Where’s the unbiased evidence for the life and miracles of Jesus?

There’s no shortage of skeptical Atheists who ask this question.  Essentially the complaint/question is that there aren’t enough ‘unbiased’ sources confirming the miracles of Jesus.

This complaint has problems of it’s own.  Not the least of which that any document would likely be considered bias. This means then that there doesn’t exist by definition any non-biased accounts for Jesus’ life and miracles.  If any account features what He taught and what He did, it pretty much counts as a biased text.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that if there were a non-biased work with as much detail as the Gospel accounts include, it would be considered a biased text.

Therefore I have to ask the skeptical Atheist this: Since it seems that skeptical Atheists making the above complaint would discount any ancient reference which corroborated the the Gospel accounts of Jesus miracles as being biased and mythical.  If this is true what exactly is the point of asking?  And if it’s not true that you’d dismiss corroborative documentation, why aren’t the gospel accounts enough?  

Comments

  1. Yes, it is a rather self serving objection isn’t it? I mean, let’s just think about a hypothetical historical scenario in which an “unbiased” observer of the life of Jesus leaves an “unbiased” record of His words and deeds. If the miracles of Jesus were genuine, then it stands to reason that this record would also mention them. Now if we assume that this “unbiased” recorder had half a brain in his head, seeing the deeds and hearing the words of Jesus would lead him to certain conclusions about Him. For instance, if he heard Jesus predict his own death and resurrection, and then witnessed it first hand, is it not reasonable to presume that he would think, “Whoa! He predicted this! This guy is something special!”? This would lead him to reflect on the teachings that he had previously recorded in an “unbiased” manner, would it not? It would therefore be no stretch of the imagination to believe that this “unbiased” person would realize that Jesus is who He said He is, and would then become a follower of His (aka, a Christian) But take note of where we are now. If this guy’s recordings were to survive to the present day, and were discovered, our skeptical friends’ would read it and say, “We can’t accept this. It was written by a biased Christian. Find an unbiased source that validates Jesus miracles, and maybe we’ll take notice.” So you’re exactly right John, this objection is nothing more than self-validating circular reasoning.

    • Mike

      It’s like saying, “show me something written by someone who was a witness but doesnt believe it’s true”

      J. Warner Wallace has a scenario he uses to illustrate this.

      Let’s say I decide to rob a liquor store. In the liquor store are three customers who all witness the robbery. As I leave the liquor store, the witnesses get a good look at me and remember what I look like, my clothes, etc. The police arrive on scene and interview the witnesses. While this is happening I’m caught a ways down the road, and the detectives do what is called a “field show up” where I’m standing at the curb and the witnesses are driven by to get a look at me. In turn, each witness positively identifies me, “yep, that’s definitely him” they each say. Their statements are recorded and the case goes to court.

      The jury looks at the case and says, “wait a minute, all three witnesses believe Jim did the robbery.” They continue, “we can’t trust those eyewitnesses, they’re all biased, they all already believe Jim did it. We want to hear from witnesses who saw it but aren’t biased, who don’t already believe Jim did the robbery.”

  2. Think about it this way – was everyone in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus converted to Christianity? Not even close. What about the Romans directly involved with the crucifixion, or the trials, or later trials of Peter, etc…? Nope? So clearly, there were a lot of people around who were in a position to hear many things about Jesus, and not be convinced. An unbiased source would be someone like that. Someone who could corroborate more than what “Christians were saying”, who could mention the huge crowds, the cleansing of the temple, the darkness in the middle of the day – even if they didn’t know what to attribute it to. It doesn’t have to be about the miracles.

    • What motivation would they have to record the events? Remember there was a reason Jesus performed miracles: to verify He and His message was authentically Divine. It wasn’t for circusry. Someone writing down the miracles and teachings are attempting to convince others of his message. Someone unconvinced of his message has no reason to write it down.

      • So, I mentioned three events from the Gospels as examples – huge crowds (the whole riding in on a donkey or two scene), the cleansing of the temple, and the darkness in the middle of the day. Is it really hard to imagine someone without a vested interest in Jesus’ message being interested in noting these things? There are other things I could mention, but these would be enough. We don’t have any mention of these events from unbiased observers.

        • Why would those be ‘news worthy’?

          • You don’t think that a mid-day darkness over the whole region (whole world, depending on the reading) wouldn’t be “news-worthy”? What about a single person overturning all the tables at a football stadium sized area which was also guarded by the Romans? What about all of the living-dead wandering around right after the crucifixion? Seems like there are plenty of events that would have drawn attention.

            • If I remember the darkness was recorded by someone. But the other things? I doubt it. We live in an era where everything is recorded by hundreds of sources. Not so back then. What would motivate someone to record a ruckus in the temple?

              • You’re referring to Thallus, who we don’t have an actual account from – only quotes from later Christians. The text itself is seriously suspect, and even so he makes no claim that the eclipse, as Thallus calls it, was anywhere near Palestine. Perhaps the cleansing of the temple might have gone unnoted (although I don’t see any particular reason why), but the dead rising and wandering around Jerusalem certainly would be mentioned by *someone*.

                As a side note, wouldn’t the empty tomb be mentioned in any of the trial transcripts in Acts? Also, why are the 500 people seeing Jesus, mentioned in 1 Cor 15 not mentioned in a *single* gospel account?

              • Brian

                Im still trying to figure out why you think a large gathering or a ruckus is so significant to someone else that they would have written about it. Writing for pleasure or news wasnt really that common, why on earth would some historian write about some commoner in some small peon town who knocked over a table.

              • Some events are more newsworthy than others. “Im still trying to figure out why you think a large gathering or a ruckus is so significant to someone else that they would have written about it.” I’ll concede for there that the “ruckus” might not be as recordable (although given the scale, and the interest of some historians on even lesser events in the general area, I am not convinced). However, you still haven’t dealt with the two easily noteworthy events – the midday darkness or the raised dead wandering around Jerusalem. Would you claim we would not expect to hear about these?

              • Would you agree that writing things down for preservation was not a common practice? I would hope so. I dont think that if there were records, others wouldnt scramble to have dozens of the same account. I dont even think we have many secular accounts of anything. If we already have the Gospel accounts circulating en mass, what would motivate others to also write it down as well?

              • “Would you agree that writing things down for preservation was not a common practice? ”
                True, except for astronomical events which were regularly written down by multiple people in antiquity, and were typically observable for a large area. These events in particular carried serious weight in antiquity, and were often interpreted in terms of the connection between rulers and the divine. Thus, even biographers of famous people may be expected to mention these events.

                We could then expect a report by people who may not have heard, or cared, about any Gospel account. I would have expected also that extremely bizarre events like the raised dead wandering around would have be of interest. That event too could have been viewed by many people who also may not have heard, or cared, about any Gospel account.

                So, at least with those two events, I would expect some mention given both the scale and rarity of the event. Now, of course, this doesn’t demonstrate that the claims are necessarily false, but it is suspicious. And it addresses why one might expect an unbiased confirmation of *some* of the events in the biblical account, and what that means.

              • Seeing as how the mass dead being raised is not in the earliest manuscripts why not choose something that is less disputed as being in the originals. Even the resurrection for example. Its included in 4 different written works as well as the suspected Q. It is discussed in others written later as well. It is attested to multiple times. So why is it so scrutinized? Only because it is a supernatural event and no other reason. That is a philosophical presupposition

              • “no guarantee that such writings would survive to the present day.” – of course. but with enough of these, you’d expect something to have been recorded. The absence, as I already said, doesn’t definitively show that it didn’t happen, it is just suspicious.

                “Its included in 4 different written works as well as the suspected Q. It is discussed in others written later as well. It is attested to multiple times. ” Sure. Four different *anonymous*, *undated* books, which show clear signs of copying from each other (in still disputed ways), a clear goal of communicating a theological message not a historical one, written decades after the events. Oh, and a 5th book that we don’t actually have (and if you read Goodacre – no atheist he – may not even exist). This does not make a strong case.

                You had asked why skeptics want unbiased corroboration, and I think I’ve said that. You also asked whether skeptics would simply dismiss it – because of the miraculous nature of it – and I pointed out that there are ample reasons for someone to note the events in the Bible at the time without having a Christian motive to do so – the rarity, scale, and content of the events suffices. And then you said:

                “So why is it so scrutinized? Only because it is a supernatural event and no other reason. That is a philosophical presupposition”

                And I say that is a losing move – and that you’ve now conceded the argument to me. *Nowhere* have I said in any of these posts that the miracle stories are impossible. I don’t have to disbelieve in all miracles to make the point that some miracle stories are probably false, or at least that we don’t have enough evidence to be confident that they are true. It is not a “naturalistic bias” to be skeptical of amazing claims (see my post here: https://brianblais.wordpress.com/2012/09/25/naturalistic-bias-presupposing-naturalism/).

                I’m skeptical of these claims because they are extraordinary claims (would you disagree?) and their evidence is terrible. If I heard the same claims today, I’d be skeptical. Do you think that crystals heal? What about the golden tablet story that I mentioned earlier? Do you have a “naturalistic” bias to be skeptical of these stories? Not even close. And to level that accusation in an argument is an admission that you have no more evidence, and need to resort to petty finger pointing. As a scientist, I have *never* hear that accusation made in an argument, and I expect I never will, because scientists deal honestly with the data even when it goes against their inclinations. Do I have biases? Sure. Am I ever wrong? Certainly. But I am swayed by evidence, and have been on significant issues. The evidence here is not convincing, and to demand better evidence (like unbiased sources) is not a sign of bias.

              • ” John specifically mentioned in his post that his intention was not to debate the veracity of any Biblical account.” – Oh, I know. It all just reminded me of claims in one source that aren’t mentioned in another, where one might expect it.

                “You mean, why aren’t the Gospels written in a manner you’d prefer?” – Cute!

                So, back to my original responses, there was the original claim rephrased like “show me something written by someone who was a witness but doesnt believe it’s true”. I think I put a number of things on the table that could easily have been newsworthy, would have been easily witnessed by people who did not need to believe in the miracles of Jesus, or in some cases, even have heard of Jesus at all. The “unbiased” part does not have to refer to miracles. What skeptical Atheists are looking for, at least, is some external to the Gospels/Epistles evidence that these amazing things actually happened.

                I would wager that, in any other contexts, most Christians would ask for the same. Golden tablets anyone? :)

              • You think golden tablets are of the same ilk of knocking over tables or getting a crown together?

                Im sayimg the things you say might be worthy of recording on paper for a first century commoner or historian arent worthy. Miracles, yes, but we have accounts of that. I dont think writing happenings down was as commonplace as you seem to think it was. I am inclined to think if there was a record of something that was known about and known to be accurate, there would be little reason for everyone else to write their own.

  3. “Also, why are the 500 people seeing Jesus, mentioned in 1 Cor 15 not mentioned in a *single* gospel account?”

    You mean, why aren’t the Gospels written in a manner you’d prefer?

  4. And keep in mind, that John specifically mentioned in his post that his intention was not to debate the veracity of any Biblical account. Re-read his concluding questions.

  5. Hi Brian,
    I understand your point, but keep in mind what we’re discussing. We’re talking about alleged events that happened 2000 years ago, not yesterday. Even if we expect that such events would have been noted and recorded by a wide variety of people, that is no guarantee that such writings would survive to the present day. Many of the things we know about the distant past are only known because they appear in a single source document. There aren’t many opportunities for historians to cross reference with other works from the same period. The objection you raise hinges on an argument from absence, and as I’m sure you’d agree, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. That the authors of the New Testament (NT) are the only ones who testify about some of these things is not in and of itself enough to dismiss their testimony as biased or exaggerated. If we had something that attested, for example, that the sky in Jerusalem at such and such hour was bright and sunny, while the NT said that it was dark at that time, that might be something worth looking into. But as it stands right now, the only reason to discount the Gospel accounts as “biased” or “false” is an anti-supernatural (aka naturalistic) bias that discounts certain conclusions a priori before a word of it is even read.

  6. If this is the standard of evidence required for believing miracles, then why discount Islam? Hadith records are far more complete than biblical sources.

    Did Mohammed and Jesus both perform miracles?

    • Mohammed is not recorded as performing miracles. However, read my post ‘according to the quran the quran is false’. In it I demonstrate why the quran cannot be considered the word of God. Its not an a priori rejection.

    • Why not Mormonism? We have *signed* documents from a number of witnesses to the golden tablets, within a year of the event, and that have never been retracted. Many of them suffered for their claims as well, and Joseph Smith was a martyr. This is *way* better evidence than anything in the Bible, and yet we are not tempted to give it credence. Naturalistic bias? Not even close.

      • We also have retracted statements. We also have Smith who said the tablets were translated the same way as the book of Abraham which we know to be completely incorrect.

        • I’m sorry, I can’t find it. Can you show me where any of the three witnesses (Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer) ever publicly retracted their statement? I was not aware that any of them did.

          Further, the statement itself that they made was quite specific about the names of the witnesses, who was writing the document, who saw the events (i.e. the tablets), and when it was witnessed. As far as I can tell, there isn’t *any* of that in the New Testament. None of the gospels states their authorship, three of them do not claim to be eyewitnesses and the fourth is dubious at best (only referring to the “beloved disciple” – a probable interpolation), and Paul doesn’t claim to have seen the events at all. None of them state when the events actually took place, where the authors were when the texts were written, and what specific sources that they used.

          Again, the evidence for the golden tablets is worlds above that for the Bible, and yet we don’t take them seriously. Is this due to a naturalistic bias? I don’t think so.

  7. He split the moon in two and ascended to heaven on a winged horse. Both of these things are miraculous.

    However, I’ll read your Qur’an post. I’m keen to assess whether you apply the same level of rigour to Christianity as you did to falsifying Islam.

  8. Splitting the moon is 54:1-2, but I grant you that Sura 17 is cryptic on the buraq and it must be made up from the hadith (which is relied upon by all major denominations, so as good as canon).

    In your post, do you stand by the circular logic of point 7 of ‘putting it all together’?

Any Thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: