An Important Concession on Objections Raised by Atheists
I love it when atheists attempt to use logic to argue against Christianity. The only problem is that too much of what passes for logic on the Internet is actually emotional haranguing cloaked in the veneer of logic. Under this “logic,” Jesus didn’t rise from the dead not because it was logically impossible, but because it grinds against the preconceived notions of the alleged logician. When using logic and using it correctly, one has to throw out preconceptions and actually look at the arguments to determine whether they are sound and valid.
This is one reason I actually appreciate a post that recently appeared on The Secular Outpost by Keith Parsons entitled “Jesus End: The Formal Possibilities.” In the post, Mr. Parsons provides a series of dichotomies similar to the Kalam Cosmological Argument where the choices are either one or the other. He then presents his views on the advantages and disadvantages to adopting one or the other position. The dichotomies presented can be summarized in this manner:
1. Either Jesus of Nazareth existed or he didn’t exist. (By this, Mr. Parsons apparently means that Jesus existed as a real, historical human being).
2. If Jesus of Nazareth existed, either He was publicly crucified by the Romans around 33 A.D. or He wasn’t crucified by the Romans.
3. If Jesus was crucified, either He died on the occasion of His crucifixion or He didn’t die at that time.
4. If Jesus really died, either He returned to life, rising from the dead shortly after his crucifixion or He didn’t.
Now, as an atheist, it is apparent that Mr. Parsons doesn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God who rose on the third day for the salvation of the world. So, somewhere in the course of this evaluation, it is apparent that Mr. Parsons will be answering one or more of the questions in the negative, i.e., Jesus either didn’t exist, he wasn’t crucified, he didn’t die or he didn’t rise. That’s a given. Still, the discussion is interesting and I certainly welcome people to read through the entire post.
What’s interesting in what he wrote is the final paragraph because it is a moment of honesty about the atheist position rarely seen on the Internet. He writes:
It is clear from the above that the only options I take seriously are A (that Jesus didn’t exist), D (that Jesus didn’t resurrect), and E (that Jesus did rise from the dead). The other two are hard to see as anything other than a joke or a fantasy.
Thank you, Mr. Parsons. I agree that the idea that Jesus wasn’t crucified or that he didn’t really die to be nonsense as well. I also find it interesting that he agrees that it is a joke or fantasy to believe that Jesus wasn’t crucified or that Jesus didn’t really die, but somehow finds it a credible position to argue that Jesus never existed. I understand that he is only evaluating the likelihood of succeeding on the arguments, but it astounds me that he should recognize that Christians hold the upper hand on the other two arguments but not the first.
Regardless, Mr. Parsons believes that the real fight is on the issue of the resurrection. He continues:
Further, I presume that A (that Jesus didn’t exist) will always be a minority view among unbelievers since it bites off considerably more than the skeptic needs to chew. Principled unbelief does not need to deny the historicity of a wandering rabbi of the first century who said and did some of the things attributed to him in the canonical Gospels. Such can be conceded, a least for the sake of argument. The core issue, as I indicate above, is how to account for the claims of Jesus’s postmortem appearances. I think that they are accounted for in much the same way that we account for UFOs and alien abductions, sightings of Bigfoot, homeopathic “cures,” and the innumerable visions, epiphanies, theophanies, visitations, possessions, hauntings, and so forth reported in all cultures throughout history.
There is no way to respond to all of these ideas in a single, short post on a blog. However, I will say that I appreciate the fact that Mr. Parsons has decided to take the battle to a particular point. Why is it that we believe that Jesus really rose from the dead rather than being dismissed as just another sighting of Bigfoot or UFOs, etc.? Since I cannot respond to them all, I do want to point out an underlying assumption that Mr. Parsons is making in his objection. The problem is this: he wants to discount all UFOs, alien abductions, Bigfoot sightings, etc., etc. as somehow completely unwarranted. But on what basis does he make the claim that these types of events have no basis in fact? Because he doesn't believe them to have occurred? Isn't that assuming the conclusion?
Of course there have been false reports of UFOs (for example). Some people have faked UFO sightings for any number of reasons. Some people have mistaken weather balloons or rocket tests for UFOs. These are pretty much indisputable facts. But that doesn't mean that every one ofthe alleged sightings does not have some type of basis in fact. Maybe the viewers have misinterpreted what they observed, but it is quite possible that something actually happened that cued people who are not charlatans to report sightings across multiple times and multiple cultures that they honestly thought was a UFO. You cannot issue a blanket dismissal of all of these sightings.
So what was it that people saw if not the risen Jesus? What really explains the reports of the multiple sightings of Jesus which we are told in the Epistles that many of those who saw the risen Jesus were still around at the time of the writing of the letter and who can attest to it? Were they mass hallucinations? More commonly referred to as collective hallucinations in the professional literature, there is no study that has ever shown that they occur and no scientific explanation of how they could occur. Passing along the urban myths of others? If I recall the chapter in the Secular Web book about the Empty Tomb (and why it wasn't really so empty, according to them) which I seem to recall Mr. Parsons authored, it was theorized that one person thought that they saw Jesus who passed it along and others then began to see him motivated by their desire to see him. Personally, the only evidence I see for this theory being true is among Internet atheists who hear or read one author making a bad point against Christianity, and then passing it along as if it were true. But even that is a bad analogy.
We can spend a lot of time talking about his points D and E, and we will. But the real takeaway from Mr. Parson's post is that atheists should lay off the "Jesus wasn't really crucified" and "Jesus didn't really die from the crucifixion" arguments because even other atheists aren't buying them.
I know that I don't.