Episode 115: The Myth of Martyrdom (Part 3)

The doubtcasters wrap up their “Myth of Martyrdom” series by discussing the evidence of others (non-apostles) who supposedly witnessed the resurrection, other miracle claims from antiquity and the false dichotomy at the heart of the “die for a lie” argument. Also, the Dr. Professor makes up for lost time by reviewing numerous studies on the psychology of religion, including: religious rationalizations of criminal behavior, cognitive overlap between deontological and consequentialist moral reasoning, and the different paths that lead people to doubt the supernatural.

Download RD115

Or subscribe and listen in iTunes or any podcast client:



  1. evileyemonster says

    Just be careful when talking about Hindus…. There is only one God as well… just like Christianity. Except instead of three one gods…. the Hindu God animal thingies are all the same god too… but just different reincarnations of the previous one expressing a different characteristic.

  2. says

    Correction from the podcast: Herodotus wrote “The Histories,” which (among other things) recounted the Greco-Persian wars. Thucydides wrote the “History of the Peloponnesian War.”

    Although he was Herodotus’ intellectual successor, Thucydides differed significantly in his attitude toward myths, miracles and intervention from the gods. This translated directly into his methodology, in which he sought to establish more rigorous standards than his predecessor:

    “In investigating past history, and in forming the conclusions which I have formed, it must be admitted that one cannot rely on every detail which has come down to us by way of tradition. People are inclined to accept all stories of ancient times in an uncritical way—even when these stories concern their own native countries….Most people, in fact, will not take trouble in finding out the truth, but are much more inclined to accept the first story they hear….”

    “And with regard to my factual reporting of the events of the war I have made it a principle not to write down the first story that came my way, and not even to be guided by my own general impressions; either I was present myself at the events which I have described or else I heard of them from eye-witnesses whose reports I have checked with as much thoroughness as possible. Not that even so the truth was easy to discover: different eye-witnesses give different accounts of the same events, speaking out of partiality for one side or the other or else from imperfect memories.”

    Thucydides was in many ways a skeptic. He did not give any role to the gods or other mysterious forces when the plague struck Athens (and, some believe, him personally) in the middle of the war.

    Just wanted to clear that up. Thucydides is worth studying for the major advances he imparted to the practice of academic history, and some texts give him preference over Herodotus (who did not try much to distinguish between fact and fabrication).

  3. Jeremy B says

    Thanks Brandon, I sensed I might be getting the two mixed up in my head when we were recording (hence my moment of hesitation) but wasnt able to check mid-way through the recording. Thank you for the correction.

  4. says

    No worries. I caught the hesitation, but didn’t want people coming away with confusion. I find the distinction between Herodotus and Thucydides to be demonstrative of how our practices are improved by the shedding of mythical thinking.

  5. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says


    In order to show Rama how dearly he held both he and Sita, Hanuman ripped open his own chest to show a tiny Rama and Sita sitting on his heart.

    Video: That scene, from Sampoorna Ramayan (1961)
    * Click CC in the lower right for English captions.

  6. Dawn E. says

    I think it was Dave (?) wondering about raising kids atheist…I am not religious and identify as Apathetic Agnostic (don’t know, don’t care). Neither of my parents were religious, although my father had a conversion experience later in life, and their parents were also not religious. My husband’s parents were nominally Methodist but the family never attended church unless some died or married.

    Our kids, three of them, have been raised without any kind of religious instruction. The eldest did indeed rebel by getting “saved” at 14 and becoming entirely obnoxious about it. Zeal of the converted and all that, I think. Considering the alternatives, as rebellions go this one wasn’t all that bad. He is now 20, a botany major in college, and back to being agnostic/ leaning atheist. #2 son is nearly 16 and identifies as an atheist, no signs of any bent or interest in religion. He does practice meditation and follows Buddhist philosophy without the metaphysical woo part. My daughter is 11, has high functioning autism, and very much wants there to be some higher, universe ordering Power. In part this is a result of her desire to fit in and have social connections (we live in Texas, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a church and they are a center of social life for many people). We just keep reassuring her that there IS a higher power but it’s not a deity, it’s physics. So far she’s okay with that.

    Just a small example of how things can turn out.

  7. gesres says

    The disciples of Jesus might well have found that their roles were very profitable; donations, free food and lodging, certainly better than the lives of fishermen. They might very well have been willing to risk their lives to maintain that lifestyle.

  8. Lausten North says

    There are any number of logical reasons that someone would convince themselves something is true when it is not. Vague statements of “I saw Jesus” can be stated by someone alive today and mean just as much to them now as to someone 2,000 years ago and mean just as little to anyone who did not have the same vision.

    Their “logic” might be that, having seen or felt or witnessed whatever they thought they did, they now feel they have an important message that will save all mankind. That message can’t be conveyed in words, but, they believe, if you can bring yourself to feeling like they did, you too will receive the message. Or, a less magical logic, the Jesus story is one of making the ultimate sacrifice for what you believe. You can use any variety of interpretation of the scripture, from one of love your neighbor to being part of a select chosen few, it doesn’t matter. The key is no authority can tell you what to believe, essentially willing to die for the 1st amendment.

    You can poke holes in either of these or others. The point is, someone could easily find them internally consistent.

  9. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    @Dawn E. #8:

    My daughter is 11, has high functioning autism, and very much wants there to be some higher […] In part this is a result of her desire to fit in and have social connections […] We just keep reassuring her that there IS a higher power but it’s not a deity, it’s physics.

    Or that, even cooler, physics is a lower power:
    7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms,
    each interacting in a few basic ways with its neighbors to form a complicated bureaucracy,
    cells that work together to form organs in a self-aware colony,
    which cooperates with other colonies (at scales of towns, cities, and nations),
    to appreciate and improve the world.
    Video: TED – Bonnie Bassler, How Bacteria “talk”
    You might also point out that connections don’t obligate her to actually believe what’s popular; her mind is her own.

  10. CompulsoryAccount7746, Sky Captain says

    For more about that belief and criminality study:

    Podcast: American Freethought – Dr. Volkan Topalli (0:31:50-1:09:55)

  11. JT says

    The Gordon Gee/Bill Donahue bit is both less strange and more strange than you realize.

    Less strange because Gee is Mormon and Mormons and Catholics have recently been cozying up to each other in their fight against gay rights. See:


    The stranger bit is that orthodox Mormonism identifies the Catholic church as the “mother of all abominations” and “the whore of all the earth.” This is their traditional interpretation of 1 Nephi, Chapter 14, verses 9-11 in the Book of Mormon.

    Hey, have a listen for yourself!


    This gives a whole new meaning to “politically correct.”

  12. says

    Hey Doctor Professor Luke Galen,

    Your discussion about variations on the runaway trolley dilemma was informative and fun, it made me laugh out loud.

    Given that an orphanage full of children, a dam that could flood a city, or a terminally ill fat man only influences morality for about 5%, I pondered what would be dramatically persuasive?

    By God’s Command

    If the person is a theist, would a commandment from God change their moral reasoning? If a new, previously missing page from the Bible was found stating, “Thou shall push fat men from bridges to stop runaway trolleys”, they hear a voice in their head they believed was God, or their trusted preacher told them that this was God’s command … would they then push the fat man. This is similar to Abraham’s dilemma of God’s instructions to kill Isaac.

    David Fletcher’s Suicidal Fat Man

    If the fat man was willing to sacrifice his life for others, would people that view suicide as a sin feel compelled to actively stop him, and then how would they rationalize their de facto murder of the crowd on the railway tracks.

    There are so many amazing ways the runaway trolley dilemma can be tweaked.

    Cheers, Andrew Antaro in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

  13. Andy Night says

    Hey guys, another atheist product of the Bible Belt that is Grand Rapids here. I love the show. My most anticipated podcast by miles. I was wondering if anyone else has had trouble with iTunes not registering new episodes and otherwise not organizing them. Minor inconvenience, but I was hoping someone might have a fix for it.

    Thanks, keep on representing my hometown well!!

  14. says

    Nhiều chuyên gia ngành xây dựng nhận định, tuy tình hình xây dựng đang chậm lại nhưng nhu cầu cho nghề thiết kế nội thất nhà hàng vẫn khá cao. Tuy nhiên, khó khăn hiện nay là nhân lực ngành thiết kế nội thất nhà hàng thừa nhân lực chất lượng thấp – trung bình nhưng lại thiếu nhân lực chất lượng cao.

  15. Barefoot Bree says

    ^^ Google Translate says…. Vietnamese!

    Many experts said the construction industry, but the situation but building is slowing demand for professional interior designers restaurant still quite high. However, the current difficulties as human interior design industry sufficient manpower restaurant quality low – the average human but lacks quality.

    Um… OK.

  16. Barefoot Bree says

    Andy… no, I’ve not had any troubles with iTunes on this podcast. Although, judging from the comments on the next episode, other platforms are giving trouble to some people, too.

  17. andrewviceroy says

    Yes, how likely is it that the fat man would derail the train? I’ve always had a question of my own that I thought would affect this thought experiment: tell the subject(s) that there is a supervillain with a nuke and only one of the six workers–from five on one track and one on the other–knows the whereabouts of the nuke to save millions of lives. Thus, if you divert the train to hit the solo guy and he was the only one who could save all those lives, the consequences would not be in your favor. How would this knowledge affect the decision of the subjects? It’s basically a priming of moral uncertainty, so I tend to think it would make less people vote in a utilitarian way. It’s important because there is a serious kernel of truth to what we don’t know about how the survivors will affect the world.

  18. Paula Singleton says

    I’ve been going through your podcasts from 2010 (or before) on. I enjoy them immensely. I like that they are intelligent and informative not vulgar, full of inane cussing, and stupidity like many in this genre. Anyway, I thought I should add my story to assure Dave that there are plenty of us who have raised athiest children who are doing just fine. My boys are 16 and 19 – one is in his second year of college and one is in 11th grade. They both are doing well academically as well as socially. They have close friends who are Christian as well as Muslim. Their friends know they are atheists. So far they have not messed with alcohol or drugs. They like video games more than I would like for them too and I wish they were more active but all in all they are great kids. I believe what my husband and I did right was to set a good example. We were always willing to talk openly with them on any topic but we let them lead the conversation (that way we didn’t start explaining things they were not ready to hear). We did not forbid them to go to church if a friend asked them to go along but we never forced them to either. Kids are going to rebel in some way (since I am very active, I think video games is my boys way) but if you are honest and open with your kids, and they know you are sincere they will be fine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *