"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, January 30, 2006

Slamming the Door on Another Counterargument

One of our commenters has repeatedly charged that the followers of Jesus chose to keep soldiering on after the crucifixion because of the desire for some material gain. In other words, they somehow cynically endured persecution in hopes of getting the big score and I don't mean heaven.

I decided to end the dime store atheist crap by looking a little deeper. Reading Gary Habermas, who is intensively engaged in this issue and famously debated the former atheist (now plain theist) Anthony Flew, I found the following statement which would seem to end this particular line of hazing:

It is the substantially unanimous verdict of contemporary critical scholars that Jesus' early disciples at least thought that they had seen the risen Jesus.

Since we now have the opinion of people who actually study the matter, rather than that of those who line their parrot cages with the latest issue of Skeptic magazine, we can put the cynical religious charlatans argument to rest.

30 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

I love Skeptic. It's much more absorbent than Harper's.

Hunter Baker said...

I couldn't agree more. But when I really want something "fatuous" I read Richard Dawkins.

JC said...

I was shocked to discover from a friend of mine who was taking an "Evolutionary Psychology" course that the professor (at a well-repected school, at least in this state) actually used a Dawkins pop-science book as a serious textbook. I have read several other textbooks that quote Dawkins as the major contemporary authority on evolution.
This I find disturbing.

JC said...

Then again, that has nothing to do with the post :)

Tlaloc said...

"In other words, they somehow cynically endured persecution in hopes of getting the big score and I don't mean heaven."

They MAY have. I'm not claiming they DID. There is a difference.



"It is the substantially unanimous verdict of contemporary critical scholars that Jesus' early disciples at least thought that they had seen the risen Jesus."

Neat. I'm not sure how it exactly ends the matter.



"Since we now have the opinion of people who actually study the matter, rather than that of those who line their parrot cages with the latest issue of Skeptic magazine, we can put the cynical religious charlatans argument to rest."

Except that those who study the matter in this case are almost universally those who also happen to be adherents. The list of atheist Jesus scholars is naturally vanishingly small. That means that just like you these people are HEAVILY prejudiced in their reactions to the evidence.

Tlaloc said...

Besides which even if we accept that the disciples all believed in Christ's ressurection (a claim that I can't imagine how you would verify historically) that doesn't in any way preclude the possibility of a fraud by someone else upon the disciples.

I'm not sure why you can't admit that there are millions of different ways this could have played out. I'm fine with saying it's possible a real ressurection took place: I can't rule it out because I don't have anywhere near enough evidence. At the same time you feel confident you can rule out the other 999,999 possibilities on the flimsiest of standings.

Hunter Baker said...
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Hunter Baker said...

"Except that those who study the matter in this case are almost universally those who also happen to be adherents. The list of atheist Jesus scholars is naturally vanishingly small. That means that just like you these people are HEAVILY prejudiced in their reactions to the evidence."

T, I am astonished at your willingness to speak on matters about which you so obviously know nothing. We would all benefit if you would adopt a modicum of care before airing views on every topic under the sun. There are certainly topics about which you know something, but this is not one of them.

I am not a Jesus scholar or a theologian or an NT critic, but I am a rocket scientist in this area compared to you. Get a clue. Jesus scholars and NT critics do not exactly have a reputation for orthodoxy or even for being Christians. Have you ever read about the Jesus Seminar (just for a start)?

Withdraw and wait for a topic where you have something intelligent to say.

Tlaloc said...

"There are certainly topics about which you know something, but this is not one of them."

Okay Hunter answer one simple question:
Is it in any way possible the ressurection could have been faked?

Tlaloc said...

Startling new evidence in the ressurection case:

http://static.flickr.com/24/53814837_e6b703ae0d_o.gif

I always suspected him.

Hunter Baker said...

"Okay Hunter answer one simple question:
Is it in any way possible the ressurection could have been faked?"

I appreciate that you are asking a relevant question without a lot of B.S. attached.

People can do some amazing things. Some of the scholarship focuses on exactly this question of whether a spectacular fraud could have occurred. This is why we get theories in the literature like the "swoon theory" which claims Jesus wasn't actually killed, but rather appeared to die on the cross.

I have seen some of these attempts to account for the evidence for the resurrection. If you are a thoroughgoing naturalist, you will likely prefer one of them. I have not found one of them convincing at this time, but I recognize that there IS a conversation ongoing, which is why I presented the issue as one of evidence for a proposition rather than as a slam dunk how-could-anyone-be-so-stupid- as-not-to-get-this sort of thing.

Tlaloc said...

"I have seen some of these attempts to account for the evidence for the resurrection."

What evidence is that? So far all we have are a few historical accounts, no physical evidence at all.

JC said...

So far all we have are a few historical accounts, no physical evidence at all.
Historical evidence for a historical event.
What "physical evidence" would you like, anyway, if not ancient documents?

tbmbuzz said...

There are plenty of Resurrection myths in the mythologies of the world; the Christ one is not unique. Isis and Osiris from ancient Egypt, for example. Didn't the Buddha get resurrected? These mythologies pertain to the soul, not the body, and thus should not be taken literally, especially ones (such as the Christ resurrection myth) that are derived from earlier traditions. Heck, there are two resurrections just in the New Testament itself (Lazarus anyone?)!

tbmbuzz said...

Historical evidence for a historical event.
What "physical evidence" would you like, anyway, if not ancient documents?


Well, JC, technically the New Testament - at least its first four books - is all hearsay based on third person accounts. Hardly evidence that would stand up in a scientific or legal forum.

Matt Huisman said...

tbmbuzz>> Well, JC, technically the New Testament - at least its first four books - is all hearsay based on third person accounts. Hardly evidence that would stand up in a scientific or legal forum.

Then, technically, all history is hearsay.

Matt Huisman said...

tbmbuzz>> There are plenty of Resurrection myths in the mythologies of the world; the Christ one is not unique.

The others do not include an empty tomb and an account of the events before and after. There's a lot more 'there' there.

Heck, there are two resurrections just in the New Testament itself (Lazarus anyone?)!

I believe the term used for Lazarus is resuscitation since he eventually dies again. The resurrection of Jesus goes quite a bit further than Lazarus.

Tlaloc said...

"Well, JC, technically the New Testament - at least its first four books - is all hearsay based on third person accounts. Hardly evidence that would stand up in a scientific or legal forum."

Precisely. You can't take a historical document at face value.

Let's be absolutely clear- NO ONE CAN SAY WITH ANY VERACITY WHAT ANY DISCIPLE BELIEVED.

They can only report what we think a given disciple SAID. People say things they don't believe all the time. And especially accounts of what people said change over time to better suit the prejudices of the transcriber.

This is precisely why the bible should be taken as a series of allegories rather than literal truth. We don't know that it is all true or even that there is a scrap of truth left in it. But we do know the stories have real literary value as allegories. There is nothing wrong with basing your faith on a good story regardless of whether the story is "true."

Matt Huisman said...

Let's be absolutely clear- NO ONE CAN SAY WITH ANY VERACITY WHAT ANY DISCIPLE BELIEVED.

You can go this route, but then you have to deny yourself much of the rest of history as factual as well. I mean, how can we really know what Hitler or Joan of Arc or anyone else really believed.

There is nothing wrong with basing your faith on a good story regardless of whether the story is "true."

I'm sure James Frey would not have a problem with that. However, if you're going to ask someone to deny themself - in some cases to the point of death - my guess is that truth is going to come into the conversation.

tbmbuzz said...

This is precisely why the bible should be taken as a series of allegories rather than literal truth.

It should also be realized that the Bible is an accident of history. It is a set of writings compiled by committees of men at various times in history and is certainly not inclusive of all the writings over the period of time it covers. To give just one example, there is a Gospel according to Thomas that is not included in the New Testament, which itself was compiled by Catholic Church bigwigs a couple or so centuries after the fact.

Matt Huisman said...

Did you really have to bring up the gospel of Thomas? OK, time to get out of the way, the Catholics can't be too far off...

tbmbuzz said...
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tbmbuzz said...

Then, technically, all history is hearsay.

Not really. There are plenty of first-person accounts even from ancient times. And there are various degrees of hearsay. The New Testament, written at least half a century after the fact, is one of the weaker examples. There IS a difference between, say, accounts of a guru who walked around performing miracles and the details of a known event such as the Battle of Thermopylae.

tbmbuzz said...

Did you really have to bring up the gospel of Thomas? OK, time to get out of the way, the Catholics can't be too far off...


LOL! Funny you should say that, since I'm a disenchanted Catholic myself, having put in 20 years with a complete Catholic education and everything.

Anyway, you DO know that the New Testament is a Catholic Church document, right?

Tlaloc said...

"There IS a difference between, say, accounts of a guru who walked around performing miracles and the details of a known event such as the Battle of Thermopylae."

Well said. When you have an event for which you have hundreds if not thousands of independent accounts you can have much greater faith that you are getting a fair picture.

On the other hand if you have only accounts from people on one "side" of the issue you can be sure the account is more biased. And if you get a only a small sampling then you have to suspect you aren't getting enough datapoints to given you an appropriate overview. Too small a sampling set as it were.

In this case we have the worst of both worlds: only a few accounts and those from those with an inherent benefit from a certain view being dominant.

That doesn't mean it didn't happen that way but we have no reason to believe it did, only faith.

Hunter Baker said...

TBM, the document is Catholic in the sense that members of the early church referred to the church as Catholic (universal), but not in the sense of being institutionally identical with the Catholic church we have today.

Hunter Baker said...

On the matter of how many witnesses there were, Paul refers at one point to some five hundred people who could confirm having seen the risen Jesus.

James Elliott said...

At some point, isn't it patently ridiculous to be taking the word of a movement leader interested in making converts as an objective source? It's kind of the same with the other books: They're letters, written to potential converts, with the goal of converting them! And given how close to identical they are, they're clearly cribbed from either one another or another source lost to antiquity - especially when they "bear witness" to events they could not possibly have witnessed!

Hunter Baker said...

The point is that Paul is making a claim that can be debunked. It is in his interest not to do so, but instead to make the kind of hazy mystical references that we get with something like Buddhism. Christianity's strong point and greatest controversiality is that it is grounded in history. As is Judaism.

James Elliott said...

Christianity's strong point and greatest controversiality is that it is grounded in history. As is Judaism.

This is both true and also not true. And applies equally well to Islam and Sikhism. Both religions are tied to the histories of societies, cultures, and ethnicities we happen to have a strong historical record for. That said, there is, in fact, no historical evidence for things like the exodus from Egypt, etc. Much as the Greek myths roil around oral histories, so too with Judaism and, consequently, Christianity.

Jesus existed. So did Buddha. So did Confucius. Lots of insights and philosophies worth living one's life by. Doesn't make them divine, just really cool.