Atheist detective convinced by evidence for christianity

July 30th, 2014 in Life. Tags: , , , , , ,

Jim Wallace

J Warner (Jim) Wallace is a homicide detective, and an atheist-turned christian. This is his story and the reasons why he changed his mind about Jesus.

From architect to detective

Jim originally trained as a designer and architect, and worked in that field for a short time. I don’t know why, but he then joined a Los Angeles law enforcement agency and worked as a police officer and detective for almost 25 years.

He specialised in homicide investigations, and eventually cold case investigations (unsolved homicides committed decades ago). In this role he solved a number of old cases leading to several convictions, and in 2012 was awarded the South Bay Medal of Valor Sustained Superiority Award. His cases have been featured in several television documentaries.

An atheist investigates christianity

Jim’s father was an unbeliever while his stepmother was a Mormon and raised his half-siblings as Mormons. He grew up without any faith, and was a “conscientious and vocal atheist” during his graduate and post graduate university study.

Evidentialism

Jim was (and is) an evidentialist. He believed that our beliefs and conclusions should always be shaped by the available evidence. This position was reinforced by his work as a homicide detective, where obviously evidence is absolutely necessary to finalise an investigation and obtain a conviction.

Jim was also an evidentialist when it came to christianity. When, at about 35, Jim decided to re-examine the truth of christianity, he examined the evidence. Some christians take a different view – they are presuppositionalists who presuppose the truth of the Bible, but Jim was unable to do that.

When he began to examine christianity, one of his sisters encouraged him to examine the claims of Mormonism, so he examined the two together.

A four part investigative template

Jim used a systematic approach to investigating both Christianity (specifically the New Testament) and Mormonism. This approach borrows some ideas from his experience in cold case homicide investigations – both relate to events far enough in the past that we have “no living eyewitnesses nor good forensic evidence. We solve cases such as these by assembling cumulative, circumstantial evidences.”

His approach used the following four principles of witness reliability:

1. Make sure the witnesses were present in the first place

Jim says that there are times in cold case investigations when a witness comes forward years after the event, and the detective has to ascertain if the person is a credible witness, that they were present at the events they report.

It is uncertain whether the gospel writers were eyewitnesses, but Jim points out they are the earliest accounts we have, early enough that they could have been written by eyewitnesses, and their claims could be fact-checked by others.

2. Try to find some corroboration for the claims of the witnesses

In criminal court cases, Jim says “jurors are encouraged to evaluate witnesses in a trial on the basis of any evidence offered to verify or corroborate their testimony.”

When examining the New Testament he found “‘external’ corroboration of archaeology and ancient non-Christian sources, and the ‘internal’ corroboration between Gospel accounts (what I call, “unintentional eyewitness support”), the accurate referencing of regional 1st Century proper names, the correct description of governmental structure, the familiar description of geography and location, and the reasonable use of language.”

3. Examine the consistency and accuracy of the witnesses

In criminal investigations, a witness changing their story over time may indicate an intention to deceive. Similarly with an ancient document – does its transmission indicate change over time?

The New Testament, Jim judged, was well attested – we have very old copies and early references in external sources, much more than for most ancient documents on which we base much of our understanding of history.

If there are several witnesses, a detective building a case will look out for possible collusion or one witness copying another rather than giving independent and verifying testimony. Jim would expect reliable witnesses to agree on the major details, although sometimes having a different emphasis or perspective, but complete agreement even on minor aspects can indicate collusion.

The gospels pass this test very well – they agree about the important facts of Jesus’ life, but they have different perspectives and differ about some of the minor details.

4. Examine the presence of bias on the part of the witnesses

Obviously witnesses who are biased are less useful in obtaining objective facts. Jim observes: “Bias comes down to motive, and motive always comes down to three driving desires: financial greed, sexual/relational lust, and the pursuit of power.”

There is, he says, a “difference between bias prior to an experience and conviction following an experience”, and argues that the Gospel authors cannot be said to have bias before the event. But their conviction afterwards is quite understandable if the events they record are true.

The verdict

The evidence he examined in this way gave him confidence that the Gospels were substantially truthful records of events. At the same time, it made it impossible for him to have confidence in the Book of Mormon. “I became a Christian at the same time I became a Not-Mormon” he says.

This process also confirmed his belief that “truth is tied directly to evidence”.

He’s a christian evidentialist

“I’m an evidentialist because the evidence protected me from error and guided me to the truth simultaneously” Jim has said. To further his understanding of what he now regarded as christian truth, Jim studied and obtained a Master’s Degree in Theological Studies, and went on to become a pastor and an author.

He has now written three books about christian evidences and set up a website for the same purpose.

Jim’s reasoning

I find a lot to admire and agree with in Jim’s reasoning.

  • Like him, I am an evidentialist. I think we should base our beliefs on the evidence without making initial assumptions. This includes arguing the case for the New Testament as reliable history and not assuming it.
  • I agree with him that faith isn’t blindly believing without evidence, but rather “trusting what can’t be seen on the basis of what can”. For him, and for me: “we don’t possess a blind faith in spite of the evidence; we have a reasonable faith because of the evidence.”
  • I think religious experience can be good evidence for God, but like Jim I believe we must be careful in assessing our experiences.

There are one or two aspects I would approach a little differently. Most prominent here is that I think many sceptics would challenge the scholarly consensus on some of the evidence he sees for the reliability of the Gospels. I don’t think he is necessarily wrong in what he says, but I tend to start from a more sceptical position so that only an unreasonable sceptic who doesn’t accept the scholarly consensus wouldn’t be happy to start there also.

Read more about Jim Wallace

Picture: Cold Case Christianity.

51 Comments

  1. Funny, when he was a detective he must have gone to experts such as forensic pathologists for areas outside his expertise. It’s a pity he didn’t resort to qualified historian’s books for opinions about the truth of Christianity based on the evidence. That is historians qualified in the modern historical method somewhere other than in a Christian educational institution.

  2. Interesting post — thanks for sharing. I agree with you that his approach to the gospels doesn’t seem completely legit to me. I’m sure he was sincere in his examination, but I don’t think his statement here is very valid:

    …and their claims could be fact-checked by others.

    Could they have? As we all know, the gospels were written decades after the events in question, and it’s not like people had the internet or ultra-reliable news sources to consult back then. Many of these early Christians were likely Gentiles living in Greece, not necessarily close enough to actually verify anything that was said. And honestly, for all we know, it’s possible that some people did try to verify the claims and came up empty. We wouldn’t necessarily have any records from such people.

    There were one or two other things that stood out to me too, but either way, it’s always interesting to me to hear how other people approach these issues. I can easily see how honest people can come down on either side of it.

    Anyway, thanks again for the post. 🙂

  3. Hi Gordon, you say “It’s a pity he didn’t resort to qualified historian’s books for opinions about the truth of Christianity based on the evidence.”

    How do you know he didn’t consult qualified historians? I have read his website quite comprehensively, but haven’t read any of his books, and I don’t know who he has read on this. Do you?

  4. Hi Nate, it’s nice to hear from you. I still read your blog posts, but I don’t read all the discussion or comment these days, so it is good to have this opportunity here.

    I wouldn’t say, as you suggest, that his approach isn’t “legit”. I think his conclusions are a little more on the conservative christian side than I would conclude but he seems to be very well read in the first and second century documents.

    I think he makes a reasonable case for “fact-checking”. Of course you are right that we can’t check the facts as well as we could today, but for ancient times, the facts check out extremely well – see his posts on corroborating sources. Of course you and I disagree about whether the evidence is enough.

    I agree with you that “it’s always interesting to me to hear how other people approach these issues. I can easily see how honest people can come down on either side of it.” I am reading more and more neuroscientists and psychologists who argue that we choose intuitively or emotionally, and then rationalise the evidence accordingly, but I’m not sure either you or I would be totally comfortable with that.

  5. How similar is this book (if you’ve read Lee Strobel, that it) to The Case of Christ, and his other books? It sounds in a similar vein. I don’t love Strobel myself but this one might be worth reading.

  6. Hi Eva, I haven’t read Jim Wallace’s book, though I think I may buy it. I’ve read Strobel’s book and I enjoyed it – even though he only interviews christian scholars, and so the evidence is one-sided, they are very competent scholars and their information is good. I would guess it’s a little more rigorous than Strobel, but that’s only a guess.

  7. @unkleE

    How do you know he didn’t consult qualified historians?

    Because of:

    It is uncertain whether the gospel writers were eyewitnesses

    The consensus amongst historians is that they were not written by eye witnesses. Nevertheless he then goes on to treat the “eye witnesses” as though they were independent accounts and by eye witnesses.

  8. Gordon,

    1. The comment you quote is mine, not his, and therefore no indication of his thinking.

    2. If you disagree with him about the eye witnesses, that means you are disagreeing with his conclusions, it doesn’t tell you who he consulted with. And if you check out his book in Amazon “Look inside”, you’ll find references to Geza Vermes, Bart Ehrman, Richard Bauckham, Edwin Yamauchi, Schlomo Pines, Howard Marshall, and others. Not as many references as I would use, but not none either.

    3. I don’t believe there is a clear consensus that the actual writers were not eyewitnesses (though virtually no-one would deny they used eyewitness sources, i.e. they didn’t make it all up). It is probably a majority view, but there is a substantial view that some of the writers were indeed based directly on eye witnesses, e.g Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”.

    I think you have made a negative statement about Jim Wallace that you have no evidence for and for which there is some evidence against.

  9. I don’t understand why people make such a big deal about the authors being eye witnesses or not. To me, these stories could have been written last week, by 10 people, and I would still not believe them. I wouldn’t think they are liars, and I would empathize with the fact that something really impressed upon them, but that is in no way a good reason to believe that what they claim happened did in fact happened that way. That’s the leap of faith Wallace and evidence followers make; jumping from ‘I believe these people are not lying’ to ‘I believe what they say’, for no good reason at all.

  10. Having the stories based on eye witnesses is important for historians who are trying to determine what happened and what didn’t. They generally conclude that the main parts of the story of Jesus really happened. They don’t all agree about whether the more miraculous parts actually happened, though they generally agree that the people of the day believed Jesus healed and his followers believed he was resurrected.

    So no-one makes the “leap” for no good reason at all – there are very good historical reasons for it – but you are right that there is a jump – just as there is a jump from the facts to saying that the miraculous didn’t happen.

  11. So no-one makes the “leap” for no good reason at all – there are very good historical reasons for it

    Relying on eye witness accounts for miraculous claims is not a ‘good reason’. It’s not different from ghost stories, Bigfoot, alien abduction, homeopathy, acupuncture, or more broadly, all other non-Christian religious claims which you probably don’t believe in yourself. People are not lying about these things, yet it does not mean we should believe them right away.

    but you are right that there is a jump – just as there is a jump from the facts to saying that the miraculous didn’t happen.

    Are you implying that ‘not’ believing miraculous things happen equates denying historical facts? I will give you a chance to clarify before I laugh out loud… 😉

  12. Hi Hugo, I didn’t say anything about “believing them right away”, those are your words. I in fact have showed in some of the pages I have referenced on this site that I have given the matter quite long and detailed consideration. I think your comment doesn’t recognise this.

    In reality, there is a wide range of witness accounts that we do accept – everyday events, news reporting, witnesses in court, etc, so picking out extremes such as “ghost stories, Bigfoot, alien abduction” sort of begs the question don’t you think?

    The reality is that there is a spectrum of witness accounts from easily believable to difficult to believe. If you want to place the New Testament accounts somewhere on that spectrum, you need to be able to justify that in the light of the conclusions of historians and other experts.

    So please know that your mirth is not an argument I am impressed by, I think evidence and reason are far better ways to make a point. 🙂

  13. Hi unkleE,

    You said:
    I think evidence and reason are far better ways to make a point. 🙂

    Me too! 🙂 That’s why I point out where you make mistakes in your reasoning and correct any of my mistakes in order to get to believe as many true things as possible and dismiss non-sustainable ideas. The problem is that it usually takes a lot more time to explain why something is wrong than write something wrong. The later can be just 1 sentence while the former may take an entire page just to go in details as to why that sentence was wrong… So it’s faster to just reply back with 1 sentence, without always going in details.

    So let me try to do just that with your short comment here, first by correcting one of my mistakes:
    I didn’t say anything about “believing them right away”, those are your words.

    This is correct. When I said that ‘People are not lying about these things, yet it does not mean we should believe them right away.’ it was wrong to imply that you believe Christian claims right away, just because the authors were not lying. There is a lot more thoughts and effort put into understand their claims and the context of their claims. So you are correct when you say “I in fact have showed in some of the pages I have referenced on this site that I have given the matter quite long and detailed consideration.” You have indeed put a lot of time and effort into explaining the reasons to believe in Christian claims and gave a lot of references to support your points.

    But what if that’s not what I meant at all?

    In fact, this is precisely what I meant above when I said that 1 sentence is too quick to capture all the essence of the reasoning behind it. Here, your error was to assume that I literally meant ‘right away’. But it was not the case! You over-simplified my claim and easily dismissed it without understanding its meaning. Moving on through your comment, I will hopefully be able to clarify better:

    there is a wide range of witness accounts that we do accept – everyday events, news reporting, witnesses in court, etc, so picking out extremes such as “ghost stories, Bigfoot, alien abduction” sort of begs the question don’t you think?

    Yes, there is a wide range of witness accounts that we ‘do’ accept, but they all have something in common: familiarity. By this I mean that we accept eye witness accounts of things that are more or less common in our everyday lives, or some sort of combinations of familiar events into uncommon arrangements, which create surprising but believable news story. A guy winning the lottery 2 weeks in a row would be a really surprising event, but that’s just 2 normal events happening close to each other, hence it’s believable ‘right away’.

    To contrast, alien abduction or ghost stories are fantastic events that do not conform to our everyday lives. They are ‘extreme’ as you said and we don’t believe them just because someone talks about them. However, that’s where I disagree with you completely; it does not beg the question when it comes to the Christian stories, because they are literally the same thing. But wait. They are also completely different as I said above. So which one is it? Am I contradicting myself?

    That’s where you make a reasoning error, which I tried to explain in a much shorter form before. Moving on with your comment, you said:

    If you want to place the New Testament accounts somewhere on that spectrum, you need to be able to justify that in the light of the conclusions of historians and other experts.

    Again, I agree with you here, there are historians and experts that concluded a lot of things about the New Testament stories. They are not just some random hearsay that someone could have made up last week, like an alien abduction story could be. So here we have 1 side of the “contradiction” I exposed above; I agree with you that there the matter has been given quite long and detailed consideration, throughout history, and still going on today. But what did the expert conclude and what are we justified to believe or not?

    Before answering that question directly, let’s expose the other side of the “contradiction”: the Christian stories are no different from today’s “ghost stories” and can be dismissed as such. The stories actually literally talk about ghosts so the parallel is easy… Mary was approached by a ghost, or angel I guess, who told her she would have a baby. She was then miraculously impregnated by the literally ghost that is the Holy Spirit. Fast forward 30 years or so, that baby is now is full grown man, performed miracles, was crucified, died, but then appeared, alive, to a bunch of people. The very definition of a ghost. In 1 version if I recall correctly, there were some zombies that started to roam the town.

    Ok, so the parallel is easy; these stories really are ghost stories. But at the same time, they are much more than that. They were verified, counter-verified, analyzed, detailed, explained and so on, for centuries now. They are not ‘just’ random eye witness accounts; they are much more than that. But that’s where there is a problem: they are NOT much more than that. The only thing that experts and historians can prove is that the people who told these stories really believed them. This is the giant reasoning error that you cannot see, well that pretty much anybody who believes in these stories cannot see apparently.

    So when I say that People are not lying about these things, yet it does not mean we should believe them right away, I by no means whatsoever claim that we should, or should not, believe “quickly” in terms or time. I mean that there is a leap in logic, where the number of people who believe something is somehow used to make the claim stronger. The experts, the historians, they are all making the same mistake: they jump from ‘these people believed X’ to ‘X really happened’. But when ‘X’ contains some fantastic elements to it, we have absolutely no good reason to believe it solely based on ‘but a lot of people studied what they said about X and they were not lying, so X must be true’. The ‘X’ of Christianity is no different, at all, from any other religion, any modern day supernatural story, and any of the Old Testament stories that you don’t believe in anymore. Yet, Jesus, and people of his time, thought these stories were literally true. What makes us change our mind over time is the understanding that it’s not because people believe in ‘X’ that ‘X’ happened. You need something more, you need explanations, reasoning, logical deductions, some form of objective evidence that does not depend on the subjective experience of a few people.

    Looking forward to go read your reply on fine tuning; I just saw you posted that! 🙂

  14. Hi Hugo,

    Thanks for the corrections and clarification. Just to be pedantic, I didn’t assume you meant “literally meant ‘right away’” nor did I accuse you of saying that. So I didn’t actually make that error as you claim. All I said was that I didn’t say the statement quoted (and therefore I didn’t have to defend it). Whew!! Now onto other things. 🙂

    ” we accept eye witness accounts of things that are more or less common in our everyday lives, or some sort of combinations of familiar events into uncommon arrangements,”

    OK, so you are arguing that familiarity justifies believing an eyewitness account, and an unfamiliar event requires more evidence. Let’s run with that for a moment.

    The context of this discussion is the New Testament, history and belief. My original point was this. Historians of all beliefs have generally concluded that the gospel contain useful historical material (doesn’t mean all of it, just parts), and that Jesus lived and died, taught about the kingdom of God, was widely believed to be a healer and perhaps a prophet and/or messiah, and was believed by his followers to have been resurrected. Those “facts” would be widely accepted. Whether he really did miracles and whether he was resurrected are much more contentious questions. Some historians believe in those things (mostly, but not all of these are christians) and some believe he didn’t, and many say they can’t say.

    All I said was that, on the basis of what almost all the historians conclude are ‘facts” I (along with many scholars but contrary to many others) am willing to believe that the gospels tell the truth about the matters that are more contentious. That seems to me to be reasonable, but I can understand that others are unable to come to that conclusion.

    Now you seem to assume that miracles are “unfamiliar” events. I admit they are not common, but did you know that an estimated 300 million christians claim to have received or observed a healing miracles? That hardly makes miracle claims unfamiliar. I’m not saying all of them are true (clearly many wouldn’t be) but many of them have been medically documented, showing that healing miracle claims are not outrageous. Did you also know that about 80% of Americans believe miracles can occur – so again, the claim is hardly unfamiliar.

    In the case of Jesus, the claim is built upon the belief that Jesus was the Messiah and the son of God. If God is in the equation, who knows what is possible?

    So I regard it as a reasonable belief, but I don’t pretend it can be ‘proven’ (very little in life can be ‘proven’).

    “these stories really are ghost stories”

    I don’t accept this. Ghosts are very different to visions, angels and resurrected sons of God. And even if you could call them ghost stories, I don’t believe that provides any justification for rejecting them. They have to be argued on their merits.

    Thanks.

  15. Hello, I still don’t have time for the bigger post, so just commenting on this last entry here for now…

    on the basis of what almost all the historians conclude are ‘facts” I (along with many scholars but contrary to many others) am willing to believe that the gospels tell the truth about the matters that are more contentious. That seems to me to be reasonable, but I can understand that others are unable to come to that conclusion.

    You are doing exactly what I said is wrong: jumping from ‘it is a fact that people believed X’ to ‘I believe X happened’. You say it seems ‘reasonable’ but offer absolutely no ‘good’ reason for it. The ‘bad’ reason you gave came right after (but there could be more I supposed)

    did you know that an estimated 300 million christians claim to have received or observed a healing miracles? That hardly makes miracle claims unfamiliar. I’m not saying all of them are true (clearly many wouldn’t be) but many of them have been medically documented, showing that healing miracle claims are not outrageous.

    Sorry but there are so many things that are wrong with this reasoning. First, it’s a fallacy to claim that because there are millions of these claims, then some of them must be true. They could all be false; especially when they attempt to re-enforce each other. Next, Christians confirming that Christian miracles happen is expected; it proves nothing, nothing more than Hindus proving Hindu miracles. Moreover, medicine sees so-called “miracles” all the time; the more likely explanation is misdiagnosis, or it can also simply be that the human body did something unexpected since surprises happen all the time. We never hear of limbs growing back for some reason. And finally as you said, some claims are false, we know that, yet people will still believe that these false ones are true sometimes; this is how humans.

    Did you also know that about 80% of Americans believe miracles can occur – so again, the claim is hardly unfamiliar.

    Did you know that hoe many % of people believe in something has absolutely no influence on whether this thing is true? Of course you did 🙂
    Did you also know that ‘unfamiliar’ is not used correctly in that sentence? Or I should say that it’s not referring to the same meaning I used. It’s not because 80% believe in miracles that they are ‘familiar’ with miracles. Most of these 80% probably never experienced what they would claim a miracle is. More importantly, most of the ones who did experience something special would claim that a miracle is anything but familiar, as it would not be called a miracle otherwise!

    So… sorry again but your sentence made no sense at all and actually shows a reasoning error; where the number of random people who believes something is used to support the veracity of the claims. I specified ‘random’ because it’s not as simple as saying that the number of people who believe a claim is always irrelevant. You actually made good points in your fine-tuning arguments where cosmologists vastly agree on something, for example, which is a good use of the number of people in that case, since they are specialists in their field.

    In the case of Jesus, the claim is built upon the belief that Jesus was the Messiah and the son of God.

    I rarely see such obvious question begging 😉 the question is whether or not we should believe Jesus was more than just an impressive man. If you build a claim on the notion that he was the son of God, well, of course he is thus likely to perform miracles, you use your own conclusion to prove your conclusion, literally.

    So I regard it as a reasonable belief, but I don’t pretend it can be ‘proven’ (very little in life can be ‘proven’).

    Well at least we’ll agree here that it cannot be proven, but you have no given a single ‘good’ reason yet. I don’t think it makes you irrational in general, but you certainly don’t have good reasons to believe in the Christian gospels’ miraculous events. It’s all based on this leap of faith from ‘I believe the authors were not lying.’ to ‘I believe the authors. Period.’

    Ghosts are very different to visions, angels and resurrected sons of God. And even if you could call them ghost stories, I don’t believe that provides any justification for rejecting them. They have to be argued on their merits.

    They are only different in terms of popularity and what I would label ‘spiritual definition’. Cartoonish ghosts are different from angels or the Holy Spirit only because the former is purposely man-made while the later are given importance because they are attached to a powerful religious narrative, the most popular humans have ever believed in. In reality however, the claims are very similar. They can be argued on their own merit, but the standard of evidence should not be different, and the number of people who believe in them still has no impact on their truth value.

    It really boils down to this: I would personally never, ever, believe that a man performed miracles, or was resurrected, or that a virgin woman gave birth, or that ghosts exist, etc…, solely based on texts and/or eye witness accounts. Never. I really need more than that and I don’t think this makes me overly skeptical, as the only reason to not adhere to this standard of evidence is to make exceptions. These exceptions are used to support a particular pet religion or cause, something personal and emotionally tied to one’s worldview.

    See you next week-end on the more recent post! I don’t think I will comment on that one here again…

    Cheers

  16. Hi Hugo, sorry about that, I don’t know what happened there. All of your posts are there in my spam queue, but I don’t know why. It filters posts that use words that identify them as spammers, posts with too many links, etc, plus waits for moderation for new posters. But you didn’t trigger any of those filters. The only thing I can see at first glance is that you used the word “virgin” which may trigger the porn filter – I really don’t know. Anyway, it’s all good now, I’ve approved the first version.

  17. Hi Hugo, thanks for the response. But I think you forgot what we were discussing.

    I asked you why some eye witness accounts were believable and some not, and you suggested that their relative familiarity was a reasonable criterion. So I said: “OK, so you are arguing that familiarity justifies believing an eyewitness account, and an unfamiliar event requires more evidence. Let’s run with that for a moment.”

    So most of your comment are based on my claiming evidence for truth, when I was arguing the case for familiarity as a criterion. Let’s see ….

    “it’s a fallacy to claim that because there are millions of these claims, then some of them must be true”

    I didn’t claim that. I said if familiarity is a basis, then miracle claims are reasonably familiar, and don’t fail on that account.

    “Most of these 80% probably never experienced what they would claim a miracle is.”

    Even 20% is hardly “unfamiliar”! I accept eyewitness accounts of people visiting London, but I doubt 20% of the world has visited there. Courts accept eyewitness accounts of murders, but certainly 20% of people in Australia haven’t ever witnessed a murder.

    All I’m doing here is showing that if “familiarity” is the criterion, then miracles are not highly unfamiliar. You have the choice to either accept that miracles pass that criterion or come up with another.

    “You are doing exactly what I said is wrong: jumping from ‘it is a fact that people believed X’ to ‘I believe X happened’. You say it seems ‘reasonable’ but offer absolutely no ‘good’ reason for it.”

    I didn’t jump from “people believed” to “it happened” – I jumped from “the gospel writers reported X which historians conclude is true” to “therefore I am inclined to believe the gospel writers when they say Y”.

    If a person has been shown to be reasonably accurate and truthful in some of what they write where we can check, it is reasonable to suppose they may be accurate and truthful where we cannot check, unless there is some reason to suppose otherwise. That is a quite well established principle in human relations, in politics, in court cases, etc. Do you think it isn’t?

    “the question is whether or not we should believe Jesus was more than just an impressive man. If you build a claim on the notion that he was the son of God, well, of course he is thus likely to perform miracles, you use your own conclusion to prove your conclusion, literally.”

    I have never used the miracles to “prove” Jesus was the son of God, though I think the resurrection is one miracle that might be used this way. I build my case as follows:

    1. The historians say the portrait of the life and teachings of Jesus in the gospels is broadly accurate (not including the miraculous, on which they are divided).
    2. On the basis of this life and teaching, and the lives of the early christians, I conclude that the gospel writers and Jesus told the truth as they knew it or believed it.
    3. Therefore I conclude that Jesus was indeed the son of God.
    4. Therefore I believe that the miracles he was reported as doing actually happened.

    “It’s all based on this leap of faith from ‘I believe the authors were not lying.’ to ‘I believe the authors. Period.’”

    Hugo, how much of a leap is it from “half a dozen independent sources were not lying” to “I believe those half a dozen independent sources”? If someone wasn’t lying, we would normally believe them unless we thought they were badly deluded or totally incapable. When there are several sources, believing them all to be badly deluded or totally incapable is a big jump.

    I think it is much more reasonable to believe them than to believe they were all deluded or incapable, especially when believing them fits well with the evidence from cosmology and people’s experiences of God. If you think otherwise, then you can only keep on disbelieving, but I think it is an awfully long shot.

    “I would personally never, ever, believe that a man performed miracles, or was resurrected, or that a virgin woman gave birth, or that ghosts exist, etc…, solely based on texts and/or eye witness accounts.”

    (1) This scepticism is based, implicitly if not explicitly, on naturalism. I wonder whether you have subjected your assumption of naturalism to the same scepticism as your disbelief in miracles?

    (2) I don’t base my belief only on the eyewitnesses, as I said above. I base it on a whole lot of things:

    * the teachings which are written down and would have value wherever they came from,
    * the changed lives of the disciples and the effect they had on the world of their day – difficult to explain unless something happened just like they said
    * cosmology, which is far better explained by God than by science, which actually has no ultimate explanation,
    *the human brain and consciousness, free will, ethics and rationality, which also cannot be adequately explained by naturalism but can be understood if theism is true and
    * human experience of God via miracles, visions, etc.

    That all adds up to a package which makes far more sense of the world (to me) than naturalism, which explains very little that is really important.

    I’m not expecting to convince you, but I hope you can see that your familiarity criterion doesn’t work, and there is more to christian belief that the points you have been contesting. Thanks for the opportunity to discuss.

  18. I thought it would be interesting to look at the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus from the orthodox/conservative/evangelical Christian stand point, excluding, however, baseless assumptions. I am excluding fundamentalists in this discussion because fundamentalist Christian views are so extreme that it would be hopeless to try and reconcile them with the actual evidence. Some fundamentalists would probably believe that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John sat down and wrote their gospels within ten minutes of the Ascension.

    A. The Gospel of Mark

    So, let’s start with the first gospel written, as almost all scholars agree: the gospel of Mark. Most scholars believe that it was written sometime between 65-75 AD. So let’s accept an earlier date for the writing of this gospel: mid 60’s, prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.

    1. Who wrote Mark: the gospel itself does not tell us. No clear assignment of authorship is given until Irenaeus in the late second century. Yes, Papias in the early second century mentions that someone told him that John Mark had written a gospel, but Papias does not identify the gospel.

    2. Where was Mark written? We don’t know. Most scholars do not believe that Mark was written in Palestine, but let’s just say that it was. So the gospel is written 30-35 years after Jesus’ death in 30-33 AD. Historians tell us that the average life span of people in the first century was age 45. How many people would still be alive in 65 AD who had been old enough to witness the crucifixion of Jesus? If you were fifteen in the year 30 AD, you would now be fifty in 65 AD, above the average first century life span. And I would bet that even most fundamentalist Christians would believe that the disciples were older than fifteen at the time of the crucifixion. So let’s say that the disciples of Jesus were between twenty and thirty years old in 30 AD. That would make them fifty-five to sixty-five years old in 65 AD, if they were still alive! We have no proof that any of the disciples were still alive in 65 AD.

    3. Even if Mark were written in Palestine, 30 years after the death of Jesus, and there were still people alive who witnessed the resurrection, how soon was the gospel put into public circulation? Maybe the author wrote it for just one wealthy benefactor. Maybe he wrote it just for his small group of Christians, none of whom were old enough to remember the crucifixion. Maybe the gospel was not put into public circulation until after 70 AD. If true, the entire city of Jerusalem has been destroyed, most of its inhabitants are dead or carried off. If there had been a tomb of Jesus, who would now be alive to point out where it was. Remember, all this is assuming that the gospel was written in Palestine or at least circulated in Palestine in the 60’s or 70’s. For all we know, the gospel of Mark was written in Rome and copies of it did not arrive in Palestine until after 100 AD or later! Who would still be alive to say, “Hey, that’s not what happened!”?

    4. Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple.

    Even if Jesus did prophesy/predict the destruction of the Temple, is this proof that he is God? If someone living in Europe in the mid 1930’s had predicted that Europe would be devastated by a second world war, that Germany would lose, and that Germany would be partitioned as punishment for starting the war, would we believe that this person was God? Just because someone predicts something that comes true is not proof that they are divine.

    5. Was the author of Mark an eyewitness to the Resurrection?

    The author of Mark never claims to be an eyewitness. He even writes in the third person. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the author was not an eyewitness but to say he was is simply a guess.

    B. The Gospel of Matthew

    1. Who wrote Matthew? The author does not tell us. The assignment of the apostle Matthew as author of this gospel is not mentioned until the late second century by Irenaeus.

    2. Most scholars believe that Matthew was written after Mark and that one can find 70% of the content of Mark within Matthew, often word for word.

    3. Where was Matthew written? We have no idea. Again, for all we know, it could have been written in a foreign country, far away from any eyewitnesses to the crucifixion. We have no idea when it was first circulated in Palestine for any elderly eyewitness to say, “Hey. That isn’t what happened!”

    4. Was Matthew an eyewitness to the Resurrection?

    The author of Matthew never claims to be an eyewitness. He writes in the third person. Again, not proof that he was not an eyewitness but to say he was is no better than a guess. The author of Matthew could simply have been writing a story he had heard third, fourth, or twentieth hand.

    C. The Gospel of Luke

    1. Who wrote Luke? The author of Luke does not say. No clear assignment of authorship of this gospel is given until the late second century by Ireneaus.

    2. Where was Luke written? We have no idea.

    3. The author of the Gospel of Luke also borrows heavily from the Gospel of Mark. Approximately 50-55% of the content of Mark can be found in Luke, frequently, word of word.

    4. Was the author of Luke an eyewitness?

    Luke very clearly states in the first few verses of chapter one that he is not an eyewitness. He states that he carefully investigated the writings of others (Mark and “Q”?) which he didn’t seem to find satisfactory, and that his sources had given him eyewitnesses testimony. However, he does not identify his sources. Were his sources eyewitnesses themselves or were his sources associates of eyewitnesses giving him “eyewitness” testimony from their source or sources, which would make Luke’s information, at best, second hand information.

    D. The Gospel of John

    Many conservative Christians believe that the author of John infers that he is John, the son of Zebedee, by using the term “the beloved disciple”. I personally (and many scholars) do not think that the author of John is referring to himself as the beloved disciple but is claiming to be recounting the story of the beloved disciple. But let’s assume that the author of the Gospel of John does claim to be John, the beloved disciple. What evidence do we have to determine if his claim is true? Do we have any contemporary Christian or non-Christian testimony that states that John, the son of Zebedee, wrote the Gospel of John? No. We do not. The assignment of authorship of this gospel is not made until the end of the second century, again, by Ireneaus. Papias makes no mention of this gospel.

    So just because someone claimed to be John, the beloved disciple, recounting an eyewitness account of the life, death, and supernatural resurrection of Jesus, should we take him at his word?? Many, many “gospels” were floating around the Mediterranean world in the late first and second centuries. The non-canonical Gospel of Peter may have been written even earlier than Mark! Yet, no one, including fundamentalists, believes that the apostle Peter wrote the Gospel of Peter. So, how do we know that the author of the Gospel of John, if he really was claiming to be John, was really John, the beloved disciple, son of Zebedee?? The fact is, that we have no more evidence that John wrote the Gospel of John than we do that Peter wrote the Gospel of Peter, other than Irenaeus’ declaration in 180 AD, in France, one hundred and fifty years after the crucifixion, that the four gospels we have today were written by the persons that he asserts, based upon evidence, that he never gives!

    E. What Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus do we have so far?

    We have four first century books describing the alleged facts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but only one, (maybe), claims to be an eyewitness testimony.

    Dozens of Romans senators claimed that the first Roman king, Romulus, was snatched up into heaven right in front of their eyes…but no Christian believes this eyewitness testimony.

    Thirteen men living in the early nineteenth century signed legal affidavits, swearing under oath, that they personally had seen the Golden Tablets delivered to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni with their own two eyes, and three of these men signed affidavits that they had seen the angel Moroni himself with their own two eyes…but yet no Christian believes this eyewitness testimony.

    Thousands upon thousands of devout, pious Roman Catholics have claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary, alive, often many hundreds or even thousands together in the same location, at the same time…but no Protestant or evangelical Christian denomination believes this eyewitness testimony to be true.

    Yet, Protestant/evangelical Christians will believe as absolute fact, that a first century dead man walked out of his tomb after three days of decomposing, ate a broiled fish lunch with his friends, and then levitated into outer space based on the testimony of…one…,possible, eyewitness’ testimony!

    F. But what about the Apostle Paul?

    The testimony of Saul/Paul of Tarsus is used by Christians as secondary proof of the Resurrection of Jesus. Christians do not allege that Paul saw a resurrected Jesus prior to his Ascension into Heaven. In I Corinthians Paul makes this statement, “Have I not seen the Christ?”

    But when Paul says he has “seen” the Christ, what did he see actually? Well, Acts chapter 26 tells us exactly what Paul saw, in his own words: Paul saw a talking, bright light that told him that it (the talking, bright light) was Jesus. And, Paul very specifically states, that he saw this talking, bright light…”in a heavenly vision”.

    Talking bright lights are not resurrected bodies and visions are not reality.

    Yes, Paul came to believe that Jesus had been bodily resurrected, but there is no evidence that Paul believed this due to seeing a resurrected body. Paul was a Pharisee, and Pharisees believed in a bodily resurrection, so if Paul believed that the talking, bright light speaking to him on the Damascus Road was the executed Jesus, then he would of course believe that he had seen the (bodily) resurrected Jesus, even if he had actually not seen a body, but only a bright light!

    Conclusion:

    The belief that a first century dead man, named Jesus, walked out of his tomb with a new, superman-like body that could teleport between cities (Emmaus and Jerusalem), could walk through locked doors (the Upper Room), and could teleport into outer space (the Ascension) is based on one alleged eyewitness who wrote a book 40-60 years after the alleged event, whose authorship was not mentioned by any Christian or non-Christian until 150 years later, at the end of the second century, when it was finally called the Gospel of John…and…on the “heavenly vision” of a vision prone Jewish rabbi, Saul/Paul of Tarsus (who also said that he was teleported to the “third heaven”. What other writer of the Bible refers to the concept of multiple heavens?)

    And we are asked to believe that based on this “evidence”, Jesus of Nazareth now sits on a throne in the far reaches of outer space, ruling as our Almighty Lord and King of the Universe??

    The Romans and Mormons have better evidence for their supernatural tall tales than this tale! It is an ancient legend, folks. A fantastic, supernatural superstition. The chances that it is true are infintisimal.

  19. Hi Gary, thanks for visiting and for spending so much time on writing such a long comment. You are not the first to investigate these matters, of course, and it is interesting to compare your conclusions to the experts.

    For example, surveys have shown that the majority of NT scholars (who are presumably more familiar with the evidence than you or I) accept that Jesus’ tomb was found empty after he was left there dead, and/or his disciples had visionary experience of him alive after he died. That means they accept as historical one or both of two facts which are very suggestive of the resurrection.

    I wonder why they have come to that conclusion, which is at odds with what you say here?

    Perhaps you haven’t considered some of the evidence – e.g. the accuracy of the oral transmission of stories by a community (something I don’t think you have mentioned at all), or the very early statements of faith (which include the resurrection) embedded in places in the NT text, or that Papias mentions that the disciple Matthew wrote down some of Jesus’ teachings which were then used by others, or the archaeological discoveries that show that John’s gospel contains some early eyewitness reports.

    You also only consider the average age of people then – but of course, the high childhood mortality brings the average age down quite a lot. quite a few people would have lived a lot longer than the average of course.

    For these and other reasons, I think the situation is quite different than what you describe, but thanks for visiting.

  20. The majority of Koran scholars believe that the angel Gabriel really did appear to Mohammad and that the prophet flew on a winged horse to Jerusalem. Therefore, since the majority of scholars on this religious supernatural claim believe this event occurred, should you and I believe it based on their “expert” opinion?

  21. @Gary

    So let’s accept an earlier date for the writing of this gospel: mid 60’s, prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.

    Doesn’t the fact that Mark’s gospel has Jesus predict the destruction of the temple pretty well guarantee it was written later rather than sooner?

  22. I am allowing for the Christian assertion that the book of Mark was written prior to 70 AD and that Jesus accurately predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. Many scholars believe Mark was written after 70 AD and the prophesy about the Temple was therefore not a prophesy but a known historical event written AS IF it were a prophesy.

    Even if Jesus did predict the destruction of the Temple, what does that prove? If John Doe, writing in 1935, predicted that there would be a second world war, that Germany would lose, and that Germany would be partitioned as punishment for starting the war, would that prove that John Doe was God…or that John Doe made an accurate prediction?

  23. “The majority of Koran scholars believe that the angel Gabriel really did appear to Mohammad and that the prophet flew on a winged horse to Jerusalem. Therefore, since the majority of scholars on this religious supernatural claim believe this event occurred, should you and I believe it based on their “expert” opinion?”

    Hi Gary, there is one small definitional issue here. Do you mean Islamic scholars? I think so, because I don’t know of secular historians who would endorse that story as historical.

    But I was talking about secular scholars – not just christian theologians, but secular historians who may be christian, Jewish, agnostic, atheist, or anything else.

    So I accept what the consensus of historians tells me in both cases. Do you?

  24. No, I was not talking about historians.

    Historians cannot talk about miracles such as resurrections, flying horses, the existence of pink unicorns, or angels named Gabriel or Moroni. This is not the domain of historians, but of theologians. Historians can look at the evidence for the existence of Jesus as a historical figure, and what people said about his alleged miracles, but they cannot evaluate miracles.

    So, the majority of secular historians do NOT believe that there was an empty tomb. The majority of New Testament scholars may believe that there was an empty tomb, but the majority of NT scholars are Christian believers, just as the majority of Koran scholars who believe that Mohammad flew on a winged horse are Muslim believers.

  25. “Historians cannot talk about miracles such as resurrections, flying horses, the existence of pink unicorns, or angels named Gabriel or Moroni.”

    Hi Gary, it seems like you have changed the subject. Your first post was about the historical evidence for the gospels being written by eyewitnesses, not about all this. I’ll stick with your original topic thanks.

    “So, the majority of secular historians do NOT believe that there was an empty tomb. The majority of New Testament scholars may believe that there was an empty tomb, but the majority of NT scholars are Christian believers”

    I have two questions here please:

    1. What evidence do you have for your statement: “the majority of secular historians do NOT believe that there was an empty tomb”?

    2. How are you defining NT scholars and secular historians? How do you tell the difference between them?

  26. If the Bible is the inspired Word of God, why would God have the author of one inspired book copy almost word for word an entire chapter from another inspired book of the Bible? II Kings 19 and Isaiah 37 are identical. Read them for yourself.

  27. Hi Gary, you have changed the subject again. Do you mind sticking with what you originally wrote (about the historical evidence for the gospels as eye-witness history) for a while and we can see how it stands up?

    Do you mind answering the two questions I asked please? I think it would be helpful to resolve things before we move on. I think you don’t have a basis for what you said, but I want to give you the opportunity to show me otherwise. Thanks.

  28. I apologize for not answering your two questions. I will attempt to do that now.

    I probably should back track on my claim that “the majority of secular historians do NOT believe that there was an empty tomb”? What I should have said is: the majority of secular historians would not make a statement pro or con on the historicity of the resurrection, as the resurrection, being a miracle, is not within the realm of history but of theology.

    I will concede that most New Testament Bible scholars most likely believe in the empty tomb, but that is like saying that most scholars of the Koran believe that the Prophet did receive the Koran from Allah. Most NT scholars are believers and therefore have a bias.

    How would I differentiate a NT scholar from a historian? Again, from what I have read, a secular historian sticks to the facts of history. He or she would not attempt to investigate the probabilities of supernatural events.

  29. Hi Gary, thanks for that. Now I think I can clarify where I think you are mistaken (and of course you can defend your view).

    “a secular historian sticks to the facts of history”

    I think that is a reasonable definition, though “facts” may not be certain in history, but probable. I’m not sure how you would decide if a historian was doing that (I hope it wouldn’t be by whether they agree with you or not!). When I said secular historians, I meant historians with relevant higher degrees, active in their filed of study, publishing in reputable journals and respected by their peers – or at least most of those.

    So, it seems that most of those historians DO believe Jesus’ tomb was empty and his disciples saw some sort of visions of Jesus after he died. In 2005 Gary Habermas surveyed 1400 scholarly papers on Jesus’ death and resurrection by scholars who meet the requirements we are talking about (he calls them “critical scholars”). He summarised the trends he found, including (1) 75% of scholars believed Jesus’ tomb was empty, and (2) “Few critical scholars reject the notion that, after Jesus’ death, the early Christians had real experiences of some sort.”

    Now you will find that hard to believe, and think it is some christian plot, but I can give you some examples. Classical historians Michael Grant and Robin Lane Fox are/were both atheists, yet they believed Jesus’ tomb was empty. The Jesus Seminar is known to be highly sceptical, and EP Sanders and Maurice Casey were/are not believers, yet all believe the historical evidence that the disciples saw visions of some kind.

    “the majority of secular historians would not make a statement pro or con on the historicity of the resurrection, as the resurrection, being a miracle, is not within the realm of history but of theology”

    I think you are mostly correct here, but I never claimed otherwise. I only talked about the above “facts”, not the beliefs we might or might not draw from them.

    So we get back to the point of your original comment, and my observation that secular historians didn’t totally agree with you. This is just one example. The value of the gospels for historical study is another. Would you like to discuss that next?

  30. You quoted: 75% of scholars believe that Jesus’ tomb was empty, and (2) “Few critical scholars reject the notion that, after Jesus’ death, the early Christians had real experiences of some sort.”

    I fully agree with the second statement. I do not believe that the early Christians lied about the resurrection. I think they most probably very sincerely believed it and had experiences that confirmed their belief; experiences ranging from visions, false sightings, or supernatural events. Anything is possible. I do not believe in automatically ruling out the possibility of the supernatural. But, sincere belief does not prove the belief true.

    In regards to the first statement: 75% is certainly a majority, but it is not an overwhelming majority. This means that one quarter of all NT scholars do NOT believe in the historicity of the empty tomb. The key question to ask is this: What percentage of the scholars surveyed are Christian believers? If 75% of all NT scholars are Christian believers, then the fact that 75% of all NT scholars believe in an empty tomb is not surprising. In fact, it would be surprising if 75% did NOT believe in an empty tomb, as the empty tomb is the foundational Christian evidence for the Resurrection. Without an empty tomb story, proving the Resurrection would be almost impossible.

    So I do not think I am being unreasonable in declining to accept the belief of 75 % of NT scholars when I don’t know the percentage of NT scholars who are believers; scholars who would therefore be biased in favor of the central tenet of Christianity. Now if the position of 90-95% of all NT scholars was that the empty tomb was an historic fact, then my position would be very weak.

    If 90-95% of all scholars in a particular field hold a certain position, then I think that we lay persons should be very hesitant to argue against this overwhelming expert opinion. Wouldn’t you agree? For instance, probably 95 % or more of scientists believe in the evolution of species; specifically, that humans are descended from lower life forms by a process of natural selection. Since you appear to believe that when an overwhelming majority of experts in a field endorse a certain position, it would be foolish and an error for a lay person to disagree, I’m sure, then, that you believe in evolution of the species. Correct?

  31. Hi Gary, it remains true, as I said, that 75% of scholars accept the historicity of the empty tomb – that’s 3-1 for that view. And I’m talking about scholars who publish in reputable journals, so they can’t just say they accept it because they are christians, they have to provide historical justification. And they are NOT all christians because I mentioned at least 2 (Fox & Grant) who are/were atheists.

    But please notice the point I am making here. I am NOT arguing that this “proves” the resurrection – 75% doesn’t prove that, and neither would 95% for that matter. I was pointing out that your original discussion of the historicity of the gospels missed some important historical points that change the picture, and this is just one. You can quite legitimately disbelieve in the resurrection, but I don’t think it is legitimate to dismiss the story as you have done, or to ignore the views of scholars on the gospels as you have done.

    So I wonder if you’d like to discuss some of the other matters I raised, such as the accuracy of the oral transmission of stories by a community, the very early statements of faith (which include the resurrection) embedded in places in the NT text, or the archaeological discoveries that show that John’s gospel contains some early eyewitness reports?

    PS yes I do think evolution happened.

  32. Yes, I will agree, 75% of NEW TESTAMENT SCHOLARS believe in the empty tomb.

    I do not believe that the majority of Christian NT scholars believe in the empty tomb simply because they are Christians, but I do believe that their a priori belief that Christianity is true creates a bias towards accepting the empty tomb story as fact.

    As far as, the next topic of discussion, let’s begin with: ” the archaeological discoveries that show that John’s gospel contains some early eyewitness reports?”

  33. Below is the conclusion to a fascinating account of the formation of the canon of the Bible. It is a must read!

    To read the full article, click on this link:

    http://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/NTcanon.html#XI

    Strangely, this is essentially where the story ends. It is most curious that there was never any pronouncement by any central authority such as the Pope in all of Christian history as to which books belonged in the Bible, until 1443 A.D. at the conclusion of the Council of Florence–yet this only carried weight in the West. This pronouncement excluded Laodiceans and included Hebrews, thus effectively ratifying the 27 books that had been the staple of orthodox opinion since the 4th century A.D. (M 240). This no doubt arose because for the first time in almost a thousand years scholars were once again starting to question the authenticity of certain books in the canon, for example the authorship of Hebrews. A telling case is that of Erasmus, who, after being chastised by the Church, renounced his rational doubts about this and various Biblical books, on the ground that “the opinion formulated by the Church has more value in my eyes than human reasons, whatever they may be” (Response to the Censure of the Theology Faculty at Paris, 9.864; M 241). No freethinker he. No one can trust the opinions of such a man. Nevertheless, the canon of Florence was still not enforced by threat of excommunication until the canon was made an absolute article of faith at the Council of Trent in 1546 A.D. Almost all the Protestant churches followed suit within the next century with essentially identical conclusions (M 246-7), dissenting only by excluding the OT apocrypha held as canonical by the Catholics.

    But it is worth adding an interesting irony: for with the Reformation the history of canonization came almost full circle. Luther wrote prefaces on the books of his Bible, and ordered the books consciously in descending degrees of credit (M 242-3), and his entire scheme reveals a pervasive criterion: everything that agrees with Paul and preaches Christ is a priori true and to be held in highest esteem, while everything else is to be doubted. And he repeats the argument from fatigue: though he explains why certain books like Hebrews and Jude are to be doubted–namely, they contradict the teachings of Paul–he goes on to declare that he does not want to remove them from so venerable a collection. Thus, not only dogmatic presupposition, but mere tradition wins the canon–not objective scholarship. The irony is that Luther is almost a twin of the heretic Marcion, who was, if you recall, the first man in Christian history to propose a canon. For Marcion believed that only Paul’s doctrine was true–although he was in a better position to be more consistent about this by rejecting all books that contradicted Paul. And it is well known that Luther was rabidly anti-Jewish–as was Marcion. Though the two men differed on many key points, in a small sense the Reformation effectively re-launched the old Marcionite heresy, at the very end of the process of canonization that Marcion had begun.[9]

  34. Hi Gary,

    20 geographical references in John’s gospel were checked out by Prof Urban von Walde about 10 years ago, and he found that John got a number of details quite right, even though several of the locations underwent significant change in the period 40-70 CE. He said that these topographic details were “quite accurate, detailed, and historical”, and therefore concluded that John’s gospel was composed by two authors, one who composed the early historical core (particularly centred on Jerusalem), and the other writing much later and developing the ideas and teachings beyond what was understood at the time of Jesus’ ministry. You can read about this in more detail in Archaeology and John’s gospel.

    Thanks for the reference on the development of the Catholic Church’s views on which books should be included in their scriptures. But I don’t see how this fits with our discussion of the historical basis for the gospels. What did you want say about that reference?

    Eric

  35. The link I gave discusses my point that NO ONE attributed the traditional authorship to the four books that we today call the Gospels until Irenaeus and the Muratorian fragment in the late second century. So how do we know that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote them? How do we know that eyewitnesses wrote them?

    Yes, Christians were quoting from the four Gospels in the early second century, but they were also quoting from the Shepherd of Hermas, the Gospel of Barnabas, and other non-canonical books. Just because the early Fathers quoted from these gospels does not confirm that the earliest Christians believed that they had been written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John or even by any eyewitness.

    In regards to the accurate geography in the Gospel of John, what does this prove? Let me explain by giving an example:

    In March of 2015, an anonymous book begins to circulate in Canada about the life and death of David Koresh. In the book, David Koresh is presented as the messiah; the Lord. The anonymous author appears to be very familiar with the accurate geography of the area around Waco, Texas. He also lists businesses that only existed during the 1980’s, during the time that Koresh and his followers were active and beginning to attract the attention of authorities. In fact, a local Waco, Texas, authority has reviewed the book and states that all geographical details in the book are accurate for the period of time immediately prior to Koresh’s fiery death.

    Also included in the book are assertions that David Koresh healed the sick, performed miracles, and that after he died in the flames, he appeared to numerous of his remaining followers, in a new, supernatural body, sometimes appearing to entire groups of his followers at once.

    So, what does it prove that the author of this book knew the accurate geography and businesses present during the 1990’s? Does it mean that the author of the book was also a witness to all the events described in the book? Does it mean that this author witnessed the resurrected David Koresh? Does it mean that the author was even alive during the lifetime of Koresh?

    Isn’t it quite possible that:

    1. The author of this David Koresh “gospel” wasn’t even born when Koresh was still alive?

    2. Had never set foot in Texas.

    3. Had interviewed a Branch Davidian in Los Angeles in the fall of 2014;
    a Branch Davidian who lived in Waco at the time of Koresh; a Branch Davidian who had grown up in Waco and knew the geography and the businesses of Waco of that time period very well; has an excellent memory; gave the author correct geographical details about Waco but also gave unverifiable information about miracles, healings, and the resurrection of Koresh which he had heard from other Koresh members, other members who told them that they had received this information from (unnamed) “eyewitnesses” so the information HAD to be true as it was “eyewitness testimony”!

    The geographical accuracy of a book which contains supernatural claims does not confirm that the supernatural claims are true nor that the author of the book witnessed the alleged events.

  36. G.A. Wells comments on John’s claim to be an eyewitness:

    That the final chapter 21 of the fourth gospel, where the eyewitness claim occurs, was written by the author of chapters 1-20 is maintained only by the most conservative commentators. The whole of this final chapter comes after a direct address to the reader clearly meant as a solemn conclusion to the gospel…. Just before this solemn end, the risen Jesus has instructed the disciples to go out as missionaries. . . and has given them the Holy Ghost so that they can forgive sins, or withhold such forgiveness. But in the appended chapter that follows, they seem to have forgotten this, and are represented as having returned to their old profession as fishermen in Galilee (Wells, The Jesus Legend, 1996, pp. 87-88).

  37. I have to say, UncleE, that I am shocked that you believe in evolution. Are you an evangelical or conservative Christian? Are you a liberal Christian? Do you believe that Jesus is the only way to eternal life and that all those who do not believe in him will be eternally punished? If not, then I apologize for wasting your time.

    I am not interesting in deconverting liberal Christians who are not exclusivists. If you believe that Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus have their own paths to God, then all power to you, my friend. My goal is to convince evangelicals and other Christian fundamentalists that their beliefs are based on superstitions, so they should stop attacking everyone else for THEIR superstitions. The world would be so much a better place.

    I believe that an exclusivist fundamentalist/evangelical Christian who believes in evolution is an oxy-moron. If man was not created in the image of God, but evolved from lower life forms over billions of years of living and dying, then the story of the Fall is false, and if there was no Fall, humans do NOT need a Savior to redeem us from our ancestors’ horrific, eternally damning sin of…forbidden fruit eating.

  38. Hi Gary,

    “NO ONE attributed the traditional authorship to the four books that we today call the Gospels until Irenaeus and the Muratorian fragment in the late second century. So how do we know that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote them? How do we know that eyewitnesses wrote them?”

    We don’t know who wrote them, for none of them have an author’s name in the text. But apparently it was customary to write the author’s name on the outside of the scroll, so that may have occurred. And there are good reasons to believe the traditional authors. You forgot Papias mentioning them about 110 CE, much earlier than Irenaeus – though only preserved in the later writings.

    But it doesn’t matter whether the authors were eyewitnesses. The stories were handed down from eyewitnesses. The situation was analogous (though obviously not the same) to a newspaper reporter writing what he/she got by talking to eyewitnesses.

    “In regards to the accurate geography in the Gospel of John, what does this prove?”

    It shows that someone involved in the writing was familiar with Jerusalem and surrounds at the time of Jesus. So eyewitness stories are quite possible and reasonable, not impossible as some have claimed.

    “The geographical accuracy of a book which contains supernatural claims does not confirm that the supernatural claims are true nor that the author of the book witnessed the alleged events.”

    Of course not. But it shows that wholesale dismissal, as your original comment indicated, is not reasonable either. And that was the point of view I was addressing.

    “That the final chapter 21 of the fourth gospel, where the eyewitness claim occurs, was written by the author of chapters 1-20 is maintained only by the most conservative commentators.”

    I have always thought that the end of chapter 21 reads like an addendum to the compilation of stories by John, written after his death, or when he was very old, to tell readers where the stories came from. Wells’ comment completely misses the point (he was not a NT scholar) – the addendum verifies that the stories came from John, not the compiler/author of ch 21 (“and we know his testimony is true”), thus strengthening the evidence for ch 1-20 being by an eyewitness. This supports von Walde’s observations from the archaeology.

    “I have to say, UncleE, that I am shocked that you believe in evolution. Are you an evangelical or conservative Christian? Are you a liberal Christian? Do you believe that Jesus is the only way to eternal life and that all those who do not believe in him will be eternally punished?”

    Gary, I am kind of pleased that you are “shocked”. Why did you assume I was a particular type of christian? Do you think that christians can be categorised into two groups – either conservative or liberal? I am interested to know what you think here.

    “I am not interesting in deconverting liberal Christians who are not exclusivists. …. My goal is to convince evangelicals and other Christian fundamentalists that their beliefs are based on superstitions”

    I am interested in this too. Did you comment here in the hope of “deconverting” me? (I am not offended if you did, just curious.) Do you mind telling me why you have such a specific goal? Is it very important to you?

    Thanks, Eric

  39. Hi Eric,

    I believe that orthodox/conservative/fundamentalist Christianity has inflicted MASSIVE suffering upon the world for the last 2,000 years. I believe this is due to two orthodox Christian beliefs:

    1. Exclusivism: “We are right, everyone else is wrong, and not only wrong, but evil.”

    2. Those who are wrong/evil must be confronted, converted, or thwarted.

    Millions of human beings have been murdered in the name of Jesus Christ due to these two fundamentalist beliefs. I am a former fundamentalist (first an evangelical, then an LCMS Lutheran). I am atoning for my “sins” by spreading the real truth about the falsity of this exclusivist, arrogant, discriminatory belief system.

    I have no interest in deconverting liberal Christians. If a loving, non-exclusivist Jesus makes you happy and a better person. all power to you!

  40. “Millions of human beings have been murdered in the name of Jesus Christ due to these two fundamentalist beliefs.”

    Hi Gary, where do you get the figure of “millions”? (i.e. what is the evidence for this figure?) How many millions do you mean? How have you determined that it was because of these beliefs (and not others) that this allegedly happened?

  41. Mar 6 at 5:01 PM

    “The stories were handed down from eyewitnesses. The situation was analogous (though obviously not the same) to a newspaper reporter writing what he/she got by talking to eyewitnesses.”

    We have no idea if the authors of the gospels interviewed eyewitnesses or interviewed the associates of associates of associates of “eyewitnesses”. So we have ZERO proof that the authors were eyewitnesses; we have zero proof that the authors interviewed eyewitnesses; we have zero proof that the authors interviewed people who correctly retold the original “eyewitness” story correctly.

  42. “Hi Gary, where do you get the figure of “millions”? (i.e. what is the evidence for this figure?)”

    From the day Emperor Constantine endorsed the position of the proto-orthodox, Christians have been persecuting and killing their opposition. Here are only a few examples:

    1. The killing of pagans who would not convert to Christianity.
    2. The killing of Jews who would not convert.
    3. The Crusades.
    4. The Inquisition.
    5. The Thirty Years War.
    6. The slaughter of English Protestants under “Bloody Mary”.
    7. The slaughter of English Catholics when the Protestants gained power.
    8. The mass slaughter of native peoples in the New World in the name of Christ, both by the Spanish and the English.

    To deny that these crimes were committed due to a belief that “Jesus is the only way” is just as ridiculous. It is no different than someone saying that Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis for their political views and not for being Jewish.

  43. “We have no idea if the authors of the gospels interviewed eyewitnesses or interviewed the associates of associates of associates of “eyewitnesses””

    Hi Gary, are you saying that the historians are wrong to accept significant parts of the gospels as history?

    “To deny that these crimes were committed due to a belief that “Jesus is the only way” is just as ridiculous. “

    So, can you give us your estimates of how many people were killed throughout history by christians, and how many were killed by non-believers in the same timeframe? And can you tell us your criteria for deciding whether the crimes you refer to were caused by religion and irreligion, or by something else?

    Thanks.

  44. Pilate was a Roman prefect, ruling in the first century: historical fact.
    Dozens, maybe hundreds of dead people roamed the streets of Jerusalem when Jesus rose from the dead: fiction.

    It is not a black and white issue. A good historian has to separate historical facts from fiction in any ancient text.

    If you cannot see that the belief in a resurrected Jesus as the one and only true God has caused discrimination, persecution, and killings on a massive scale, I see your position as no different than a Holocaust denier. I am not interested in debating a Holocaust denier.

  45. Correction on last sentence: I am not interested in debating the historicity of the Holocaust as the facts speak for themselves.

  46. “Pilate was a Roman prefect, ruling in the first century: historical fact.”

    And it seems that the majority of scholars conclude a number of aspects about the alleged resurrection of Jesus are also probably historical facts, as we have discussed already. So while that doesn’t constitute “proof” that he really was resurrected, it means it is historically quite reasonable to believe it (contrary to your original comment).

    “belief in a resurrected Jesus as the one and only true God has caused discrimination, persecution, and killings on a massive scale”

    I asked you for your historical evidence and you supplied none. It so happens that I have researched this (see Does religion cause war?) and it seems the historians are not on your side.

    Analysis of the causes of numerous wars throughout history shows that:

    (1) Only about 10% of wars and mass killings have religion as a primary cause (and if you only scored christianity, the percentage would be less).

    (2) Christianity has been associated with wars and killings in the middle ages, but early and modern christianity is generally promoting peace.

    (3) Some aspects of religious belief can support war if another cause is present.

    (4) Non religious regimes (including specifically atheistic ones) have been responsible for more deaths in one century (the 20th) than christianity has in 2 millennia.

    So you see what you so strongly said is not actually based on the evidence. You will find that hard to believe, but I invite you to review the evidence. I wonder whether you will do that and give up that wrong view, or you will hang onto it anyway?

    Of course any killing in the name of religion, or of anything else, is evil, but it seems both religion and atheism can be used by evil regimes to support their causes,

  47. Christianity has not caused great suffering, and, the Holocaust never happened.

    You are under a delusion, my friend.

  48. “And it seems that the majority of scholars conclude a number of aspects about the alleged resurrection of Jesus are also probably historical facts, as we have discussed already. So while that doesn’t constitute “proof” that he really was resurrected, it means it is historically quite reasonable to believe it (contrary to your original comment).”

    This is nonsense. As I have said the majority of NT scholars are Christians; the overwhelming majority of Christians believe in the Resurrection and other acts of magic; therefore to say that because the majority of NT scholars believes that there was a resurrection it must therefore be historical fact, is just as indicative of historical truth as asking scholars of the Book of Mormon if they believe that Joseph Smith was visited by an angel, or asking scholars of the Koran if they believe that Mohammad flew on a winged horse to Jerusalem, and if the majority of these groups agree with the premise, it must be true! You are taking your poll from a biased sample!

    There is NO evidence for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth other than assumptions of what people would and wouldn’t believe in the first century; assumptions about what people would and wouldn’t do in the first century; and second century hearsay.

    That’s it.

    If you have specific evidence, let’s see it. And please do not refer me to someone’s book. You should be able to give the evidence for this alleged historical event yourself, in three paragraphs or less. If you can’t, I have proven my point.

  49. Hi Gary, it is interesting to see how this conversation has developed. You started off very certain of your opposition to christianity, but as I’ve asked you to provide evidence of some of your statements, you haven’t done so. On the matter of the harm christianity has done, you have offered only dogmatic assertion while I have offered the views of quite a few historians and scholars who have studied the question. But you have rejected their evidence, not by offering counter evidence, but simply by saying: “You are under a delusion, my friend.”

    Is this really the way you want to go? Are you really so dogmatic about your opinions that you won’t follow the evidence? How will you ever be able to criticise christianity again with integrity now you know the facts?

    It isn’t too late to allow the evidence to teach you something new. That is what we all should be doing, don’t you think?

    As far as the resurrection is concerned, I have shown you the historical evidence, and you agreed with some of it. It was quite specific, and I was able to summarise it in a few sentences. I haven’t got anything more to add to that. If your decision is to not believe in the resurrection because of that evidence, then I’m not going to argue with you – I’ll just keep pointing to what the historians say and let you make up your own mind.

    Thanks.

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