Friday, June 18, 2010

Why are all the naturalistic explanations of the founding of Christianity such nonstarters?

I'm not going to make confident assertions about what would change my mind. There are too many factors. But I can tell you something that would, in my eyes, decrease the probability that Christianity is true.




One thing that would hurt the probability of Christianity for me would be if skeptics could come up with a halfway convincing story about how Christianity arose. Swoon theory? Come on. Jesus stripped on 100 pounds of grave clothes, pushed that gigantic stone out of the way, and put a flying tackle on the Roman guard, after being left for dead because of a crucifixion? Hallucination theory? Lots of problems. The disciples stole the body? Why? So they could get martyred for something they knew was false. Legendary development? Why does Luke know so much about all the city governments in the Mediterranean world? Jesus never even existed? How come nobody has come up with the theory that Socrates never existed? Jesus' evil twin took over after he was crucified? Getting desperate aren't we?



Of course, I know all about the Humean argument that anything's better than accepting a resurrection. Yes, rationally, one could be a skeptic about the supernatural origin of Christianity while admitting that there isn't much out there in the way of naturalistic explanations of the founding of Christianity. But why do all those theories have such ghastly problems?

48 comments:

Hiero5ant said...

"Jesus stripped on 100 pounds of grave clothes, pushed that gigantic stone out of the way, and put a flying tackle on the Roman guard, after being left for dead because of a crucifixion?"

This objection to Swoon Theory only makes it seem ridiculous to someone in thrall of metaphysical naturalist dogma.

Sure, I grant that on the assumption of naturalism, it is pretty ludicrous to expect such feats of physical prowess following that kind of medical trauma. But God is an awesome God -- why should we dogmatically presuppose that he could not miraculously grant Jesus the strength to do these things?

The known facts about primate physiology should be far less of a barrier to a supernatural swoon narrative than to a supernatural resurrection narrative.

Victor Reppert said...

But then we don't have a naturalistic alternative, do we? And we have an option that wouldn't serve God's purposes as well, at least as they are understood in the New Testament.

Walter said...

I have heard it stated that all the later Gospels are just mutilations of "Mark's" Gospel. What if Mark's Gospel was meant to be edifying fiction and not a detailed CNN Documentary? IOW, the details of what happened Easter Sunday could be no more than pious fabrications?

Assuming that Paul wrote before Mark's fictitious story, then the question might be: What caused Paul to believe a crucified cult leader was the Messiah?

Could Christianity be based on Paul's visionary experiences with Mark just writing a semi-fictional back story? I guess the problem with this is that Paul warns in his letters about other apostles preaching another Jesus. So there appears to have been more than one kind of Jesus cult going on at the time of Paul's letters.

Maybe messianic expectations were just running rampant at that particular place and time in Jewish history? And Paul's particular strain of messianism is what eventually became "orthodox".

Just speculating, of course.

Victor Reppert said...

OK, why are these people out there making fundamental changes to a time-honored religion, and putting their lives in mortal danger in so doing?

Peter, outside the gate of Jerusalem, says "You got this guy crucified, but God resurrected and vindicated him." Now think about that for a moment. He's addressing the very people who had the power to put someone on a cross. Cruel and unusual punishment times ten, and then you die. He's telling them that they were wrong and that God vindicated the guy they put to death. Music to their ears, to be sure.

Once the master is crucified, what are the chances of getting out of the first century with a church that is alive and well. I think my chances of winning the Powerball jackpot if I were to buy a lottery ticket at Fry's are better.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic,

Guards at the tomb? Heavy dressings and ointments/spices? The earliest narrative, Mark, says the women were going to the tomb to anoint Jesus and fretted who would move the stone for them. So the earliest narrative does not mention Jesus already being wrapped so well, nor does it assume that the women were going to encounter any "guards" at all since their only worry was who would move the stone for them.

It's the later narrative, Matthew, that mentions guards and says the women only went to "see where he was laid," not to anoint the body. The story has changed between Mark and Matthew.

Besides, what is your definition of a "starter?" Are you defining "starter" as any religion about which various stories are believed?

Who wrote such stories? When did they write them? Do you know?

Do you know who "Luke" is? Neither The "Gospel of Luke" nor "the Book of Acts" mention the authors name, only the name of the person to whom they were addressed, which is not "Luke."

When was Luke-Acts composed? The consensus is well after Mark, and utilizing Markan and other earlier stories that had arisen by the time of Luke-Acts.

And also you're discounting apocalyptic enthusiasms, and seeing God's hand at work everywhere in expectation of Jewish liberation from Rome. The Jews were striving against the Greeks, and then having won that battle relatively speaking under the Macabees/Hasmonean rule being set up in Jerusalem, the Romans later conquered Palestine and so the battle began once again against the conquerors, a battle against Rome that began in skirmishes before Jesus' day, during it, and after it, right up till the second revolt against Rome, the Bar Kochbah (viewed also as an anointed one of God or messiah) all such high expectations being based on apocalyptic hopes, that God would intervene and give them back their nation, save it from foreign rule via HIS mighty will and miraculous help. Some leaders were religious like Jesus and "the Egyptian" whom Josephus mentions, while others fought against Rome (in line with the idea, I suppose that God helps those who help themselves). So it was a time of high expectations indeed, a maddening time. Heck, the Jews at Masada believed God would help them too. The fought as long as they could.

The Dead Sea Scrolls also insert the word "resurrection" in their version of a popular passage in Isaiah. And they employed the verse, "this generation shall not pass away until. . ." And they wrote about such things BEFORE Jesus' day, along with a scroll about the war of the sons of light and darkness, and another scroll about an apocalyptic figure, Melchizadek, appointed by God and appearing in the clouds and judging mankind. Apparently Elijah was another figure whose name was connected with the soon arrival in judgment of a figure appointed by God to lead Israel toward freedom.

The Dead Sea Scrolls before the first century mention a final battle between Jews who all return to Jerusalem and defeat all the armies on earth in a final end times battle centered round Jerusalem. See also the late first century books of Revelation, later "Baruch," later "Ezra," all about end time battles centering round Jerusalem. As I said, high expectations and well, madness about returning figures in the clouds. And resurrection was a concept also popular among both Pharisees and the authors of the apocalyptic Dead Sea Scrolls.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, I sincerely suggest you read the five books I suggested all Christian apologists read, or at least the most recent Price book, which does not espouse mythicism as much as elucidate all of the questions that scholars currently ask that pertain to the "historicity/authenticity" of NT writings. Price has assembled plenty of questions for readers to ponder.

Links to some of my own lists of questions are also included in the comments section of this blog post:

http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2010/04/five-books-every-christian-should-read.html

Victor Reppert said...

OK, I'm just asking, if Jesus wasn't resurrected, and there were no miracles in Acts either, then how did it all get started. I am not talking about reasons to be skeptical of the Christian story. I am talking about a consistent plot-line that tells me how this thing got started, one that doesn't butt up against a huge factual barrier.

Walter said...

OK, I'm just asking, if Jesus wasn't resurrected, and there were no miracles in Acts either, then how did it all get started.

Maybe the same way that Islam got started? Why would so many people truly believe that Muhammad received a revelation from God?

Why do we have millions of Mormons today, when it seems obvious (to me at least) that Joseph Smith was a con-man?

JS Allen said...

@Walter - Mormonism was based on a revelation that only one person claims to have received. The resurrection, as well as Christ's miracles, were supposedly witnessed by many.

Islam is a little trickier. There are reports of some relatively miraculous things happening. The historical record is more questionable than Christianity's, but I'm not convinced that no miracles occurred in the early days of Islam.

I don't think any Christian would have a problem with admitting that Islam or other false teachers could've performed miracles. The Bible said it would happen, after all.

Walter said...

Mormonism was based on a revelation that only one person claims to have received. The resurrection, as well as Christ's miracles, were supposedly witnessed by many.

Yet this man seems to have gone largely unnoticed by contemporary historians living around Palestine at the time. All the "historical" information that we have on Jesus comes from the pens (quills?) of later true believers instead of coming from neutral observers.

The real question for me is: Are the Gospel accounts literal history or theological propaganda penned by later believers so that "ye might believe" (e.g. John 20:31)?

I honestly do not know.

Victor Reppert said...

The Gospels seem to have a sort of historical confirmation which these other religions lack. You just have to take Joseph Smith's or Muhammad's word for it that these prophets were touched by an angel.

In the case of Jesus, you have events that took place in public places that could be attested by others. Peter could speak to people who had seen Jesus crucified. Luke had a precise knowledge of local governments in the cities to which Paul is said to have visited, which suggests he was at the scene. Paul claims there were 500 witnesses to the Resurrection.

So the founding of Christianity had a much higher public profile than the founding of Mormonism or the founding of Islam. Christianity was not founded by one charismatic leader who was still alive. When Christianity came into being as a religion, the founder was gone.

Victor Reppert said...

Walter: Yet this man seems to have gone largely unnoticed by contemporary historians living around Palestine at the time. All the "historical" information that we have on Jesus comes from the pens (quills?) of later true believers instead of coming from neutral observers.

VR: Josephus' Jesus reference seems to have had a historical core, which was doctored by later scribes.

Walter: The real question for me is: Are the Gospel accounts literal history or theological propaganda penned by later believers so that "ye might believe" (e.g. John 20:31)?

VR: Obviously they were written by people who thought Jesus was resurrected. I mean you aren't going to get testimony to the resurrection from someone who thought Jesus wasn't resurrected. That wouldn't make sense. But, seen this way, your objection seems trivial.

Jayman said...

Victor, in my opinion, the problem with naturalistic explanations for the rise of Christianity is that they fail to explain the rise of Christianity as well as the resurrection does. Naturalistic explanations leave questions unanswered that are answered if Jesus rose from the dead.

Walter, the Gospels are of the genre known as Greco-Roman biography, a genre generally used to relate history, and were understood by their first readers as history. Paul does not speak of other apostles preaching that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Instead, he mentions that Jesus' disciples witnessed the resurrection before he did. Your speculation leaves us wondering why the messianic expectations of the era resulted in Christianity alone succeeding despite the death of its Messiah.

Regarding Islam, there are a number of passages in the Koran that imply that Muhammad was not known as a miracle worker. His greatest "miracles" were the Koran itself and his military victories. Once Islam became a political-military force it did not need to be intellectually satisfying in order for someone to convert to it. Non-Muslims who were neither Jews nor Christians were to be put to death if they did not convert to Islam. Jews and christians were allowed to live but were relegated to second-class status (dhimmitude) under Shariah. In other words, there were reasons to become a Muslim that had nothing to do with believing Muhammad was a true prophet. This is not analagous to the first Christian centuries. But, for the sake of argument, I could grant that Muhammad worked some miracles but still reject his prophethood if I believed the Koran, the alleged revelation from Allah, contained errors. The naturalist cannot accept miracles, period.

Jayman said...

Walter, consider this quote from F.F. Bruce (pp. 17-18 of Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament):

When we are asked for 'collateral proof' exists of the life of Jesus Christ, would it be unfair to begin by asking another question? In which contemporary writers -- in which writers who flourished, say, during the first fifty years after the death of Christ -- would you expect to find the collateral evidence you are looking for? Well, perhaps it would be rather unfair, as the man in the street can hardly be expected to know who was writing in the Graeco-Roman world during those fifty years; the classical student himself has to scratch his head in an attempt to remember who they were. For it is surprising how few writings, comparitevely speaking, have survived from those years of a kind which might be even remotely expected to mention Christ. (I except, for the present, the letters of Paul and several other New Testament writings.)

But let me word by question a little differently. In what kind of documents, during the first fifty years after the death of Christ, would you expect to find his name mentioned?

Perhaps a recent parallel will help us answer that question. The Illustrated London News of April 30, 1960, carried a brief report (with photograph) of the death of one Hajji Mirza Ali Khan. In the closing years of the British Raj in India he was a militant opponent of British control of the Waziristan sector of the North-West Frontier. He figured in the press from time to time under the title 'the Fakir of Ipi'; but I do not suppose that he will play a prominent part in histories of the twentieth century.

Since the Fakir of Ipi was a holy man, I imagine that there was some religious basis for his activities, and I have no doubt that he had some devotees who though him a very important person indeed. But if his devotees had suddenly begun to propagate a cult in which he played a central part; if their mission had proved unexpectedly successful; if it had led to riots in Karachi and Delhi; if it had been carried to London and had begun to cause trouble in the Indian or Pakistani communities here -- then the name of the Fakir of Ipi would certainly have become familiar and would have found its way into historical writings. But such a process would take a little time.

May I suggest that in A.D. 30 the activity of Jesus of Nazareth would have meant not more to people living at the heart of the Roman world than the activity of the Fakir of Ipi meant to the people in England? A religious leader who won a following by his claims to be a king, and who was conveniently executed -- why, there were scores of people like that in Palestine in those days. Tiberious was emperor at that time but, as was pointed out at the beginning of an earlier volume in this series, a Roman historian who was not unaware of the circumstances of Jesus's execution can report with regard to Palestine: 'under Tiberius all quiet'. When Jesus's followers, however, claiming that he had risen from the dead, began to proclaim him as the deliverer for whom the world was waiting, when their mission met with astonishing success, when it was carried not only to Antioch and Alexandria but to Rome itself, and led to riots there -- then the name of Christ and of his followers, the Christians, became familiar at the heart of the Roman Empire. But, of course, that took a little time. And, while Christ and the Christians ultimately came to be mentioned in historical literature, the first Roman literature in which we might expect to find memories of them would be the police news. And that, in fact, is what we do find.

Walter said...

Let me ask this another way. How many people here believe every word in the gospels?

Why is it that Josephus--who hated Herod--failed to mention Herod's barbaric crime of killing the first-born in Bethlehem?

How can a star guide some wise men to Jesus' house?

Did Matthews's Day of the Zombies really happen in Matthew 27:52-53? Funny no other evangelist mentioned this event.

Did Jesus really fly up into heaven in front of a few disciples as we read in Acts 1? And where is heaven, anyway? Past the orbit of Jupiter?

What is literal, and what is embellishment?

Victor Reppert said...

Obviously, if you presuppose inerrancy, getting the case for the Resurrection will be easy. Obviously the case has to be made independently of inerrancy.

Trav said...

Good questions all round Victor.

For those suggesting Price, once was enough. I've read his stuff once, and found it so ridiculously laughable that I couldn't do it again. The stuff I've read honestly wasn't worthy of anyone's time, unless you were studying about how to draw some attention and publicity. So perhaps they could use his stuff in a marketing degree, but it's not useful for much else.

TRH said...

All the "historical" information that we have on Jesus comes from the pens (quills?) of later true believers instead of coming from neutral observers.

I think the point is that one could not witness these phenomena and still be a "neutral observer."

Walter said...

Obviously, if you presuppose inerrancy, getting the case for the Resurrection will be easy. Obviously the case has to be made independently of inerrancy.

Okay. That did not really answer my question about what parts of the bible should we believe in a literal fashion, and what parts can we chalk up to "fanciful storytelling"?

It seems clear to me that there are discrepancies between the canonical gospels, so who gets the story right, if any of them do? (I know the inerrantists refuse to acknowledge any discrepancies)

I am an agnostic that prefers Christian *theism to be true. The very fact that I prefer it to be true makes me somewhat skeptical. I may be interpreting the available evidence through the filter of my emotional biases.

* To be specific, I prefer Christian Universalism to be true. I find the doctrine of an eternal hell to be abhorrent.

Jayman said...

Walter, you have to determine the genre of the literature and the intent of the author. As far as I can tell, the authors of the Gospels intended to relate history. This does not mean that they did so perfectly, however. You need to work through each passage and apply the criteria of authenticity to determine what is likely to be accurate and what is likely to be inaccurate.

Regarding your specific questions, it is reasonable to doubt Matthew 27:52-53. Perhaps only a couple infants under the age of two were killed in Bethlehem and so it wasn't as large an atrocity as some imagine, but the specifics of Jesus' birth are doubted by many historians. Acts 1 states that Jesus was hidden in a cloud. Heaven is located in another "dimension" (for lack of a better term).

J said...

Why do we have millions of Mormons today, when it seems obvious (to me at least) that Joseph Smith was a con-man?


I suspect Joseph Smith was sort of a...Rev. Moon type of figure (or was it...PT Barnum)--promising the land of milk and honey, not to say polygamous marriages (often to teenage girls), as long as the aspiring Mormonic swore to avoid the demons of alcohol tobacco and gambling (not to say anything to do with..LAMANITES), and upheld the sacred teachings of Moroni.

Christianity was probably not started by that sort of huckster (or at least one hopes not). It was more like....a group of rebels living under the iron fist of the Roman Empire, but also objecting to jewish dogma, or something. The person aka Christ was more akin to a Che Guevara (not to say we should necessarily approve)... rather than Joe Smith. The supposed miracles/Res. should be considered secondary to the political implications.

Doctor Logic said...

I agree with J.

The authors of the gospels portray themselves as average Joes, but this makes no sense.

If what they say is true, these guys were following Jesus around on his dog and pony show. They must have known that they risked death. Moreover, martyrdom was considered a pretty good thing during that era.

Once you see the authors as the religious fanatics that they were, their story becomes pretty mundane.

Jayman said...

J, in what sense were the first Christians rebels? The only sense I can think of is that they did not participate in pagan worship and thought Christ, not the emperor, was the true king of the world. But they did not violently rebel against Rome so I think the comparison to Guevara is a stretch (if not down right offensive). Moreover, it is quite clear from the NT that the resurrection was of primary importance to the first Christians (1 Cor 15:17) and that they were more interested in the "politics" of the kingdom of God than the politics of earthly kingdoms (Jn 18:36). Finally, they did not object to Jewish dogma per se. Paul argued that Gentiles do not need to follow the entire Torah. But there were Jewish Christians who did follow the Torah.

DoctorLogic, how do the evangelists portray themselves as average Joes? If traditional authorship is assumed, Matthew and John were apostles, Mark was a follower of Peter, and Luke was a follower of Paul. In the actual text of the Gospels Matthew and Mark do not tell us about themselves. Luke notes that he investigated the Christian tradition. John states that he is the disciple whom Jesus loved. The first Christians thought of the evangelists as at least somewhat important people. Regarding martyrdom, was it praised in and of itself or was it praised because the martyr was standing for the truth? If the latter then it would suggest the first Christians were willing to die for what they believed to be the truth. This once again leads us to ask why they thought the stories about Jesus were true. I don't see how appeals to "religious fanaticism" (however that is meant) helps us answer the question.

Doctor Logic said...

Jayman,

The 9/11 attackers were martyrs for truth. At least, truth as they saw it.

Also, when I say that they were average Joes, I mean that they were ordinary in their belief-forming mechanisms. For example, an avid ufologist or conspiracy theories is not normal in his belief-forming mechanisms, but he won't portray himself as being unusual. He'll try to convince you that his beliefs form in the way yours do. He'll talk about how mentally average, apart from the "research" he's conducted (into UFO's, 2012, 9/11, or whatever). His goal will be to convince you that if you only look at the same evidence, you, too, will believe.

You addressed the issue of whether the apostles were ordinary in social status within the church. I think it's clear they were not ordinary in that respect, but I don't think that's relevant to my point.

In Judaism, the folks who committed suicide at Masada (if it actually happened that way) are revered. The same with any Jew who gave his life for his faith, even if just to avoid conversion to another faith. If the apostles were people who were ready to be martyrs before the Resurrection, then their martyrdom isn't a simple measure of the truth of the Resurrection. Did the 9/11 hijackers come across information that we lack? Or were they subject to social and psychological influences that made them martyrs? I think it was the latter.

I can imagine that after Jesus was crucified, his followers/handlers got together and had a vision quest of sorts. In an orgasm of religious hysteria, they all came to believe that Jesus was with them again. Not independently, mind you. They were probably giving each other ideas, just like kids in a haunted house.

Consider the stories about meeting Jesus on the road and not recognizing him. Sounds like reinterpretation of mundane experience as miraculous.

For example, suppose your evangelist pal, Jesus, is given the electric chair, and you and your buds become convinced he's returned, spiritually. You meet a tall guy on the bus who's calm and reminds you of Jesus. As he gets off at the stop before yours, he says "I'll see you around." You later interpret this to be Jesus returned, and note one of his scars as being significant. This is not an error we average Joes would make, since we were not emotionally invested or religiously hysterical. But the apostles were not average Joes in that respect.

Jayman said...

DoctorLogic:

(1) If Peter was not willing to be a martyr when Jesus was arrested but became a martyr after witnessing the resurrection is that then evidence for the resurrection?

(2) Why did the followers of Jesus have a "vision quest" while the followers of other prophets/messiahs did not?

(3) How was Paul influenced by this "vision quest" when he was an opponent of Christianity?

(4) The apostles believed that Jesus physically rose from the dead (hence the empty tomb) not that he spiritually rose from the dead. Ghosts/spirits were known of in the first-century and they explicitly say the risen Jesus was not a ghost/spirit.

(5) Your modern-day road to Emmaus story does not really correspond to the resurrection appearances mentioned in the NT. Acts 1:3 reads "After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God."

Walter said...

Your modern-day road to Emmaus story does not really correspond to the resurrection appearances mentioned in the NT. Acts 1:3 reads "After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God

But how historically reliable is the Acts of the Apostles? For me, this is THE question. How can we know that Acts is historically accurate without calling on faith?

Owen said...

Doesn't Balfour, whose work you're obviously somewhat keen to, have some reluctance about the sorts of appeals that you're making in your second paragraph as a basis for Theism? I am almost positive I remember something along these lines from "Foundations of Belief."

Victor Reppert said...

It's not exactly a basis for theism, in that one can avoid theism if you think atheism sufficiently probable. I would actually argue that it counts in favor of theism, since this particular body of evidence is more likely given theism than given atheism. It is therefore an explanatory difficulty for the atheist, but not an insurmountable one if you think the case for atheism sufficiently good otherwise.

Loftus asked me for something that would make me give up Christianity. Because the case for and against Christianity is incurably cumulative, I couldn't say "THIS would be a decisive deal-breaker." But I did want to point out something the skeptic, in my opinion, has not provided, nor has come close to providing, namely, a plausible naturalistic story about the founding of Christianity. If one were to emerge, that could lower the probability of Christianity for me, and, to a far lesser extent, the probability of theism.

Victor Reppert said...

Luke has a lot of detailed knowledge of city governments in the places to which Paul traveled on his missionary journeys, information which he is unlikely to have gotten unless he was there.

As F. F. Bruce put it:

The accuracy of Luke's use of the various titles of the Roman Empire has been compared to the easy and confident way in which an Oxford man in ordinary conversation will refer to the Heads of Oxford colleges by their proper titles -- theProvost of Oriel, the Master of Balliol, the Rector of Exeter the President of Magdalen, and so on. A non-Oxonian like the present writer never feels quite at home with the multiplicity of these Oxford titles. But Luke had a further difficulty in that the titles sometimes did not remain the same for any great length of time; a province might pass from senatorial government to administration by a direct representative of the emperor, and
would then be governed no longer by a proconsul but by an imperial legate. . .

And archaeology has backed Luke up on these matters 100%.

Walter said...

Vic, don't fictional stories often contain the names of real places and people? This sounds like the Spiderman fallacy: Since Spiderman stories mention a place called Manhattan which we know really exists, therefore the Spiderman stories must really be true.

Even if Luke gets some political titles correct, I do not see how this proves that Jesus was seen by the disciples literally ascending through the air until a cloud obscured their view. Lots of ancient literature contains these kind of wild embellishments. Herodotus, anyone?

Further, Acts tends to contradict some of Paul's genuine letters. I view Acts as a book with an agenda--it attempts to elevate the status of Paul as being equal to or greater than Peter and all the other disciples.

Doctor Logic said...

Jayman,

I agree with Walter.

Your answer to my theory consists in taking the stories of the disciples at face value.

(1) If Peter was not willing to be a martyr when Jesus was arrested but became a martyr after witnessing the resurrection is that then evidence for the resurrection?
...
(3) How was Paul influenced by this "vision quest" when he was an opponent of Christianity?


Consider modern suicide bombers. They were not born that way. They underwent conversion, indoctrination and trained themselves to be martyrs for their causes. I would not be at all surprised to find that some suicide attackers were once members of enemy forces.

It would be simple for them to spin their personal histories to make the stories sound more believable.

(2) Why did the followers of Jesus have a "vision quest" while the followers of other prophets/messiahs did not?

I expect other prophets or cult leaders also had followers who came to believe they saw miracles in just the same way. However, not every cult turns into a world religion. Timing, local conditions and personalities are all factors. It's like music. Why do some bands become supergroups, while some incredibly talented groups fade into oblivion?

(4) The apostles believed that Jesus physically rose from the dead (hence the empty tomb) not that he spiritually rose from the dead. Ghosts/spirits were known of in the first-century and they explicitly say the risen Jesus was not a ghost/spirit.

I agree that this is what they came to believe. I don't see why this affects my theory. If the body were misplaced, or if the body was stolen, modifying the belief to be a physical resurrection is not a big deal.

Acts 1:3 reads "After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God."

This is their story. It's not fact. It's a single extremely biased source. If modern ufologists were as religiously hysterical as first century Jews, we still wouldn't believe their story on their word alone. And we certainly wouldn't take their evangelist publications as good evidence of their claim.

Jayman said...

Doctor Logic:

Your answer to my theory consists in taking the stories of the disciples at face value.

An earlier comment of mine shows that I don't take every statement in the Gospels at face value. However, I find the Gospels to be generally reliable sources of history and the first three points of my previous comment do not rely on particularly controversial historical claims. I am trying to find a theory that fits the data and not interpret the data in light of a theory. If your theory is impervious to contradictory data then there is nothing that can change your mind.

I would not be at all surprised to find that some suicide attackers were once members of enemy forces. It would be simple for them to spin their personal histories to make the stories sound more believable.

Can you provide an actual example? In order to be analagous to Paul, you would need to find someone who fought against suicide bombers, converted on the basis of a miraculous experience shared by others at a different time and place, and went on to be a suicide bomber.

I expect other prophets or cult leaders also had followers who came to believe they saw miracles in just the same way.

It would be helpful if you could provide concrete examples instead of just assuming your theory is correct. Judas of Galilee? John the Baptist? Theudas? Simon bar Kokhba?

This is their story. It's not fact. It's a single extremely biased source.

Acts is not the only source that describes appearances of the risen Jesus that are not analagous to your modern-day story on the bus. But my main point is that your theory has little or no connection to the data. If your theory does not have to account for the experiences that the first Christians said they had then you are free to create any theory you like.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Since 1st century Christianity had competing theologies from Marcion to the Gnostics to what we see as Orthodox today all we are left with are post hoc rationalizations of ad hoc explanations. Your first error Vic is to assume Christian theological hegemony in 1st C Palastine. There were competing mythologies and the risen god man could simply have been one of many designed to win converts. If Marcion would have one we'd be arguing very different history.

Doctor Logic said...

Jayman,

However, I find the Gospels to be generally reliable sources of history and the first three points of my previous comment do not rely on particularly controversial historical claims.

They're not controversial because they're not extraordinary by themselves. However, they aren't facts, either. We're still talking about a single source consisting of a relatively close-knit group of colluding individuals who wrote these works for the purposes of evangelism.

If your theory is impervious to contradictory data then there is nothing that can change your mind.

It's not impervious to contradictory data, but it's fair to say that claims of miraculous events can't rationally be validated by eyewitness reports thousands of years later. There are no archaeological traces of the Resurrection. There may be traces of the fact that people came to believe in the Resurrection in the first century, but that fact isn't in dispute.

We hear claims of the paranormal every week. Just because 99% of the world often thinks the claims are bogus doesn't stop the claimant from persisting. The claims can even be debunked, but that doesn't dispel them either. Just look at Sylvia Browne - a person who has no psychic ability. To read her books, she's not only accurate and reliable, but she's packing plenty of "independent verification". And we're to take it as independent because it says so in her book! Believers believe because they want to, not because they've looked at critiques and found them wanting.

Why should first century Christians be any more skeptical than 21st century soccer moms?

In order to be analagous to Paul, you would need to find someone who fought against suicide bombers, converted on the basis of a miraculous experience shared by others at a different time and place, and went on to be a suicide bomber.

It's trivially easy to have miraculous experiences if you try hard enough.

Check out this example:
http://www.fairygardens.com/sightings/adult1.html

If a person really wants to believe, he'll have the visions required. It just takes some creative interpretation, and the ability to shore up his memories with conviction. The Fairy Gardens web site even gives advice on how to see fairies.

This takes the miracle factor out of the picture. So, the only real issue is whether someone can turn from one religion to another, and we know that is true.

This is the kind of thing I was thinking of:
http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/05/14/1628814/a-chilling-look-at-the-enemy-within.html

Vinas was inspired to join the military by the 9/11 attacks, but later became a terrorist. The only thing missing in this story is the paranormal vision. But paranormal visions are easy, as the fairy-lovers prove.

Acts is not the only source that describes appearances of the risen Jesus that are not analagous to your modern-day story on the bus.

There are no other independent sources. These were people in collusion. The fact that different people in the same group wrote different accounts doesn't make it multiple sources. If it does, then the fairy stories would have mountains of recent independent reports. But we both know that tomorrow's fairy witnesses were primed by yesterday's. They were even given instructions!

I expect your response will be to say that the fairy-lovers don't want to martyr themselves, and I doubt that they do. However, there are people who do want to martyr themselves (because of environmental influences), and I hardly think such people are immune to self-delusion.

In the case of Christianity you have a cult that emerges from a pre-existing culture of martyrdom in an era when superstition was commonplace.

Steven Carr said...

'One thing that would hurt the probability of Christianity for me would be if skeptics could come up with a halfway convincing story about how Christianity arose.'

As I am neither a policeman nor a psyhciatrist, I cannot tell you what actually happened.

But as the Gospels are full of Frauds and Lies , my guess is that it was the same frauds and lies that all religions start with.

People who found religions are fraudsters and liars, who rely on gullible followers.

Steven Carr said...

VICTOR
Peter, outside the gate of Jerusalem, says "You got this guy crucified, but God resurrected and vindicated him." Now think about that for a moment. He's addressing the very people who had the power to put someone on a cross

CARR
The Jews had the power to put someone on a cross? Huh?

All you need is one word from a Christian in the first century who put his name to a document claiming he had ever heard of an empty tomb, Judas, Lazarus, Thomas, Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus, Jairus, Barabbas, Joanna, Salome.

These people did not exist.

Nobody saw them. No Christian ever talks about them when they write to each other.

The whole thing is the most appalling rubbish, featuring whole casts of people that no Christian put his name to ever seeing.

At least the Mormons had people who went to their grave demanding that their testimony be put on their tombstones.

Christianity has people as shadowy as the second gunman who shot JFK.

There is just zero evidence that people like Judas ever existed.

Even Christian apologists like Mike Licona have abandoned trying to show that the empty tomb is a fact.

Steven Carr said...

VICTOR
And archaeology has backed Luke up on these matters 100%.

CARR
In other words, Luke's reputation was smashed as soon as people wondered about this alleged census, or the way Luke ripped off Euripides and Homer when he wrote Acts.

JS Allen said...

Nobody flatters the dead:
http://bit.ly/5JvB8p

Line 190:
"Clerkis wil write, and excepte noon, The pleyne trouthe whan a man is goon."

Jayman said...

Doctor Logic:

(1) The NT is a collection of multiple sources. The mere fact that the authors were in agreement over the resurrection does not change that. Your apparent desire for a purely neutral account of the resurrection is unrealistic. Do you really think a witness to the resurrection would not become a Christian?

(2) I do not share your opinion that all believers in the supernatural/paranormal believe because they want to believe and that they have not looked at counter-arguments. Your case rests far too much on sweeping generalizations of this sort and not enough on data from the first century. I noticed you could not point to another first-century movement that paralleled your theory of Christian origins, even though martyrdom and superstition were allegdly commonplace at the time. Almost everyone would want to believe that their loved one would rise from the dead yet such claims rarely occur.

(3) Without better evidence I cannot agree that it is trivially easy to have a miraculous experience. Just think of all those de-conversion stories about people wishing for a miracle and not receiving one.

(4) In conjunction with 3, I was not surprised to find that you had difficulty finding a modern-day analog to Paul. Note that the article you linked to said Vinas washed out in boot camp, so he didn't even fight jihadists. And witnessing the same miracle that others did is a big part of finding an analog to Paul.

Steven Carr said...

JAYMAN
The mere fact that the authors were in agreement over the resurrection does not change that.

CARR
The old 'if 4 Scientologists say something, it must be true' argument....

Of course, the empty tomb story only existed after 'Mark' wrote his Novel.

Allegedly, for decades Christians had been hammered by charges of grave-robbing.

The earliest Novel has no hint of any such accusations and naively says Jesus followers knew they could access the tomb if some big strong men (perhaps fishermen?) could be found to roll away the stone.

A later Novel had to change all that by making clear that the tomb had been guarded.

Clearly Mark's Novel had caused Christians to be accused of grave-robbing.

Clearly there had never been any charge of grave-robbing levelled against Christians before Mark's Novel, because the first Novel says the body was just there to be taken if somebody could move the stone.

Nobody in a movement that had been hammered for decades with accusations of grave-robbery would have written like that. Matthew's Novel proves that.

And if there had been no (false) charge of grave-robbing before Mark's Novel, then there could not have been any empty tomb.

Steven Carr said...

JAYMAN
But let me word by question a little differently. In what kind of documents, during the first fifty years after the death of Christ, would you expect to find his name mentioned?

CARR
Evidence?

Jayman explains why there is no evidence, why he does not expect evidence, and why sceptics should not ask Christians for evidence.

Faith - belief without evidence, just like Dawkins says it is.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, you asked for "a plausible naturalistic story about the founding of Christianity. If one were to emerge, that could lower the probability of Christianity for me, and, to a far lesser extent, the probability of theism."

There are several books on this I would recommend, right here.

Go ahead, read them if you haven't.

Owen said...

Victor,

(Good Lord how do you keep up with all these comments?)

I've located the passage from Balfour that I was thinking of. I hope that it's strong/clear enough without the groundwork that goes before it. The key seems to be the last (extended) sentence). But the passage reads:

"Supposing, however, you have induced your Naturalistic philosopher to accept, if only for the sake of argument, this version of Natural Religion, what will he say to your method of extracting the proofs of Revealed Religion from the Gospel history? Explain to him that there is good historic evidence of the usual sort for believing that for one brief interval during the history of the Universe, and in one small corner of this planet, the continuous chain of universal causation has been broken; that in an insignificant country inhabited by an unimportant branch of the Semitic peoples events are alleged to have taken place which, if they really occurred, at once turn into foolishness the whole theory in the light of which he has been accustomed to interpret human experience, and convey to us knowledge which no mere contemplation of the general order of Nature could enable us even dimly to anticipate. What would be his reply? His reply would be, nay, is (for our imaginary interlocutor has unnumbered prototypes in the world about us), that questions like these can scarcely be settled by the mere accumulation of historic proofs. Granting all that was asked, and more, perhaps, than ought to be conceded; granting that the evidences for these wonders was far stronger than any that could be produced in favour of the apocryphal miracles which crowd the annals of every people; granting even that the evidence seemed far more than sufficient to establish any incident, however strange, which does not run counter to the recognized course of Nature; what then? We were face to face with a difficulty, no doubt; but the interpretation of the past was necessarily full of difficulties. Conflicts of testimony with antecedent probability, conflicts of different testimonies with each other, were the familiar perplexities of the historic inquirer. In thousands of cases no absolutely satisfactory solution could be arrived at. Possibly the Gospel histories were among these. Neither the theory of myths, nor the theory of contemporary fraud, nor the theory of late intervention, nor any other which the ingenuity of critics could devise, might provide a perfectly clean-cut explanation of the phenomena. But at least it might be said with confidence that no explanation could be less satisfactory than one which required us, on the strength of three or four ancient documents –- at the best written by eye-witnesses of little education and no scientific knowledge, at the worst spurious and of no authority –- to remodel and revolutionise every principle which governs us with an unquestioned jurisdiction in our judgments on the Universe at large” (Foundations of Belief, p188/9).

Now, admittedly, I was mis-recalling this passage - in my original question - as a passage in which Balfour was questioning the inference from the historical events to "theism." Rather, it seems like he's questioning the inference, even granting a general theism (established by some successful natural theology proof), from these historical events to the truth of the (purportedly) revealed Christian system of belief.

This sounds to me not unlike a challenge I once heard Hitchens offer in a debate, wherein he moved to grant every historical claim about Christ's resurrection and then challenged his opponent to establish the further (and needed) claim that "this" God (the OT one) was the God that did it.

But I'm not super-dialectically savvy, so perhaps I'm conflating two types of challenges here. But they seem related to me.

Anyhow, what do you say to Balfour?

Victor Reppert said...

Of course one can deny the truth of Christianity without having a good theory as to how the movement started. One can appeal to the improbability of the resurrection story itself, and using broadly Humean reasons, maintain that even though you don't know what did happen, it couldn't have been a resurrection. Even if you were a theist, you could dodge the conclusion that Jesus was resurrected. That wasn't my point.

My point was that skeptics seem to lack a story about the founding of Christianity that makes sense. I said that if they had one, it would make Christianity seem less You had swoon theories, theft theories, hallucination theories, going to the wrong tomb, etc. In fact, skeptics in the 19th Century actually attacked one another's naturalistic theories of the origin of Christianity. Skeptics about the founding of Christianity still have pretty widespread disagreements as to how it all happened. One plausible story from the skeptical side has yet to emerge. That, to me, is an interesting fact that supports, but of course does not strictly prove that Christianity is true.

Anyone who believes a world-view has to live with some difficulties. This is a difficulty for every world-view except Christianity.

Jayman said...

Steven Carr:

The old 'if 4 Scientologists say something, it must be true' argument

No, it's the basic principle that, all else being equal, the more attestation for an historical event the more likely it is to have occurred.

Of course, the empty tomb story only existed after 'Mark' wrote his Novel.

The Gospels are generally considered of the genre Greco-Roman biographies, not novels. Your underlying premise is faulty. You assume that a story did not exist before it was written down in a still extant piece of literature. You cannot show that the story of the empty tomb did not exist in either an oral or written form prior to the date of the Gospel of Mark. The Pauline Epistles prove that the resurrection, and by implication an empty tomb, were known to Christians before the writing of the Gospel of Mark.

Clearly Mark's Novel had caused Christians to be accused of grave-robbing.

Your conclusion does not follow from your premises.

Nobody in a movement that had been hammered for decades with accusations of grave-robbery would have written like that. Matthew's Novel proves that.

How does it prove that? Luke makes no mention of grave-robbery either and he wrote after Mark, which allegedly set off the accusations of grave-robbery.

And if there had been no (false) charge of grave-robbing before Mark's Novel, then there could not have been any empty tomb.

Again, this conclusion does not follow from your premise and your premise is based on faulty methodology. You've provided an excellent example of what Victor had in mind: (1) Reject good methodology; (2) employ poor methodology; (3) mis-identify the genre of literature we're discussing; and (4) make overly confident claims based on logical fallacies.

Jayman explains why there is no evidence, why he does not expect evidence, and why sceptics should not ask Christians for evidence.

No, F.F. Bruce explained why there is unlikely to be a specific kind of evidence from a specific kind of author from a specific time period. Resorting to dishonest interpretations and attacking strawman arguments further undermines the naturalist cause.

Walter said...

The Pauline Epistles prove that the resurrection, and by implication an empty tomb, were known to Christians before the writing of the Gospel of Mark.

Do the genuine Pauline epistles prove that there existed a belief in a physical resurrection before Mark? I would say that it is not conclusive that Paul believed in a bodily resurrection instead of a spiritual one.

Jayman said...

Walter, from my study I'm confident that Paul believed Jesus physically rose from the dead. However, it is not something that can be argued in a few paragraphs as it involves studying a number of Greek words and biblical and non-biblical passages. If you are particularly interested you can find plenty of arguments on the web on the subject. Paul's references to Jesus' burial can be found in Rom 6:4, 1 Cor 15:4, and Col 2:12.

Walter said...

Jayman,

I have read arguments for this going back years over at the Biblical Criticism & History forum at freeratio.org (formerly internet infidels). I still say that there is not conclusive proof that Paul believed in a physical resurrection thus implying an empty tomb. We may just have to agree to disagree for now.