The Proof is in the Pudding

One of the interesting things I find about about people is the wonderful way that they can contradict themselves, seemingly without noticing.  In religion this is seen all the time.  One example that arises time and time again is Christians who offer “proof” of this or that tenant of the religion, even though “faith” saves them and “faith” is belief without proof.

So it was that on Easter Monday, Drew Hystriani of Relevant Radio was offering “proofs” of the resurrection.  Here is a printed list of similar proofs, so that you don’t have to listen to him.

Unfortunately, none of the “proofs” either by themselves or total are very compelling.  Let’s look at a few.

Proof Number 1: The Empty Tomb.  This might be compelling if we had some independent confirmation of this “fact.”  Unfortunately, we know that the gospels are cribbed from each other and not anything close to eyewitness accounts, as Mr. Hystriani and many others would have you believe.  They were written many years after the alleged events and get many historical details flat out wrong.  Trusting in the gospels is a bit like believing your four kids after you return from vacation that there was “no party” in your house while you were gone.  Especially when the scent of beer is still detectable.

One smell of beer in the gospels is Joseph of Arimethea.  He appears out of nowhere to offer the tomb that will later be found empty, and then is never heard from again.  A couple of problems though.  First, no one seems to know where Arimethea actually is.  And some authors surmise Arimethea might be a bit of a pun that means “Best Disciple Town.”  Which is almost too fictional to be true.  He is also described as a member of the Sanhedrin which unanimously condemned Jesus.  So, he must have voted for Jesus’s death, but then turns around and secretly he is a follower.   A bit of a stretch.  But the story needs someone like Joseph for an “empty tomb.”  Is he an invention?  Otherwise Jesus goes into a mass grave with other troublemakers the Romans did away with.  Again, no Joseph, no tomb to be empty.

But even if we grant the tomb, there are many reasons it could be empty, only one of which is resurrection.  This “proof” looks pretty shaky to me, and frankly it might be the best one.

Proof Two: The Women Witnesses.  Much is made of the gospels’ use of women as witnesses.  It is said they are second class citizens (somewhat true) and their testimony was not admissible in court (mostly not true.)  This “embarrassing” detail is used as proof, “it must have happened this way, because a made up story would be different.”  Maybe.  But even a made up story needs a reason for someone to go down to the tomb.   In Mark, the Apostles are presented as incredibly dense, they never understand what Jesus says about anything, including his impending death and resurrection.  In the story the men are hiding out, afraid of the Romans or Jews adding them to the tomb.  The women head down, not to see if Jesus has risen, but rather to finish the burial preparations that should have been done on Friday, but there was not enough time.    So, fiction or non-fiction, it is the women who have the best motivation to head out early on Sunday.  What they found and how they reacted is completely different in the four accounts.  So, the smell of beer is still there.  Not very proofy.

Proof #3: The Apostles New Found Courage.  Well, except they are not very courageous.  Even after the tomb is found empty they are still cowering in the locked room.  Even after Jesus ascends into heaven, they still cower in the upper room for another 10 days until the Holy Spirit shoos them out into the public square.  It takes 50 days for them to screw up their courage — after seeing a guy walk out of the grave?  This is more like proof that nothing happened.  “Of course you can’t see him now, he’s in heaven!”  And what good are tomb tours almost two months later?  Proclaiming a miracle two months ago is a great cover for why you don’t have any proof.  So Proof #3 is anti-proof.

Proof #4:  Changed Lives of James and Others.  In Not the Impossible Faith, Richard Carrier shows that the growth of Christianity was some kind of miracle of exponential growth.  In fact, it limped along until it was accepted by Roman Emperor Constantine some 300 years later.   The Mormon Church has grown at a similar rate to early Christianity, does that make it real too?  Islam started later and has almost as many believers as Christianity.  Is it true?  Also, if we allow that fervor means that an event was real we have to say that Mohammed and Joseph Smith both had real experiences with god.  If you buy this as proof, you need darn good reasons why similar conversions are not proof for other religions.

Proof #5: Jesus seen by large crowds.  Here is what Paul said about the resurrection:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters[c] at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died.[d] Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

This seems like a very strange list.  First of all, it seems that Paul got this list from somewhere else, as he says he “received” it.  Maybe he got the information from a person or writing, or maybe through private revelation, it certainly is not clear here.  But beyond that, it doesn’t compare to the gospels or Acts in any straight forward way.  Paul never mentions Pilate or any other historical anchors for Jesus’s death or resurrection.

But this account seems to start well enough, with Jesus appearing to Cephas (Peter), then to the Twelve.  Wait?  What?  Isn’t Peter one of the Twelve?  Besides, at the time there were eleven as Judas had checked out.  So, the list is actually off to a rocky start.  Next comes the appearance to the “five hundred.”  This sounds like pretty good proof, five hundred people see Jesus alive and well and it is often pointed out that mass hallucinations don’t happen.  Without arguing whether or not mass hallucinations can occur, we still have a problem.  No one but Paul mentions these 500 people.  Not the gospels or acts.  Paul doesn’t say who they were, when they saw Jesus or how.  So, even though some of these people were supposedly alive when Paul wrote, no one can check in with them.  And not a single one of them wrote an independent account of seeing the guy who came back from the dead.  Not one out of 500.

Next Jesus appeared to James, who we have discussed, and then “all the apostles.”  Wait, I thought the twelve were the apostles.  Who are “all” of these people.  Paul never says.  Certainly other followers of Jesus were mentioned in the gospels, might have been them.  Or not.  Or they could be anyone at anytime anywhere, because Paul includes himself as an apostle.

Paul says that Jesus appeared to him, but the description is not of a flesh and blood encounter, but more of a spiritual one.  Paul had a vision of the risen Jesus many years after the crucifixion.  This hardly counts as proof of any kind of resurrection.  My mother swore she was visited by her mother several times after my grandmother passed away.  I don’t think that is proof that my grandmother rose from the dead.  Paul’s vision also calls into question all of the other Jesus sightings.  He puts his vision in the same list as their experiences, so maybe they had visions too, just like he did.  Using Paul as evidence is not exactly “proof.”

And just as an aside, I find it strange that Paul says he received the gospel in his vision and nowhere else.  He says this several times.  And yet when he meets up with Peter, Paul acts as though his experience is at least as good as, if not better than, Peter’s.  But Peter actually walked with Jesus for several years, and then hangs with his brother.  But Paul still feels free to disagree with Peter about things that Jesus supposedly says.  Kind of strange.

Proof #6: The Conversion of Paul.  Sorry, this does not count as proof at all.  Paul had a vision inside his head, this no more “proves” the resurrection than someone who converted last week.  Just because someone believes something, no matter how smart or reliable they are, doesn’t mean it happened.

Proof Number #7: People willing to die for Jesus.  This may be the worst “proof” of all.  People are willing to die and unfortunately to kill, for all kinds of beliefs.  If everything people died for was true we would be hip deep in aliens and pretty much every religion ever conceived of on the face of the earth would also be true.  Only people with no sense of history would even offer this as “proof.”

Of course, refuting these “proofs” doesn’t mean that the resurrection didn’t happen.  But I do have to wonder why the most extraordinary event of all time has so little support that even the most ardent believers can only come up with this list as “proof.”

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