Contra Christ: A Case Against The Resurrection

The Argument From Atheism

The first argument against the historical Jesus and the resurrection is simply this: (1) If God does not exist, then Christ is not risen; (2) God does not exist; (3) Therefore, Christ is not risen. Premise 1 is obvious so I will not defend it here (maybe it’s possible that Christ rose naturally, but no one cares about that hypothesis). Regarding premise 2, this can be defended by the numerous arguments for atheism; most notably the argument from evil and the argument from divine hiddenness.

Now, some might argue that the historical evidence for Christ (HEC) serves as a defeater for 2 and for the arguments supporting 2, but this is not the case, simply because the evidence for the arguments supporting 2 is epistemically ‘above’ HEC. The type of evidence HEC is involves eyewitness testimony, anthropology, and textual criticism to support abductive reasoning. In contrast, the evidence for atheism involves deductive and/or inductive reasoning. These forms of reasoning should be given far more weight than the abduction HEC involves because they are far more reliable; we’re less likely to come to false conclusions with them.

In essence, the debate over Christ reduces to the debate over God, at least most of the time. The atheists’ confidence in the premises of arguments from evil and hiddenness is much stronger than his confidence in any historical observations or in any testimony given c. 2000 years ago. So the historical argument will be convincing only to people who already believe in a god.

Criticism of Lewis’ Trilemma

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. (Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity, London: Collins, 1952, p54-56. )”

Lewis’ Trilemma is a false one. At the very least, he may have been a ‘lunatic’ or a ‘liar’ in a sense that is not necessarily something we would view as horrible. For example, his claims that he was divine could have been motivated by many things. It’s possible that Christ was tricked into believing himself divine by dissenters in order to undercut the religion of Judaism and/or the Roman Empire; or that he was lying for noble reasons – perhaps he believed that his moral message was so important that lying to facilitate its spreading was justified. Or perhaps it’s the writers who did so, making false claims about what he said regarding his divinity. Or maybe the character of Jesus is an amalgamation of several historical figures. There are many possibilities.

Furthermore, there’s the issue of what it means to be a great moral teacher. Despite being an atheist, I do regard Jesus as a good moral teacher, even though I don’t agree with everything he said. Even assuming that he was a lunatic or a liar, this does not mean that the teachings themselves have no value. He was right about things such as the importance of loving thy neighbor, despite any personal madness or badness he may have had. Possibly he was right by coincidence, but right nonetheless. I’m not going to automatically do the opposite of good teachings just because the speaker is of otherwise poor character.

Argument from UFOs

There is a great deal of analogy between the arguments made for the historical Jesus and arguments made for the existence of alien spaceships.

On Nov 7 2006, 12 airport employees (apostles) witnessed a metallic, saucer-shaped craft (Jesus) above the airport. There are other explanations offered by experts, such as that it was merely a weather phenomenon, an aircraft, or a weather balloon (swoon theory, hallucination theory, etc.), but the witnesses, and people who study their testimony, don’t buy these explanations. And of course you can even go interview these witnesses today if you want to (1 Corinthians 15:6). Airport employees are of course used to looking into the sky and correctly identifying what they see, it’s their job. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_O%27Hare_UFO_sighting_2006 and linked citations)

This event meets the criteria of multiple attestation (there were roughly 12 witnesses), multiple forms (various accounts from different locations and news reports), discontinuity (many alien sightings take place alone, on darkly lit backroads), coherence (the story itself doesn’t contradict anything internal or external), and embarrassment (people might think you’re crazy if you say you saw an alien ship).

Is it a good idea to believe that an alien ship actually visited an airport? No, of course not. That’s ridiculous. But of course this is just one sighting ‘event’. What if there were more, like there were for Jesus? What if there was a mass sighting, like the 500 claimed to have witnessed Jesus? Well, there are:

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

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_Alderney_UFO_sighting

There are literally thousands of different events like these, going back for hundreds of years. Many of these stories meet multiple historical criteria. Some of these events even have pictures and video. And yet, we still don’t believe that aliens have visited us (at least, I would hope we don’t). But why don’t we? Simply because this sort of testimony is insurmountably weak compared to hard scientific evidence. And if we don’t believe in alien visitation based on this:

  1. hundreds of independent events

  2. thousands and thousands of eyewitnesses reporting what they saw

  3. sometimes from experts

  4. sometimes while it was happening, or only a few days after

  5. sometimes with picture and video

  6. some events happening within the past few years

then why should we believe in the resurrection based on this:

  1. only a handful of independent events

  2. 500 and change eyewitnesses, sometimes secondhand reports

  3. never from experts in identifying unknown phenomena

  4. at best a few years later, at worst 50 or 60

  5. no pictures or video at all, not even drawings

  6. all these events happening roughly 2000 years ago

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6 responses to “Contra Christ: A Case Against The Resurrection”

  1. Gio says :

    Hope you don’t mind if I critique your arguments 😛

    The argument from atheism is pretty weak (no offense). First of all, it is not the case that “no one cares” about the hypothesis that Jesus rose naturally. Don’t get me wrong – if Jesus rose from the dead the *most probable* explanation is that God did it, but the first premise is still not true. Indeed, atheist Michael Martin has appealed to a natural cause of the resurrection, saying something to the effect of even if Jesus rose from the dead it’s not going to change his views of metaphysical issues (which IMO is pretty dogmatic, but whatever). Robert Price has entertained the idea of aliens raising Jesus (which, again, is more dogmatic than reasonable as an explanation, but the point is the first premise is weak).

    Moving on, the POE, as has been pointed out by many philosophers, does not establish the non-existence of God. It *may* establish the non-existence of a *loving* God (but even that is a stretch), but not the non-existence of any God. So we should not simply dismiss the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, even if the first premise were not disputable, just because of evil in the world.

    Also, your appeal to divine hiddenness, from my understanding, begs the question that the resurrection didn’t happen, or at least isn’t well-supported. The fact is, if the resurrection happened and is well-supported by historical evidence (or didn’t happen but the evidence strongly suggests it did), then those who hear of that evidence and the arguments based on it do not have reasonable non-belief. There are also a good many other answers to both problems which would balance the scales in favor of the resurrection.

    Since I disagree with the Trilemma, I’m skipping on to the aliens argument. To begin with the Nov. 7th example, one important point you miss out on is what the *most probable* explanation for sightings are. In that case, the other explanations have equal or greater explanatory power to the UFO’s and can still keep the eyewitness’ testimony, as well as certain or probable facts about what they saw and the eyewitness’ personalities and such, *true*. This is *not* the case for things like the swoon theory or the hallucination theory or the like. All of them either:

    a) Require rejecting some aspect of the actual testimony (not only what they inferred from it)
    b) Require rejecting a probable or certain fact about the apostles or Jesus (i.e. it is medically probable, if not certain, that Jesus died on the cross. The swoon theory rejects this).

    So the analogy is different to begin with. Since you don’t go in-depth on the other cases, I’d venture to say the same about them too. The probability of the “natural” explanations and what facts they would require rejecting are simply different in these cases.

    In addition, as I posted in the comments on WC awhile ago, JP Holding has put together a long list of criteria that suggest the Apostles were not only not lying, but that the resurrection claims (or at least the facts they reached the induction with) were true by the very virtue of the fact that Christianity survived. See http://www.tektonics.org/lp/nowayjose.html

  2. Robert says :

    Yay, my first comment!!! 😀

    The argument from atheism is pretty weak…

    You’re right; there are a few people who take the “Jesus rose naturally” hypothesis seriously. Just take my argument to be a probabilistic one.

    As for the POE, I would say that any being worthy of being called “God” (as opposed to merely “a god”, such as Zeus) would have to be perfectly good and loving. The same holds for attributes like omnipotence and omniscience. Without this, the theist loses the ontological argument, and probably the moral argument as well – so confidence in God’s existence would be greatly weakened anyway. I’ll gladly give up the POE if theists will give up two arguments 😛

    As for hiddenness…in my experience, this is a highly misunderstood argument on both sides. The argument as formulated by J.L Schellenberg essentially states that a nonbeliever is reasonable if he does not believe even after living up to his “epistemic duty”. He must be open to changing his mind and conduct a thorough search for all available evidence, and weigh it fairly. What he actually finds is of no consequence.

    A good example of this is to imagine someone who does the best he can to search for evidence, yet because of his culture, living situation, intelligence level, or whatever, simply cannot be expected to have access to, or perhaps even understand, things like the historical argument. Yet we would not say he is at epistemic fault for not believing because of this. So, he can still be a reasonable nonbeliever.

    As for the UFOs, I don’t agree that we can keep the testimony with these other explanations, as they contradict the report of a saucer-shaped craft (sometimes engaging in aerial maneuvers that nothing we can build can possibly hope to achieve). I didn’t go in-depth about the other cases intentionally; to do so would easily add ten thousand words to this article. I might do so in the future, though.

    I find it interesting that you say it’s medically probable that Jesus died on the cross. That’s certainly true – but consider how much more medically probable it is that he stayed dead. We’ve got at least a few cases of people surviving surprisingly traumatic injuries, but not a single case, except for the one we’re currently examining, of someone coming back to life after being dead for three days.

    EDIT: hahaha…I had to approve my own comment.

  3. Gio says :

    “I would say that any being worthy of being called “God” (as opposed to merely “a god”, such as Zeus) would have to be perfectly good and loving.”

    That’s a good point, especially if you look at it from a classical theist position. Regardless of what the limits of the problem of evil are, I personally think the free will defense has solved the logical problem of evil, leaving the inductive evidential problem the one you can appeal to. But since that is probabilistic (and has a pretty good set of answers, IMO) I’d think it could, at that point, be offset by a high amount of historical evidence for the resurrection.

    On divine hiddenness, in that formulation I’d agree it’s not question-begging. But I would then question whether the premise that a loving God doesn’t allow RNB is true. I think that if somebody really and truly couldn’t see the evidence, but tried, (especially if it’t due to something like mental illness) God would, ultimately, reward them as if they believed. But maybe somebody’s answered that.

    That’s interesting with the UFO’s. I’d still argue the inductive probability of a naturalistic hypothesis there is different than one in the case of the resurrection, but I haven’t really looked into the UFO cases nor analyzed the power of each explanation, so yeah.

    “but consider how much more medically probable it is that he stayed dead. ”

    Maybe it’s more medically probable, but is it more historically probable? In the case of surviving crucifixion, remember there is no mechanism the skeptic can appeal to to increase or dismiss the medical likelihood of survival. But since God is the most probable cause of Jesus’ being raised, some could argue it doesn’t matter if the event “violates” biological laws (I know that’s not the language you used, but that’s how another atheist I debated phrased it and I sort of prefer that).

    There’s also the possibility that it doesn’t “violate” biological laws to begin with – perhaps with some advancement in technology we will be able to raise people from the dead in a similar manner. That’s not breaking a medical or biological law any more than lifting a box is a violation of the law of gravity!

    There’s also simply the issue that historical probability is separate from scientific probability. You may claim that this lets the swoon hypothesis in again, but remember that is would also mean Jesus was in a weakened state, while he was perfectly capable based on the Gospels’ attestation. So there is both historical and scientific reason to doubt the swoon theory.

    By the way, I like your blog’s theme. I’d like to see how it looks with more entries on the main page.

  4. Robert says :

    In theory, the evidential POE *could* be offset by a large amount of historical evidence – but the amount needed would be far, far more than it’s possible to argue for IMO. As I said, it’s not just the amount of evidence available, but the type of evidence. I take POE-premises based on direct observations that we all agree on (such as the existence of suffering) to be “stronger” evidence than any eyewitness testimony; i.e., if Ihave a choice between dropping our own observations that suffering exists, and our conclusions that X said Y because of testimony, I should drop the latter – and I think you should, too.

    Your comment on hiddenness that “God would reward them as if they believed” is actually IMO one of the strongest responses offered, although I still don’t think it works. Schellenberg points to analogies between God/people and a mother and a son. Our conceptions of what it means for a mother to be loving involve the mother always, at every point in time, making herself available for a meaningful relationship with her son (if the son chooses to enter into such a relationship). His point is that if the mother is truly loving, there is no point in time at which the son is incapable of entering into a relationship with his mother. Of course, being in a relationship with someone requires that you believe that someone exists. Ergo, if God is perfectly loving, then there is no point at which it is not possible for a person to enter into a relationship with him. But for a reasonable nonbeliever, there are points in time at which it is not possible. Therefore, God is not perfectly loving; and therefore, he does not exist (as any being worthy of being called God would have to be perfectly loving).

    Positing a form of universalism is a good step in the right direction, but it doesnt solve the problem of there being points in time at which the above occurs. That’s all I’m going to say on hiddenness for now though, as I plan to write something more substantial on it in the near future.

    But anyway, getting back to the resurrection…let’s look specifically at why we reject the swoon theory. It’s true that it’s both scientifically and historically improbable, but I’d say that the scientific probability vastly overshadows the historical one. Even if there was strong historical evidence for the swoon theory, I’d probably still reject it, because once again, science > history.

    I feel the same way about Diogenes the Cynic. Admittedly I picked this example at random, but it still serves to make a good point. There’s testimony that Diogenes was poor, that he slept outside in a tub, that he insulted Alexander the Great, and that he practiced a lot of strange behavior – carrying a lamp in the daytime, calling a chicken a man, etc.

    But despite all this testimony, I have doubts about these things; his lifestyle and actions not only indicate that there might have been some mental illness going on there, but that he probably would have suffered from ill health as time went on; or failing that, he possibly might have been executed (he insulted Alexander the Great to his face). Did he actually do all the things that people have claimed? His philosophy certainly makes one think about some things, but I doubt all of it actually happened.

  5. Gio says :

    Well, I was actually referring to the induction that God probably doesn’t exist based on evil with the evidential POE. I wasn’t saying we should say the suffering is non-existant, but that the induced conclusion “God probably does not exist” should be rejected.

    Moving on to DH, I’d say God loving humanity isn’t like a mother/son relationship in the first place. God’s love is more of a “tough love” – broadly wanting what’s best but willing to allow or use pain. So if hiddenness broadly or personally led to or allowed some good (i.e. education, allowed free will, etc.) the concept of a loving God would allow that.

    I’d agree that science should be taken over history, but as I noted, the resurrection either
    a) doesn’t break any scientific laws to begin with
    or
    b) has a probable cause that offsets any scientific problems

    So we shouldn’t assume the resurrection didn’t happen because it “violates” scientific laws.

  6. Robert says :

    I’m planning some posts on the POE and divine hiddenness, so I won’t comment any more on those for now. I will say this about the resurrection: your (a) is technically correct, science does not say it’s impossible. But it is still highly unlikely that this could happen naturally. If we limit ourselves to purely scientific concerns, the resurrection almost certainly didn’t happen; and I don’t think any amount of added historical testimony will change our confidence in that enough to change our minds.

    Which brings us to your (b), the probable cause that offsets scientific problems. I’m assuming that by this you mean God. Adding God as background knowledge into the scientific + historical concerns would certainly shift the probabilities a great deal toward the resurrection. But that brings us right back to my point that how convincing this testimony is will depend on whether you’re already a theist. So, I’m still not convinced.

    The only option for getting the historical argument to work (at least against an atheist) is 1) convince him that theism is true, or 2) convince him that historical evidence outweighs, or is on par with, scientific evidence.

    EDIT: My post on hiddenness is up. Also, please invite everyone you know to comment 😀

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