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Posted by on Jan 12, 2014 in Atheism, Christianity, Jesus, Resurrection | 13 comments

Body of Jesus discovered!

 

This is not an article claiming that Jesus’ body has been discovered.  But imagine if it was.  How would you react to the announcement that a team of archaeologists had discovered the body of Jesus Christ?

I know how I’d react.  There are a million good reasons to be highly skeptical of such a claim, and I hardly think it necessary to list them, but here are a few that spring to my mind:

  1. We have no idea what Jesus actually looked like.
  2. Even if we did somehow know what Jesus looked like, we couldn’t know that the remains we had looked like that.
  3. Even if we did somehow know the remains belonged to a person who looked just like Jesus, it might have just been a doppelganger.

As well as all that, dating methods are surely not accurate enough to know that the remains belonged to a person who died around 30AD and not, say, 10 years later.  Even if a sign was discovered next to the body saying “This is Jesus of Nazareth, who was buried here on Easter day, 30AD”, you would be pretty naive to take it as conclusive proof – anyone could have written such a sign.  The only thing we really know about Jesus’ body is that he was crucified, but so were loads of people in that time.  Even if remains were found of a body that had clearly been crucified, and dated to about the right time, there would be no reason to suppose it was Jesus.

The truth is that even if Jesus’ body really was discovered, it would be pretty much impossible to reliably conclude it was him.  I definitely wouldn’t believe it, and I certainly wouldn’t expect any Christian to believe it.

So what?

Right, so what’s the big deal?  Well, a friend of mine shared a blog by Robin Schumacher, entitled What Would Change Your Mind about Christianity?.  Go and have a read if you like.  Robin speaks of an important question he has asked many non-Christians:

If I’ve asked it once of a skeptic, I’ve asked it a hundred times – what would it take to change your mind so that you become a Christian? I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten an honest and direct answer. Instead, I’ve gotten smiles, flippant statements of seeing a thousand-foot Jesus, and assertions that there is no evidence for Christianity (with acute attempts at avoiding what constitutes “evidence” for them).

For the Christian, it’s easy to say what would evidentially crater our faith and worldview. But for many skeptics, there almost seems to be a deliberate attempt to not take the question seriously, which is unfortunate.

So, what is it that would “crater [the Christian's] faith and worldview”?  In an earlier section, entitled The Single Torpedo Needed to Destroy Christianity, we read (with my emphasis added):

For Christians, there is only one piece of evidence needed to convert every church into a vacant building and stop printers from producing additional copies of the New Testament. Find the body of that Jewish carpenter, and Christianity is undone.

Yes, it really is that simple. And really that hard.

Well, as I’ve discussed above, I doubt it would be possible to reasonably convince anybody – even a staunch skeptic of Christianity – that “the body of that Jewish carpenter” had really been found.  So, even though Robin seems to think it is the non-Christian being evasive (and I’ll get to this claim later), it seems to me that it really is him giving an impossible answer.  It’s practically the same as me saying “I’ll become a Christian if God appears to me and proves that 1+1=3″.

What would it take to change my mind?

So let me take Robin’s question seriously:

[W]hat would it take to change your mind so that you become a Christian?

Well, first, of course, I’d like to see some evidence that Christianity is true.  To answer Robin’s concern, I don’t really know the best way to define “evidence”, but that doesn’t stop me from accepting various other things based on what I’d intuitively think of as evidence.  I’d like to be presented with something that ought to convince me.  I can’t say in advance precisely what would be the minimum that would convince me, but I can certainly dream up plenty of things that Robin and other Christians would have to admit are within the realms of possibility for the Christian God.  Here are a few:

  1. I meet a man who claims to be Jesus, and he then caused the Pacific Ocean to part (like Moses is said to have done in the book of Exodus).
  2. While I’m staring at the sky at night, I see the stars move themselves so that they form the words “Christianity is true”.
  3. A legitimate scientific study shows that prayer actually works.
  4. Amputees grow back limbs as a result of prayer.
  5. I hear a message directly from God as a booming voice from Heaven.
  6. A really solid case for the resurrection is made, and loads of critical biblical scholars, historians, philosophers and leaders of other religions convert to Christianity.

I could think of many many more such situations, and I’d be happy to give Yes/No answers to questions like “Would you believe if…?”.

I’m not saying that these kinds of things are required before I would be convinced – I’m just saying that they are among some of the things that would do the trick.  In other words, I’m saying they are sufficient conditions for me to believe, though they are not necessary conditions.  It is my opinion that when people ask questions like Robin’s, they are often thinking in terms of necessary conditions (“what would you need to be convinced?”), whereas people typically answer it in terms of sufficient conditions (“well X,Y,Z would do the trick”).  I think the wording of the question could support both the following interpretations:

  1. What would be necessary for you to believe in Christianity?
  2. What would be sufficient for you to believe in Christianity?

While I feel I can give plenty of answers to the second one (such as those above, and many more), I don’t know where to begin with the first one.  Surely it would be foolish of me to say “I’d need to see Jesus part the Pacific Ocean”, because then what would happen if this never occured, but I did see the stars in the sky tell me that Christianity is true?  Should I still continue to disbelieve because I hadn’t seen the ocean part?  Surely not.

So I can’t give any necessary condition for me to believe in Christianity other than the fairly vague (but perfectly honest) answer of:  Some good evidence, whatever that might turn out to be.  I think it is much wiser to evaluate the evidence that is actually available to me, rather than specify the type of evidence that I’d need in order to be convinced.  By way of analogy, I can’t say what evidence I’d require in order to accept String Theory, but I could certainly evaluate any evidence that was put forward in its favour.

And the crucial thing for me is that, at the moment, I don’t consider that I have any good evidence to believe in Christianity.  It’s as simple as that.

What DID it take to change my mind?

But, interestingly, I have changed my mind.

No, I haven’t changed my mind to become a Christian.  Rather, about three years ago, I changed my mind and became a non-Christian.  I had been a Christian for nearly 18 years (or 30 years, if you count my “pre-born-again” years where I still believed that Christianity was true).  And, although I had never seriously attempted to give (necessary or sufficient) conditions under which I would become a non-Christian, I came to consider that there were good reasons for doing so.  It would take me miles away from the main point of this post to flesh out these reasons so, for now, I’ll just briefly list some of them:

  1. None of the philosophical arguments for the existence of God could (in my opinion) withstand my critical scrutiny,
  2. The historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus could not (in my opinion) withstand my critical scrutiny,
  3. I had not seen any convincing cases for Christianity made by any of the apologists I read,
  4. I had caught several apologists distorting the truth, sometimes even fabricating it altogether, and
  5. my personal religious experiences could, in theory at least, be explained by psychology.

Although the fourth point doesn’t rank as one of the most important points against Christianity (since it counts directly against proponents of Christianity, rather than Christianity itself), it was one of the things that helped to wake me up in the first place.  Interestingly, one of the works of Christian apologetics that I read during that time, and found to be entirely unsatisfactory, was written by Josh McDowell, who features prominently in Robin’s blog.

I was a strong believer for many years, and I was also a fairly outspoken apologist for my faith.  I remember debating a cousin of mine, an atheist, about the reliability of the Gospels.  And I remember my arguments were not doing so well.  I decided it was time to refresh my knowledge of the apologetics works I had read in the past, and I did so with the view to finding arguments that couldn’t be honestly refuted.  To cut a long story short (and save it for another day), I emerged from that research convinced that I had not seen any good arguments for Christianity.  Keep in mind that this was all done while only reading Christian sources, and with absolutely no desire whatsoever to change my mind about the truth of Christianity, which I firmly believed in.

This of course did not immediately lead me to believe that Christianity was not true.  But it did cause me to accept that I now believed Christianity was true even though I didn’t have anything I could call a good reason for believing.  And this made me a bit uncomfortable, to put it mildly.  What other things did I believe with that much conviction, even though I knew I had no good reason to believe them?  And what would I do if I discovered that such a belief was entirely unsupported?  Then and there, I decided that I would have to do some much more serious research.  Over the ensuing months, I devoured Christian and non-Christian books, watched dozens of lectures and debates, participated in plenty of debates myself, and eventually came to the conclusion that there really was no reason to believe Christianity was true.

That’s what it took to change my mind.

What would it take to change YOUR mind?

So let me now ask Robin’s question to my readers, both believers and non-believers:

What would it take to change your mind?

I’m particularly interested in hearing Christians offer a better answer than the one given by Robin.  If it was granted that Jesus’ body could never be positively identified, is there any other way you could imagine changing your mind about the truth of Christianity?

In light of the limitations I’ve discussed above, the above question should probably be taken somewhat rhetorically, and it should really just stand as an exhortation to do some serious thinking about your beliefs and assumptions, and the reasons you have for holding them.  Maybe you’ve done such serious thinking – I’m sure many or even most of my readers have.  But if you haven’t, it might be fun to give it a try.  If you’re interested in doing so, but don’t want to devote huge slabs of your time to reading lengthy books, here are a few debates you could watch to get you started, featuring top scholars on both sides of the argument:

  • kraut2

    If there actually was conclusive evidence that christianity and its basis, the OT where true and god existed I would commit suicide immediately to enter hell which is run by Lucifer, the light bringer and adversary of this severely emotionally crippled entity.

    I could not stand to have to accept a god that is capricious, vindictive, cruel, who plays with physical evidence that leads us to accept an old earth, that creates the morality of slave owners, adores rape and pillage for his sake, manages to contrive to play the theatrics of “killing” his own son after having had to admit that in all his power he was too stupid to create something perfect and tries to remedy the fuckup with a blood sacrifice, that is misogynistic, spiteful, violent, etc. etc, who claims to be perfect, omniscient, omnipotent, gracious, benevolent (until you cross him) despite the missing logic and contrary evidence. No, better dead and in the promised hell for the unbeliever than have to accept this “creator” who is a deceiver and far from being worthy of adoration – by the texts of his own holy book and the evidence of several thousand years of earth history – as the well spring of being.

    Lucifer has to be better, compassionate and knowing the human condition, as he is the one who had seen through the hollowness of the abrahamic super natural entity’s claim and had to suffer his wrath – according to the story.

    Les Litanies De Satan as written by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)

    O thou, of Angels loveliest, most wise,
    O God betrayed by fate, deprived of praise,

    Satan, have mercy on my long distress!

    O Prince of exile, who was dispossessed,
    Who ever rises stronger when oppressed,

    Satan, have mercy on my long distress!

    O thou who knowest all, Hell’s sovereign
    Known healer of mankind’s afflictions,

    Satan, have mercy on my long distress!

    Thou who the lepers and pariahs doomed
    Show out of love the Paradise to come,

    Satan, have mercy on my long distress!

    Thou who in Death, your mistress old and strong,
    Breeds Hope – delightful aberration!

    Satan, have mercy on my long distress!

    Thou who dost give the outlaw the proud glance
    Which damns the crowd who watch his sufferance,

    Satan, have mercy on my long distress!

    Thou who dost know where greedy earth enfolds
    The precious stones a jealous God concealed,

    Satan, have mercy on my long distress!

    Thou whose clear eye knows the deep sepulchers
    Where multitudes of metals lie interred,

    Satan, have mercy on my long distress!

    Thou whose great hand conceals the precipice
    From the somnambulist whom roofs entice,

    Satan, have mercy on my long distress!

    Thou who by magic softens the old bones
    Of loitering drinks by horses trampled down,

    Satan, have mercy on my long distress!

    Thou who, consoling frail mankind in pain,
    Taught us to make our guns and gun-cotton,

    Satan, have mercy on my long distress!

    Thou who didst set thy mark, accomplice skilled,
    Upon the heart of Croesus harsh and vile,

    Satan, have mercy on my long distress!

    Thou who put into women’s hearts and eyes
    The cult of wounds, the love of poverty,

    Satan, have mercy on my long distress!

    Staff of the exile and discoverer,
    Confessor of condemned conspirator,

    Satan, have mercy on my long distress!

    Father to those whom in his sombre wrath
    God drove from his Paradise on earth,

    Satan, have mercy on my long distress!

    • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless Reasonably Faithless

      I don’t think I’d ever again believe in any kind of Christianity in which the OT can be taken too seriously. Many liberal Christians see the Bible as far from a literal and reliable source of information about God, but, rather, the writings of people who grappled with the idea, and injected the texts with their own (sometimes highly immoral) views.

  • Ruth Mawbey

    I would have to agree Reasonably Faithless that having someone find the body of Jesus would not change my faith in God at all, for all the reasons you have already pointed out. Too much time has passed for there to be any certainty about any remains found. I think realistically, what would turn me away from God would be, similar to you, absolute proof that God has acted in a way that goes against His character as portrayed in the Bible. Regardless of proof positive that the Bible is accurate and true, the Bible is a narrative that shows how God interacts with certain people over a period of time. Through this interaction God’s character is shown. A deviation from this character would prove that the God of the Bible doesn’t exist.

    • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless Reasonably Faithless

      absolute proof that God has acted in a way that goes against His character as portrayed in the Bible

      When you say this, do you mean that you’d still think that God existed, but s/he just wasn’t the God of the Bible?

      Also, Joe makes a good point. It seems very hard to pick a consistent “character of God as portrayed in the Bible”. Can you give a specific example of something that could conceivably happen that would cause you to abandon Christianity? I don’t mean you have to say you think such a thing is likely.

  • Joe Padgen

    Ruth

    I am curious what you believe would go against his character as portrayed by the bible? As Jesus in the NT, he feeds and heals a few people, but in the OT, he is pretty much a petty, jealous, murdering attention seeker. I see that with many Christians in that they seem to concentrate on the nice Jesus and the idea of peace, love, and heaven and ignore the OT guy.

    • josh

      Also ignoring the less peacy-lovey Jesus of the NT who tells people to pluck out their eyes rather than think lustful thoughts, sell cloaks to buy swords and abandon their families because all the unrighteous are going to burn burn burn!

  • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

    I honestly don’t know what would change my mind and convince me that Christianity was true… but do you know who would know? God! If God exists, he would know what would convince me. He would have the power to convince me and he would have the desire to convince me. So why am I still unconvinced? That to me is strong evidence that God does not exist and that Christianity is a sham.

    • brad lencioni

      Yes, if God is defined as a maximally (or infinitely) powerful and perfect being who commands that His existence (and not some other false idol!!!) be acknowledged and worshiped, then I think it logically follows that a maximal amount of perfect qualitative evidence ought to exist. In such a hypothetical universe, it would seem that one would have to adopt the most extreme form of Cartesian skepticism to deny God’s existence. But this is not true of our universe–the evidence for the Judeo-Christian God is quite awful, and many very rational people reason that any fundamental truth about Christianity is rather implausible. Therefore…I like your Dangerous Talk.

      • brad lencioni

        I might add that though I find Swinburne a respectable theist, his response that such awesome evidence would inhibit our free-willed decision to love God is bogus. For I think it then ultimately follows for Swinburne that one necessarily cannot reliably reason about God, that one must adopt the irrational interpretation of ‘faith’ which I posed, and the whole project is sunk…

        • http://www.skepticink.com/reasonablyfaithless Reasonably Faithless

          Thanks for your thoughts, guys. I also find that defense (that free will would be violated if it was too obvious that God existed, etc) very poor. Did the disciples have their free will violated when they saw Jesus feeding 5000 people with tiny amounts of food, or when they saw him resurrected? Did the Israelites have their free will violated when they saw Moses part the sea? These kinds of arguments seem to ignore other beliefs – it’s like zooming in on a tiny aspect of a problem and attempting to patch it up with something that creates a massive problem somewhere else.

  • http://www.skepticink.com/tippling/ Jonathan MS Pearce

    I would treat it as I do now, in a Bayesian manner. To get over the extraordinarily low prior probability (not to mention philosophy of religion) you would have to have extraordinarily strong evidence, and this would not send it over the threshold of qualifying for that.

  • brad lencioni

    Very interesting and well said, RF. I agree with all your points. To put in my two-cents, I would add that these kinds of questions are commonly posed in a fallacious way. I.e. they are posed as a challenge to unbelievers where the burden of proof is confused and one is made to appear as an irrational dogmatist if he cannot answer it. But this does not follow. I think “I don’t know” is a perfectly legitimate answer. The burden is on the theorist making the claims to knowledge to provide (a) proper definitions, (b) valid methods of investigation, and (c) his evidence. If this cannot be done, then the unbeliever is not irrational, but the hypothesis is likely illdefined and not worthy of being considered “knowledge”.

    In brief, I might also add two more points in an attempt to provide a positive answer your question:

    (1) Either prove false all the relevant work of modern neuro/cognitive science, or demonstrate what a soul is and how it functions in a way consistent with the relevant evidence (e.g. of split-brain patients).

    The evidence of modern neuroscience and cognitive psychology supports that the many aspects of conscious thought are not the product of a holistic and ontologically fundamental (supernatural) entity, but rather emergent properties of complex computational (biological) networks. And this undermines the whole religious metaphysic from the get-go–which makes such ideologies highly unlikely to my mind.

    Second, “Faith” seems to be a necessary component to Christian belief. So I would add:

    (2) Given that a propositions truth is properly valuated through reason–namely logic (and usually in degrees of probability)–and that ones confidence in the truth of a proposition is dictated by, in that it ought to correspond with, ones rational evaluation of a propositions truth: provide a non-redundant function which faith serves other than one resulting in irrational, cognitive vice.

    It seems to me that ‘faith’ is a confusing folk term with many connotations, and either it is–on its best interpretation–superfluous, or it is an irrational cognitive bias. (And its common use is not a logically superfluous one.)

  • brad lencioni

    Robin Schumacher: “For the Christian, it’s easy to say what would evidentially crater our faith and worldview. But for many skeptics, there almost seems to be a deliberate attempt to not take the question seriously, which is unfortunate.”

    Here is a very good reason (which I just came across and thought I must share) for why skeptics do not take the question seriously. It comes from W.L. Craig himself:

    “…you’ve confused the counterfactual claim that if the bones of Jesus were to be discovered, then Christianity would be falsified with the quite different claim that if we were to find bones which are purported to be those of Jesus, then we might have sufficient evidence to falsify Christianity. I do deny that latter claim because, given the witness of the Spirit, no such evidence could be forthcoming. But obviously, there’s no inconsistency there at all.

    So, yes, if the bones of Jesus were to be found, then he did not rise and Christianity would be false; but given the Spirit’s witness we will never be justified in thinking that any bones discovered were those of Jesus. You may disagree with this view, but there’s no contradiction.”

    No evidence can falsify a Christian like Craig’s conviction nor change his mind. So, conversely, why should any rational person take seriously or rationally engage such a person and their claims?

    Read more: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/witness-of-the-holy-spirit-and-defeasibility-of-christian-belief#ixzz2tp0rEuvl