Carnival of Questions for Resurrection Apologists

Fear the Question (“Fear of the Question”)

Why does Christianity need apologists if the evidence for the resurrection is as undeniable and unquestionable as apologists claim it is? They say “itʼs a fact!” (Really? An infinite Being couldnʼt provide any more evidence than cult-written second-hand sources? And also expect everyone to believe in heaven and hell, sight unseen? And believe in all the related doctrines and practices of Christianity with few questions asked?) Instead, when I think of Christian apologetics I think of this quotation from a personal letter by C. S. Lewis:

I envy you not having to think any more about Christian apologetics. My correspondents force the subject on me again and again. It is very wearing, and not v. good for oneʼs own faith. A Christian doctrine never seems less real to me than when I have just (even if successfully) been defending it. It is particularly tormenting when those who were converted by my books begin to relapse and raise new difficulties.

C. S. Lewis to Mary Van Deusen, June 18, 1956

What Exactly Do Apologists Mean When They Claim to Have Provided Evidence for the Resurrection? Especially in Light of…

  1. The Disharmony of the death and resurrection tales.

  2. The Trajectory from early to late NT sources that suggests the death and resurrection tales grew in the telling, not just in length (and in the number of words allegedly spoken by the resurrected Jesus) but also grew via enhancements that believers added over time to make the tales appear more impressive, convincing. Jesus is also portrayed as more in control, more philosophical, regal or divine in the last two written Gospels and their versions of his capture, death and burial. (Even the stories in which Jesus commands others to come back to life follow a trajectory of enhancement, and grow less secretive, more public, more impressive, and play a more important role in the story when you read them starting with earlier Gospels and ending with the fourth Gospel).

  3. The Lack Of First Hand Testimony. The documents we possess are all second hand information produced by members of the Jesus cult. Paulʼs extremely brief statement, “he appeared to me,” is first hand but thatʼs the only “first hand” statement we possess. (1 Peter is disputed.) I guess an infinite Being with infinite resources wanted things that way. All apologetic works that claim the “evidence” is enough for a successful “court case” flounder on the fact that courts require first hand testimony.

  4. The Lack Of Open Public Demonstration, Just Secret Sightings Claimed By Cult Members. The book of Acts only mentions sightings of Jesus granted to a limited number of apostles without any mention of an appearance to “over 500 brethren.” Neither was that appearance open to the public at large, just to “brethren.” In fact when Paul stated that Jesus “appeared” to “over 500 brethren at once” (1 Cor. 15:6), that would have been to a far greater number than the “120 brethren” mentioned in Acts after Jesus had allegedly ascended bodily into heaven, i.e., “In those days Peter stood up among the believers, a group numbering about a hundred and twenty.” That is the total number that Acts gives after “Jesus was taken up from us.” (Acts 1:9,14-15,22)

    Acts goes on to say:

    He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. Acts 10:41

    After giving instructions… to the apostles he had chosen… he presented himself to them [the apostles only]… He appeared to them over a period of forty days… On one occasion, while he was eating with them… they gathered around him… [and] he was taken up before their very eyes [those of the apostles alone], and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going. Acts 1:1-11

    By the time the resurrection tale was told in Luke the message at the tomb had undergone a distinct change (The raised Jesus was no longer “going before them to Galilee to be seen there,” as in Mark and Matthew, but instead only the word, “Galilee,” remained in the Lukan version with no mention of where Jesus was going or where he would be seen.) The author of the third Gospel has the resurrected Jesus appear to all the apostles not in Galilee but in Jerusalem, and eat fish, say he is “not a spirit” but has “flesh and bone,” afterwards Jesus “led them to Bethany,” from the city of Jerusalem to a nearby town. But in this moment of triumph, beating death, sin, hell (which surely trumps Jesusʼ entry into Jerusalem) we find no crowds, no shouts of Hosanna. If such a tale were true then surely the silence concerning this moment of triumph is deafening, especially since moments before Jesus had been intent to prove he was not a spirit, but had bones and ate fish, and then decided to “lead them” on a trip through Jerusalem. “Nothing to see here, move along.”

  5. Damned For Not Believing? Even if all the appearance and resurrection tales by Jesus cultists were harmonizable and true (they appear to be more a mixed bag, “I didnʼt recognize him!” “He was suddenly just there.” “He ate fish and talked and dined with us for weeks on end and walked out of Jerusalem with us” which are what one might expect from second hand accumulations of tales by people trying to convince others that their cult or master they followed was the best), I still would not expect any truly ethical God who knows the limitations of human knowledge to demand that literally everyone must believe such stories or be damned eternally. And when one notes Matthewʼs embellishment of Mark, his insertion of the brief “many raised saints” passage, and his “angel coming down out of the sky to sit atop the rock outside the tomb,” it makes me wonder what Jesus cultists were NOT capable of adding to the story to try and make it sound more grandiose, or what people back then were NOT willing to believe.

    Some of the questions above are fleshed out further in posts below.

Carnival of Posts on the Resurrection & Evangelicalism

(Click on the final word(s) of each title to visit the article or post)

  • Miracles from all religions (including amazing coincidences that seem to just happen and are not related to a religion), when viewed together, provide a crazy mixed bag of “evidence.” So how can “God or WhateverIsOutThere” expect us to know what to make of them? (One does not need to claim that everyoneʼs religious experiences are false in order to ask, How can God expect us to know exactly what to make of the wide diversity of religious beliefs and miracle stories?

  • Richard Carrierʼs Five Questions Concerning “The Resurrection”

  • “Eyewitness” Reports of Jesus's Resurrection? Or Gospel Trajectories? (Based on an exchange I had with resurrection apologist Dr. Gary Habermas)

  • “No Stomach” for N.T. Wright (and the questions that raises concerning the life of the world to come

  • Scent from heaven? Who nose? Do tales of Jesusʼ anointing, resurrection & bodily ascension, bear the aroma of truth?

  • Has Michael R. Licona considered the raising of many saints story in Matthew in light of questions of Markan priority?

  • Yet More on The “Many Resurrected Saints

  • Did the historical Jesus speak about the necessity of being “born again?” Questions raised by David A. Croteau, Bart Ehrman & David Friedrich Strauss. Bart Ehrmanʼs Question

  • Evangelicalism: What Is One To Make of the Phenomenon? [a collection of quotations]

  • Crisis After Crisis Among Evangelicals Concerning Biblical Authority

  • Evangelical Christian publishers admit Christianityʼs “image problem,” “postmodern turn,” differing rival “views” within the Evangelical fold, and speak about “hopeful skepticism” and “questions” rather than dogmatic truth

Further Thoughts

What if the NT Gospels, Especially Matthew, Were Totally True? Jesus dies, suddenly the sky is darkened for three hours, an earthquake shakes the city, splitting the very rocks, an earthquake so violent it opens graves (and probably does a lot more damage than that), undead Jews crawl out of their graves and are seen by the Roman guards overseeing Jesusʼ crucifixion, who are terrified, and cry out in unison (Matt), “This was the son of God.” But the undead then take a sabbatical, waiting till Sunday morning* to enter the holy city and show themselves to many. Naturally all this crazy stuff caused the Jews to worry that if the disciples were to steal Jesusʼ body, then that might convince people that a miracle had occurred. All that other stuff going on, and THATʼs what they fear might convince people that a miracle had occurred? [Richard Carrier, my paraphrase, Click Here for the original statement by Carrier]

*The Greek in Matthew states literally that the graves were opened and the saints were raised at the time of Jesusʼ death, but that they didnʼt enter the holy city and show themselves to many until “after his resurrection” on Sunday morning. Why? Apologist J.P. Holding suggests itʼs because they were obeying the Sabbath day of rest. Really? Acts mentions that Jews Could travel on the sabbath for a limited distance, but probably enough to reach the holy city. In Luke that distance was called “a sabbath dayʼs journey.” And why couldnʼt someone from the city simply walk over to the graves? Others suggest that some scribe added the phrase to Matthew, “after his resurrection” so that Jesus would rise before the saints, i.e., that Jesus would be the first fruits of the resurrection, but that little phrase also forces them to hang round in the graveyard for a day and a half. For more on the raised saints tale, Click Here.

And if the Resurrection Tales were totally Harmonized… Click Here to read the article.


  1. So what is YOUR faith system? Please explain it. We all have to have faith in something, ( a blind belief in the law of non contradiction holding true etc.)
    Can you spell out yours? Thanks

  2. Any chance of hearing about your faith system?

  3. I have a system in which I honestly admit "I don't know" whenever I honestly don't know something. Was the Big Bang that scientists talk about the only Big Bang that ever was or will be? I don't know. How will this cosmos end? Big Tear as it continues to expand at an increasing rate? Big Collapse back into itself? Or will the rate of expansion slow down in future and it will simply expand slowly into heat death? Or will another cosmos collide with ours? Or explode WITHIN our cosmos at some future time? I don't know. Though I would probably be willing to place a bet that if our planet or solar system was destroyed by any number of well known common cosmic happenings, that the rest of the stars probably have enough hydrogen to keep on shining for a billion years or so after the earth is no more. That's something I'd probably place a little bet on. I tend to view philosophical and religious options as exactly that, options, not infallible systems.

  4. Also see this post of mine over at Theology Web which contains plenty of links:

  5. There's also plenty of my favorite quotations and poems elsewhere on my blog, things that reflect my musings and journeying of the mind and heart.

    Robert Anton Wilson, Alan Watts, Logan Pearsall Smith, and others have influenced me. You can look them up online. But I have eastern religious friends, and moderate/progressive/liberal Christian friends. I'd say people who are more inclusive in their religious beliefs tend to have more in common and/or get along relatively well, especially when compared with the way conservatives are liable to even brow beat one another over a hundred different issues. See my post on "Are You A True Christian?"

  6. Thanks for taking the time to reply--But it is a lot deeper than that surely.
    How do you view the the logic rules you just used to communicate these idea to me? Do you think these are provable? Or do you just "blindly" accept them--a sort of blind faith?
    Also getting again to the question of whether or not you can prove all true things in any case. What do you think of this?
    Surely it is a side step to simply immerse oneself in the details of science without seeing the big questions that are foundational to it.

  7. Hi nja,

    I discuss the basis for logic in this post:

    You have to consider the brain-mind-sensory system as a whole, and how it distinguishes between any two things, such as "it's raining," "it's not raining." There is no "blind faith" involved in drawing such basic distinctions, instead it's all part of a brain-mind and sensory system that constantly feeds back information so that the brain-mind may create more accurate models of reality. (But models are not reality itself, see further below.)

    Even brainless amoeba can detect, pursue, trap and capture prey. They know when things are, and when they are not. Hence, generalizations such as "A is not non-A" grow out of nature.

    Logic is also not magical, since there is no magic behind the recognition that A does not equal non-A, it's just like 1 plus -1 equals 0, it's axiomatic. Computers can outperform humans when it comes to solving long logic equations in symbolic logic, but computers are not good at distinguishing sensory data, or even at walking, which has involved far more AI work to achieve.

    See the blog post I mentioned above, on Prior Prejudices and the Argument from Reason, and note especially the fact that our brains and sensory systems are creating "models" of nature, and no model equals reality, just as no map equals the territory, and no word equals a thing or action. We are dealing with approximations, and we determine which approximation "fits reality" via pragmatism, whatever ultimately "works best," as in this poem:

    Not truth, nor certainty. These I forswore

    In my novitiate, as young men called

    To holy orders must abjure the world.

    'If...,then...,' this only I assert;

    And my successes are but pretty chains

    Linking twin doubts, for it is vain to ask

    If what I postulate be justified,

    Or what I prove possess the stamp of fact.

    Yet bridges stand, and men no longer crawl

    In two dimension. And such triumphs stem

    In no small measure from the power this game,

    Played with the thrice-attentuated shades

    Of things, has over their originals.

    How frail the wand, but how profound the spell!

    Clarence R. Wylie Jr.

  8. SPEAKING OF MODELS, note these experiments in producing computers that figure out things in nature:

    Eureqa, a “robot scientist” can produce equations that model things going on in nature from looking at and experimenting with data.

    Spaun is a neural-net computer program that makes decisions similar to how humans make them: it cogitates, memorizes, solves problems, gambles, etc.

    Meanwhile, in the Lipson-Zykov experiment they gave a robot a basic Bayesian learning program and four working legs, but told it nothing about itself, not even that it had legs, much less how many or how they worked. In no time (sixteen trials) it figured out it had four legs, how they were oriented, how they moved, and how to use them to get around efficiently. It built a model of itself in its digital brain and tested hypotheses about it, revised the model, and so on, until it had a good model, one that was, it turns out, correct. Then it could use that model to move around and navigate the world.

    Eureqa is a program that does the same thing, only instead of figuring out its own body and how to move, it figures out how external systems work by observing them, building mathematical models of those systems. One of Eureqa’s first triumphs: discovering Newton’s "laws" of motion ("law" is a metaphor, it's Newton's mathematical model of how simple moving objects react to one another in simple circumstances). Eureqa arrives at such equations that model nature in a couple days.

    Eureqa and the legbot looked at data, and experimented, and built working models of how things worked. We call those hypotheses. These computers then tested their hypotheses against more evidence, verifying or refuting them, and making progress. The legbot built a working model of its body and how it functioned and how it interacted with the environment. Eureqa does something similar, albeit much simpler (it seeks regularities in nature that it can produce mathematical equations to model, it was programmed only to look for the simplest parts of nature, not the most complex ones, but that was just a choice of the programmers), but it isn’t just tasked with figuring out one system, like the legbot was, but any system, given sufficient input. Spaun is somewhere in between, in what I’ll call its “universatility.” It makes decisions in a way similar to our own brains.

    Eureqa has done other things, like figure out various equations used in biology and other fields. It’s not Skynet. Or even Siri. But put two and two together here. Add Spaun and the Bayesian robot that learns via trail and error. Stir.

    If such programs have sufficiently high quality sensory apparatuses and input, and the ability to distinguish and store knowledge and continue to arrange it via constant feedback, hence the ability to continue to build on it and constantly refine their databases, they might also be able to learn languages and speak to us.

    Thus they would "model" a human intellect. Not necessarily the same thing as a biologically based, evolutionary evolved, human intellect, but a "model" none the less.