Not A Shred Of Evidence

What do skeptics mean when they claim to reject theism because “there isn’t a shred of evidence” for the existence of God or miracles?  Could it be that all humanity who has held to some conviction God exists, all did so without having any evidence their convictions were true?  I am not arguing that the truth of a matter is determined by counting noses or forming a consensus.  But how could it be that so many people believe God and miracles exist when  there isn’t a shred of evidence for either?  I think the problem lies in the objection itself.  The objection is highly equivocal, but to be charitable I don’t think it is necessarily intentional.  There are at least two problems with the statement “not a shred of evidence”.

First, there is a difference between evidence and strength of evidence.  Evidence is the facts of a matter, but the strength or degree of evidence is a subjective assessment which may or may not lead someone to concede their position.  I don’t think it is a conscious equivocation, but people tend to think of evidence in concrete terms.  I get the impression that people tend to think something that is evidence will force a particular conclusion.  Like finger prints on a murder weapon forces the conclusion that a specific individual touched the weapon at some point.  But not everyone will place the same value on the same evidence.  The evaluation of any particular evidence depends upon who interprets it.  Consider the Gospel accounts for Jesus and the resurrection.  They are first century biographical accounts which record the life death and resurrection of Jesus.  Skeptics generally dismiss the veracity of the documents, but that is not the same as no evidence.  It is a mistake to confuse evidence proper for strength of evidence.

For example, Jesus was put to death under Pilate; was buried; the tomb was found to be empty three days later; and the disciples had experiences which they believed to be Jesus to be alive again.  Those are facts, the evidence is the New Testament documents and other extra-biblical sources.  Christians believe Jesus being raised from the dead to be the best explanation for the evidence.  The majority of even liberal scholars will affirm the facts above, but are not compelled to assign Jesus being raised from the dead as the explanation.  To say there is no evidence Jesus was raised from the dead confuses the evidence with the strength of the evidence.

Finally, the arbitrary limitations as to what qualifies as evidence will serve to give the false impression there is no evidence for theism or miracles.  Requiring naturalistic evidence for a supernatural being or event seems counterintuitive, especially if the event occurred in the distant past where a relatively sparce amount written documentation has survived.  Only with the presumption of naturalism can we require purely naturalistic boundaries.  Often when the skeptic claims there isn’t a shred of evidence for God or miracles, what they mean is there are no physical artifacts to examine.  But on what grounds must we accept that the only kinds of valid evidence is physical in nature?  Many events are only evidenced by eye-witness testimony.  Testimony is evidence.  Take for example sports records from times before video or audio recordings.  Winners and losers, scores and stats; testimony and written records are the only evidence we have of the events.  There is no physical evidence of who won the first professional baseball game, we cannot examine the ball and determine who played; or dig up the ground and conclude the score.  It is not the case that because there is no physical evidence, that there is no evidence whatsoever.

So while the evidence for theism or miracles may not force you to abandon your view, it is not the same as no evidence.  No one can force you to change your opinions.  When considering a claim the entirity of the evidence must be considered and assessed.  Arbitrarily defining what qualifies as considerable evidence is unreasonable and intellectually dishonest.  Next time you hear someone dismiss theism because “there isn’t a shred of evidence” for it, ask what it is they mean by evidence.  Ask what they would consider evidence.  Don’t let this out-of-hand dismissal stand unchallenged.  If you are someone who believes there is no evidence for theism or miraculous events, take a minute to think about what you are asking for when making the challenge.

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Comments

  1. Good distinctions. I view hyperbole like “not a shred of evidence” as a concession speech, in that the speaker can’t be interested in a serious discussion. We’ve got cosmological, teleological, moral, logical, historical, etc. evidence. If they want to claim that it isn’t weighty enough for them, then they can at least maintain some dignity. But to say there “isn’t a shred” is self-parody.

    • I tend to look at it as a way of shutting down the debate. I think there is a tendency to–what I call “sloganeer”, Atheists hear someone they consider respectable make a claim that there is no reason or no evidence, and it is repeateded back. After all why would this respectable skeptic just say there is no evidence if in deed there was?

      I also believe that because Atheists do not take the claims and arguments for theism seriously–they think it is equivalent to tooth fairies and unicorns–the result is that they produce vacuous objections, like those found at godisimaginary.com, or whywontgodhealamputees.com. These flimsy objections are borne out of dismissal of the evidence rather than refutation of the evidence.

  2. For example, Jesus was put to death under Pilate; was buried; the tomb was found to be empty three days later; and the disciples had experiences which they believed to be Jesus to be alive again.

    Wrong. These are claims, not evidence, and these claims themselves require evidence in support before they can be justifiably accepted.

    • These details are attested in multiple sources, both within the NT and extra-biblical documents. Modern NT scholarship both Christian and non-Christian nearly unanimously affirm these facts, what is not agreed upon is the conclusion that Jesus was raised from the dead to account for these facts. The evidence is the testimony of recorded in the ancient documents.

      You are exibiting both flaws of the ‘no evidence’ claim.

      • Modern NT scholarship both Christian and non-Christian nearly unanimously affirm these facts…

        No, they most certainly are not. The evidence for the existence of Jesus is almost none. The gospels were written decades after Jesus’ supposed life (Mark, for example, is thought to have been written around 70 CE, the others later), were not written by any eyewitness (as if eyewitness testimony were at all sufficient to substantiate someone rising from the dead) and there is not one single record from a historian contemporary to Jesus that records anything about him. (If you were referring to Josephus, I will remind you that he was NOT a contemporaneous source, and at most verifies the existence of Christians, not Jesus…)

        Even if I granted ALL of this, which I don’t, pretty much any explanation not invoking the supernatural is infinitely more likely. Fraud, bad diagnosis, etc. Eyewitness testimony, if any were to be had, is woefully insufficient to substantiate any miracle.So, no. I do not accept these things as fact at all. Nor do a great many scholars. So, sure. There’s evidence. But it is evidence which meets not even a minimum standard that I would consider in evaluate the truth value of far more mundane claims.

        Matt Dillahunty put it best in a response to a listener of The Non-Prophets podcast ~

        The facts are these – there are no contemporary extrabiblical accounts of any events specific to the life of Jesus. That means no independent sources from any eyewitnesses with regard to his birth, life, miracles, ministry, death or proposed resurrection. The gospels are anonymous; we have no original manuscripts; they do not agree on details; they do not agree with recorded history; and the consensus of New Testament scholarship is that none of them were written by eyewitnesses. The bible has stories about eyewitnesses, but we don’t have a single comment from anyone claiming to be an eyewitness.

        The process of canonization included books that doctrinally agreed with those in power, and eliminated and attempted to destroy books that were considered heretical by those in power. Yet those same books were considered inspired by other sects. Books like Revelations barely made it into the bible as many considered them uninspired. Books like the Shepherd of Hermas and the Apocolypse of Peter which have traditionally been considered divinely inspired were excluded. Paul’s epistles, some of which are of questionable authorship, were the first books of the New Testament to be written, and that was decades after the purported life of Jesus. The gospels were written many years later – perhaps even decades later – by unknown authors. Historians from the late first and second century do mention Christians and some refer to Jesus, but none of these were eyewitnesses, and most of them couldn’t even have spoken to someone who claimed to be an eyewitness.

        So we have the bible, a collection of stories by largely unknown authors who were unlikely to be eyewitnesses and we don’t have originals of their work. We have copies of copies of copies of translations of copies of copies of anonymous books reporting an oral tradition passed down for decades or centuries after the purported events in a time when myths, superstitions and god-men claims were plentiful; during a time when fact-checking and literacy were rare; and when doctrinal wars prompted forged documents (Paul even mentions this in the bible) in order to prop up competing theologies as orthodox or heretical. And for my money, that means none of it is believable.

        Contrast this with, for example, claims of alien abductions. You can – if you like – actually speak to people who claim to have actually been abducted by aliens. If you look around, you’ll find groups of people who tell consistent stories, and might even claim to have been abducted together. There are countless reports of UFO sightings, often by groups of people or, in rare cases, dozens or even hundreds of people in a particular town or area. These reports have been ongoing for decades, reported by countless news sources in addition to specialized periodicals. Many of these people sincerely believe their story. Do you? Does you’re friend?

        I don’t, because there isn’t sufficient evidence. Yet the quantity and quality of evidence for these claims is vastly superior to any miracle claims reported in the bible. We have more evidence, and we’re not 2000 years removed from events, and we still don’t believe, and find the most fervent believers to be a little crazy. Yet somehow, millions of largely ignorant, well-meaning, nice people sincerely believe third-hand reports of miracles from thousands of years ago. And they don’t just believe – they strongly believe. They not only consider it not only absurd to disbelieve, but also their sacred duty to convince others – at a minimum – and legislate their beliefs on others – or worse. And yet we do not somehow don’t consider these people a little crazy.

        • I find it a bit amusing that you use Matt Dillahaunty as a source…for anything. Any way, I suppose you could use the latest possible dates for the Gospel accounts, but even at the latest dates, they are incredibly early as far as ancient documentation goes, if you are unaware of this, and where scholars stand on what is considered to be acceped as factual then you are truly unaware where modern NT scholarship stands on this issue and Dillahunty will only make it worse for you, we really can’t go any further with it.

          Secondly, the Gospel accounts were not written anonymously. Being written on scrolls, tags were attached to the ends for identification. There is a reason Christians all the way from the first century believed Matthew wrote Matthew, Luke wrote Luke, and so on. The earliest Christians knew who wrote them. They were being circulated from the outset.

          I realize Atheists need to find reasons to discredit any record of Jesus and reports of supernatural events, but if you’re honest, you would admit that even if you had contemporary records you would still refuse to acknowledge any of them as reliable. I find it disengenuous that Atheists offer that complaint knowing full well it wouldn’t make a difference in their opinion. The truth is there are few contemporary records of any ancient figure, but I gather you have no issues accepting any of them as generally reliable.

    • MenAfterGod.com says:

      Shamelessly Atheist;
      Right you are. However let us not get too carried away with what is evidence and what is perceived as evidence. A piece of stone is only evidence of a dinosaur if enough people collaborate on it’s representation of a dinosaur. I have found many stones that could be something other than rock, but Since I am not a noted anthropologist, no one cares. Men create the standards by which evidence obtains fact. Some men find a stone and see a dinosaur, some find a nail and imagine a God. Stop by my blog if you want to talk more.

  3. I am an atheist in third generation, and I have never heard anyone claim there is no evidence of the supernatural. In my vocabulary supernatural and miracles mean events that are not explainable. Science has just bearly reached the stage where we can say that only now we have a glimpse of the wide universe and realize how little we know. Religion starts usually from a point where everything is explainable through some mythical pourpetrator. Religion gives people hope and security through ritual and ready explanation for anything unexplainable we may encounter. For it is the unknown, that people are usually most affraid of.

    Any given evidence is only seen in the light of things we allready know about the subject. For example it is quite possible that there was actually a man that was called Jesus and that he died on a cross. The fact that the actual eyewitness evidence of the event is questionable does not make the story untrue. In scientific history research only characters of whom there is a contemporary source are counted as historical characters. Yet it is often surmised that the characters in legends are based on actual persons. Like Robin Hood or Wilhelm Tell are not actual historical characters, but rather characters of legends. Yet, it would be stoopid to claim there were no peasant rebels or robbers in medieval Europe. This is so because we know of other quite similar people and events from contemporary sources.

    We know that there were a lot of these wondering philosphers or rabbis around the Levant and Palestine during the Roman occupation. This makes the stories of Jesus all the more believable. If we asses the events described around his death and resurrection, none of them seem really impossible, so why would we claim they could not happen. For example the death by crucifiction was a common way of execution in the Roman empire. Occupational armies through all history have a tendecy to execute agitators and innocents alike, and Roman empire was no exeption. Crusifiction was designed to be a particularly cruel way of execution, because it was ment to scare people. The idea was that death is both painfull and takes a wery long time. It was achieved by hanging a man from his hands, wich causes the lungs to fill up with fluid. So, the victim dies of wery slow suffocation. This takes normally several days. Usually it was customary that after the victim had hanged on the cross for at the wery least a week he was taken down and his kneecaps were smashed whith a hammer. Then the corpse was thrown into a mass grave with others of the same fate. The graves were sometimes open for days because there were more people to be thrown into them later. The execution lists of occupational armies are long in deed. The purpose of the crushing of kneecaps was that the victim would not wonder away in case he was not dead. The slow process of crusifiction may produce a death like state and no-one was too keen on making any medical examinations to people who had hung on the cross for days, for they were covered in their own extraments and smelled like corpses for sure. If we take the gospels as an accurate description of what happened, Jesus was taken from the cross during the same day he was hung there because of a storm. So, he could have died, from painshock, a heart attack, or the shear stress caused by the beating he was subjected to before the crusifiction. However it is not likely that a healthy carpenter in his thirties would die in matter of hours (not even whith a terrible hangover after last nights party), from a method of execution, that was designed to last for days. It is written that Jesus was stabbed by a legionary just before he was taken from the cross and the story goes that from his side bled both water and blood. This would indicate that his lungs were allready starting to accumulate fluids as a result of the inconvenient posture and that he was alive or had just died, for the dead do not bleed blood, since the circulation of their blood has stopped along with their heart. It should be remembered, that blood circulation was not a known medical fact in those days and was only understood after christianity had well established itself. Even the account, that the roman centurion commented for Jesus to truly be a son of a god is within all possiblilty. For romans were pantheists and if he had served in the Middle-East for a time, he might well have been aware of the many sons the many gods in that area during the known history of his time.

    We evaluate any given evidence to events only within our own understanding of the world. So did the roman centurion and so did the jews who took Jesus from Golgata to the rich merchants extravagant grave. The jews for sure had hoped him to be the son of a god. When and if he was alive after the crusfiction how else would his followers explained it, than as a miracle and proof of what they expected of him? If he was not, it is within reason that they made up the story of him having haunted after his death, because in their wiev the occupational army and their terror had otherwise won. There is no scientific proof that Jesus actually died and resurrected, because there was no medical examination of his body after the crusifiction, but neither is there scientific proof he did not die and resurrected because of the wery same reason. It is left to evaluation only as how plausible any one of us thinks a resurrection is. If one wants to believe the gospels to be the foundation of his christian faith, he/she is entiteled to take them as evidence for the death and resurrection of Jesus. But also he/she should accept the fact, that they give no indisputable evidence of the events. So, others might see the story as not wery plausible.

  4. John Huss says:

    …For example, Jesus was put to death under Pilate; was buried; the tomb was found to be empty three days later; and the disciples had experiences which they believed to be Jesus to be alive again. Those are facts…

    Actually, they’re not. The level of corroboration is not sufficient to provide an historian’s level of proof that these things actually happened. That people said these things happened, that people beleived them to have happened, these are both facts. But that does nothing to support or refute the veracity of the original statements.

    For example, many people claim to have had an experience of Elvis after he died. I don’t mean that to be flippant. A given number of people apparently sincerely believe this. As such, I believe the experience of certain persons claiming to have experienced Jesus has to be weighed in relation to the experience of persons who experienced Elvis. I believe the two situations to be similar in their psychological impact.

    • Perhaps you could cite a credible NT scholar who does not believe “Jesus was put to death under Pilate; was buried; the tomb was found to be empty three days later; and the disciples had experiences which they believed to be Jesus to be alive again.”…A scholar. These are nearly universally affirmed by liberal and conservative scholars and historians. What is in dispute is the explanation of these facts.

      And with your Elvis analogy, you are reaffirming my point. It is a fact that people claim to see Elvis. What we dispute is the explanation; some claim it is him, others claim they are mistaken, and others still claim they are lying. Same with the explanation of the disciples claims to have seen Him again.

  5. Nightvid Cole says:

    Please stop asserting that Jesus’s “death” by crucifixion is a historical “fact”. You are pre-supposing that the centurion/executioner (Do we even know who they were?) i) Had the knowledge of how to determine death, and ii) Carried out the necessary procedure. I have put much effort into figuring out what the supposed evidence is to support claims i) and ii) above, and yet Christian apologists NEVER (in my experience) actually back up these assumptions with a proper scholarly citation or mention of a contemporaneous document. They have this bad habit (in my experience) of replacing every “I can’t back my claim up” with “Scholars all agree…” or the like, and I personally have caught apologists in the act many times over (I have Youtube videos discussing these points, user “nightvidcole”.), particularly as regards the medical assertions of Jesus’s condition. This is dishonest, and no amount of spin will change that.

    Also, to be proper you should be specific as to what you mean by “death” given that “cardiac autoresuscitation” is a documented phenomenon (Look it up using Google Scholar.) “Cardiac arrest” is not the same thing as “Necrosis of the brain”. If you make it obvious that you do not know about what can happen naturally, you shouldn’t claim that you know that something violated natural law. This is sheer hypocrisy, and I can’t possibly sugarcoat that, I am sorry.

    If you do not demonstrate careful, honest, and balanced consideration of the issues, you are in no position to aggressively assert that these things are historical “facts”.

    • Hopefully you would agree that i) the Roman soldiers carried out death sentences regularly, and ii) if the sentence was not carried out properly, the soldier was subjected to the sentence. How much should we question the soldier/centurian thouroughness given his life was at stake for a misdiagnosis?

      Would you also help me out and point me to ancient events (2000+ years old) which also have contemporary extant accounts of the event?

      I rely on scholars for historical information, don’t you? Unless that is your profession, you have to rely on those in that position, making reference to scholar’s opinion is not punting. But let’s be honest, did I really say “Scholars all agree…”?

  6. Nightvid Cole says:

    i) There were a lot of people put to death there and then, yes. But that does not in any way imply that the particular centurion involved was experienced. If you want to claim this, you need to cite something from the time on the particular centurion.

    ii) Please provide a reference for this claim. Also, establishing the degree of motivation of the centurion/executioner is not enough. You also need to demonstrate that they were skilled at the task. Saying “Scholars agree on…. or ….has been widely accepted” is NOT a reference.

    As to your request for an event of comparable age, I would submit Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon. You might want to take a look at http://www.tektonics.org/qt/rubicon.html . This is a standard Christian apologetic red herring and an attempt to shift the burden of proof.

    As to my sources of information, if the claim is made about something that should be possible to cite directly (For example, if one claims that the U.S. Constitution says something) then I find it extremely awkward to cite anything other than the original document. If there is a legitimate reason why the original evidence, translations, or documents cannot be directly cited, then it becomes more legitimate to cite secondary sources. However, in no case will I accept an uncited assertion regarding historical events.

    Finally, I merely meant to emphasize that appealing to an uncited consensus is a standard trick used by Christian apologists (in my experience) to smuggle in an unsubstantiated claim in a way that is difficult to refute, which I see as tantamount to trying to sneak in an unjustified shifting of the burden of proof. If I came across as accusing you of that, I apologize. I am just trying to establish the standards of argumentation and make sure it is clear that this type of argumentation is unacceptable.

    • Both i and ii are arguments from silence.

      I’m not attempting to shift a burden of proof, just pointing out that it is not very common for ancient events to have no contemporary recordings. I do not find it a liability that the Gospel accounts are 25-40 years after the events.

      http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005/J_Study_Historical_Jesus_3-2_2005.htm

      • Nightvid Cole says:

        I followed your link and then to references #62 and #63 therein. I found nothing other than a single, short paragraph on the supposedly convincing nature of Jesus’s “death” from historical evidence (as opposed to a mistaken centurion). However, we find only N. T. Wright’s mention of what is referred to as “fairly well-known false trails”. However, the paragraph contains baseless and vague assertions relating the skill of Roman soldiers and the psychology of religion. Wright is stepping outside of a historian’s place and into a psychologist’s and an anthropologist’s. I submit that historians need to learn to stay in a historian’s place. It looks to me no better than if a Greek studies professor published a paper in a Greek studies journal which invokes a discussion of celestial mechanics. Stepping out of one’s place is stepping out of one’s place, and in the context of not citing sources for claims outside of one’s field, Wright is being both unqualified and behaviorally unprofessional. Therefore, claims made by other scholars on the bases of these claims made by Wright are disqualified.

  7. Nightvid Cole says:

    First off, a correction to my earlier post. I meant to cite http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/resurrection/rubicon.html .

    Now to my actual point. What you implied that you believed I said is not what I was saying. I was trying to point out that to get from what is in the writings (Gospels, what is written by Peter and Paul, and any secular sources written by people alive when this supposedly happened) to the conclusion that “Jesus” actually medically died (in either of the two senses of cardiac arrest or brain necrosis or autolysis) requires an assumption about the medical competency of the soldier/centurion/executioner, that, so far as I can tell, cannot be substantiated by any known evidence in existence. Thus, from a historian’s perspective, one is not justified in saying that Jesus’s “death” on the cross was real, only that the centurion believed that Jesus was “dead” (but again, EVEN IF I were to grant that assumption to you, there is a problem with the ambiguous definition of “dead”, see also http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15497227 and http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/721060 ). And this is by no means a “stubborn” insistence by me to dwell on issues of semantics, because in (virtually?) any other historical case such as a biography, the exact date of “death” really isn’t all that important. Thus, from the viewpoint of “pragmatic” history or historiography, there isn’t really a good “other case” to compare to as regards the standards of evidence used by historians as pertains to when, how, or why someone “died” .

    • Before I respond further, I would like some clarification from you. Do you believe Jesus was scourged by the Roman guard with instruments such as with a flagrum? Do you believe Jesus was crucified on a cross/stake hung by nails in his hands/wrists and feet/heels?

      And on a side note, are you aware of medical persons today who have examined the descriptions of what Jesus endured and are convinced Jessu was dead on the cross? Not that it proves he was, but that there are people who are aware what he went through and are satisfied by the record that Jesus was dead before being taken off the cross.

  8. Nightvid Cole says:

    In Acts 5:29-31, Acts 10:38-40, Acts 13:28-30, and 1 Peter 2:23-25, we find the claim that Jesus was hung on a tree, versus the Gospel accounts where he was crucified. Given internal contradictions at this level, the HONEST answer to a question about whether or not Jesus was crucified using ropes only, ropes and nails, or some other configuration, is “We do not know”.

    I am NOT aware of any evidence, which can be grounded in documents originating within one human lifespan (let’s say 80 yrs) of the supposed events, that “Jesus” was scourged/ flagellated/beaten/whipped/tortured MORE than any other Roman at the time accused of “blasphemy”. Given that in general these treatments even when combined with crucifixion were demonstrably non-fatal for up to several days of crucifixion (see the references cited by the Wikipedia page “Crucifixion”) in cases where leg bones were not broken, the HONEST answer to your question as posed is “We don’t know” and the HONEST answer to whether or not we should expect fatal injuries from those issues alone is “Probably not”.

    The medical literature is fraught with a deficit in knowledge of the causes of “death” in crucifixion, and again, the HONEST answer regarding such matters is STILL “We don’t know”. See the article “Medical theories on the cause of death in crucifixion” by Maslen and Mitchell, http://www.rsm.ac.uk/media/downloads/j06-04crucifixion.pdf .

    • Listen, hung on a tree is a direct intentional corrolation to the passages in the OT that anyone hung on a tree/wood was cursed of God. What do you make of passages where people who have died are said to be “asleep”? Is there some contradiction or liability there? This is splitting hairs. In fact the entire “we don’t really know that Jesus was dead” is an argument from silence and speculation. Unless you have a good reason to believe He wasn’t dead, you really shouldn’t argue from it. It almost sounds as if–whether intentional or not–you are being overly skeptical in order to remain unconvinced. I could be wrong, but my experience with people who really press the “we don’t really know” argument prefer to remain skeptical.

      But, for the sake of argument, let’s say Jesus didn’t actally die. He was scourged, crucified, and pierced through the side, and buried. How do we explain the disciples claim that Jesus was raised from the dead, and that He preached and “hung around” for about 40 days. In your opinion, would it be convincing for Jesus to say He had conquered death, but was hobbling around with infected wounds for over a month? I don’t think that would instill the courage the disciples displayed after their experience.

      But I would say there is plenty of reason to believe the NT was authored between 45/50-75/90 AD. I am not surprised that you aren’t convinced. Most skeptics will not concede early dating for the NT.

      This list of scholars is from a site which has compiled hundreds of NT scholars from every view, from the most liberal to the most conservative. It is not an evaluation, but it is worthy of consideration when the vast majority of those in the field are all right around the same place on dating.

      • Nightvid Cole says:

        How do you know what is merely allegory and what is literal? If you are willing to dismiss such an obvious contradiction as being merely an allusion, what is to prevent me from dismissing any of your supposed “facts” in the same way? If you dismiss anything which is inconvenient for your case as allegory but ASSERT that things backing it up are literal, what you are doing is called “cherry picking”. Note that I am not by any means saying that it is unacceptable for anything in the Bible to be figurative. I am merely trying to point out that you are dismissing as figurative something which AFAIK is as relevent to what can be shown by the writings as anything else, and it is not clear to me how you conclude that it is figurative whereas the source claims of your “facts” are not.

        My “We don’t know Jesus was dead” argument is by no means an argument from silence. An argument from silence is a claim that something didn’t happen because we don’t have anyone claiming that it did which has solid evidence. I am in no way making a positive claim or assertion that Jesus did not die on the cross. I am merely saying that we don’t know. I am saying that it is dishonest to assert that it is a “fact” when it is most certainly NOT a historical fact on equal par, with, say, the history of the Roman empire itself. I am not saying that “Jesus did not die” is a fact, but rather that it is a fact that “Jesus died” is not a “historical fact” in the ordinary sense of that term. The former would be an “argument from silence”, but the latter is not.

        You are starting to attempt to tell ME what MY own thoughts are when you say “you are being overly skeptical in order to remain unconvinced.” I will politely request that you avoid this, so long as you would not like me to do the same to you. I promise that I will not do this to you, IF you do not do it to me again.

        You ask ” In your opinion, would it be convincing for Jesus to say He had conquered death, but was hobbling around with infected wounds for over a month?” Two responses. First, as a literal answer to this question, my response is, it depends on what the definition of “conquered death” is. But also, I sense that you are attempting to implicitly claim that i) 100% of wounds of a size comparable to what “Jesus” had would have developed a Staphylococcus aureaus infection that does not go away for 30 days, and ii) the disciples would NOT simply believe in the divinity of their leader by means of what is known by psychologists as the “insufficient justification” effect first studied by Festinger and Carlsmith http://www.garysturt.free-online.co.uk/festcarl.htm . You are making implicit claims (or equivalently, asking what is known as a “complex question” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_question ) outside your field, the first in medicine and the second in socio-psychology. If you cannot back up these claims by citing sources from jounals in their respective fields, you DO NOT HAVE a right to claim that the conclusion which you ultimately want to draw is a historical “fact”. Again, I am NOT saying that the claim itself is false, merely that it is not justified to claim it is a “factual” truth in the usual sense.

        Finally, I never claimed that I doubted the dating of the NT that you have given, I don’t need some list of scholars to convince me of that. I merely wanted to make it clear that (AFAIK) there is no evidence from before AD 115 or so that the pre-crucifixion physical abuse undergone by “Jesus” was more severe than would have been undergone by others sentenced to death at the time. And I am NOT claiming that such physical abuse did not demonstrably occur, only that we don’t know if it was more intense than the norm of the time and culture, which is a good benchmark to use when discussing the survival times of crucifixion victims (or do you want to propose some other source for this information?)

        Nightvid

        Nightvid

        • Just quickly, I wasn’t telling you what your thoughts were. I used the words “it almost sounds as if…” and “I could be wrong…”, I was acknowledging my impression based on past experience.

          How versed in Judeo-Christian theology are you? Paul routinely cited OT passages and ideas in his writing. It is not a stretch for me or anyone else to recognize when this is happening. I do not believe tree rather than cross is a contradiction, but rather the writer is acknowledging the theological significance of the event.

          So I would like to know your position on whether Jesus was dead instead of what was possible because the Roman guard was not a medical examinor. If you are making the claim that Jesus was not dead then what are you making reference to, since the NT repeatedly makes the claim he was dead? If there is no record that Jesus was alive, and that the Romans were mistaken, how is your “we don’t know” not an argument from silence?

          I am confident given the strictness of the Roman govt, that the Roman guard knew when someone was dead. And since I am not convinced that the disciples would have reacted the way they did, and proclaimed what the ydid if Jesus had not been dead. So perhaps you could offer an explanation which would account for the details.

          • Nightvid Cole says:

            1. I guess I just want to know how you determine what, of Paul’s writings, you consider to be figurative, what literal, and why. When you define the ground rules, we can discuss from there. (And the same goes for Peter and the four gospels.) I am NOT AT ALL versed in this particular subject, but I need to make sure we can agree on a consistent set of rules first, otherwise it looks like you are picking and choosing.

            2. My opinion on the medical state of Jesus when taken down from the cross is “I have no idea, and neither does anyone else (at least, of those people alive today)”. Additionally, while it is true that we see a claim that Jesus was “dead” in many places in the NT, I am fairly certain that no honest historian would say that these people independently verified this claim. The gain in strength that a claim gets from multiple sources only exists if the sources are independent. If everyone trusted a single person to check this, the claim can be no stronger than the accuracy of this person’s judgement, regardless of how many secondary sources can be found.

            Let me make an analogy. Suppose that a few of your friends were walking through a grassy field, and claim to have seen an isolated tree, in the middle of the field, that was “Between 40 and 50 feet tall”. They discuss the experience among themselves, then after 2 months discuss the matter with some other friends, and then discuss a plan of possibly going out to the field the next week. However, you never hear back from them, never knowing whether anyone checked on this matter or not. And 30 or 40 years later a group of them writes down a set of narratives discussing their youths and it gets compiled into a book. Several of them all claim that there was a tree and it was 40-50 feet tall, but no clue as to how this was determined, or if it was sheerly from the original report.

            Would an honest historian be able to look at this and say that the height of the tree was a historical “fact” ? I would contend the answer is a resounding NO…

            And even if the government threatened one of the members of this group who originally saw the tree with the death penalty if they misestimated the height of the tree, I would still make the contention.

            As to convincing you of the plausible and potential reactions of the disciples under a condition where they believed that Jesus was “dead” but none of them verified this independently, this has no bearing on the issue. This is like me trying to claim that the emotional attachment of the other group of friends to the height of the tree is additional evidence for the claim that the tree really was 40-50 feet tall. If it is not independent verification, this simply does not work. Plus, I already provided you with a scholarly reference relating to the psychological matters related to those involved with strong religious belief. If you deny the validity of the research by these psychologists in the 1950’s, I am at a loss as to what type of evidence you will accept.

            Going back to my analogy, to “argue from silence” would be to say “The tree WAS NOT between 40-50 feet tall”. But that is not what I would say. I would say that “An honest historian would not state it as point-blank fact that the tree was 40-50 feet tall without more evidence”. Very different claims.

            And to complete the analogy, let’s say that 3 historians, born 3, 10, and 40 years (Approximately, for illustration only!) after the supposed tree sighting, report that this group of people fervently believed in their reported height of the tree. Does this change the situation much? (And you would be REALLY OLD by the time even the middle of those came around, keep in mind!)

            • Its hard to say what the rule is. Youd have to be familiar with the OT to be able to recognize when it is being referenced. Not every reference is an absolute word for word quote, which is not a liability, it’s just how it was done. It was acceptable to quote loosly but accurately. What makes it difficult for you or even me sometimes is in first century israel the OT was part of the culture in a way that everyone (practically) knew it enough to make the immediate connection when “and Jesus was hung on a tree” was used, just like making a reference to the Qur’an in a letter or report would be immediately recognized in a Muslim country today. I will see if I can find something, but being familiar with the OT would be ideal.

              I also think your analogy doesn’t work. I believe a historian examining independant writings from me and 3-4 of my friends about the approximate hight of a tree would be satisfied that the tree was in fact 40-50 feet tall. Being adults with reasonable cognative abilities could reasonably approximate the hight of a tree. The fact that you have multiple attestations would only confirm it. Unfortunately your ages of 3 and 10 changes it a lot. children overall do not have the same ability to approximate hight and size accurately as an adult with life and practical experience backing them. If they were 25, 35, and 70, the trees hight being 40-50 feet tall would be considered an established fact by a historian.

              • Nightvid Cole says:

                1. Ok.

                2. Really? http://www.law.yale.edu/news/2727.htm If you have such low standards of verification then you are watering down the normal meaning of the word “fact”. This would necessitate a new word to mean “something that has been verified beyond a reasonable doubt, that is, with a standard of evidence that, if used for different cases in law and history, would be unlikely to ever produce false positives”. I shall suggest “fact-prime”. Again keep in mind that in my analogy, I purposely made it such that it is essentially impossible to say whether or not the supposed witnesses even used their own judgement versus being taken in by what is known in psychology as the “informational influence” effect as described in the so-called “Asch conformity experiments”.
                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asch_conformity_experiments .

                Additionally, you completely misunderstood what I was trying to say about the “secondary” historians. These were not yet born in my example, they were NOT 3 or 10 yrs. old. These are analogous to the non-contemporary sources that Christian apologists usually cite (in my experience) as “proof” that the whole thing “wasn’t just a made up tale”, but what I am trying to get across is that this cannot possibly be independent verification in the “information” sense of the word – it can at most confirm that the primaries seemed to be acting on a belief in a particular event, but it is impossible for such sources to decrease the probability that the primaries were mistaken. If the primaries were wrong, the secondaries born AFTER the fact would have absolutely no way whatsoever of finding that out and thus from the point of view of “information theory” CANNOT strengthen the “evidence”…

              • Ok, I see what you meant. Now how would someone go about relieving you of your skepticism? What would you need that isn’t artificially high just because it’s a religious claim to the point where the bar is impossibly set?

              • Nightvid Cole says:

                A demonstration which does not omit proper scholarly references for any claim, explicit or implicit, which is not so obvious that its falsehood would be astonishing. Very simple.

  9. Nightvid Cole says:

    One possibility is non-fatal temporary cardiac tamponade induced by a partial rupture of the pulmonary artery. In staying honest, We do not know whether this is the case or not even as an educated guess.

  10. Robert Roach says:

    NIGHTVID COLE – what you are referring to with the medical evidence questions is the Swoon Theory. This theory says Jesus wasn’t really dead when they put him in the tomb and after a few days he got better. John 19:34 says “One of the soldiers, however, pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water flowed out.” The blood and water coming out shows that Jesus was in congestive heart failure near the end of his life since he had pleural effusions. Fluid was backing up into his pleural cavities because his heart was functioning so poorly. The other thing to consider is how much blood he had probably lost. My question would be if he wasn’t really dead, how would he have gotten the strength to roll the huge stone away after only 3 days with a poor functioning heart and a very low hemoglobin? John is right about the other disciples. Infection aside, he wouldn’t have had an ounce of strength when he appeared to them not to mention looking all beat up. What kind of a King would he have appeared to be?

    • Nightvid Cole says:

      Robert Roach:

      First, you are implying (falsely) that we can say enough about the physical circumstance to determine the difficulty level of escaping the tomb. Was it on a hill? How much did the stone weigh? Was it vertical? Was it facing downhill if on a hill? Without documentation on the matter we cannot simply assume that it would have been physically difficult to escape (certainly a vertical, lightweight stone perched facing downhill would be trivial to tip over!!!), and thus we cannot assume that he needed to “gather much strength”.
      The last part of your question has more to do with psychology: namely, would the disciples have been impressed by an apparent resurrection of Jesus if he was slow to heal? I don’t have any good reason to doubt it. People back in those days were extremely superstitious anyway (just read Suetonius and Plutarch if you don’t believe me!!) and were ready to believe crazy things even if the evidence wouldn’t to most of us in the 21st century be compelling. I should point out that even today people often believe demons have been cast out of someone even when they didn’t see anything at all. So why would we think that simply because jesus might have been weak or injured they (the disciples, that is) wouldn’t believe something magic happened?

      • We do know what the tombs of the day looked like, theres not much speculation.

        Given the Jewish belief of resurrection, a beaten half dead man who bears the wounds of scourging and crucifixion is hardly a man who exudes the idea of overcoming death. Rather than a resurrected Messiah, I think the atmosphere would have been that of “get this man a doctor!” I think you are underestimating what would have had to have been the scene in order to produce the reaction of the disciples.

  11. rautakyy says:

    The centurion had direct knowledge that his commander had “washed his hands” on the subject of execution of Jesus. So, he was propably not expecting any sentences himself, if this agitator was not put to death. According to the gospels there was a storm, and the soldiers let Jesus be taken down prematurely. Alledgedly they stabbed him, and he was alive as he was still bleeding.

    Now, if a man was ordained for execution today, a leader of a cult, who would not die in the process, and his followers would claim this is due to divine intervention of gods this cult demagogue represents, would any of you be more inclined to believe some other reason caused him not to die?

    It is understandable, that the people 2000 years ago, even the centurion, might have seen the storm itself as a divine intervention. After all this was a man who alledgedly was a son of a god. The centurion might have saved the life of Jesus, just out of fear for the supernatural. He was most propably a pantheist, and hence had no reason not to believe the son of the local god was being executed, other than that the local priests (and scholars) did not seem to take him as what he himself had alledgedly claimed to be.

    We do not know, how he got out the tomb. The execution was a public event, though we do not know how many people attended. The coming out of the tomb was not. There is no eyewittness account as to who opended the tomb. The tomb was not however sealed, since the two Marias (or one of them depending on which second hand knowledge we accept as the true version) were going to do some ointmenting on the body. One account even claims there was an earthquake at the moment of opening the tomb…

    We may give the roman legionaries a lot of credit for being efficient killers, but we do not even know if these soldiers at the execution were legionaries, or mere hired auxiliaries (which is actually a lot more likelier option, since there is no record of a legion being garrisoned at Jerusalem at the time of the event). The imperial Roman army was drawn from the actual fighting elements of legions and the mercenary auxilias and different city guards that were all lead by centurians. The fishermen and what have you, followers of Jesus had no more chance to regocnize a legionary from an auxilia or guard soldier, than most Iraqis can make a difference between a navy seal, a marine or a ranger.

    Maybe Jesus was sick of his wounds after the crucifiction. That would certainly explain why he disappeared after a short while. It would certainly be a lot more compelling story to write down after his death, that he conquered death on the cross and rose to heavens, than to add that he did die of fever a bit later. People are able to convince themselves of these things, if they have the fanatic fervour in them, for the cause. Are they not? It seems to be easier to believe in tiedied up legends than the gruesome “facts” you may even have wittnessed.

    How sure are we the soldiers involved were simply not bribed to save Jesus? If they were, would that have been written into the gospels? Is that not a lot more reasonable and plausible explanation of the events, than resurrection and angels driving soldier away from the tomb? Did the followers of Jesus not even try to bribe the soldiers? Why not? We have no knowledge of the reliability of the wittnesses of this story. They might have told us the story as they saw it and believed it to have happened, but we do not know who else than these witnesses and other mentioned characters acted.

    Maybe it was all a Roman ploy to set the quarrelsome jews against each other. They had this doctrine of “divide and conquer”. Pilatus for one did not love the jewish theocracy, according to the story at least.

    There is a reason to take all the natural possibilites as more plausible than any supernatural explanations. If we take this one supernatural explanation as most propable and acceptable, when there are possible natural explanations, then how do we define which supernatural stories are true and which are not? There are a lot of supernatural stories in the world, from other religions, that have even more reliable eyewitness accounts then this one.

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