On the Historicity of the Resurrection

When I listen to Christian apologists I often hear that there is very good evidence in favor of the historicity of the resurrection. I don’t think this claim is true, and don’t think that secular historians generally support the idea of Jesus’ resurrection for secular reasons.

So let me ask this simple question. If the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is so good, can anyone name me at least a dozen historians, who do not come from a faith tradition that already affirms the resurrection, but agree that there is a very strong secular case for Jesus rising from the dead?

Furthermore, I’d be curious if somebody could name me some actual secular historians who came to believe that Jesus rose from the dead based solely on the historical evidence for the claim. It would seem to me that if this claim about the historicity of the resurrection were true then we should see all kinds of professional historians coming to believe that Jesus rose from the dead from purely secular historical reasons. Yet this doesn’t really seem to materialize. So either the evidence isn’t as good as they claim, or secular historians are already committed to a position against the resurrection. I would tend to think the former is stronger than the latter.

So I’m forced to ask: Is the historical evidence for the resurrection really as good as Christian apologists like to claim?

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The Fishy Story of the Resurrection

Today is Easter Sunday, and I thought it would be a good time to bring to light something that has bothered me for a long time about the Christian resurrection story. I’ve mentioned before that, as an outsider to Christianity, the whole idea of God creating us broken and then coming to save us from his own mistake by dying for us, so that those who believe do not have to go to hell, is quite the absurdity, but it is essentially the Christian story. What also seems rather obvious to me is that the resurrection is very much a “just-so” kinda story. Let me try to explain:

You have Jesus dying, which is seen by a large number of people. But then you have his supposed resurrection, for which we really have nothing but the attestation of Christian believers. The stories tell us that after his resurrection Jesus supposedly spends about two months with his friends, appearing at times, walking into rooms that are locked, and eating broiled fish, without really telling anyone else. In all that time it would seem that Jesus never once appeared to anyone but his friends. He certainly doesn’t seem to have appeared to Pilate, or any of the Jewish authorities, although he very easily could have. He could have demonstrated to those who didn’t believe, much like he did for Thomas, that he was very much alive after his execution. After this period of time Jesus finally flies off to heaven, presumably to take control of the universe, and has never been seen again[1]. When it comes to the post-death appearance of Jesus, the only sources we have for these miraculous claims come from Christians.  The whole thing seems, well frankly, fishy.

What do I mean by fishy? Have you ever known a somebody who loves to fish? Have you ever heard the tales they’ll sometimes tell of the giant fish they caught, yet the only evidence they present is their testimony, or perhaps the word of their fishing buddies? This giant fish inevitably got away, or was eaten, so there’s no remaining evidence of this large fish, but the fisherman is convinced he caught the big one. Now, when it comes to the Jesus story, doesn’t it seems to be just a little too convenient that the story of Jesus involves a bunch of fishermen, and a man who completely disappears after his most incredible miracle of all? The story sounds to me like one of those “I caught a 80 pound whopper ten years ago” stories.

The whole idea of Jesus’ resurrection would be more believable if we had some credible enemy attestation to it. Even more impressive would be if Jesus was still here today to tell us about how he was crucified and came back to life. Yet we’re forced to sit in a position were we have to take this fish story on nothing more than the beliefs of fishermen who lived millennia ago. The whole thing is fishy. From the ichthys fish to the fisherman buddies of Jesus. At least with big fish stories we know that big fish exist (as anyone who has ever seen a tuna can attest), but I don’t think we can say the same for resurrecting god-men.

[1] Mormons seem to claim that he flew to the Americas and visited Hebrews that lived there, but there’s no evidence that these people lived.

Is God’s Existence a Question for Science or Philosophy?

A person, on the Catholic blog site “Strange Notions”, made the following comment:

God's existence is a philosophical question not a scientific one. So who cares? This is like ranting "Archeologists have been digging for years and they never dug up a Higgs Boson."

Several points should be made about these kinds of ideas.

First, theists regularly make claims that God causes miracles, and other phenomena, inside our universe. If God, or any other supernatural agent, has some interaction with our material universe then studying those supposed miracles with science is precisely the correct tool to use. At the very least we may discover some cool new natural phenomenon, and be able to explain it. At worst we’ll continue to investigate and may never find sufficient explanation. Regardless, if God is the cause of anything, science would be a tool to discover that.

Second, if your “sophisticated” theology and ideas about God make it such that it cannot be investigated by science, then I would argue that you have effectively rendered the proposition “God exists” to be something that is pragmatically meaningless. After all, what does it mean to say that God exists when there is absolutely nothing detectable about it? How is this different from saying that intelligent life exists on another planet that is outside of our visible universe, such that they can never interact with us in any way? What exactly is different between a universe where these aliens exist and a universe where they do not, from any pragmatic point of view?

If God exists in any meaningful way then it ought to have some reasonable possibility of having some noticeable effect on the world, so as to affect the decisions I make. Like the alien life that I cannot interact with, an undetectable god is quite indistinguishable from that which doesn’t exist. Making claims about what will happen to me after I’m dead, where (as far as I can tell) I won’t be able to experience anything anyways, are just as useless to me. Until you can demonstrate this supposed afterlife it’s just another claim.

Theists, if you believe that some kind of god exists, but your god is not detectable in any meaningful way, then I have vastly more interesting things to deal with. Believe if you must, but I see no reason to join you. I think I need to go clean my cats litter box. At least I know it exists and what will happen if I don’t.

If Theology Was Objective

If theology was an objective field of study, oh how the world would be different than it is today. Instead it appears to be a largely a speculative endeavor where theologians appear to find justification for the religious beliefs they already hold.

If theology was objective we wouldn’t have so many widely divergent conclusions about the nature of the divine. Instead we find ourselves in a world where every different theological tradition competes against every other and none show themselves to be significantly superior to any other. With all of the mutually incompatible theologies of the world it appears that we have no objective way to determine which one (assuming that at least one of them) is correct.

Is there one only god? Are there many gods? Do any gods still exist? Is the will of the divine accessible to humans? Is there any afterlife? All of these are questions that various theology claims to have answers for, but what answers you get seems to be completely dependent on the religious traditions, and assumptions, that theology starts with.

Science, being able to deal with objective matters about causal relationships, does a very good job of doing what it claims it does. Theology, on the other hand, cannot show any fruit from its work. If theology has some semblance of objectivity behind it we should expect, like science, that once a true discovery is made then theologians of competing views would gradually adopt that finding. I don’t think we see this, as each major religion has its own mutually incompatible theology.

Theology is a stagnant field that does not produce objectively true findings. While the ideas may give comfort to people, there is no good reason to believe that theological ideas are true in any meaningful sense. Theology belongs in the dustbin of human history, along with other speculative fields of human thought.

The Catholic Church and Same-Sex Unions

So I read today that the Vatican has made a pronouncement that it will not allow priests to bless same-sex unions, calling homosexuality a “sin.”

The nonsense idea that homosexuality is a sin, along with its positions on abortion, contraception, and other issues, are some of the main reasons I stopped being a Catholic. I simply found that the church was too far out of touch with reality on important issues, and that I could not trust them about what constituted sin. They were ignorant old men who saw the world through the broken lens of tradition.

Since the whole coverup about child abusing priests has come to light decades ago, I really don’t understand how anybody can honestly come out and call themselves a Catholic. To knowingly support a church that has been unrepentant about the abuse of so many is tantamount to saying “I don’t care, I will support this organization no matter what they do.” Where have we seen those attitudes before?

While I can say that the stodgy, and very conservative, moral positions of the Catholic church drove me away from them, I don’t know how long I would have continued to believe had the Catholic Church been held more reasonable social positions. Their position may have only hastened my path towards skepticism.

As far as I’m concerned, homosexuality, along with any immutable attribute of oneself, cannot be a sin. Any God that would create homosexuals (being homosexual is not a choice), and demand that they shut themselves off from loving consensual relationships, is not a God that is worthy of any worship and can be rightly called an ass.

Why is Same-Sex Marriage Still an Issue?

For evangelical Christians, same-sex marriage is still a contentious issue. In my country the issue has been largely decided by an act of Parliament for over 15 years now. It’s really not an issue here, although I suspect our evangelicals are just not as noisy as Americans. We certainly don’t have any of our major political parties up in arms about the decision to legalize same-sex marriages. It is, as they so, a non-issue where I live.

And for that reason I have a really hard time understanding why same-sex marriages is such a big deal for so many American right wing religious nutcases. It’s not like they are harmed in any way by gay people getting married to people of their own gender. It’s not like it affects their ability to have children, read their Bible, or make for any material differences in their lives. I don’t hear too much from religious conservative about the problem of spousal abuse (which would seem to be a much bigger problem than gay people getting married), or people who have children they can’t afford to take care of, yet they have no problem using their religion as a cudgel to stop gay people from getting married. They seem very happy to wave around their religious holy text as a justification for their bigotry.

On that note, over at Triablogue, somebody Christian bigot named Jason Engwer produced a blog post with some pretty bad arguments against same-sex marriage. He specifically offers the following points:

  • Opposite-sex relationships still promote the unity of the genders in a way that same-sex relationships don’t
  • Opposite-sex relationships still have a potential that same-sex relationships don’t have to produce biological offspring
  • Opposite-sex relationships provide a significantly different environment in which to raise children
  • We have good religious grounds for distinguishing between opposite-sex and same-sex relationships.

On his first point, whateverhe actually means here, even if I was to grant that opposite-sex relationship offer some “unity of the genders in a way that same-sex relationship do not “, I fail to see how this is an argument against same-sex marriage. The fact that opposite-sex relationship have some attribute in no way takes away from reasons for allowing same-sex relationship, and allowing people to marry this may. Frankly, for those who aren’t straight, “the unity of the genders” probably means very little to them, as most simply aren’t interested in being in a relationship with a person of the opposite gender. So how is this a good reason to deny them the right to marry? I fail to see how this offers a good justification for his bigotry.

On the second point, while the author likely believes miracles are possible, a man without testicles, or a woman without a uterus or overies, aren’t going to produce offspring by themselves. Regardless, marriage is not simply about making babies, and is not a requirement for making them either. If it were then unwed mothers wouldn’t be a thing. Would the author serious propose that we deny marriage to those for whom it is impossible to have offspring? If not, this point is really just a convenient way to say “can’t have kids, don’t get married.”

On his third point, as far as I’m aware there’s no compelling evidence that children raised by same sex couples have any statistically significant differences in outcomes once you account for other socio-economic variables. As far as I know, children raised by two parents fare equally regardless of their parents gender. Even then, if there does happen to be some real, demonstrable, harm that came to children being raised by same-sex couples, is it worse than the harm that comes to children raised by single parents, and why should this be a factor in whether two consenting adults can get married? At best it’s an argument against certain people having children, and even then it’s not much of an argument for that either.

I suspect that if we were to look at the outcomes of children we’d find that children raised in deep poverty have some of the worse life outcomes, yet we do not tell poor parents that they cannot get married, or have children. If this was really about “the children”, evangelicals would be doing much more than simply stopping gay people from getting married. As I said earlier, this is much more about enforcing their religious bigotry, and picking on a minority that has been maligned for millennia.

On the fourth point, I don’t care (and for the most part nor does the law) what your religious grounds are. The law is secular (unless Western style democracies suddenly became theocracies overnight, and I hadn’t heard about it), and does not accept religious convictions as a reason to deny rights to other people. You don’t get to make the government impose your religious beliefs on others, especially those who don’t agree with your religious beliefs. Religious nonsense is not a justification for our government to behave in a certain fashion. If that’s what you want then move to Iran or Saudi Arabia.

On top of all of this there are all the benefits that come from being married. Aside from the fact that the law treats married couples differently than even common-law couples, we know that there are health benefits as well. Why would we want to deny people these benefits, simply because you think they’re marrying the wrong person? Oh right, because you think they’re marrying the wrong person, and you must know best. Sigh.

Why Trump Must Be Convicted

During the impeachment trial it has been suggested that Democrats are afraid of Donald Trump running again in 2024, and winning the Presidency. While that notion does scare me (I’m not sure that the republic would survive a second Trump term), I’m immediately more concerned about what would happen if Trump loses again in 2024.

Democracy is a fragile thing, and it only takes one failure for it to be gone forever. Those who stand on the side of protecting democracy have to do so 100% of the time. If they ever fail, and democracy should fall, we may end up in a place where it never comes back.

Sure, January 6th was a colossally screwed up coup attempt by Trump supporters, but who’s to say that they would screw up so badly the next time. What if the next time they manage to get into the chambers of the Senate, or House of Representatives? Who would they kill? How many would they kill? Would we be able to restore what we currently have?

The dangers of Donald Trump losing again, telling his supporters that he lost because of massive election fraud, and fomenting another uprising, is a scary thought. The fact that he has done it once with his lies should be enough to warn every single senator that this is a risk should he ever run again. If you’re in Congress come January 2025, regardless of the side you’re on, there is a risk that you may die at the hands of Trump supporters should he run, and lose, in the next Presidential election. Are you prepared to risk your life, and the lives of your fellow members of Congress?

This has nothing to do with partisanship. This is about asking the question “how many times does a person need to demonstrate that they cannot be trusted before you’re willing to put a stop to their reckless behavior?” Is it really worth the risk to democracy itself to let him go?

My Impeachment Predictions

The impeachment trial of Donald Trump is underway, and I wanted to offer my predictions of the outcome. I have no crystal ball to make these predictions, but I’d like to think that I have some sense of the relevant actors at play.

First, the outcome. I’m going to say that I expect that Trump will actually be convicted, although I have no idea how long the trial will take (but I don’t actually expect it to be short.) Here is my reasoning on this.

McConnell is a guy who many other senate Republicans will look to in deciding how to vote. McConnell is also guy who loves power, but he’s sharing that power right now with Trump. This leads me to strongly suspect that McConnell would love to see Trump convicted, and never have a chance to run for any public office again. This would, at least for a time, cement McConnell in the position of leading the Republican party.

There’s a problem though: If McConnell appears too eager to convict the Trump supporting base would almost certainly see right through him, along with any other Republican senator who votes to convict. Those senators would almost certainly be at risk of a primary challenge when their next election cycle comes along..

So McConnell is in a bit of a bind. On one hand he likely wants to remove, on the other he can be too obvious about his intent. What does he do? Exactly what he’s doing now: Make the Democrats work hard to prove the guilt of Trump in inciting the January 6th attack, and do nothing to help them. If a compelling case is made I suspect that what will happen in that McConnell will signal that he intends to vote for conviction, and this will lead other Republican senators to join with him. For the old guard, of which I think there are still enough in the Republican party, they have a good reason to convict, and bring the party back from insanity. I full expect that there are a number of senators, like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, who are complete write-offs, and will vote to acquit regardless of any evidence presented. I also expect that the end result will be close to the required 67 votes needed for conviction.

In the end, I think the best thing for the future of the Republican party is to convict Donald Trump, and start a purge of Trumpism. If this doesn’t happen expect to see Trump come back for another attempt in 2024, and who knows what will happen then.

What do you think? Do you think I’m totally off base with this prediction? Have a prediction of your own you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments.

Turning Things Around

I have said, numerous times, on this blog that there are three things I would have to accept as true in order to believe that Christianity, the religion I was raised in and the dominant religion of North America, is true. All one has to do is establish that the following are true, or at least very likely to be true:

  1. Jesus is God
  2. There is an afterlife
  3. What I believe about Jesus has a significant impact on my afterlife

But I want to shift things around a little bit. To Christian believers, I have two serious questions that I hope somebody can answer, because you, at least presumably, already accept the three statements above as true:

  1. What reliable methodology did you use to determine that the those three critical propositions are actually true?
  2. What would it take to change your mind about those three claims?

Here are some things to think about while you answer these two important questions:

  • Was objective evidence the primary reason why you accepted those claims, or was learning about Jesus at your mama’s knee – your childhood indoctrination into Christianity – a primary reason for your belief?
  • Do you treat the status of your holy book like you treat the status of other holy books from other religions?
  • Do you give particular deference to the New Testament, and the claims within it? If so, are you aware that most scholars don’t actually know who wrote most of the New Testament, that only seven of the letters of Paul are considered authentic, and that the gospels were written at least 30-40 years after the events in question by unknown authors?
  • Have you ever honestly looked at the claims of your religion as if you were an outsider, and hadn’t been raised to believe them? Have you treated the claims about Jesus like you would treat the claims about Krishna?

Be honest with yourself Christians. What is the reason that you came to accept Jesus into your life? Is it because the evidence lead you there, or because of some other reason?

Creationists Confuse Me

In the news today I’ve read that:

South Africa announced on Sunday it would pause the deployment of the AstraZeneca vaccine after researchers from the University of Witwatersrand and the University of Oxford said it provided only minimal protection against mild or moderate infection from the B1351 variant.

This new variant of the coronavirus is simply evolution in action. This particular variant isn’t any more deadly, but it is supposed to be around 30% more easily transmitted, and now represents the most prevailing form of the virus in South Africa.

By an evolutionary model, this is the kind of thing we should expect. “The variant is able to attach more easily to human cells because of three mutations in the receptor-binding domain (RBD) in the spike glycoprotein of the virus” [1]. In other words, a mutation has changed the characteristics of how this virus operates on human cells, and is now better able to survive.

But, from my meager understanding, this is the kind of thing that creationists frequently tell us is not the case, yet a novel change in the genetics has now made the virus more effective at replicating, and this has lead to it becoming more prevalent than its ancestor variation. And, of course, B1351 it’s still a virus, because we don’t expect a virus to suddenly turn into a bacteria, as this would completely overturn our understanding of evolution.

According to my understanding of what many creationists tell me, all the genetic diversity was created by God about 6000 years ago, yet somehow a novel virus now has a novel genetic variation that make it more effective, but that novel variant must have already existed, because otherwise evolution would be true, so it must not be novel at all.

Actually, the truth is, I don’t actually have a farking clue what creationists are trying to tell me about why evolution doesn’t work. Whatever the reason, I’m sure it’s very complicated, and that’s why only creation scientists accept it.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/501.V2_variant