See here for Christopher’s opening remarks.
See here for James’s opening remarks.
See here for Christopher’s first rebuttal.
See here for James’ first rebuttal.
See here for Christopher’s second rebuttal.
1. On the Nature of Persuasive Evidence & Hyper-Skepticism.
2. The Wizard Analogy.
3. Chris’ Alternative Hypotheses or Extreme Lack Thereof.
4. The Improbability of the Resurrection.
5. Chris’ Explanation of the Dramatic Conversions of Paul and James.
1. On the Nature of Persuasive Evidence & Hyper-Skepticism.
Christopher argues, “James claims that he affirms the resurrection of Christ because we have sufficient historical evidence that should persuade us to believe in the resurrection… [but] admitting that the evidence is simply persuasive, is to admit defeat in this debate.”
This strikes me as being confused. Saying that the evidence is persuasive in favour of the resurrection is incredibly far from admitting defeat. For me to argue that the resurrection is evidentially persuasive is to say that such a view is more compelling than what Chris is offering us. That would seem to be the exact opposite of admitting defeat. But, at the same time, I could just apply this criterion to Chris too. Essentially his arguing from memory distortion seems to inform us that he finds his position persuasive. But, much like me, Chris is also making a claim to knowledge. His claim is that Jesus was not in fact raised from the dead whereas mine is that Jesus was raised from the dead. So couldn’t we apply this to Chris too since he finds his view persuasive? Of course I wouldn’t argue such a thing because it doesn’t make sense since saying that something is persuasive is to offer evidence that one’s view is more compelling than another. It would appear that Chris has defied his own logic here though.
But that aside Chris goes on, “Having evidence that is only persuasive and not definitive implies that the evidence is disputed. If the evidence is disputed, we cannot be justified in believing in the resurrection as fact.”
This is also very confused. He says that the evidence is in dispute. But by who? What historical scholars has Chris named? What are their arguments? Since there is an absence of this are we then just to trust Chris’ hunch? Again, Chris needs to grapple with the evidence, and he needs to provide us with arguments otherwise there’s just nothing to debate here. It would go a long way in this debate for Chris to show awareness of some scholars who have proposed alternative theories to the resurrection.
But, in truth, yes the evidence is debated and there is disagreement. That’s just obvious as well as to be expected. If there was no disagreement then everyone would be Christians, but not everyone is. However, this applies to just about everything which only strikes me as amazing that Chris seems unaware of this. Chris is a naturalist and over 80% of people living today dispute naturalism. Would Chris then say that it is unjustified in believing in naturalism because dispute exists over his worldview? Well, obviously not. But as I’ve already stated it is the evidence and arguments that ultimately matter. It just doesn’t follow that because the resurrection is debated that that must somehow mean it is unjustified to accept on historical, evidential grounds. Rather it’s who has the better arguments. In fact, one could even add that debate is healthy. If no historian ever looked at the resurrection evidence, considered it, or commented on it, then I’d be suspicious of those promoting it (either way I’d certainly not be a Christian). But if that were really the case then would that perhaps mean the resurrection is analogous to conspiracy theories like Jesus mythicism or holocaust denial? Perhaps so. But that’s not what we find; rather, we find healthy debate and discussion taking place with top scholars vying for the resurrection. I could name many such as the likes Mike Licona, William Craig, Gary Habermas, Darrell Bock, Craig Keener, J. P. Moreland, Michael Bird, Craig Blomberg, Paul Copan, Tina Beattie, and others who represent the top echelon of their fields of expertise but all of whom accept the resurrection on grounds of evidence.
I also think Chris has an unwarranted approach to epistemic justification. There’s room to doubt everything including our own sense perception. For example, there’s no non-circular argument that the external world exists since what we perceive of the external world could be nothing than some mad scientist stimulating our brains in some crazy lab experiment. This is what philosophers term BIV, Brain in a Vat. However, although we could probably dispute anything and everything we still find it rational to accept certain things as brute facts. Although we cannot prove the existence of the eternal world we all accept that it exists and go about our daily lives as if it really does. We all accept that other minds exist other than our own. We all accept that some things about the universe can be known scientifically and represented in neat mathematical formulas. We also tend to accept moral truths that some acts are morally evil as opposed to good whether we accept objective moral values and duties or not. However, if we’d apply Chris’ standard to these things then we’d have to dismiss them, including Chris’ own arguments. Can Chris give us any absolute proof that disproves the notion that the arguments he’s presented here aren’t the result of some mad scientist prodding his brain to give the illusion of this debate? No, he can’t and neither can I. But we’d probably be a bit insane to believe that is what is really happening. The certainty that Chris demands just does not exist.
Thus, returning to the topic at hand here, if I can demonstrate that the resurrection is more probable given the historical evidence than what Chris is offering then the resurrection succeeds. Just because there’s some wiggle room for doubt, since we could doubt pretty much everything including the fact that Chris and I are actually having this debate, that needn’t be reason to reject the arguments I have presented.
Christopher then responds to one of the questions I set out in my opening, “Can the New Testament be approached as historical documents as James presented in section ? If not, is there an alternative non-resurrection hypothesis?” Chris answers, “Sure, they can. However, this is not to say that because something can be approached as a historical document that it should be exempt from skepticism.”
But no-one is arguing that the texts should be exempt from skepticism. In fact, I emphasized in my opening that we’d simply be approaching our historical texts as historians approach any other historical texts and that would include skepticism where rightful skepticism is warranted. But what Chris means by skepticism isn’t a healthy form of skepticism; rather, it is a form of hyper-skepticism. I’ve found atheists, and naturalists, very often use this to their convenience (1). Basically this is merely imposing an innocent until proven guilty view on anything that disagrees with naturalism. Obviously a miracle would qualify as disagreeable on naturalism so, according to the naturalist, a quick way to dismiss any evidence is to adopt a hyper-skeptical stance. In other words, he makes the burden of proof so high as to exclude anything that seems to disagree with one’s own worldview. What Chis is using here as his argument is essentially a couple of centuries old idea presented by David Hume that has little currency in modern philosophy. My methodology is fairly straightforward and open, however. Simply put the evidence on the table and let it speak for itself. Let’s avoid dismissing evidence out of hand like Chris has done since that lacks any respect for honest inquiry and the evidence itself.
Christopher continues, “We must remain skeptical because we know what is purported to have happened and we know how the natural world operates. For instance, people don’t tend to die and reliably come back to life after three days. People do, however, tend to reliably have memory errors and other cognitive biases. Therefore, when interpreting the text, we must appeal to what we already know is the case (i.e. what science tells us). A denial of this is simply to ignore what our best science tells us.”
There are a number of things we can point out here. Firstly, Chris equates the way the world works as science investigates it, known as methodological naturalism, with his own personal worldview, known philosophical naturalism. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere (2) what Chris does is equate the two even though they are categories apart. The ontological question of a miracle, which is what Jesus’ resurrection is, is a metaphysical question and not one of science. For example, science operates according to methodological naturalism but nowhere will such a methodology ever rule things out likes the miraculous, and the supernatural. Nor will methodological naturalism ever equate to philosophical naturalism. Thus, Chris is unjustified in arguing that because “we know how natural world operates” due to science that, as a result of this, we then know the resurrection did not happen. To the detriment of Chris’ argument science cannot tell us if Jesus was or was not raised from the dead since a miracle is outside of the realm in which science operates. So, this is hardly grounds to “remain skeptical” of the resurrection apart from any naturalistic resurrection hypothesis.
However, there is a further assumption Chris is making here. He assumes without argumentation that science somehow a priori supports his naturalistic worldview. But that is simply false in my personal view and unjustified in this debate until Chris argues for it. I say it is unjustified just in the same way Chris would say it would be unjustified for me to claim the mantle of science in favour of theism. I can’t just claim it because to be taken seriously I’d have to argue and give reasons why I think science supports theism. Chris has given us no reason to think science supports his naturalism and I think we are currently justified in rejecting his assumption.
2. The Wizard Analogy.
Christopher then uses an analogy of a wizard that only seems to show how ill-informed he is of the historical evidence, “Think about it like this: say historians have an ancient text that claims there was a wizard who could make water disappear after leaving it in a pot for a couple of days. Should historians consider this as valid evidence that a wizard existed? Of course not, because we know about the science regarding water. We know water evaporates and we see it evaporate all the time—we can confidently assume that this is what explained the magician’s acts. We have a natural explanation so we are not forced to accept a supernatural explanation.”
There are just so many ways one could pick apart this analogy. Let just look at a few of these. Firstly, just to run with our wizard, historians accept that a text can be marred with mythological, unhistorical embellishments but still contain a historical nucleus or nuclei. I don’t think Chris has shown any awareness of this. For example, as I’ve looked at elsewhere (3), our first historical biography for the Buddha comes in 500 years after his existence. The miracles ascribed to the Buddha in these later texts bespeak clear mythological embellishment as the centuries went on by. However, the majority of historians still accept that these historical texts have grounding in the actual existence of a historical person who was a wise teacher many centuries prior. So, although Chris has given us no time zone in which to consider our historical wizard and the time in which we get our first penned accounts on him, even our wizard could be based on historical tradition. Just because the text says that he could miraculously “make water disappear after leaving it in a pot for a couple of days” it doesn’t follow that he did not exist as Chris suggests, “Should historians consider this as valid evidence that a wizard existed.”
So, there’s one big misunderstanding about how historians consider historical evidence. And that Chris argues against this Wizard’s miracle on the basis of us knowing “about the science regarding water” is nothing more as his assumption on the basis of naturalism as we’ve already examined above.
But also consider the nature of the miracle of which Chris deliberately sets up. The “miracle” of the wizard is not a miracle at all but a simple climatological observation of what happens to water when left in the sun for a period of time. But how is this remotely like what we have with the resurrection miracle? And not only that but Chris hasn’t even given us any explanation of the facts I’ve presented in my opening statements in support of the resurrection. He has simply stated psychological facts as if they somehow assemble themselves into an argument. The resurrection can therefore truly be considered a miracle because dead people do not get raised from the dead apart from some supernatural intervention from God or some supernatural agency.
3. Chris’ Alternative Hypotheses or Extreme Lack Thereof.
Christopher goes on, “This also addresses the second question regarding the alternative hypothesis of Christ’s resurrection. Scientific explanations are the alternative hypotheses.”
This I think misses the point. What Chris really has to do is make an argument in support of an alternative hypothesis. Does Chris know what some of these are as presented by other skeptics? Has he ever heard of, or even considered, the swoon hypothesis or the wrong tomb theory? So far I’d doubt it because simply saying that “Scientific explanations are the alternative hypotheses” is evidence of a lack of knowledge of the available data. Saying “scientific explanations are the alternative hypotheses” is also simply saying nothing. I’d invite Chris to familiarize himself with the several non-resurrection hypotheses that do exist. I urge him to do so because it will show him how superior the resurrection hypothesis actually is as an explanation as well as allow us to have something very interesting and substantial to debate here. But mostly importantly Chris can himself discover how God has triumphantly intervened in the world to not only demonstrate his fullest love for him but to also bring Chris into an eternal relationship with the very author of life.
However, he continues, “Regardless of how improbable you might think these explanations are, you must admit that we can at least confirm their possibility whereas we cannot confirm that rising from the dead (or any miracle for that matter) is possible.”
This always strikes me as fantastic. Essentially what the naturalist, such a Chris in this case, is arguing here is that no matter how implausible a non-miraculous explanation is he will always accept it over a miracle. But isn’t such closed mindedness what we hope to avoid? I think what Chris admits to here is that he will not follow the evidence where it leads because if he does it might not agree with his naturalism.
Moreover, in answer to the miracle part, again, this seems to be a misunderstanding from Chris’ part on the nature of science. As already said science doesn’t entertain the question of the miraculous and because it doesn’t it cannot determine whether a miracle has occurred or not. So using science as an argument against the miraculous is akin to using a pencil to row a ship to win a race against a speed boat. It won’t work.
Thirdly, this is also why the resurrection is so powerful. If we observed people getting up out of their graves regularly then Jesus being raised from the dead would hardly be something worth writing home about. Thus, it is exactly because of its isolation as a once off event that makes it what it is: a miracle. If God really wanted to catch our attention wouldn’t he choose to do something quite unusual? He sure would and he did with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Christopher then says, “For naturalistic accounts of the resurrection, James seems to think that because the natural explanations are so unlikely, we must invoke something that is even more unlikely.”
But why is the resurrection unlikely? Chris hasn’t given us anything in support of that claim other than the assumption of his naturalism, and several psychological facts that might make for an interesting academic research psychology paper but have nothing to do with the historical evidence I’ve presented. But, as we all should realize, assumptions aren’t arguments. Moreover, I gave several lines of evidence saying that it is extremely unlikely that Jesus was not resurrected from the dead given the evidence we do have (see the minimal facts argument in 6(a) of my opener). Thus, the evidence still stands.
Christopher then brings in the skeptical scholar Bart Ehrman, “And since James brought up Bart Erhman [sic], I will also use him as a reference. Indeed, Erhman [sic] correctly notes that supernatural explanations/miracles are by definition the least likely event (otherwise we’d be seeing them every day).”
I’d contend that Chris saying that “we’d be seeing them every day” is a misinformed statement concerning the miraculous. The miraculous in our contemporary world and in the ancient world has been one of my favourite subjects to write on. I’ve seen documented scientific evidence for many dramatic miracles of healing today. I could list some from a number of studies, and some that have been presented in conferences, caught on tape, and some involving widely known individuals including film stars and sports players. I’ve interviewed people and chatted to documentary film makers. So, the evidence is clearly there. So, yes, miracles do happen but they are not incredibly common in terms of being an everyday sight. If they were common then they wouldn’t be considered miracles. But a lot of them have really occurred and many academics have chronicled some of the best of them. Craig Keener, for example, has a two volume tome on this exact data and it is by far the most comprehensive collection of evidence for miracles. When they’re collected together they seem to be extensive but in reality they are often spaced far apart in terms of geography, time, and so on. So, I see this very differently to Chris. Chris then pens that “At first, we find is that the natural and supernatural explanations are both unlikely given the circumstances.”
This is quite the surrender it would seem. Basically Chris’ entire opening remarks had him arguing precisely from a naturalistic perspective against the resurrection although he didn’t actually apply it. In other words, he is effectively saying that his entire argument is unlikely.
According to Chris “we cannot distinguish between which explanation is more likely to have happened. We simply do not have enough information.”
I hope I do not misunderstand Chris here but it would appear that he takes a dismissive stance of the evidence that we do have and thus throws his hands up in the air. Not only has Chris not dealt with practically any of the evidence I presented in my opening, but neither is he arguing anything. It strikes me as strange that Chris would that we “do not have enough information” on the resurrection but then fails to consider any of the information I’ve presented. He simply says “we cannot distinguish between which explanation is more likely to have happened.” Well, then why debate it? If both naturalistic and supernatural explanations of the resurrection are unlikely then what is Chris offer us? His agnosticism will not do. If he merely adopts an agnostic view of the resurrection and thus offers us no alternative hypothesis in the process then I think we can stick with the supernatural event of the resurrection as argued.
He goes on saying that “This is simply a question of what can be replicated/reproduced. There are no documented cases where people have died and come back to life three days later. However, there are documented cases of cognitive biases, memory errors, hallucinations etc.”
Not only is it false to claim that people haven’t come back from the dead, and if anyone’s interested I reviewed a case where an atheist anthropologist actually witnessed man being brought back from the dead after he had died for four days prior (documentation wise he recounted his experience in the Journal of Anthropological Research; that’s pretty good documentation) (4), but it is also devoid of an argument. To simply say that there are “documented cases of cognitive biases, memory errors, hallucinations etc” is just a claim at this moment. Until Chris applies it to the evidence I presented in my opening he has failed to make his case. Simply saying that people experience hallucinations and memory errors is not to make an argument that Jesus’ resurrection is based on such distortions.
4. The Improbability of the Resurrection.
Here Christopher writes that “Is it correct logic to conjecture that natural explanations are more likely than supernatural explanations—even though both types of explanations are unlikely?”
If Chris’ natural explanation is “unlikely,” as he so admits here, then he is doing my job for me. He is undermining his own argument. But again, I just don’t agree, nor should we, that supernatural explanations are unlikely just because of their nature; their nature simply being supernatural. The only reason to agree with that approach is to assume Chris’ naturalism but I, nor most of our readers for this debate, will agree with Chris and neither do we accept naturalism as true. In fact, my opening remarks showed compellingly why the resurrection, a supernatural event, is not only far from “unlikely” but far superior compared to what Chris has offered us here. But if that follows then naturalism cannot be true and thus we now have good reasons to reject it as a worldview. But Chris continues, “Just because a natural event is unlikely does not ensure that it cannot happen and furthermore it does not quell the improbability of miracles.”
This is quite telling of Chris’ methodology. What we find is that Chris is willing to accept an “unlikely” naturalistic explanation as long as he does not have to embrace a miracle even if the miracle/supernatural explanation is far superior in explanatory scope and power. But that would seem to boil down to a blind faith in one’s allegiance to naturalism, and is therefore clearly not a willingness to follow evidence where it leads. I really encourage Chris, and his fellow naturalists, to deal with the evidence I’ve presented and try at least to make sense of it. If having done so they still disagree with me then that is fine, but at least deal with the evidence instead of trying to skirt around it by dismissing it out of hand. Chris then challenges me for a fault in logic, “The point is that the condition miracles have of being the least probable event actually never changes due to inherently more probable events becoming more or less likely. James’ mistake in logic lies in assuming this point.”
I think am quite far from any “mistake in logic” here. In fact, I think logic and reason is on my side in favour of the argument I’ve present and I’ve given several lines of evidence explaining why. Chris, in fact, is the one on shaky grounds for much of his argument is simply based on the assumption of his naturalism. But I haven’t made such assumptions on the basis of supernaturalism. In fact, I’ve explicitly argued why a supernatural explanation is the best explanation of the facts surrounding Jesus’ resurrection. I haven’t just assumed that a supernatural explanation is the best one like Chris has with his naturalism.
Christopher then includes a formula that to him shows how naturalistic explanations are always more probable than supernatural explanations. He explains that “the probability of natural explanations is greater than the probability of supernatural explanations… If James is to continue to appeal to his many sources for evidence suggesting we should take the historical accounts of the resurrection as more persuasive and thus more probable, then he must show were the previously discussed logic breaks down. Specifically, the claim that a supernatural explanation’s inherently improbable nature never becomes more probable than a natural explanation’s probability.”
I think Chris makes an interesting argument here and I am grateful for that. But let us see where the logic of it does indeed breaks down.
What Chris is essentially arguing for is an a priori rejection of miracles. He just immediately rules them out by arguing that they are so highly improbable that they are the least possible occurrence in any given instance. He seems to argue along the lines that since miracles by their very definition are the least probable and since historians can only consider what most probably happened, a miracle cannot be considered the most probable event.
But there are severe issues with this approach. Basically Chris is already prejudging his examination and thus seems to determine an outcome to his favour without even looking at the evidence. But, as I’ve stated already, it is the evidence that matters and we must be willing to follow the evidence where it leads. But Chris doesn’t do that because he is assuming that the events, such as the resurrection, are always the least possible explanation regardless of any evidence. That doesn’t strike one as being very open minded, and I don’t think it will hold water for this debate in terms of being a convincing argument.
Secondly, it is precisely the evidence itself that shifts a hypothesis’ status from improbable to that of a more probable. But of course Chris misses this because he has determined the outcome of the investigation without even considering the evidence. Thus, as I’ve contended, the probability of the resurrection event is weighed on the evidence and all the evidence is in its favour. It explains the empty tomb, the early testimony of Paul, the appearances to the James, Peter, and the disciples, and several other inexplicable details apart from an actual resurrection. However, Chris still needs to supply a naturalistic hypothesis that deals with the actual data I presented in my opening. So, given the nature of the evidence I presented, the resurrection is still the more probable explanation of the Minimal Facts.
Chris, moreover, has offered us very little. His naturalistic explanations from psychology as in the distortion of memory cannot account for the data, nor the finer details, and has little to no explanatory scope and power. For now as far as I’m concerned all the evidence I presented in my opener remains untouched and unchallenged. Even a skeptic who openly disagrees with my view should be able to recognize this. In fact, Chris himself concedes as much saying that his “more general critique of James’ opening will leave some readers wanting more no doubt.” That being said Chris and I, however, can agree that we should look for natural explanations first, but if in light of all the evidence they all fail, then we can reasonably consider alternative theories even if that is a supernatural one.
Furthermore, Chris is also mistaken in his equating of the probability of an event with the quality of its evidence. Simply put, it is not the improbability of the event that matters but the evidence of the event itself. But, as I’ve contended, it is the evidence that I’ve presented that favours the resurrection. But, to make this a littler clearer, consider the lottery. The chances of winning the lottery twice is said to be in realm of one in seventeen trillion (5). But someone has in fact been so lucky as to have won the lottery twice and we have evidence of this (6). But we wouldn’t argue that because winning the lottery twice is so improbable that we should just ignore the evidence or outright dismiss it that says someone did win it twice. Rather, the evidence supports the fact that someone won the lottery twice. But it is this problematic methodology that Chris employs with the resurrection. He says that the resurrection, a supernatural event, is so improbable that we shouldn’t accept it over a naturalistic explanation, but that’s merely equating the probability of an event with the quality of its evidence. So, it is wrong to argue against the resurrection of Jesus by simply saying it is improbable but at the same time ignoring the evidence or dismissing it out of hand.
But by a prior rejecting the supernatural as improbable Chis is also making a fairly hefty claim that he needs to marshal support for. To rule out the supernatural, which is the same thing as ruling out supernatural explanations, is to rule out God’s existence for it strongly seems to imply that no God, nor anything else, exists beyond the natural world of which can intervene in the world as to bring about a miracle (7). But what reasons has Chris given us to reject God’s existence? Other than blind dismissals and assuming naturalism he hasn’t given us anything.
But the core of his argument from improbability out of the way there are a few more comments we should deal with, “Furthermore, appealing to historians does not get you a free pass around science. Although history is very useful to us, like many things, when it comes up against scientific skepticism, it must yield.”
In other words, when Chris uses the term “science” he actually means his naturalism. Throughout this debate he has merely equated his naturalism with science. Thus, what he really means is that history must yield to his naturalism when it seems to say something that doesn’t sit well with his naturalism. It would seem that Chris expects us to buy into this assumption but we’ve already seen that this argument is based on an incorrect understanding of the nature of science and the philosophical question of miracles. Chris then argues, “For example, the assumption that all scientific laws remain constant over time is necessary because the absence of this assumption would leave scholars unable to distinguish the historicity between accurate historical documents and fictitious documents such as Homer’s Illiad.”
Does the fact that the natural world functions according to the laws of nature somehow rule out the possibility of a miracle? I don’t think so. Scientific laws explain what happens under normal conditions, however, that is not the same as to rule out that a being, responsible for such laws in the first place, exists and can intervene in the world as to bring about an intended cause. In other words, God created the laws of nature and, I believe, intervened within them to supernaturally raise Jesus from the dead. Therefore, it is true that “scientific laws remain constant over time,” however, it is not true that that means God is somehow imprisoned by them or that they disqualify the miraculous. This helps us to understand Chris’ naturalism a bit better. Of course to him the natural world is all that there is (how he’d rationalize this philosophical belief in retrospection of Big Bang cosmology would make for a very interesting discussion). There’s nothing on his worldview that can intervene from the outside and, as a result, we are only left with nature and the laws that govern it. That’s the assumption Chris has been arguing from within these debate but he’s far off from actually getting us to buy into the viability of his naturalism.
5. Chris’ Explanation of the Dramatic Conversions of Paul and James.
How does Chris answer this argument? He simply says that he considers “this question already addressed by appealing [to] the logic above.”
The logic demonstrated above, however, is a far cry from addressing the lines of evidence from the radical conversions of Paul and James. Simply dismissing evidence for a supernatural event, in this case the resurrection itself and the post-mortem resurrection appearances to Paul and James, on no other grounds than the assumption of naturalism is not addressing anything. Instead, what Chris has to do is to explain why Paul, for example, who testified to being a Pharisee who persecuted the early Christians and the early Christian movement had a radical worldview transition to a that of a Christ follower after he claimed Jesus had appeared to him in his resurrected body. Not only did Paul convert but he spent years of hardship establishing and growing the early church, the very body he sought to previously destroy. Paul is then later martyred for this belief and never renounced it but, in fact, took joy in his sufferings to spread the Gospel message. Chris hasn’t explained this at all. We could also go on about Jesus’ brother James. James too becomes a Christ follower and a leader in the early church after having disbelieved his brother of whom he probably thought had lost the plot. James is too killed for proclaiming the Gospel. Has Chris explained this? No, he hasn’t and I think we are justified in accepting what James and Paul tell us was the reason behind their radical transformations. The resurrection itself.
But Chris then plays off this argument by comparing it to contemporary apostates, “However, for sake of argument, I will nonetheless provide an explanation of their seemingly dramatic conversions. I do this only to emphasize the further implausibility of Christ’s resurrection when we take into account social scientific phenomena that we see every day… Indeed, this circumstantial evidence I am referring to is the purported behavior of Paul and James. This evidence is circumstantial and unconvincing because it explains too much. For instance, it also explains why people apostasize out of Christianity and join religions like Islam. One would simply claim that the radical change in behavior shows that Islam must be true. Of course my opponent does not believe this to be the case so why does he (and others) use this logic in support of Christ’s resurrection as opposed to other similar situations? I am not sure, but this inconsistency in logic shows that we cannot appeal to the radical conversion of Paul and James to establish belief in Christ’s resurrection.”
Again this as an explanation to account for Paul and James’ radical transformations only bespeaks a lack of knowledge of the early Christian movement. Chris fails to make an important distinction here. When I use Paul, James, and the disciples (Chris hasn’t accounted for them either) as testimonial evidence for the resurrection it is simply because they were eyewitnesses to the event itself; the event being the post-mortem resurrection appearances of Jesus. That makes their testimony valuable and worthy of consideration. In other words, what do they tell us convinced them? What accounted for their radical changes and transformations? Paul, James, and the disciples were all eyewitnesses to the resurrection and claim that it was that that convinced them. However, this has next to no resemblance to contemporary Muslims or Christians who leave their religion for some other belief. How this remotely applies to what I’ve presented I do not know. So, it emphatically does not follow that we cannot “appeal to the radical conversion of Paul and James to establish belief in Christ’s resurrection.” Rather, Paul and James remains some of the most powerful evidence pointing towards Jesus’ bodily resurrection.
Although Chris has said a lot in his first rebuttal I don’t think he has offered us anything that would seem to undermine the resurrection. We’ll be summing up all this in the concluding remarks.
1. Bishop, J. 2016. The Childishness of Atheistic Hyper-skepticism. Available.
2. Bishop, J. 2016. Science: Methodological Naturalism or Philosophical Naturalism? Available.
3. Bishop, J. 2015. Jesus vs. Buddha: Historical evidence comparison. Available.
4. Bishop, J. 2016. Atheist Professor, Bruce Grindal, witnesses man raised from the dead. Available.
5. Utts, J. & Heckard, R. 2006. Statistical Ideas and Methods. p. 237.
6. Huffington Post. Man Wins Lottery Twice. Available.
7. Craig, W. Is There Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus? Available.
[…] remarks. See here for Christopher’s first rebuttal. See here for James’ first rebuttal. See here for James’ second rebuttal. Conclusions […]
My own explanation for the conversion of Paul is that it was nothing more than a vision (Acts 26:19). The Greek word for vision there is “optasia”, the same word Paul uses to characterize his wholly unbelievable experience of being caught up to the third heaven, which absurdly left him unable to tell, even 14 years later, whether it was an in-body or out-of-body experience (2nd Cor. 12:1-4). So for Paul, ‘optasia’ means something more more mystical and esoteric than just “seeing” something. You will never find a historian who will say the religious “visions” experienced by somebody as recorded in 2,000 year old documents, possesses any evidential power beyond curious anecdote.
Yes, Acts says the men traveling with Paul heard a voice, but that goes to the credibility of both Paul and Luke, which can easily be impeached. There’s nothing unreasonable in saying these two characters embellished actual history for the good of posterity.
Vision or not, I don’t think that really matters anyway. The fact is that Paul saw something which he did not want to see, was converted dramatically, and became an ardent defender of the faith. The word Paul uses in 1 Cor 15:8 about being “abnormally born” has closer connotations of a baby being wrenched out prematurely from her mother’s womb. That should account for something no?