I understand when a theist claims that the supposed miracles of Jesus and his resurrection are a matter of faith. This is at least intellectually honest, insofar as they’re not claiming it’s something that is based on credible evidence and something a historian or critical thinker should accept as fact based on eye witness testimony. I don’t agree with taking something of this magnitude on faith, but if someone is humble enough to admit it’s a faith based claim that you can either choose to accept or deny, then fine. Have your faith.
A Debate Between William Lane Craig and Alex Rosenberg
What I do take exception with is how William Lane Craig argues the point. In a debate with Alex Rosenberg he states the following:
“As for the resurrection of Jesus he just doesn’t understand the credibility of the new testament documents in this regard. You can’t compare them to Joseph Smith which were probably lies or to Mohammed’s ascension which is probably a legend because in this case we are dealing with early eye witness testimony that is not the result of conspiracy or lie, these people sincerely believe what they said and that’s what most historians accept those three facts, and therefore the naturalist must come up with an alternative explanation. You can’t indict eye witness testimony in general and then use that against a specific case, you’d have to show in the specific case of the gospels that this testimony is unreliable, and that is not the opinion of the majority of historians who have investigated these documents.” – William Lane Craig
Asserting Iron Age Mythology and Eye Witness Accounts As Fact
To give context, in William Lane’s Craig opening remarks he used the below slide to illustrate point by point why the historical ‘facts’ about Jesus of Nazareth lead to the best explanation of a biblical god.
Alex Rosenberg responded to this particular argument with the following:
“In 1827 Joseph Smith got 11 people to certify that they observed the golden tablets, which he, an illiterate person, was able to translate from reform Egyption, and convey the book of Mormon to the latter day saints. Do we believe on the basis of those eleven certificates that are only about 160 years old that the book of Mormon is the revealed word of god?
The Koran tells us that Mohammed ascended to heaven from the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem on the 26th of February 621 and there are millions and millions of Muslims all over the world who are committed to this ‘great truth’.
Think about this, 53 of the first 62 DNA exonerations of people who turned out to be innocent of charges of capital crimes in the United States, 53 of these people were convicted on eye witness testimony. We know from cognitive social science how unreliable eye witness testimony is today. Why should we suppose eye witness testimony from 33 AD is any more reliable.”
Sathya Sai Baba
Allow me to elaborate on Alex Rosenberg’s arguments. From 23 November 1926 – 24 April 2011, lived an Indian guru named Satha Sai Baba who had millions of followers who attested to eye witness accounts of the same miracles reported about Jesus in a time where people had no means of becoming scientifically literate and superstition was the basis for most people’s knowledge.
You Tube is littered with videos of the man performing his supposed miracles, and some videos show how these parlor tricks were done. One example was a compressed ash pellet he would hold between fingers and miraculously spread it over his congregation, bringing wonder and awe to the masses. One of his birthday’s boasted over one million present to worship him.
In William Lane Craig slide he asserts that there are three established facts about Jesus, facts that should lead us to the conclusion that not only does a theistic god exist, but that the god of the bible exists, and Jesus is direct evidence of this. William Lane Craig isn’t talking about faith, he’s claiming the scientific and historical high ground when he argues an empty tomb, eye witnesses of post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples belief in his Resurrection. No matter how much faith you have that these occurrences happened, it is intellectually dishonest to claim them as fact.
How can this scant, at best, evidence be taken as fact when many Christians do not see sufficient evidence to conclude that evolution by natural selection is true, or that the Universe is older than 6000-10,000 years old? There’s a cognitive dissonance here that must be admitted.
Many tombs of ancient Pharaohs have been found empty in modern times, with qualified archaeologists documenting their excavations. Is this proof that the Pharaohs ascended bodily to heaven? No, their corpses were the victims of grave robbers.
Would Joseph Smith Lie About The Golden Tablets? Is Mohammed’s Story But A Myth? And Yet The Tale Of Jesus Weighs Well On The Scale Of Fact In Comparison?
William Lane Craig also asserts, without further explanation, that Joseph Smith was probably lying, and that the story of Mohammed is probably a myth. I happen to agree with this, but it’s self serving and without merit for him to dismiss these claims, taking into consideration there were more witnesses, and in historical terms far closer to the present, than there were surrounding the resurrection of Jesus. It’s simply inconvenient for William Lane Craig to accept these claims on equal par with his own mythology, and so he dismisses them out of hand.
Concerning the eye witness accounts of Jesus’s resurrection he states, “these people sincerely believe what they said.” This is a baseless claim, there’s no intellectually honest way to argue that he knew the mindset of these people in comparison to the millions of others throughout history of who have made similar claims of miracles performed by their respective deities.
Regarding Craig’s assertion that most historians agree with these facts, I can only wonder if he’s referring exclusively to biblical historians, who pour over scripture under the assumption that it is divinely inspired. There is a distinct lack of contemporary writings about Jesus by people who lived during the same time period, and I have never heard tell of an historical account of these proposed miracles surrounding Jesus being reported as factual from secular historians.
As stated at the start of this article, this is not an attack on faith, as faith by definition is based on insufficient evidence. If there were sufficient evidence, there would be no requirement of faith to be involved. I disagree with the premise of accepting something on faith alone, but I am less reluctant to challenge someone who openly admits their beliefs are based on faith by pounding away at them with logic. If they’re up for a discussion or a debate, then I’m game, but to assert the life and supposed miracles of Jesus as fact, thus falling within the purview of science, based on iron age eye witness accounts is simply unfounded and devoid of credibility.
The video below is the entire debate between Alex Rosenberg and William Lane Craig. It’s long, and it’s arduous. Alex Rosenberg isn’t the best speaker, and William Lane Craig can be painful to listen to if you’re allergic to bullshit rhetoric spoken in a smug and superior manner. I’d rather recommend watching Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris debating William Lane Craig, but it’s appropriate that if you’ve read the article, you at least have the opportunity to watch the whole debate without venturing any further into the perilous vastness of the internet.