Thursday, February 11, 2010

Considering the Charge of Delusion and Resurrection Accounts

The account of the Resurrection is ultimately the center of the Christian faith.  As St. Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 15:

14 if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.

Because of this, those who would deny the teaching of Christians and wish to refute it need to attack the teaching and try to prove a claim that Jesus did not rise from the dead.

Two Categories for Charges

In looking at these charges, we need to consider their basis.  Why should we accept them as credible?  The possibilities are:

  1. Either they are based on evidence
  2. Or they are based on the assumption the supernatural cannot happen

Accusations based on the first category do need to be addressed.  Avoiding this can make it seem like we live our faith in ignorance.  However, accusations based on the second assumption are guilty of begging the question.  The claim that the supernatural cannot happen is something to be proven, not assumed to be true.

The Focus of This Article

For the purposes of this article, I am limiting myself to two possibilities: That Jesus died but did not rise again, and that Jesus did not die, but everyone believed He did.  I am quite aware there are other claims made, but let's keep things manageable.

Now, there are two basic possibilities to explore with this objection: One, the claims of Jesus dying but not rising and Two, the basis of Jesus not dying to begin with.  The underlying association for both is that the Apostles were mistaken in what they believed.

The first claim tends to run under the following syllogism

  1. The dead cannot live again
  2. Jesus was dead
  3. Therefore Jesus cannot live again

The second set runs under the following syllogism:

  1. The dead cannot live again
  2. The apostles saw Jesus alive
  3. Therefore he had not died

Enthymemes Assumed But Not Proven

In both cases the major premise needs to be proven.  This is something which has never quite been proven, and those who argue it tend to hedge their words in phrases like "it is more reasonable to suppose that…"  Ultimately in these disputes, there is usually an enthymeme (a premise assumed but not spoken) which demonstrates the principle issue to be considered.

In disputes with atheists, this is a dispute over whether an all powerful God exists.  If an all powerful God exists, then there is no reasonable argument that such a God could not raise the dead.

In disputes with religious or spiritual beliefs, the principle dispute is over the authority of Christ and whether God would have raised Jesus from the dead.  If Jesus Christ did have authority, then His resurrection is not against what God would do.

Ultimately, such disputes need to address the primary assumption (that God does not exist or that Jesus Christ was not His Son) before moving on to the actual debate of the Resurrection.  However, it is commonly assumed by those who reject the Christian belief that their view is true, and the attacks are focused on the claim that their beliefs are the reasonable ones and those which disagree are not.

The conclusion of their argument is that since they believe it impossible that Jesus was raised from the dead, it is more reasonable to explain the Apostles claim with another cause.

The Hallucination Theory

The Hallucination theory is based on the idea that if someone thought they saw a man known dead walking around it is more probable that the person hallucinated.  This seems to assume Hume's theory.  There are several objections however which this theory requires an answer to if it is to be considered reasonable:

Hallucinations are things which happen to individuals.  It is true that a group of people might see an object and not understand what it was, but we would see large discrepancies in testimony because each individual would be interpreting this in their own mind.  However, we see that the testimony of scripture attests to Christ being seen by Mary Magdalene, the disciples sans Thomas, the disciples with Thomas, the disciples in Emmaus, the apostles fishing, etc. 

Hallucinations tend to last for seconds or minutes.  The Christian claim is that Christ was among the apostles for 40 days.

Hallucinations do not interact with the world.  Yet the account is that Christ did interact with the world.  Thomas touched the wounds in his side, Christ ate with his apostles.

If the apostles were hallucinating, where was the actual body which could have proven their claims were false?  If the Sanhedrin wished to stop a delusion from going around all they would have to do is to produce the corpse of Jesus.

From this we have two considerations:

    1. Either the sources are inaccurate or
    2. The sources accurately attested to the fact that the Apostles saw something consistently

However, if the sources are to have been considered inaccurate, the question must be asked: On what basis can we make this claim?  What we have is an idea which rejects the testimony because the accounts contain miracles.  If this is to stand, then a valid disproof of the existence of the miraculous needs to be given.

Instead, this theory tends to reject all testimony which runs counter to the assumption that a miracle did not happen.  This is not reasonable however.  Without evidence to support the theory there is no reason to hold it as what did happen or was more likely to happen.

The "Jesus Did Not Die" Theory

The empty tomb is a hard thing to answer.  The Romans could not produce a body.  The Jews could not produce a body, and if Jesus was executed, the claim of the Resurrection could have been immediately shot down by showing his corpse.

Because of this, some people try to argue that Jesus was not really killed.  Now, to deny He was not executed is not reasonable (though the Koran [Sura 4:157-8] claims this) because even non-Christian sources attest He had been killed by the Romans.  The Roman historian Tacticus in his Annals, the Babylonian Talmud, the Greek Satirist Lucian, the Syrian stoic Bara Bar-Serapion and  Jewish historian Josephus (Though some references to the divinity of Christ are considered latter additions.  However, even with those removed, it attests to His being crucified) all report he had been executed.  So to argue He was never crucified requires some evidence to what actually did happen to him.

Given the crucifixion was a horrendous and disgraceful way to die, it is unlikely the Scripture writers would have chosen to invent this account of the death of their founder if a more "respectable death" had existed.

Because of this, some try to allege that Jesus was crucified and was presumed dead, but He later regained consciousness and escaped.

Now there are some very real problems with this assumption which need to be answered before it can be considered as anything more than idle speculation:

1) Jesus surviving the crucifixion needs to account for the fact that the Romans made sure a person was dead before removing him from the cross.  Soldiers who permitted a condemned man to escape would pay for it severely.

The fact that the soldiers broke the legs of the other prisoners crucified to hasten their death shows they were determined to make sure the prisoners were in fact dead.  Jesus, being seen to be dead, did not have His legs broken to be sure.  However He had a spear thrust into his side (see John 19:31ff), which shows the Romans left nothing to chance.

2) The spear thrust, described in John 19:34 attests to the flow of blood and water which, in medical terms meant Jesus' lungs had collapsed and indicate He died of asphyxiation (the normal method of death on the cross) [See here for an interesting medical description.  See here to go to the beginning of the report.  The JAMA issue it appeared in can be purchased here].

3) The body was totally encased in winding sheets and entombed (John 19:38-42).  Claims he had merely lost consciousness need to explain how those who wrapped Him did not notice He was still breathing and also need to explain how He was not constricted and suffocated if wrapped when unconscious.

4) The accounts of the Resurrection convinced the Apostles He was gloriously alive, not half dead and injured (remember, assumptions that Jesus had regained consciousness and staggered back to the Apostles still have to account for the Roman practices of crucifixion).  Would the Apostles seeing a half dead man think He had risen from the grave?  Or would they have assumed He had merely escaped death?

5) How did a half dead man escape from the tomb, which was sealed and guarded?  Who moved the stone? (a half dead man could not)  If the apostles aided Him, it follows that they knew the truth and lied about it, which shoots down the idea of "sincere but deluded" and takes us back to the idea of "what did the apostles gain for lying?"  Moreover, if the Apostles overpowered the soldiers why were they not considered yet one more band of armed revolutionaries (which no document of the time alleges)?

6) If Jesus was alive and escaped, where did He go?  There are no credible documents of this.  Accounts of this type fall into categories of "pseudo-history" such as Holy Blood, Holy Grail and the like, not serious documents.  We again would move away from the "sincere but deluded" apostles and into the "willful fraud."

Such arguments in favor of the "unconscious Jesus" theory has to presuppose the inaccuracy of the texts, which requires proof if it is to be taken as anything other than idle speculation.

The Underlying Problem with the "Sincere But Deluded" Arguments

Whether one believes Jesus died and the Apostles were deluded about the belief He rose again or whether one believes Jesus never died to begin with, a crucial element is missing: evidence.

The Christian believes the testimony of the apostles to be reliable, that the apostles did encounter the Risen Christ and this encouraged them to preach their message to the world, even at the cost of their lives.  On the other hand, the person who denies this insists on another meaning and tends to call the Christians foolish for believing the testimony of the Apostles.

However, we are not unreasonable in asking "On what basis do you make your claims?"  If one wishes to assert that the accounts of the Resurrection are false, we must require evidence that backs up their claims.  To merely argue…

  1. [Miracles] cannot [happen] (No [A] is [B])
  2. The [Resurrection] was a Miracle ([C] is a part of [A])
  3. Therefore the [Resurrection] could not have [happened] (Therefore [C] is not part of [B])

…requires proof of the major premise or proof that the accounts of the death and resurrection of Christ were not accurate (which does not establish that miracles can't happen but seeks to deny it happened in this case).

Otherwise the claim is not reasoned, but merely an opinion without backing.

A Caveat

I do not make the argument that because there is no proof for these claims that it automatically means the opposite (the Resurrection happened) is true.  This would be the Argument from Silence fallacy (There is no proof for [A], therefore [B] is true).  Certainly there are many studies about the Scriptural accounts which need to be considered, and people who wish to study the Christian claims need to look at.

However, in all these cases, we need to recognize that presupposing that something can't be true is going to lead to pre-determined conclusions.  if the presumption is false, the conclusion cannot be said to be proven true. 

Most Christians do not accept Tertullian's maxim I believe because it is absurd.  Most believe because they find the testimony credible and the arguments against lacking credibility (this is not addressing the gift of faith of course, which is not apart from reason).  Christian apologetics are based on showing the credibility of the beliefs of Christianity.

If one wishes to deny the beliefs of Christianity, it is their right of course.  However, we are not being unreasonable in requiring the basis on which the rejection is made and assessing such claims.

No comments:

Post a Comment