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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Response to MrFreethinker #A-1: Jesus' Resurrection

Hey MrFreeThinker,

These are my preliminary questions regarding your submission to convince me of Christianity. You have submitted an argument for the resurrection of Jesus. Again, these are preliminary questions to get some extra information and explanation before I fully evaluate the argument. Most of my questions are simply regarding your sources.

When you reply to these, could you please number each of your responses respective to how I have numbered them here?

A) How did Jesus get out of the tomb and what evidence do you have for it? If I understand the story correctly, he was resurrected as a man and appeared before people. How, then, did his body leave the tomb?

B) You cite that 98% of historians accept facts 1, 3, 4, and 5. Who are these historians (i.e. is their field relevant to this discussion) and where do you get this figure? For the question about who these historians are, it's often the tactic, I've found, of creationists to appeal to authorities who have no authority in the field. For example, in the Discovery Institute's list of scientists who disagree with Darwin, they have listed someone with only a PhD in agricultural economics.[1] I am not accusing you of this; I'm only explaining the question.

C) You cite that 75% of historians accept "fact" 2. Assuming that these historians have relevant credentials and that the same historians polled above are the same ones polled here, why the stark discrepancy? Fact #2 is that the tomb is empty -- a pretty big claim. Why, if they accept that there is sufficient evidence to support claims 1, 3, 4, and 5, do they not accept that there is sufficient evidence to support claim 2?

D) As a note of the statistics, I would expect to see high figures for them. Those who take up as scholars on the New Testament would, ostensibly, most be Christians and would, therefore, agree with these claims. This isn't an argument against the claims (as the claims may still stand on their own); it's just an argument against the appeal to authority. For example, I would expect to see a high level of acceptance among scholars on the Qur'an that Muhammed ascended to Heaven and/or that his followers believed he did.

E) For the first claim, you mention the "other 3 gospels" as sources in passing. Could you give chapters and verses (so as only to assess your arguments)?

F) You mention the following sources in your argument:

[Source] [Times mentioned] [Claims]
Luke 5 1,2,3
Matthew 5 1,2,3
John 4 1,2,3
Corinthians 3 1,2,3
Mark 3 1,2,3
Acts 2 3,4
Galatians 2 2,4
Josephus 2 1,5
Justin Martyr 1 2
Lucian 1 1
Tacitus 1 1
Tertullian 1 2

So, most of the claims find their support in five books of the Bible. I need to know the weight of these sources before I can consider their content as evidence. As such, I'd like to know, for my consideration:

i) Why should I accept these books of Bible as evidence of a historical event?
ii) Are they reliable?
iii) How are their integrity? Were they contemporary accounts?
iv) Are the authors authenticated?
v) If they are accurate accounts of what happened, why are there so many contradictions and discrepancies between them?
vi) Why shouldn't I discount these sources due to the above contradictions and discrepancies?

G) You cite Josephus as an extrabiblical support, and you note that it is disputed among scholars. Why should I accept this, then?

H) You mention that the empty tomb is attested to by all four Gospels. Could you cite the chapters and verses?

I) Under "Enemy Attestation" you seem to address the Stolen Body Hypothesis as evidence the tomb was empty. What contemporary Jews made this argument? And, if they made the argument, were they explaining why the tomb was empty, or were they assuming the tomb was empty for the sake of argument? You advance Matthew's account of the Jews bribing the guards for a cover-up; is this mentioned in any other account?

J) On the same topic: a recurring theme in your argument is "why would they lie?" Why, then, would the Jews bribe the guards to cover it up? You argue that if Christians were making this claim, surely the Jews would go check the tomb. If the tomb truly was empty, then the Jews would have found it empty. Further, the only explanation is that Jesus had been resurrected (since the guards wouldn't have moved the body). Assuming all of this, then, why would the Jews commit this mass cover-up and lie?

K) You cite three of the Gospels and Acts as evidence in claim three but give no reference. Further, why, if these are accounts I should accept as reliable, does this third claim not appear in one of the Gospels?

L) You cite several "early church fathers" as corroborating that the apostles claim that they saw the resurrected Jesus; where did they corroborate it?

M) You give sources for Peter and Paul dying for their beliefs. Could you give an online resource so that I can read the accounts myself?

N) You state that no one ever dies for a lie -- this is untrue. If I start a cult and claim that I have spoken to God and if they all commit suicide they will ascend to a higher plane of existence -- this is a lie. If I gain followers, they believe me, and kill themselves, they have died for a lie. This is a documented scenario. It is better stated that no one willingly dies for something they believe is false (which, even then, there are conceivable scenarios where there are exceptions).

O) What skeptics make the claims indicated in the third claim? (I want to know if they are legitimate or straw men.)

P) I have sitting on my shelf the Gnostic Gospels (including the Gospel of Mary, Thomas, Truth, and Philip). If I accept the other books as evidence, why shouldn't I consider these as evidence? Why don't you consider these as evidence?



Vinny said...

Regarding the 75% of scholars who accept the empty tomb, most of the scholars that Gary Habermas surveyed were theologians or New Testament scholars, not historians. Moreover, approximately three quarters of the publications he reviewed fell into the category he designated “the moderate conservative position.” Resurrection Research from 1975 to the Present:
What are Critical Scholars Saying?
So in fact, it looks like this alleged “fact” is actually agreed on only by conservative Christian theologians.

Regarding enemy attestation, if I have independent evidence of enemy attestation, this might add to the weight of the evidence to establish that an event occurred. In this case, we have Matthew reporting the event and Matthew reporting the enemy attestation of the event. Matthew’s case does not become stronger when he claims that others agree with him. It only becomes stronger when those others say so for themselves.

DisComforting Ignorance said...

Hey Vinny,

Thanks for the feedback. I see you've posted on Gary Habermas a few times. It seems you had the same suspicions I had from just an initial review of the claim.

I'm wondering, do you happen to know if the 98% of "scholars" polled are of the same sample of the 75% of scholars who accepted the empty tomb? I have it on my list of facts to verify as MrFreeThinker cited Habermas as the source for both of those statistics.

Vinny said...

Hey DI,

Habermas seems to be pretty careful to describe his minimal facts as being accepted by "scholars" rather than being accepted by "historians." It is people who repeat his arguments that turn the theologians he surveyed into historians. As I result, I am pretty sure that all of his minimal facts are based on the sample that he describes in the linked article.

However, I haven't read everything that Habermas has written so I suppose it is possible that he wrote some article some where in which his sample was limited to historians. I would bet against it though