Resurrection Debate – Tim Jorgensen’s Opening Statement

Was Jesus resurrected from the dead?  I say no.

Of course, I have no way of being absolutely sure. All I can really say is that I have insufficient evidence to accept the claim. However, what is the reasonable position when you don’t have evidence enough? Is it to say "well, it’s 50-50, I have no way of assigning a truth value either way"? I don’t think so, at least not always. If the claim is extraordinary, the evidence needs to be strong enough to support it. An extraordinary claim with weak evidence earns a rating of "it seems highly unlikely, so I will not accept that claim until further evidence presents itself". This, in shorthand, becomes my "no" of the title.

Why Jesus being raised from the dead is an extraordinary claim should be obvious. Never in recorded history have we witnessed anything dead come back to life = not humans, not animals, not plants. Furthermore, we have strong scientific reasons to think that once an organism is dead, it cannot come back to life because of destructive processes like cell tissue death, oxygen deprivation (in animals) and so on.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that we can’t be wrong and that resurrection can’t happen anyway. It does mean, however, that we need some pretty good evidence that it actually did happen.  If I told you that I had cornflakes for breakfast yesterday morning, you’d be inclined to make my word for it because it’s an unextraordinary claim. You know cornflakes exist, you know people eat them, you have probably eaten them yourself.  On the other hand, if I tell you that I died and came back to life yesterday morning, you would be much more skeptical of this claim. And so you should be.

Now imagine that I were in a murder trial where the only thing can could save me from a conviction would be if I had eaten cornflakes yesterday morning. That would be the bulletproof alibi. Now, when I then turn around and state, why yes, I did have cornflakes yesterday morning – well, now you would demand evidence. You wouldn’t just let me go, because the truth value of the claim now has great importance. You could get a forensic test of my stomach contents, check my house and trash to see if I have an open box of cornflakes, suitable milk, etc.

Now, finally, imagine that my only alibi would be that I died and was resurrected yesterday morning. Whatever amount of evidence you’d ask for before is now even greater, because not only is the claim extraordinary, it’s deeply important.

Jesus’ resurrection fits this profile. Christians claim that accepting this fact is the most important thing in the world – it will determine if you go to heaven or to hell. It is both extraordinary and important (to Christians). And therefore, the evidence needs to be looked at carefully.

Evidence for a resurrection

So, let us start looking at the evidence. Unfortunately, unless I have missed an important source, we find no sources that claim Jesus came back from the dead outside the New Testament.  Not that biblical sources can reasonably be discounted out of hand – but they have special interests in preserving the story that is so central to their religion. We will look at thoese documents in turn. Well, Yes, there is that one passage by Josephus which goes:

"When Pilate, upon the accusation of the first men amongst us, condemned [Jesus] to be crucified, those who had formerly loved him did not cease [to follow him], for he appeared to them on the third day, living again, as the divine prophets foretold, along with a myriad of other marvellous things concerning him."

Here’s the thing about that: in the very same text, Josephus espouses the roman General Vespasian as the expected Messiah:

"What did the most to induce the Jews to start this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how, about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth. The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination. Now this oracle certainly denoted the government of Vespasian, who was appointed emperor in Judea." (Flavius Josephus, Jewish War 6.312-313, emphasis mine)

This, along with Origen’s writing on Josephus where he plainly states that Josephus was not a Christian, makes it a little strange that Josephus seemingly reports the miraculous resurrection of Jesus (who he also called ‘the Christ’ in the same passage). This seems like a strange contradiction, pointing to a corruption of the text in at least one of the two places.

The passage about Jesus, sadly, seems to be the prime candidate for the "bad apple". No Christian writer quoting Josephus or otherwise familiar with him mention this amazing tale of a Jew rising from the dead – despite them having strong interest in as much proof as they could get their hands on.  Vocabulary analysis also makes the same passage stick out of the rest of The Jewish War like a sore thumb. The consensus among scholars is that the passage did originally mention Jesus, but that the content of the passage has now been entirely corrupted, probably with pious scribes wanting to emphasize the point while copying the original text.

This brings me to the biblical texts and the way I think it is reasonable to read them:  I do not think there is any fair reason to say that there are outright hoaxes and frauds in the documents. I think the authors believed that what they were writing was relevant to their readers, with no ulterior motives. The scribes corrupting Josephus were, in their own mind at least, simply adding some obviously true facts about Jesus when they came across his name. That kind of "fine tuning" of copied documents is seen all the time, to the frustration of classical scholars who are interested in the uncorrupted source. In the same way, the stories about the resurrection were passed along by people who were spreading the word of their religion as they perceived it. We must remember the historical and cultural context where these writings were made. They were written in a philosophical soup of ideas about divine beings, saviours, God-men in all the pagan religions. This was conventional wisdom at the time- tales about great men performing miracles, of divine origin, returning to the Gods, etc etc. They were everywhere at the time (just look at Roman mythology, for one. Or any of the other dozens of pagan traditions from the period.)

The early Christian writers all believed Jesus was a God–as their ancient minds understood Gods. So when they sat down to write about His life from 50AD onwards, they naturally wrote it as they understood it, in their own cultural terms. Jesus was a God who came to Earth. Gods fulfilled property. Jesus fulfilled prophesy. Gods came down from the sky through mortal women. Jesus came down from the sky through a mortal woman. Gods had the power to do miracles. Jesus had the power to do miracles(He even did the same miracles as some of the other Gods). Gods taught wisdom. Jesus taught wisdom. Gods saved. Jesus saves. Gods died on Earth and went back to the sky. Jesus died on Earth and rode a cloud back up to His God-place in the sky. There is nothing particularly amazing, from a literary point of view, about the story of Jesus – it was the way they told the story of the great, inspirational man who had appeared from Nazareth and convinced the apostles. The big mistake today would be to take it all literally. Our minds are not attuned to mythological storytelling of factual events. We expect documentary-style fly-on-the-wall stories and read the gospels like that. It’s the wrong pair of spectacles for the text.

That’s not to say that people didn’t actually believe the stories at the time, though. People believed the myths, pagan or Christian, partly because that was how the ancients understood the world – through myth. There was no more objective understanding of reality to compare the myths to – only other myths.

To this mix, all I am going to add is the human propensity to retell a good story without checking the facts, and point to modern examples of myths being created within a short time of an event. As just one example, look at the whole deal with Elvis not being really dead after all, being sighted and having thousands of believers in the "Elvis not dead" theory. I don’t intend that to be a point-by-point comparison to Jesus’ resurrection, of course. Just wanted to show that myths arise and spread quite independently of truth and evidence sometimes.

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About Kazz

My name is Shawn Esplin and I am an advocate of Free Thought and general good sense and thought in general. To that end, I encourage people to seriously question the things that they have been taught, especially as children, because many of these things - religious and secular - are taken on faith until we actively choose to seriously examine them for ourselves.

8 thoughts on “Resurrection Debate – Tim Jorgensen’s Opening Statement

  1. Hey Tim. What I always have a problem with is that atheists, like yourself, that say there is no God and that people that have faith in God are wrong, are always asking for people to have on you. Why should we have faith in you? In a world with so many variables is nice to actually have one constant, which I believe is God. The problem with you atheists lies in that you have not been able to disprove the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus in this case. As you stated in your argument, you do not provide any conclusive evidence to support your idea, which by the way happens to be one sided, just as we christians are one sided. The argument here will be more of the veracity of the belief of the individual. If in your perception, which happens to be your reality, you believe the shy is red and not blue, than to you it will always be red. No amount of proof could ever satisfy you in that the sky is actually blue. I’d like to leave you with a thought provoking statement/question; Lets say for instance that you are right and we christians are wrong in our belief, we all die and there is no God. Kudos to you my friend, you were right and we christians spent our life like ignorant people having fun doing what we do. Now lets look at this from the other side. We all die, and so happens that there is one eternal God. We christians go to heaven and spend eternity worshiping the one true God, and you? I can tell you this, that I’d much rather be saved by Jesus than be sorry in hell. In your effort to disprove the existence of God you have crowned yourself as your own god. There are no thruts in your mind, only perspectives, everything is the color of the crystal you see it thru. The color of my crystal happens to be faith in God, tha one and only constant I can find, the absolute truth.

  2. Manny -
    You made a few good points but the problem is they didn’t really stay on topic.
    Even though Tim does seem to be an atheist, that is not the topic at hand.

    We as Christians should be candid enough to admit that it’s not only professing
    atheists who have doubts about the bodily resurrection of Jesus – cause plenty
    of other kinds of people do as well. I recognize this fact and understand it;
    that’s what we’re trying to get at the bottom of it in this debate …

    vm

  3. Hey Mann,

    yeah, you strayed from the topic at hand somewhat, but I’d like to try and address your comments none the less.

    My main point would be that I am NOT asking you to have faith in me. At all. I am inviting you openly to do your own research and reach your own conclusions. All I am trying to do is point out some possible logical fallacies, so you can avoid them yourself and get closer to the truth. Don’t believe anyone including me. The only way to ever get close to the truth is to do your own research.

    I sort of admire your statement that you choose to believe in God because it makes you feel good. I simply can’t pick and choose my beliefs like that. My mind won’t allow it – I need to know if I’m right or if I’m wrong. Also, I enjoy discovering I am wrong, because that means I learned something.

    Atheists can’t disprove the existence of God, of course. Nor can they disprove that the resurrection occured. But equally obviously, the atheists don’t need to. There are literally an infinite amount of claims a person could make about the world and how it operates, and most of those claims are impossible to disprove (for instance, the claim “there are 349,444,399 clones of Rosie O’Donnell floating between the stars in the Andromeda Galaxy.”) Do you feel compelled to believe this claim without evidence. I hope not. Can you disprove it? No. The reasonable stance to such a claim – to ANY claim – is to start out by not believing it, and gradually believe it more and more as more and more evidence comes in that it is true. That’s what I try to do with all claims (although I suspect I have many mental bugbears left over from misunderstandings and childhood).

    About your claim about the color of sky, I disagree that I could not have my mind changed. If the color of the sky is to be taken as a fact (and not just some unmeasurable internal qualia) then the color of the sky can for instance be meaured as a wavelength of light – say, 410nm. If I had mutated color receptors in my eyes and perceived red and blue colors in the same way, and I had never seen blue objects described by others as “not red”, then sure, I would believe that the sky is red. However, if I were to analyze the wavelength of the light from the sky and the light reflected off a tomato, I would see that they were at either end of the spectrum and I would be forced to conclude they were different colors, and that my eyes were unable to resolve the difference. I would, in other words, be able to correct my mistake with measurable evidence. Your claim that it would always be word against word is false. The evidence wins.

    Ending on Pascal’s Wager is a bit of an intellectual cop-out since it has been debunked literally hundreds of times. I would have thought any apologist would avoid it by now. The standard answer to the false dilemma is “what if we’re both wrong? then we both get punished by the God neither os us believed in – Vishnu, perhaps, or Thor, or Htyeheheyru, a God no-one thought to believe in – maybe you more than me because you so often denounced the true God as a false idol.”

    In the absence of evidence, as always, we do not believe in Htyeheheheyru, or Thor, or Vishnu. You believe in God without evidence. I don’t. But we both disbelieve in an infinity of Gods who may turn out to exist. In other words, our odds are the same.

  4. Manny,

    You just presented Pascal’s Wager. Please google it so you can see the many problems with that argument.

    “If you’re right, then…”

    What if God loves atheists, but hates Christians? There are an infinite number of situations we can make up.

    Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think Tim claimed that there is no God.

    Lastly, you wrote: “In your effort to disprove the existence of God you have crowned yourself as your own god. There are no thruts in your mind, only perspectives, everything is the color of the crystal you see it thru.” Please support this claim or retract it, as I have a hard time believing that you have mind-reading abilities.

  5. Nohm –

    In fairness to Manny, he does not seem to be claiming to read Tim’s mind.

    It seems rather plain when he says, “There are no truths in your mind, only perspectives, everything is the color of the crystal you see it through” that he is saying there is no absolute truth if there is no God. This means in place of a Universal Lawgiver, we all make up our own rules and refer to ourselves as the ultimate standard of whether something is true or not. This means everything is subjective by default.

    And Tim, you called Manny an apologist in your comment back. I am curious, would you define any Christian that tries to give a reason for their beliefs as a sort of ‘de facto’ apologist? I just wonder what you think, since I am preaching on the importance of apologetics this Sunday at our church and wanted to get your opinion.

    vm

    ps – for you locals that wanna come, check out rooseveltchurch.org

  6. Vocab:

    I understand what you’re saying (even though your version is a lot less accusatory than Manny’s :-) ) but I still think it’s a false dichotomy. No God does not imply that we all make up our own rules. We are inside a culture and clearly bounded by the consensus morals of this culture. Only truly sociopathic individuals (like the Columbine shooters or the deeply unsettling Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs) operate completely outside the boundaries of consensus morals. Sure, morals are thus not absolute or set in stone, but they are still meaningful and have consequences.

    About apologetics. I may have used the word in a slightly non-standard sense towards Manny, but I tend to use it when people look for evidence to bolster their faith. This separates it from critical history or science by starting with the conclusion and then looking for the evidence. After a few iterations, apologetics starts looking like critical science to the untrained eye, because it ostensibly starts with the facts and then traces the apologetic route “backwards” towards the conclusion that the Bible is true.

    The same thing can be done with anything – a hypothesis I put to the test during the last Nanowrimo, where I invented a fake story and then went looking for real history to back it up. It ended up as a surprisingly solid “historical” novel, with the story clearly false and yet with nothing but true historical facts (over 200 separate interlocking facts, in fact.) The trick is to ignore all the historical stuff that runs counter to your conclusion. It was a fun exercise.

    The importance of apologetics? It has been important in shaping our culture, to be sure. Also, it provides the believers who aren’t comfortable with just swallowing dogma raw with reasons for their faith. The flip side is that apologetics never teaches the reader to be truly critical about everything – only stuff that runs counter to the desired conclusion.
    As a skeptic, I am forced to critically assess everything I *believe* as well – which is interesting indeed. (During this very debate, for instance, I discovered that the oft-repeated tale about “Jesus being a Xerox of the older god Mithras” doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, so I stopped believing it. This untrue tale is mentioned in more than one atheist documentary and I have heard it repeated often, even on respectable TV shows like “QI”.)

    It sometimes saddens me how many billions of brain-hours have been wasted on the mental contortions of apologetics. Every single Bible verse has been pored over, analysed again and again as the knowledge-base and the culture changed, and every bible verse needs to be re-crowbarred into the version of reality we have discovered so far. It’s a never-ending battle, resulting in numerous conflicts of facts where apologists are forced to attempt discredit established research as all their other pathways are blocked. It is counter-productive and deeply confusing to the interested layman.

    If I were to speak on the importance of apologetics, I would focus on its role as a primary source of distraction from geniune inquiry. That HAS had a strong impact on the way the world looks, though not, I fear, in a good way. :-)

    Of course you don’t agree, but you asked for my opinion and there it was. I am sure you can incorporate something about how we skeptics percieve your endeavour into your sermon. Good luck with it, and let me know how it went! :-)

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