Sunday, May 16, 2010

Is Jesus God? pt. 4/4

It's time for our fourth and final installment on Paul E. Little's article "Beyond Blind Faith." Let's see how he's done so far. Well, at first he said Jesus' story couldn't have been so widely circulated if it wasn't true. Then he said if he wasn't telling the truth, he was either crazy, lying, or never actually claimed to be god. (That part was written into the story later.) For some inexplicable reason, Mr. Little seemed to feel the demigod answer was most likely given the information at hand. Huh. In the third entry, he calimed that Jesus led a sinless life, and that this was evidence he was somehow the creator of the universe and arbiter of right and wrong. Oh, and that Jesus could do miracles (like Derren Brown.) So let's see what he has in store for us today.

Y'all ready for this?

The Life of Jesus - Facts About His Resurrection

Jesus' death was by public execution on a cross. The government said it was for blasphemy. Jesus said it was to pay for our sin. After being severely tortured, Jesus' wrists and feet were nailed to a cross where He hung, eventually dying of slow suffocation. A sword was thrust into His side to confirm His death.
Hey, anybody else notice that the "hands and feet" of their childhood just got substituted with "wrists and feet?" That's because it's doubtful hands could have hold a human body (unless his wrists were also tied to the board, which isn't mentioned in the Bible.) The most common method of Roman crucifixion at the time Christ was supposedly executed was by driving a nail through the radius and ulna bones, just arm-wards of the wrist.

However, that famous skeptic Doubting Thomas said in John 20:25 "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe." (According to Scripture, Thomas was given this evidence. Yet we are atheists are often scorned or detested for own desire to have god's existence or attributes proven.) I don't have a firm opinion either way. I just find this kind of Christian infighting interesting to watch.
The body of Jesus was then wrapped in linens covered with approximately 100 pounds of gummy-wet spices. His body was placed in a solid rock tomb A 1 1/2- 2 ton boulder was rolled by levers to secure the entrance. Because Jesus had publicly said He would rise from the dead in three days, a guard of trained Roman soldiers was stationed at the tomb. And an official Roman seal was affixed to the tomb entrance declaring it government property.
Well (taking, for the moment, the Biblical account up to this point to be accurate,) what we have here is a difficult situation, sure, but far from an impossible one. I really like illusions and conjuring. If you spend anytime watching or studying these techniques, you'll quickly realize that a situation can seem impossible, and you don't know how the illusionist managed it, but you know that "magic" isn't really the answer. I like that it allows for a certain amount of ignorance. I can say, "I don't know how he did that" without immediately deciding, "It must be a miracle!" But it seems harder for people to do that with religion, because no one has told them that it's all performance art, like we have been told about stage hypnotists and magicians.
In spite of all this, three days later the body was gone. Only the grave linens remained, in the form of the body, but caved in. The boulder formerly sealing the tomb was found up a slope, some distance away from the tomb.
Okay, so the body was gone. That doesn't really scream "resurrection" now does it? Hell, Eva Peron's fantastically preserved corpse was missing for 16 years, as it was hidden in secret locations around Argentina and Italy! Not every missing body (or probably not any) indicates bodily resurrection.
The earliest explanation circulated was that the disciples stole the body! In Matthew 28:11-15, we have the record of the reaction of the chief priests and the elders when the guards gave them the infuriating and mysterious news that the body was gone. They gave the soldiers money and told them to explain that the disciples had come at night and stolen the body while they were asleep.
Um, excuse but no, we do not have the "record" of what the guards said. We have a story, written down by unknown men, written decades after the "fact" not by an eyewitness, and unsubstantiated by evidence. That is not a record; it is a story. What's more, it's a story written by those who wanted their readers to believe this version of events. The Bible was not an unbiased observational recording of history, and to act as though it was is foolish to say the least.
That story was so false that Matthew didn't even bother to refute it! What judge would listen to you if you said that while you were asleep you knew it was your neighbor who came into your house and stole your television set? Who knows what goes on while he's asleep? Testimony like this would be laughed out of any court.
Is that really what you're gonna go with - the guards were sleeping so they can't prove the body didn't resurrect? What's more, while you probably couldn't get your neighbor convicted on hearsay alone (although you can apparently start religions on little else) which do you think would cause greater laughter - saying your neighbor took your TV or saying it miraculously ascended into heaven as part of the divine plan of an almighty creator? "He rose from the dead" is a much more outlandish claim, and requires more evidence to seem plausible, than "His followers took the body." Though we have no evidence for either claim, the odds of resurrection still are not 50% because resurrection is a much less likely occurrence than theft, so we can more heavily weight the probably against resurrection.
Furthermore, we are faced with a psychological and ethical impossibility. Stealing the body of Christ is something totally foreign to the character of the disciples and all that we know of them.
Once again, I must point out that the Bible was composed and compiled by men with an agenda. "All that we know of them" was written down by men who hoped to preserve the Christian faith (as opposed to say, their wives or neighbors or enemies.) Furthermore, the disciples were not sinless (and as we discussed earlier, neither was Jesus.) Peter denied Christ three times following his crucifixion, after telling Jesus he wouldn't. Let's not forget to mention that the gospels give different lists for who the twelve disciples are!
It would mean that they were perpetrators of a deliberate lie which was responsible for the deception and ultimate death of thousands of people. It is inconceivable that, even if a few of the disciples had conspired and pulled off this theft, they would never have told the others.
Why is this so inconceivable? And why do you find a miracle more likely than a conspiracy? If it was anyone else who was claimed to rise from the dead, would you believe it just on hearsay? On a few people (who were devout followers, like cultists) saying they had seen him a few days after his very public execution? Somehow I doubt it.
Each of the disciples faced the test of torture and martyrdom for his statements and beliefs. Men and women will die for what they believe to be true, though it may actually be false. They do not, however, die for what they know is a lie. If ever a man tells the truth, it is on his deathbed. And if the disciples had taken the body, and Christ was still dead, we would still have the problem of explaining His alleged appearances.
Um, no, we wouldn't. Again, the Bible wasn't written by the disciples. Maybe a man named Jesus lived. He had a following; he claimed to be the son of god; he was reported to do miracles. He was killed for the crime of blasphemy (and since he did nothing miraculous or god-like during his trial or execution that might persuade people it wasn't so much blasphemy as truth, they had no reason to doubt it was blasphemy.) But people remain committed to him, and wait for his return (which it sounded like would happen during their lives.) Between a few and several decades later, some anonymous guys write down the four gospel stories in the canon, as well as the apocryphal gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are practically copies of one another and the missing text Q. John is extremely different, and is thought by scholars to have been most likely composed in Asia Minor. None of the "resurrection facts" are consistent across all four gospels. There just isn't any reason to think that what the gospels say was ever factually true.
A second hypothesis is that the authorities, Jewish or Roman, moved the body! But why? Having put guards at the tomb, what would be their reason for moving the body? Also, what about the silence of the authorities in the face of the apostles' bold preaching about the Resurrection in Jerusalem? The ecclesiastical leaders were seething with rage, and did everything possible to prevent the spread of this message that Jesus rose from the dead. They arrested Peter and John and beat and threatened them, in an attempt to close their mouths.
So wait, they were silent and not doing enough to stop the apostles' preaching, but at the same time they were arresting and beating the apostles? Um, yeah.
But there was a very simple solution to their problem. If they had Christ's body, they could have paraded it through the streets of Jerusalem. In one fell swoop they would have successfully smothered Christianity in its cradle. That they did not do this bears eloquent testimony to the fact that they did not have the body.
Again, obviously, the Bible was written by supporters of the story, not by disinterested observers. Second, let me take this "They ain't get no evidence" tact of the author's and apply it with a twist.
If Christians really did have a God, they could parade through the streets performing miracles. In one fell swoop they could successfully smother atheism in its demands for evidence. That they do not do this bears eloquent testimony to the fact that they do not have this god.
Cute, huh?
Another popular theory has been that the women, distraught and overcome by grief, missed their way in the dimness of the morning and went to the wrong tomb. In their distress they imagined Christ had risen because the tomb was empty. This theory, however, falls before the same fact that destroys the previous one. If the women went to the wrong tomb, why did the high priests and other enemies of the faith not go to the right tomb and produce the body? Further, it is inconceivable that Peter and John would succumb to the same mistake, and certainly Joseph of Arimathea, owner of the tomb, would have solved the problem. In addition, it must be remembered that this was a private burial ground, not a public cemetery. There was no other tomb nearby that would have allowed them to make this mistake.
You'd think he'd lead with that first one "There was no other tomb nearby" rather than all the character assessment ones. Mr. Little seems to think good people never tell lies (or aren't deceived) and that therefore character is the exclusive approach to determining the veracity of truth claims. He did the same thing in the Liar, Lunatic, Lord segment. It is highly unlikely that anyone goes their entire life without telling some kind of falsehood. Yet, this improbability is what Mr. Little is using as his leading support in favor of his story. He acts as though these women being mistaken or telling a lie is less likely than a supernatural raising of the dead. Just think about that for a moment.

Also, Mr. Little refers to them as "the women" and not by name because, again, the gospel accounts disagree on the basic "facts" of the story, like who was at the resurrection and at the tomb. Now let's talk about this sentence, "it is inconceivable that Peter and John would succumb to the same mistake." Inconceivable? I do not think it means what you think it means.
The swoon theory has also been advanced to explain the empty tomb. In this view, Christ did not actually die. He was mistakenly reported to be dead, but had swooned from exhaustion, pain, and loss of blood. When He was laid in the coolness of the tomb, He revived. He came out of the tomb and appeared to His disciples, who mistakenly thought He had risen from the dead.
I gotta say, I'm just not emotionally invested in this one. It seems unnecessary in the face of the history of gospel authorship. I really do believe someone just made it all up - that the tomb was never really empty (supposing, of course, that a historical Jesus ever existed at all.)
This is a theory of modern construction. It first appeared at the end of the eighteenth century. It is significant that not a suggestion of this kind has come down from antiquity among all the violent attacks which have been made on Christianity. All of the earliest records are emphatic about Jesus' death.
All of the earliest records - and what do you mean by records anyway? Hearsay and anonymous gospels? Because the Roman records don't mention Jesus.
But let us assume for a moment that Christ was buried alive and swooned. Is it possible to believe that He would have survived three days in a damp tomb without food or water or attention of any kind? Would He have had the strength to extricate Himself from the graveclothes, push the heavy stone away from the mouth of the grave, overcome the Roman guards, and walk miles on feet that had been pierced with spikes? Such a belief is more fantastic than the simple fact of the Resurrection itself.
Ha ha ha ha! It's less fantastic, in reality. Why? Because all of those things, while improbable, are individually possible events or actions. Whereas the reanimation of a body and mind after brain death is not. On the one hand you've got "very unlikely approaching infinity" against the swoon theory (again, not one I find plausible myself.) On the other hand, you've got "never happened in recorded medical history, impossible approaching infinity." Neither one is at all likely to have occurred, but one is it least (very faintly) possible (or if it is not, it is because of the multiplication of improbabilities, rather than the multiplication of y where y represents impossibility.)
Even the German critic David Strauss, who by no means believes in the Resurrection, rejected this idea as incredible. He said:
It is impossible that One who had just come forth from the grave half dead, who crept about weak and ill, who stood in the need of medical treatment, of bandaging, strengthening, and tender care, and who at last succumbed to suffering, could ever have given the disciples the impression that He was a conqueror over death and the grave; that He was the Prince of Life.
Well yes, it's a strawman. That's the problem with it all right. It's also not what most of us are claiming, or most of those critics Mr. Little himself mentioned as evidence against this particular theory.
Finally, if this theory is correct, Christ Himself was involved in flagrant lies. His disciples believed and preached that He was dead but came alive again. Jesus did nothing to dispel this belief, but rather encouraged it.
Again, Jesus telling a lie is more statistically probable (people lie, and whatever else he may have been, a historical Jesus would have been a person.)
The only theory that adequately explains the empty tomb is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
And here, in a nutshell, is the difference between a theological theory and a scientific Theory. The apologist pokes holes in what he claims are the alternatives - liar, lunatic, and legend; disciples stole the body, or Jews, or Romans (but never the legitimate objection that the tomb may have never been empty, or that the Bible is an inconsistent cobbling together of stories, not a careful record of contemporary events.) He hasn't actually done anything to provide evidence for his own theory. He has simply claimed to have all the possibilities, rejects the others (for odd and illegitimate reasons,) and then says, "Ta da! Mine wins by process of elimination!" It's like creationists. There is nothing to "Intelligent Design" other than the claim that it occurred.

A scientific theory, on the other hand, has to have all observable facts agreeing with it, and none disagreeing with it. It must explain what happens and how (and in some cases, why.) Evolution by natural selection is supported by fossils, genetics, homologous forms, embryology, and countless disciplines besides. There is evidence aplenty. For the resurrection, though, all we have are the claims that a man named Jesus was executed, that his tomb was empty, and that his disciples lying or being mistaken was less likely than a supernatural miracle. Mr. Little's argument is laughable on its face - and disappointing.
The Life of Jesus Means Life For Us

Jesus Christ rose from the dead, proving He is God and is alive today.
Graaaaah! You haven't proven the first thing. You cannot use "Claim X" as proof of "Claim Y" when X is nothing more than a claim! (And no, I don't know why this post is full of variables.)
He is willing to be more than worshiped. He is willing to be known and to come into our lives.
Okay, creepy. That is totally his emphasis, by the way, not mine.
The late Carl Gustav Jung said, "The central neurosis of our time is emptiness." All of us have a deep longing for our life to have meaning and depth. Jesus offers us a more meaningful, abundant life, which comes through a relationship with Him. Jesus said, "I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly."
Okay, we've got appeal to authority in the first sentence. We've also got an emotional appeal in there, with the suggestion that life without Jesus is somehow empty. My life without Jesus is about a thousand fold improved (she typed on her new laptop, from her 2-bedroom apartment with beautiful windows and lots of natural light, as her beautiful son took a nap beside her.)Let's see, for the rest of the paragraph we've got claim, claim, claim. Huh, no evidence of any kind. (Remember how Mr. Little's article started by telling us we would be given good reasons to believe, not just on faith? Yeah, I don't think that's happening before we reach the end.)
The only way we can experience this life is by being in relationship with Him. Jesus came to take our sin on Himself, on the cross. He chose to receive punishment for our sin, so that our sin would no longer be a barrier between us and Him.
Wait, now there's sin? You're relying on me already thinking Jesus is something I need, or that I'm dirty. You Christians really want people to hate themselves, because if they don't, how can they love Jesus? If they don't believe they need a blood sacrifice to atone for their own inherent wickedness, what reason would they have to worship your bloodthirsty, capricious, malevolent god?
He went to the cross for us, all of us. Because He fully paid for your sin, He offers you complete forgiveness and a relationship with Him.
Guilt trip! Guilt trip! Guilt trip!
This means you have a decision to make.
(Descending notes) Duh duh dun!
Jesus said, "Behold, I stand at the door [of your heart] and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him.
Whoa now, Jesus, slow down. There will be no coming into me, or unto me, or onto me! You're just not my type.
Right now you can invite Jesus Christ into your life. You could say to Him something like, "I do believe in you. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I ask You to forgive me and to come into my life right now. Thank You for giving me a relationship with You."
So what do you say, kiddos? Wanna ask a 2,000 year old missing corpse into your heart on the hearsay of anonymous men, vastly ignorant in biology and medicine, with clear motivations to propagate the story? While you're at it, wanna give Scientology all of your money and thousands of free work hours so they can "clear" you of your body thetans? I mean, it's all written down in a book.
You'd have to believe the L. Ron Hubbard was lying if you were going to disbelieve the teachings of Scientology! And why, well, you wouldn't do that, because the teachings of L. Ron Hubbard say that L. Ron Hubbard is a really cool guy (and a physicist and a naval commander.) See, the teachings of Scientology teach that Scientology teachings are true! So you know you can believe it, not just on faith, but on the teachings of Scientology!
What's the difference?

Anteaters, I'm disappointed. I keep hoping that an apologist can stump me for a while - can say something that gives me pause and let's me think. The foundations of Christianity are so weak, and the apologetics are no better. Yet, over a billion people believe this stuff to be true.

The Bible was written by men. If you get nothing else out of this series, please Christians, understand that the Bible is not the inerrant word of any god.

Best hopes for all.