Monday, January 16, 2017

Proof, Evidence, Science, and Christianity

In my previous post I said that the Big Bang was evidence for the existence of God, though not proof.  This raises the question of whether or not there is proof for God, or for that matter, whether or not there is proof for anything, even within the scientific realm.   

If by proof, we mean absolute certainty of truth without any doubt or possibility of exception, then proof is not possible within a scientific framework.  Proofs are only possible in logic and in mathematics where there are well defined rules within the discipline.  In those two fields, once a proposition has been proven, that proof is complete and will remain valid.  In contrast, scientific knowledge is the best explanation for the results of current experimental observations among all the available options.  As additional evidence and observations are made, the facts may require modifications and adjustments to the theory.  If an experiment is done that contradicts the current scientific paradigm, then that theory is not wholly true and must be refined or discarded.  Therefore, scientific ideas can be disproved, but never absolutely proven.  

Take for example, the scientific principle that energy is always conserved.  Energy can be transformed from one form to another but it can not be created or destroyed.  As far as we know, there has never been a violation of this principle of the Conservation of Energy.  Does that mean the principle is completely proven?  Not really.  We would only have to observe one exception to this "law" of energy conservation and we would disprove it.  Since we have not tested the law in every possible circumstance, we can not say it is definitively proven, though all data points to it being a universal principle

When determining the veracity of an idea it is unreasonable to ask if it has been proven beyond any doubt.  Instead, questions should be posed like, "What is the objective evidence for the claim? What is the contradictory evidence?  What are other possible ideas that might fit the evidence better?  Is the evidence conclusive enough to validate the idea?"  I ask these kinds of questions all the time in my work as a scientist.  Just today I attended a meeting where we were discussing a new paper being written which will make a measurement of a certain property of the top quark.  These types of questions dominated the discussion as we tried to determine what conclusive statements we could make based on the data collected.

If we can not have certain proof in the scientific realm, then we should not expect absolute proof in the religious realm.  But what about turning the question around?  If we expect objective evidence for our beliefs in the scientific realm should we also expect objective evidence in the religious realm?  The Christian answer to that is, "Absolutely we should."  The Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians to "Test everything and hold fast to what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  When Thomas wanted evidence that Jesus arose from the dead, Jesus showed him the scars on his hands and on his side and said, "Stop doubting and believe" (John 20:27).

As a scientist one of the things that attracts me to Christianity is this appeal to, and encouragement of an objective basis for belief.  An investigation of the evidence for the truth of Christianity leads to an abundance of confirmation from many different fields.  The Big Bang, a seemingly transcendent origin of the universe, is simply one of those data points that gives objective evidence for God.  From scientific investigation we also find evidence for a designer and creator who cares about humanity in the fine-tuning of the parameters in the universe, the cosmological anthropic principle, and the rare earth hypothesis.  From archeology we find a general confirmation of the historical accuracy of the Bible.  The Christian worldview answers questions about the innate moral law held by humans and the universal human desire for purpose and destiny.  Biblical principles give insight into social behavior and societal problems.   Finally, I believe that the events of the early first century church are best explained by Jesus actually rising from the dead.  

In order for me to accept an idea as valid, whether in my scientific investigation or in my understanding of a spiritual reality, I must have sufficient data that points to a compelling conclusion. All in all, I find that the Christian worldview is the one that best fits the overall objective evidence I observe in the world around me.  

(Image taken from


  1. I believe that traditional Christianity can be proven false in just five minutes by knocking out the three pillars of the Christian Faith (belief system):

    1. The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus
    2. The Accuracy of Old Testament Prophecy
    3. The Witness of the Holy Spirit

    And here is the evidence that destroys these three superstition-based claims:

    1. Based on cumulative human experience, it is much more probable that the early Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus was due to one disciple’s bereavement hallucination (probably Simon Peter’s) than a once in history reanimation of a three-day-brain-dead corpse. Persons who experience hallucinations believe them to be real life experiences. If Paul was able to convince first century Jews in Asia Minor that he had seen a resurrected Jesus based on a “heavenly vision”, then Simon Peter was surely capable of convincing first century Jews (including the other disciples) in Palestine that he had seen the resurrected Jesus, even though his experience had really been an hallucination. The remainder of the “appearances” of Jesus listed in the Early Creed of First Corinthians 15 could simply have been static images (illusions) something we see today with alleged group sightings of the Virgin Mary. The Early Creed gives no details whatsoever of these appearances. The detailed appearances in the four Gospels may well be literary embellishments, very common in Greco-Roman biographies, the genre of literature in which most New Testament scholars, including many conservative Christian scholars, believe the authors of the Gospels were writing.

    2. The Book of Daniel is a blatant fraud. The book very accurately portrays the events in the Greek Empire down to abstract minutia but makes major errors regarding the Babylonian and Persian empires, the empires during which the book’s author infers the book was written. Jesus quotes from this fraudulent book. Jesus, who was not a scholar, was fooled by the author. Modern scholars are not fooled.

    3. The “witness of the Holy Spirit” is a joke. Christians can no more prove that the voice that allegedly speaks to them is their god than can the Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Jews, and others prove that the voice that speaks to them is their god. Watch this powerful video for proof:

    1. Thanks for your comments. I agree that these three "pillars" are important evidence for the truth of Christianity. I also understand that in any comment you can just make a very brief attempt at destroying the three pillars. In response, I'll try to make a similar brief response to show the inadequacies of your points.

      1. Your proposition does not come close to fitting the historical facts. It completely ignores the fact that the tomb was empty and ignores the historical record of the appearances of Jesus. Many skeptics have tried, without success, to show the resurrection is not true. Many of the skeptics who have taken the time to actually investigate the evidence have become Christians.

      2. The book of Daniel is often said to be finished in 165-167 B.C. Of course aspects of Daniel that were once criticized as inaccurate have been shown to be accurate, like the "reign" of Belteshazzar. In addition, there are many other prophecies that are quite explicit including those about the Messiah and the city of Tyre. Historically, the stories of the Bible have been criticized because of the lack of archeological evidence, but then later archeology shows its accuracy, including subjects like the Hittites, Pilate, David, and Solomon. The same has even happened with historical facts in Daniel.

      3. The witness of the Holy Spirit does have a level of subjectivity, but it is remarkable that Christians will claim to have very similar spiritual experiences including those that are quite difficult to explain apart from a spiritual reality. I have had incidents in my life that I attribute to the Holy Spirit. Of course, there are alternative possibilities, but those alternatives do not fit the actual facts very well and I would say are highly improbable.

      By the way, have you read extensively from writers who disagree with you, who argue for the truth of the resurrection, biblical prophecy, and the Holy Spirit? I believe the only way to really know what is true is to extensively read good writers from both sides of the discussion. I'm currently reading two books by the physicist Victor Stenger who is s strong critic of the kinds of arguments I make for God like the origin and design of the universe. I will write about my thoughts on this in future blogs. When I read arguments for and against the three points you mention above, those that support the truth of them far surpass the alternatives.

    2. Let me make two points about the fact that many people have similar experiences through different religions. First, I think this shows that humans do have a deep spiritual need that they are looking to fill. Second, since all of these religions and philosophies contradict each other, either only one of them is true or all are false. However, even a counterfeit experience can go a long way in filling a real need. Placebos can work for a while, but they don't really heal.

  2. Hi Michael,

    Here is a list of all the books I have read on this subject:

    1. "The Resurrection of the Son of God" by NT Wright
    2. "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses" by Richard Bauckham
    3. "Making the Case for Christianity" by Maas, Francisco, et al.
    4. " The Resurrection Fact" by Bombaro, Francisco, et al.
    5. "Miracles" , Volumes 1 and 2, by Craig Keener
    6. “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona
    7. “Why are There Differences in the Gospels” by Michael Licona
    8. “The Son Rises” by William Lane Craig
    9. “The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus” by Raymond Brown
    10. “The Resurrection of Jesus” by Gerd Luedemann
    11. “Resurrection Reconsidered” by Gregory Riley
    12. “John and Thomas---Gospels in Conflict?” by Christopher Skinner
    13. "The Argument for the Holy Sepulchre" (journal article) by scholar Jerome Murphy-O'Connor
    14. "Israel in Egypt" by James Hoffmeier
    15. “The Bible Unearthed” by Finkelstein and Silberman
    16. "The Resurrection of Jesus in the Light of Jewish Burial Practices" by Craig Evans, (newsletter article) The City, a publication of Houston Baptist University, May 4, 2016
    17. "Has the Tomb of Jesus Been Discovered?" by Jodi Magness, SBL Forum
    18. "Genre, Sub-genre and Questions of Audience: A Proposed Typology for Greco-Roman biography" (article) by Justin M. Smith, St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews, Scotland
    19. “Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus” by Asher Norman (not a work of scholarship per se, but it is endorsed by Talmudic scholars for its accuracy in presenting a Jewish perspective of Jesus and the Christian New Testament)

    1. Great. I'm glad to see you have read a few books that are pro-resurrection. I find that the only hypothesis that explains the facts surrounding the history of first century Christianity is that Jesus physically rose from the dead. How do you explain the empty tomb if only one person saw a hallucination as you claim? Why didn't the Jewish authorities, in their attempt to stamp out Christianity, simply produce the dead body? That would have completely crushed Christianity in Jerusalem in its infancy. Do you think all other claims of seeing the risen Jesus are fabricated?

  3. Let me address your rebuttal:

    1. There are many possible natural explanations for an empty tomb that are much more probable than a never heard of before or since resurrection.

    2. The earliest historical record of the appearance claims is found in the Early Creed, quoted by Paul in First Corinthians 15. In this Early Creed, which most scholars believe was written within a few years of Jesus' death, there is no mention of Jesus walking, talking, being touched, or eating food. Therefore it is very possible that the earliest appearance claims were of static images of Jesus, similar to what Roman Catholics claim when they "see" the Virgin Mary in a cloud formation.

    The appearance stories found in the Gospels were written many decades after the alleged events by non-eyewitnesses (according to the consensus of NT scholars), writing in a literary genre (Greco-Roman biography) which allowed for literary embellishments (fictional additions) to make the story better reading.

    3. There is no historical evidence of a "Darius the Mede" who conquered Babylon and killed Belshazzar. In fact, the Persians conquered Babylon, not the Medes, and they did so without killing anyone. The Persian king who conquered Babylon was Cyrus, not someone named Darius. The author of Daniel invented this "Darius the Mede" because he didn't know his history. The author of Daniel was not living during that time period. He was living during the Greek empire. The Book of Daniel is a fraud.

    4. If you watched the video I attached to my comment you saw many people of many different religions give heart-wrenching testimony how God (Allah, Krishna, Yahweh, Jesus, etc.) had spoken to them and indicated to them that ________ was the true religion. Obviously, some of them weren't listening well, or maybe, the voices they were hearing wasn't a god's, but...their own.

    I suggest all the "miracles" that have happened to you and to other Christians after prayer are nothing more than coincidence. People of all other religions, including Wiccans, can recount "miracles". And yes, even atheists, experience amazing coincidences. Rare events do happen. It's called "a rare event". If Christians pray about everything it is to be expected that at least some of the time those prayers will "be answered". It is just a matter of statistical probability.

    Instead of asking Jesus to bless your food every day, ask him to levitate your coffee table to prove he really exists. Guess what. He won't do it.

    Your supernatural belief system is a fantasy, my friend. It may give you peace and comfort, but the belief in invisible supernatural beings who condemn humans simply based on what they believe is the source of much of today's sectarianism and violence.

  4. I personally believe (as do a significant minority of NT scholars) that the Empty Tomb is a later invention. But let's assume that the Empty Tomb is an historical fact. There are many possible explanations for an empty tomb. The most probable explanation for any empty tomb throughout human history is that someone moved the body. And this is exactly what the authors of the Gospels say that the followers of Jesus thought when they found the empty tomb. The followers of Jesus assumed that the empty tomb indicated that someone, possibly the gardener, had moved the body (Gospel of John). In fact, according to the authors of the Gospels, no one except the Beloved Disciple, believed because of the Empty Tomb. Therefore, the Empty Tomb was not sufficient evidence in the days of Jesus to assume a resurrection and should not be sufficient evidence for anyone today to believe that a resurrection occurred 2,000 years ago.

    So it is possible that on the Sunday morning after Jesus crucifixion, his tomb was found empty because someone (we will never know who or why) moved his body. However, shortly after this event, one of the disciples, probably Simon Peter, experienced a bereavement hallucination. In this hallucination, Jesus appeared to him in bodily form, told him that he had been resurrected, and commanded him to preach the Gospel to all nations. Peter then convinced his fellow disciples that Jesus had been resurrected, just as Paul convinced Jews in Asia Minor that Jesus had been resurrected.

    The small group of Jesus followers was gripped with excitement bordering on hysteria. Soon individuals and groups of disciples were "seeing" Jesus in cloud formations, shadows on a hillside, and in sudden flashes of light. These appearances are what we find in the Early Creed quoted by Paul in First Corinthians 15. The appearance stories in the Gospels, are later literary embellishments of these original bare-bones accounts of "sightings" of static images of Jesus.

    1. If you are correct about the body, then whoever moved it had to overcome the armed guards and then hide it for some reason, neither of which has any significant probability. Then they continued to hide the body when the resurrection was proclaimed, another highly improbable event. Of course, the empty tomb was not enough in and of itself to believe in a risen Jesus. The disciples, including Thomas, had to see him for themselves. Of course, you are dismissing the appearance of Jesus to Thomas as well as all other accounts of Jesus' appearance. Like just about all of those who reject the resurrection, you have to completely ignore the historical record to come to such a conclusion, despite the fact that the New Testament has been shown to be extremely historically accurate. (See for instance The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable, by F. F. Bruce). It is easy to come to basically any conclusion by ignoring first hand historical accounts of events.

    2. You state in your comment that I have "ignored the historical record". I believe that you are incorrect. I, in fact, accept the majority scholarly opinion on all historical issues. I am even willing to accept the historicity of the Empty Tomb even though I question the quality of the ONE study upon which this claim is made. But for the sake of this discussion, I will accept the historicity of the Empty Tomb and ALL other majority and consensus positions of scholars and historians. Will you, Michael, do the same?

      For instance, the majority of scholars do NOT believe that eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels. Will you accept that as historical fact? The overwhelming majority of scholars believe that Matthew's Guards at the Tomb story is a theological invention (fiction). Will you accept that as historical fact? And can you point me to a source which states that the majority of NT scholars and/or historians believe that the Appearance Stories in the Gospels are "historically accurate"? No, you cannot.

      I am willing to agree to Gary Habermas Minimal Facts as historically accurate facts but the details in the appearance stories, such as the story of Thomas, is NOT included in Habermas' list. You are out on a limb here, Michael. You are not representing the position of the majority of scholars or the majority of historians. You have overstated your case.

  5. "If you are correct about the body, then whoever moved it had to overcome the armed guards and then hide it for some reason, neither of which has any significant probability."

    Then why upon seeing the Empty Tomb was the first thought in the minds of the followers of Jesus: "Someone has taken the body of the Lord!" The idea of someone moving/taking the body was obviously a significant probability if this was truly what the early Christians first believed was the cause of the Empty Tomb of Jesus. You are not just arguing against me but against the Bible itself. That someone moved the body WAS a probable cause for the missing body in the minds of the early Christians. It was only the subsequent (alleged) sightings of the resurrected Jesus that changed their minds as to why the tomb was empty.

  6. I hope that your silence is an indication that you now see that your belief system is not based on evidence but on "faith", which is simply another way of saying "wishful thinking".

    Embrace reason and science, my friend. Abandon ancient superstitions. The world will be much better off if you do.


    1. The tone of this comment seems less productive than your previous comments. My silence is due to the fact that I'm a busy particle physicist and I'm currently at CERN doing research. I'll get back to you when I have some time. (By the way, in the future I will not publish comments like this that really don't add anything to the conversation but I just wanted to quickly respond and make plain my policy on what is an acceptable comment.)

    2. This is the first part of my response because my total response is too long for one comment.

      So thanks for your patience in waiting for my reply. I have had a very busy week professionally while spending time at CERN.

      Let me start by stating what may not be so obvious. In trying to determine the truth of Christianity we are discussing the evidence that historical events really did or did not happen. As such, we are recognizing that Christianity is based on objective, verifiable evidence. Whether or not we agree on the strength of the evidence and the conclusions, the fact that we are discussing such objective evidence, and that the truth of the Christian belief system relies on the truth of these historical events, shows the uniqueness of the Christian faith. Christian faith is not belief in something without evidence, as many “New Atheists” believe, but a commitment based on sufficient evidence.

      Regarding historical “inaccuracies” in the Bible, I do not want to debate every point. I stand by my statement that time and time again critics have said that such and such event has not been shown to be true in the archeological record and so the Bible is not true, and then we find evidence for the truth of that event. The list of such things is easily in the dozens so I know the slope of the line is in favor of the Bible not the skeptic. The fact the we now know Belshazzar was in line to the throne proves my point since for so long the lack of any record of his existence was “proof” of the inaccuracy of the Bible.

      As far as the resurrection, let’s start with what we can agree on which is Gary Habermas’s six minimal facts that the “vast majority of even critical scholars” agree on. These are 1) that Jesus died by crucifixion; 2) that very soon afterwards, his followers had real experiences that they thought were actual appearances of the risen Jesus; 3) that their lives were transformed as a result, even to the point of being willing to die specifically for their faith in the resurrection message; 4) that these things were taught very early, soon after the crucifixion; 5) that James, Jesus’ unbelieving brother, became a Christian due to his own experience that he thought was the resurrected Christ; and 6) that the Christian persecutor Paul (formerly Saul of Tarsus) also became a believer after a similar experience. Habermas makes the case that those facts alone are sufficient to establish the resurrection as a fact. The case he makes is strong enough from my perspective to make other possibilities implausible. Clearly that is not the case for everyone.

      Habermas has a further list of 12 facts that most scholars believe, that makes even a stronger case. It includes the six above plus 1) He was buried. 2) His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope. 3) The tomb was empty (the most contested). 4) The resurrection was the central message. 5) They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem. 6) The Church was born and grew. 7) Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship. (4) and (5) in a this second list are partially contained in (4) in the first list. These extra facts, attested to by most scholars, make the resurrection even more viable.

    3. Here is the second part of my response.

      By the way, number (3) in the first list is plural, his followers, and the accounts of his followers seeing the risen Jesus are in the New Testament. So I’m not sure which of the “sightings” are accepted by most scholars (if that is even the correct criteria as I discuss below), and which are not. Note what else Habermas says about how the scholars treat the New Testament documents. He says, “One ‘secret’ not readily known is that these skeptical scholars are quite willing to cite New Testament texts in order to buttress the historical nature of these six events. While not believing that these passages are inspired or even generally reliable, they still employ the individual texts that meet their standards of evidence. It is largely from these passages, plus occasionally from extra-New Testament writings, that they find plenty of data to accept these half-dozen events.” Similarly, many scholars say that the story of the guards in Matthew is not true because it is only found in that gospel. But it is also found in the apocryphal gospel of Peter which many scholars want to accept as coming from the same tradition. So whether it is the New Testament or the apocryphal or gnostic gospels, these same scholars choose which parts are accurate and which are not based often on their presuppositions. I’m not a historian so I don’t know the validity of picking and choosing the things from a document that support my case and discarding the rest. I do know that If I did that with my physics data, I would be committing fraud.

      Of course, I’m not even sure that the best way to determine whether a historical miraculous event occurred is to just count the number of scholars who accept the facts surrounding it. Many scholars, if not most, start with the presupposition that either miracles are not possible, or miracles cannot be determined from historic facts. As such, how do you count the conclusion of a historian or scholar who, a priori, has ruled out the miraculous when you are trying to determine the veracity of a miraculous event? In physics, I would give such a scholar a weight of zero because their presupposition prohibits them from coming to a certain conclusion, even if it were true.

      So I believe I have a strong case that in certain areas where we are discussing supernatural events it is reasonable to side with the minority of scholars rather than the majority. For miraculous events, it would be impossible to ever have the majority agree that those things happened because of the historical presupposition that miracles don’t occur. Just to play with hypothetical numbers. Suppose that half of all historians, a priori, reject the supernatural. Suppose of the other half 2/3 believe the evidence supports a supernatural event. So although 2/3 of the scholars who are open to the supernatural would say the event happened, we would still find that of a 2/3 majority of all scholars say it didn’t. That is hardly an unbiased determination of whether or not the event happened.

      In any case, based on my reading of the historical accuracy of most of the New Testament in books and articles like I have mentioned in the past, I do probably accept as valid more details of the New Testament than the “majority” of scholars in certain areas. As I stated, I do read many books and articles by those who I agree with as well as those I don’t agree with in order to ascertain what I think is true. For instance, I think the guards at the tomb is certainly plausible though its historicity is not certain. In that regard I would probably agree with William Lane Craig who, of course, is a proponent of Christianity.

    4. ...and the last part of my response.

      I’m not a fan of long, protracted, internet discussions like this. Often they are unproductive. So far, I have found our dialogue mostly productive and reasonable. I’m happy to continue it if we are making progress, but if we have both laid out our points and there is no movement, then I think it would be time to move on. In any case, for now I’ll see where you want to go from here and when it is time to end the dialogue, I’m happy to let you have the last word.

  7. Thank you for your responses, Michael.

    First let me respond to this comment: "Regarding historical “inaccuracies” in the Bible, I do not want to debate every point. I stand by my statement that time and time again critics have said that such and such event has not been shown to be true in the archeological record and so the Bible is not true, and then we find evidence for the truth of that event."

    Unfortunately for Christians, this statement is inaccurate. 150 years ago, the Bible was considered the primary text for archeology of the Near East. You can search the internet on this subject to see that this is no longer the case. The Bible is no longer considered a reliable source of history or archeology. Now, that does not mean that every historical claim in the Bible is inaccurate. Archeology has confirmed the existence of many of the Israelite kings beginning with King Omri, the father of Ahab, as described in the Bible. The key to reading the Bible is to read it as one would any other ancient text. Therefore, the atheist is wrong to dismiss the entire Bible just because it is primarily a religious text, but the fundamentalist/conservative Christian is also wrong to assume that every historical claim within the Bible is 100% accurate. The Bible was written by humans and humans can make mistakes.

    Many Christians have no problem with the fact that the Bible contains historical errors as they believe that it is the message of God that is inerrant, not the entire text itself. A minority of Christians believe that the Bible text is the Word of God and therefore it cannot contain any errors. I am not sure which category you belong to but if it is the latter, skeptics need only show you ONE historical error in the Bible to prove your position false.

    The fact that the author of Daniel states that a "Darius the Mede" conquered Babylon and killed Belshazzar is an absolute error. Cyrus the Persian conquered Babylon and there is no evidence that he killed Belshazzar or his father (who was the actual king of Babylon at the time). Only by inventing the most ridiculous of "harmonizations" can fundamentalist Christians excuse this blatant error by the author of Daniel.

    And how is it possible that a man who claimed to live during the rule of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and the king that conquered him did not know that it was Cyrus who conquered Babylon, not a "Darius", a king of the Medes? How is it possible that this man, "Daniel", ruled as a prince under this "Darius the Mede" and did not know that he had NOT conquered Babylon; How did he not know that Cyrus the Persian did?

    Michael, you are a scientist. Therefore, I am sure that you respect science, evidence, and expert opinion. I am a physician. I respect science, evidence, and expert opinion. If there is a consensus opinion of experts that smoking causes cancer, I accept that consensus opinion even though I am not a research scientist and personally have never conducted any research on the effects of tobacco smoking. In the western world, educated people accept the consensus opinion of experts on subjects about which they are not experts. I am not an expert on archeology. You are not an expert on archeology. So I suggest that as two educated men, we accept the consensus opinion of experts in all fields, including archeology.

    The consensus of archeologists is that the kings of Israel beginning with Omri really did exist. That does not mean that David, Solomon, and his sons did not exist, only that there is not a consensus on their existence. The existence of these kings is still debated. Therefore, archeology has confirmed the accuracy of the Bible regarding the kings of Israel, at least beginning with King Omri.


  8. (cont'd)

    So the consensus of archeologists has confirmed some historical claims in the Bible. I accept those consensus positions. Notice that as a non-believer in the supernatural claims of the Bible I am still willing to accept evidence that supports the Christian positions (the accuracy of the Bible). I hope you see, therefore, that I accept good evidence regardless of whether it helps my worldview or undermines my worldview. What I do not accept is poor evidence and silly "harmonizations" to prop-up one's position.

    There are other historical claims in the Bible that archeology believes the evidence proves as very probably false. I say " very probably" because when it comes to events in the remote past it is difficult to be 100% certain. For instance, did Atlantis exist? Probably not, but we can't be 100% sure. Maybe someday someone will find the ruins of this ancient city somewhere under the sea.

    And that is the current situation with the Biblical Exodus. Whether you believe that a couple million or a couple hundred thousand Hebrews served as slaves in Egypt and then suddenly left in a mass exodus to wander in the Sinai for forty years, the consensus of archeologists says that there is no good evidence for this event. The consensus of archeologists is that this event is a folktale. Yes, there is a very small minority of archeologists (almost all of whom are evangelical Christians) who still believe the biblical account, but the consensus of experts is that this event most probably did not happen.

    So I accept the accuracy of the Bible on the kings of Israel and other historical claims (the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians, and others)because they are confirmed by the consensus opinion of modern experts. Can you, Michael, accept that the biblical Exodus most probably did not happen because the consensus of experts have reached that conclusion?

    1. I agree with you that there was a time that the Bible was accepted as fact, although I would put that date about 200 years ago rather than 150. The historicity of Belshazzar and the Hittites were already questioned before 1850. I do agree there is tension between some of the stories in the Bible and the current archaeological record like the Exodus, Darius the Mede, and the size and scope of the empire of David and Solomon, for instance. However, based on the previous track record, I’m not willing to side 100% with the “consensus of experts.” Here is why. If I had sided with the consensus of experts in 1854 about Belshazzar, I would have been wrong. If I had sided with the consensus of experts in 1884 about the Hittites, I would have been wrong. If I had sided with the consensus of experts in 1961 about Pilate, I would have been wrong. If I had sided with the consensus of experts in 1968 about the burial of crucified criminals in private tombs, I would have been wrong. If I had sided with the consensus of experts in 1993 about David, I would have been wrong. Based on that record, I prefer to wait and see what future archaeological finds will uncover, though I have already admitted there is a tension with what we have so far discovered archaeologically and what the Bible says in a few certain areas.

      I think the Wikipedia article on The Historicity of the Bible is pretty fair and accurate. It presents a reasonably balanced viewpoint of the minimalists and maximalists, who basically accept or reject the biblical stories outright. I would fall somewhere in between but closer to the maximalists view and, my guess is, that you would fall somewhere in between but closer to the minimalists view.

      I don’t know if further discussion on this topic will be valuable. We have both stated our viewpoints and reasons for them fairly completely. If there is more to discuss productively I’m willing to dialogue, or I’m willing to let you have the last word if you want.

    2. We seem to agree that evidence matters, and that is important, and a good starting point for a discussion. What I have run into with other Christians is that, for them, objective evidence is not the primary criteria for determining the veracity of the Christian faith/religion. In fact, some Christians, such as apologist William Lane Craig, have specifically stated that even if there were ZERO evidence to support the claims of Christianity, Christians could know that Christianity is true by the subjective evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit within them. In other words, objective evidence or the lack thereof is irrelevant. I hope that as an educated man you do not hold this position. A society in which truth is based on each person's subjective perception of truth is a recipe for chaos and disaster. The video link I provided above demonstrates how unreliable the perception of an inner presence or voice can be for persons of many different religions and persuasion. Truth MUST be based on objective evidence.

      You are correct that some historical claims within the Bible have only recently been confirmed. But does that mean we should accept every historical AND supernatural claim in the Bible as absolute fact? Would you do that for other ancient texts. If we find out that Homer properly described the Greek-Trojan wars does that mean we must accept the existence of Cyclops and man-gods who can only be killed by shooting them in the Achilles?? Would you do this in other fields of study? Would you withhold accepting the concurrent consensus among physicists simply because Newton was not 100% correct; Einstein found that he had made some errors? No, I doubt you would. You would simply assume that humans error and that you accept the current consensus of physicists until evidence emerges that disproves the consensus.

      In regards to Near East history and archeology, however, you are doing the very opposite, Michael. You have accepted an ancient text, written by non-scientists as inerrant FIRST and THEN you are then trying to force the evidence to conform with this text. Why not be consistent? Accept the current consensus and be ready to change positions with a change in the evidence and consensus? This is what we educated professionals do in all other areas of our lives in fields in which we personally are not experts so why make an exception for matters related to your religion's holy book?

      You mention there is "tension" on numerous issues related to biblical historical claims. Have you ever asked yourself this: Why would a god who allegedly so loves the world that he offered his only son to die in their place leave evidence for his existence and the truths of his past actions in such a murky state that even followers of your religions must admit that there is "tension" between the Bible and current expert opinion?

      Yes, I realize that Christians have many hypothetical explanations for this fact but isn't it also possible that the reason there is "tension" between biblical claims about the Exodus, the authorship of the Pentateuch, the authorship of Daniel and Isaiah, the historicity of a Great Flood, and the story of Creation itself is because all these stories are folktales? Can you admit that that is a strong possibility?

      So we come to this:

      1. The evidence for the supernatural reanimation (resurrection) of a first century corpse cannot be described as excellent or even very good by even it own believers. At best it is fair.

      2. Many of the historical claims in the Bible are in "tension".

      3. Relying on an inner voice or the perception of an inner presence is highly unreliable as the video above clearly demonstrates.

      So why believe in such incredible supernatural claims when the evidence is fair at best?

    3. Actually, I disagree with your point (1). As stated before, I think that the only conclusion that fits the evidence is a bodily resurrection, as I have pointed out in all my previous responses.

      As far as point (2). Actually, I do treat my science the same way as my history. In things without evidence for them, I remain agnostic. The majority of theoretical physicists believe a theory called supersymmetry (SUSY) is true. There is no evidence for it or against it yet but it has the potential of solving lots of theoretical problems in physics and there are many SUSY true believers. We are looking for evidence of it in our experiments, but my position is to wait and see what we find before I make any commitment one way or another. In historical things my position is also to wait and see as the evidence comes in. As I so clearly pointed out, the track record of the biblical skeptics has not been good, while the track record of biblical accuracy has been good. Why would I ignore the past track record in making a judgement without additional objective evidence? Bayesian statistics says I should consider "prior" information in making statistical analysis and the prior information for me is how well past predictions have been verified. I don't know why it is so important to you that I adhere to the viewpoint of the majority of scholars when all the data is not in and I have shown that if I did that in the past I would in many cases be wrong. Scientifically I don't adhere to a certain viewpoint until the data is in despite the true believers who are in the majority and are betting on such and such a theory.

      As far as point (3) I thought my response above clearly answered that. I wrote "Let me make two points about the fact that many people have similar experiences through different religions. First, I think this shows that humans do have a deep spiritual need that they are looking to fill. Second, since all of these religions and philosophies contradict each other, either only one of them is true or all are false. However, even a counterfeit experience can go a long way in filling a real need. Placebos can work for a while, but they don't really heal." You should know that placebos seem to work for a while even though they are not the "real" medicine that heals. The human need for spirituality can be filled by placebos. Again, either all religions are false or only one is true since they contradict each other. I have no problems with that.

    4. I read your very first post again and laughed because, although I basically agree with your three pillars, it is clear that they cannot be destroyed in "five minutes." Many Christians are like me, holding to their beliefs precisely because we have examined the objective evidence for those three pillars and believe it is solid and believe that the pillars can be defended based on evidence. For those of us who have spent maybe 5 or 50 years examining the evidence for and against the pillars and already know the vast majority of "contradictory" evidence, it would take more than 5 minutes to tear them down. Of course, there are Christians who haven't examined their belief system and would be astonished to know there are actually talking points against the pillars.

    5. One other quick point on the miracles in the Bible vs other tales of gods and all. The genre of stories like in Homer are clearly mythological while the stories in the Bible are grounded in historical times and places. To argue I should accept the Greek and Roman mythological stories because I believe there is historical evidence to accept many of the biblical stories is the logical fallacy of false equivalence.

  9. I am more than willing to admit that some of the Bible's historical claims have been confirmed by recent archeological discoveries. But the big question is: What does that prove? Even if we discover evidence that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon existed, does that evidence prove the supernatural claims of the Bible? Does it prove that Jacob wrestled with an angel? Does it prove that David killed a lion with his bare hands? Does it prove that a sea parted down the middle when Moses prayed to his god and lifted up his hands? That is the key issue.

    Even if archeology eventually confirms that 100% of the historical claims (unrelated to supernatural events) in the Bible are true this in no way confirms the reality of the supernatural claims in the Bible, the Six Day Creation, a world wide flood, the parting of a (Red or Reed) Sea, talking donkeys, walking/talking snakes, the existence of Yahweh, or that Jesus is a god who at this moment sits on a golden throne in a place called heaven. What we need is good evidence for the SUPERNATURAL claims of the Bible. Other than alleged eyewitness testimony of seeing a reanimated first century body, does such evidence exist? I don't think so.

    Imagine if we find that King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table really existed. Imagine if every historical claim in the story about these men is found to be true. Is that proof that they fought against dragons? Of course not.

    I don't think Christians realize just how outrageously improbable and frankly ridiculous their supernatural claims appear to non-Christians. Asking us to believe that a three-day brain dead, bloated, decomposing, first-century corpse was magically brought back to life by an ancient middle-eastern deity, given super-hero supernatural powers that enabled him to appear and disappear between cities, walk through locked doors, and levitate into outer space, based almost entirely on the claim that a group of peasants and one Jewish rabbi say that they saw this corpse alive again is absolutely PREPOSTEROUS to us.

    The evidence for the supernatural claims of the Bible is poor. Even if five THOUSAND people from long ago claimed to have seen Cinderella's pumpkin turn into a carriage, and a group of rats turn into her footmen, the overwhelming majority of modern, educated people, probably including yourself, are going to reject this very improbable eyewitness claim. Why do you treat the very improbable reanimation of a dead first century body differently?

    This is why the evidence that I have presented above, in my opinion, does disprove the three pillars of Christianity to most educated non-Christians in just five minutes. I am aware that for most Christians, the evidence I have presented in insufficient. But in my experience, no amount of objective evidence will convince most of them. Their belief in the supernatural claims of Christianity are not really based on evidence. It is based on something they call "faith". I call it, "wishful, superstitious thinking"

  10. Your evidence against the three pillars is insufficient for the many very intelligent skeptics who have researched the historical facts with the intent of showing how ludicrous the claims of the resurrection are, yet changed their mind based on the facts and became Christians including people like General Lee Wallace author of Ben Hur, Albert Henry Ross author of Who Moved the Stone (using pseudonym Frank Morison), Josh McDowell author of More than a Carpenter, J.Warner Wallace author of Cold Case Christianity, Malcom Muggeridge author of Jesus Rediscovered and Chronicles of Wasted Time, and Lee Strobel author of The Case for Christ. Sure, these people became "biased" once they came to the conclusion that the facts supported a real resurrection, but they were extremely biased the other way when they started their investigation.

    Again, your dragon analogy is committing the logical fallacy of false equivalency. Christians claim that a transcendent God who created the universe has the power over life and death. That is hardly claiming that dragons exist (or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or fairies for that matter.)

    But you are correct that even showing the Bible is a relatively historically reliable book doesn't prove any of the miracles occurred. And I agree, if there is no God then all of this is PREPOSTEROUS. If there is a transcendent God who created the universe and cares about humans, then it is all very reasonable.

    As far as Cinderella, have you read my post on Extraordinary Claims and Extraordinary Evidence? What evidence would convince you that a single miraculous event actually did occur in the past? I treat the improbable "reanimation" of a dead first century body as a real historical event because I believe it is the only conclusion that adequately explains the historical record, which is the same conclusion those skeptics mentioned above came to despite their motivation and presupposition that the facts would show differently.

  11. "I treat the improbable "reanimation" of a dead first century body as a real historical event because I believe it is the only conclusion that adequately explains the historical record..."

    I am going to present to you just one hypothetical explanation for the early Christian resurrection belief. I challenge you to demonstrate why my hypothetical explanation is less probable than the reanimation/resurrection of a three-day brain-dead corpse:

    Jesus is crucified and dies on the cross. He is buried in a rock tomb. Sometime between his burial Friday afternoon, after the rock is rolled in front of the door of the tomb, and Sunday morning, SOMEONE takes the body for unknown reasons.

    Sunday morning, female disciples arrive at the tomb and find it empty. They run to tell the disciples. Some of the disciples come to the tomb and see it empty. They are unsure what has happened.

    Simon Peter cannot sleep; he can barely eat; he is deeply distressed and deeply ashamed of his betrayal of Jesus. Due to his lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and state of emotional trauma, Peter has an hallucination. In his hallucination, Jesus appears to him, forgives him of his betrayal, and tells Peter that he has been resurrected as the first fruits of the Resurrection. The Resurrection of the righteous has begun. The New Kingdom will shortly be established.

    The next day, Peter is certain that the resurrected Jesus truly appeared to him. He is overcome with emotion and excitement. His news electrifies the disciples who also believe.

    Shortly thereafter numerous disciples have experiences of "appearances" of Jesus, as individuals and sometimes as groups. Jesus "appears" in a cloud formation, as a shadow on a hillside, or as a bright light. These are the appearances recorded in First Corinthians 15 in the Early Creed.

    Three years later, Paul has a "heavenly vision". We do not know if this was an hallucination or a vivid dream, but Paul believes it to be a true appearance of Jesus and a sign from the risen Christ that he is to be his missionary to the Gentiles.

    Paul spreads the message of the risen Jesus to much of the Roman world. Many first century Jews and pagans believe, not because they personally have seen a resurrected corpse, but because they accept as fact the testimony of others and because the religion of the resurrected Jesus preaches social equality, social justice, and hope of a blissful afterlife.

    ...and that his how Christianity began.

  12. Suppose you had an older brother, let’s call him Greg. Greg was a little eccentric and thought of himself as a teacher/philosopher. You and your family were concerned about Greg, and embarrassed by his behavior. Greg eventually upset some powerful politicians and died a gruesome death. He was put in a casket and buried. A few days later, some people noticed the casket was dug up and opened and Greg’s body was gone. In addition, a good friend of Greg’s, Bill, claimed that he had a vision of Greg and he was now alive.

    Let me ask you, based on a grave that appears to be robbed of the body and the vision of Bill, are you going to change your entire perception of Greg having known him your whole life? Will you, honestly, based on that flimsy evidence, now believe that Greg is some kind of divine, resurrected being? I know I wouldn’t. That evidence is far too flimsy. Would you then proclaim Greg’s greatness, resurrection and divinity throughout your city even if the authorities demanded that you stop, and eventually killed you because of your belief and proclamation? I wouldn’t. For me to believe my brother is some sort of divine resurrected being would take a lot more evidence and convincing than a robbed grave and a visionary appearance.

    Now one of Habermas’s undisputed facts is that James, Jesus’ brother came to believe in the resurrected Jesus and proclaimed that in Jerusalem. James was killed for that belief. If the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is as minimal as you claim, then there is no way that James would come to such a belief. Would you? I wouldn’t? So unless you can honestly state for yourself that the evidence as you propose would cause you to believe your own brother was a divine resurrected being, then your scenario can’t even adequately explain one of the undisputed events that even skeptic historians agree occurred.

    1. First of all, I did not say that Peter had a vision. I said he had an hallucination. As a physician, I can assure you that people who have hallucinations believe them to be very real experiences. To Peter, the flesh and blood risen Jesus really did visit him, even though in reality, this occurred only in his brain. Was it necessary for all the persons listed in the Early Creed, including James, to have experienced an hallucination for my hypothesis to stand? No, and I have proof from the Bible to back it up. First century Jews in Asia Minor believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus solely based on Paul's personal testimony that he had seen the resurrected Jesus and by searching the Scriptures. So first century Jews did NOT need to see a resurrected body with their own to eyes to believe! Therefore if this could occur in Asia Minor, it could have occurred in Palestine. Only one disciple, probably Peter hallucinated seeing the resurrected Jesus and everyone else believed it. The other appearances in the Early Creed could have all been based on the same phenomenon as Paul's experience: a bright light. If you read the Early Creed there is not one physical description of the appearances.

      Paul states that some of the Jews who converted in Asia Minor were leaders of the synagogues and if they were capable of searching the Scriptures, that means they could read (they were educated and probably of the upper class). If these people could be converted based on someone else's claim of seeing a reanimated corpse, then James, who most likely was from the lower classes and uneducated, could as well.

      Second, what may be odd for one culture and time may not be odd for another culture and time. In the first century, people frequently claimed to see spirits. This was not unusual.

      Third, Jesus had been preaching the End Times; the coming Kingdom which would be ushered in by the resurrection of all the righteous. For Peter to assume that the resurrected Jesus who appeared to him (in his brain) was the start of the general resurrection would have been consistent with his world view and culture. It was not a concept out of nowhere.

      Lastly, which is more implausible:

      Someone believes that his own brother is the resurrected creator of the universe or a three-day, brain-dead, bloated, decomposing corpse comes back to life and forty days later levitates into the clouds?

      History has shown that human beings are capable of believing some pretty bizarre and implausible beliefs. There is no scientifically confirmed evidence of one single brain-dead body in all of human history coming back to life.

  13. By the way, the idea that early creed in 1 Corinthians 15 refers to a spiritual resurrection and not a bodily resurrection is a modern interpretation that completely ignores Jewish culture and the context of the passage. Jews who believed in resurrection believed the body would be resurrected and later in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul writes exactly about the fact that the resurrected body is a body of a different kind (of which Christ's was the first), but nevertheless a body. This idea that Paul only believes in a spiritual resurrection is a modern contrived idea to, once again, try to explain away the evidence surrounding the resurrection.

    1. I never said that Paul believed in a spiritual resurrection. I accept the majority scholarly opinion that Paul believed in a bodily resurrection.

    2. So would you believe your brother were a risen deity if Bill had a "hallucination"?

    3. If I knew Bill had an hallucination and not a real "appearance" experience, then, no, I probably wouldn't believe.

      But you are making a big assumption. You are assuming that James would have known that Peter had an hallucination and not a real appearance experience. How do you know that? How do you know James wouldn't have believed that his brother had been resurrected based on Peter's testimony and based on Peter's radical transformation from a timid fisherman to a bold preacher and defender of the new faith?

    4. You're missing the point. Given that your only information is what you supplied in your proposal above, (so you can't confirm anything Peter saw) would you accept your brother as divine and risen? For me, the answer is "Of course not. That would be ridiculous. The evidence is far too inconsequential"

      Therefore, s far as your question, "Lastly, which is more implausible: Someone believes that his own brother is the resurrected creator of the universe or a three-day, brain-dead, bloated, decomposing corpse comes back to life and forty days later levitates into the clouds?" That is easy. The hypothesis that you proposed for how Christianity began, in my opinion, is entirely inadequate in explaining the fact that James became a believer in the risen divine Jesus, for I can't imagine any person coming to that conclusion based on a robbed grave and one person's unconfirmed experience. Any hypothesis that does not adequately explain the known facts is not just improbable, but incorrect. Consequently, the risen Jesus hypothesis is much more probable because it adequately explains all of the known facts.

  14. "Therefore, as far as your question,'Lastly, which is more implausible: Someone believes that his own brother is the resurrected creator of the universe or a three-day, brain-dead, bloated, decomposing corpse comes back to life and forty days later levitates into the clouds?' That is easy."

    You have got to be kidding me.

    The reanimation of a corpse is more plausible than a human being believing an outlandish belief??? Why don't you just admit it: The only reason you can possibly arrive at this conclusion is that you have already presumed the existence of your miracle working god, Yahweh.

    Without this presumption, you have to be stark-raving mad to believe that it is more probable for a three-day brain dead corpse to come back to life than for a human being to have a delusional belief about his or her sibling!

    1. Of course, I'm not kidding you. I have stated that I believe the only explanation that adequately explains all the known facts is an actual resurrection. I do not base that on any preconceived notion except the possibility that there is a god. I have backed up my claim with facts and with examples of many skeptics who also came to the same conclusion despite their preconceived notions that God does not exist, but with the willingness to follow the facts where ever they would lead.

    2. Evidence for a Creator God is not necessarily evidence for your god, Yahweh. That is another assumption you have made.

    3. Actually, I have not made that assumption. We have not even begun to discuss why I believe in the Christian God. Of course, a big part of that belief is the validity of the resurrection of Jesus, which is what we are talking about. But the evidence for the historical event of the resurrection should be approached with no assumptions about god, simply an attempt to explain ALL the facts while entertaining the possibility that a supernatural explanation MIGHT be the only explanation that adequately fits the facts.

  15. The educated Jews in Asia Minor could not confirm Paul's "Jesus appearance" claim but yet they believed anyway, so why should it be any different for James? You are wanting us to believe that the only way a sibling of Jesus would have believed in his resurrection was to see his resurrected body with his own two eyes. However, we know from history that other brothers and sisters of Jesus joined the Jesus movement. Do we have proof that each and every one of them saw the resurrected Jesus with their own eyes? There is no statement in the Bible that he did. You are simply making an unfounded assumption.

    1. Well of course many people came to believe in the resurrection without seeing the risen Jesus themselves, including me. What I am claiming is that no reasonable person believes that someone actually arose from the dead without overwhelming evidence. I believe that the only reasonable explanation for the facts, including the belief of the original Christians, is an actual resurrection. For instance,in my opinion, the hypothesis you propose with a robbed grave and one supposed Jesus sighting would never be enough evidence to convince the rest of Jesus' followers that he was alive. In fact, that level of skepticism is reported in the gospels. The gospel record that basically everyone was skeptical until they saw an overwhelming amount of evidence for themselves. Since then, everyone, the Jews in Asia minor and the modern-day human, have had to relay on the testimony of others. We only come to accept that testimony because its validity is the only explanation that adequately explains all the facts. I think I've made that statement already a few times. :)

    2. As long as you continue to ASSUME the existence of your god, Yahweh, and assume the reality of his infinite magical powers, and assume that evidence for a Creator is evidence for him, then of course, a resurrection is the most probable explanation for all the evidence.

      Remove these assumptions, and my hypothetical explanation for the early Christian resurrection belief is not only plausible, but much more probable to be the explanation for the development of the Christian religion than a once in history reanimation of a three day, brain-dead corpse.

  16. The issue of assumptions is something which Christians and skeptics should resolve up front before beginning any discussion or debate on the truth claims of Christianity. If skeptics assume that the supernatural is impossible, then of course, a resurrection is impossible. If Christians assume the existence of their miracle-producing deity, Yahweh, then of course a resurrection is the most plausible explanation for the evidence related to the rise of the Christian religion.

    I suggest that in order for a productive conversation to take place between Christians and skeptics, the skeptic must accept the possible existence of the supernatural and debate the evidence with this possibility in mind. In return, the Christian must do one of two things: Prove the existence and supernatural powers of Yahweh (not just of a generic Creator) prior to discussing any other evidence, or, prove that events such as the Resurrection are more plausible than other possible naturalistic explanations without presuming the existence of a miracle-producing deity.

    Unless the two parties are willing to come to this agreement, these debates will never provide a satisfactory resolution. Both sides may walk away declaring victory, but the opponent will not believe he has been defeated.

    1. In response to your previous two comments about assumptions, I have listed a number of skeptics who actually had the assumption that there is no God, and approached the historical facts of the resurrection with an agenda to prove that the resurrection never occurred, but became Christians based on the facts. Your statement that your explanation is more plausible if one removes the assumptions is simply not correct. I claim that the only assumption you need is the possibility that there might be a God, and with such an assumption, the only explanation of all the facts is an actual resurrection which validates Jesus' claims of being deity. I have asked if you would believe that your brother was divine based on a robbed grave and a single unconfirmed sighting. You have not answered my question. I know the answer for me. There is no way I would believe someone I knew really well, like my brother, were divine based on such evidence. We are not talking about the Jews in Asia Minor precisely because they did not know Jesus personally. We are talking about someone who knew Jesus personally changing his mind and accepting him as divine. It seems to me that unless you are able to say that the hypothesis you propose is enough for you to be convinced that your brother is divine, then you are really confirming that your hypothesis does not actually explain all the facts. So I have two requests (1) Please explain why you insist that one's assumption about God is the only reason one would believe that the facts around early Christianity point to an actual resurrection when I have given examples of many skeptics who actually have the assumption that there is NO GOD, approached the historical record with a pre-conceived agenda to disprove the resurrection, but became convinced of God's existence based on the facts of the resurrection. Their testimony refutes your claim about assumptions. (2) Please explain to me how a robbed grave and one unconfirmed sighting would convince someone who knew Jesus well like his brother that Jesus was a divine risen being, when that flimsy evidence would certainly not convince me, and I believe would not convince you either. If you can't say that such minimal evidence would convince you, why do you impose that scenario on someone else? The Bible clearly states that the disciples were extreme skeptics about the resurrection until they saw overwhelming, irrefutable evidence, not just one unconfirmed sighting. That makes sense to me because that is what it would take for me to be convinced.

    2. Here is just one article on bereavement hallucinations.

  17. " I have listed a number of skeptics who actually had the assumption that there is no God, and approached the historical facts of the resurrection with an agenda to prove that the resurrection never occurred, but became Christians based on the facts."

    And I can show you a long list of former Christians, including former ordained ministers with years of seminary training, who after examining the evidence, have become non-believers. Check out the "Clergy Project". So your claim that the bodily resurrection of a three-day brain-dead first century corpse is the ONLY plausible explanation for the early Christian resurrection belief is simply your biased opinion. At least I am open-minded enough to admit that there are MULTIPLE plausible explanations.

    "Please explain to me how a robbed grave and one unconfirmed sighting would convince someone who knew Jesus well like his brother that Jesus was a divine risen being..."

    Answer: Jesus appeared to James. That is why James believed. But the appearance was only in James' brain, not in reality. Bereavement hallucinations are very common, Michael. Look it up. People who have lost a loved one and experience a bereavement hallucination sincerely believe that they have seen their loved one. They do not remember it as a dream. They remember it as reality.

  18. "I have asked if you would believe that your brother was divine based on a robbed grave and a single unconfirmed sighting. You have not answered my question."

    If I lived in a culture in which everyone including myself was deeply religious (superstitious)...
    If I lived in a culture that believed that the dead could and had come back from the dead...
    If many people in my culture believed that my brother had performed miraculous deeds that normal people could not do including raising people from the dead...
    If my entire culture was waiting for a redeemer to rescue them from their occupying enemies...
    If my MOTHER told me that she believed that my dead brother was this redeemer and that he had come back to life...AND...

    ...shortly thereafter I experienced a bereavement hallucination in which my dead brother appeared to me and confirmed that he was the resurrected messiah...

    YES...I might very well have believed.

  19. So the real question is not whether or not there are plausible naturalistic explanations for the early Christian Resurrection belief, as I believe that presented with the above evidence, rational, unbiased persons must admit that there are several plausible explanations for this ancient belief, including the Christian explanation, allowing for the supernatural, which I believe we should. The real question is, "Can Christians prove the existence of their god, Yahweh?" Only by proving the existence of Yahweh, and proving that he possesses the powers he claims to posses, can Christians prove that their explanation is the MOST plausible explanation for this belief.

    Think about this: You are a Christian missionary. You are the first westerner to sail up the Amazon River. You are the first westerner to encounter the Amazon Indians who worship their own gods: the River God, the Sun God, the Earth God, and the Sky God. How do you prove to these people who know nothing about the Bible and Christianity that your god is the one true god?

    1. I’m not sure how productive this dialogue is right now. It seems that you continue to make unsubstantiated claims and that you will not follow through toward any conclusion without getting sidetracked. For instance, you claim that it is only because of a previous assumption about God that leads someone to a belief in the resurrection and I show you that statement is absolutely false based on people without that assumption who came to believe in the resurrection because of the evidence. Instead of admitting that your statement is, therefore, false, you bring up a peripheral website about former believers. The topic of former believers could be discussed and is interesting in and of itself but has nothing to do with my point that shows your statement about assumptions is absolutely false.

      Your statement about a culture that believed people come back from the dead is absolutely not true. First century Jews did not believe people came back from the dead and walked on the earth. That is why they laughed at Jesus when he made the claim that he could raise a child or a man from the dead. You are setting up a straw man argument to back up your claims but your straw man is invalid.

      Your initial scenario had Peter hallucinating, now you have James hallucinating. Are you going to have all 11 disciples having the same hallucination at the same time, too? You’re changing your story because I showed you that your original story could not explain the fact about James. We haven’t even begun to look at the many other flaws in your original hypothesis like who stole the body and why.

      It seems to me you have no desire to objectively explore the known facts. You keep saying the same thing over and over despite the fact that I have shown flaws in your arguments about assumptions, and your hypothesis that clearly doesn’t explain the known facts surrounding the resurrection. You keep saying there are non-supernatural plausible scenarios, and I say there are none that actually explain ALL the known facts, and when that is pointed out to you, you just keep repeating the same thing as if saying it over and over will make it true.

      So what is your goal in continuing this dialogue? Do you have something you want to accomplish? If you would like to propose a way to move forward I’m happy to consider it. If not, I’m not sure where we’re going with this.

  20. "Your statement about a culture that believed people come back from the dead is absolutely not true. First century Jews did not believe people came back from the dead and walked on the earth. That is why they laughed at Jesus when he made the claim that he could raise a child or a man from the dead. You are setting up a straw man argument to back up your claims but your straw man is invalid."

    Do you deny that the OT claims that OT prophets raised people from the dead?

    "Your initial scenario had Peter hallucinating, now you have James hallucinating. Are you going to have all 11 disciples having the same hallucination at the same time, too? You’re changing your story because I showed you that your original story could not explain the fact about James."

    Wrong. YOU did not believe that James would have bought Peter's story without having experienced something more dramatic himself, such as an actual appearance, either in reality or in his own hallucination. I, however, believe that it is very possible that siblings of people who claim to have supernatural experiences can come to believe their siblings' supernatural claims. Ever hear of the Joseph Smith family??? By the way, what proof do you have that James was not already a believer at the time of Jesus' death?

    Answer: None!

    We haven’t even begun to look at the many other flaws in your original hypothesis like who stole the body and why."

    I don't have to prove to you WHO stole the body, I only need to provide evidence that many thousands of empty tombs throughout history have been emptied by persons stealing or moving the body.

    "You keep saying there are non-supernatural plausible scenarios, and I say there are none that actually explain ALL the known facts, and when that is pointed out to you, you just keep repeating the same thing as if saying it over and over will make it true."

    This is a preposterous statement. Just because you do not believe that a sibling living in the first century would believe that his brother had been resurrected due to one man's eyewitness testimony and an empty grave is not PROOF that you have disproven my hypothetical naturalistic explanation. That is simply your opinion.

    "you claim that it is only because of a previous assumption about God that leads someone to a belief in the resurrection and I show you that statement is absolutely false based on people without that assumption who came to believe in the resurrection because of the evidence."

    My original claim was that only by assuming the existence and powers of Yahweh can Christians make the outrageous claim that the bodily resurrection is THE ONLY PLAUSIBLE explanation for the early Christian resurrection belief, which is the claim you have made.

  21. I apologize. Just as your post correctly states, we should not talk about "proof" for historical events, but "EVIDENCE". So above I should have said, "What EVIDENCE do you have that James was not already a believer at the time of Jesus' death?"

  22. This conversation seems to be at an end, so let me conclude with this. Which is more probable based on cumulative human experience:

    1. The sibling of a man who claims to possess supernatural powers comes to believe his brother's delusion and the delusions of his brother's followers.


    2. A three-day, brain-dead first century corpse really did come back to life.

    You decide, Reader. I believe that the only reason Michael believes that option #2 is more probable than option #1 is that he presumes the existence of his invisible god Yahweh in the discussion. Even if we agree that there is evidence for a miracle-producing Creator God, there is no evidence that a generic Creator God performs resurrections other than this ONE claim. Therefore, even assuming the existence of a Creator God, it is much more probable that a sibling (James) believed outlandish delusions about his dead brother than a once in history resurrection.

    Believe in science and reason, folks, not in ancient superstitions.

    1. As I have stated many times. (1) Your hypothesis does not explain all the facts surrounding the resurrection. (2) My presupposition does not influence my interpretation of the facts, and I have supported that claim with many examples of others who had the opposite assumption and came to believe in the resurrection based on the facts. (3) You believe that James could become a believer based on such flimsy evidence but you won't admit that you would believe such flimsy evidence proving my point that such evidence really isn't convincing. I guess those first century Jews were just naive hillbillies who thought people willy-nilly came back from the grave.

      The fact that you keep bringing up any presumptions as the reason I believe (2) over (1) seems to indicate that your assumptions completely taint your conclusions since I have clearly demonstrated my three points above.

  23. "Your hypothesis does not explain all the facts surrounding the resurrection."

    You have not given any evidence for this assertion other than to state that you don't believe that a sibling would believe in his brother's resurrection unless he had seen the resurrected body himself. That isn't evidence, that is personal opinion.

    Please provide EVIDENCE that my hypothesis does not explain all the facts (facts defined as the agreed upon facts asserted in Gary Habermas' Minimal Facts). Just because something is stated in the Bible as a fact, does not mean it can automatically be considered a historical fact. We wouldn't do that for any other book from Antiquity. Not even conservative Christian apologist William Lane Craig would use such logic. The claim that there were guards at the tomb, for example, is NOT a fact, based on Habermas' definition of "fact"). If you are asserting that every statement of fact in the Gospels must be accepted as fact until proven not to be, you are a fundamentalist and hold an extremist position even among Christians. No respected Christian apologist uses that logic.

    If we define "fact" using Gary Habermas' Minimal Facts I do not believe that you can claim that my hypothesis does not explain all the facts. You may disagree with the plausibility of some of my points, but you can't say they are impossible, just as I can't say that the reanimation of a brain-dead corpse by your God Yahweh is impossible.

    I never said that an educated person could look at the evidence and not become a Christian. What I am contesting is your claim that the ONLY plausible explanation for the facts is a resurrection. I assert that the only way someone can make such an outrageous statement is by assuming the existence of Yahweh.

    "You believe that James could become a believer based on such flimsy evidence but you won't admit that you would believe such flimsy evidence proving my point that such evidence really isn't convincing. I guess those first century Jews were just naive hillbillies who thought people willy-nilly came back from the grave."

    I said no such thing. I said that if I were in the same culture and context as James I very well might have believed Peter's claim. And you have not addressed your ASSUMPTION that James was still a non-believer at the time of Jesus' death. YOu have ZERO evidence to support that claim. For all we know, James had become a believer at some point prior to Jesus death.

    Willy nilly?? Human beings have believed all kinds of crazy ideas down through history, even in our own time. Ever heard of the followers of Jim Jones? How about the followers of Heaven's Gate? How about the followers of David Koresh? Most of these people had at least a high school education and lived in a modern, scientifically advanced culture but yet one group of these people still believed that they were going to be "saved" by a comet passing by the earth!!!

    The fact that you cannot admit that the probability of a sibling of a delusional person coming to believe their brother's delusion is much more probable than the never heard of before or since reanimation of a brain dead corpse shows just how much your emotions regarding this issue have clouded your judgment. Test this: Ask any non-Christian which scenario they believe is more probable/plausible.

    1. Gary, you continue to repeat the same arguments I have answered and discussed. I have said that Habermas makes a strong case that the best explanation from his minimal facts is a real resurrection, and I have made my case that at l would admit his 12 facts as established. I also have made my case that the New Testament is a relatively accurate historical document. For instance, you continue to go back on what you said for you did say that if you remove the assumption of God then your idea about the resurrection is more plausible, but that is simply not the case for the many people who became Christians based on the evidence but had the opposite assumption. Your idea can not be plausible for it does not explain all the facts. For you to say "yes it does' and me to say "no it doesn't" isn't very productive.

    2. I'm a little baffled by your claim that there is zero evidence to support the claim that James was a non-believer during Jesus' life. The gospel accounts clearly show that Jesus' family did not approve of his actions or accept him as a prophet. Even critics of the Bible accept this since it is not miraculous and it is somewhat embarrassing. Surely you must know this. So it seems at this point that your questions are not really genuine but are more just throwing up smokescreens. Are you even considering viewpoints beyond your entrenched position? If I were to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the Bible was accurate and Jesus rose from the dead would you become a Christian? What is the point of your arguments if you are bringing up objections that surely you must know the answer to?

    3. Where did I say that there is zero evidence that James was a non-believer [sometime] during Jesus' life? I made no such claim. What I said was this: Can YOU prove that James was still an unbeliever at the time of Jesus death? No, you cannot. Therefore it is entirely possible that James had converted PRIOR to Jesus' death and prior to the alleged sightings of the resurrected Jesus. It is also possible that James converted sometime after Jesus' death but before the first appearance claim. Therefore it is POSSIBLE that James' experience of an appearance of Jesus occurred when he was already a believer.

      Christians ASSUME that it was an appearance of the resurrected Jesus that caused James to convert. There is no evidence to confirm this assumption.

    4. This comment shows how irrational your dialogue has become. Of course I can't PROVE anything about James. I can't prove that I had breakfast this morning. Its POSSIBLE that I was created five minutes ago by aliens with a bunch memories. Proof of historic events and obscure possibilities are not how we determine most likely scenarios. We know that all of Jesus' family disapproved of his actions before his death. If there is a burden of proof that should fall on an assertion, it should be on those who want to claim he became a believer before the resurrection. It is much more likely, and I would say the only really reasonable scenario, based on the historical record that the resurrection was the cause of his conversion. It is much more than a mere ASSUMPTION but based on the best inferences from historical records.

      Gary, I don't know what is going on but your comments are becoming less sensible and more contrived. Basing your deductions on what can be proven historically (nothing) or what might be possible (anything) is really not a very thought-out way to determine the truth. In the future, I will probably just not respond to these untenable declarations.

  24. Do you not see how irrational your thinking is, Mike? I challenge you to ask a non-Christian (Jew, Muslim, Hindu, etc.) professor in your university to read our discussion and give you an honest opinion regarding who is using logical thinking and who is not.

    Just because we know that James was a non-believer at one point (based on one or two passages in the Gospels) in Jesus' ministry does not make it much more probable that he was still a non-believer at the time of Jesus' death. We have no idea about the status of James' belief or non-belief at the time of Jesus' death. You are making assumptions.

  25. I'm serious, Mike. Print out a copy of this entire thread and ask a non-Christian theist (Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc.) to read it and ask them to give you an honest opinion regarding who is being more rational/logical. I predict that they will say that probability and rational thinking are on my side: It is much more probable that James the brother of Jesus converted due to natural reasons (an illusion, vivid dream) than that he really saw a resurrected corpse.

  26. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.