Creationist Wisdom #723: Preacher’s Evidence

Today’s letter-to-the-editor appears in the Index-Journal of Greenwood, South Carolina.. The title is The greatest evidence, and the newspaper has a comments feature.

This one is a different from the rest of our collection, because the letter isn’t about creationism. It’s about a different miracle — the resurrection — but it uses the same method of reasoning that creationists use. We don’t know, but we assume the letter-writer is also a creationist. Anyway, this is about the reasoning, not the resurrection.

Unless the letter-writer is a politician, preacher, or other public figure, we won’t embarrass or promote him by using his full name — but today we’ve got a preacher. It’s Jonathan Payne, pastor of the Panola United Methodist Church, which has no website. We’ll give you a few excerpts from rev’s letter, enhanced with our Curmudgeonly commentary, and some bold font for emphasis. Okay, here we go:

I admit it. I want there to be a resurrection. There is nothing appealing to me about eternal nonexistence (atheism). Nor is there anything that turns my crank about nothingness (Far Eastern, New Age). When I die, I want to be consciously alive in the presence of God for all eternity. I admit that this desire contributes to my belief in the resurrection of Christ.

That’s an honest statement of the rev’s motivation. Then — for a brief moment — he gets realistic:

Just because I want something to be true does not make it so. Just because I want to believe in Christ’s resurrection does not mean that it occurred; however, the church insists it did. Question is, “Did Jesus actually arise?” Let me share three evidences that indicate he did.

Okay. Here comes the rev’s evidence. First he tells us:

The first is philosophical. If there is a God (the best explanation we have of the universe), why couldn’t he? If God is the creator, the giver of life, why couldn’t he restore the life of his son who had died on the cross? Unless one does not believe in God or believe that he is capable of miracles (a choice one makes), Christ’s resurrection is entirely feasible.

That was exceedingly weak. What else does the rev have? He continues:

The next two reasons are historical. There are those who mistakenly state there is no way Christ’s resurrection can be scientifically verified, but his resurrection is not a question of science. We cannot scientifically establish the fact that Abraham Lincoln was president during the War Between the States. In fact, we cannot scientifically prove there was a War Between the States; however, these facts can be established with historical evidence, the kind of evidence that would be presented in a court of law.

Okay, let’s get to the historical evidence. We’re told:

When it comes to historical evidence, there is more reliable evidence of Jesus’ resurrection (more sources and sources closer in time to the alleged event) than there is for any other event of ancient history.

What? Let’s read on:

There is more historical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection than there is of the conquests of Alexander the Great, the teachings of Plato, the assassination of Julius Caesar, or the infamous reign of Nero. We accept these events as fact. Why refuse to accept as fact Christ’s resurrection (which has more evidence of having occurred) unless we have a philosophical bias against such a thing being possible?

Perhaps we’re mistaken, but we always thought the only historical evidence for the resurrection comes from the four Gospel writers. Your Curmudgeon isn’t an historian, but there’s gotta be an ark-load of evidence for the other events the rev mentioned. Ah well, here’s another excerpt:

There is a second strand of historical evidence that indicates Jesus’ resurrection occurred: the church. [Skipping some bible accounts about Jesus’ followers.] Under hostile conditions, they boldly proclaimed that Jesus was risen. (Acts 2) Why? Because they were eyewitnesses of the fact that Jesus was alive. The change in these men’s lives and the establishment of the church is, perhaps, the greatest evidence of Jesus’ resurrection.

Fine, but it’s still the same four Gospels. And now we come to the end:

Without the resurrection, the church has no message. No; let’s rephrase that. Without the resurrection, there is no church. Today’s church, with all its flaws and failures, is the greatest evidence of the resurrection and the basis of our hope of life beyond the grave.

We’re not going to comment on Christianity itself, because that’s not what we do here. We don’t mind if the rev takes it all on faith — but he should say so! When he says it’s based on evidence, he sounds like … well, like the creationists we’re always writing about. And that’s not good.

Copyright © 2016. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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13 responses to “Creationist Wisdom #723: Preacher’s Evidence

  1. Ah, I think the Rev wasn’t awake during his church history class. There is a church today because of human politicking. Just take for one instance, that it was the Romans who persecuted the Jews of Palestine so much that they prayed for a Messiah, a religious king to come and organize an army and throw off the Roman yoke from their necks. Current Christians claim Jesus was the Messiah even though he fulfilled exactly none of the requirements for being one but let’s over look that for a moment. Basically, it was the Romans who killed Jesus for being a rabble rouser, yeah, those Romans. And just 300 years later (or there abouts, Christians don’t keep good records), they were establishing Christianity as the state religion of, wait for it, Rome. Now the Rev would proabably spin this about face as Christianity having conquered Rome but that is ridiculous. The political battles involved brought some Emperors to tears. (They thought barbarians were stubborn, until they met Christian prelates.) It is entirely possible that the split of the Christian Church into the Roman part and the Eastern Orthodox part could be reduced to the presence or absence of one letter in one word. There were riots, killings, kidnappings, poisoning, spying and, oh boy, there was the bearing of a great deal of false witness.

    Nobody who has studied church history for more than a couple of hours can look at the existence of the church as evidence for divine power. If divine power existed, why were all of those riots, battles, the lying, the political shenanigans, etc. necessary?

  2. Well, Steve Ruis beat me to it. In addition to what he talked about, I’d just point out that, for this Jesus guy, allegedly the greatest thing that ever happened in the history of the world if not the entire universe, there are absolutely no contemporary accounts of the chap. None, zero, nada. Compared to the lack of eye witness accounts of the Jesus chap, the evidence for any of the other historical figures the Rev mentions is overwhelming. Since he apparently was sleeping through biblical history class, maybe he could catch up by reading Robert Price, Richard Carrier, or any of dozens of biblical scholars.

  3. Jonathan is right about one thing:

    Without the resurrection, the church has no message. No; let’s rephrase that. Without the resurrection, there is no church.

    Unfortunately, Jonathan has not produced any evidence at all to support his assertion. To top it off, he wasn’t there.

  4. I admit it. I want there to be a resurrection. There is nothing appealing to me about eternal nonexistence (atheism). Nor is there anything that turns my crank about nothingness (Far Eastern, New Age). When I die, I want to be consciously alive in the presence of God for all eternity. I admit that this desire contributes to my belief in the resurrection of Christ.

    I’m not crazy about eternal nonexistence either. But what I want doesn’t have anything to do with what happens to be true.

    If there is an afterlife, I’ll find out, and be greatly relieved. If there isn’t, I won’t care. So the best thing to do is live the best life I can. That way, if there’s an afterlife, I’ll have a shot at being rewarded, and if there isn’t, at least I’ll have done something worthwhile.

  5. This is what I’ve said before regarding the purpose of religion, a belief in some magical afterlife. Yes, death is very frightening, it’s an unknown, and so we make up stories about a magical afterlife where we go on living as we do today for the most part. We no longer bury food and belongings with the dead for them to avail themselves of, but the idea of embalmment was to preserve the body to live in the flesh when resurrected, either in heaven or hell, depending of course on how you behaved in this life. Everlasting punishment was necessary as an incentive to do good. For thousands of years people have been imagining this concept. I think this is exactly what Jonathan is saying.

  6. Eric Lipps says: “If there is an afterlife, I’ll find out, and be greatly relieved. If there isn’t, I won’t care.”

    This, attributed to Mark Twain, says it best: “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

  7. “If there is a God (the best explanation we have of the universe)”

    “God” is hardly “the best explanation ‘we’ have of the universe.” Maybe if Zeus is the best explanation we have of meteorological phenomena, then Yahweh can be brought in for the universe.

    “We cannot scientifically establish the fact that Abraham Lincoln was president during the War Between the States.”

    Nowhere is it claimed that Lincoln was born of virgin, turned water to wine, spit-healed people, was alive after he was dead, or other such things that are contrary to known ways that reality operates.

    “There is more historical evidence of Jesus’ resurrection than there is of the conquests of Alexander the Great, the teachings of Plato, the assassination of Julius Caesar, or the infamous reign of Nero.”

    Balderdash. Again, it isn’t claimed that any of these people had magical superpowers or hold the key to eternal life.

    “The change in these men’s lives and the establishment of the church is, perhaps, the greatest evidence of Jesus’ resurrection.

    Utter rubbish. Tripe. Spittoon dribble. Unless the pastor is prepared to defend all religions in existence, this justification is breathlessly inane.

    “Today’s church, with all its flaws and failures, is the greatest evidence of the resurrection and the basis of our hope of life beyond the grave.”

    Here, let’s try out the pastor’s reasoning:

    Today’s Islam, with all it’s flaws and failures, is the greatest evidence of the truth of the Prophet’s message.

    Today’s Scientology, with all it’s flaws and failures and Tom Cruise’s, is the greatest evidence of the truth of Ronald Hubbard’s message.

  8. Dave Luckett

    “…there is more reliable evidence of Jesus’ resurrection (more sources and sources closer in time to the alleged event) than there is for any other event of ancient history.”

    Not so much.

    Outside of the NT, the only reasonably early mention of the claimed resurrection is a second-century reference by Lucian of Samosata, who pours scorn on it. (To be clear, other non-Christian writers mentioned Jesus or his early followers – Flavius Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Suetonius – but not specifically the claim that he was resurrected.)

    So what it boils down to is whether you believe the NT writers are reliable not only in general, but specifically in that particular. They are the only early sources who claim that Jesus actually was resurrected. Are they to be believed on that specific claim?

    You pays your money and you takes your choice. I think there’s enough evidence from them and the non-christian sources to say that that there was a Galilean holy man who said some pretty amazing things, but made the error of claiming to be the Messiah of Israel (or of allowing his followers to claim it) and who was accordingly crucified by the Romans, probably with the full co-operation of the Temple priesthood, who had every reason to want such a person dead. There’s nothing extraordinary about any of that. Two others, at least, are known to have gone the same route.

    But resurrection? That’s an extraordinary claim. The usual aphorism is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And the fact is that the evidence from the sources who make that claim is not only NOT extraordinary, it is pretty sub-ordinary. For a start, nobody saw Jesus being resurrected. Nobody saw him rise from the dead. Nobody saw him walk out of that tomb.

    But more, read the Gospel accounts of what happened in the garden that Sunday morning. They differ irreconcilably on the details. The only one which appears to originate from the direct testimony of an eyewitness, John, is completely – and I mean completely – different from the other three.

    No. The Rev is wrong, flat busted wrong. There is no “reliable evidence of Jesus’ resurrection”. There is supposition, hearsay and rumor, nothing more.

    Sure, you can believe it anyway, if you want. Who am I to say you can’t? But I’d rather you didn’t kid yourself about the evidence, and I take it downright unkind that you’re trying to kid me.

  9. The Bible reports that hundreds of people saw the resurrected Jesus, and this is counted by some today as eyewitness testimony. Were all of those hundreds of people lying, or mistaken?
    Please do not think for a moment that I am making that argument.

  10. “his resurrection is not a question of science.”
    It is. At one moment we have a dead body; the next moment is alive. That happens in our natural reality.

    “We cannot scientifically establish the fact that Abraham Lincoln was president during the War Between the States.”
    Sure we can. Our natural reality provides plenty of natural evidence that this natural fact belongs to our natural reality – ie that there are a couple of points in timespace for which the statement “AL was president during the Civil War” is correct.

    “these facts can be established with historical evidence, the kind of evidence that would be presented in a court of law.”
    Is this a typical American mistake? Historical evidence is part of our natural reality and hence can be investigated by using the scientific method. Evidence presented in a court of law is not necessarily scientific.

    The scientific method is used on three levels (Herman Philipse, God in the Age of Science, chapter 6.1).
    a) There are domain-specific methods. You don’t use a thermometer to research the question who was president during the Civil War. You use a thermometer to research the temperature of many objects.
    b) There are methods that are not domain-specific but still cannot always used. Philipse gives the example of statistics; quite useless to answer the question who was president during the Civil War, but often used to answer other types of historical question.
    c) Philosophers of science like Descartes, Hume, Popper and Lakatos have tried to describe scientific methodology in general terms, applicable to all fields, including history. You collect empirical data (regarding the presidency in the early 1860’s there is plenty) and draw a conclusion.

    And this is where Hume comes into play, especially his famous On Miracles. He has mercilessly pointed out what the problems with supernatural explanations are. Thus far no believer has manages to solve them. Pastor Payne doesn’t even try and that’s very usual.

    “more reliable evidence of Jesus’ resurrection”
    Possibly inspired by Hume the Dutch theologian, apostate and socialist Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis already noticed at the end of the 19th Century that deriving a divine world from our concrete world requires a salto mortale. And a salto mortale is exactly what pastor Payne performs. He confirms it nicely with his

    “unless we have a philosophical bias against such a thing being possible”.
    Cateogry error! All the other examples (Alexander, Julius, Nero) are natural phenomena. Resurrections aren’t.

  11. Dave Luckett

    TomS, are you referring to 1 Corinthians 15: 3-7? Because Paul only says that this is “the tradition that I have received”. He does not say that he has had this directly from anyone, or that he actually spoke to any of these “more than five hundred” witnesses himself. Paul is saying that somebody else told him that there were hundreds of witnesses.

    So it’s not a question of whether these witnesses were lying or mistaken. It’s a question of how much credence we give, not to the witnesses themselves, for their accounts do not appear, but to a hearsay report at two removes – Paul and his informant.

    For me, not much.

  12. For anyone who thinks that there isn’t much evidence for the resurrection you’ve failed to consider b****s***. While b***s*** is indeed weak evidence, there are massive of amounts of it.

  13. A loving, compassionate and very good-hearted man named Jim, who wasn’t a Christian, dies and immediately finds himself in Heaven. A guide comes forward to show him around.

    Heaven is even more glorious than Jim had been told. Breathtaking vistas, beautiful music, stunning landscapes and colors, and the most loving people he’s ever encountered, all around him.

    After a while he notices something strange: off to one side is a huge wall, so tall that it would be impossible to scale from either side. This seems very odd in Heaven, so Jim asks his guide what’s behind that wall.

    “Oh,” the guide replies, “that’s where all the Christians are. You see, they believe they’re the only ones here, and it wouldn’t be heaven for them if they ever found out otherwise.”