XFiles Friday: Straight from the source

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 12.)

Geisler and Turek have a fun trick their Christian readers can try at their next party or social gathering.

Those who have alternative theories for the Resurrection should be asked, “What evidence do you have for your theory? Can you please name three or four first-century sources that support your theory?” When honest skeptics are presented with this question , they typically answer with silence or a stuttering admission that they have no such evidence because none exists.

That’s a great tip for a popular book on apologetics, because most Christians, in casual discussions with their fellow laymen, aren’t going to be able to discuss “first century sources” in any great detail any more than their skeptical opposites. Even among skeptics, there’s just not that much that was going on back then that would justify most people spending significant amounts of their time becoming authorities on who said what 2,000 years ago.

The catch is that this is actually a faulty approach to determining the facts of the matter. Because God does not show up in real life, Geisler and Turek have to base their beliefs exclusively on the words of men, and therefore they assume that any skeptic would need to do the same thing, and would need to find some person or persons in the first century who said the same things that skeptics believe.

What G&T overlook, however, is the fact that we don’t need a first-century Richard Dawkins writing a 2,000 year old version of Ye Godde Delusionne in order to have first century support for our conclusions. We can effectively cross-examine the Christians own sources, by applying the principle that truth is consistent with itself. We can look at all the evidence, both ancient and modern, and ask ourselves, “Which hypothesis would produce consequences most consistent with what we observe, the hypothesis that Jesus literally rose from the dead, or the hypothesis that the ‘resurrection’ was the product of a combination of psychosocial factors plus a possibly misplaced corpse?”

As we saw last week, we don’t need alternative theories for the Resurrection, because we today do not have any resurrection to explain. What we need to explain is why we have stories about an alleged resurrection, and that’s not really that difficult to account for. So Geisler and Turek try to up the ante:

And it’s not just the Resurrection that the skeptics have to explain. They also have to explain the other thirty-five miracles that eyewitnesses have associated with Jesus. Are we to believe that the four Gospel writers were all deceived about all of those miracles as well as the Resurrection?

We can best answer this question by taking a look at the reliability of Christian testimony, starting with Geisler and Turek. You will recall that in earlier parts of the book, they identified the Gospel writers as men who “were eyewitnesses or had access to eyewitnesses,” which in practice means that they lived at the same time and in the same general area as people whom they identified as eyewitnesses to something. In other words, the people who actually recorded these alleged miracles were, in many cases, not really eyewitnesses themselves. Yet here we have Geisler and Turek claiming that all 35 miracles were associated with Jesus by “eyewitnesses.” By fudging the truth just a little bit, they make an argument for the Gospel that seems stronger (and therefore it must be the right thing to say, since it “glorifies God,” right?).

Then, too, notice how Geisler and Turek have shifted from “alternatives to the Resurrection” to “alternative theories FOR the Resurrection,” as though the Resurrection were a literal fact that skeptics were having trouble accounting for. There’s a push here, a drive to spin the facts inexorably towards the conclusion that the Gospel is true. And we see the same bias in the Gospels themselves: John himself declares that the Gospels “are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Is there evidence that early NT writers might have played with the facts, uncritically exaggerating claims that supported the gospel and downplaying factors that might have worked against it? I think there is, and I’ll go so far as to take up Geisler and Turek’s challenge. Let’s see if we can’t find 3 or 4 first century sources whose testimony supports skeptical conclusions about the Resurrection.

First of all, we have Matthew’s testimony that there was a story, widely circulated among the Jews, that disciples stole Jesus’ body during the night. Matthew accuses the story of being a lie, but then again, the stories accuse Matthew of telling a lie too. Who should we believe? We’ll save that question for later; our main point right now is that Matthew declares that there is first-century testimony stating that disciples had taken the body, and this is just what we would expect to find if human hands had removed Jesus from his original tomb.

More than that, however, Matthew claims that there were guards who were actually at the tomb when the resurrection (or body-snatching) took place. That would make these guards the only eyewitnesses of what actually happened to Jesus’ corpse, and according to Matthew, what these eyewitnesses were claiming was that, again, disciples took the body. Once again, Matthew accuses them of lying, just as their story makes Matthew’s claims a lie, but the fact remains that we have a second first-century source claiming, by direct eyewitness testimony, that Jesus did not rise, and that his body was simply moved. Matthew tries to discredit the story, but agrees, under cross-examination, that there do exist eyewitnesses who contradict his own, non-eyewitness testimony.

Next, we have Paul’s testimony, as recorded in Acts 9:7, that when Jesus appeared to him, none of those with him saw anyone there. This is consistent with the skeptical theory that people who “saw” Jesus after his death were not seeing him in any literal, physical sense. That’s three sources. Let’s back up a couple chapters, then, and listen to Stephen’s testimony at the end of Acts 7.

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

As we saw earlier, the first century believers thought that heaven was a literal, physical place floating in the clouds over Jerusalem, and that it had doors that could be opened to let rain out and to let believers into. It was even close enough that you could see through the doors, from ground level, and spot the throne of God, and see who was standing beside it.

But in fact, heaven is not such a literal place floating up in the sky. Once again, we have a first-century source testifying about “seeing” Jesus in a way that did not involve literal, material seeing, but consisted of subjective “visions” and other non-physical, non-objective experiences. And yet—this is the important point—neither the Gospel writers nor Christians today regard Stephen as having lied about seeing Jesus. The Christian concept of truth is augmented by the concept of “spiritual truth,” which frees Christian claims from the constraints of materialistic reality. A thing does not need to be happening in the exterior, objectively real world, where everyone else can see it, in order to count as Christian truth.

And we have many other witnesses, both ancient and modern, offering testimony that, while outwardly supporting Christianity, is actually more consistent with the skeptical conclusion that Christian standards of truth are based more heavily on whether a claim supports the Gospel than on whether it’s consistent with mundane, materialistic facts. Listen to a Pentecostal explain, some time, why the miracles performed by Roman Catholic saints aren’t genuine. Or vice versa.

Geisler and Turek wrap it up by saying, “The explanation that requires the least amount of faith is that Jesus really did perform miracles and really did rise from the dead as he predicted.” But this “explanation” boils down to saying we ought to believe whatever the New Testament writers tell us, just because they say so. Everything Geisler and Turek want us to believe depends on trusting that what men tell us is true. They have no resurrected Jesus to offer as evidence, and even the human testimony fails to be consistent with itself or with what we observe in real life.

I agree that it doesn’t take a lot of faith to believe in the resurrection. What it takes is sheer gullibility. And I don’t have enough gullibility to agree with Geisler and Turek.

Hmm, that’s kinda catchy. I wonder if I should write a book with that title?

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Posted in IDHEFTBA, Unapologetics, XFiles. 13 Comments »

13 Responses to “XFiles Friday: Straight from the source”

  1. nal Says:

    That is catchy.

    I Don’t Have Enough GULLIBILITY to Be a CHRISTIAN

    That says it all.

  2. VorJack Says:

    Supposedly, Robert M. Price is writing a book titled I Don’t Have the Guile to be an Apologist.

  3. R. C. Moore Says:

    Geisler and Turek are attempting a simple reversal of “burden of proof”. They are making the extraordinary assertion, one that runs counter to all the evidence — that nothing ever comes back from the dead (sort of by definition!).

    I keep waiting for something new from these guys. In fact I keep waiting for something new from any Christian apologist.

  4. facilis Says:

    “Geisler and Turek are attempting a simple reversal of “burden of proof”.”
    How so? They present their evidence and they ask the skeptics to present theirs. Each party has a burden of proof.
    “They are making the extraordinary assertion,”
    Please define “extraordinary”.
    ” one that runs counter to all the evidence”
    What evidence are they running counter too. Please present this evidence against it.That is what G& T ask skeptics for.
    “that nothing ever comes back from the dead”
    What evidence do you have for this? Let me make this clear G &t are arguing not that Jesus rose from the dead by any natural process , but by the power of a supernatural personal agent.. Saying “things do not rise from the dead by natural processes” is a red herring.

  5. R. C. Moore Says:

    In response to facilis:

    I do not agree that Geisler and Turek have presented relevant evidence at all. The issue here is not whether ancient texts are fact or fiction. We know that they are a mixture of both, and Geisler and Turk implicitly acknowledge this. The issue is whether resurrection and supernatural powers are possible. The default position is no, because it never happens when human fallibility is removed. If Geisler and Turk are refuting this, I would love to see the protocol and the data.

    “What evidence do you have for this?” (that nothing comes back from the dead)

    And you last statement has broken my irony meter. I speak out against reversing the burden of proof, and you respond by attempting to reverse the burden of proof.

    Wow. Really, how intellectually lazy can you get? I apologize for the rudeness, but come on!

  6. Arthur Says:

    That the Resurrection would require “the power of a supernatural personal agent” is evidence against it.

    What is it about the word “extraordinary”? You use it to criticize religion and suddenly nobody can understand its use. It means “notably unusual or exceptional,” although history says the dictionary definition isn’t what folks are looking for.

  7. ThatOtherGuy Says:

    Huh, guess facilis is happy enough escaping bannination on Pharyngula to comment here. Joy.

  8. John Morales Says:

    Well, Facilis has history, but perhaps he’s learnt something in Pharyngula.

    Hm, I wonder if if was my link to the TIA posts that drew him here? 🙂

    Facilis, remember DD has written many a post about this already. Did you bother to read them before asking your questions and raising your concern? Because I think DD has already answered them and addressed it.

  9. Steven Carr Says:

    ‘Those who have alternative theories for the Revelation to Muhammad in 622 AD should be asked, “What evidence do you have for your theory? Can you please name three or four seventh-century sources that support your theory?”

    Presumably, every time the police find an unsolved murder and they cannot find sources of evidence for their own theory as to how the murder was committed, they should believe the victim was killed by a witch’s curse.

  10. imarriedaxtian Says:

    DD, you wrote:

    “First of all, we have Matthew’s testimony … that disciples stole Jesus’ body during the night. Matthew accuses the story of being a lie, …”

    Could you please cite the source of your claim? And where did Mathew claim the opposite?

    “…but then again, the stories accuse Matthew of telling a lie too.”

    Could you please cite the source of these stories. I need to verify it for myself. Thanks. Great postings here. I have bookmarked it!

    PS I list only my nom de guerre. If you wish to know my real name, please email me and I will respond

  11. mark Says:

    There was an interesting segment on the radio the other day about research into the reliability of eye witnesses to a crime in police investigations and court cases. ( I can’t remember the names of the researchers off hand I am afraid but it is published work)

    Basically – right after the event (a day or so) there is some value in the reports – BUT if you have multiple witnesses to an event you WILL end up with conflicting reports – after that it goes down hill as the witness filters the event through their own views and their brains attempts to impose narrative on the event etc.

    Second hand reports are obviously highly suspect and without extensive supporting evidence and corroboration from multiple witnesses you have nothing.

  12. Deacon Duncan Says:

    The story of the guards is told by Matthew (alone) in Matt. 27:62-66, Matt. 28:2-4 and Matt. 28:11-15.

    The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”

    “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard…

    There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men…

    While the women were on their way [back from the empty tomb], some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

    According to Matthew, the story that was circulating among the Jews “to this very day” was that disciples had stolen Jesus’ body. Matthew both contradicts, and is contradicted by, this story, since he claims the body was not stolen, but rather rose from the dead. No one (with the possible exception of the guards) actually saw what really happened, however. In each case where he was allegedly seen after his “resurrection,” however, he appears in a body that is manifestly different from the material flesh and blood that was buried, since ordinary flesh and blood, besides not inheriting the kingdom of God, is also unable to walk through closed doors, change its appearance so as to fool close friends, and spontaneously appear, disappear, and fly. Thus, the textual evidence gives us no reason to conclude that Jesus original, fleshly body actually resumed living. At best, Christians can claim that it was absorbed by his alleged spiritual body, but that’s not really the same thing as a dead physical body coming back to life.

  13. imarriedaxtian Says:

    Thanks DD,
    I jumped to the wrong conclusion after misreading your post. I guess I was too excited about a new external source (besides the usual scraps from Josephus, Pliny, Tacitus and Suetonius). There is a lot to go through here. I will lurk here until I have read all your other posts. Keep up the great work.