like the atheist “party line.” And it is here that the bias is shown. A clear unwillingness to listen objectively, you definitely were going for the bait and trap based on what you believe to be superior knowledge. Sorry, but one guy responding to a blog on the internet is not going to convince me like 2,200 historians.

        If you are looking for sufficient “data” for such stuff and feel that there isn’t any here, than I wonder why you believe ANY historical facts. The simple point here is that these 12 minimal facts are accepted not just by Christian scholars. Habermas also looked at things that the greatest skeptical and unbelieving historians regard as having happened. There is no party line here, because the line has been drawn by those who don’t believe.

        So I think perhaps instead of coming here and thinking you’re so high and mighty, perhaps you ought to take a glance at your own perspective and ask yourself what evidence you have for your own worldview before you start attacking mine.

        Thanks for stopping by.

  14. Posted by thom waters on June 26, 2013 at 1:03 PM

    Saw that we had engaged in a conversation of some length and you appear to have ended the discussion.

    I would only wish to make one additional comment and that would be to your remark about me thinking that I was “so high and mighty”. If reaching the conclusion that we simply have no compelling or forensic evidence to support the Christian claim that one Jesus was killed by crucifixion makes my position “high and mighty” then I certainly can’t change your opinion. However, to take the position that one Jesus was killed as a result of this action without the necessary accompanying “data” or forensic evidence to establish this position seems to be filled with bias and prejudice from the beginning. Remember, I’m not saying that he did not die. I am only pointing out that this position is a matter of “belief” rather than “fact”. If you accept the Markan account in Mark 15:44, even Pilate doubted the news. And to affirm this he used the word of a centurion who had probably never been asked to affirm such a thing. Looking up at what must have been a slumped Jesus, this centurion reached the conclusion that he was dead. What could be more convincing than this?

    With regard to your position that almost every scholar accepts that Jesus was dead, I will simply quote from Michael LIcona’s work “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.” He states, “We need to be reminded every so often that a consensus of scholars does not establish the objectivity or truth of their conclusion.”

    Hope you are well, and I do thank you for allowing me time and space on your site. I realize that it is something you do not need to do or in any way are you obligated to do so.

    Reply

    • Thom,

      If you believe that we need forensic evidence to be sure someone died by crucifixion, it’s a wonder you would actually believe ANYONE died from this method. Simply put, forensic evidence wasn’t available, so I suggest you lower your standards.

      As for compelling evidence, the information presented prior is stuff NT scholars (believers and skeptics alike) have no problems accepting. These are guys who devote their entire careers to this stuff. If they’re convinced by this stuff after all of the research they’ve done, then perhaps it is your definition of “compelling” that needs to be re-worked.

      If you’re simply taking issue with the term “fact,” then I think you’re a bit short-sighted. We have no “facts” about history if your burden of proof for fact is something that needs to be proven scientifically or forensically. Your arguing semantics here, which is perfectly fine but does nothing to contribute anything to your position. Let’s face it–I’m presenting information and you’re simply saying “I don’t believe you.” Guess what; that’s an opinion and a belief. The only difference between your position and mine is that I actually have logical and widely-accepted information to back it up. Where’s yours?

      Thanks for stopping by again, but I think it’s best to put it to bed because your position really hasn’t improved in 15 months. Hope you are well too.

      Reply

  15. Posted by thom waters on June 28, 2013 at 10:39 AM

    Thanks for your last comment. I will make this brief. I think it is an interesting suggestion that in order to buy into the belief that a man was resurrected from the dead I should do so by lowering my standards of evidence to such a claim, a claim that begins with verifying that the risen man was dead to begin. In some small way you have made my case for me by noting that this entire event happens in Bronze Age Palestine where there were no forensic methods of proof, medical examiner, death certificate, etc. That seems somewhat convenient. Remember, I have never claimed that this person did not die, only pointing out the lack of what we would consider acceptable evidence to support a death claim. After all, this isn’t a beheading as a noted earlier. And as a crucifixion, this person wasn’t left up for days where the process ended with scavenger birds and animals devouring the corpse, which would have been more common. The element of Time, so important to the process, was interrupted. With virtually no proof as to the type of scourging that Jesus received and with the distinct possibility that ropes, not nails. were used to secure the victim, the death scenario should be questioned. No less an authority than William L Craig has stated that a good case can be made for ropes not nails being used. Ask yourself this question. What evidence is there that this person was actually nailed to the cross? The study of the entire event is a most fascinating one. The truth portions of an effective falsehood always make the falsehood more persuasive. Within this story we obviously have “truth portions”. Is the entire story “true”? We all make our determinations as best we can. Anyway, thanks for the time. Certainly a topic that requires more time than we can afford it through this exchange.

    Reply

    • I’m asking you to lower your standards of proof BECAUSE historians look at different types of evidence than do scientists. You’re asking me to look at a historical event as a scientist; I’m asking you to look at a historical event as a historian. Which one of those makes more logical sense?

      The evidence that is available to us is through writings done by those who were alive at this time, and who were even at the site of the crucifixion. You would rather us disbelieve eyewitness testimony because it doesn’t fit your opinion, and then disbelieve those who would corroborate it through separate writings? That is the complete opposite approach to what scientists intuitively are supposed to do: follow the evidence where it leads. Scientists do this until the evidence leads to a false conclusion, not until there isn’t enough evidence or the evidence doesn’t support your viewpoint. That is what you’re asking us to do here, and it makes absolutely no sense.

      I’m challenging your method of determining what is worthwhile evidence and what isn’t. As I’ve mentioned here as an argument many times before, I don’t have any proof of your actual birth. Birth certificates and videos could be faked or altered. Am I therefore justified in withholding my belief that you were born? Or would it make more sense to take the available evidence and data, follow it where it leads and arrive at the most reasonable conclusion? Answer that question and then apply the same standard to the topic we’re discussing at hand. I think you’d see pretty clearly you’re playing both sides of the fence.

      Reply

  16. Posted by thom waters on June 28, 2013 at 4:40 PM

    Good discussion, but I think your analogy fails to be convincing. If I need to prove my birth I do so by my simple existence. Birth certificate or not, I’m here. Must have been born. Not so with trying to establish the certainty of someone’s death, especially as it relates to this time in history and the method said to be used. As I have said before, take a crucifixion, a stoning, and a beheading. Which of these methods of execution guarantees death? Only one. As we discovered in Acts 14, a person can be stoned, believed to be dead, yet still be discovered to be alive. Simply a mistake in judgment made by those involved in the process. Could a similar mistake have been made with the crucifixion of Jesus? Seems an easy question to answer, given what little we know about crucifixions in general, and this one specifically. Consider this: If a person were crucified and left on the cross for 10 minutes, could they survive? 20 minutes? At what point is survival no longer an option? Many factors go into such a scenario, but we simply do not know. One thing it appears we do know. Many victims survived for days before they died and their remains were torn apart by birds and scavengers. Jesus was said to be on the cross for between 3-6 hours before he was pronounced dead by a centurion who probably never before had been asked to do such a thing. Why was Pilate surprised at the news? What made Pilate disbelieving of the news? Worthy questions I believe. And as far as your eyewitnesses go we must acknowledge two things. We actually don’t know who wrote the stories and accounts that have been handed down to us, and what expertise or qualifications did they have to make any pronouncement concerning a person’s death. Perhaps they had no more than the people in Acts 14 who guessed wrong about the death of Paul.

    Please remember I’m not saying that he didn’t die, only pointing out that this claim rightfully falls into the category of something that was believed rather than something that can be firmly established as historically true. That one Jesus was crucified seems to be well-established. We even have outside sources that contribute to this “fact”. However, not even these outside sources can provide attestation to an actual death. They do not and can not. Everything, it seems, is how you go about making people believe what you want them to believe. The author of the Gospel of John, even makes the admission that everything he is writing is done in order that we might believe (John 20:30-31). With such a stated bias and agenda is it possible that this writer simply wrote things with that end in mind, not committed to the “truth” of these things? Perhaps this is why we find so many stories and things in his account that we can find nowhere else. And, yet, given no multiple attestation and written 70-90 years after the so-called events, apologists are quick and happy to accept these stories as “gospel”, especially as they might relate and be germaine to the so-called death of Jesus on the cross–proof if you will. Apologists, rather than myself, appear to be playing both sides of the fence, emphasizing on one hand multiple attestation and early documentation then quickly abandoning these standards when it is convenient to do so.

    It seems, and this is repetitious, that your Fact #1 should read, “Jesus was crucified and it was believed that he died as a result.” Seems a fair statement. After all, it is what is believed.

    Reply

    • And how do you prove your existence? I’ve never met you; how do I know you’re not a supercomputer with capabilities to read my comments and appropriate an outputted response? And even if I were to meet you, how would I know you weren’t an android? I don’t think there’s anything that you can show me that would satisfy the same proof you are asking for in the death of Jesus to prove that you actually exist. So therefore I am reasonable in my belief that you don’t exist. See where your logic takes us?

      How do you know that a centurion who pronounced Jesus dead had never done such a thing? That’s a ludicrous assumption to make, in my opinion. The Romans were experts at this type of execution–they wouldn’t take average Joe Roman off the street and ask him to do such a thing for such a public and controversial figure. Absolutely absurd assumption to make.

      As far as the authorship of the Biblical books, I’m sorry, but even skeptics like Bart Ehrmann attribute Paul’s letters to him. There is no debate among NT scholars, believers and skeptics alike, about who wrote the epistles. And Paul gives accounts from people who were at the crucifixion, who visited the tomb, and who saw the appearance of the risen Jesus. There is no debate as to the authenticity of the authorship or the claims, simply whether the claims are legitimate.

      Finally, what I’m calling “facts” are claims about the historical Jesus that are beyond debate by scholars. There is consensus on these claims, so as to not be disputed. If there is no dispute about whether or not Jesus died on the cross, one can make a reasonable (and also the most logical) assumption that this actually happened. Any disagreement is to be in the minority, not the majority, and your claim that this is altogether reasonably untrue is the one that ought to be subject to more scrutiny, because there is no positive evidence to support such a claim, merely negative claims against the antithesis. Sorry, but that makes your argument carry much less weight, in my opinion.

      Reply

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