Is Christianity True?
Debate Rounds (4)
A vast majority of New Testament scholars and historians of antiquity (secular and religious alike) agree on these four facts:
1. Jesus was crucified.
2. Jesus was buried.
3. Jesus' tomb was discovered empty on the third day.
4. Jesus' disciples, and even some skeptics, had claimed to have seen Jesus alive after his death.
The best explanation of these four facts is by saying that Jesus actually did rise from the dead. I should say that this argument "does not assume the inerrancy or divine inspiration of any New Testament document. Rather it merely holds these writings to be historical documents penned during the first century AD" (Aaron Brake).
I hardly think that the first two agreed-upon facts will be controversial, but the latter two might be controversial. Because the latter two will probably be controversial, I will defend those two facts historically.
"3. Jesus' tomb was discovered empty on the third day."
What is the best way to prove to someone that somebody else is dead? The best way would be to show them that person's body, right? The Jews hated Christians because they were worshiping a dead blasphemer. Since Jesus' disciples were preaching Jesus' resurrection in Jerusalem, the Jews would have wanted to stop their proclaiming of the risen Jesus. Had the Jews presented Jesus' body to his disciples, they would have realized that what they were proclaiming wasn't true, and would have stopped. Since Jesus' body was never brought forth, nor did Jesus' disciples stop proclaiming Jesus' resurrection. It is safe to assume that Jesus' body had disappeared from the tomb, otherwise the Jews would have presented Jesus' body, and Christianity wouldn't exist.
"4. Jesus' disciples, and even some skeptics, had claimed to have seen Jesus alive after his death."
"Liars make poor martyrs." People dying for a lie would be equivalent to people putting their lives on the line to say that 2+2=5. Nobody would be foolish enough to die for something you know isn't true. Luke wrote about just how much the disciples had to suffer for proclaiming that Jesus was resurrected: Peter was jailed, Paul was jailed and beaten, and James was killed. If they lied about what they were proclaiming, they would have known it. Since not even a fool would die for something that he knows is a lie, the disciples must have truly thought that Jesus did rise from the dead. Which is why Gerd Ludemann (who is an atheist) says, "It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus's death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ."
The best explanation of the four facts is that Jesus did rise from the dead.
It's important, when understanding the falseness of all religions, to understand that religion itself, belief in higher beings itself, is an evolved trait - a made-up concept that developed alongside the development of human intelligence and, therefore, the unique human conceitedness, arrogance and solipsism that lead ancient tribesmen to think 'why are we here?', 'how did we get here?' And 'what happens when we die?'. We must recognise that religion developed very gradually and started from humble, lowly, simple beginnings, solely to satisfy mankind's need for explanations and answers. In a time when science was non-existent, logic was limited and people were much more deprived of answers, belief in deities and beings as causes for our existence and as things to relate to an afterlife were probably the best available option humans had to answer these questions. This shows that religion is not only no longer necessary, and fundamentally untrue, but we can also observe its being made-up by observing that every single culture and tribe ever has made up their very own unique myths and religions. I invite you to wonder why, then, we choose to credit any religion at all, let alone this specific one from the barbaric iron age middle east, in light of this evidence and information.
Now to move on to your points:
I don't see how Paul the Apostle saying that if Jesus did rise from the dead, Christianity must be true, actually has any significance; anybody can easily say "If I make this shot, God exists" and then make the shot, but it proves nothing. Even if Jesus did rise from the dead (assuming in the first place that he actually existed), his being God is still not proven. Throughout all kinds of mythological stories and fables people have risen from the dead, it does not make them divine by any necessity.
You also assume that Jesus definitely existed in the first place to have resurrected? I would be interested to see any reliable historical accounts of his deeds between the years of 1-30 AD. Most reports of his deeds seem to have been compiled several decades after his supposed death, and king Herod, whom we encounter in Jesus' infancy in the bible, is actually most likely to have died in 4 BC. The blurred lines of the dates make Jesus' actual existence uncertain in the first place, never mind his resurrection from the dead. Surely Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead according to Christianity, would've written or been documented about much much more than he was, considering that he was apart of a resurrection, the most astonishing thing ever? It seems very suspicious that none of Jesus' magical acts have been documented by anybody other than his apparent followers, despite their being magic, and the absolute astonishing magnificence of them; why wouldn't everybody be going crazy over this? We can, therefore, dismiss the apparent resurrection of Lazarus, for one, which leads to great scepticism that Jesus performed any other miracles either, coming back from the dead in particular.
The point you make about liars being poor martyrs is very interesting and a good point. However,there are countless Muslim martyrs as well. Thousands, perhaps millions of people throughout history, christians, Muslims, Hindus etc etc have been convinced and certain enough to die for what they believed in. The companions of the much more documented and likely to be real 'prophet' Muhammad happily gave up their lives during and after his life; are we then to assume that Muhammad's message was true just because of their certainty? Of course not. People can be wrong even when they are certain they're not. This is true because not all of these people could be right even if we (very generously) even assumed that any of them were. That would mean that all of them except those of one religion were in fact martyrs for a lie or a false belief. There is no reason to believe the apparent followers of this man just because they were wholly convinced themselves. As David Hume said, if you seem to witness such a thing as miracle (essentially an impossible event that, in accordance to our understanding of the universe, cannot happen), there are two possibilities: The laws of nature have been suspended in your favour, or you are suffering from a delusion. When you weigh up the likelihood of the second against the first, believing any miracle ever happened seems silly at best. I therefore see no reason to believe Jesus ever rose from the dead, and even if he did that would not mean he was God or that you go to hell for all eternity for not accepting him as God.
Christopher Hitchens - "God Is Not Great" pages 141-143
My opponent's quotes will be bold, and my responses will be normal.
"It's important, when understanding the falseness of all religions, to understand that religion itself, belief in higher beings itself, is an evolved trait - a made-up concept that developed alongside the development of human intelligence"
First of all, this is petitio principii (i.e. begging the question). You are trying to prove that Christianity is false, and the statement that all religions are false presupposes your conclusion that Christianity is false. Second, this is an example of the genetic fallacy: presenting the origin of an idea to determine its truthfulness.
"I don't see how Paul the Apostle saying that if Jesus did rise from the dead, Christianity must be true, actually has any significance;"
It's rather simple to explain its significance. If Jesus did rise from the dead, that validates Jesus' claims to be God as he predicted his resurrection. Since Christianity is the only religion in the world to worship Jesus as God, Christianity must be the only true religion. If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, then he is a false prophet who does not deserve the worship that Christians give him. The truthfulness of Christianity literally only rests on the resurrection.
"anybody can easily say "If I make this shot, God exists" and then make the shot, but it proves nothing."
This is a very weak analogy. You are comparing a one-time, miraculous event to a natural event that happens countless times each day. Since a resurrection would be a miracle, someone resurrecting from the dead would prove that God exists.
"Even if Jesus did rise from the dead..., his being God is still not proven."
If Jesus did rise from the dead, his prophecy claiming that he'll rise from the dead would have come true. This would make him a legitimate prophet, meaning he is from God. His resurrection would validate his claims that he is God. His other miracles could have been done by God (e.g. drowning an army in a sea and controlling the weather).
"Throughout all kinds of mythological stories and fables people have risen from the dead, it does not make them divine by any necessity."
Can you provide me with an example of some other mythological deity rising from the dead? In addition, just because there have been claims that other deities rose from the dead, that doesn't necessarily mean that they did. Let me remind you that claims to have seen the risen Jesus is not the only piece of evidence that I presented for his resurrection.
"You also assume the Jesus definitely existed in the first place to have resurrected?"
We have many sources that all show that Jesus really existed. We have letters from Paul that mention Jesus as a literal person, and that James was his brother. Josephus, the Babylonian Talmud, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, various church creeds, and sources L, Q, and M all refer to Jesus directly. What's more, is that James' ossuary was discovered with and inscription on it that says that Jesus was his brother and that Joseph was their father . The evidence for Jesus is so strong that most New Testament historians, whether religious or secular, agree that Jesus did exist.
"However, there are other countless Muslim martyrs as well."
True, someone being a martyr doesn't make what they believe true. So why do I, then, say that the disciples' martyrdom somehow count as evidence for Jesus' resurrection? It's rather simple, the disciples were the ones who made the claim that Jesus rose from the dead. If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, they would have known that they were liars, in which case, they would not have been willing to sacrifice their lives for a lie that they knew was a lie. Since the disciples were willing to die for what they claimed, they must have honestly thought that they saw the risen Jesus.
"As David Hume said, if you seem to witness such a thing as miracle..., there are two possibilities: the laws of nature have been suspended in your favour, or you are suffering from a delusion."
Hume doesn't outright call them miracles, but highly unlikely events. If we shouldn't believe in highly unlikely events simply because they are unlikely, then we should be skeptical whenever someone says that they won the lottery or that the universe is finely-tuned (but that is a topic for another day).
I stand firmly on my disagreement with you on the second point as well. Even if Jesus did rise from the dead, it would not necessarily prove that he is God. There are countless resurrections that apparently took place that had their roots in other mythologies and folklore, that would present equally weak evidence as the one you propagate, and yet you clearly, as a christian (I assume you are a believer), deny that these resurrections took place probably had any divinity linked to them. If a person rose from the dead, that would show that they had a supernatural ability to rise from the dead, it would not, as necessity, mean that what they taught about the origins of the universe, who you should worship, etc etc was true. I appreciate you confirming that Christianity's truthfulness relies on the resurrection, though, as the sheer lack of reason to believe a middle-eastern preacher ever rose from the dead should then compel disbelief in Christianity.
You asked for an example of another supposedly divine being or deity rising from the dead, so I shall. In Ancient Roman tradition, Romulus is said to have appeared to people after his death. A 15/16th century religious teacher known as Kabir, who almost definitely existed, is supposed to have resurrected and appeared to his followers again after his death. A nineteenth-century Hindu guru named Lahiri Mahasaya died in 1895 and was cremated after reportedly telling his followers that he would rise again. Afterwards it was said that he appeared to three followers of his. For many of these, I would like to point out that, very conveniently, the divinely-attributed, supernatural teachers and holy ones always seem to only ever appear to their followers and never to any major crowds or reliable source-writers or historians. How odd that they would want to make such huge, universe-changing, life-explaining miracles so private and out of the public eye. This is further testimony to religion's (Christianity included) being man made and made up, thought of, not true.
I don't disagree with you that the early apostles must have been very sincere in their belief, but this really doesn't validate what they said happened. Millions, perhaps billions of people throughout history have suffered from hallucinations and delusions. The sheer unlikeliness (roughly 0% chance) of somebody returning after death MUST be taken into consideration when we use the sincerity of the apostles to try proving that it actually took place. There are people who swear with the utmost sincerity that they have been abducted by aliens for experimental purposes. We should treat this no differently and tread with caution.
I would also like to briefly look at the contradictory nature of Christianity in the first place. It clearly states that God HAD to have himself killed so that he could forgive us, not even himself, for the sin we are born in because of Adam, a character even the Vatican now concedes never existed. This is just silly. When we accept that Adam never existed, there is no original sin, and so the claim that Jesus had to die for sin is made redundant. Furthermore, if God did want to forgive us, why not just forgive us? Why would he have to send himself down and have himself crucified? He must have been very bored up there in Heaven.
Which leads to my final, very small point. Jesus is stated to have 'ascended' to Heaven, which clearly indicates that Heaven is located upwards, in the sky. This works just fine in iron age judea, where they don't have a clue whats actually in the sky, in space, but not today. Exploration and learning about the universe challenges the primitive, man-made notion that heaven is in the sky, and going upwards is the way to get there. This is almost childish in its basicness.
If we accept the falseness of the story of Adam and the claim that Heaven is in the sky, why accept truth from anywhere else in the same storybook?
"The correlations, gradients and developed features of mythology in various parts of the world can show us the clear fact that man made-up this religion."
You are, again, begging the question and using the genetic fallacy.
"Even if Jesus did rise from the dead, it would not necessarily prove that he is God."
Jesus predicted that he would rise from the dead. If he did, then he is a legitimate prophet from God. Since he would be a legitimate prophet, other claims that he made, including the one about him being God, would be true.
"as the sheer lack of reason to believe a middle-eastern preacher ever rose from the dead should then compel disbelief in Christianity."
I gave you four reasons to believe that the resurrection took place: Jesus was crucified, he was buried, his body went missing, and his disciples claimed to have seen him alive after his death. The best explanation of these four facts is that Jesus did rise from the dead.
"I would like to point out that,..., supernatural teachers and holy ones always seem to only ever appear to their followers."
I do thank you for giving me examples of people who were claimed to have risen from the dead. However, peoples' claims alone is not good enough reason to believe that they did rise from the dead. James, Jesus' brother, was skeptical of Jesus claiming who he was; James didn't believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Saul was very antagonistic towards Christianity. Both of them have claimed to have seen the risen Jesus. Jesus wasn't like those other people who were claimed to have risen from the dead because a skeptic and enemy both claimed to have seen Jesus alive after his death.
"Millions, perhaps billions of people throughout history have suffered from hallucinations and delusions."
True, but the same hallucination doesn't occur to a group of people. Saul, James, Peter, Mary, and many others all claimed to have seen the risen Jesus. When was the last time a group of people all had the same hallucination? In addition, the hallucination theory doesn't explain the empty tomb. Like I said before, the best explanation of the evidence is that Jesus rose from the dead.
"It clearly states that God HAD to have himself killed so that he could forgive us"
That is a straw man of the Trinity known as the modalist heresy. One God exists as three persons who are each fully God. God the Father is not God the Son, so no member of the Trinity killed Himself. Since the truth of Christianity rides on Jesus' resurrection, can we stick to that topic?
"When we accept that Adam never existed, there is no original sin, and so the claim that Jesus had to die for sin is made redundant."
First of all, the creation story doesn't have to be interpreted literally. Second, original sin means that we all have a sinful nature. Third, even if we don't have original sin, we still do sin, and thus Jesus still needed to die for our sin.
"Furthermore, if God did want to forgive us, why not just forgive us?"
God is a holy God, so sin must be punished. If God wants us to be forgiven, then He has to punish someone else. An analogy would be in the movie National Treasure. Ben Gates stole the Declaration of Independence to prevent Ian Howe from stealing it, since Howe would ruin the document and nobody believe Gates when he said that it would be stolen. When the FBI finally catch up with Gates, an agent tells him, "Somebody's gotta go to prison, Ben." The agent wants to forgive Ben for stealing the Declaration of Independence, but since it was stolen, someone has to go to prison. The FBI ends up arresting Howe.
My initial point still stands that the best explanation of the evidence is that Jesus did rise from the dead.
While I will fairly happily (but not with full content) concede that Jesus, or, at least, a historical character that the exaggerated 'Jesus' is based on, probably did exist, I still assert that there is a significant lack of evidence that he ever performed a single miracle (I wonder why). I include the resurrection in this, as there is a serious lack of historical evidence. I'm sure if a human actually did rise from the dead - let's not forget how huge and life-changing such a miracle would be for EVERYBODY - there would be substantially more evidence than there is, if you even choose to say that there is any at all. There may well have even been the discovery, or apparent discovery, of an empty tomb, but there are many explanations we must consider before we make the huge leap of faith of assuming a resurrection took place.
Let's address the lack of historical records concerning a resurrection, first and foremost. I'm sure that if the impossible had actually occurred and somebody had returned after death, and actually appeared to people (regardless of how conveniently exclusive and few his appearances were - why not just appear to everybody and make it conclusive proof?), there would be much more documentation than there is.
When you say 'sin must be punished', I assume you are including the biblical sins of adultery, idolatry, disbelief, grabbing your husbands combatant enemy by the testicles and so on, in this? If so, how do you suppose we punish for these? Mutilation? Also, what is sinful about them? The morality of this God we're talking about is clearly questionable in the first place. I stand firm that it does make NO SENSE to have himself/his son (depending which way you sidestep or look at it) murdered - he could've easily just forgiven us. If he HAS to punish people, is he really omnipotent? Or rather is he too bound by moral laws? In which case, I would question his ultimate power. If the God Christianity describes is impossible then Christianity is untrue. This begs the question of 'is an omnipotent being possible?' And makes us think of such questions as 'can God create a rock that is so heavy he cannot lift it?'
I would like you to provide historical sources that prove the death, empty tomb, appearance story if that's okay with you, but I also want to address some of Jesus' teachings, which must be true if Christianity is.
1) The old testament is God's word
2) The old testament stories (creation and the story of Lot, for example) are true
3) The old testament prophets were real and contacted God
This is contradictory in of itself, not only because Jesus (God) himself breaks several rules set down by God (himself) in the old testament (ruining the idea that God does not break his own laws), but also because of conclusive proof that the world is absolutely not 6,000 or less years old. The figure of 6,000 is deduced by counting through the old testament's family lineage to Jesus, which gives around 6,000 years. If nonsense stories like creation were 'the word of God' according to Jesus then he was either a liar (not very Godlike) or simply wrong (not omniscient). There is also a substantial lack of evidence, zero evidence, to be precise, of old testament prophets like Moses ever existing. Such a migration as the exodus, or such a catastrophe as Noah's flood (all of which must have happened if you believe Jesus saying the the old testament is from God) would definitely leave substantial evidence, yet none of these events leave ANY at all. Since we can conclude for certain, if only Genesis for sure, did not actually happen, we can conclude that Jesus was wrong or lying, and in which case must not be God. Christianity, therefore, is false.
If, for some reason, though, you still assert that the resurrection must be the centre of our discussion (even though I really disagree as the previous paragraph shows), so be it.
How are we to even know Jesus actually died on the cross? We cannot even be certain a spear was thrust into his side, as only one gospel mentions this; it seems a fairly significant thing to just leave out, unless it's being added in later on. If we cannot be certain of this, we cannot be certain that he actually died (what with his only being on the cross for a few hours and crucifixion being an incredibly slow, drawn-out death, if it causes death at all) and therefore we cannot be certain a dead man was even laid in his tomb. An escape, therefore, makes much more sense than a miracle (an impossible occurrence). It makes no sense to irrationally jump to the conclusion that an impossible event took place, rather than considering other options like this first.
"I still assert that there is a significant lack of evidence that he ever performed a single miracle"
First of all, the best interpretation of the four facts that I have repeatedly given you is that Jesus did rise from the dead. Secondly, the Babylonian Talmud records Jesus doing miracles, but it is attributed to demonic powers. Thirdly, due to early and wide attestation of Jesus' miracles, there is reason to think that Jesus was a miracle-worker. Marcus Borg (not a Christian) says, "Despite the difficulty which miracles pose for the modern mind, on historical grounds it is virtually idisputable that Jesus was a healer and exorcist."
"I'm sure if a human actually did rise from the dead...there would be substantially more evidence than there is"
What more evidence do you need? Jesus was crucified and buried. His tomb was discovered empty. His disciples, skeptics, and enemies alike all claimed to have seen him alive after his death. The creed in 1 Corinthians 15 can be dated back to less than five years after Jesus' death. If you expect Josephus or Tactitus to write about the resurrection, then they would have believed that the resurrection would have taken place. In other words, they would have been Christians, which means that you would have dismissed what they said simply because they were Christian.
"There may well have even been the discovery, or apparent discovery, of an empty tomb, but there are many explanations"
There are really only three: Jesus' disciples took the body, the Romans/Jews took the body, the body left. If the disciples had taken the body, they would have known that what they thought was Jesus really wasn't Jesus. The Romans or the Jews would not have taken the body as that would help the disciples' claims that Jesus had risen from the dead. The only viable option is that the body moved itself (i.e. resurrection).
"I'm sure that if the impossible had actually occurred and somebody had returned after death, and actually appeared to people...there would be much more documentation than there is."
First of all, most of society was illiterate back then, so how do you expect people who saw the risen Jesus to write down what they saw. Secondly, this assumes that all references to Jesus' resurrection that survived from then 'til now were the only ones that survived. Third, we have four independent testimonies that include the resurrection as well as creeds and epistles that refer to Jesus' resurrection. All of these sources that I mentioned are very early sources.
"is he really omnipotent?"
Omnipotence is the ability to do all things that are logically possible. Since it is logcially impossible for a holy and just God to let sin off the hook without a price of any sort, God is omnipotent and holy. Asking if God can create a stone so heavy that He can't lift it is akin to asking if God is stronger than Himself, which is a logically absurd question.
"The figure of 6,000 is deduced by counting through the old testament's family lineage to Jesus"
Again, this is assuming the literal interpretation of Genesis 1. In addition, it only gives the time as to how long people have been here, not the age of the earth. The Bible says nothing about the age of the earth.
"we cannot be certain a dead man was even laid in his tomb"
First of all, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John had limited space to write what they wanted to write to their specific audience. Just because a detail is left out, it doesn't necessarily follow that it didn't happen. John's recording of blood and water pouring out of Jesus' side implies that his lungs collapsed. Do you honestly think that a man who had been whipped 39 times, had nails pierce his wrists and ankles in the most excruciating way, and had been hung on a cross for several hours could survive three days in the tomb as well as convince his disciples that he had risen from the dead? If anything, his disciples would have been convinced that he had almost died, not that he did die and rise from the dead. This also doesn't account for James' and Paul's conversions. In addition, Jesus would have died later which would definitely make the disciples question if Jesus rose from the dead. There is no evidence that Jesus merely fainted and was resucitated later.
As I had said repeatedly, the best explanation of the facts is that Jesus rose from the dead. If you have an alternate theory, you must explain how it accounts for all four facts, not just two or three.
If we are to totally disregard the MASSES of evidence that support evolution (completely contradictory to the creation myth that Jesus advocates to be true) and the TOTAL lack of evidence for the existence of Adam, Moses and so on, then you cannot use evidence, especially as little as some writings down and the apparent discovery of an empty tomb, which is colossally less abundant and convincing than the evidence in favour of evolution, to say that a man who indirectly denied evolution and advocated the creation myth was filled with truth and was God; this isn't logical.
You say "The Romans or the Jews would not have taken the body as that would help the disciples' claims that Jesus had risen from the dead", and from that conclude that the body must have moved itself. However, if the body had not yet moved, and, therefore, no resurrection had been claimed, there would be no resurrection claim to help, so there would be no reason for the Romans and Jews not to move the body. The disciples wouldn't have claimed he had resurrected until AFTER the body moved. Therefore, it is very much a possibility that Romans or Jews moved the body for whatever reason.
Being stronger than oneself is not the same as creating a stone so heavy one cannot lift it, as creating and lifting the stone are two separate actions, whereas having strength and having strength are one action, not two different ones. They are not akin, and this is a genuine challenge to the possibility of an omnipotent being existing at all.
The bible may say nothing about the age of the earth, but it definitely does, via the processes of addition and deduction, tell us the human race is roughly 6,000 years old. Also, Jesus clearly said this was the word of God, advocating it to be true. This is a blatant contradiction of facts, so, again, you are ignoring facts despite using facts, and adhering to facts, as the basis of your argument that the resurrection must have happened.
As in science (essentially the process of finding what is true), an alternate theory does not necessarily have to be put forward to immediately replace one that falls short. All that's necessary is to logically deduce that the first theory proposed is itself NOT true, and work from there later on. As the resurrection of Jesus (even though this would not prove divinity), his being God and therefore the old testament being truth, as he said, greatly contradicts facts, it follows that it is not true. Adhering to a few, less certain, disputed facts such as a person dying, his being laid in a tomb, an empty tomb being found and testimonies of seeing him, are so disputable and minute compared to grossly researched, proven facts such as evolution, we should logically deduce that if something completely contradicts evolution with little factual evidence to support it, it is probably not true. I therefore reject the creation myth advocating resurrection of Jesus as being fact. If Jesus rose from the dead, then the old testament is truth, Adam existed, original sin existed, Lot's wife was actually turned to salt and the human race is only 6,000 years old.
I would like to thank you for a great, challenging, entertaining debate that taught me a lot and inspired me to improve and work on my skills and knowledge for the future; I would love to debate you again whenever and you are a polite pleasure of an opponent. I appreciate your opinion and hope I didn't offend you at any point. Thanks!
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