Sunday, March 27, 2016

If Jesus was not resurrected, then what?

Here is a popular resurrection argument.

1. If Jesus was not resurrected, the something else happened.  Therefore some plausible story can be spelled out which explains the known facts naturalistically.
2. The most popular naturalistic explanations are the swoon theory, the hallucination theory, the theft theory, and the wrong tomb theory.
3. The swoon theory is not plausible. Jesus endured six trials, scourging, a crown of thorns, had a purple robe rubbing against his scourged back, endured crucifixion, and burial. Then he endured three days in the tomb with no medical attentions, pushed a huge stone out of the way, put a flying tackle on an entire Roman guard, and walked on pierced feet to greet his disciples. Why is that a less of a miracle than a resurrection?
4. The hallucination theory is also not plausible. Group hallucinations do not normally happen. If three people drop acid, they always experience different things, not the same thing. Also, hallucinations do not transform lives, and turn cowardly disciples like Peter into bold witnesses.
5. The stolen body theory is also implausible. If the disciples stole the body to advance the cause of Christ, they would have had to face the very people who got Jesus crucified. A successful career as a television was not in the cards for them, instead it was the same cross on which Jesus died. Neither the Romans nor the Jewish leaders had any reason to steal the body, either.
6. The wrong tomb theory is also not plausible. Would any reasonable person forget the location of loved one's grave who was buried only 72 hours earlier?
7. Therefore, there are no plausible naturalistic theories concerning what happened with Jesus.
8. Therefore, the only alternative left is that he was resurrected.





44 comments:

SteveK said...

A few uber skeptics have insisted that the best explanation for the resurrection event is that it's a story of legend that grew over time. I'm skeptical of that. Even if you hypothetically grant that sufficient time had passed to allow it to become a cultural story of legend, what the skeptic needs is A REASON to believe that this is the ACTUAL explanation. It wasn't thought to be a story of legend back in the late first century so that is the factual starting point. If the culture of the day didn't think it was a legendary story, then what evidence-based reason is there for thinking it's now the 'best' explanation? I never get an answer. Probably because there is no evidence-based reason.

Jim S. said...

You forgot the evil twin theory.

At first I thought your argument depended on accepting some of the central claims surrounding the resurrection, which could then be answered by simply rejecting these claims. The guard at the tomb, for example, is not usually accepted as historical by scholars. But then I realized you're asking how did the idea of the resurrection arise if it did not happen? You can deny the central facts, but you'd still have to explain how the idea came about and why people believed it. It seems to me that you'd have to separate the idea from the actual events by as much time as possible in order to come up with an explanation that's better than the claim that Jesus actually rose: explanations like mythological or theological development over such a long time that eventually people are no longer aware that the resurrection explanation is not the original claim. That, I take it, is why some people accept the myth theory or that the resurrection was first suggested at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, even though scholars reject such ideas as absurd.

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "2. The most popular naturalistic explanations are the swoon theory, the hallucination theory, the theft theory, and the wrong tomb theory."

I don't think so. I think the most popular naturalistic explanation is that people believe in supernatural things without needing good evidence, and they come to believe (or pretend that they believe) for social and psychological reasons.

What's most common among religious explanations is that they all ignore the above, and pretend that people only come to believe things based on facts and explanations. But we know this isn't true -- that people have psychological and social needs that they seek to fill, and that stories that help provide these things are adopted.

What's the best explanation for Zeus? For Vishnu? For Allah? For Odin? For Scientology? The best explanation is that people have psychological and social needs, and that the stories and communities around these figures helped answer these needs.

What's the best explanation for the Resurrection? Same as the best answer for all the other religions. Nothings special about yours.

SteveK said...

>> I think the most popular naturalistic explanation is that people believe in supernatural things without needing good evidence

Where is the good evidence for this being true in this specific case? I don't see it.

Referencing 1000's of cases that demonstrate the truth of your statement above does nothing to help me know if anyone in the first century believed the resurrection for good reasons. Where's the logical connection between 1000's of people being incorrect to the conclusion that the people in the first century must also be incorrect?

Cal Metzger said...

SteveK: "Where is the good evidence for this being true in this specific case? I don't see it."

Generalities apply, well, generally. That's my point; we don't have to invent specific alternatives for unusual or infinitesimally improbable explanations to point out that general rules apply. Your alternative is to propose that unicorns made that ball drop this time, but since we have better explanations for the ball dropping, and no evidence for your explanation, then we can be confident that the application of general rules explains.

SteveK: "Referencing 1000's of cases that demonstrate the truth of your statement above does nothing to help me know if anyone in the first century believed the resurrection for good reasons. Where's the logical connection between 1000's of people being incorrect to the conclusion that the people in the first century must also be incorrect?"

If you don't want to think consistently or critically I can't make you. Just don't fool yourself into believing that you are thinking otherwise.



B. Prokop said...

For the Resurrection story to have come about through some sort of mythic accretion would almost be a greater miracle than the Resurrection itself! There simply wasn't enough time for such mythologizing to have occurred. Skeptics seem to all too often forget that the letters of Paul, John, and Peter are also documentary evidence, as well as the four Gospels. Even those who favor relatively late dates for the Gospels generally agree that the letters were written mostly within a decade or so of the Crucifixion. And then, contemporary scholars (see: Brandt Pitre, John A.T. Robinson, Gregory A. Boyd, etc.) are pretty much en masse rejecting the hyper-skeptical Biblical criticism of the last century and coming round to a consensus that most, if not all, of the New Testament was written before the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70.

So taken as a whole, we are in possession of multiple, independent sources, all composed within a handful of years after the events described, and all proclaiming (not arguing for) the Resurrection of Christ. To First Generation Christians, the Resurrection was not a doctrine, or a metaphor, or a pious fable, it was a news story! All the search for theological meaning and practical application came later.. much later.

And interestingly enough, it did not come with embellishments and/or accretions to the narrative. To the contrary, all such efforts by the heretical gnostics (and even the later Arians) were spurned and resisted. This stands in stark and unique contrast to all the legendary and mythological stories in history. Just look at how the Arthurian mythos developed over the centuries, absorbing characters and themes from other legends in a manner similar to Star Trek's Borg, growing ever more convoluted and baroque with each re-telling. Not so with Christianity! We still have the original narrative, free of imaginative embellishment, steadfastly faithful to the original eyewitness accounts.

So I can join in with Paul, Peter, John, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Христос воскрес!

Jezu ufam tobie!

Cal Metzger said...

Bob: "We still have the original narrative, free of imaginative embellishment, steadfastly faithful to the original eyewitness accounts."

Sure we do.

B. Prokop said...

"Sure we do."

Thank you for agreeing with me. I will take your perceptive comment to be basically in same spirit as Christ's answer to the question "Are you a King?" when He answered "You say that I am."

But in all deadly seriousness, I meant precisely what I wrote. In the centuries following Christ's Resurrection, there were a large number of fanciful, pseudogospels floating around the ancient world. The majority of these were products of gnosticism, while others were basically pious "fan fiction", adding all sorts of faux details to the original accounts. But here's the interesting thing. Not one of these accretions to the narrative, well meaning or not, made its way into the canon. What we have, when we open the New Testament, is the Apostolic Record, and that's it.

This is unprecedented in World History. Take the story of the Trojan War. Who knows what the earliest account of it was like? It was never preserved. The oldest that we do have is Homer's Iliad. But things didn't stop there. Over the centuries, the Greeks added more and more detail to Homer's story. New characters were introduced and others from elsewhere in Greek mythology were drawn into the epic. Eventually we have things like Euripides' Trojan Women, Aeschylus's Oresteian Trilogy, and even Virgil's Aeneid - all imaginative expansions of the original story, and all accepted as legitimate parts of the whole.

The same process can be seen repeated in every time and in all cultures. Except for... except for the Evangelium, the Gospel. None of the many subsequent efforts to embellish the Apostolic narrative stuck. Not one. So yes, we most certainly still have the original narrative, free of imaginative embellishment, steadfastly faithful to the original eyewitness accounts.

Or perhaps, Cal, you can cite even one example of a post-apostolic detail that is now accepted as part of the story? If not, then "sure we do" (have the original story).

Joe Hinman said...

Bob: "We still have the original narrative, free of imaginative embellishment, steadfastly faithful to the original eyewitness accounts."

Sure we do.

Yea we don't really have a copy of the original writing nor do we even know what it was. But it's pretty certain we know what was in it.

Joe Hinman said...

The extra canonical material is our friend. Even that which is totally heretical serves the Gospel like a pot shard serves archeology. Certain extra canon works show signs of age s great or greater than the canonicals: Gospel of Savior, Egerton 2, GPete, and Nag Hamadi Thomas. Thanks to those we know the canonicals are pretty good im terms of fidelity to the original. They increase the chances of it being right,

For example Thomas contains a huge amount of synoptic sayings. This is so much so that some think it was the synoptic saying source.

Joe Hinman said...

A few uber skeptics have insisted that the best explanation for the resurrection event is that it's a story of legend that grew over time. I'm skeptical of that

I wrote an article that is in J.P.Holding's book on the Res showing that the first writing of the empty tomb can be located about mid century (around AD 50).

I use Koester and Crosson to establish that. In fact Koester gives that date. So it was not a long period to repeat in oral tradition.;

Joe Hinman said...


March 28, 2016 12:53 PM

Blogger Cal Metzger said...
SteveK: "Where is the good evidence for this being true in this specific case? I don't see it."

Generalities apply, well, generally. That's my point; we don't have to invent specific alternatives for unusual or infinitesimally improbable explanations to point out that general rules apply. Your alternative is to propose that unicorns made that ball drop this time, but since we have better explanations for the ball dropping, and no evidence for your explanation, then we can be confident that the application of general rules explains.

We have evidence. The Gospels are evidence and do have several different levels of verification from different sources.

Outline of sources


first of three part essay fleshing out the outline

Cal Metzger said...

Hinman: "We have evidence. The Gospels are evidence and do have several different levels of verification from different sources."

The Gospels are evidence that people wrote down legends and stories that provided a narrative that supported their social and psychological needs.

The same way that people have always told stories that provide a narrative that supports their social and psychological needs.

SteveK said...

The Gospels were not thought to be legends at the time, Cal. Your modern reading of them is getting in the way of actual history.

Cal Metzger said...

SteveK: "The Gospels were not thought to be legends at the time, Cal. "

Says the guy who apparently hasn't heard of something called 1st Century Judea.


SteveK said...

I've heard of it. Now where's the evidence for your legend theory?

Cal Metzger said...

SteveK: "Now where's the evidence for your legend theory?"

Not so fast. You asserted that the Gospels were not thought to be legends at the time, but this is false -- as I pointed out by referencing 1st Century Judea, where the OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of people rejected the stories told by early Christians.

If the stories were not thought to be legends at the time, how can you explain that the overwhelming majority of people at the time rejected them?

You see how this works, right. My evidence is, well, all the evidence. Facts. History. Consistency. That is the evidence.

planks length said...

Here is an astonishingly good essay on (among other things) just what the First Generation Christians believed about the Resurrection. Says it better than I ever possibly could.

SteveK said...

>> If the stories were not thought to be legends at the time, how can you explain that the overwhelming majority of people at the time rejected them?

Disbelief is explained by not being convinced. The choices are not limited to (a)legend or (b)belief. There are things you don't believe today for one reason or another that you also do not consider to be legend.

B. Prokop said...

To me, one of the most incomprehensible demands from non-believers is their insistence on "non-Christian" sources of information from the First Century that support the Resurrection narrative. Let's think about that for a minute. Imagine yourself to be living in the mid First Century, and you are in possession of evidence that proves the Resurrection was a true event. This means that you have every reason to be yourself a Christian. In fact, I find it hard to imagine anyone, regardless of what century they live in, to come to the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead yet still remain a non-believer. It's a logical absurdity, like being a married bachelor. So any record of the Resurrection is of course going to come from a Christian.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Walter said...

In fact, I find it hard to imagine anyone, regardless of what century they live in, to come to the conclusion that Jesus rose from the dead yet still remain a non-believer. It's a logical absurdity...

Ever hear of the Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide? Lapide accepted that Jesus was indeed resurrected by Yahweh without accepting the orthodox Christian view that Jesus was the second person of a Holy Trinity who atoned for the sins of the world. So I guess it depends on what you mean by "non-believer".

Cal Metzger said...

SteveK: "Disbelief is explained by not being convinced."

Yup.

SteveK: "Disbelief is explained by not being convinced. The choices are not limited to (a)legend or (b)belief."

Sure -- some of those who weren't convinced thought that the early Christian proselytizers, instead of telling legends, sincerely believed in silly stories, or were just lying, mistaken, deluded, etc. There are, as you point out, lots of ways to not be convinced concerning stories.

Where's all the non-speculative determination about what the average person on the street in ancient really thought about the stories, legends, myths, etc. that we know about today? How many people in 1st Century Rome thought that Zeus was real, and how many thought of their pantheon (et al.) as shorthand for social and national narratives that their society shared for cohesion and norms? How do you explain the widespread adoption of legends, myths, mystery religions, etc. in ancient times up to our own when it is plain that they, similar to Christianity, only have stories to support their superstitious claims?

Is it possible that people come to believe in things that aren't really true, but they do serve psychological and social needs? If you say it's not, then how do you explain the popularity of every other religion?

SteveK said...

Cal,
Asking about other religions doesn't help anyone determine if the Gospels were thought to be legendary stories at the time. Where's the evidence from history to back up your claim? I don't see any. All I see is speculation.

B. Prokop said...

One of the books I had set aside for Lenten reading this year wasThe Apostasy That Wasn't by Rod Bennett. I was under the mistaken impression that it would be a "Volume Two" of his wonderful Four Witnesses, a very readable account of the lives of the Early Church Fathers. But it turned out to be something much more interesting and important - a blow by blow account of the struggle against the Arian heresy in the Fourth Century, and a convincing case made for Arianism having been the greatest challenge ever faced by the Christian Church; greater than the Roman persecutions, greater than the Völkerwanderung, the Mohammedans, Vikings, Protestantism, the French Revolution, the Communists and the Nazis, greater than ISIS... but not greater than the modern secular state, for reasons which become apparent in this book.

I might be so bold as to sum up Bennett's thesis in The Apostasy That Wasn't as follows: Orthodoxy is the root and foundation of political liberty, and Mankind's greatest defense against tyranny of every sort. The Arian heresy, and every other attempt to soft-pedal the Gospel, to accommodate the Church with the Powers That Be, to make Christianity "comfortable", is (being the flip side of the coin) tyranny's greatest ally - a terrible weapon indeed in the hands of State Power.

Bennett quotes at length the Russian Orthodox scholar Vladimir Soloviev:

"The fundamental truth and distinctive idea of Christianity is the perfect union of the divine and the human individually achieved in Christ ... Heresy attacked the perfect unity of the divine and the human in Jesus Christ precisely in order to undermine the living bond between Church and state ... Hence it is clear why the emperors of the Eastern Empire ... were so partial to all these heresies, which were but manifold variations on a single theme: Jesus Christ is not the true Son of God, consubstantial with the Father; God has not become incarnate; nature and mankind remain cut off from divinity and are not united to it; consequently, the human state may rightly keep keep its supremacy [over human liberty] intact."

The 21st Century variant of Arianism is thus precisely the false notion of an absolute exclusion of religion from the public sphere, of the submission of conscience to legislative and judicial diktat, of societal demands to "keep your religion to yourself".

Jeu ufam tobie!

B. Prokop said...

I don't think I made it clear why I made the above comment on this thread. It's because Dennett clearly demonstrates in his book that what we know of as Christianity today is the very same Christianity as taught by the Apostles. There was never a global "apostasy" that wiped out orthodoxy. The true "legends" that Cal seems to be promoting were the heresies that, although each may have had its Day in the Sun, never ultimately triumphed. The Church at all times has recognized what is truth and what is legend, and has consistently rejected the latter.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Cal Metzger said...

SteveK: "Asking about other religions doesn't help anyone determine if the Gospels were thought to be legendary stories at the time. Where's the evidence from history to back up your claim?"

Sigh. The evidence is that the vast majority of people exposed to the stories at that time didn't believe them.

That is the evidence.

SteveK said...

Cal,
Repeating myself, disbelief is not synonymous with legend. Where's the evidence that these people thought it was a legend? That's what I keep asking for and you keep missing. They didn't believe the story for a variety of reasons.

Cal Metzger said...

@SteveK, "thought it was a legend" = shorthand for "didn't believe it happened in reality."

I don't know why you are struggling with this concept, but I don't think I can make it any clearer for you.

Edgestow said...

The big problem here is that Cal seems to be under the impression that "legend" is a purely negative term. But note the expression "He was a legend in his own time," or "the legendary exploits of..." or "the Legend of the Old West". In none of these cases can "legend" be construed as anything even remotely bad. The word can demonstrably have many positive connotations, such as "larger than life" or "soaked in deep significance".

So perhaps, rather than arguing with Cal over the term, we ought to embrace it - with pride. For yes, the Christ was a Legend in His own Time, and yes, He was larger than life, and yes, everything He ever said or did was (and is) soaked in deep significance and urgent relevancy.

Cal Metzger said...

Edge: "So perhaps, rather than arguing with Cal over the term..."

I'm not arguing over the term. I've been clear throughout.

I wrote: "Sure -- some of those who weren't convinced thought that the early Christian proselytizers, instead of telling legends, sincerely believed in silly stories, or were just lying, mistaken, deluded, etc. There are, as you point out, lots of ways to not be convinced concerning stories....Is it possible that people come to believe in things that aren't really true, but they do serve psychological and social needs? If you say it's not, then how do you explain the popularity of every other religion?"

And you think my point is to quibble over the term "legend." That's just bizarre. But when it comes to my encounters with apologists, it's also predictable, I suppose.

SteveK said...

Cal,
>>"thought it was a legend" = shorthand for "didn't believe it happened in reality."

It's clearer now. Your unconventional use of the term "legend" is what's throwing me off. If I use the above shorthand definition, people who disbelieve in naturalistic evolution would think it's a legend. I wouldn't say that.

Edgestow said...

Way to squirm, Cal. But when it comes to my encounters with self-declared "skeptics", it's also predictable, I suppose.

Cal Metzger said...

SteveK: "Your unconventional use of the term "legend" is what's throwing me off."

My use of the term legend is conventional. You brought up the term "legend" here, and my using the term to describe stories, about people, that include fantastical elements that people don't actually believe, is both consistent with your use and convention. You have chosen to quibble over my correctly using the term of your choosing.

SteveK: "If I use the above shorthand definition, people who disbelieve in naturalistic evolution would think it's a legend. I wouldn't say that."

That's because naturalistic evolution is an explanation for biodiversity, whereas the New Testament is a story about people that includes fantastical elements, and we use different terms for different things.

SteveK said...

Well, I guess I'm the one being unconventional here. I wouldn't use the term that way, but if I did I'd have to conclude that the story of naturalism is a legendary tale because it too is a story about people that includes fantastical elements that people don't actually believe.

Victor Reppert said...

Cal: You mean you are not an apologist, I mean for atheism?

B. Prokop said...

Cal wonders why more people did not believe in the Gospel in the First Century. Well, it seems this question was answered long ago:

"Hear then the parable of the sower.

When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path.

As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.

As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty." (Matthew 13:18-23)

Now that was easy! Next question?

Jezu ufam tobie!

Cal Metzger said...

VR: "Cal: You mean you are not an apologist, I mean for atheism?"

No. I'm a skeptic and freethinker. Atheism is a side effect of adopting that epistemic stance.

Apologists assume, or start from the premise, that the Christian god exists, and seek to justify or make that belief (in the Christian god) seem as if it reasonable. And that is why apologists find themselves struggling in their arguments as often as they do.

Why do you ask?

Aron Zavaro said...

Fallacies abound.

Premise 1 is clearly false. Even if the true explanation is a natural one, this does not logically entail that we should be able to articulate a plausible natural explanation. Particularly in cases with scant evidence, such as ancient history, we must be forced to remain agnostic about quote a bit. Further, there are many cases in which all available explanations are epistemically improbable, even the correct one, in which case there just is t enough evidence to pick one. Thus it is false to say that we should be able to articulate a plausible naturalistic explanation of the resurrection is false.

Second, you can't say the resurrection is the best explanation without examining the resurrection itself. This argument makes resurrection the default winner without ever submitting it to any scrutiny.

Third, even if the resurrection is the best explanation, that doesn't mean it is probable. Even if the resurrection is more probable than the alternatives taken on their own, of could very well still be the case that the resurrection is less probable than the disjunction of alternative explanations.

B. Prokop said...

"Even if the true explanation is a natural one, this does not logically entail that we should be able to articulate a plausible natural explanation. ... to say that we should be able to articulate a plausible naturalistic explanation of the resurrection is false."

Utter nonsense. If I cannot at least imagine a plausible alternative scenario to Proposition A, then Proposition A does indeed become the default position. If I am going to object to Proposition A, then it is incumbent upon me to counter with Proposition B, even if only as a hypothetical. And that alternative proposition ought to at the very least be logically coherent and in some way possible. And after 2000 years of trying, no one has yet to come up with an alternative explanation for what happened just outside Jerusalem on 27 March A.D. 33 to a literal, physical Resurrection that is both logically coherent and actually possible.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Cal Metzger said...

Aron Z: "Premise 1 is clearly false. Even if the true explanation is a natural one, this does not logically entail that we should be able to articulate a plausible natural explanation."

Premise 1: "If Jesus was not resurrected, the something else happened. Therefore some plausible story can be spelled out which explains the known facts naturalistically."

To be clear, the "known facts" here are: we have a STORY about a man being resurrected. It is not a "known fact" that a man was resurrected. What we know is that a story became more popular as decades and generations and distance from the time and events increased from which the they story began.

And we have lots of good natural explanations for stories -- for them being disseminated, built on, written down, growing in popularity, etc.

Aron Zavaro said...

"If I cannot at least imagine a plausible alternative scenario to Proposition A, then Proposition A does indeed become the default position."

This is false as a general epistemological principle. Imagine a scenario in which the probability space is partitioned into 20 mutually exclusive and exhaustive options, each with a probability of 0.5. In this case, there are no plausible alternatives to Option #1. They are all improbable. But this doesn't make Option #1 the default. It is just as improbable as the rest. The lesson is that

B. Prokop said...

"They are all improbable."

Read my posting. I never mentioned "improbable" - I care nothing for probabilities. I explicitly stated that all as yet suggested alternatives to a literal, physical, and historical Resurrection are impossible.

Until at least one at least possible alternative explanation (just one!) is proposed, then the Resurrection of Christ remains the Default Position.

Jezu ufam tobie!

Aron Zavaro said...

I agree that if the resurrection is the only logically possible explanation on offer, the. It should be the default. But as far as I know, no one in the history of apologetics has ever said that a naturalistic explanation is logically impossible. At odds with the evidence? Sure. Wildly improbable? Sure. But logically impossible? Of course not. Strictly speaking, it's logically possible that the universe popped into existence 1 second ago and we all have false memories about the history of Cheistianity and there never was a Jesus. That's crazy, but it doesn't involve a contradiction.

Victor Reppert said...

Aron: Finally we get the skeptical responses I was hoping we'd see.