Saturday, April 30, 2016

The True Story of the Ascension

Feast of the Ascension
by Himmelfahrt
I think the Ascension story is the product of the ongoing embellishments of the Jesus story in the first century.  After all, this fantastical event is only mentioned by one NT author, and he admits that he was not an eyewitness.  So let's review the evidence we have for the Jesus story:

In Paul's day, there was no "empty tomb" story.

Everyone in the 50's AD knew that the bodies of persons crucified by the Romans were tossed into an unmarked, common grave and that that is exactly what had happened to Jesus' body. The early Christian belief in a resurrection, to that point, had never been based on an empty tomb story but solely on a few reports of sightings of the dead Jesus (in visions, dreams, and trances) to a few of the disciples (and allegedly to Paul) shortly after Jesus' death.

By the time that "Mark" got around to writing his book in the early or mid 70's, most if not all of the eyewitnesses to Jesus' crucifixion were dead. Those few who might have still been alive had been scattered to the far ends of the earth after the destruction of Jerusalem. Paul was also dead. So "Mark" felt free to write a completely new story about Jesus. Paul, in his epistles, mentions very little of the "Jesus" who he had "interacted with" on the Damascus Road and in Arabia. So for all we know, many of the stories in the Gospel of Mark are "Mark's" inventions, in particular, the Passion Story.

Christians in the 70's were having to defend their Resurrection belief from Jews who said it was complete nonsense as there is not one word in the Old Testament about a Resurrection of one man, the messiah. How could Christians shut the Jews up??? Answer: Invent an empty tomb! So "Mark" invents an empty tomb as physical evidence for the Resurrection Story. But how would poor Galilean peasants have afforded a hand hewn tomb for Jesus?? Answer: Invent a man named Joseph of Arimethea and make him a rich member of the Sanhedrin!

But wait! Why hadn't anyone, including Paul, ever heard about this empty tomb? Answer: "Because the women left the tomb in great fear...and told no one!"

Then a decade or so later, Christians are still under pressure to provide proof of a bodily resurrection of Jesus. So more (embellished) details are added to the story by Matthew and Luke. Matthew adds guards at the tomb to prove that a resurrection is the only plausible explanation for it being found empty. Now the women DON'T keep quiet, they blab the news to everyone! Now there are earthquakes and eclipses and dead people roaming the street! (Remember, we are now 50-70 years after the death of Jesus. All witnesses are now dead so no one can say, "Hey! That didn't happen!")

Then Jews and other skeptics asked, "If there really was a resurrection of a literal body...what happened to the body of Jesus after his post-death appearances??? Did he live on into his later years and die as Papias would later claim? Is his body buried somewhere? If so, where is it?" Hmm. Not good. Now people are going to demand to see the final resting place of the "resurrected Jesus". So "Luke" comes up with a solution: Jesus ascended into the clouds and was never seen again. ( Whew! No longer any need to provide a resurrected body. Another discrepancy resolved!)

Friday, April 29, 2016

Miracles are not Impossible, just very Improbable

Bo Bennett, PhD

Bo Bennett, PhD

The problem with this whole line of argument is the word "miracle."
The word is consistently conflated with a statistically impossible event, or an event that cannot be explained by natural laws, when in fact, the theological definition requires an interaction from a god or gods. Statistically impossible events (which are actually possible) happen all the time given the number of possible events, as do events that cannot be explained by natural laws (although much less common).
To establish a miracle, one would need to provide convincing evidence that a god or gods were behind the event. The main fallacy here is ad hoc or after the fact reasoning. When someone claims a miracle, they are crediting their own god for the event by creating a narrative (i.e., my god wants this because...). People who presuppose a God who interferes in our lives see miracles everywhere, no matter how mundane (Jesus just apparently helped my brother list a house this weekend).
To the skeptic, virtually no evidence can be strong enough for him or her to accept a miracle without the establishment of the existence of the god who is credited for the event. It all comes back to very low standards of evidence that believers are willing to accept when it is evidence for their god. We know this is a problem and poor reasoning because they are inconsistent in their reasoning... they don't accept the same level of evidence when claims are made about gods they don't believe in. They demand much better evidence, and they should.

Those who report miracles typically are not trained observers. Often they have a great desire to believe in miracles or something to gain by getting others to believe in them. In either case, their testimony is not to be trusted. But suppose that a number of people with unquestioned good sense, education and learning did report a miraculous event. Even then, we would not be justified in believing that a miracle had occurred, because the evidence for a miracle can never outweigh the evidence for the natural law it supposedly violates.

Bo Bennett, PhD



What the philosopher is saying is that since we humans have a long history of attributing events we do not understand to divine causation, and yet time after time in history, those attributions to divine causation have proven false and a natural cause has been discovered, instead of jumping to the assumption that rare, unusual health recoveries (medical cures) are acts of divine causation, we should withhold judgment until better evidence comes along, which prior probability indicates, will most likely point to a natural, not divine, cause for these events.

In regard to Hume, this philosopher in another section of his website, states that he believes that Hume erred in stating that miracles are impossible. Miracles are not impossible, just very improbable. The evidence for a natural-law-defying miracle is so much weaker than the evidence for the inviolability of the natural law it supposedly violates. I believe that many conservative Christians try to get around this fact by presupposing the existence of a miracle-producing god. But this is begging the question. You first must prove the reality of miracles before you can prove the existence of a miracle producing God. You can't use unproven miracles to prove the existence of a miracle-producing god. And just because there is evidence for a Creator God or gods, is not necessarily evidence that that God or gods interferes with the established laws of nature to perform miracles.

Some Christian apologists assert that modern miracles cannot be proven using the standards of science and medicine.  And I agree.  But what are Christians left with? They are left arguing for the accuracy of eyewitness testimony.

It is true that eyewitness testimony has been the bedrock of the western criminal justice system for centuries. But should a system which has been proven by modern DNA studies to be so unreliable be used to establish our view of reality itself?? I would say, and I would bet the overwhelming majority of scientists would say---absolutely not.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Prior Probability demonstrates that a Literal Resurrection is the least likely explanation for the Resurrection belief

The Resurrection of Jesus
by Raphael

Christian apologist and Theology Web contributor Nick Peters' argument in favor of the historicity of the Resurrection includes his belief that prior probability for an unheard of before or since Resurrection in the first century AD is irrelevant because of the existence of a miracle-producing God; evidence for whom is the massive quantity of miracles occurring today. However, I have shown that Nick's argument is based on a logical fallacy: 

--No miracle has ever been proven, by the standards of experts in the relevant field, to be true. 
--The only "evidence" for the reality of miracles are anecdotal claims by alleged "witnesses". 
--And, just because a large number of (mostly uneducated, poor, Third Word) people believe miracles have occurred is not proof that they have. 

Therefore, Nick's argument is based on a logical fallacy; the logical fallacy of Argumentum ad Populum.

Nick has tried to pass off Christian author Craig Keener's book entitled "Miracles" as a work of scholarship. It is not. By the author's own admission he had no research budget and no research assistants. Keener never claims that the purpose of his book is to prove that reality of miracles. He clearly states over and over again that the purpose of the book is to demonstrate the massive quantity of people who believe they have witnessed a miracle, and, that some of these testimonies are so compelling that western science and medicine should start including divine intervention in their differential of causes for unexpected health recoveries.

That's it.

That is not scholarship, folks. It is just a collection of stories.

Therefore, there is no established proof of a God who periodically violates the laws of nature to perform miracles. (There still may be a God, but this God does not appear to violate the established laws of nature for whatever reason.) Therefore the fact that there has never before or since Jesus' time been a resurrection (not resuscitation) claim supports my contention that a resurrection is MUCH less likely an explanation for the early Christian belief in a Resurrection than that, 1.) there was no tomb (Jesus' body was tossed into an unmarked grave), 2.) the body was moved or stolen between Friday night and Sunday morning, 3.) or some other natural explanation.

It's simple math, folks.

--How many times did Romans toss the bodies of persons crucified into an unmarked, common grave: many times.
--How often did Jews, Romans, or others move a recently dead body in first century Jerusalem: common sense and the documented practice of Jews after the destruction of the temple strongly suggest at least a few times.
--How often did first century Jews have a vivid dream, trance, vision, or hallucination which they believed was a real message from God: one only has to read the New Testament to see how often this happened.

And how often has a dead body been resurrected, even according to Christians: one, if any.

Therefore, simple math tells you that a resurrection of a dead body is the LEAST likely explanation for the early Christian belief in the Resurrection.

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Review of Craig Keener's "Miracles", Part 14

More astonishing, in the Journal of Anthropological Research one anthropologist reported that during a shamanic funerary ritual in northwestern Ghana, he witnessed a corpse that had been dead for a few days dance and play drums for at least several minutes.  "I saw the corpse jolt and occasionally pulsate in reaction to the shaman's movements; streams of light invaded the room, and "the corpse [of a drummer] picked up the drumsticks and began to play."  Soon it was again a motionless corpse, propped against the wall.   ---Craig Keener, "Miracles", page 540, under the section in which he provides 'evidence' for the "Raising of the Dead"

Dear Christians, imagine if skeptics made the following claim:
"Many people around the world believe that Jesus of Nazareth never existed; he is a fictional character.  Therefore, the view that Jesus of Nazareth never existed should be taken seriously because so many people believe it."
Skeptics then go on to list hundreds of statements by ordinary people who state that they are absolutely sure that Jesus never existed.
Christians would howl (and laugh) that skeptics are using poor logic.  They would accuse skeptics of using the logical fallacy of "Argumentum ad Populum".  And Christians would be justified in making this criticism.  Just because a lot of people believe something to be true, does not make it true.
Yet, Christian apologists such as Nick Peters of the Christian podcast, Deeper Waters, use a similar argument to support their belief in the reality of miracles, which in turn they use to support a high probability for the greatest miracle of all, and the very foundation of their Faith:  the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  But what evidence does Mr. Peters give for the reality of miracles today?
Answer:  Christian scholar Craig Keener's two volume work, "Miracles".
But here is the problem:  Keener is very clear to state, multiple times throughout this book, that the purpose of his book is not to prove the reality of supernatural acts (miracles), but only to demonstrate the massive number of people on earth who claim to be eyewitnesses to such events, and, that some of these claims have such compelling testimony that scholars and experts should at a minimum entertain divine causation as a viable explanation for some health recoveries.
That's it.
Keener may occasionally give statements from physicians who attribute a health recovery to a "miracle", but just because a Christian (usually Pentecostal Christian) physician, or rarely, a non-Christian physician, states "it had to be a miracle", how much weight should we give to this physician's opinion?  Although I recommend we not discount the doctor's opinion, neither should we assume that this doctor is correct; that he has carefully ruled out all other natural explanations.  We need to meet the standard of evidence for the field in question, and the field in question is Medicine.  And the standard of evidence for Medicine is an independent, unbiased panel of medical experts to review all the evidence, interview the patient, the doctors, the witnesses, and then, publish their findings in a journal of a nationally recognized and respected medical society.  So,  does Keener ever detail a miracle case which has been presented to such a panel of independent, unbiased medical experts to review?
As of page 599 (the end of the first volume), the answer is:  No.
Instead of meeting the standard of evidence for the field in question, Mr. Keener uses an appeal to the Argumentum ad Populum to convince his readers that miracle claims should be taken seriously.  Keener argues that since "hundreds of millions" of people (mostly in the impoverished and poorly educated areas of the Third World) claim to be witnesses to miracles, scientists and medical experts should take their claims seriously, and, include "divine causation/a miracle" as an acceptable explanation within Western medicine and science for any unexpected/unusual health recovery or resuscitation.
What Mr. Keener fails to recognize (or maybe admit) is that doing so would be a violation of the standards of evidence for these fields.  Just as no Christian would accept that Jesus is a fictional character just because a lot of non-experts believe this to be true, so too, scientists and medical experts are not going to accept divine causation as a potential cause of health recoveries just because a lot of non-experts believe in them.
The overwhelming majority of experts in the field in question (New Testament scholarship and history) believe that Jesus was an historical figure.  I suggest that we accept the expert opinion on this subject.  And similarly, the overwhelming majority of experts in the field in question (Medicine) do not believe that any miracle for healing has ever been proven to have occurred, and, do not believe that prayer is a proven, effective, treatment for cancer, gait disabilities (lameness), neurological disorders, blindness, infectious diseases, or death, as suggested by Mr. Keener.
I suggest that Christians stop the silliness; drop the conspiracy theories; and accept that miracles have not been proven to be a reality.  If Christians want to believe in modern miracles, or miracles in the ancient past, they should do so by faith, not by appeals to Argumentum ad Populum.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Review of Craig Keener's "Miracles", Part 13

Just read chapter 12 of "Miracles": Now we've gotten to the good stuff. Stories of dozens, and maybe hundreds, of blind regaining their sight, the lame regaining their ability to walk, and even the dead coming back to life...all after prayers to Jesus. 



...thousands of little children, all over the world die miserable, painful, horrific, unspeakable, deaths from disease, starvation, child abuse, and war...while the loving Lord Jesus, all-powerful Ruler of the Universe, watches from his throne in Heaven...and does after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, millennia after millennia...


Keener admits that the purpose of his book is NOT to investigate miracle claims with the same professionalism that a scientist or medical expert would examine a claim. He expressly states, multiple times, that he has two goals in writing his book:

1. Demonstrate that there are "hundreds of millions" of people who claim to be eyewitnesses to miracles.
2. The vast quantity of eyewitness claims suggest that divine causality should be considered a viable explanation.

That's it.

So Keener is not trying to prove any particular miracle claim. He is simply arguing for the probability of miracles based on sheer numbers of claims based on eyewitness testimony, a la, anecdotal claims. Not good enough, folks. Maybe this is good enough for poorly educated, mass audiences of believers, but it is not good enough for experts in the field. The fact remains that science and medicine have not established as fact, with any investigation of any of these hundreds of millions of miracle claims, that prayer can cure cancer, give sight to the blind, make the lame walk, or raise the dead.

Either science and medicine are involved in the greatest cover-up known to man-kind, or the evidence for these hundreds of millions of claims is not convincing.

In addition, the fact that so many innocent children suffer horrific deaths every day must call into question the existence of a benevolent God who performs miracle cures to demonstrate his powers. Put it all together, and the evidence points to the non-existence of a miracle-producing, benevolent deity.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Did the Apostle John write the Gospel of John?

St. John the Evangelist
by Carlo Dolci

Robert Kysar writes the following on the authorship of the Gospel of John (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v. 3, pp. 919-920):

The supposition that the author was one and the same with the beloved disciple is often advanced as a means of insuring that the evangelist did witness Jesus' ministry. Two other passages are advanced as evidence of the same - 19:35 and 21:24. But both falter under close scrutiny. 19:35 does not claim that the author was the one who witnessed the scene but only that the scene is related on the sound basis of eyewitness. 21:24 is part of the appendix of the gospel and should not be assumed to have come from the same hand as that responsible for the body of the gospel. Neither of these passages, therefore, persuades many Johannine scholars that the author claims eyewitness status.

...If the author of the Gospel of John were an eyewitness, presumably the author would have known that Jesus and his compatriots were permitted to enter the synagogues. But at several points it is stated that those who acknowledged Jesus as the Christ during the life of Jesus were put out of the synagogue. This anachronism is inconceivable as the product of an eyewitness.

Kysar states that most scholars today see the historical setting of the Gospel of John in the expulsion of the community from the synagogue (op. cit., p. 918). The word aposynagogos is found three times in the gospel (9:22, 12:42, 16:2). The high claims made for Jesus and the response to them (5:18), the polemic against "the Jews" (9:18, 10:31, 18:12, 19:12), and the assertion of a superiority of Christian revelation to the Hebrew (1:18, 6:49-50, 8:58) show that "the Johannine community stood in opposition to the synagogue from which it had been expelled." (p. 918)

...Finally, there is no mention of the Sadducees, which reflects post-70 Judaism. The retort that there is also no mention of scribes misses the mark, as the Pharisees represented the scribal tradition, and the Pharisees are mentioned.

...Kysar says that the theory of Johannine independence commands a "slim majority" of contemporary critics.

..."In the place where the synoptics narrate the origin of the eucharist stands the account of the foot washing (13:1-10). The last meal Jesus celebrates with his disciples before his passion is not a Passover meal at all. Thus one of the basic features of the institution scenes in the synoptics is missing. Furthermore, there is no account of the baptism of Jesus, and there is confusion about whether or not Jesus practiced baptism (compare 3:22 and 4:2). Water baptism is treated critically and assigned strictly to the Baptizer in contrast with Spirit baptism (1:26, 31, 33). One is left with the impression that the sacraments of baptism and eucharist did not figure in the theology of the fourth evangelist." (p. 929)

...Norman Perrin believes that the redactor who added the sacramental passages to the Gospel of John also authored the first epistle of John, in which the sacraments are emphasized.

... He (Raymond Brown) admits that many accept that John 1:14 - 'The Word became flesh' - was 'added by the redactor as an attack on the opponents of I John' (1979, 109) but continues to write as if there were no revision of the Fourth Gospel.

...Helms argues: "So the gospel attributed, late in the second century, to John at Ephesus was viewed as an anti-gnostic, anti-Cerinthean work. But, very strangely, Epiphanius, in his book against the heretics, argues against those who actually believed that it was Cerinthus himself who wrote the Gospel of John! (Adv. Haer. 51.3.6). How could it be that the Fourth Gospel was at one time in its history regarded as the product of an Egyptian-trained gnostic, and at another time in its history regarded as composed for the very purpose of attacking this same gnostic? I think the answer is plausible that in an early, now-lost version, the Fourth Gospel could well have been read in a Cerinthean, gnostic fashion, but that at Ephesus a revision of it was produced (we now call it the Gospel of John) that put this gospel back into the Christian mainstream."


Gary: The Gospel of John written by the Apostle John??? I don't think so!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Conversation with Jesus about Hell

Dante's Hell

Ask a modern, western Christian this question, "What type of punishment will non-believers suffer for rejecting Jesus as their Lord and Savior" and you will get a variety of answers.  Remarkably, however, unless you are speaking to a fundamentalist, most Christians today will not respond with "eternal damnation in a fiery Hell" as most of Christianity has taught for two millennia.  Many modern Christians will say that the punishment for non-believers will be something non-painful, such as eternal shame

So if my punishment for rejecting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior is simply a matter of the Christian god shaking his finger at me (and other non-believers) and saying,

"Shame on you for not reciprocating my love as I commanded you."

I can deal with that.

I will respectfully respond by saying,

"Well, Jesus, if you had made yourself known to me personally, as you did to all the disciples and to Paul, then maybe I would have believed in you. But you didn't. You only gave me a confusing holy book, unconfirmed claims of miracle cures, and a bunch of conservative Christians, the vast majority of whom in no way resemble your behavior and attitude on earth. So don't blame me, blame yourself."

I will not feel ashamed one bit.

However, if a sense of shame is forced upon me; something I have no control over; then that is a form of psychological torture. And if Jesus inflicts psychological torture on human beings for all eternity, or even just a few millennia, or just a few centuries, that is unjust and immoral by any standard of criminal justice in the western world.

The punishment does not fit the crime.

Jesus is either not the loving, just, merciful being that the Bible claims he is; he is a sadistic monster; or, the whole concept is a nonsensical superstition.

I'm going with superstition. 

I don't believe that Jesus, the man, would ever torture another human being.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Belief in the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus is based on a Circular Argument, not Evidence

I believe that the Christian position regarding the alleged bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is a circular argument.  It therefore cannot be defeated with reason.    The argument is this:

What is the proof of the Resurrection: (the Christian) God.
What is the proof of (the Christian) God: the Resurrection

If we exclude the reality of the supernatural from the discussion of the Resurrection, Christians would have to admit that the evidence for the Resurrection is as poor as we skeptics claim it is. Only by assuming the existence of the all-powerful (Christian) God can Christians claim that the Resurrection is plausible.

But here is the problem: Although there may be evidence for intelligent design, that evidence cannot be assumed to be evidence for Jesus/Yahweh to be that Designer. There has to be evidence to make that leap. So what do Christians do? Answer: They point to the Resurrection. But even if one assumes Intelligent Design and the existence of the supernatural, the odds of a literal bodily resurrection being the explanation for the early Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus is extremely improbable, as even Christians admit that there has never been any other resurrection.

Therefore, the Christian position is a circular argument, and, therefore, the Christian position cannot be defeated. The use of poor logic can be pointed out, but the argument itself is undefeatable.

A Christian's response to this statement on Theology Web:

It is not begging the question to presuppose the miraculous, or even to believe in Yahweh. The order of logic goes something like this: 1.) there are convincing arguments for the existence of the divine or the spiritual apart from divine revelation (see natural theology 101) 2.) Arguments for the divine tend towards a personal creator. 3.) Assuming a personal creator, the miraculous is plausible 4.) The Old Testament conception of Yahweh fulfills many, if not all, of the characteristics of this personal creator (other arguments (including historical, personal, prophetical, miraculous, etc.) may help to convince one of this divinity's reality). 5.) Historical (and perhaps prophetical, and experiential) arguments alongside the previous acceptance of arguments for the existence of a divine personal creator and the miraculous allow for the acceptance of Christ's resurrection.

For one to beg the question on Christ's resurrection, one would have to start off assuming Jesus is God/Son of God, and then assert that because he is God/Son of God he is resurrected. No one here argues that though. It is my firm belief that that is how Gary himself operated when he was going around calling himself a Christian though. He uncritically accepted Christ's resurrection because of fundamentalist black and white logic that doesn't allow for reasoned thinking, but upon going with whatever tickles one's fancy at the moment, and then zealously guarding that unreasoned stance until another wind of doctrine comes along, and then they do the fundamentalist, black and white zealous thing for that new stance. So, as we see here, Gary is just as much the zealous fundamentalist he is with his current cause as he was with his previous cause. Perhaps one day another wind of doctrine will come along to uncritically sweep him off his feet.

Gary's response:

"The order of logic goes something like this:"

1.) there are convincing arguments for the existence of the divine or the spiritual apart from divine revelation (see natural theology 101)

Gary: Possibly true.

2.) Arguments for the divine tend towards a personal creator.

Gary: Unprovable speculation.

3.) Assuming a personal creator, the miraculous is plausible.

Gary: There seems to always be an assumption in every Christian argument for the supernatural.

4.) The Old Testament conception of Yahweh fulfills many, if not all, of the characteristics of this personal creator (other arguments (including historical, personal, prophetical, miraculous, etc.) may help to convince one of this divinity's reality).

Gary: Skeptics can show that there is no good evidence of fulfilled prophecies in the Hebrew Bible. The historical reliability of the OT is now held with low regard. It is very possible that the first five to seven books of the OT are pure invention. The miracle claims of the OT are even harder to prove that the "hundreds of millions" of unconfirmed miracles today. Therefore, these are all false or unprovable claims piled on top of an assumption.

5.) Historical (and perhaps prophetical, and experiential) arguments alongside the previous acceptance of arguments for the existence of a divine personal creator and the miraculous allow for the acceptance of Christ's resurrection.

Gary: The real truth is revealed, "My emotions and feelings prove that my supernatural belief system is true."

My argument is not circular.  The Christian argument is.

If I said that supernatural resurrections are impossible because resurrections are supernatural that would be a circular argument. But that isn't the case. My argument is that a supernatural resurrection is highly improbable based on cumulative human history, and it is much less probable than several possible natural explanations for this belief, so therefore I do not believe it.

 The bottom line is that you cannot prove the Resurrection happened without presuming the divinity of Jesus, which can only be proven by a resurrection, which based on cumulative human history is highly, highly improbable. The possible existence of a Creator is not evidence for Jesus' divinity. The reliability of the Hebrew Bible regarding ancient history and ancient fortune telling (prophecy) is abysmal.  Therefore the Hebrew Bible cannot be used as evidence for the divinity of Jesus.

Like the apostle Paul said, to paraphrase: "It's all about the Resurrection, folks. If it didn't happen, we are toast."

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Paul meets with Peter and James in Jerusalem and They Discover...

Paul has a vision on his way to Damascus in which Jesus appears to him and calls him to be his apostle to the Gentiles.  A short time later, Paul meets with Peter and James in Jerusalem.   He tells them of his vision of Jesus...and they tell him of theirs:  a talking, bright light. 

There never was an empty tomb.  There never were women arriving on Sunday morning.  No earthquakes.  No angels.  No dead saints roaming the streets.  No appearance on the Emmaus Road.  No appearance in the Upper Room.  No appearances on the shores of the Sea of Tiberius.  No Great Commission.  No Ascension into the clouds.  These are fictional, theological embellishments by the anonymous authors of the Gospels writing many decades after the death of Jesus.

The first gospel was written in the early 70's, shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem.  All witnesses to the crucifixion of Jesus are dead or scattered to the four corners of the globe.  The author of this gospel adds the Empty Tomb story to the oral legends circulating about Jesus.  Paul nor Peter nor James had ever heard of a tomb, let alone an empty tomb.   Jesus' body had been tossed into an unmarked, common grave.  None of the disciples knew where it was.  The belief in the Resurrection began due to some of the disciples having visions shortly after Jesus' death, as they fondly remembered Jesus' prophecy that he would rise from the dead three days after his death.  Every fiber in their bodies so much wanted that to it their minds!

Fast forward to the 80's or 90's:  A decade or two after the first gospel was written, another anonymous gospel author writes his version of the story of Jesus, borrowing heavily from the author of the first gospel.  He adds new theological embellishments.  And the third anonymous gospel author does the same.  The fourth gospel is written near the close of the first century.  The author of this gospel had heard the oral stories circulating about Jesus and it is possible that he had read the first three gospels.  His story of Jesus is in a completely different style and with a completely different Christology, but he keeps to the same basic boiler plate story of the other three.

As each gospel story is written, the Resurrection Story grows with more and more elaborate details.  The original "Mark" has no appearances and the women tell no one.  By the time of the last gospel, there are multiple appearances, in multiple locations, to multiple people, with multiple angels, and multiple earthquakes.

The Resurrection Stories themselves indicate that this story is most probably a theological embellishment.  The original resurrection belief was based on visions and dreams, not on empty tombs and a literal walking/talking dead body.

Friday, April 8, 2016

What would it take for Me to Believe in a Miracle?

Here is the kind of miracle claim that doctors would want to see to even consider a supernatural cause:

Ms. Jane Doe, a 58 year old white female in Los Angeles, was sent for a chest x-ray in February of 2012, by her family doctor, due to a chronic cough of two months. The x-ray demonstrated an opaque mass in the lower lobe of her left lung. One week later she had a CT scan of the lungs at Cedar Sinai Hospital which again showed the left lower lobe mass, with characteristics very suspicious for cancer. She had a subsequent biopsy of the mass which revealed an aggressive form of lung cancer. A week later she had a PET scan at Cedar Sinai which showed probable metastasis in her spine, liver, and brain. By this time the cough was worse, she was fatigued, jaundiced, and was beginning to have pain in the areas of her spine with metastatic spread of her cancer.

Ms. Doe was evaluated by two lung specialists (pulmonologists), a medical oncologist, and a radiation oncologist. All agreed she was terminal but offered her palliative radiation and chemotherapy. However, Ms. Doe refused any medical treatment.

That next Sunday, she went to her church and asked her pastor and the elders to lay their hands on her and pray that if it was God's will that he would heal her cancer. They did, and the cough, jaundice, fatigue, and pain slowly resolved over the next two weeks. A month later she went to her doctor and asked for another CT scan. The doctor ordered the CT scan and was shocked when he viewed the study, again taken at Cedar Sinai Hospital, which was completely clear. The oncologist (cancer specialist) whom Ms. Doe had seen only six weeks earlier (and declined his treatment), reviewed the CT scan and was also shocked. He ordered another PET scan at Cedar Sinai and it was completely negative for any sign of cancer. The imaging studies and the case were presented to the monthly Cedar Sinai tumor board and the imaging studies were presented at the monthly Cedar Sinai radiology tumor board; all specialists agreed that the patient was completely cured.

Outside cancer experts were asked to confirm the findings. After a thorough review, the outside experts concurred that the cancer was completely gone.

Dear Christians: Please show me a case like this and I just might believe.