The Skeptic’s Problem of Coherence

co·her·ence (k-hîrns, -hr-)

n.

1. The quality or state of cohering, especially a logical, orderly, and aesthetically consistent relationship of parts.
2. Physics The property of being coherent, as of waves.

i.e. Consistency and accordance with the facts; antonym: incoherent “a rambling argument that lacked any consistency”

It’s easy for skeptics to offer various explanations for each point of the minimal facts argument for Jesus resurrection. But for their account to be feasible, each answer must be coherent with the others and the totality of the evidence. For instance, crazypills2 wants to offer that Jesus body was stolen as an answer for the empty tomb. Yet the disciples belief in Jesus resurrection was based on appearances not the empty tomb. In fact, Mary Magdalene’s first offering was that, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” (Jn. 20:2b)  No one assumed or expected resurrection,  they believed because they saw Jesus. When one looks at the empty tomb in light of the disciples sincere belief that Jesus physically appeared to them, theft of the body is rendered inconsistent. So can hallucinations account for the appearances?

While it is true that distraught individuals may hallucinate, the disciples describe touching Jesus and group hallucinations are not feasible on naturalistic grounds. Offering appearances of the alleged virgin Mary (likely a deception) actually backfires by evidencing the supernatural more than it does hallucination. Either way, his asserting Mairan apparitions to evidence group hallucination is merely an assumption at best. Furthermore, Paul was not psychologically predisposed to see Jesus and neither was James (Mk. 3:21). In fact they were biased in the opposite direction. So expectation bias/bereavement causing hallucination fails to account for the appearances. Additionally, the claim that Paul merely had a vision is not consistent with Paul’s stated beliefs. Paul wrote of a physical material resurrection body and Jesus “in the flesh” in many places (Rom. 1:3, 2 Cor. 5:16, Rom 9:5) and he describes the resurrection body as the lowly earthly body in a transformed state (Phil. 3:21). It is incoherent to claim Paul did not believe in a solid physical resurrected Jesus.

What are the odds that the disciples all shared hallucinations, including multi-sensory experiences of touching, seeing, and hearing combined with the improbability of a skeptic like James and an enemy in Paul having visions of the same Jesus? These “hallucinations” would have to be so convincing as to prompt such a radical shift in world view that Paul and James would give their very lives… now that would take a miracle!

About Cris Putnam
Logos Apologia is the ministry of Cris D. Putnam. The mission of Logos Apologia is to show that logic, science, history and faith are complementary, not contradictory and to bring that life-changing truth to everybody who wants to know.

Comments

  1. Vinny says:

    Are multi-sensory experiences part of the “minimal facts”? I thought the accepted fact was merely that some of the disciples had some experience that they interpreted as an appearance of the risen Christ, not that they had all the experiences described in the New Testament.

  2. Cris Putnam says:

    No it is not one of the minimal facts. The minimal fact in question is simply that they sincerely believed it. That opened a secondary debate of why. They claimed they believed because of appearances so when someone argues for group hallucination based on their characterization of the appearances it seems like fair game to examine the actual descriptions of those appearances.

  3. Vinny says:

    It might be fair game, but for the fact that the “minimal facts” approach purports to be based on only those facts that enjoy widespread acceptance among critical scholars. If the question is which theory explains those facts about which there is consensus, then hallucination would seem to work perfectly well.

  4. Cris Putnam says:

    In terms of the 5 minimal facts hallucinations do not not explain the empty tomb. Hallucinations are not a group phenomenon. As I said above neither Paul nor James were predisposed to want to see him, in fact the opposite.

  5. Vinny says:

    The minimal fact is that some disciples had some experience which they interpreted to be an appearance of the risen Christ. As far as I know, the “minimal facts” approach does not claim that there is some scholarly consensus regarding group appearances.

    On what grounds have you determined that Paul and James were not predisposed to hallucinations of the risen Christ.?

  6. Cris Putnam says:

    “had some experience which they interpreted to be an appearance of the risen Christ.”

    Peter is recorded as saying “but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. ” (Acts 10:40–41)

    The minimal fact is that they believed it, and they did, they died for their belief without recanting. OK? Do you see the minimal fact is just that they believed it – not that the bible proves it happened. They said they ate and drank with him – a group. That along with the empty tomb renders hallucinations inadequate to explain why the believed it.

    “On what grounds have you determined that Paul and James were not predisposed to hallucinations of the risen Christ.”

    They did not believe him prior to to the crucifixion. They thought he was out of his mind. No historian doubts that Paul was persecutor of the church who converted. Paul writes of it in many places. The Gospels mention that Jesus’ family considered him out of his mind, and we find no mention of James until after the resurrection, Then we find the appearance to James in the early oral creed 1 Cor 15:3-7 which dated to the time of the event, we infer that he converted due to an appearance and then James suddenly appears as leader of the church in Jerusalem and writes a book.

  7. Vinny says:

    Acts may refer to the apostles eating and drinking with Jesus after he rose from the dead, but not all scholars would agree that this was part of the original accounts. Paul doesn’t mention it and he is our earliest and only first person resurrection account. Many scholars believe that details were added to the accounts over time. Many also believe that Acts and the gospels record stories that had been modified many times in the oral tradition. That is why the minimal fact is only that they believed they had experienced an appearance of the risen Christ. There is not widespread consensus on how the first apostles characterized that experience.

    As far as the apostles dying for their belief without recanting, there is no consensus on that. Most of the martyrdom traditions cannot be shown to have arisen any earlier than a century or more after the fact. I suspect that the majority of scholars would agree that we lack reliable evidence that the apostles died for their beliefs.

    From what I know about hallucinations, they can happen to anyone. There are no criteria by which it can be determined that any particular person is resistant to them.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      The account in Acts is also attested to in the gospels and also by Ignatius , so there are multiple ancient sources pointing to a multi-sensory experience. Acts has stood the test of critical scrutiny quite well. I suggest you refer to this.

      I think at the minimum you must allow that they believed he spoke to them. The great commission to spread the gospel and make disciples comes from the mouth of the post resurrection Jesus. This is what they suffered and died for and what Christians are still laying down there lives for today. Hallucinations do not speak and explain scripture the way they described either!

      Actually the case of their martyrdom and suffering is very good by ancient historical standards. *7* ancient sources testify to their willingness to die.

      1. Luke (Acts 7, 12)
      2.Clement of Rome – a contemporary of the apostles reports on the sufferings and death of Peter and Paul (1 Clem 5:2-7)
      3. Ignatius, who knew the apostles, reports that they were so encouraged by seeing and touching him they were unaffected by fear of martyrdom. (Ign. Smyrn 3:2-3)
      4.Polycarp was instructed and appointed by the apostles and he attests that Paul and the apostles suffered (pol. Phi. 9:2)
      5. Dionysus of Corinth cited in Eusebius EH 2:25:8
      6.Tertullian (Sorpiace 15)
      7.Origen (Contra Celsum 2:56,77)

      So it is quite well evidenced. And the accounts of Nero feeding Christians to the Lions and even running out of wood from so many crucifixions are documented by multiple secular sources.

      Whether you accept that they believed they spoke with him or not, hallucinations are not shared experiences. If I have a dream about Hawaii, I cannot wake up my wife and ask her to join me so we can share a free vacation! It just doesn’t work that way. Hallucinations are individual experiences and Jesus appeared to groups as testified in the Creed in 1 Cor, 15:3-7. That creed is dated to within 2 years of Jesus death. So that rules out a process of legendary development. And again still hallucinations do not account for the lack of a body in the tomb.

  8. Vinny says:

    I doubt that you and I will reach any agreement on the question of multi-sensory experiences, group appearances, or the martyrdom of the apostles, but my point is that scholars have not reached consensus on these questions either. Therefore, they cannot be deemed to be part of the minimal facts upon which there is widespread agreement among scholars.

    This is one of my main objections to the minimal facts apologetic. There is a pretense that the empty tomb is the only less than universally accepted fact that is included, but in fact, many other details from the New Testament accounts are liberally used to supplement those points upon which scholarly consensus may plausibly be asserted.

    BTW, 30,000 or more people are claimed to have been present at the “Miracle of the Fatima,” however, accounts of the events vary and some of the people present report seeing nothing unusual. Hallucinations may not be shared, but more than one person can experience an independent hallucination at the same time and it may subsequently be claimed by others that everyone present saw the same thing.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      The minimal fact is that they believed they saw the risen Lord. It seems rather incoherent to accept that they all believed it based in something vague. People might hallucinate due to bereavement yet Paul was certainly not mourning and there just no psychological reason he would. So when you look at just the empty tomb and Paul – that’s all you need to show how inconsistent hallucination is.

      Your characterization of Fatima as a hallucination is a mere opinion unsupported by the evidence. The Catholic church conducted a thorough investigation and seemed to have affirmed it. While I do not think it was Mary, it seems far more likely that something real indeed occurred. It’s good evidence that there is a supernatural reality interacting with mankind.

  9. Vinny says:

    I think you are right about the vagueness, but that is the price you pay if you want to claim that liberal scholars like Bart Ehrman and E.P.Sanders are part of your consensus. It is sort of like a Unitarian’s statement of faith. As you get more inclusive, you have to get more vague.

    I wonder whether you really want to suggest that the appearances at Fatima were supernatural, but not really the Virgin Mary. Wouldn’t that establish that eyewitnesses to supernatural appearances can be mistaken about what it is that they have seen?

    There may be no reason to think that Paul was bereaved, but there is also no reason to think that bereavement is the only emotional condition that can induce hallucinations. There are many kinds of emotional stress that might lead to hallucinations. I have to imagine that persecuting innocent Christians was psychologically stressful. Paul might well have been an ideal candidate.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      I see the minimal facts as a tool to get the attention of someone who is skeptical. After they are scratching their heads and wondering if its possible, then I think you really have to look at the bigger picture of who Jesus is. Jesus taught things that transcend selfish human ambition. Inconvenient things, swallowing your pride, not going after wealth or fame, and even eternal hell for unrepentant sinners. It’s not the sort of stuff a bunch of guys would make up if they were creating a new religion to head up. It’s not easy to be a Christian. It’s dying to self. It’s washing someone’s feet. His harshest criticism were of the religious leaders! Then he taught Self sacrifice, loving your enemies, the meek will inherit the earth… it just doesn’t come across as a power grab the way the popular conspiracy theory paints it.

      Now if a guy dented your car and I walked up and forgave him for it and told him he was free to go I don’t think you would be very pleased. This is what we read about Jesus doing, forgiving people of their sins. Sins against God. He was either God incarnate or he was lying or deluded. His character doesn’t come across as dishonest, in this context I view these minimal facts as tipping the scales. You have to put your faith in something, even if its science. Based on Jesus teaching and it’s coherence with the human experience I think the evidence strongly supports belief. I guess you really have to ask yourself is Jesus the sort of thing people would dream up? I say it’s not likely.

  10. thom waters says:

    Chris, An interesting exchange between you and Vinny. Allow me to offer an additional comment regarding the Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus. Note, first, that I lean in the direction of disbelief.

    The mistake, in my opinion, made by Craig, Habermas, and Licona with regard to this approach is taking what are actually minimal beliefs or minimal talking points and portraying them as “facts”. Take, for example, the creed formula found in I Corinthians 15:3-8. The apparent creed cited by Paul is a formula of “minimal beliefs”. It is what was believed. The appearances referenced to by Paul are also things that were believed to be true. He states them because they were what was believed. It becomes an indefensible, although from a purely pro-Christian point of view understandable, leap to call these beliefs and others like them “facts”, when they simply cannot be supported as such.

    An example:

    It was believed that Jesus was killed by means of crucifixion. Do we, however, know this to be a “fact”? The MFA to support this contention cites other non-Christian sources to support this “fact”. These sources , however, only mention that one Jesus was crucified. They do not, and, in fact, cannot attest to any death. Citing these references to support a “death by Crucifixion” is both unscholarly and misleading, because these sources cannot and do not do this. It’s the difference between saying someone was “stoned” and that someone was “stoned to death”. You might want to infer that the action brought about the desired end but the inference cannot bring you to saying that something was a “fact”. Take for instance the stoning of Paul in Acts 14:19-23. Paul was stoned, thought to be dead, dragged out of the city and left as a corpse by those who stoned him. Not only was he not dead, but the very next day we are told that he traveled with Barnabas to Derbe where they continued preaching. It is a simple example of how an action did not bring about the desired end. I am not here saying that Jesus survived the crucifixion. I am simply pointing out that the only true minimal fact that can be established is that one Jesus was crucified. If you understand that, first and foremost, the gospels are apologetic works written by the initial defenders of the Faith, it helps to understand them in their proper setting and context. Now these apologetic works, known as gospels, say that Jesus died. But in a real sense these are really statements of belief told in story form. Modern day apologists want people to see and understand these documents as historical accounts but if they offer any real meaningful history, they do so only as a secondary by-product. They are statements of belief intended to bring people to belief.

    One more point regarding the crucifixion story. Roman crucifixion was specifically designed to kill people in an extraordinarily painful, normally long, process. How was this achieved? It was largely achieved, as you know, over Time. Victims were normally left on the cross for many hours and often days and then their bodies were ravaged by scavengers and the remains often rotted and decayed. We specifically know from the gospel accounts themselves that this was not the case with Jesus. Certain irregularities take place from what was expected in a “normal” crucifixion.

    Again, the real weakness to the MFA to the Resurrection of Jesus is that it tries to represent as “facts” things which for the most part are “minimal beliefs”. Almost each one can be dealt with in the fashion demonstrated.

    Thanks.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      I believe you are misunderstanding or mischaracterizing the argument by saying “leap to call these beliefs and others like them “facts”, when they simply cannot be supported as such.” It is a matter of fact that the disciples sincerely believed Jesus has rose from the dead. The fact is that they believed it. That demands a coherent explanation. Why did all of his followers believe to the point of laying down their lives for said belief? The moral character they exhibited and encouraged in their ministries really precludes a conspiracy. What could have caused their passionate self sacrificing belief apart form a real event? It’s a compelling fact.

  11. Vinny says:

    Joseph Smith willingly risked death because of his beliefs. His followers endured great hardship and persecution in following him from New York to Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. After Smith was murdered (his followers would say martyred), they risked even greater hardship to follow Brigham Young to Salt Lake City. What could have caused their self-sacrificing belief other than the Angel Moroni and the Golden Plates being real?

    • Cris Putnam says:

      On the surface it may seem comparable but is not. We can see very different motivations in Smith. Before starting his own religion, Smith was a freemason and a treasure hunter. After his experience, his character did not change. He quickly became a supreme authority because his revelation was exclusive, even believing that he would become a god. He used this power to gather wealth and wives for himself. His followers believed him based on only his testimony. There were no eye witnesses. No historical corroboration for the BoM. Like many con men, he was persuasive. He died as a criminal. L Ron Hubbard is a modern equivalent.

      The apostles were quite different. They had been with Jesus and seen miracles. They saw him die and they saw the risen Jesus. They had first hand knowledge. They were self sacrificing and humble people. They sought to emulate Jesus’ servant leadership, Jesus whom laid down his life sacrificially. Jesus’ teachings have altered human history for the better. There is really no comparison.

  12. Vinny says:

    The only reason we can see those very different motivations for Smith is because we have contemporaneous accounts of his activities that were written by outsiders. Suppose the only writings that survived from the first fifty years of Mormonism were those produced by Smith’s most devoted followers. We would no doubt have a picture of Smith as a modest man who thought only of the welfare of his followers. We might know that he had multiple wives (although we might not because many of his followers tried to cover that up), but if we did, we would surely think that it was a very manageable number of wives and that they were all very happy with the arrangement since Smith was such a good and loving husband. Moreover, we would think that there was some corroboration for Smith’s claims because we would think that there were eight people who saw the Golden Plates besides Joseph Smith and we would think that there were several other people who saw the Angel Moroni.

    Unfortunately we lack any outsider’s perspective from the first fifty years of Christianity. We only have the writings of men who were fanatically devoted to the new religion. That is the source of considerable uncertainty.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      Vinny,

      Your response on Smith is demonstrably false because we have the book of Mormon which can be demonstrably proven as fundamentally false. We have Smith’s translation of Egyptian hieroglyphs which he stated unequivocally as Mormon (prior to scholars discovering the rosetta stone). Today said scroll has been translated as the Egyptian book of the dead. The case is overwhelming from multiple lines of evidence. Not so with Jesus.

      In spite of 2000 years of efforts by skeptics the Bible has not been similarly discredited. The 100,000 lb elephant in the room that you keep skipping over is Jesus himself. Jesus just is not something men could or would make up. His transcendent teaching is self authenticating to a great deal many people. Perhaps you have never truly considered it. He came to save the ungodly like myself. Perhaps you should try reading a Gospel with an open mind.

  13. thom waters says:

    Cris, thanks for the response.

    Once again, however, I think you are confusing what was believed with a “fact”. It was believed that Matthew, Andrew, Nathaniel, Philip, etc. had seen the risen Jesus. Since we don’t have any first hand accounts from most of the disciples with regard to what they saw or think they saw, it stretches the bounds of good scholarship and research to conclude anything definite with regard to what actually happened or what they actually saw or thought they saw. If you believe they saw or thought they saw the risen Jesus it can mistakenly lead you to statements like, “Why did all of his followers believe to the point of laying down their lives for said belief,” as if dying for something proves anything about its veracity necessarily. This is especially to be avoided , additionally, if it leads you to statements like the one cited, which although it sounds dramatic and convincing, cannot be verified. You can make a statement failing to recognize that if its foundation lies mostly on myths and legends, then its sole purpose is really simply to reinforce your position without the necessary corroboration. That’s not to say that some people might have died for a belief, but all encompassing statements lacking historical credibility should be avoided. It might make someone feel better about their own belief, but as a useful tool in dialogue it has no place.

    That being said, we return once again to what was believed about the disciples, which is different than saying that, “It is a matter of fact that the disciples sincerely believed Jesus had rose from the dead.” We don’t actually know what they believed or why they believed it. We can conjecture, but does that get us any closer to the truth? Maybe. Maybe not. We are told what was believed about them and/or by them, but that doesn’t establish anything as a “fact”. And, even if I grant your premise that they believed that Jesus had risen from the dead, which for the sake of argument I’ll do, you must investigate the “Why” behind their belief. If your answer to this is to be found in the appearances of the resurrected Jesus then you have mistakenly, in my opinion, confused the What with the Why. I hope this last statement pricks your curiosity, because that is its intent, especially with regard as to Why they might have believed as a group and given the appearance that they all believed that Jesus had risen from the dead and that they had seen him without any guile or deceit intended.

    One final thought. I will give you a “minimal fact” about the disciples that seems to be true and is, indeed, a “fact”. They were followers. Of that there seems to be little doubt.

    Thanks.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      “I think you are confusing what was believed with a “fact”.”

      Their belief is the fact. You are still misrepresenting it and burning a strawman. The fact is that nearly all scholars who write on the subject agree to is that they believed they saw the risen the Lord. Even highly skeptical scholars accept this as a FACT. The fact is their sincere belief not that it happened. So why did they believe it? They were in a position to know, unlike Mormons or Muslims who give their lives today.

      It is not reasonable to deny that the Gospels contain the apostles testimony. You are also not acknowledging the difference between dying for a belief that you have learned second hand and dying for something known by first hand knowledge. There are at least 7 ancient sources that attest to their willingness to suffer and die for their belief. Acts, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Ignatius, Dionysus of Corinth, Tertullian and Origen. So it’s really not as tenuous as you portray. The evidence is quite compelling.

      Luke has a proven track record from archeology and historical investigation for accuracy and detail. He records Peter saying to the Jews, “But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. ” (Acts 3:14–15)

  14. thom waters says:

    Cris, thanks for the response. Good exchange.

    LIttle by little you are making my case for me. This happens when you revert to repeating well-worn talking points that have been offered by apologists for some time. The appeal to “nearly all scholars” is one case in point. Even Michael Licona in his most recent work has stated, and to his credit I believe, the following: “We need to be reminded every so often that a consensus of scholars does not establish the objectivity or truth of their conclusion.” The question remains how many disciples actually believed that Jesus was risen from the dead and why did they believe it?

    Again, you are making my case for me. There is simply no compelling, historical evidence that can be used to support the Christian claims that “all” these disciples were put to death for believing that Jesus was raised from the dead. I do believe that there is good evidence to suggest that some were, in fact, put to death for their faith. Your statement , however, was “Why did all of his followers believe to the point of laying down their lives for said belief.” The fact that someone is willing to die for what they believe, anyway, is a moot point. By itself it proves nothing whether that belief is by second-hand knowledge, first hand knowledge, or purported first-hand knowledge. And, besides, to what first hand knowledge are you appealing to for the belief of Andrew, Nathaniel, Philip and other lesser known disciples who tell us nothing of what they saw or believed. We are told what they believed or what they saw and, consequently, what they believed in. Consequently, this minimal “fact” can hardly be considered as such. This regards the post-morten appearances of Jesus.

    And, again, you appeal to Peter. Imagine that. Peter speaking for everyone. The judge and jury wish to hear from Andrew, Nathaniel, Philip and the others. Their silence proves nothing either way. It certainly proves nothing about Jesus’ post-mortem appearances or so-called appearances to them. Dr. William Craig has insisted that the debate is not about the “facts”, but rather about the best explanation of these “facts” (my quotation). That is exactly what he wants people to accept and believe. I contend, however, that it is specifically about these “minimal facts”. Not the least of these “facts” is the very origin of the disciples’ belief in the Resurrection. He wants you to accept that the post-mortem appearances of Jesus is a “minimal fact” and that this “fact” is the very origin of the disciples’ belief. He misunderstands, however, the nature of what happened, I believe.

    Thanks. More could be said, but I will stop here.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      Thom,

      I haven’t seen a cogent argument from you, much less a case. The rise of the early church in the face of fierce opposition from the Jews and Romans makes little sense without their sincere belief and testimony being preached.

      “And, again, you appeal to Peter. Imagine that. Peter speaking for everyone. The judge and jury wish to hear from Andrew, Nathaniel, Philip and the others. ”

      Actually Luke records Peter and the evidence for Luke’s veracity is unparalleled in ancient literature. The gospels are testimonies. And I listed 7 ancient sources which you simply ignored. So you have solid testimony but you simply move the goal posts down the field and ask “where is the testimony of Andrew, Nathaniel, Philip and the others?” This is a little silly considering that historians don’t have the luxury of calling whoever they please.

  15. Cris Putnam says:

    And seriously Thom and Vinny the repeated argument from “we don’t have that much written about Jesus” is absurd. We have the 27 books of the NT to start with and then literally 1000s of pages from the early Church from the late 1st century onward. There’s not a comparable amount of written material for any other historical figure.

  16. thom waters says:

    Cris,

    Somewhere along the line someone might have said “We don’t have that much written about Jesus”. However, I have never said anything like that. It would be nice if you refrained from giving the appearance that I might have said something as stupid and as uneducated as that. To call something a repeated argument and to then associate someone with what on the surface is an obviously stupid statement is less than gracious when it is absolutely not true that the someone never said that or even suggested it.

    Let me say something about ancient sources that you said I simply ignored. You state and correctly so that , ” . . . historians don’t have the luxury of calling whoever they please.” That is correct. However, you can only work with the documents we have at hand. We can’t, however, use these documents to support conclusions that they simply can’t.

    An example:

    Minimal Fact #1 for many apologists is that Jesus died by Roman crucifixion. In addition to the gospel accounts these apologists cite ancient authorities Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, and others. These ancient sources do only what they can do and that is make reference to one Jesus being crucified. They say nothing about Jesus’ death, because they can’t. They offer no attestation to the Christian claim and belief that Jesus died by crucifixion. Consequently we are left with only these partisan, biased, passionate accounts written by believers who claim that Jesus died. Did he actually die? Who knows. These statements of belief written by believers who want us to believe say that he did. Is it a “minimal fact” that he did? I suppose it could be if you accept “minimal proof”. Go back and read my first e-mail.

    Minimal Fact #1 is actually that Jesus was crucified. It is not that Jesus died by Roman crucifixion.

    Do you agree that these ancient sources are not able to attest to a death of Jesus by means of crucifixion? If so, by what means do you adhere to or support this Minimal Fact #1 that Jesus died by Roman crucifixion? Remember, I am not saying that he did or didn’t die by this means. I am simply taking exception with this belief as a statement of a “minimal fact.”

    Thanks.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      No I do not agree. It’s as sure as any fact in ancient history, probably more sure than most. The sources explicitly report that he indeed died and was buried. The creed in 1 Cor. 15:3 ff. is believed by most scholars to go back to the time of the event and it states “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.”

      The Gospels also report that he died and his body was wrapped and put in the tomb. The evidence is clear from eyewitnesses that he died. Then there’s the embarrassing details about Peter denying the Lord and the disciples running and hiding after his death. This is not the sort of thing that the disciples would make up if they were creating a legend. It gives their testimony high credibility. Then we have secular historians, in particular Tacitus, who had full access to the Roman records. Here is an excerpt from Habermas:

      Cornelius Tacitus (ca. AD 55–120) was a Roman historian who lived through the reigns of over a half dozen Roman emperors. He has been called the “greatest historian” of ancient Rome, an individual generally acknowledged among scholars for his moral “integrity and essential goodness.”

      Tacitus is best known for two works—the Annals and the Histories. The former is thought to have included eighteen books and the latter to have included twelve, for a total of thirty. 2 The Annals cover the period from Augustus’ death in AD 14 to that of Nero in AD 68, while the Histories begin after Nero’s death and proceed to that of Domitian in AD 96.

      Tacitus recorded at least one reference to Christ and two to early Christianity, one in each of his major works. The most important one is that found in the Annals, written about AD 115. The following was recounted concerning the great fire in Rome during the reign of Nero:

      Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

      Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.

      From this report we can learn several facts, both explicit and implicit, concerning Christ and the Christians who lived in Rome in the AD 60s. Chronologically, we may ascertain the following information.
      (1) Christians were named for their founder, Christus (from the Latin), (2) who was put to death by the Roman procurator Pontius Pilatus (also Latin), (3) during the reign of emperor Tiberius (AD 14–37). (4) His death ended the “superstition” for a short time, (5) but it broke out again, (6) especially in Judaea, where the teaching had its origin.
      (7) His followers carried his doctrine to Rome. (8) When the great fire destroyed a large part of the city during the reign of Nero (AD 54–68), the emperor placed the blame on the Christians who lived in Rome. (9) Tacitus reports that this group was hated for their abominations. (10) These Christians were arrested after pleading guilty, (11) and many were convicted for “hatred for mankind.” (12) They were mocked and (13) then tortured, including being “nailed to crosses” or burnt to death. (14) Because of these actions, the people had compassion on the Christians. (15) Tacitus therefore concluded that such punishments were not for the public good but were simply “to glut one man’s cruelty.”

      Gary R. Habermas and Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus : Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, Rev. Ed. of: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Jesus. (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1996), 187.

      Also : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlSMedSYNM8

  17. thom waters says:

    Cris, thanks for the response.

    Of course, you do not agree. I did not expect you to agree. I expected you to take the exact position and to make the very defense that you made. It comes with being a defender of the Faith. However, it takes the very appearance of someone trying to defend something as the first and foremost objective. Within your Faith you find yourself at the point of rest, commodity, and reputation, and those things can often prove to be obstacles on the road to discovering or considering other possibilities. Truth as a possession can be difficult to relinquish.

    I believe it is a simple truth to acknowledge that one Jesus was crucified. Tacitus assists us in the making of this statement. You want him and other non-Christian sources to say more, but they can’t. Citing the reference thoroughly demonstrates this. When he says, . . . “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus . . .” And, indeed, Jesus did suffer this extreme penalty of crucifixion. You insist on inferring a death from this or gladly assume that it is implied. You read it through the lens of Belief, because that is what you believe. Nothing I could ever say could get you to see it differently.

    Having said that, the only sources we have who mention that Jesus died are those sources from the community of believers. The creed that Paul cites, as I have mentioned before, is a statement of belief. That’s what creeds are. Read the many creeds associated with Christianity. They talk about many things believed in the Faith. They talk about believing in the world to come and the judgment to come. Sure they talk about things that happened in history, but they do not rely on “facts” in order to believe. Do you think for one moment that when Peter was preaching in Acts that Jesus was raised from the dead that people said, “Prove to us that he was dead and then we’ll believe?”

    Modern man is not like that. We want proof, or, at least, what we think is proof. We’re sophisticated. We are more inclined to Reason and Thought. Think about it: The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection. We want things to be proven to us as Fact. Anything less than than will be found wanting. There is a reason that Christianity and all religions are a matter of Faith. It’s not called the Christian Reason.

    Unfortunately, just my opinion, your position and approach get you dangerously close to that much to be avoided position that, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” Nothing wrong with saying and believing that one Jesus was crucified. At what point does Faith enter the equation? If you want it to enter later than history might be able to support that’s fine, I suppose. You are still, nonetheless, being led by the belief and beliefs of those who came long ago.

    I have researched, investigated, and debated the Resurrection of Jesus for over 30 years now. I will leave you with a thought that you can mull over. The discovery of the Empty Tomb creates the greatest obstacle in defending the Resurrection of Jesus.

    By the way, you made no mention of lumping me in that special group of people who make some argument concerning how little we know of Jesus. After lumping me in the group of people who had apparently said that, you said it was an absurd argument. As I pointed out I have never said anything of the sort and took exception with your lumping me with those people. I’m sure you simply forgot. I accept your apology.

  18. Cris Putnam says:

    Thom I’m so sorry you were offended that I lumped you in with Vinny. I am typically faced with replying to many folks at once, and sometimes the skeptical objections all blur together. But really it seems just as absurd, if not more, to argue against Jesus death by crucifixion as a fact of history.

    Medical Doctors have reviewed the Gospel testimony concerning details of Jesus’ passion and verified that what was described is evidence of death. A detail like plasma and water separating as the heart sack was pierced, is not what John was thinking but science can now infer it from his description. So the science backs the claim. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlSMedSYNM8 Details and peer reviewed medical evidence is provided in the video.

    You said, “the only sources we have who mention that Jesus died are those sources from the community of believers.”

    This is known as the genetic fallacy in logic. It’s a fallacious way to argue. Like many skeptics you really straw man the concept of faith, Christian faith is evidenced based – not a leap into the dark. Faith in a Christian sense is properly understood as trust. I read Jesus’ transcendent teachings, see the character of his disciples words and the fruit that has resulted from them and place my trust in it. I trust it because it bears good fruit , in fact Christian values have molded the Western world for the better of humanity. I study the OT and see how Jesus’ life and ministry was forecast 1000 of years in advance I can clearly see evidence that scripture transcends human ability.

    That’s evidence, not a leap into the dark. To deny its veracity in spite of the Gospels, epistles and historical sources is a leap into the dark with no evidence. There’s simply no evidence for it being a misunderstanding / conspiracy. I would argue that your disbelief is much more an non-evidenced leap into the dark. I just can not muster that sort of blind faith. I prefer evidence. I trust Jesus.

  19. thom waters says:

    Cris, thanks for your last e-mail.

    While I disagree (what a surprise) with most of it, I appreciate the intent and fervency that lie behind it.

    In some ways I think you continue to inadvertently make my case for me with regard to the crucifixion of Jesus, which I still maintain is the correct Minimal Fact #1–One Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. I believe it to be a true statement with regard to what we know. You make a final appeal to the Gospel of John and to a story found only in that account, which is, I believe, the most distantly removed gospel in time from the actual events. The appeal to a single story found only in one account written by a believer whose expressed intent is that the person reading the account become a believer seems to have little to recommend it. This is especially true if the story noted can be called into question, which I believe can be done quite easily with this one. However, to mention the “genetic fallacy” notation. It has been over 35 years since I took my first logic and philosophy class as an undergraduate before starting my Masters work, but I think you might have misrepresented this. It is actually your own logic that falls victim to the genetic fallacy. It would go like this: Your belief in the resurrection of Jesus comes from and is dependent on your need and the ability of John’s story in John 19:31-37 to prove the death of Jesus on the cross.” However, if I could demonstrate to you or if we learned tomorrow that this story were completely fabricated, you would still believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. Just a thought, but I believe that is how the argument goes.

    I think you might have misrepresented my position when you said, ” . . . it seems just as absurd, if not more, to argue against Jesus’ death by crucifixion as a fact of history.” I don’t believe I have argued against it, per se. Christian apologists, on the other hand, are directly arguing for it. I simply contend that from what we have at our disposal, the “fact” that one Jesus of Nazareth was crucified can be argued quite convincingly. The case for that statement is quite compelling. The “fact” that one Jesus of Nazareth was killed by Roman crucifixion is much less compelling. My research leads me to the conclusion that this statement is much more a statement of belief than it is a statement of “fact”. Can I prove the negative, that Jesus did not die? A tall order to be sure, and one that seems to elude my own abilities. On the other hand, can you prove the positive nature to that statement? Hardly, would be my response.

    Ultimately, I think that most of us believe what we believe for reasons that transcend argument. It is not often that we allow ourselves to be argued off a position or belief that we hold. As a skeptic, my job is to chip away at the edges hoping to uncover something previously kept hidden, not known, or not previously observed. I learned some time ago to always question the official story or account of something. It’s why many of my generation questioned and still do question the Warren Commission Report on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Unfortunately, we have no single account or story on the life and death of Jesus. We have multiple accounts and stories written apparently by a diverse number of authors from the community of believers. At times this makes my job more difficult, but at times it makes my job easier.

    One final word. Your reference to the life and ministry of Jesus foreshadowed some 1,000 years in advance in the Old Testament is a point worth pursuing. I find it immensely intriguing that the finest Jewish exegetes from whom the OT scriptures come never at any time before the coming of Jesus ever imagined from their understanding and exegesis of these documents that the long awaited Messiah would die and be resurrected individually. It wasn’t until after Jesus that a group of people began preaching his Resurrection and sought proof and validity for this belief in scriptures that had never before been interpreted in this way. This is most fascinating because the founders, holders, and exegetes of these documents had no tendenz or bias when they approached them. They were simply trying to understand what was being said about the Messiah and what they could expect. It wasn’t until Christianity that these documents were re-exegeted and this was done with a specific intent which was to “prove” that what happened to one Jesus was actually foretold in these documents. The re-exegesis of these documents, however, was done with intent and through a new filter of belief. And to this day the finest Jewish exegetes still maintain their position and the Christian Community theirs. We find two divergent realities living and breathing side by side.

    Let me know if you are interested in any further discussion. I can assure you it would be uniquely different.

    Thanks for your time, and best of everything. Thom.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      Simply restating a fallacious argument does not make it a valid one. The fact that accounts are written by believers has no bearing on whether or not they are true or trustworthy. You just wave your hand and discount the source because its biblical. This is the genetic fallacy and you really ought to have grown out of it after so many years. They had nothing to gain my manufacturing false testimony. These were men of character, who sought to please and feared God. They were not liars. There’s no good reason to discount them and you have provided no evidence for such a conspiracy.

      Also, the fact that John’s gospel is later than the others is also a non argument. Would you have me believe that an old man like John could not recall witnessing the spear in Jesus side? That seems like poor form. Of course he would remember it, and being that his intent was likely not anything medical – the fact that modern Drs can infer medical data evidencing death is compelling.

  20. thom waters says:

    Goodness, gracious, Cris, you seem to have allowed your emotions to overtake and consume you. It almost appears that your last post is a personal attack. One thing that seems to be true is that you should never allow your emotions to overtake you during a dialogue or debate. It might cause you to say things that you would otherwise not say and/or regret later. At the very least, it might affect your reason and judgment. Three things:

    1–“You just wave your hand and discount the source because its (sic) biblical. This is the genetic fallacy and you really ought to have grown out of it after so many years.” On the contrary, I suspect that my position is more objective and decent than your own because there is much to learn from biblical literature with regard to “data” and “information”. I have never simply discounted something because we find it in the New Testament. That would be both unscholarly and fallacious. On the other hand I would like to know, for example, what stories or accounts of stories in the New Testament are ones that you question or suspect might not be true? Better still, what appearances or so-called appearances (whatever is meant by that) of the risen Jesus do you suspect might not be true? And, why? Let’s hope you have some with meat to them. Let’s hope you simply don’t believe something because it’s in the New Testament. Now that would be fallacious.

    2–Referring to the disciples you state, “They had nothing to gain my (sic) manufacturing false testimony. These were men of character, who sought to please and feared God. They were not liars. There’s no good reason to discount them and you have provided no evidence for such a conspiracy.” I have never mentioned anything about a “conspiracy” with regard to anything. I find it particularly interesting how often you jump to things or ideas that I suppose you have encountered before and then wrongfully, I believe, assume that it has been said or even implied in our conversation. After a while, this becomes rather wearisome. Since you and not myself mentioned the character of the disciples, let’s pursue this statement of yours made in the emotional heat of battle, I suppose. It’s nice to know that you know so much about the character of these men most of whom are mentioned by name only. Your homework assignment is to write a paper on Matthias. Be sure to include both the good points and bad points of his character. Interestingly enough, we do have some interesting information on the character of Peter, and it might be somewhat at odds with your announced characterization of these men. We do know from New Testament documents ( I’ll omit references, you can look them up) that Peter was apparently a hot-head, contradicted Jesus, could be given to violence including cutting-off another man’s ear with a sword, and, lo and behold, was a man who lied if he thought it in his best interest. Now, see what you have gotten us into.

    3–I believe it can be demonstrated that the referenced story containing the so-called spear thrust (John 19:28-37) might not be historically true or accurate. You apparently interpret that to mean that I am calling into question the character of that author. Not at all. It has to do with the author’s overall Christology and is not meant to impugn his integrity at all. It finds its meaning in Christology and not historical fact. As a historical “fact” I believe it can be questioned with good reason and argumentation.

    Anyway, I believe my skeptical approach to the beliefs of others is both an honorable and decent one that seeks only some small kernels of truth. If small kernels of truth lead people to Faith and Belief then those truths are to be welcomed when no harm is done to others.

    If you don’t want to write the paper on Matthias that’s okay. At least shed some light on those New Testament stories or accounts that you don’t believe, especially those related to the Resurrection and so-called appearances.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      Wow you are so sensitive, I only pointed out your repeated fallacious reasoning I did not attack you personally. I suppose your repeated denials warrant further discussion and evidence.

      “I have never simply discounted something because we find it in the New Testament. That would be both unscholarly and fallacious. ”

      You resort to the genetic fallacy quite often and yes your assessment is correct, it is both. But actually not because “it’s in the NT”, as you argue below “because it is from believers”, which amounts to the same thing. You attack the source not their testimony. “We can not trust the testimony of believers.” It seems like a non sequitur as well because of course they would be believers since their testimony is true. You seem to indirectly argue that reliable testimony would only come from a non believer. Seems pretty ludicrous. Anyhow, Tacitus certainly qualifies and was in a position to know that Jesus died having the Roman records at his disposal, but you won’t accept him either. Direct quotes of your fallacious reasoning:

      “Consequently we are left with only these partisan, biased, passionate accounts written by believers who claim that Jesus died. Did he actually die? Who knows. These statements of belief written by believers who want us to believe say that he did.”

      “Having said that, the only sources we have who mention that Jesus died are those sources from the community of believers. The creed that Paul cites, as I have mentioned before, is a statement of belief. That’s what creeds are. Read the many creeds associated with Christianity. They talk about many things believed in the Faith.”
      —————————————————-
      Genetic Fallacy. This is a special type of reductive fallacy in which the single issue focused on is the source or origin of an idea. The argument demands, “Something (or someone) should be rejected because it (or he) comes from a bad source.” This is an attempt to belittle a position by pointing out its inauspicious beginnings. “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” One form of this is refutation by psychoanalysis. It searches the secrets of the past for hidden motives to determine whether a proposition has any truth to it. By this criterion, we should not believe our model for the benzene molecule because its founder based it on a dream of a snake biting its tail.

      Norman L. Geisler and Ronald M. Brooks, Come, Let Us Reason : An Introduction to Logical Thinking (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1990), 107.
      ———————————————————

      You assert that Jesus did not die (are you a Muslim?). You indirectly assert the disciples were liars or that the NT documents are fabricated. However you have no evidence that these God fearing men, whose main aim in life was to emulate the character of Jesus, lied and fabricated their testimony. I don’t think anyone should accept your unsupported conspiracy theory.

      Now you are using a tactic of attempting to paint me as gullible because I do believe the NT. Yet there have been many examinations and debates concerning the cannon of scripture. Most of the work has been done by the Church fathers, very learned men who were much closer to the sources than you or I. I trust that they got it right and that the NT I hold today is reliable. So I have warrant to believe it. I would refer to FF Bruce The Cannon of Scripture for support.

      “Better still, what appearances or so-called appearances (whatever is meant by that) of the risen Jesus do you suspect might not be true? And, why?”

      The appearances in the gnostic texts from Nag Hammadi, The Second Treatise (Logos) of the Great Seth and the Apocalypse of Peter, because they are extremely late and do not agree with the eyewitness testimony that we have in the canonical literature. These gnostics were driven by an agenda other than the Gospel and their message was self serving. The accounts are fantastical and incredible. Thus I reject them.

  21. thom waters says:

    Cris,

    I imagine that you were a good dodgeball player in your day. Apparently that wasn’t too long ago, as you continue to play the game. Additionally, you continue to misrepresent my position, which, if done intentionally, would be cause for ire and impatience.

    1–I thought we were discussing stories and accounts in the New Testament with regard to which ones you reject. I am only left to believe that you accept and believe everything found therein.

    2–You write, “You assert that Jesus did not die (are you a Muslim?). You indirectly assert that the disciples or that the NT documents are fabricated. However, you have no evidence that these God-fearing men, whose main aim in life was to emulate the character of Jesus, lied and fabricated their testimony. I don’t think anyone should accept your unsupported conspiracy theory.” You have brought me to the point of near exasperation if not to a rending of garments and a gnashing of teeth. You, not myself, brought up the character of these men. Among other things you stated that they were not liars. I simply pointed out from the New Testament, itself, that Peter, perhaps the leader, was shown to have lied on an occasion when it was in his self-interest to do so. At this point I don’t know what you believe about the New Testament. Having been presented with this story regarding Peter you now leap to their testimony (about the Resurrection?) and say that I have no evidence that they lied or fabricated it and that no one should accept my conspiracy theory. What conspiracy theory? Really, Cris, this is ridiculous. Do you just dream these things up, or do you find them on cue cards?

    3–I am not a Muslim, but you could drive me in that direction. I have never asserted that Jesus did not die on the cross. This began as a discussion on “Minimal Facts.” I simply stated that based on the documents we have I believe it more reliable and, indeed, a statement of fact that one Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. Anything more than that is more a statement of belief than a statement of fact. The end. You apparently disagree. That’s fine. Of such life is built.

    4–Your statement regarding the genetic fallacy is “Something should be rejected because it comes from a bad source.” That does not represent nor could it ever represent my position. What actually represents my position is that something should be understood or examined from the context in which it comes and from whom. For that reason, something should be “questioned”, not simply “rejected”. That’s simply a good approach towards anything you read or hear. If you don’t understand that, then nothing could be said to convince you otherwise. It’s really a simple concept. Reading is the beginning to all knowledge, Cris. Questioning is the beginning to all truth. P.T. Barnum said that there’s a sucker born every minute. And, Cris, we’re all suckers. The best way to combat it is to question. You can disagree. I’m sure you do.

    5–Finally, as a skeptic, I have no problem of coherence. It might, however, be your own problem and that it begins with Faith and understanding when, as a believer, Faith begins. Again, nothing wrong with Faith. I just believe that it might begin sooner than you imagine.

    Hope you will be well, Thom.

    • Cris Putnam says:

      I certainly need those metaphorical dodge ball skills with all of the fallacies being thrown my way!

      1) As I already explained in my post the NT cannon is the product of many years of critical scholarship and debate. It is very disingenuous for you to imply that it is accepted uncritically.

      2) You are making my point for me. “”I simply pointed out from the New Testament, itself, that Peter, perhaps the leader, was shown to have lied on an occasion when it was in his self-interest to do so” The fact that scripture records this embarrassing truth speaks to its candid honesty. If the disciples were crafting a legend, they would not have included this. Thanks for pointing out the brutal honesty of the accounts. “What conspiracy theory?” Your conspiracy theory that Jesus did not die on the cross. You’re right it is ridiculous.

      3) It’s a well evidenced historical fact. 1) it is reported in all 4 Gospels 2) Josephus 3) Tacitus 4) Lucian 5) Mara bar Serapion. Not to mention that it is evidenced by contemporary hostile eye witnesses, the Jews did not deny that he died on the cross, they said the disciples stole the body. Implicit in their polemic is his death by crucifixion or there would be no need to steal the body. As well as it is also logically incoherent with the other minimal facts, for instance using you own objection to Peter’s integrity, why would Peter lie and deny knowing Jesus if he never died? It’s incoherent. You are on the extreme fringe of skepticism.

      4) I quoted you twice rejecting testimony based on the simple fact that the source was from believers. We must recognize the difference between understanding why something is believed verses understanding why something is true. Recognizing the bias of an author does not automatically merit the conclusion that he has distorted the facts. In fact being they saw this a duty to God they were likely more careful to be honest.

      5) I have shown that some of your arguments are fallacious and thus logically incoherent. It is easy to be a skeptic. Perhaps you are simply a brain in a vat and all of this is a simulation. I hope you don’t lose any sleep worrying about that.

      It seems to me that you might hope that all of this energy you have put into disbelieving might somehow get you off the hook when you face Jesus in judgment. Unless you have led a sinless life, I really think it will make you even more accountable Thom. You have plenty of evidence you just reject it. Jesus died for the ungodly like myself. Only the sick need a physician, so he is not going to reveal himself to self satisfied skeptics. He will reveal himself to the humble, those who recognize their need.

Speak Your Mind