Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Resurrection Debunked in Eight Easy Steps? Part 1

A recent effort by Skeptic Chris Hallquist proposes to have debunked the Resurrection as provable by historical evidence in 8 simple points (actually, 7, since point 8 is merely a prop for Hallquist’s book). This effort has in turn been lauded by the likes of John Loftus.

It will come as no surprise that we are little impressed by this effort, which we indeed regard as exceptionally simple. However, the arguments are hardly unique to Hallquist, who is merely uncritically following older critics, and his name will not be mentioned again in this series until the very end. Over the next two days we will be discussing these eight points and remarking on the burden necessary to be filled to validate them.

There is no evidence for the Resurrection outside the Bible.

Though this mantra has been repeated frequently, it rests upon a yet to be validated presumption. In essence, it draws a line around referring sources to an event, and declares that for the event to have validation, it must be referred to by other sources than these – which are in the main, what we would call interested parties.

Yet why should this be accorded any respect as an argument? It is manifest that interested parties will always report an event in which they are interested. It is also manifest that non-interested parties frequently will not report events in which they are not interested, for various reasons.

Finally, it is frequently the case that interested parties represent our only source of information on certain events, yet it is not acceptable to dismiss them merely on this basis. Elements of bias leading to distortion or exaggeration may be proven by argument, but not merely assumed without further discussion, as presented in this simple explanation.

In the case of the Resurrection, it is not hard to see why it would not be reported by non-interested parties. A historian like Tacitus, with his prejudices against Jews and Christians, upon hearing the story would dismiss it as superstitious nonsense – with no further investigation warranted. Note that this would be his reaction whether the Resurrection had truly occurred or not. The same could be said of other potential witnesses whose works are left to us, like Lucian.

How about Josephus, then? It can be argued that he does mention the Resurrection as a belief of Christians, in portions of his text that are not regarded as interpolations. But let us assume that this is merely fanciful and that he did not even mention it to that extent. Josephus was writing for his Flavian patrons, and was manifestly supporting the idea of Vespasian as the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy. Even if he believed in the Resurrection, it would likely have cost him his head (or at least his job) to report it.

There’s also the matter of later church writers. It’s not clear where these would be placed in the argument. I have seen some argue that they too would be off limits as evidence, since they are by interested parties. If that is so, then we have an argument with a Catch-22: Any person like a Tacitus who did report that the Resurrection occurred would be likely to also become a Christian – and therefore be regarded as off limits as well.

So in essence, the demand of this argument would be for a source that a) reports that the Resurrection happened, but b) didn’t become a Christian because of it. And that’s merely an arbitrary raising of the bar of evidence.

In reality, there is no rule of evidence that says that interested party testimony is off limits and insufficient to establish a fact, merely because it is by an interested party. The argument is an arbitrary one and deserves no credence.

There is little evidence that the NT accounts are written by eyewitnesses, or based on eyewitness accounts.

This, too, is a frequently repeated mantra, and one I have engaged at some length, especially in Trusting the New Testament. I have challenged Skeptics and others over the years repeatedly to produce a consistent and workable epistemology for deciding who the author of an ancient document is. Specifically, I have frequently used the Annals of Tacitus as an example: That work is universally (save for some fringe thinkers) regarded as Tacitus’ authentic work. Yet the evidence for it is much less than it is for any one of the Gospels.

It is insufficient to merely appeal to reputed scholarly consensus. I have found that few or no scholars who report on this matter actually do any more than repeat the mantra themselves and do no original investigation; much less do they put together a consistent epistemology for deciding authorship of a work and apply it across the board.

The above two reasons mean that the Gospels can’t be trusted for reports of miracles.

As this third argument is dependent on the first two, we need not comment further.

The 1 Cor. 15 creed doesn’t prove that the Resurrection happened.

I know of no one who says this as it stands, though I imagine some simpler apologist may do so. However, in terms of why this argument is valid, two major points are made.

But again, would you accept similar evidence in favor of another religion’s miracles? The Mormon church has statements signed by several people attesting to miracles that are supposed to confirm the truth of the Book of the Mormon, but you probably won’t convert to Mormonism based on that.

It is not clear what the reference here is to, and no specific source is cited. It sounds like it refers to the testimony of several witnesses to have seen the golden plates; if so, it is obviously confused. But let’s discuss that under the presumption that it means exactly what it says.

Would I reject such claims by Mormons? Yes, I would. But I would do so for reasons external to these witnesses, such as: The inability to reconcile Book of Mormon events with New World archaeology. The fraudulent nature of the Book of Abraham. Joseph Smith’s inability to interpret the Bible correctly.

If all this were not the case, then yes, I would indeed place the testimony of these witnesses in evidence – the same way as 1 Cor. 15. It would certainly never be my sole evidence (which again, is an argument no one I know of actually makes). The charge of inconsistency is worthy as a due caution but does not in any way devalue the evidence itself.

Also, Paul doesn’t tell us how he knows about all these appearances, so we can’t be confident his report is accurate.

Yes, Paul does tell us how he knows: He uses the language of community tradition handed down from authoritative sources such as himself who were eyewitnesses. The material of 1 Cor. 15 is represented as a summation of what is accepted by the community at large, which would include those named, who would self-evidently be the ultimate sources for the testimony, since they are also members of the same community.

We will return tomorrow with comments on the remainder.


  1. Hallquist is overgeneralizing with regard to the Mormon witnesses.

    "The Testimony of the Three Witnesses" is signed by three people who claim to have seen the plates, heard the voice of God confirming their veracity, and seen an angel descend from heaven with the plates.

    "The Testimony of the Eight Witnesses" is signed by eight individuals who only saw the plates themselves, unaccompanied by any miracles.

    The latter is obviously of little value in proving Mormonism. The former would make a stronger argument, but the three witnesses were eventually excommunicated and their personal credibility is, for a variety of reasons, rather poor.

  2. Yes. I've never heard of the seeing of the plates referred to in terms of "miracles" though, which is why I'm not sure what he means. Seeing plates isn't a miracle -- I happen to think Smith had some sort of real artifact he passed off as plates, anyway.

  3. This post made me think of another skeptic, Taylor Carr. I don't know if you've heard of him, but he published a critique of Strobel's CfC. Since you examined Lowder's response, you might want to take a look at this one; it's made its rounds. http://godlesshaveen.com/the-case-for-christ
    Do you think it has any merit?


  4. @JRP: I have yet to see any such critique that had any merit. I only had to read a couple of paragraphs to see that Carr is completely uneducated on the topics in question. It's full of arguments I dealt with ages ago.