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Posted on May 8, 2013 in arguments, critical thinking, epistemology, philosophy, responding to arguments | 11 comments

‘People would not be willing to die for a lie!’

http://gatherer.wizards.com/

http://gatherer.wizards.com/

Another more sophisticated argument – although less sophisticated than presuppositional apologetics – I heard during my protest of the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania “Circle the Square with Prayer” event was that belief in God is justified because apostles and other first century martyrs were willing to die rather than renounce their belief in the resurrection of Jesus. The battlecry of the Christian apologist is “People would not be willing to die for a lie!

Assume that people were martyred – unwilling to renounce their belief in the resurrection of Jesus (if you believe otherwise or would like to talk about historical facts, feel free to comment below).

I am willing to, for sake of argument, grant the Christian apologist the assumption that people were martyred while unwilling to relinquish belief in the resurrection of Jesus. As we shall see, granting this premise will not make life more difficult for atheists prepared to refute Christian apologetics. Rather than disputing historical claims, an atheist may accept the assumption and instead focus on epistemological concerns.

The fact that a person is willing to die and unwilling to relinquish a belief says nothing about the belief’s truth value, but rather points to strength of conviction (or how foolish someone may be). A person who, for instance, really believes they will go to Heaven if martyred may be unwilling to renounce belief in God…but this does not make the belief in Heaven or God justified.

What about other religious beliefs? If belief in the Christian god can be justified because someone was willing to die while holding a Christian belief, would not this thought process be applied globally?

If it is the case that we ought to believe something because people are — on pain of death — unwilling to renounce a belief (or otherwise are ‘willing to die for a belief), we would be forced to accept any given religious belief – many of which are contradictory. Consider ardent religious individuals throughout history who have gone to war because they believe they have received messages from gods. Consider religiously motivated suicide bombers. Consider willing victims of ‘honor killings.’ Consider people who have sacrificed themselves to appease gods.

If we were to accept belief in the resurrection of Jesus because people were willing to die rather than renounce their belief in the resurrection of Jesus, why should we not also accept — using the same epistemology proposed by Christians – conclusions of other religious believers who were willing to die because of their beliefs? Why privilege one religious conclusion over others? Should we also be justified in believing there is no god because atheists would be unwilling to believe in any gods upon pain of death?

The throwaway assertion, that people would not die for a lie, is additionally suspect. People may not be willing to die in order to defend a belief they know is false, but they will die to defend a proposition they believe is true – regardless of whether the proposition is true or not.

Believing in a conclusion due to people willing to die because they hold a religious belief is not a reliable means to attaining truth. Willingness to die does not translate to truth of a proposition, but rather shows how ardent an individual is. Additionally, if we were to believe a supernatural conclusion because someone would be willing to die with the belief, we would be forced to accept contradictory beliefs. Another poor argument is tossed in the trash.

As always, feel free to leave comments below.

  • qbsmd

    I’ve heard this one, and think I replied with “so suicide bombers are evidence for Islam them?”.

    But I think the hypotheses being compared are actually H1=”apostles met the historical Jesus and spread his teachings because they believed in him” and H2=”apostles invented Jesus and spread teachings attributed to him for unknown reasons”. In this case, the two hypotheses both involve the apostles having absolute knowledge about Jesus, and the claim that martyred apostles fits H1 better than H2 is probably valid.

    The problem is that H2 is a strawman because no one has argued that the apostles invented Jesus then died rather than admit it. The “sophisticated” using this argument just prefer to battle that strawman than the more likely hypotheses H3=”apostles never met Jesus, but were taught about him through a pre-existing tradition”, H4=”apostles and their stories were invented along with Jesus”, or H5=”apostles were historical but stories about them being martyred were invented”.

    • Ana

      Or H6=”apostles believed that Old Testament prophecies foretold Jesus’s ressurection, so they strongly believed it and deluded themselves, and were willing to die for it, like Heaven’s Gate cult”

    • Divine revelation seems to be the assumption here. The apostles believed that Jesus sent divine messages. Muslims who engage in suicide bombing may claim that a messenger from Allah appeared in a dream, that the Koran is itself a divine revelation…

      • qbsmd

        I reject the label of “sophisticated” for anyone who claims divine revelation is a good argument for them but not everyone else. It’s simply special pleading.

        The interpretation of the argument I phrased at least has a seed of rationality in it; it just suffers from a lack of imagination of possibilities.

        It looks analogous to CS Lewis’s lunatic, liar or lord trilema which ignores the possibility that Jesus was a mythological character who was later added to history, or an historical figure who later had mythological elements added to his biography.

  • peter

    “The throwaway assertion, that people would not die for a lie, is
    additionally suspect. People may not be willing to die in order to
    defend a belief they know is false, but they will die to defend a
    proposition they believe is true – regardless of whether the proposition
    is true or not.”

    What about the SS officers who had no hesitation to sacrifice themselves for the Truth of Nazism: that the Deutsches Volk had a historical role to spread their idea and power worldwide, the belief by Israeli settlers that Palestinians are vermin and sacrifice themselves to kill as many as possible, the belief of north Koreans in the godlike nature of their leaders – and they starve for that belief. They die not for a lie, they die for what they perceive an unalterable truth.

    • Yes, this is my point here – that because people believe a proposition to be true does not mean the proposition is true (or false).

  • MosesZD

    People die for lies all the time. Any Christian knows that a Muslim Suicide Bomber isn’t going to heaven and get a bunch of virgins:

    ‘[There is] a palace of pearls in Paradise and in it seventy courts of ruby… And in each court [there are] seventy houses of green emerald stone. In every house, seventy beds. On every bed, seventy mattresses of every color and on every mattress a woman.’ (Hadith)

    Only three groups of people dwell there: Prophets, Righteous and Shahids (Martyrs for Allah).”

    And here’s a little, short film clip on it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zb326lP5RPg&feature=player_embedded

    • peter

      “Any Christian knows that a Muslim Suicide Bomber isn’t going to heaven and get a bunch of virgins”

      And any atheist knows that the heavens the Christian aspires to does also not exist, neither does a throne daddy sits beside little jesus.

  • John Huey

    Heaven’s Gate. Nuff said.

  • ncovington89

    I’ve written before that I think at least a few of the disciples probably hallucinated Jesus after his death. If that is the case, as it almost certainly is, then that means the disciples would have genuinely believed even though the resurrection was false.