An Atheist Reads I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist
Chapter 12: Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?
- Geisler and Turek open the chapter with a quote from Gary Habermas, a fellow apologist who specializes in the resurrection of Jesus:
- “Skeptics must provide more than alternative theories to the Resurrection; they must provide first-century evidence for those theories.” (Gary Habermas)
- Actually, skeptics don’t even need to provide alternative theories. All they need are reasons to doubt the theory that Jesus rose from the dead. If someone tells me that they saw Elvis Presley at a gas station yesterday, I don’t need to be able to provide a conclusive alternative explanation of what they saw to know, with confidence, that what they saw, whoever or whatever it was, was not Elvis. Habermas in this quote, and Geisler and Turek throughout this book, is trying to get away with the old apologist trick of shifting the burden of proof. According to him, his theory — that Jesus was the Son of God who rose from the dead following his crucifixion — is the default explanation, and we ought to presume it is true until it is proven false to Habermas’s satisfaction — which, given the credulity with which he regards this particular claim, is a highly unlikely circumstance.
The Resurrection: What Do Scholars Say?
- Geisler and Turek report that Habermas, in his book The Risen Jesus and Future Hope (the title of a sober, scholarly work of history if ever I heard one), reports broad agreement among biblical scholars across the spectrum on the following twelve facts about Jesus, his death, and resurrection: (pp. 299-300)
- Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.
- He was buried, most likely in a private tomb.
- Soon afterwards, the disciples were discouraged, bereaved, and despondent, having lost hope.
- Jesus’ tomb was found empty very soon after his interment.
- The disciples had experiences that they believed were actual appearances of the risen Jesus.
- Due to these experiences, the disciples’ lives were thoroughly transformed. They were even willing to die for their belief.
- The proclamation of the Resurrection took place very early, from the beginning of church history.
- The disciples’ public testimony and preaching of the Resurrection took place in the city of Jerusalem, where Jesus had been crucified and buried shortly before.
- The gospel message centered on the preaching of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
- Sunday was the primary day for gathering and worshipping.
- James, the brother of Jesus and a skeptic before this time, was converted when he believed he also saw the risen Jesus.
- Just a few years later, Saul of Tarsus (Paul) became a Christian believer, due to an experience that he also believed was an appearance of the risen Jesus.
- Notice two things: First, the source for almost all of these twelve “facts” is the New Testament itself. Second, none of these twelve facts require us to believe in the divinity of Jesus in order to accept them as facts. I could grant Geisler and Turek every single one of these dozen facts, and still be every bit the atheist I am now. They make no difference whatsoever.
- Using these twelve facts, Geisler and Turek reiterate three claims about the New Testament they have made before:
- The New Testament Story Is Not a Legend.
- This is, they say, because the New Testament documents were written too soon after the actual events, because the storyline is corroborated by non-Christian sources, and because the stories contain numerous historical figures. All three of these reasons are bogus because, briefly (as previously discussed): the “too soon to be legendary” argument is based on a misinterpretation of A.N. Sherwin-White and is easily demonstrated to be untrue; non-Christian sources only confirm what stories about Jesus people were telling, not that those stories were true; and the number of actual historical figures appearing in the stories is irrelevant — Barack Obama appeared in a Spider-Man comic a few years ago; that doesn’t mean we should all start believing in Spider-Man.
- The New Testament Story Is Not a Lie.
- This they argue on the basis of the presence of embarrassing and divergent details, facts that would have been verifiable by readers of the time, and their martyrdom, which Geisler and Turek argue should remove any doubt of their veracity. As we discussed in the previous video, none of these things are sufficient for us to accept that the New Testament’s outlandish claims about Jesus and particularly the events following his death are true.
- The New Testament Story Is Not an Embellishment.
- This they argue based on the accurate and meticulous nature with which the New Testament writers record the events they depict, and how they record miracles in the same matter-of-fact style. As I said in the previous video, a preposterous story told with a straight face is still a preposterous story.
- So, Geisler and Turek ask, is the New Testament true? Not so fast. They claim that skeptics still have one more argument: that the New Testament writers were deceived.
- That is certainly one possibility, though it’s far from the only one, or even the best one.
- Also, remember that, strictly speaking, the New Testament writers weren’t deceived by anything they saw, because they didn’t actually see anything they were writing about. No one who actually knew Jesus contributed anything to the New Testament.
Skeptical About Skeptical Theories
- Geisler and Turek enumerate and ultimately dismiss seven theories that seek to account for the resurrection of Jesus without accepting the New Testament accounts as true.
- Hallucination Theory. Perhaps the disciples merely thought they had seen the risen Jesus, but were actually hallucinating. Geisler and Turek reject this idea for two reasons: first, hallucinations don’t affect large groups of people simultaneously, and Jesus’s resurrection appearances were witnessed by hundreds of people; second, people saw the empty tomb, which must have been real, because if it had not been real, Roman authorities could have simply displayed the body of Jesus and squashed Christianity before it ever had a chance to take hold.
- There may not be such a thing as a collective hallucination, per se, but there is such a thing as a collective delusion. Crowds of people may not have had hundreds of simultaneous vivid, realistic visions of Jesus, but they could have all come under the impression that they had seen Jesus, or more generally that Jesus was alive following his execution. For an example of this, look no further than modern Christian miracle crusades, where thousands of people can leave believing to have witnessed healings and, in some cases, even resurrections, when in reality they have seen nothing of the kind.
- Much more basically, the source for the post-resurrection appearances and hundreds of eyewitnesses, and for the existence of the empty tomb, is the New Testament itself. Imagine if I demanded that you provide an alternative theory to Clark Kent being the secret identity of Superman. You could subject the relevant comic books to a very close reading and highlight particular details to support whatever theory you were proposing, or you could point out that this is a very silly argument to be having in the first place.
- The Witnesses Went to the Wrong Tomb. Maybe the disciples visited the wrong tomb, saw that it was empty, and assumed Jesus had risen. This can’t be true, say Geisler and Turek, because if the body of Jesus were still in its tomb, the Romans would have used it to discredit Christianity from the very beginning.
- “As William Lane Craig notes, the wrong tomb theory assumes that all of the Jews (and the Romans) had a permanent kind of ‘collective amnesia’ about what they had done with the body of Jesus.” (Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST, p. 303)
- Sort of like the collective amnesia experienced by everyone in Jerusalem who witnessed dead Jewish saints rising from their graves and walking the streets of Jerusalem and then said absolutely nothing about it to anyone ever again.
- “Second, even if the disciples did go to the wrong tomb, the theory does not explain how the risen Jesus appeared twelve different times. In other words, the appearances must be explained, not just the empty tomb.” (p. 303)
- And if you want to argue that Clark Kent isn’t Superman, you have to account for where Clark was during the time when Superman was dead following his first fight with Doomsday.
- Swoon Theory. Perhaps Jesus didn’t actually die on the cross, but only lost consciousness, and regained it later in his tomb, thus appearing to rise from the dead.
- Geisler and Turek tick off numerous reasons why the swoon theory doesn’t hold up, mostly having to do with how grievously injured Jesus would have been, even had he somehow survived the crucifixion. But they save the best for last:
- “. . . the swoon theory cannot explain Jesus’ bright-light appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus.” (p. 305)
- It can’t explain Jesus’s appearances to American Indians in the Book of Mormon, either, so I guess it’s right out.
- The Disciples Stole the Body. Geisler and Turek reject this theory because it doesn’t cast the New Testament writers as the deceived, but the deceivers.
- “This, of course, flies in the face of all the evidence we’ve seen so far. The theory takes the untenable position that the New Testament writers were all liars.” (p. 306)
- No, it takes the position that the disciples were liars. And as we’ve already discussed ad nauseum to this point, the disciples were not the writers of the New Testament.
Do You Have Any Evidence for That?
- A Substitute Took Jesus’ Place on the Cross. In other words, the Romans crucified the wrong guy. This, Geisler and Turek note, is the explanation preferred by Muslims, and the one found in the Qur’an.
- “There are a number of problems with this theory, not the least being that there’s absolutely no evidence to back it up.” (p. 309)
- Say the guys who insist that the real explanation is that Jesus was the Son of God, who worked miracles and was resurrected three days after his death, and who then appeared to hundreds of people before subsequently being lifted up into Heaven, where he has remained, sending not so much as a post card, for the last two-thousand years.
- The Disciples’ Faith Led Their Belief in the Resurrection. This theory is favored by John Dominic Crossan and the Jesus Seminar, and holds that the disciples invented the story of the resurrection because they believed in Jesus so much that they refused to accept that he was dead, and they welcomed their persecution because they came to regard it as the fate of God’s chosen people. Geisler and Turek reject this because the disciples were devastated following Jesus’s death, and were in no frame of mind to invent a resurrection story to carry on the ministry of a Jesus they knew to be dead.
- Again, the only sources for information about the disciples following the death of Jesus are the gospels themselves, the very documents whose legitimacy as historical sources is being questioned.
- The New Testament Writers Copied Pagan Resurrection Myths. Geisler and Turek reject this theory because the New Testament isn’t written like a myth, and also because the myth theory doesn’t account for the empty tomb, the martyrdom of the disciples, of the non-Christian sources.
- We’ve been over all of those things already — the New Testament’s claims about Jesus are just as preposterous, no matter whether they are written in what Geisler and Turek consider an appropriate style for a myth or not; and the empty tomb and the circumstances of the persecution and martyrdom of the disciples are claims of the church that we have no reason to treat as facts in the first place.
- Do skeptics have first-century evidence for their alternative theories accounting for the resurrection?
- “No one from the ancient world — not even the enemies of Christianity — has offered a plausible alternative explanation for the Resurrection.” (p. 313)
- So does that mean if no one can offer a plausible alternative explanation for where the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated came from, we must accept that the Book of Mormon is, in fact, another testament of Jesus Christ, and become members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints?
Why Don’t All Scholars Believe?
- Geisler and Turek begin the section by asking this remarkable question:
- “. . . why don’t all scholars take the New Testament at face value?” (p. 315)
- Nevermind that it’s probably a bad idea for serious historians to just accept the information found in any historical document at face value — how do Geisler and Turek answer their own question?
- “For the same reason Darwinists refuse to acknowledge the evidence that defeats their view: they have a philosophical bias against miracles.” (p. 315)
- Geisler and Turek continue to treat skepticism about miracles as something arbitrary, rather than something based on an understanding of science and history and just, you know, how things work in general.
- “They arrive at the wrong conclusion because their bias makes it impossible for them to arrive at the right conclusion.” (p. 316)
- Their projection is getting so on-the-nose that if I didn’t know they were such giant shitheads as they are, I’d think they were doing it on purpose.
Context! Context! Context!
- Geisler and Turek endorse a skeptical attitude toward claims of miracles. But that doesn’t mean no event can ever be a miracle. For example (let’s just pick one totally at random), the resurrection of Jesus. Geisler and Turek argue that when judging whether or not this was a miracle, we should consider the context. Specifically, four areas of the context: (pp. 317-320)
- The Theistic Nature of the Universe Makes Miracles Possible.
- Geisler and Turek have failed to provide compelling arguments for the universe being theistic.
- Ancient Documents Say Miracles Are to Be Expected.
- Now we have not only the New Testament, but the Old Testament being entered into evidence as well.
- Historically Confirmed Eyewitness Documents Say Miracles Are Actual.
- In other words, the New Testament says miracles actually happened, therefore miracles actually happened.
- Additional Confirmation.
- Non-Christian sources confirm the storyline of the New Testament. Again, for what feels like the billionth time, this just isn’t true. A smattering of brief references in a few non-Christian sources confirm what early Christians believed, not what actually happened. The story being told is confirmed, not whether or not the story is true.
Extraordinary Claims and Self-Canceling Evidence
Conclusion: One Solitary Life
- Geisler and Turek object to skeptical demands for extraordinary evidence for the Resurrection, and for miracles in general. They spend over two pages playing around with the definition of “extraordinary.”
- “This objection seems reasonable until you ask, ‘What does “extraordinary” mean?’ If it means beyond the natural, then the skeptic is asking the Resurrection to be confirmed by another miracle. How could that work? In order to believe in the first miracle, the skeptic would then need a second miracle to support it. He would then need a third miracle to support the second, and this would go on to infinity.” (p. 320)
- Actually, evidence that miracles occur at all would be a good start and would instantly increase the plausibility of the Resurrection. And demonstrating that miracles are real things that actually happen doesn’t require an infinite regress of miracles — it requires one miracle. One single event that cannot be explained as anything other than a miracle would be sufficient evidence that miracles do, in fact, occur, and that a miracle such as the Resurrection is, at least hypothetically, possible.
- “Furthermore, skeptics don’t demand ‘extraordinary’ evidence for other ‘extraordinary’ events from history. For example, few events from ancient history are more ‘extraordinary’ than the accomplishments of Alexander the Great.” (p. 321)
- True. But our knowledge of Alexander the Great doesn’t come from reading what was written about him and taking it at face value, as Geisler and Turek want us to take the New Testament. Our knowledge of Alexander comes from reading sources critically, so that the probable facts can be separated from the probable fictions. That’s why aspects of Alexander’s history such as his military conquests and the reach of his empire are generally agreed upon and accepted by historians, while the legend that he was a child of Zeus is not.
- Geisler and Turek also address the notion of miracles being self-canceling, since all religions claim to have them.
- “As we’ve seen since chapter 9, the miracles associated with Christianity are not based on poor testimony. They are based on early, eyewitness, multiple-source testimony that is unrivaled in any other world religion. That is, no other world religion has verified miracles like those in the New Testament.” (p. 322)
- In other words, our miracles are better than their miracles. Somehow, I suspect if we were to ask an apologist from one of those other world religions to address this topic, he or she would see things differently.
- The authors end the chapter by quoting from the “One Solitary Life” sermon written by James Allan Francis, which trumpets the influence Jesus has had on humanity despite his humble beginnings and short life.
- “If there was no resurrection, how could this life be the most influential life of all time? We don’t have enough faith to believe that this one solitary life from a remote, ancient village could be the most influential life of all time . . . unless the Resurrection is true.” (p. 324)
- The problem isn’t that they don’t have enough faith. The problem from the very beginning of the book has been that they have far, far, too much.
Next: Chapter 13: Who Is Jesus: God? Or Just a Great Moral Teacher?