The present life is a sleep, and the things in it are in no way different from dreams. And as they that are asleep often speak and see things other than healthful, so do we also, or rather we see much worse even. For he that doeth anything disgraceful or says the like in a dream, when he is rid of his sleep, is rid of his disgrace, also, and is not to be punished. But in this case it is not so, but the shame, and also the punishment, are immortal. Again, they that grow rich in a dream, when it is day are convicted of having been rich to no purpose. But in this case even before the day the conviction comes upon them, and before they depart to the other life, those dreams have flown away.
St. John Chrysostom, Homily 24 on the Epistle to the Romans
First, from John Sanidopolous at MYSTAGOGY, a very insightful review of a not-so-very insightful article:
In a classic religion-vs-science confrontation, Live Science took on the question, “Jesus Christ the Man: Does the Physical Evidence Hold Up?” The answer may say more about science than about Jesus.
To begin with, reporter Natalie Wolchover drew distinctions between scientific evidence and belief – as if scientific evidence requires no belief or assumption or interpretation. She says the belief of Christians in Jesus’ life comes from “textual evidence in the Bible” – betraying first of all a bias that textual evidence is less credible than scientific evidence. Her headline also implies that evidence must be physical. This rules out logical and textual evidence and eyewitness testimony. It also begs questions about whether other beliefs accepted by scientists are based on physical evidence alone.
. . .
All the same, she drew a middle ground on the historicity of Jesus, quoting Marcus Borg, a secular scholar at Oregon State: “We do know some things about the historical Jesus – less than some Christians think, but more than some skeptics think.” That judgment, though, rests on what documents one takes as credible. Borg did not question the fact that Jesus lived, but from the textual evidence, presented a synopsis of Jesus’ life sanitized of the miraculous. Acknowledging that “More healing stories are told about Jesus than about any other figure in the Jewish tradition,” he proceeded to the crux of the story – the cross and resurrection:
He was executed by Roman imperial authority, and his followers experienced him after his death. It is clear, Borg said, that they had visions of Jesus as they had known him during his historical life. Only after his death did they declare Jesus to be “lord” or “the son of God.”
To make such claims, Borg (and Wolchover, the reporter) had to rule out of court the eyewitness testimony of Thomas, the doubter, who reached into the wounds of the risen Jesus (John 20:24-27), of John, who said their hands touched Him (I John 1:1-4), and of all the disciples who saw him eat and drink in their presence (Luke 24, John 21), and the 500 who saw him at one time (I Cor 15:1-11), most of whom were still alive when the testimony was written.
Moreover, to deny the resurrection, they would have to completely discount the life testimony of the Apostle Paul (I Corinthians 15, written at most 25 years after the crucifixion), the fact that Paul had been a hostile witness (I Timothy 1:12-16), yet spread his testimony of the risen Christ throughout the Middle East and Europe, finally being martyred without flinching from his testimony.
They would have to deny that Matthew, Mark, Peter, John (1 John 1:1-10), James and possibly the writer of Hebrews were also eyewitnesses of Jesus and the resurrection, and that the New Testament authors, including Luke (Luke 1:1-4, Acts 1:1-3), Peter (2 Peter 3:16-21), John (I John 4:1-6), Paul (2 Timothy 3) all advocated telling the truth, each of them staunchly opposing myths and fact-free speculations (I Timothy 4:1-4).
Furthermore, they would have to ignore the fact that all the apostles (except possibly John), who claimed they had seen the resurrected Christ, died martyr’s deaths without recanting. Plus, they would have to explain the explosive growth of the early Church in a time of persecution, when all the enemies of the new faith would have to do to squelch it was produce the body of Jesus and parade it down the streets of Jerusalem. Furthermore, Wolchover and Borg had to dismiss a priori the possibility of predictive prophecy (Isaiah 53, Luke 24, esp. vv. 25-26).
No philosopher of science would affirm that the opinions of Borg and Wolchover were dictated to them by the scientific evidence itself. Their knowledge of Christianity too seems limited to fringe and controversial claims that can be easily dismissed. Clearly a different set of authorities would produce different conclusions. The question of what constitutes evidence is a philosophical question about science, not a statement by science. Invariably, one must consider the biases that fallible human beings bring to a question.
And an article from Mother Jones, which, while not specifically mentioning the Resurrection of Christ, certainly applies:
“A MAN WITH A CONVICTION is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.” So wrote the celebrated Stanford University psychologist Leon Festinger (PDF), in a passage that might have been referring to climate change denial—the persistent rejection, on the part of so many Americans today, of what we know about global warming and its human causes. But it was too early for that—this was the 1950s—and Festinger was actually describing a famous case study in psychology.
. . .
In the annals of denial, it doesn’t get much more extreme than the Seekers. They lost their jobs, the press mocked them, and there were efforts to keep them away from impressionable young minds. But while Martin’s space cult might lie at on the far end of the spectrum of human self-delusion, there’s plenty to go around. And since Festinger’s day, an array of new discoveries in psychology and neuroscience has further demonstrated how our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions. This tendency toward so-called “motivated reasoning” helps explain why we find groups so polarized over matters where the evidence is so unequivocal: climate change, vaccines, “death panels,” the birthplace and religion of the president (PDF), and much else. It would seem that expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the facts.
The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience (PDF): Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call “affect”). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we’re aware of it. That shouldn’t be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It’s a “basic human survival skill,” explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.
I’ve noted in the past on this blog and elsewhere that Resurrection-denial (like that of Bart Ehrman) often takes up the same arguments and forms as Holocaust-denial and similar phenomena. I’ve discussed here, for instance, how Bart Ehrman consistently misses his own points in his books, such as in his contribution to The Gospel of Judas in which he states, early in his chapter, the undeniable fact that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the four earliest gospels and then, near the conclusion of his chapter, makes the strange comment that the early Church Fathers were essentially bigots who wouldn’t allow other voices to be heard because they didn’t include the later, apocryphal gospels in their canon of the New Testament. The facts are, as John laid out in his post, there is more than abundant historical evidence for the Resurrection of Christ; if any event but the Resurrection had such abundant historical evidence in its favor it would be believed and taught as unquestionable fact in every history book.
But it is the Resurrection, after all, and that makes people uncomfortable. I know from personal experience that it is uncomfortable to have to accept as fact something that will permanently change your life, that will make great demands upon you and require great sacrifices, and that you just don’t want to accept. And so we have the point made by the second article quoted above; unfortunately, there are many people who, in spite of the overwhelming evidence, will never accept that Christ is indeed risen and so they will not change their lives, they will not submit, and they will not sacrifice. The choice that must be made is one between personal comfort and truth — and it is very sad that so many have chosen and will choose the former of the two.
There was a time when I appreciated his work even in those moments when I disagreed with him. After recently reading his entry on the The Gospel of Judas, in which he contradicts himself several times and draws (suitably anti-Christian) conclusions which in no way follow from the facts he previously stated, and now this article, I don’t think I’ll be picking up his new book.
Ancient Hebrew Poetry has a good post on why Ehrman is lying about lying.
When evening arrives, I return home and go into my study, and at the threshold, I take off my everyday clothes, full of mud and filth, and put on regal and courtly garments; and decorously dressed answer, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, lovingly received by them, I feed myself on the food that is mine alone and for which I was born, where I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them about the reasons for their actions, and they, in their humanity, respond to me. And for four hours at a time, I do not feel any boredom, I forget every difficulty, I do not fear poverty, I am not terrified at death; I transfer myself into them completely.
Niccoló Machiavelli, letter to Francesco Vettori, in The Prince and Other Writings, pg. 151
People who still have bumper stickers on their car endorsing candidates for the ’04 presidential election. I’ve seen six in the last week. Seriously. Just give it up already. Take the thing off. In fact, get a new car.