Sunday, March 24, 2019

Reasons to disbelieve Jesus rose from the dead (Expanded Edition)

But do they hold up? 

Last week I explained 
five historical facts that must be accounted for either to affirm or deny that Jesus rose from the dead. These facts do not rely on supernatural authority or a claim that they must be believed because the Bible is inspired Scripture.

Historians, and not just Christian ones, are in broad consensus that these were factual events, not claims invented by the church, especially since absent these facts there is no reason to assume there would have been a church to invent them in the first place.
Thus, seriously grappling with the claim that Jesus rose from the dead must include these facts in the explanation. Explanations must explain. Simply to deny these facts does not explain them. One might as well try to explain how the Civil War started while denying that South Carolina ever bombarded Fort Sumter.

Skeptics of the historical fact of Jesus's resurrection offer explanations that fall into four main categories:
1.  The key actors on Good Friday and Sunday morning botched what they were doing.
2.  Science proves Jesus’s resurrection is impossible.
3.  The accounts of Jesus’s resurrection are mythical of a kind common in the ancient world.
4.  The apostles were either deluded or they mounted a deliberate conspiracy of falsehoods.
The "they botched it" theories
The "Swoon Theory"
The first allegedly-botched job was the crucifixion, in which the Romans incompetently took Jesus down from the cross unconscious rather than dead. Joseph and the women entombed Jesus still alive. This is called the “Swoon” theory; it dates to the 1780s.
The swoon theory says that the coolness of the tomb and Friday’s partial application of funereal spices made Jesus come to his senses. Before dawn Sunday he rolled away the stone, and found some workman’s clothes, causing Mary Magdalene to mistake him for a gardener. So, the swoon theory does explain why the women found the tomb empty and why the presumed gardener claimed he was Jesus.
But it assumes that 

  • the brutal flogging that Jesus received from the Romans, 
  • the shredding of his head by a wreath of thorns, 
  • hanging on the cross with nailed hands and feet (with severe physical effects, including dislocation of the shoulders), 
  • and the deep piercing of his chest by a Roman spear, 
were all relatively minor injuries that 
  • left Jesus mentally fully competent, 
  • were not severe enough and evoked too little bleeding to kill or even much weaken him, 
  • insufficiently injured his hands and feet to degrade either his dexterity or mobility, 
  • left him with enough physical strength to single-handedly roll away a one-ton stone from the tomb, in the dark. 
  • did not hinder his ability to sneak past an armed guard standing only a few feet from the tomb,
  • had healed enough so that Mary did not recognize him as the recently-crucified Jesus. 
The swoon theory also ignores the fact that Jesus would have consumed neither food nor drink since Thursday evening but apparently suffered no ill effects from 84 hours or so without nourishment or water.
The theory assumes that Roman soldiers, of all people, did not know how to kill a defenseless man and ignores that their motivation to make sure Jesus was dead very great: under Roman military law, Roman soldiers who failed to carry out a sentence properly could be punished by receiving the same sentence to serve instead, meaning the soldiers at the cross were highly motivated to be positive that Jesus and the two thieves crucified with him were dead for sure.

The swoon theory also requires that Joseph and the women who partially prepared Jesus for burial on Friday did not detect that he still breathed and had a heartbeat, however weak it may have been. People in ancient times were very familiar with corpses. There were no funeral homes. Families did that work on their own. The women friends of Jesus, like any women of the day, knew very well about –
·      livor mortis, the collection of blood in the lowest parts of a corpse after the heart ceases beating, due to gravity. Livor mortis causes marked purpling of the body where it occurs and is usually noticeable starting about 20-30 minutes after death (though full discoloration takes somewhat longer). A man dead on a cross would have been so colored at around the ankles and shoulders. If Jesus was not dead when he was removed, livor mortis would not have occurred, and the women would certainly have noticed.
·      rigor mortis, the stiffening of the limbs of a corpse caused by chemical changes in the muscles. A corpse is highly resistant to manipulation because of this. To be fair to the swoon theory, though, it takes between 4-6 hours after death for rigor mortis to set in. Jesus was entombed by then. 
The swoon theory, then, requires not only that the Roman soldiers blundered the crucifixion but that the women were blind to the lack of empirical evidence that Jesus was dead, evidence which was common knowledge in their day.
The swoon theory does not explain
·  why Mary said Jesus was risen rather than that he survived. 
·  why Jesus apparently needed no medical care or convalescence. 
·  with whom Jesus lodged after his botched crucifixion, because he is nowhere presented as hanging out with the disciples.[1]  
·  why Paul and James, who had not followed Jesus, said they knew Jesus risen (and Paul first persecuted Christians).
·  why the Church would begin with such energy and devotion 
·  why the apostles suffered hard lives and cruel deaths to insist that Jesus was a risen Savior rather than merely a lucky convict. 
·  why the Romans did not mount a manhunt for the surviving Jesus when we know that when the Romans wanted you dead, they meant it. (The Romans didn't hunt for Jesus after the actual resurrection, either, when Peter et. al. were proclaiming him risen. Why? Because the Romans knew darn good and well they had killed him on the cross.)
An explanation, actually to explain, cannot create more unresolved issues than it tries to solve. The swoon theory thus fails.
The “wrong-tomb” theory 
This theory simply says that on Sunday morning the women mistakenly went to an unused, open tomb, talked with a gardener whom they mistook for Jesus, then excitedly told the disciples that Jesus’s tomb was empty and Jesus was risen.
·                  The women were not looking for an open, empty tomb. They had asked themselves en route how they would get the stone rolled away. So, when coming to an open, unused tomb, why didn't they keep going? Wrong-tomb theorists do not say, except to claim that the women were confused. ("They went to the wrong tomb because they were confused. How do we know they were confused? Because they went to the wrong tomb." A bit circular, eh?)
·                  Having already been to Jesus's tomb on Friday, they knew which tomb to go to.
The wrong tomb theory does not explain: 
·                  why the gardener Mary conversed with claimed he was Jesus 
·                  why Mary called him Lord when he knew and she thought that Jesus was dead elsewhere.
·                  why the gardener told Mary to tell the disciples he would meet them in Galilee. 
The wrong-tomb theory also echoes the ancient belief that women could not be trusted to relate facts rather than addle-headed nonsense. Its unspoken precept is, “Let me tell you what those idiot women did.”
No historian concerned about his reputation promotes either the swoon theory or the wrong-tomb theory any more, but many people still argue them.

"Scientific" objections to the resurrection
Many people you will witness to will reply that science shows it to be impossible. In fact, science shows no such thing. There are some scientists who say the resurrection is scientifically impossible. But there are many other scientists who profess religious faith. For example:
“A scientific discovery is also a religious discovery. There is no conflict between science and religion. Our knowledge of God is made larger with every discovery we make about the world.” - Joseph H. Taylor, Jr., who received the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of the first known binary pulsar, and for his work which supported the Big Bang theory of the creation of the universe.  
“Astronomers … have proven … that the world began abruptly in an act of creation… . And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover… . That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact”. – Robert Jastrow , Astronomer, physicist and founder of NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies.  
“The common belief that… the actual relations between religion and science over the last few centuries have been marked by deep and enduring hostility… is not only historically inaccurate, but actually a caricature so grotesque that what needs to be explained is how it could possibly have achieved any degree of respectability.” – Colin Russell, Cambridge University historian of science.  
“Both religion and science require a belief in God. For believers, God is in the beginning, and for physicists He is at the end of all considerations… To the former He is the foundation, to the latter, the crown of the edifice of every generalized world view.” – Max Planck, Nobel Prize physicist, founder of quantum theory, one of the most important physicists of the 20th century).[2]
 Two other examples are Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and former head of the human genome project, and Dr. John Lennox, professor and Fellow in Mathematics at Oxford University. There are many others.
Sociologist Elaine Ecklund surveyed 1,700 scientists and conducted personal interviews with 275 of them at elite American universities, seeking to find out what their views on religion were. She writes:
After four years of research, at least one thing became clear: Much of what we believe about the faith lives of elite scientists is wrong. The [presumed] ‘insurmountable hostility’ between science and religion is a caricature, a thought-cliché, perhaps useful as a satire on group-think, but hardly representative of reality.
Professor Ecklund's book is called Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think. A long review with excerpts is here.

Most of the non-religious scientists Ecklund interviewed said that they just were not interested in religion questions, any more than a Methodist preacher would be much interested in how to mass produce elemental isotopes. And unlike the rest of America, younger scientists are more religious than older ones.
So, it is important to understand the difference between what science, as a discipline, can do and what scientists may personally believe. Scientists may deny or affirm the resurrection, but science as a discipline can neither rebut nor confirm it. Every discipline, science included, is bounded by "limit questions," which are inquiries that the discipline itself cannot answer.

For example, science does not and cannot tell you where to take your next vacation. Science is unsuited definitively to answer historical questions. You would think I was joking if I asked for scientific proof that George Washington crossed the Delaware River to fight Hessian forces at Trenton on Christmas 1776, though science may help answer many historical details. 

The resurrection of Jesus is an historical question that science as a discipline cannot answer. It's not a scientific question. Every profession or skill or knowledge set is faced with limit questions. Imagine that someone at the end of a concert, you heard the man beside you say, “Speaking as a cardiologist, I have determined that this orchestra’s first violinist is the finest in North America.” Now that may be true, but it’s not a medical question. Similarly, science investigates the natural world and so cannot speak definitively about supernatural events, which is what the resurrection is. One big reason is that the scientific method can't adequately address miracles. The error some scientists make is in therefore saying that there are no such things as miracles. 
Scientific integrity requires that scientists and non-scientists alike recognize that there are limits to scientific knowledge. Failing this is the main error of the so-called New Atheist movement, whose advocates insist that 
·                  only science reveals the Real, 
·                  only science can discover truth 
·                  scientific knowledge is exhaustive and inherently unlimited. 
But these claims are themselves not testable with the scientific method. They are not scientific claims, but claims of faith in science, or scientism. Richard Lewontin, an evolutionary biologist and geneticist, explained in The New York Review of Books in 1997 (link) that scientism has a ...
... prior commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations ... . Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
But nothing about Jesus' resurrection overturns science at all. Before he was Pope Benedict, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that the resurrection is 
... no contradiction of clear scientific data. The Resurrection accounts … speak of something new, something unprecedented -- a new dimension of reality that is revealed. What already exists is not called into question. Rather we are told that there is a further dimension, beyond what was previously known.  
Dr. Ian Hutchison is a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT. He is also a Christian. In an address at the Veritas Forum, he spoke of three hypotheses to explain why he believes in the resurrection of Jesus:
Hypothesis one: We’re not talking about a literal resurrection. Perhaps it is just an inspiring myth that served to justify the propagation of Jesus’ exalted ethical teachings. A literal resurrection contradicts the known laws of nature. Maybe scientists can celebrate the idea of Jesus’s spirit living on, while his body remained in the grave. 
Hypothesis two: We really believe in the bodily resurrection of the first century Jew known as Jesus of Nazareth. My Christian colleagues at MIT – and millions of other scientists worldwide – somehow think that a literal miracle like the resurrection of Jesus is possible. And we are following a long tradition. The founders of the scientific revolution and many of the greatest scientists of the intervening centuries were serious Christian believers. 
Hypothesis 3: I was brainwashed as a child. ... But no, I did not grow up in a home where I was taught to believe in the resurrection. I came to faith in Jesus when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge University and was baptized in the chapel of Kings College on my 20th birthday.
Hypothesis two wins:
To explain how a scientist can be a Christian is actually quite simple. Science cannot and does not disprove the resurrection. Natural science describes the normal reproducible working of the world of nature. Indeed, the key meaning of “nature”, as Boyle emphasized, is “the normal course of events.” Miracles like the resurrection are inherently abnormal. ...
Today’s widespread materialist view that events contrary to the laws of science just can’t happen is a metaphysical doctrine, not a scientific fact. What’s more, the doctrine that the laws of nature are “inviolable” is not necessary for science to function. Science offers natural explanations of natural events. It has no power or need to assert that only natural events happen.
So if science is not able to adjudicate whether Jesus’ resurrection happened or not, are we completely unable to assess the plausibility of the claim? No. Contrary to increasingly popular opinion, science is not our only means for accessing truth. In the case of Jesus’ resurrection, we must consider the historical evidence, and the historical evidence for the resurrection is as good as for almost any event of ancient history.
Much more here:

The Mythical Story theory
The next rebuttal of the resurrection is the claim that stories about a divine hero dying and returning to life were a dime a dozen among ancient peoples and that Jesus's resurrection is just another example. In this claim, “Jesus Christ is a mythological character along the same lines as the Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Sumerian, Phoenician, Indian or other godmen, who are all presently accepted as myths rather than historical figures.” [4]
However, experts in the field are not making this claim. Professor Norman Geisler of Loyola University explains, “No Greek or Roman myth spoke of a literal incarnation of a monotheistic God into human form by way of a literal virgin birth, followed by his death and physical resurrection.”

Nor were such stories very common at all. Only about fifteen such ancient stories are identified by claimants. British scholar Norman Anderson argues, 
The basic difference between Christianity and the mysteries is the historic basis of one and the mythological character of the others. The deities of the mysteries were no more than ‘nebulous figures of an imaginary past,’ while the Christ whom the [apostles] proclaimed had lived and died only a few years before the first New Testament documents were written.
As Peter told the people of Jerusalem on Pentecost, you know this Jesus of whom I speak. Peter was not referring to a mythical figure of a hazy, distant past, but one whom his hearers had known personally.
Furthermore, “Most of the evidence for the alleged similarities from the pagan myths date between the second to fourth centuries,” [5] long after the New Testament had been written. If anything, most of those ancient myths are likely based on Jesus rather than the other way around.
Also, myth theorists must explain why the fiercely monogamous Jews would have adopted pagan myths to promote the Jewish Jesus and why they would have falsely claimed Jesus dead and risen when the existing, well-developed concept of the messiah had never included such a concept.
Finally, the pagan-myth hypothesis makes no attempt at all to grapple with the historical facts that are, well, facts, not myth.  

For a more scholarly presentation, here is Dr. William Lane Craig:

The apostles were deluded or frauds
Last is the claim that the apostles were either deluded or they mounted a deliberate conspiracy of falsehoods. Almost no one claims any more that the apostles were deliberately lying because, as J.P. Moreland put it,
The disciples had nothing to gain by lying and starting a new religion. They faced hardship, ridicule, hostility, and martyr's deaths. In light of this, they could never have sustained such unwavering motivation if they knew what they were preaching was a lie. The disciples were not fools and Paul was a cool-headed intellectual of the first rank. There would have been several opportunities over three to four decades of ministry to reconsider and renounce a lie.
Charles Colson served Richard Nixon as "Special Counsel to the President" and was a key player in the Watergate conspiracy that finally led to Nixon's resignation. Colson was in fact one of the "Watergate Seven," the core conspirators, and he was the first Watergate conspirator to be sent to federal prison. In prison, Colson became a devout Christian; after release he spent the rest of his life in evangelism, especially prison ministries.
Here is what he once said about the idea that Jesus was not really raised from the dead, that the whole resurrection story came from collusion by the disciples:
I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren't true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world - and they couldn't keep a lie for three weeks. You're telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.
Let’s look at the delusion angle. Today’s leading figure in promoting this theory is German scholar and self-admitted atheist Gerd Ludemann, who says in What Really Happened to Jesus that the apostles undeniably believed what they proclaimed, but were so psychologically distraught from the cruel death of Jesus that they all suffered exactly the same hallucination that Jesus was alive again. Ludemann says that the source of the disciples’ visions were psychological processes which occurred “completely without divine intervention.” Therefore, “A consistent modern view must say farewell to the resurrection of Jesus as a historical event.”
(Ludemann taught for several years at Vanderbilt Divinity School, the source of my own M.Div. I began there just after he had returned to Germany so I did not study under him. However, What Really Happened to Jesus was an assigned book in my New Testament class.)
On its face the delusion theory seems plausible. But I would submit that it fails for these reasons:
·                  First, delusion theory presumes from the outset that the resurrection is false. When its greatest proponent is a self-described atheist, it sort of gives the game away. That is, its intention is to conclude what it begins with.
·                  Second, the delusion theory does not explain why the tomb was empty or why deluded apostles would admit that a woman first bore the Easter message.
·                  Third, that the apostles’ delusion was caused by their psychological need to regain company with Jesus is suspect because the pre-resurrection disciples seem less devoted to Jesus than the theory demands. John 11, for example, records that eleven of the twelve were so upset with Jesus that they wanted to quit and go home, staying only because Thomas talked them into it. Every disciple abandoned Jesus to his fate when he was arrested, hardly evidence of such intense love and loyalty that they would later see hallucinations of Jesus alive.
·                  Fourth, the theory does not explain why Paul and Jesus's brother James became deluded as well. Neither man followed Jesus before his death; Paul never even met him. Ludemann simply dodges this question altogether.
·                  Fifth, Ludeman assumes that the psychology of each of the disciples was identical and that they each spontaneously reacted mentally to Jesus’ death in exactly the same way. But this is a mere assumption necessary to make delusion theory work. It also assumes that their delusion was contagious and that Thomas could be “infected” by it when he had emphatically rejected the other disciples' testimonies and instead demanded literally tangible, physical proof.
Finally, such a delusion  seems unique in the entire world, having never occurred before or since. Ludemann attempts to show analogous delusions in other figures or groups of people in other historical occasion, but the examples are present only superficial similarities; most are actually more dissimilar than similar.

If the apostles were deluded, then I want that same delusion! It is a delusion that inspires people to become the finest they can be, to exhibit and live the highest virtues and to order their lives around love, integrity, faithfulness and devotion to the good of all. Delusion? May we all hope to be equally deluded.
I will leave the summary to Dr. Holly Ordway, Ph.D. (U-Mass. Amherst), a professor of literature in Texas. She grew up atheist, convinced that belief in a deity was mere superstition. But in 2012, she was baptized into the Catholic Church and since has written several works on Christian literature. In an interview,[2] she said,
There were many pieces of evidence that all fit together to make a convincing case for the Resurrection [of Jesus]; I’ll mention just a couple here. One of them is the behavior of the disciples before and after the Resurrection. The Gospel accounts do not portray their behavior after the Crucifixion in a particularly flattering light. Even though Jesus had predicted his own resurrection, the disciples gave up and went away, assuming that Jesus was a failed messiah. If the disciples had made up the Resurrection story afterwards, why would they have included details that made them look disloyal and cowardly? My academic studies in literature allowed me to recognize that the Gospels were written as history, not myth or parable, and that there hadn’t been enough time for a legend to form. It began to seem like the best explanation for all these events being recounted this way, was that they really happened.
Then, after the Resurrection, there’s a complete turn-around in their behavior, and they become bold proclaimers of the Risen Lord. There were plenty of words that people in ancient times could have used to describe visions or sightings of ghosts, and indeed, such language would have gotten them in much less trouble! But they spoke of a Jesus who was alive, bodily resurrected, and in short order were willing to die for that claim.
Perhaps the most convincing evidence for the Resurrection, though, was the Church itself. If I supposed that the Church had invented the Resurrection to explain its own worship of Jesus, I had to ask, how did that worship arise in the first place? If the Church was not the result of a miracle, it was itself a miracle.
It’s important to say that there was no single, knock-out piece of evidence that convinced me; I was convinced by the cumulative claim, the way it all fit together. Historical events can’t be proved like a math problem or tested like a scientific hypothesis, and there’s always a way to form an alternate explanation. But just because an alternative exists doesn’t mean it’s is equally reasonable or likely. Speaking within my own field of literature, there are people who claim that William Shakespeare didn’t really write his plays. There are even a few legitimately fuzzy areas: for instance, a few of his plays were co-authored, and it seems likely to me that at least one passage in Macbeth (Hecate’s speech) was a later interpolation. Nonetheless, the evidence taken as whole points to Shakespearean authorship!
“Evidence as a whole” is really the key.

[5] Ibid