This post is a response to Rautakyy’s comment here.
Firstly, I feel the need to apologize. I think this post comes out as harsher than I would have liked. I finalized it after a very long day.
Rautakyy and I agree about a lot of things, but sometimes, he does not seem to know this. He seems to have certain ideas about why I believe things. Observe:
“My claim, to be exact, is that we do not know wether Jesus was actually resurrected, or not. You may have all the faith you want in it, but truth of any claim is usually decided by what is the most likeliest event.”
There’s no need to be condescending, Rautakyy. I haven’t been lying in bed eating peanuts. I have done some research and I do think Jesus’ resurrection is the most likely event. Hang on while I explain that.
First, let’s get on the same page. I did not mention your point about the gospels being unreliable accounts because I did not think it necessary to do so. The defense of the resurrection hypothesis I am most familiar with does not depend on that. Shocking, I know, but it’s true. I considered pointing out your strange (to me) actions in arguing against the reliability of the gospels, but decided against it.
Establishing Historical Facts:
This method which I speak of first asserts that there are certain things we can know about Jesus without assuming that the gospel accounts are completely reliable. We can do this by using certain criteria which historians use to establish facts about history.
- Multiple attestation: If the same thing is said by at least two different sources which don’t depend on each other, it is probably true. For instance, not just the gospels, but Josephus and Tacitus say that Jesus died by Roman crucifixion. That’s more than two independent sources so it’s probably true that Jesus died (or at least, appeared to die) by Roman crucifixion.
- Enemy Attestation: If your enemy supports your claim, then it is probably true because your enemy has no reason to lie for you. For instance, both Jewish and Christian sources agree that Jesus’ tomb was empty on Sunday. In fact, the Jewish sources try to explain this by saying that the disciples had stolen the body. They wouldn’t have said that if the body was still in the tomb. They wanted Jesus dead after all so they wouldn’t have supported the rumors of his resurrection by lying about the tomb. I’m talking about sources like the Talmund, not Matthews’s account of the incident. So, since the Jews, who had no reason to lie about this, we can conclude that Jesus’ tomb was actually empty on Sunday
- Criterion of Embarrassment: If I say something about myself that is potentially embarrassing to me, it is probably true since most people aren’t all that willing embarrasses themselves. So, for instance, the gospels say that Peter denied Jesus. Peter was one of the leaders of the early church. The early church wouldn’t have inserted something so embarrassing to them, so Peter probably did deny Jesus.
There are a few other criteria like this that are used generally by scholars in examining historical documents. You can challenge them, of course (I once saw someone challenge an entire system of logic because they didn’t like the conclusion of the ontological argument) but I do not think it is wise.
So, what do we know about the resurrection?
Using those criteria, there are certain things we can glean from the gospels without assuming that they are entirely reliable.
- Jesus died on the cross
- He was buried in a tomb
- His disciples were consequently discouraged and despondent, having lost hope
- His tomb was empty soon after his death
- His disciples believed that they had seen him alive
- The disciples’ lives were transformed as a result. They were even willing to die for their beliefs
- The proclamation of the resurrection took place very early, from the beginning of church history
- The disciples’ preaching of the resurrection took place in Jerusalem, where Jesus had been crucified
- Some of his enemies (James and Paul) believed that they had seen Jesus alive and became Christians as a result.
Gary Habermas, in his book The Risen Jesus and Future Hope, reports that virtually all scholars, from ultra-liberals to Bible thumping conservatives agree with those facts (except for the empty tomb which enjoys only about 75% support).
Inference to the best explanation
What some defenders of the Resurrection Hypothesis (RH) do is to point out these facts and then ask, “Which theory can we come up with that best explains all these facts? Which theory
- Explains more of the evidence than the others
- Has greater explanatory power (makes the evidence more probable) than the others?
- Is more plausible than the others?
- Is less contrived than the others?
- Doesn’t conflict with as many beliefs as the others?
Then we list the competing theories and see which best fits
- Conspiracy 1: The disciples stole Jesus’ body and lied about his resurrection
- Conspiracy 2: Someone else (Romans or Jewish leaders) conspired to steal Jesus’ body
- The disciples hallucinated the appearances
- Swoon theory or Apparent Death theory: Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, but only appeared to have died
- Joseph of Arimathea moved Jesus’ body and the disciples were unaware of this
- Rautakyy’s hypothesis: Romans conspired to let Jesus live
- Resurrection Hypothesis: Jesus rose from the dead
I love this method because it doesn’t require me to first convince Rautakyy of the reliability of the gospel accounts before we can discuss the resurrection. It also requires the person challenging the resurrection to come up with a theory that better explains the evidence than the RH. This means that Rautakyy can’t simply point at flaws in my hypothesis all day long. If he can’t come up with a theory that explains the evidence as well, the RH wins the day.
Another method of defending the resurrection is to make two claims
- Jesus died on the cross
- Jesus was later alive
If you can show both claims to be true, then Jesus really did resurrect. The first one is very easily defended. The second can be defended by arguing that Jesus’s disciples believed they saw him. Hallucinations are easily ruled out because group hallucinations do not happen. The only other option is that they really did see him in which case he was really alive.
This was not intended to be a defense of the RH, but an account of how the defense is sometimes carried out. I believe that in order to have a good discussion, it is essential that both parties make attempts to understand each other.
Response to Rautakyy:
I cannot end this post without saying something in response to Rautakyy’s points. According to him, his point is simply that “we do not know wether Jesus was actually resurrected, or not”. So, in his rebuttal, he does try to defend any alternative theory to the resurrection. Rather, he makes a lot of suggestions, but he does not seem to me to be committing to any one theory. All he tries to do is poke holes in the idea that we do know that Jesus resurrected by pointing out a lot of possibilities. He spends a lot of time attacking the credibility of the gospels accounts. He suggests that the Romans or Jews might have conspired to save Jesus (offering no evidence), suggests that the soldiers might have simply been incompetent (offering no evidence) and then (wonder of wonders!), he says that the evidence that the soldiers were incompetent and Jesus never really died is that the disciples claimed to have seen Jesus after the crucifixion. It does not seem to occur to him that this is evidence for the resurrection. Here’s a hypothetical conversation between us. The insert in square brackets is mine.
Me: Rautakyy, how do you know that Jesus never rose from the dead?
Rautakyy: because he never actually died on the cross
Me: And you know that how?
Rautakyy: His disciples claimed they saw him after he was supposed to have died. [Since he definitely couldn’t have resurrected,] this means that he never died in the first place.
The question begging is only subtle enough that he can miss it. Then, he suggests that Christianity is a mixture of pagan myths and Jewish monotheism because some pagan gods had sons who resurrected. Yep. The resurrection of gods like Osiris (who never actually resurrected ) proves without a doubt that Christianity is a mere mixture of Jewish and Pagan culture.
He never tells of which of these it is – a Jewish conspiracy, a Roman conspiracy, Roman incompetency or myth. I think that he does not know which of them it is. His aim was simply to cast doubt on the resurrection by saying that there are alternative explanations
Rautakyy, that won’t work unless you can give those explanations legitimacy. I won’t write numerous posts on every single unevidenced suggestion you produce for one important reason. While the RH has the empty tomb, the post-resurrection appearances, the change in the disciples etc. in its support, the assertions you attempt to explain it away with have little or nothing. That makes the RH far superior and such a venture a waste of time and effort.
Pick a claim – just one – and get some support for it rather than tossing half a million of them around. Alternatively, just ask me to defend the resurrection while you ask questions and make no claims.
As for the aliens, if I don’t respond you might just keep bringing them up. I do not know what alien abduction stories you speak of so I cannot say anything about them. If it pleases you, provide me with the testimony. I’ll see if they have as much supporting evidence as the resurrection. If they don’t then they are irrelevant to this discussion. If they do, then I guess aliens do exist after all. Truth is established not by what we prefer, but (in this case) by what the evidence points to.