The historicity of the stolen body

I’m catching up on some issues that ended up on the back burner while I was under the weather, and one of them is this comment by Kevin Harris over at Evangelical Realism, on the topic of whether the “Resurrection theory” is a more historical explanation than the non-supernatural alternatives proposed by critics. Kevin claims that the critical theories are disqualified by application of Craig’s six criteria for historical credibility: historical fit, early independent sources, embarrassment, dissimilarity, semitisms and coherence. Just for fun, I’d like to take one of the alternatives and run it past Craig’s six criteria.

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I’m my own grandpa

This week at Evangelical Realism, we take a look at one big factor that William Lane Craig leaves out when trying to decide what Jesus must have meant by “the Son of God.” According to the Gospels, Jesus’ mom was impregnated by God Himself, making Jesus God’s (bastard) son—a relationship of mere biology rather than shared divinity. In the process of typing out “the son of God” versus “God the Son,” though, it struck me that the story of the Virgin Birth really wreaks havoc with Trinitarian theology. If Jesus is the son of God, then whom, exactly, is he the son of?

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Damned if he do, damned if he don’t.

Over at Evangelical Realism, I’m having an interesting conversation with one Kevin Harris, who gives his web site as William Lane Craig’s, on the topic of “The 7th Criterion.” If you’ve read the post, you may recall that I proposed a 7th criterion for historical authenticity, in addition to the 6 Craig provides: to be historically authentic, a report must be consistent with real-world truth. Kevin originally criticized the 7th criterion for having an anti-supernatural bias, but I pointed out that it’s really a bias against falsehood, and that if a bias against falsehood is an anti-supernatural bias, that in itself tells you something about the supernatural. Kevin agreed that we want to avoid falsehood, but told me not to equivocate “falsehood” with “the supernatural,” which was ironic. My reply led to Kevin’s latest response to me, which is, shall we say, interesting.

The problem, I think, is that I’m holding up a perfectly fair and reasonable and even fundamental criterion. A true report, by definition, is one that is consistent with the real-world truth. Before we accept an ancient story as historically authentic, therefore, we should first examine whether or not it is consistent with real-world truth. If it isn’t, then by definition it’s a false story, and it wouldn’t do to designate false stories as historically authentic!

For some reason, Kevin appears reluctant to commit himself to agreeing to measure the Gospel according to that standard. I’ll give you a sample below the fold.

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Dialogs with Eric, Part 2: Does God believe what men say?

In my post on salvation by faith, I mentioned the fact that God does not behave as though He believed all the things men say about Him, particularly as concerns His alleged love for us and His alleged desire to be part of a personal, loving and real relationship with each of us. Eric takes issue with this observation, and offers a number of standard Christian responses, but also expresses the wish that I would say more about what I mean. And I’m glad to do so.

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Documenting miracles

Following up on yesterday’s post, I thought I’d take some time to explore further the question of how we can observe that miracles do not happen in real life. Some believers like to think that ignorance is their ally, that nobody knows everything, so they’re safe (they hope) in assuming that no skeptic can know for sure that miracles do not happen. Somewhere out in the vast body of things people don’t know—i.e. somewhere out in the great expanse of human ignorance—they can surely find a place to hide some undetectable and unverifiable miracle that is still somehow real.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. If we apply the principle that truth is consistent with itself, we can see that even given the vast number of things we don’t know, we can still establish beyond a reasonable doubt that, for example, we do not see the dead being brought back to life after 3 days or more with no vital signs. We can observe the fact that miracles do not happen. It’s simply a matter of thinking things through.

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The historical Jesus

Over at Evangelical Realism, we’re starting to look at William Lane Craig’s arguments for a historical resurrection. You can head on over if you’re interested in the full critique. Meanwhile, I’d like to take a look at a topic where I think a certain number of skeptics are mistaken (to the very great glee of apologists like Craig).

There is no serious question that the Gospel is false in its supernatural details. Believers argue in favor of the miracles because they’re believers, but the real-world evidence is pretty consistently against such stories. Some critics, however, have thrown the baby out with the bath water, by proposing that Jesus himself did not really exist either.

Frankly, I think that’s nonsense. If we go back to the origins of Christianity, there’s nothing special about the name “Jesus.” Obviously, somebody had to invent the religion. God did not create it ex nihilo. It didn’t just drop down out of the sky. We can tell from its flaws and human-centered superstitions that it’s a man-made product. Why, then, would one particular name (“Jesus”) be any less likely to be the name of the man who invented it?

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Denying the Undeniable—and failing

A few people have questioned what I call “the Undeniable Fact” (i.e. that God consistently fails to show up in real life), on the grounds that believers will surely just insist that He does show up, to them at least. My argument, however, is that believers cannot deny the Undeniable Fact without inevitably demonstrating the truth of what I say. Luckily for me, O ye of little faith, a commenter named Nathan has taken issue with my claims, thus giving me a chance to document my contention. He writes:

What evidence do you have that God does not show up? According to the Bible, Jesus was God, in which case God most definitely has shown up. Obviously this can be discounted if you believe that the Bible is wrong on that account, but it is no less substantiated than your own claim.

Notice, his first challenge is to demand evidence of God’s failure to show up, and yet by that very question he provides evidence that what I say is true. If I said, “You faith in the existence of carrots is questionable because carrots do not show up in real life,” you wouldn’t refute me by asking for evidence that carrots do not show up, you’d easily demonstrate my error by directing me to the produce section of the nearest grocery.

God does not show up in real life. He shows up in the stories men tell, like the story of Jesus in the Bible, but He does not show up in real life, even for Nathan. Nathan can challenge my source of knowledge, and question whether I have any actual evidence, but for him, at least, his very question provides the evidence. God does not make any real-world, in-person, face-to-face appearances in Nathan’s life, which means that, for Nathan at least, what I said is entirely true: the Undeniable Fact is indeed undeniable, with the Inescapable Consequence that his faith is necessarily faith in men. God has not personally showed up in his life to give him an opportunity to develop a faith in God, so faith in man is his only option.

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God vs suffering

Over at the other blog, we’re wrapping up William Lane Craig’s attempt to look like he’s solving the problem of evil without actually confronting the real issues. Interestingly, one of his arguments suggests that the problem may be unsolvable by evangelical Christians.

Craig’s argument is that God might have a good reason for allowing human suffering, if it allows us to attain a better knowledge of Himself. According to Christian teaching, the Ultimate Good for mankind is to know God, and therefore it’s possible that a good God might co-exist with human suffering (which Craig has substituted for the more difficult problem of evil). But even if we assume that knowing God is a good thing, there’s nothing about this assumption that makes God any more likely to co-exist with suffering, and in fact makes it a whole lot less likely. See below the fold for the reason why.

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Verifiable worldviews

If you ask young-earth creationists what they think about postmodernism, you’ll find they generally consider it the height of liberal apostasy. Truth, they’ll tell you, is absolute, and not just some postmodernist “social construct.” If you then point out some of the scientific evidence against a literal Genesis creation, you’ll catch them in a bit of hypocrisy. Everybody has a worldview, they’ll tell you. Theirs is a Christian worldview, and yours is a materialistic worldview, and the same evidence can be used to support either one. In other words, your evidence can’t disprove their creationism.

Whether you call it “postmodernism” or whether you prefer the more verbose “everybody has a worldview,” the result is the same: you’re claiming that it’s impossible to tell what the real truth is by comparing your conclusions to the evidence. Worldview (allegedly) overpowers the evidence, and colors one’s conclusions to the point that all conclusions end up being subjective and irrelevant. That’s postmodernism in a nutshell—the very doctrine the creationists condemn as liberal apostasy. But creationism can’t survive without it.

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Contextual gullibility

Following up on yesterday’s “Rabbit Math,” post, let’s look at the interesting question of why people revert to using rabbit math when they have a far superior math at their disposal. Granted, it’s harder than rabbit math, but still, you can do a lot better than rabbit math without getting into theoretical physics. People can do better, and in other contexts they do think more clearly. But somehow, in religious contexts, they become gullible to the point of actively participating in fooling themselves. Why is that?

I can think of 3 reasons. One is fear: fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of the unexpected, etc. We’re small creatures in a big world, after all, and therefore it’s appealing to adopt a mode of thinking that’s tuned in on reassuring us there’s some friendly Big Guy up there taking care of us. “Rabbit math” makes it easier to reach the desired conclusion, therefore it’s preferable to many people.

Another reason is laziness. It’s easier to jump to superstitious conclusions than to go through all the work of digging out all the facts, sorting the relevant from the irrelevant, analyzing the data, and drawing rigorously logical conclusions. In some ways it’s arguably a more efficient use of your time and resources: if you can tell when it’s going to rain by assessing “the mood of the sky god,” and if you’re right as often as you would be if you spent years charting barometric pressure, humidity, temperature, wind velocity, and so on (especially if you’re not terribly good at the latter), then maybe you are just as well off with the superstition. (Speaking as a devil’s advocate, that is).

I think there’s a reason that’s far more compelling than either of these two, however.

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