e-mail: j ordantheist
Miracle 1: an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs 2: an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment (Webster’s 9th New Collegiate Dictionary)
"However if you just wish to lay out the details of what convinced you at the time of your conversion, rather than respond in detail to my essay and resources (which is rather a lot to ask), then that information, rather than what you have subsequently learnt, would be of interest to see the quality of the argument that convinced you at the time you became a Christian. What you have learnt subsequently could always be put up as a rebuttal to me if you wish to do so when you have time."
Reply: A brief commentary on the material you presented follows. My primary concerns are brevity and organization for the readers’ ease of understanding.
"I occasionally lurk (but never post) on news: alt.bible.errancy and have seen Farrell Till say he is very keen for you to discuss your resurrection evidence there."
Reply: I provided Till and his list subscribers links to my works, inviting them to e-mail me with comments, arguments, etc. My position and rules of engagement follow and are posted at my site http://www.theism.net/authors/Zjordan. Further, J. P. Holding already has explored Till’s sect of atheism. See:
Who's Minding the Till? (Reply to Jury Chapter 1)
Till We Meet Again, Redux Jeremiah and Skeptical Chauvinism
Till We Meet Again, Trey Or, Bubbles From a Dying Fish
Till We Meet Again, IV Or, the Further Trials and Travails of the Baloney King with
Addendum on sources.
Methinks We Smell a Weasel Or, Watchin' the Farrell Feathers Fly - Till responds to our
counter-challenge with the usual obfuscations.
Doo-doo and Deuteronomy Or, A Weasel Out of Time
"Also I really just initially enquired to find out why you converted, not to debate, and as such I will be very interested in learning the details of what convinced you about the resurrection."
Reply: Steve read my article Birth and Death of an Atheist (http://www.theism.net/authors/zjordan/docs_files/birth_files/02birth.htm). What is unclear about the following points I presented regarding my reasoning?
(The omitted items addressed different issues.)
7. I reject the idea the apostles allowed themselves to be persecuted over something they knew to be false. I also reject that the apostles and the 500 witnesses to His ascension into Heaven experienced joint hallucinations. Science has yet to prove such hallucinations are possible. The apostles had everything to lose by practicing their faith and nothing to gain. . . The disciples were neither cultists nor kamikaze styled religious fanatics, for they were steadfast over something they personally witnessed.
8. If Jesus and His apostles (authors of the New Testament) existed and were truthful, the empty tomb is beyond secular explanation. If Jesus and His disciples did not exist, who wrote the New Testament and why? I reject that some loonies wrote it, then ignoramuses followed their insanity for 2000 years. . .
In the beginning, I rejected Jesus’ existence entirely, a minority view even among the atheists of whom I am aware. Eventually, I conceded it was arrogant of me to claim superior knowledge over the large majority of scholars who, regardless of theistic or non-theistic leanings, have dedicated their careers to researching Jesus and have concluded that Jesus existed. After I accepted Christ’s human historicity, I questioned the interpretation of that life and death. At that time, I did not have the benefit of the resources I present in this response.
Initially, former U.S. Representative Pat Swindall sparked my curiosity. During my first lunch with him, he asked me, point-blank, to present in a single statement why I rejected Christianity. I explained that Christianity rested on the Resurrection. He agreed. I expressed my rejection of it, explaining I just plain did not buy it—period. He presented that his legal background made it clear to him that if the Resurrection were brought to trial, a court would rule in its favor. I found that claim bizarre. As I pondered his claim over the following months, unanswered questions surfaced. (I later encountered Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, which documents legal, historical, and archeological evidence that if the Resurrection were brought to trial, a court would rule in its favor.)
Secular explanations disputing Christ’s divinity required I accept numerous scientific and historical improbabilities. The scientific principle of parsimony (Occam’s razor) asserts that the best explanation for a set of facts is the simplest one. I would have to apply the notion that "highly improbable" translates into "impossible" equally to the swoon, twin, dog-and-bird-eating, legend-developing, joint-hallucinations, martyrdom-of- hoaxers, etc., explanations of the Resurrection account. All of those explanations are "an extremely outstanding or unusual event, thing, or accomplishment" in themselves. To combine any or all of them is yet another miracle.
Skeptics who value science often refer to the Resurrection as a matter of faith (in its veracity) and impossibility (of its veracity). Yet scientists reject the idea of "impossibility." Skeptics who truly value truth and science should refer to the Resurrection not as impossible but highly improbable. Christians, I thought, who truly value truth and science would do the same. Who, I wondered, is on steadier ground: the Christian with the parsimonious explanation, or the skeptic with the convoluted explanation?
I wondered whether one of the sides employs a double standard. To reject the Resurrection, I would have to accept a conglomerate of highly improbable events, thereby accepting a set of miracles over one miracle, the Resurrection. Then I would have to add yet another "extremely outstanding or unusual event:" The Jesus legend developed centuries faster than historians have encountered in any other historical figure. Consider non-Christian historian A.N. Sherwin-White’s observation that two generations is too short a span for legend to erase factuality. After considerable pondering, I acquiesced to the most plausible explanation of the facts: Jesus resurrected.
Ultimately, I admitted to myself that if I embraced atheism's extreme anomalies, it would be to shape them into my atheistic belief system. You queried whether persons must possess my intelligence to believe. (Thanks for the compliment, by the way). No, anyone can understand the points presented in my position below.
I struggled over my self-honesty because I perceived that embracing the faith would compromise my values and ethics inasmuch as condoning the Catholic Inquisitions; English Crusades; colonial American witch burning and massacring of innocent American Indians; Spanish conquistadors; female subjugation; hatred of homosexuals; and on and on. Through my newly unbiased reading of the New Testament, I discovered that such "Christian" atrocities belied and defied Christ’s teachings.
Understand, however, that Christ's "goodness" or "badness" is irrelevant to His divinity or non-divinity. That is the nuts-and-bolts of the matter. The good news is that those who follow Him, instead of bigoted and manipulative religious leaders, love others unconditionally.
Nearly all New Testament scholars, regardless of their theological leanings, agree:
a. Jesus Christ existed.
b. He faced crucifixion.
c. By Godly hook, earthly crook, or whatever, there is no body.
d. Jesus' followers saw SOMETHING they believed to be a risen Jesus.
An empty tomb and convinced followers do not a resurrection make. Therefore, I ask the skeptic to outline the rest of the story. Joint hallucinations: Where is the psychological evidence? Persecution of persons who knew they had asserted lies. Where is the psychological evidence? Legends formed in decades, not centuries: What of historians’ criteria regarding legends?
Theistic, non-theistic, and anti-theistic scholars agree on the above points. Who amongst us possesses greatest insight? As for me, I rejected:
a. Christ is a myth. (Divine or human, He existed.)
b. His disciples experienced joint hallucinations. (Science does not support that.)
c. His disciples endured persecution and death over their own hoax. (Science does not support that.)
d. Jesus survived the crucifixion and appeared healthy enough to convince His followers that He had risen from the dead.
e. The Christ story is the only in history to have become legendary in a time span of decades rather than centuries.
f. Paul was a fanatic who spawned a church resulting from his delusions.
g. Apparent Gospel contradictions make the event not so. (If they matched exactly, they would be accused of conspiring.)
h. Recent archaeological discoveries supporting the Gospel accounts are irrelevant.
i. Secular documents (corroborating the Gospel accounts) are irrelevant.
I have presented "New Testament scholars." Scholars are individuals whose works are read, used, and learned from by academia, not pop readership. Also, they are fully studied in the archaeology, languages, anthropology, and history pertaining to New Testament times. By these criteria, Dan Barker, Pat Robertson, Josh McDowell, and Madalyn O’Hair are not New Testament scholars, unlike William Lane Craig (Christian) and Gerd Lüdemann (non-Christian), with whom colleagues of various theistic persuasions agree regarding the above four points. Anyone arrogant enough to claim superior knowledge to the scholars hails from an interesting breed indeed.
Some even assert that no historical Christ figure ever existed. J. P. Holding astutely summed up scholarship and "Christ-mythers." See Holdings’s response (http://www.tektonics.org/JPH_WWW.html) to G. A. Wells: Wells Without Water (Psychological Buffoonery from the Master of the Christ-Myth):
(Paraphrased for brevity):
Being a Christ-myther requires assuming that one is far wiser, better informed, and smarter than the myriad of scholars who have concluded that Jesus lived, was crucified, and was believed to be seen again. Being a Christ-myther further requires assuming that those who disagree are simply too blind, biased, or ignorant to appreciate the Christ-myther’s genius.
"The Christ-myther must therefore defend himself with all of the standard psycho-manipulations and tricks available. They must deal with evidence quickly, and uncritically, lest the few readers who do admire their work stop for a moment to ponder whether the emperor indeed wears any clothes."
[NOTE: G. A. Wells has since accepted Christ's historicity.]
Other "experts" acknowledge Christ's
historical existence but creatively deny His divinity. ABC Television's Peter
Jennings Reporting: The Search for Jesus (
A viewer queried one of the three non-Jesus Seminar experts, Paula Fredriksen.
Q2. Submitted by E.L. Van Laningham (http://www.beliefnet.com/story/31/story_3135_1.html#fredq2):
"I appreciated the program very much. It seemed, that your answers were edited to 'sound bites.' Which of your answers that appeared on the final edit would you like to be able to expand for our benefit and your personal satisfaction?"
A2. "Smart question. I was very distressed by the way I was edited so that it sounded as if N.T. Wright [Jesus Seminarian Marcus Borg's co-author on The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions] and I agreed on fundamental points when we, in fact, disagree energetically."
ABC supported my position that Christ existed; faced crucifixion; the body was missing; and the followers saw something they believed to be a risen Christ. Why, though, would ABC choose to rely so heavily on the questionable scholarship of the Jesus Seminar, to the virtual exclusion of established scholars of varying theologies? A reasonable person can conclude that ABC did so to penumbrally propagate an agenda.
Rules of Engagement
Non-Christians are welcome to challenge my position. The rules of engagement follow:
1. Stick with the Resurrection. It is pivotal.
3. Do not criticize my referenced material you have not read in its entirety.
4. Avoid ad hominem (personal) and red herring (diversionary) tactics.
5. Do not apply a double standard. Apply the same rules of measure to all positions.
About Steve’s Approach
Steve displays his education well (not arrogantly). He asks whether Christians must be intelligent to understand Christianity. Well, Steve missed the "forest for the trees." Steve claims that I offer traditional conservative apologetics that have been challenged. Yet Steve offers traditional atheistic apologetics that have been challenged. Considering both positions have been challenged, let us consider the validity of these opposing arguments at their earliest element, which lies in New Testament scholarship.
Steve values the
"So yes, we are saying with Bishop John Robinson that God is not a metaphysical entity ‘out there’."
An atheist by any other name is still an atheist.
These fallen clergypersons have embraced atheism in a pleasing, comforting manner. Are they theological sages? Well, apparently there is no God because some clergy fell away. Likewise, then, the fact that other atheists and I have fallen away demonstrates the falsity of atheism. Perhaps a criterion other than the tenacity of adherents (whether to Christianity or atheism) is needed.
Personally, my evaluation of the facts lies outside whether one Catholic priest, the Pope, or one thousand Protestant ministers have fallen away. I invite any of them to address the points presented above, sparing readers the outdated atheist apologetics that Christ’s crucifixion is a myth because (a) the Romans only tied, not nailed, victims; and (b) Romans denied burial to crucified Jews. Archaeological evidence reveals otherwise (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/jesus/crucifixion.html).
Regarding Our Readers
I consider it crucial for our readers that we provide references and links as they arise in this exchange. Bear in mind, however, most persons do not have time to read the exhaustive material. It is important we make our points on our pages. Therefore, I include direct quotations of pertinent statements along with corresponding site links.
Steve approached me questioning how I (with my atheist-organizations background) determined the Resurrection is factual. Let us stick to that issue. Please correct me where I am wrong. If someone opposes my starting point, "Nearly all New Testament scholars. . .," why? If someone agrees it is an appropriate starting point but thinks my claims of scholars' agreement is wrong, why?
One correction for the record to note is that Steve made me out a homophobe. Nowhere in my writings have I expressed a fear of or hatred towards homosexuals. In fact, I made a clear case for legalizing their sexuality. Indeed, I did present that homosexuality is sinful. That does not mean I think homosexuals should be jailed, harassed, etc. My writings make it clear that I am staunchly libertarian and hold the position that unless someone has harmed another, he/she has committed no earthly crime, particularly under our Constitution. Any crime against God is between that person and God. Christians have no directive from Christ or the New Testament writers to monitor the behavior of persons outside the fold. Further, we are clearly commanded to obey the law of the land. In this land, that law is the U.S. Constitution. Homosexuals (who victimize nobody) are entitled to, and should be protected by, our Bill of Rights—nothing more, nothing less. Nowhere in my writings have I implied anything other.
Steve quoted "trapped in homosexuality" as if quoting me. In fact, I quoted a phrase I often have heard in Christian Right rhetoric. Following is the context of that quotation.
From Perjurer or Saint (A Freethinker Introduces Pat Swindall):
(2) Though an oxymoron, the label "Christian homosexual" exists. One Christian homosexual appeared on Pat’s show, claiming homosexuality is perfectly acceptable in Christian faith. Again, Pat received complaints from Christian listeners. However, the Word of Pat’s God remained solid. Pat saw an opportunity for Christians who are "trapped in homosexuality" to hear the Truth.
Further, when American Atheists held its
The Risk of Oversights
Steve stated, "Much of the ‘success’ [quoting me] of Christianity is due to its bloody history, political power through the ages and ruthlessness towards dissenters." Temy made that claim. My point-by-point response (which Steve read) to Temy was, "Christianity previously flourished while Christians were fed to lions. Christianity introduced ideals and values against the established religious [and political] order [Jewish and Roman] and had no might to enforce it." I, with my rudimentary knowledge, lack a basis for believing that Christians converted Roman Emperor Constantine via "bloody history, political power through the ages and ruthlessness towards dissenters." More importantly, I defended Christ’s teachings, not Christian behavior. Rome Christianized long before "Christians, in Christ’s name," began unbiblical conquering and enslaving. The crusades and inquisitions provide no testament against Christianity, for there is no biblical basis for such acts. Indeed, such acts demonstrate humanity's need for Christianity.
In light of these two oversights (homophobia and
omissions of details), I ask readers to take this from the top. Again, most
people do not have time to read exhaustive materials, such as Steve’s and
my documents or references. One need not access Sartre, Hawking, and
Steve presented little that Temy and I have not already covered (http://www.theism.net/authors/zjordan/debates_files/04jordan.htm). Temy and I expended a great deal of time, patience, energy, and tolerance to produce that Web debate. I simply will not repeat the process. The Resurrection remains the pivotal question. Because I wanted to avoid overshadowing it by frivolous diversions, I refrained from covering the Resurrection in detail. I ended that debate by advising Temy that thenceforth we must limit our debating to the Resurrection. More pressing matters have diverted Temy. Steve, however, is available and willing to deal with the issue.
Steve presented very little of his personal opinion. I gather that he accepts Christ’s historicity but not divinity, similar to the Jesus Seminar's theory.
Regarding the infidels.org’s Jeff Lowder
Agnostic Jeff Lowder summed up the Contemporary Debate on the Resurrection:
On the basis of the available evidence (and the arguments I've seen), I conclude that a rational person may accept or reject the resurrection.
Mr. Lowder had an unusual (for an agnostic) introduction (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/jesus_resurrection/chap1.html) to his examination of the contemporary debate on the resurrection.
I remember thinking to myself that if I took the time to investigate the resurrection, I could make anyone who believed it look like a fool. Or so I thought. . . . . Considering how easily he [Frank Zindler] defeated his opponents in those debates, I figured this "William Lane Craig guy" would be an easy win, too. Or so I thought.
As it turns out, however, Craig won the debate, hands down. One of Craig's arguments for the existence of God was the resurrection of Jesus, and Zindler was simply unable to knock down any of Craig's evidence for the resurrection.
. . . Eventually I decided to investigate for myself. As I began to survey the secular literature for critical information on the resurrection of Jesus, I was completely surprised by what I found. Or, more accurately, what I didn't find. I was used to the evolution and creationism controversy, where it was extremely easy to find information critical of the scientific creationists. When it came to the resurrection of Jesus, I found that it was extremely difficult to find anything in the free thought literature about the historicity of the resurrection.
I remember when I finally began to understand the importance of the resurrection. I reread one of the most popular essays in skeptical circles, Bertrand Russell's Why I Am Not a Christian, and noticed for the first time that Russell did not once use the word "resurrection" anywhere. I found this fact rather strange, considering that the whole purpose of Why I Am Not a Christian was to refute Christianity. I was beginning to understand why Christian apologists complain that most skeptics fail to deal with the resurrection. [Emphasis mine]
. . . Just as I was about to discard the resurrection of Christ as "another illogical religious belief," I was reintroduced to another Christian apologist, whose apologetic for the resurrection I found extremely difficult to deal with as a critic. William Lane Craig, who in my opinion is the best Christian apologist today, is a top-notch scholar, and a highly competitive debater to boot (the same Craig who defeated Zindler). . . . In my opinion, Craig makes a very strong case for the historicity of the resurrection, a case which I don't think the secular literature has given serious consideration.
Well, folks, I experienced exactly that on a lay level. My critics claim I merely believed what I wanted to believe. Did Lowder stretch his mind to believe what he wanted to believe (that acceptance of the Resurrection is a rational position)? I never claimed the Resurrection is irrefutable. I found the evidence for it overwhelming and recognized that it would take greater faith to disbelieve than believe.
It is time for any truth-seeking reader to start analyzing my opening point: "Nearly all New Testament scholars . . ." I ask that readers apply the same criteria to me as to my critics. My intent is not necessarily to convert readers to Christianity but to question whether he or she is practicing the old saying, "My mind’s made up, don’t confuse me with the facts."
Steve provided numerous links promulgating non-belief. I, on the other hand, prefer to present skeptics’ works to make my points. For example, when I argued with Temy about whether Secular Humanism is a religion, I did not call in Christians. I referenced humanist Dunphy to make my point.
"I am convinced that the battle for humankind's future must be waged and won in the public school classroom by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith . . . . These teachers must embody the same selfless dedication as the most rabid fundamentalist preachers, for they will be ministers of another sort, utilizing a classroom instead of a pulpit to convey humanist values in whatever subject they teach, regardless of the educational level--preschool day care or large state university. The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new--the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with all its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism, resplendent in its promise of a world in which the never-realized Christian ideal of ‘love thy neighbor’ will finally be achieved. (The Humanist, Jan/Feb. l983, ‘A Religion for a New Age’)."
To start at the earliest element, we must examine New Testament scholarship. I have yet to witness any of Craig’s opponents correct him when he referred to this scholarship. I ask that Steve challenge or concede its authority. Regarding the consensus of scholars, J. P. Holding (personal communication) stated (http://www.tektonics.org/JPH_WWW.html):
Yes---this is the majority consensus, and that of objective secular historians...viz., the overused (but still useful) note by Michael Grant, that whatever the problems with the Gospels, the evidence indicates an empty tomb; and E. P. Sanders' confession that the evidence points to it, but he has no conjecture about what the cause was. It's a solid way of doing business, and hard to get around. (Unless you are GA Wells. . .) He issued a reply to me on the Sec Web, and I'm posting my response tomorrow...
So, respectfully, I ask Steve to enlighten us all, beginning at the earliest element.
Part Two (Locks
e-mail: j ordantheist