Doubting the Resurrection

Photo Credit: Dean Ayres via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Dean Ayres via Compfight cc

In a previous article, A Second Look At Biblical Inerrancy, I promised to tackle the resurrection of Jesus in my next article, which was last week. However, that was the week Robin Williams died so that article took a back seat while I wrote a tribute to an actor who played a role that made a major impact in my life.

So to get back on the topic, let me do a quick recap. The previous article dealt with inconsistencies in the details of the resurrection of the four gospels in the Bible. A reader wrote in to say that there may have been inconsistencies, but they were all unanimous in stating that there was indeed a resurrection — and that was the most important point. I responded then that my goal was not to prove or disprove the resurrection but to show that it is erroneous to claim biblical inerrancy, for how can four different accounts be inerrant? They cannot all be right. That is but a logical conclusion.

So now, let’s go to the reader’s other point: was there indeed a resurrection?

There are many ways to approach this question and I have read a good number of literature from both sides of the fence. That being said, there is no way I am going to make a comprehensive case for or against the resurrection in an 800-word article as different scholars have written whole books on this subject alone.

Instead, what I will attempt now is a simple argument for the layperson, someone who is not well-versed in the deeper issues, and doesn’t need to be (at this point). If you are the scholarly type, I’m sure you have answers to my arguments and you’re more than welcome to write me and discuss those with me and maybe I will devote a future article focusing on your particular argument.

For now, let me begin with this phrase popularized by the late Carl Sagan: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

For example, if I tell you that I met with a couple of friends from Manila last week, you would probably not have any reason to doubt that statement. It is normal to have friends from other places. Manila is an actual place and last week is a reasonable time to have met them. If you do challenge me, I could just show you my Facebook page where I posted a selfie with these friends and that would be the end of it. You probably would not allege that I edited that picture and that it’s fake, because there is no apparent reason for me to do so. It is an ordinary claim, hence ordinary evidence will suffice to make it believable.

However, if I were to claim that I had dinner with Robin Williams (yes, the dead actor) last night, on the planet Saturn, you would be the most gullible person on earth if you believed that at face value. When I made such preposterous claims to my daughter when she was still 6 years old, even she would raise an eyebrow and say, “Oh yeah, Daddy? Prove it.”

But what if I showed you a photo of me and Robin Williams in a restaurant with a backdrop of what appears to be Saturn’s rings, would you believe me then? You still probably won’t because photos can be faked. What if I showed you a short video clip? Well, it’s a more difficult process, but videos can be faked as well. What if several people claim to have been there with me and witnessed the event? You probably wouldn’t believe them either and think it’s all an elaborate joke.

What makes the second claim so hard to believe? Well, it is an extraordinary claim and what I need to prove it is not just evidence but a preponderance of it, or in the words of a Philippine senator, a whole truckload of it.

Now, what do we have for the resurrection? We have the gospels as the principal accounts for it.

I have pointed out in the previous article, however, that the gospel writers were not eyewitnesses. They were simply relaying a story that has been told and retold thousands of times in the past few decades. Some people claim that the eyewitnesses were still around at the time the gospels were being circulated and could certainly verify or refute whatever was written.

But that is a dubious claim as it transmutes modern standards of life expectancy, literacy and literary circulation into ancient times. The earliest gospel, Mark, is dated at around 70 AD, forty years after Jesus’ supposed death. Historian J.D. Crossan has estimated that the average life expectancy during first century Palestine is 29 years. Biologist Caleb Finch seems to agree with this estimate although he gives a broader range of 20-35 years. That means that an eyewitness who was 20 years old during the crucifixion/resurrection event itself would most probably be dead by the time Mark came out.

Some would argue that it was entirely possible for them to have lived longer, and yes, I’m not saying it’s impossible. All I’m saying is it’s on the wrong side of the probability spectrum. Also, books weren’t published en masse as they were today. It took a lot of time for them to be copied by hand and more time to be circulated, and since the general public were mostly illiterate, they couldn’t read them anyway and could probably not have refuted them outright.

In his book, Sense and Goodness Without God, historian Richard Carrier notes “The early Roman Empire in particular was replete with kooks and quacks of all varieties, from sincere lunatics to ingenious frauds, even innocent men were mistaken for divine, and there was no end to the fools and loons who would follow and praise them. Skeptics and informed or critical minds were a small minority…This was an age of fables and wonder. Magic, miracles, ghosts were everywhere, and almost never doubted…this can be credited to the complete lack of any mass public education…and the lack of any mass media, or any organizations dedicated to investigating and getting at the truth and publishing the results.”

The gospels then are not unique in their tale of miracles and wonders. Even older tales and stories contain resurrection narratives. If one believes in the gospels, then why not these other tales as well?

With all that being said, the gospels themselves do not constitute the necessary preponderant and extraordinary evidence to conclude that an extraordinary event such as the resurrection of Jesus did indeed happen, and thus I am doubtful as to whether it really did. If the writer of Matthew could spin tales of a massive earthquake and dead people climbing out of their tombs to again walk the streets (Matt. 27:51) — an event that surprisingly no other contemporary historian writes about (not even the other gospel writers) — who knows what other tall tales he could conjure?

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Send me your thoughts at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

 

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One thought on “Doubting the Resurrection”

  1. Oh, so many points that you either chose to exclude or don’t bother to verify. Something you have often accused others of. According to the CDC, “But the inclusion of infant mortality rates in calculating life expectancy creates the mistaken impression that earlier generations died at a young age; Americans were not dying en masse at the age of 46 in 1907. The fact is that the maximum human lifespan — a concept often confused with “life expectancy” — has remained more or less the same for thousands of years. The idea that our ancestors routinely died young (say, at age 40) has no basis in scientific fact.

    Yet this myth is widespread, and repeated by both the public and professionals.” Thousands of years? Is that anything like 2000?

    “Also, books weren’t published en masse as they were today. It took a lot of time for them to be copied by hand and more time to be circulated, and since the general public were mostly illiterate, they couldn’t read them anyway and could probably not have refuted them outright.”

    Earliest known COPIES date back to at least 80 A.D. There is plenty of evidence to show that all of the new testament was written by then. You are also missing how things were communicated back then. Most people who attempt to debunk try to claim like it is the telephone game, ignoring that many people devoted their lives to oral tradition, memorizing word for word. And they did it quite well. While the general populace may not have been as “educated” as today, there was still enough writing back then.

    Richard Carrier is an athiest activist. A few articles ago (in the order I read them, you attempted to lambast a Christian apologist, claiming confirmation bias. I guess that does not apply to the people you side with? “In his book, Sense and Goodness Without God, historian Richard Carrier notes “The early Roman Empire in particular was replete with kooks and quacks of all varieties, from sincere lunatics to ingenious frauds, even innocent men were mistaken for divine, and there was no end to the fools and loons who would follow and praise them. Skeptics and informed or critical minds were a small minority…This was an age of fables and wonder. Magic, miracles, ghosts were everywhere, and almost never doubted…this can be credited to the complete lack of any mass public education…and the lack of any mass media, or any organizations dedicated to investigating and getting at the truth and publishing the results.” How is this different than today? Except public indoctrination, bias in the mass media, and, oh, getting at the truth? You act as if people before us were cretins incapable of thinking. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle? Ancient mathematics? The pyramids in Egypt, machu picchu?

    “The gospels then are not unique in their tale of miracles and wonders. Even older tales and stories contain resurrection narratives. If one believes in the gospels, then why not these other tales as well?” Who are these? Are they similar to the Biblical accounts? We’re they predicted hundreds or thousands of years before they happened? Did they instantly radicalize people and the world around them like the Gospel did? Why do you ignore these points? They seem pretty obvious, unless you have heard about them and not actually looked to see if these stories are true, or you have (like I did years ago) and can see that you statement is misleading and you hope your readers don’t actually check these things for themselves.

    “With all that being said, the gospels themselves do not constitute the necessary preponderant and extraordinary evidence to conclude that an extraordinary event such as the resurrection of Jesus did indeed happen, and thus I am doubtful as to whether it really did.” For you. So, what evidence would you suggest be sufficient for you? Could there ever be? If so, please state what it is.

    Earthquakes occur frequently in the Holy Land.
    “An outcrop of laminated Dead Sea sediment can be seen at Wadi Ze’elim above the southwestern shore of the modern Dead Sea near the fortress of Masada. In this sediment outcrop is a distinctive one-foot thick “mixed layer” of sediment that is tied strongly to the Qumran earthquake’s onshore ground ruptures of 31 B.C. (see Figure 2).10 Thirteen inches above the 31 B.C. event bed is another distinctive “mixed layer” less than one inch thick. The sedimentation rate puts this second earthquake about 65 years after the 31 B.C. earthquake. It seems that the crucifixion earthquake of 33 A.D. was magnitude 5.5, leaving direct physical evidence in a thin layer of disturbed sediment from the Dead Sea.”
    5.5 for a place and time that doesn’t hardly read or write (according to you) where earthquakes are plentiful, because we have so much written from that time, right? As far as the Dead people coming out of the graves, there are several possibilities. One is that it is spiritual in nature. Their spirits awoke and went to the Holy city. Another is that, if Jesus died and arose, and preached in resurrection, than it is possible that it was physical. Are ancient people (see above listed people) so stupid compared to you that they were willing to die for a lie? How did Christianity spread so quickly? Maybe it was all a hoax and someone was a good enough makeup artist to convince everyone that all of their dearly departed were now alive?

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