Evidence of Exceptional Stuff or “How Many People Saw Elvis Alive After He Died?”

Peter and Paul (Roman School circa 1620)

I’ve been listening to a lot of responses to Christian apologetic arguments. I like the people who create these but there is something that bothers me. They tend to demand the same level of evidence for normal matters as they do exceptional matters.

Peter and Paul

Think about the two (reasonably) well-documented post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. (These are well-documented in the Bible; they aren’t documented anywhere else. So we are starting on very favorable ground for the apologists.) Paulogia, for example, responds that one was clearly a vision (Paul) and the other (Peter) could well have been a post-bereavement hallucination.

Fair enough. But suppose you could find some well-documented source stating that all the disciples saw Jesus risen from the dead. Should we believe this?

I would certainly accept that kind of evidence if the claim were something simple, “Jesus walked 150 miles in 5 days.” Okay. That’s a lot but it is certainly plausible. I know that I could do that and that some people can run 150 miles in a day.

I’d need more than that if the claim were, “Jesus flew 150 miles in 5 days.” And that claim is far more reasonable than that Jesus died and came back to life three days later!

Motivated Reasoning

There’s another issue. Peter had an enormous amount to gain from claiming that Jesus had risen from the grave. So did Paul!

But I understand that there is a social aspect of apologist-skeptic dialog. The skeptics don’t want to be seen as dicks. They don’t want to claim that the founders of the Christian religion were charlatans.

The problem with this is that we have so many examples of modern cults starting in exactly this way. It isn’t as simple as people lying. As Upton Sinclair put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

All I’m saying is that it’s easy to convince yourself that you saw Jesus after he died when saying it is paying the bills and getting you invited to all the best suppers.

Or they could have been lying. They could have simply thought that Jesus’ teachings we so important that it made sense to fabricate the resurrection narrative. (Paulogia has suggested just that.)

Did Paul Really Persecute Christians?

One thing I’ve never seen contested is Paul’s claims that he worked for the Romans persecuting Christians before being converted. It isn’t attested to anywhere else. It’s just his claim.

Should we believe him? I doubt it.

I have seen many Christians tell exaggerated or outright false things about their pre-Christian days. Think about Mike Warnke who made a career claiming that he was a Satan Seller.

But he isn’t the only one. I’ve personally known two people who claimed they worshipped Satan when they were younger. It’s nonsense. If there were as many reformed Satanists as claimed, they’d have to be using my office at least part of the time for their orgies and goat sacrifices.

Paul’s story of his past sounds to me very much like stagecraft — a good tool to use to win converts. (And power. Just saying.)

Cults Then and Now

Everything we know about modern cults tells us that they are driven by the desire for power and grown through lies. I really can’t imagine the earliest days of Christianity being all that different from the early days of Heaven’s Gate. And even with the mass suicide, there are still believers in that cult.

Why would we think things would be more reasonable two thousand years ago?


Image via GaryStockbridge617. It is in the public domain.

3 thoughts on “Evidence of Exceptional Stuff or “How Many People Saw Elvis Alive After He Died?”

  1. This is a point made in “The Last Temptation Of Christ.” (A deeply religious movie that was protested by people whose faith is not serious.)

    In it, Christ, dying on the cross, is saved by an angel (or so he thinks). He goes on to have a happy life, get married, raise a family. Eventually, he meets Paul, who is preaching stories of the Resurrection. (Harry Dean Stanton, playing Paul as a kind of Bronze Age televangelist.)

    Jesus tells him, what you’re saying isn’t true. I didn’t die on the cross; an angel saved me.

    Paul’s response is, so what? The Jesus I’m preaching about was crucified and rose again. I don’t need you. Go away.

    As a film buff, you’ll enjoy the final shot. Jesus regrets having taken the easy choice, and returns to Golgotha. He’s transported back in time, to the cross. As he dies in agony, the camera lingers on his smiling face. The film begins flickering and showing sprocket holes, as if to say, “please, easily offended sorts, don’t get too bent out of shape about this. It’s only a movie.” It’s a stunning. The music soars.

    Well, it was an accident! The camera operator had simply not loaded enough film. Hence the sprocket holes. Since Thelma Schoonmaker’s a genius, she convinced Scorsese to leave it in, and Peter Gabriel rose to the occasion with a magnificent film score.

    And, the movie flopped (theaters were scared to show it). But it’s brilliant.

  2. The thing is…

    If you’re very religious, claiming Jesus flew 150 miles in five days is NOT an extraordinary claim

    In fact, it’s fairly trivial

    This is one problem christian apologetics have; they start w/ belief, so they might not grasp the idea that a claim IS in itself extraordinary

    This is similar to using the bible as proof that God is real or that the bible is true. It relies on a belief framework that they do not even think to question

    As an atheist, I’d be more smug about this, but I’ve seen us atheists make the same mistake

    • Yes, atheists can do that. “When they reach for the Bible, we reach for our copy of” (insert name of science book here, likely from a science we’re not especially knowledgeable about).

      The main problem with Jesus flying 150 miles in five days is the Bible doesn’t say that. So it’s implied how, if he wanted to he could, being part of a triumvirate God and such. Quite astonishing, yet little more so than “A Brief History Of Time,” also a bestseller.

      Although Hawking never called for the banning of people without wheelchairs… or people needing wheelchairs who dumped their wife for their nurse. (Of all his amazing accomplishments, that’s the one which floors me most… how he managed to have an extramarital affair, in his incredibly difficult condition! But, very smart man. He must have figured out a method.)

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