“Did Jesus Really Rise From The Dead?”
Debate between Michael Horner and Dan Barker.
This debate transcript is copyrighted. © Copyright 1996 by Dan Barker and Michael Horner. All rights reserved. Please do not make copies of this transcript for distribution in any form without permission from the copyright owners.
The debate was transcribed by Dan Barker, and has not been proofed yet by Michael Horner, though Horner has agreed to allow this preliminary copy to be available as long as the above copyright notice is displayed. This transcript was taken from an audiotape of the event. See transcription notes at the end.
The debate took place April 2, 1996, 7 pm at the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa, Maucker Union. It was moderated by Dustin Shramek and Greg Chenoweth of Campus Crusade For Christ. Attendance of 450+ students and community members.
Moderator, Dustin Shramek:
. . . Tonight’s debate is sponsored by Campus Crusade For Christ and the University Speaker’s Committee.
I’d like to welcome back to UNI Michael Horner and Dan Barker. Four years ago they were here together at UNI debating “Does God Exist?”
Affirming the Resurrection will be Mr. Michael Horner. He’s a member of the Society of Christian Philosophers. Michael has an M.A. in Philosophy. He has been a member of Campus Crusade For Christ since 1974. An experienced speaker, he lectures to thousands of University students and faculty internationally each year. He has also participated in numerous lectures and debates since 1986.
Arguing against the Resurrection is Mr. Dan Barker. He is a [staff] member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation since 1987. Dan has a degree in Religion and was ordained to the ministry in 1975. He maintained a touring musical ministry for 17 years and arranged and produced numerous Christian songs. Dan announced his atheism publicly in 1984 and since then he has written many songs, books, and newspaper articles regarding atheism, and has participated in many formal debates.
Now the format for tonight’s debate will be each individual will have 25 minutes to present their argument, and then each of them will have 12 minutes for the first rebuttal. After that they each will be able to cross examine — they will have five minutes to ask questions to the other person. Then there will be a second rebuttal where each will have 8 minutes. And then they will have closing remarks — each of them will have five minutes for closing.
On your chair you should have found a ballot card. Does everyone have that? If you would, please, fill out the first question, which is, “What was your answer to the question before the debate?” “Definitely YES” would be Jesus DID rise from the dead, and “Definitely NO” would be Jesus did NOT rise from the dead. And if you’ll just fill that part out right away, and then after the debate you’ll have an opportunity to cast your ballot concerning who you thought presented the most convincing argument.
And then also, we’ll also have — open the microphones, for you to be able to ask any questions to Mr. Horner or Mr. Barker.
In respect for each of the debaters we would like to ask the audience to hold its applause and any responses until the end of the debate.
Again, thank you for coming, and let the debate begin.
Michael Horner – Opening statement, 25 minutes
Well, it’s great to be back at UNI. And I would like to thank the University Speakers Committee and the local Campus Crusade For Christ group for inviting me to participate in this debate. I’d also like to thank Dan Barker for his willingness to enter into this kind of stimulating exercise, because I very much enjoy good intellectual exchange, and I hope we can kind of have some fun here tonight.
Now we are going to be discussing the historical grounds for believing in the Resurrection, grounds that I think are very good. In doing so, though, I would not want to imply that there are not other grounds for believing in the Resurrection, like one’s personal experience of the Risen Christ.
Now, clearly, something happened in Palestine that has had a remarkable impact on the world. And the issue is: what is the best explanation for what happened? Which explanation or hypothesis is best supported by the evidence and best explains the data? It is easy to just criticize an existing hypothesis, like the Resurrection, but what is needed is an alternative hypothesis that accounts for all the data with equal force. It’s a comparison of hypotheses that we must do here tonight.
Now I will present evidence for the hypothesis that Jesus rose from the dead. Dan will need to present an alternative natural hypothesis, and evidence for it. In the absence of a more plausible hypothesis by Dan, I will suggest that the Resurrection is the best explanation for the data.
Now, if it can be shown that the tomb of Jesus was found empty, that he did physically and bodily appear to many people after his death, and that the origin of the Christian faith is inexplicable apart from a real resurrection, then, if there is no plausible natural explanation that fits the data, one can rationally conclude that Jesus rose from the dead.
In tonight’s debate I’m going to make two basic points. First of all, there are good reasons to affirm the Resurrection; and secondly, there are no good reasons to deny the Resurrection.
First, there are good reasons to affirm the Resurrection.
First reason is: the writings about the Resurrection are too early for legend to prevail over the truth. The Gospel accounts of the appearances are too early to be legendary. The legend theory rests very heavily on the premise that the Gospels were written after 70 AD. But even the liberal critic John A. T. Robinson challenges this late dating as largely the result of scholarly laziness, unexamined presuppositions and almost willful blindness on the part of the critics. In fact, a growing number of scholars would argue for dating the book that we call Acts, or the books that we call Acts, Luke, Mark and Matthew before AD 70. And one of the reasons is that Acts makes no mention of known historical events that took place between AD 60 and and 70, such as the destruction of Jerusalem, the persecution of the Christians by Nero, the death of James and the death of Paul. The best explanation for these significant events going unmentioned by the writer is that they hadn’t yet occurred when the Book of Acts was completed. Hence, Acts was written before AD 62-64, and the Gospel of Luke, being Part I of Luke’s writings, was even earlier, possibly AD 57-62, and most scholars believe Mark was one of Luke’s research sources, and so it would be earlier still, somewhere between 45-56 AD. This pushes the accounts of the Resurrection appearances of Jesus to within 15-32 years after the events, or roughly one generation.
Secondly, First Corinthians, Paul’s writings about the Resurrection, are too early to be legendary, having been written around 53-55 AD, only 20-25 years after the events. But the important point is that all of these accounts are based on earlier written and oral sources that are dated much closer to the events. These sources contain sayings, statements, hymns that are highly Semitic, highly Jewish, and translate very nicely from Greek, in which they are written, back into Aramaic, the language that Jesus and his disciples most likely spoke. This points to an early Jerusalem origin, within the first few years, and even weeks, after Christ’s death. There simply was not enough time for the basic set of facts to be replaced by myth or legend.
The second reason for affirming the Resurrection is: the tomb was empty. There are at least four lines of evidence that I will present tonight that support the tomb being empty on that first Easter morning.
First, the written account describing the burial is widely recognized as being historically credible. The inclusion of Joseph of Arimathea as the one who buried Jesus in his own tomb is one of the many reasons that most scholars accept the accuracy of the burial story. It is highly unlikely that fictitious stories about a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling class, could have been pulled off. The absence of competing burial stories further enhances the credibility of the biblical account of the burial. If the Gospel tradition is legendary, one would expect to find conflicting burial stories, especially Jewish literature. But there are none.
Moreover, the burial and empty tomb story are a continuous narrative. They are linked together grammatically and linguistically. If the burial account is reliable, then the empty tomb account is also likely reliable.
Now, if this burial account is accurate, then the grave site of Joseph’s garden tomb would have been well known. And if that grave site was well known, no one would have believed that Jesus had risen, not the disciples, nor the thousands of others who did believe, unless that tomb really was empty. And you can be sure that if the body had still been in the tomb, the Jewish authorities would have exhumed it and exposed the whole charade. But in fact, even though they had every reason to want to refute Christianity, they never could produce the body of Jesus, in or outside of the tomb.
Second, the earliest anti-Christian propaganda confirms the tomb was empty. The Jewish religious leaders claimed that the disciples stole the body. The fact that they never denied that Jesus’ tomb was empty, but only tried to explain it away, is persuasive evidence that the tomb was in fact empty. Historically, this is evidence of the highest quality because it comes from the opponents of Christianity.
Third, the fact that Jesus’ tomb was never venerated as a shrine in the first century indicates that it was empty. The custom was to set up a shrine at the site of a holy man’s bones. There were at least 50 such sites in Palestine at that time, and the absence of such a shrine for Jesus suggests that the bones weren’t there.
Fourth, the testimony of the Apostle Paul implies the tomb was empty. Writing in around 55 AD, Paul quotes an old Christian saying that Jesus died, was buried, and rose on the third day. Now the idea that a person could be raised from the dead while the body remained in the grave still would have been nonsense to Paul’s Jewish mind. The Jewish concept of resurrection was extremely physical. Paul is clearly assuming and implying an empty tomb here. As W. L. Craig pointed out, were this not so, then Pauline theology would have taken an entirely different route, trying to explain how resurrection could be possible even though the body is still there in the grave. Moreover, this saying concerning the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, from which Paul is quoting, is much to early to be legendary. Paul would have learned it in his first two years as a convert, or at least no later than AD 36 when he visited Peter and James in Jerusalem. Thus this formula is no later than 5 or 6 years after the Resurrection — not enough time for legend to dominate.
These four points are among many that provide a powerful case for the tomb being empty that Sunday morning after Jesus’ death. And the move in scholarly circles in recent years has been toward the acceptance of the empty tomb, because it is very difficult to refute on historical grounds. The historian Michael Grant, who is himself not a Christian, says, “The historian cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb.” If we apply the same sort of criteria that we would apply to any other ancient literary sources, the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was indeed found empty.
Now most people who reject the empty tomb do so because of philosophical assumptions or prejudices, such as: miracles are impossible. But this type of assumption may simply have to be changed in light of historical fact.
Now the empty tomb by itself did not produce a belief in a resurrected Jesus. For most of the followers, it was Jesus physically appearing to them that led them to the conclusion that Jesus had risen. And so my third reason for affirming the Resurrection is that Jesus physically appeared to many witnesses.
Now most scholars agree that even though there is interdependence between much of the Gospel accounts, the appearance accounts are independent of one another. So, evidence from five independent historical sources indicate that on 12 separate occasions various individuals and groups in various locations and circumstances saw Jesus alive after his death.
The four Gospels tell us about the appearances to Mary Magdalen, to the women returning from the tomb, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, to Peter, to the disciples with Thomas absent, to the disciples with Thomas present a week later, to the seven disciples at the Lake of Tiberius in Galilee, to the 11 and probably others on a mountain in Galilee, to the disciples at the ascension.
Paul, besides repeating the appearances to Peter, the twelve, and to all the apostles (probably a larger group), also mentions appearances to James, Saul (that is, himself), and to over 500 people at one time. Now, Paul’s accounts of the appearances are likely not legendary because of his [having] listed in this [the] appearance to more than 500 people. You see, Paul is using the accepted method of his day to prove an historical event: the appeal to witnesses. He specifically states that most of these people are still alive, thereby inviting cross examination of his witnesses. He would not likely have done this unless they were real people, and that they would back up his claims as well.
The Gospel accounts of the appearances are more likely historical than legendary. First of all, they are too early. Professor A. N. Sherwin-White, who is an eminent historian of Roman and Greek history, has studied the rate at which myths develop in the ancient Near East, and he chides the New Testament critics for not recognizing the quality of the New Testament documents compared to the sources that he has to work with in Roman and Greek history. He says those sources are usually removed from the events they describe by generations or even centuries. Despite when they were written, though, and the typically biased approach of the writers, he says historians can confidently reconstruct what actually happened. In stark contrast, Sherwin-White tells us that for the Gospels to be legendary, more generations would have been needed between the events and their compilation. He has found that even the span of two full generations, 50 – 80 years, is not long enough for legend to wipe out the hard core of historical fact. Even a late dating of the Gospels by critics meets that criteria, let alone the early dating that we argued for. The legends about Jesus that the critics are looking for do exist, but they arose in the second century, which is consistent with the two-generation time frame discovered by Professor Sherwin-White, when all the eye-witnesses had died off. Thus the trustworthiness of the Gospel account is highly probable because there just wasn’t enough time for the mythical tendencies to creep in and then prevail over the historical fact.
Secondly, the fact that women and not male disciples are listed as the first witnesses of the appearances and the empty tomb adds powerful credibility to these incidents. You see, women were of such low status in first-century Jewish society that their testimony in court was considered worthless. So it would have been purposeless, even counterproductive, to record the women as being these first witnesses if it were not the way that it actually happened.
Third, the Gospels are not written in a legendary style of writing. The style of the Gospels lacks the legendary embellishments that are clearly part of the later writings. C. S. Lewis, one of the great literary experts on ancient myths, commenting on the Gospels, writes, “I have been reading poems, romances, vision literature, legends, myths, all my life. I know that not one of them,” the Gospels, that is, “is not like this.”
Fourth, where external verification is possible, the New Testament has demonstrated its reliability time and time again, thus supporting its overall credibility. Craig Blomberg, New Testament scholar, says, that as investigation proceeds, the evidence becomes sufficient for one to declare that what can be checked is accurate, so that it is entirely proper to believe that what cannot be checked is probably accurate as well. Other conclusions, wide-spread though they are, seem not to stem from even-handed historical analysis, he says, but from religious or philosophical prejudice.
Thus, it’s hard to deny on historical grounds, that numerous people had experiences that they interpreted as appearances of the risen Jesus. Thus, the evidence is that Jesus made multiple appearances after his death.
My fourth reason for affirming the Resurrection is that the origin of the Christian movement is inexplicable apart from a real resurrection. First, the disciples’ belief in a resurrection needs an adequate cause. Even the most skeptical of scholars admit to the existence of the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. That is, the Christian movement began based on this new belief of a resurrected Jesus. Something must have happened to create this belief. Where did it come from? There must be an adequate cause.
Earlier in the 20th century it was common for scholars to suggest that the disciples borrowed this concept of Jesus’ resurrection from pagan sources. But it cannot be emphasized too strongly that experts no longer consider this position tenable.
(Let me find my right overhead here. Here we go.)
One would have to prove that there are parallels sufficiently analogous to Jesus’ resurrection. But none of them are sufficiently analogous. The alleged parallels are contrived. Some are made to look analogous by the importation of Christian language like “Savior” and “Redeemer,” back into the nonChristian stories, and the majority are not even intended by the religions to be viewed as anything more than just symbolic legends, unlike Jesus’ resurrection, which was clearly intended by the writers as being historical. Furthermore, Jesus’ resurrection is so specific and so unique that the parallels just don’t fit. We have a transformed body with Jesus, that never dies again, not just a resuscitated corpse that does have to die again. And it’s not just a continuous cycle of deaths and rebirths. Even Ian Wilson, the British skeptic, concludes, “on close inspection, the parallels are unimpressive.”
Second, even if the parallels were better, one would have to show that there was sufficient influence of the alleged parallels in Palestine at that time to cause monotheistic Jews to posit a resurrection and worship Jesus as God. But the scholarly consensus is that there was very little influence from the pagan religions in first-century Palestine. Historian Michael Grant summarizes the scholarly opinion. He says “Judaism was a milieu to which the doctrines of the deaths and rebirths of mythical gods seemed so entirely foreign that the emergence of such a fabrication from its midst is very hard to credit.” Even the very skeptical critic, Hans Grass, points out that “it would be completely unthinkable that the original disciples could have come to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was risen from the dead on the basis of pagan myths about dying and rising seasonal gods.”
The third point in response to these alleged pagan parallels is that Jewish and early Christian thought was exclusive, unlike most of the other religions at the time. It wasn’t open to incorporating the ideas of other religions into its own. Therefore the lines of influence are more likely to have run the other way. In fact, that is what the evidence implies. All of the material that we have that tells us about these mystery religions, all of it is from well past the first century, and most of it is from the third and fourth century. The few parallels that do exist more than likely, then, reflect Christian influence on the pagan religions rather than the other way around.
Then we have the transformation of the followers, skeptics, and enemies. It’s inexplicable apart from a real resurrection. You see, the disciples were devastated, defeated after the Resurrection. They thought that their glorious three years with Jesus had come to a bitter and final end. But something changed them from being frightened, discouraged and despondent to being bold, courageous and outspoken. Peter, who denied he even knew Jesus, stood up a few weeks later in downtown Jerusalem proclaiming Jesus was Lord and risen from the grave. There’s got to be a sufficient explanation for the dramatic change in these people’s lives. And it was not just followers, but skeptics and enemies who were transformed. James and Jesus’ other brothers did not believe Jesus was the Lord during his lifetime. Now they later believed. And James not only believed, but became the leader of the early Jerusalem Christian movement, and he died a martyr’s death. Saul of Tarsus, the chief persecutor of the early Christians — he hated the Christian heresy, even to the point of killing to stop it — but something happened that changed him from Saul, the number-one persecutor of Christianity, to Paul, the number-one propagator of Christianity. He was totally transformed. He gave up the prestige and comforts be being a respected rabbi, and took on the life of a traveling missionary who experienced incredible hardship. Something incredible must have happened to change this man. There must be a sufficient cause to explain both the origin of this belief in the Resurrection, and the amazing transformation of frightened followers, skeptics, and enemies. There seems to be no plausible explanation that fits the facts apart from the explanation that these earliest Christians gave, that is, Jesus physically rose from the grave and appeared to them. Now these events are inexplicable [apart] from a real resurrection.
So, the evidence shows that the tomb was indeed found empty, that Jesus physically appeared to different people on numerous occasions in a variety of places after his death, and furthermore, the very origin of the Christian faith and the transformation of followers, skeptics, and enemies is inexplicable apart from a resurrection. There is no probable natural explanation for any one of these three independently established points, let all three of them put together. The Resurrection hypothesis, however, explains all three without distorting the data. Together, these three facts point powerfully to the same unavoidable conclusion: Jesus did rise physically and bodily from the dead.
So a rational person can hardly be blamed for believing in the Resurrection. If one denies this conclusion, he is rationally obligated to provide a more plausible explanation that fits the facts.
Now my second major point today is this: There are no good reasons to deny the Resurrection.
First of all, an a priori dismissal of miracles is illegitimate. One cannot rule out the Resurrection because of prior assumptions that miracles are impossible. If in trying to determine whether a miracle has taken place one rules out any documents containing miracles, one has merely argued in a circle. He has not done a fair investigation. He has merely assumed the conclusion he wants to prove. It amounts to this: “I do not accept the Resurrection miracle because I do not accept any miracle.” Not much of an argument. You see, as long as it is even possible that God exists, miracles are possible. What one should do then, is try to honestly answer the question: “What does the evidence suggest is the most plausible explanation for the data?”
And as the philosopher W. L. Craig remarks, “That miracles are possible is neutral ground between the opposing claims that miracles are necessary and miracles are impossible.” “And once one gives up the prejudice,” he says, “against miracles, it’s hard to deny that the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation of the facts.”
Secondly, the alleged contradictions in the Resurrection accounts can be harmonized, and they show a lack of collusion among the writers. Many people reject a resurrection of Jesus because they think the Gospel accounts of the Resurrection are hopelessly contradictory. But the differences in the accounts establish their independence, which means we have multiple attestation to the Resurrection, and it also shows that there was no collusion among the writers. The differences show that the information [of] the different Gospels is from different sources. This is a more reasonable hypothesis than the view that the writers borrowed from each other and were so stupid that they botched all the points they borrowed. And the more sources a historian has that say essentially the same thing, the greater the probability of their veracity.
As many scholars have pointed out, the confusion between the different accounts in the Gospels do not appear to have been contrived. “The conflict of testimony is more a mark of the sincerity of those from whom the testimony is derived than a mark against their veracity,” says James D. G. Dunn, well-known New Testament scholar.
Secondly, the differences are minor, and they are to be expected. Differences in details do not necessarily discredit the entire account. No historian suggests that just because there are differences in the eyewitness accounts of Kennedy’s shooting, that therefore JFK wasn’t assassinated. The differences in the Resurrection accounts are minor, and are to be expected since each account is based on different witnesses’ reports, written by a different author with slightly different themes or emphases, and to different audiences. Witnesses don’t usually report the details of an event exactly the same. In fact, it’s when they do that lawyers get suspicious. What is really remarkable is that they are so similar. The Gospels are not intended to be exhaustive accounts of Jesus’ life. They are summaries. Only to presuppose that they are exhaustive can you get contradictions in the Resurrection accounts.
Third, the differences have been harmonized. Works by John Wenham and Murray Harris recently have shown the differences to be complementary, not contradictory.
None of the naturalistic explanations fit the facts. Old theories like the Conspiracy and Swoon theories are just passe, they are rejected by scholars of the last 100-175 years.
Now Dan has a principle that he applies to the Resurrection. He claims that extraordinary or outrageous events require extraordinary or outrageous evidence. But this charge makes no sense, and it creates a phantom standard that virtually nothing could meet. It’s a powerful rhetorical device, but it’s very misleading because it amounts to a thinly disguised assertion that miracles are impossible. What is required of an event is good evidence, not extraordinary evidence, whatever that means. Presumably, by an “extraordinary event,” the skeptic means an event that rarely happens. But then, since evidence is made up of events, extraordinary events would require other extraordinary events, that is, other events that rarely happen, which would require even other events that rarely happen to support it, which would require other events that rarely happen to support it. And you’ve got the concept of “extraordinary evidence” reduced to a nonsensical infinite regress.
One atheist has used the example that they had a flat tire on the way to tonight’s debate. He says we would believe what he says. But we would probably not believe him if he claimed he was abducted by aliens. According to this atheist, we would require “extraordinary evidence” to believe that. But we’ve seen that the concept of “extraordinary evidence” is nonsense. What we would want is just plain good evidence, because the alien abductions is an event of great import. So the skeptic has found a kernel of truth here — events that do not have great import, like a flat tire, we will suspend the criteria of good evidence, that’s true. But let’s say that the flat tire ends up being an alibi that gets the person out of a murder charge. Now all of a sudden we would hold that flat-tire event to the standard of good evidence. But what’s the difference? It’s still the same event: a flat tire. Events rationally require good evidence, no matter what kind of events they are. But if they do not have great import or significance, we willingly suspend the requirement of good evidence.
The upshot of all this is that if the evidence for an event such as the Resurrection is good, it should not matter that it is an extraordinary (that is, rare) event. Good evidence is sufficient to establish any event. Just because something hasn’t happened often or at all should be irrelevant to the weight of evidence that it did in fact happen this time. And the evidence for the Resurrection meets this standard of good evidence.
So, we see that not only are there four good reasons to affirm the Resurrection, but there are no good reasons to deny the Resurrection. [Applause]
If everyone would please hold their applause until the very end at any responses. Thanks.
Dan Barker, Opening Statement, 25 minutes.
That was my fault. I started clapping. Sorry.
Horner: Thank you.
Barker: Well, thank you, Campus Crusade. And thank you, Greg Chenoweth, for this invitation. It’s fun to come back here again — I guess for the “Second Coming” — to this debate. I also want to thank some people who have helped me prepare for this, especially [name withheld by request], who is a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who is also a member of the Jesus Seminar — he’s not one of the Fellows, not one of the scholars, but he’s one of the members. Did you see Time Magazine this week, by the way? An excellent article about the controversy about the historical Jesus.
I also want to thank some of the Internet Infidels — there’s actually a group of Internet Infidels who are doing a lot of research — Jeff Lowder, Donald Morgan, Robin Berry, [Mark Smith], and others.
I especially want to thank Farrell Till. Farrell Till is the editor of the Skeptical Review, a periodical that gives space to both sides of the question of biblical errancy. Farrell Till debated Michael some time ago on the same topic. Farrell Till is here tonight. Where are you, Farrell? Are you out — there he is. Farrell Till is a former ordained, practicing preaching minister. He was with the Church of Christ. I was a Pentecostal. I was an ordained preacher, and I was out — we were both street preachers. I guess we still are, I don’t know. My story is told in a book I wrote called Losing Faith In Faith: From Preacher To Atheist. So if you’re curious about all that, I have a book about it.
I’m not going to debate atheism tonight. Mike and I have already done that debate, and you can see the tremendous impact we had on each other. [Laughter] I also don’t believe that Jesus even existed, but I’m not going to do that debate tonight either.
I’m going to make a concession for tonight’s debate. I’m going to compromise a little bit. I’m going to take a position that is somewhat in the middle. I’m going to assert a hypothesis that is equally acceptable to an atheist and to a Christian, if you can believe that. I’m asserting a hypothesis that many Christians do accept — many Christians probably in this room accept — and it’s the same hypothesis that some atheists also accept. I don’t happen to be one of those atheists, but I think this hypothesis, even though I have trouble with some of the details of the hypothesis, accounts for the facts much better than Mike’s hypothesis does. It’s much more rational and has fewer problems.
What I’m going to argue tonight is not atheism or not the historicity of Jesus. I’m going to argue evolution tonight. Not biological evolution, of course, but the evolution of a legend. The evolution of a myth.
The earliest Christian community did believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead “spiritually.” The earliest Christian community did not believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead “bodily.” This is supported by the facts. The Christian community then went through a process, an evolutionary process of thought regarding the resurrection of Jesus until about a half century had passed, and then, and only then, do we find these fantastic embellishments and exaggerations in the thoughts of the early Christians of a “bodily” resurrected Jesus.
The best way to approach this, I guess, is to go back to history itself. Who knows what is the very first written thing we have about the resurrection of Jesus? It’s Paul’s mention in First Corinthians 15. Mike had mentioned that Paul wrote his epistles sometime in the mid-50s, which is about 20 years after the events supposedly happened, 20-25 years later.
And here is what Paul writes. Paul is quoting something — Mike called it a hymn. He’s quoting some kind of a formula, a recitation, something that is in what you might call a legendary style. It’s not straight history. We know the marks of legend when things are presented in a poetic style and not just straight narrative. Listen to this poem, or this hymn, that Paul is quoting from earlier Christians which was probably written sometime in the 30s. It probably is a pretty old thing, maybe 32-34-36.
[Taking drink of water.] By the way, did you notice our cups, Mike? It says “Rise and Shine” on it. [laughter] See, that proves there’s a God. How else can you explain something like that?
Here’s Paul’s recitation, all right? Now, remember that when Paul is writing this to the Corinthians, his agenda is for himself. He’s trying to establish that he is one of the in-crowd too. Not just Peter, not just James, but “Me, too. I have apostolic authority.” That’s why he’s giving it to these people in Corinth, this newly formed church. Here’s the hymn [I Corinthians 15:3-8]:
“Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the Scriptures,
and was buried.
“And he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures
and he appeared to Cephas,” which is Peter,
“and then to the twelve.”
(I thought there were only eleven there. But anyway.)
“Afterward, he appeared to more than 500 brethren, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
“Afterward he appeared to James,
and then to all the missionaries.” (Or to all the apostles.)
“Last of all, as to one untimely born,
he appeared also to me.”
Paul is saying, “Hey, you can trust me. Jesus has appeared to me, too, not just to the early ones.”
Now, notice this. This is very simple. Very stark. We don’t have any earthquakes, we don’t have any eclipses or astronomical events, we don’t have any angels, we don’t have any women telling stories, we don’t have any of these fantastic embellishments. We just have a simple recognition of what the early Christians believed. Paul is passing this on, from what other people believed.
There’s three words I want you to look at in this hymn, in this legendary-style hymn that Paul is quoting.
The first word is the word “buried.” The word there is “etaphe,” which is from the Greek word for “taphos,” which just means “burial.” It does not mean “tomb,” it does not mean “sepulchre.” The word for tomb is “mnema,” and sepulchre is “mnemeion,” (if I pronounced it correctly). It’s just a place of burial. And if Jesus was truly crucified by the Roman authorities, it was their practice in those days to throw the decayed corpses of the crucified people into a common grave.
Paul is not talking about a tomb here. He is simply talking about a man who died. Just like when Moses died, in Deuteronomy, he was thrown in a grave — nobody knows where the grave was, somewhere in Moab — yet Moses was seen resurrected bodily from the dead. Did you know that? But nobody assumes that therefore there must have been an empty tomb of Moses. Remember in Matthew 17, when Peter goes up into the mountain with Jesus, James, and John, and Jesus is transfigured, and suddenly, who does he see? Moses and Elijah. There he is. Are we to assume that there is an empty tomb of Moses because Peter saw Moses up there? Of course we don’t assume that.
Paul did not have a belief in an empty tomb, and he doesn’t say that he did. Now, if you think he did, you’re committing a historical no-no here. What you are doing is you’re committing a kind of “Back To The Future” kind of historical analysis. You think you know what is in Paul’s mind because you know what the later Gospel writers in the 80s and 90s, you think you know what they said about a bodily resurrection, so you are imposing that, back in time, on to Paul’s mind because you think you know better. Paul was just kind of simple, but you know what he really meant. But the earliest Christians didn’t mention any of these exaggerated bodily things.
The second word I want you to look at is the word “raised.” He said “he was buried. And he was raised on the third day.” That’s not the word “resurrected.” The word resurrected is “anastasis [noun],” or “anistimi [verb].” The word that Paul used here for “raised” is the word “egeiro” — “egergetai.” That is the word that is used throughout the New Testament for the word “to wake up,” to “awaken.” Remember when the disciples were on this boat and there was a storm and Jesus was asleep down below? They were scared, and they went down below and they woke him up? [Matthew 8:25] They used that word “egeiro”: They “woke him up.” “Jesus, help, help!” And all through the New Testament we find this word “egeiro” being used not for a bodily resurrection, but for a spiritual awakening, or for just waking up.
In Romans, Paul said, “Now it is high time to awaken out of sleep.” [Romans 13:11] “Egeiro.”
In Ephesians. We think Paul might have written Ephesians, we don’t know for sure. This is really interesting. Paul is giving a whole bunch of advice to Christians, okay? Do this, do this, avoid this, don’t do that, do this, here’s how to live, and right in the middle of this advice, daily advice, he says, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” [Ephesians 5:14] What’s the word that he uses? “Egeiro.” Can you command a living, breathing person to rise from the dead? Of course Paul doesn’t think that that word has anything to do with a bodily resurrection.
The third word I want you to see in this phrase is the word “appear” or “seen,” depending on the translation. That word is “ophthe.” Paul uses the word “ophthe” five different times — or was it four, I forget exactly, but he uses that word, one, two, three — four times, and he was the last one. This is from the Greek word “horao” which is used for both physical vision and of a vision, to “have a vision.” In fact, Paul had a lot of visions in the bible, and he uses that same word. When the Macedonian guy came to him and said, “Please come preach to us,” [Acts 16:9] it wasn’t in a bodily form — it was a “vision,” the same word. When Ananias . . . when he had a vision of Ananias [Acts 9:12], the same word. He didn’t see Ananias physically. He used that word, that he had had a “vision” of Ananias.
And in Matthew 17, when Peter went up the mountain and saw Moses, what’s the word that was used? “Ophthe.” Moses “appeared” to Peter. [Matthew 17:3] Now, do we think that Moses bodily appeared to Peter? Did Moses bodily resurrect from the dead before Jesus had died for our sins? You have to believe that if you use these words consistently. Of course, I don’t think most Christians believe that Moses bodily resurrected from the dead before that time — maybe you do. But in any event, we can see that they are talking about a visionary experience here. And in First Corinthians 15, Jesus “appeared” to Peter and to James using that same word: “ophthe.”
Now, we know, Paul tacks himself at the end here, and he said Jesus “ophthe” to Peter, he “ophthe” to James, he “appeared” to these others, and he “appeared” to me. We all know that Jesus did not physically appear to Paul. Paul said he did. He was blinded. He was knocked off his horse. He was in the habit of hearing voices and seeing lights in the sky. The people that were with Paul didn’t see anyone. The people that were with Paul didn’t hear anyone. Well, it depends on which account you take. In one account the men did hear the voice [Acts 9:7], and in another account they didn’t [Acts 22:9] — there’s a biblical contradiction. They didn’t hear or see anyone. So, what kind of a “physical” appearance is this? In fact, this was after Jesus’ ascension. What was Jesus doing? Did he ascend up above the clouds for a while, and his body hung around, and he came back down and said, “Hi, Paul. I want you to know I’m still hanging around.” Do you really think there was a physical, spatially limited body of Jesus hanging up there, coming down to Paul? No, I don’t think most Christians today believe that.
The fact that Paul says that Jesus “ophthe” to him, and it was not a physical appearance, gives us a clue that he does not intend us to believe that the other appearances to these others were also physical. They were “spiritual” experiences, what they believed to be spiritual experiences.
And, to nail this thing shut, just a few verses later, Paul is talking about the Resurrection, right? He’s explaining what the Resurrection means, and he says, in I Corinthians 15:50, “Now, I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” So, how could he be talking about a physical resurrection and turn right around and say “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God”? He obviously intends this to mean that Jesus resurrected, but in a spiritual way, not physically, not bodily.
So, the first Resurrection account that we have has no empty tomb, no physical appearances. That’s as close as we can get to the views of the early church. We see later, though, an evolution of Christian thought.
Now, I don’t know how much weight historians should give to an argument from silence. There’s a big debate about that. Just because somebody doesn’t say something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, right? But I do know that Mike really likes the argument from silence. He used it three times tonight. He used it to try to date the Gospels earlier by mentioning the things that were not said in the Gospels. He used it to try to criticize what criticisms might have been said and weren’t said. So, Mike does like the argument from silence, and he uses it a lot. So, if he’s going to use it, I’m going to use it as well. The absence of competing stories, for example, is another one of your arguments from silence.
Paul, we know, never claimed to have met Jesus, not before he died. He didn’t meet the physical Jesus after the Resurrection. In fact, one of the ways we know this for sure is that if Paul had met Jesus and known him, he would have said something about him. Yet never does Paul quote a single Gospel saying of Jesus, anywhere in all of his writings — and his writings were first. Never does Paul make reference to any of the miracles of Jesus that appeared in the Gospels. And Paul supposedly hung around with these people, and talked to them. And Paul talked about a lot of the same issues and would have benefited from quoting Jesus, for example, on divorce — Paul talked about divorce a lot, and Paul said there should be no divorce. He forgot to take into account the fact that Jesus did allow for some divorce, in some case. He contradicted Jesus.
So, Paul seemed to be pretty ignorant. I know this is an argument from silence, but wouldn’t it have been good evidence if Paul had said something? Mike is telling us that we have good evidence. It would have been good evidence if Paul had told us a few things about this man that he supposedly had met physically.
Now, let’s move “Forward To The Future,” another 20 years to the next item that we have written about the Resurrection, and watch how this thought kind of develops. It’s really nice. The book of Mark ends at chapter 16 verse 8. The last 18 verses are added. They’re an interpolation. Most scholars agree with that. That’s the part about handling snakes and drinking poison. I don’t think very few [many] Christians think that I should give some poison to Mike to test his faith, you know. Hey, that would be a good trick in a debate, wouldn’t it? Bring a glass of . . .
Anyway, most Christians realize, and most bibles admit that those last 18 verses don’t belong in the book of Mark. They weren’t in the two earliest Greek manuscripts, they were added later. And the early Christians were in the habit of doing this, adding things, redacting things, changing things, editing things, according to their theology. Let me read what Mark says, and listen to how the book of Mark ends. Now remember, this is our second item in history.
[Mark 16:5-8] “And entering into the sepulchre,” now they’re using the word “sepulchre,” “they saw a young man sitting on the right side . . . and he saith unto them, Be not afraid: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen;” (egeiro) “he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee . . . they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid.”
Now, notice something. There’s no appearances of Jesus in the earliest Gospel. There’s no post-resurrection of Jesus anywhere in this first, earliest Gospel. If we’re going to go back to the source of the religion, let’s go to the earliest Gospel. In Mark you don’t have Jesus appearing to anybody. You don’t even know where he is. You don’t even know if they got the right tomb — I suppose this guy knew what he was talking about when they went in there. Let’s assume that it was the right tomb, and let’s assume that the early Christians did believe at that point that Jesus had been resurrected and that there was an empty tomb.
But remember, the phrase “he is risen” is the word “egeiro” again, not “resurrection.” Why didn’t they use the word “anastasis,” a physical resurrection? They didn’t use that.
And notice something else. There’s no angel in this account. Mark’s account has just a “man.” Notice that the further back in history you go, the simpler, the less embellished things are. The later you go in history, the more embellishments you start to add on to the story as we go. There’s no earthquake, there’s no opening of the graves of Jerusalem and all the people walking around showing themselves and going back to their homes, there’s no eclipse and darkness of the sun, none of that stuff. It’s pretty simple, pretty basic, and pretty stark. The women did not rejoice or proclaim the resurrection of Jesus when they saw the empty tomb. This didn’t lead them to a belief in the Resurrection at all.
Now, let’s go “Forward Into The Future” again, about another, how many years? Ten, fifteen years or so, until we get to Matthew and Luke. Now we get to some of the goodies. Now we get to the stuff you’re going to hear about Sunday Morning [Easter, April 7] quoted about all these embellishments and fun things that Christians like to think happened on Jesus’ resurrection. We get to the bodily resurrection, the earthquake. Some people think, most scholars think that Matthew, Luke and John were written latest, in the 80s and John even into the 90s. We’re talking about a half century of time passing now, for this evolution to happen.
So, you see this evolution happening, I . . .
[At this point there is a huge break in the tape recording, omitting a large segment of Dan’s statement. The following reconstruction is based on Dan’s notes.]
So, we know that the earliest Christians did not believe in a bodily resurrection of Jesus. But they did believe that Jesus had been resurrected, at least in a spiritual manner. It is fair to ask about the origin of that belief.
So, what did happen to produce such a belief? (Assuming that the rest of the story is basically true.)
We don’t know. We can’t go back in time and psychoanalyze Peter. But Peter and the disciples had given up everything to follow Jesus. They expected their Messiah to set up a kingdom on earth. This did not happen. Jesus died. This created a “cognitive dissonance.”
Add to this the fact that Peter had denied Jesus, after claiming that he would never do such a thing. He must have been feeling quite guilty.
What if you (Mike) had a bad argument with your wife, and you said some things that you shouldn’t have said, and you immediately regretted saying them, and wanted to apologize and make things right? But before you can do this, you learn that your wife is killed in an accident. How are you going to feel? It’s a double whammy. Not only will you be dealing with the trauma of the death of someone you love very much, changing your entire future, but you will be dealing with the guilt of what you had said and were unable to make right.
Peter must have felt something like this when Jesus died. Peter must have needed some way to “make everything right.” Perhaps he prayed to Jesus and felt that he had received forgiveness, and later told this to his friends. Perhaps he “saw” Jesus in an agonizing vision, and told this to his friends, who misinterpreted what he said, easily imagining that he had really seen the physical Jesus, eager to believe that their years of following the Messiah had not been wasted after all. We don’t need an actual historical event in order to produce a belief in credulous, hurting people.
This is what happens in other religions. The Millerites in the 1800s predicted the end of the world. When it didn’t happen as they had predicted, they lost some members, but the faithful regrouped, tweaked their theology, and started proselytizing even stronger in order to correct the disconfirmation of their beliefs. Today we have the Seventh Day Adventist religion, going strong, as a result of that failure.
Look at the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They predicted the end of the world in 1914, and when that didn’t happen, they changed it to 1925. When that failure occurred, they did the same thing as the Millerites. They lost some members, but they adjusted their theology, claiming that the Second Coming had happened as they predicted, but in heaven, not on earth. They simply altered their theology . . .
[back to the recording]
. . . their theology and went out and proselytized even stronger. Listen to what Robert Price says in Beyond Born Again:
“When a group has staked everything on a religious belief, and ‘burned their bridges behind them,’ only to find this belief disconfirmed by events, they may find disillusionment too painful to endure. They soon come up with some explanatory rationalization, the plausibility of which will be reinforced by the mutual encouragement of fellow-believers in the group. In order to increase further the plausibility of their threatened belief, they may engage in a massive new effort at proselytizing. The more people who can be convinced, the truer it will seem,” right? “In the final analysis, then, a radical disconfirmation of belief might [may] be just what a religious movement needs to get off the ground!”
Maybe that’s why Christianity is so successful, because of that disconfirmation, because of the failure of the prophecy of their Messiah. They all got together — this has happened in other religions. What makes the early Christians exempt from this? Were they special in some way? Weren’t they just human beings? Weren’t they subject to the same tendencies, the same foibles that we all have?
Now, that’s the end of my hypothesis. That’s the end of my opening statement. But I might be able to sneak in a head start on a rebuttal here, if I — what do I have, five more minutes? Let me see.
My hypothesis is, of course, that the early Christians did not believe in a bodily resurrection, and that idea evolved.
I do believe that the early Christians believed in a spiritual resurrection, but I don’t believe that myself, obviously. I believe they believed it.
I don’t believe in miracles. And this is not an a priori rejection of the supernatural. I think Mike is confusing something. I would like Mike to point to some author somewhere who uses that phrase. Who stands up and says, “I have an a priori bias against the supernatural.”
What I have is what you have as well, a very strong naturalistic presupposition. Every Christian needs a very strong naturalistic presupposition. Otherwise, the miracles would be worthless. If a miracle is an overriding, or a breaking of natural law in some way, then if these things happened all the time, then they wouldn’t count for anything. If the graves of Iowa were opening every other night and people were walking out of them, what good would the resurrection of Jesus count for? Christians need a very strict investment in natural regularity for the miracles to count for something. Because, if God’s going to show his power, he’s got to show it by doing the impossible, right? So you, like I, need to have a very strong naturalistic presupposition. This is not a bias. This is simply a fact of the result of observation. It’s inductively obtained. We know that billions of people have died, and they have not come back to life again. We know that, just from observation. So it is only natural for us to assume, before the facts, that the prior probability of an event like the Resurrection happening is very, very, very, very low. I’m not saying we should rule it out — there might be some things we don’t know.
But the biggest problem with history and miracles is not the idea of a bias against miracles. That’s not the problem. The biggest problem is the built-in incompatibility of the historical method with miracles.
History has to require a naturalistic presupposition in order to work. It’s just a tool. All sciences are tools. No science claims to give us knowledge that is 100% confident. No science does. We increase our confidence by testing, by eliminating, by this and that, by falsifying. Some sciences tend to give us pretty high confidence.
History, of all of the legitimate sciences, is the weakest. It gives us information that is further removed from what happened. So, therefore, historians must be all the more careful in adhering to a naturalistic presupposition. Because otherwise, you can’t know anything through history. You can’t, then, know that something didn’t happen according to the way someone said it. You need criteria for weeding out what could happen and can’t happen, based upon our past observations.
So, what I’m saying here — please don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that this rules out miracles. What I’m saying is, you can have miracles if you want; but then you can’t have history. You can’t have them both. And if the only knowledge we have of the resurrection of Jesus comes through history, and if history requires a strict application of natural regularity through time, then that sort of short-circuits the whole process, because history is all the Christians have got.
It’s like saying I know there’s a rainbow out there because I can hear it. You can’t hear a rainbow, right? Well, history is the same way. It doesn’t pretend to “hear” the supernatural. It doesn’t pretend to have anything to say about it, or to analyze it. History is just a limited tool. Any historian who believes in miracles is building a house on the sand, because, if the miracles happened, then anything goes. Anything anybody says we’re just going to have to take, because we don’t have any way of saying, “No, that’s not possible.”
So, the bodily resurrection of Jesus did not happen on good biblical grounds, it did not happen on good historical grounds. If you want to believe that it happened spiritually, that’s your business. What’s nice about this hypothesis that I present is that it respects our freedom to believe. It respects your freedom to believe that Jesus did rise from the dead. And you can’t have the freedom to believe unless you also have the freedom not to believe. If Mike is right, I don’t have the freedom not to believe. I must be forced by the brute facts of history into accepting something that doesn’t require faith at all. So my hypothesis, besides being better attested by the facts and by the bible and by history, is a nicer hypothesis. It’s much more respectful of human freedom and human dignity. [applause]
Michael Horner, first rebuttal, 12 minutes.
I began by arguing that there are good reasons to affirm the Resurrection. My first point is that the Gospel accounts, Paul’s accounts are too early for legend. I gave arguments for the early dating of the Gospels. I haven’t seen any response for those. And even if the Gospels were written post-70 AD, between then and 90 AD, that’s still within the two-generation time frame that Professor Sherwin-White tells us is not enough time for legend to win out over historical fact. You just don’t find that in history, where in the same geographical location legend pushes out historical fact prior to all the eyewitnesses dying off. Now remember that these writings are based on earlier sources, and Dan admitted that. Paul’s quote, for example, goes back to within five or six years after the event.
The second point I made was that the tomb was empty. So far, the position that Dan has given cannot account for the empty tomb. He’s got to now come up with another hypothesis to account for that tomb being empty. He’s just basically asserted that those Gospels worked in later and therefore the story being in the tomb is not factual. But there’s a large consensus among scholarship that because of Joseph of Arimathea being the one who put, who asked for Jesus’ body from Pilate, and put Jesus in his own tomb, that the burial account is widely considered to be historical. It is only critics on the far left wing (for lack of a better term) of the spectrum that do not think that the burial account is historical. So he has to deal with that.
The earliest antiChristian propaganda, as well, I said, mentions that the tomb was empty, it was never venerated as a shrine, and so on.
Now, getting to the Apostle Paul, which seems to be the focus of Dan’s approach here. Dan admits that this is an old hymn that Paul is quoting, in I Corinthians chapter 15. So that admits the point that I am trying to make. This hymn that tells about a burial — a death, burial and resurrection — goes back to within the first five or six years after the event. That is powerful evidence in ancient history. Now, he just cavalierly dismisses it and says, well, it was written in a legendary style. Not at all! In an oral culture, things were learned through memorization, and one of the easy ways to memorize is putting things in rhyme, or in a poetic fashion, and possibly even adding music to it. So the fact that this may be a hymn does not undermine its credibility whatsoever. That’s just an assertion on his part.
He threw in, he says Paul mentioned “the twelve.” He thought it was eleven. Well, the word “twelve” is just a label, a title. It doesn’t mean that there still had to be twelve. It refers to that group of disciples even though there was minus one at that point — there was only eleven.
He says there was no embellishments in Paul’s account. Well, there was no need for them, for the very reason he gave, Paul’s purpose in writing this. He didn’t have to rewrite what was already floating around. The Gospels maybe weren’t written down yet, but the sources the Gospels eventually used were in circulation. There was no need for Paul to repeat that information — it was already in circulation. His purpose of writing was, as Dan said, to establish his credibility in the eyes of his — in the ears of his reader, or the “eyes of his reader.” And so, there was no need to add all these other details about Jesus and quote other sayings of Jesus.
He said that Jesus’ resurrection was a “spiritual” resurrection. Now, this is a critical point here. Well, no, let me get back just a little bit to the empty tomb part of it first of all. He’s saying that Paul is not talking about a tomb here, just a common grave. Well, he’s putting an awful lot of stock in these words here. These words can mean more than one thing, and he’s forcing them into a mold that they can only mean one thing, that it has to be a common grave. But there’s no corroboration for this, and it could just as easily be referred to as the place where the body was.
He says Moses appeared in the transfiguration, doesn’t imply that Moses rose. But again, words can be used in more than one way. It maybe wasn’t a physical resurrection in the same way that Jesus’ body [rose], but it was in some way an appearance of Moses and Elijah. That’s not a problem.
He says that Christians tend to impose a “resurrection” on Paul, that Paul is not implying a resurrection at all. Look, it’s very important here. You need to understand. Paul is Jewish. The Jewish concept of resurrection was physical. Paul is saying the body died. The body was buried. And the body was raised. That implies the tomb was empty. The idea that the body was still there, and that a resurrection had taken place makes about as much sense to the Jewish mind as a square circle. So this theory is one that appears to some modern existential theologians, but it would not appeal to the Apostle Paul, because he’s Jewish, and resurrection is physical.
The rest of the chapter, I suggest, suggests that it’s actually physical. Paul uses the term “spiritual body,” yes. But what could the Apostle Paul mean by a “spiritual body” in chapter 15? Did he mean a body made out of spirit? No, that’s a contradiction in terms. A spirit is precisely the absence of a body. When he’s saying that Jesus or future believers will rise with a “spiritual body,” he’s not talking about the substance the body is made of. We’ve seen too many “Ghost Buster” movies, I think. He’s talking about the orientation the body has. When we say “The Bible is a spiritual book,” or “Betty is a spiritual person,” we’re not saying they’re made out of spirit, but that their orientation is toward the spiritual. When he says that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,” he’s talking about this normal, physical body, like my body and your body right now, cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. It has to be changed. But not changed from physical to non-physical, changed from, he uses the word “perishable” to “imperishable.” Paul does talk about a changed body, but it’s not changed to non-physical. There’s nothing in there that says it’s non-physical. It must be changed to a body that can never die again, that cannot be deformed or experience any disease. That is what I Corinthians 15 is teaching. So the earliest information about the Resurrection is about a physical resurrection, albeit a transformed body, but a physical one nonetheless. And that is quite consistent with the later Gospel accounts which are also physical.
He says that Paul is just talking about a vision here. He’s prone to visions. But Dan is willing to accept that Paul says he’s seen visions, but he’s not willing to accept where Paul distinguishes clearly between his visions and the appearances of Jesus. When he’s talking about the appearances of Jesus, he talks about extra-mental phenomena that took place, that is, the people with him heard sounds, and they saw light. And there’s no contradiction between those two passages. They didn’t hear the exact words, and they didn’t see Jesus, but they heard sound and they saw light, and that is, both passages fit clearly into that reading.
So, all of this answers Dan’s interpretation of I Corinthians 15. Paul’s description of the body is physical.
Going to the Gospels. He says Mark has no appearances, and it is the earliest Gospel. But Mark implies the appearances. I mean, it says right there that he will appear, that he has risen, and he will appear. So it’s [does] not in any way negates the idea of appearances. It says that in Mark it was simple then, it was just a man that appeared. Yes, a man that was dressed in white, which is common language for an angel.
And then his theory seems to take on this very strange idea. Somehow Peter felt guilty and experienced “cognitive dissonance.” This is very vague, folks. If this is Dan’s hypothesis, if this somehow explains how Peter and the rest of the disciples spent the next 50 to 70 years with unwavering motivation, traveling around, you know, their portion of the world at that time, experiencing tremendous hardship and scorn and contempt, and persecution from Jewish religious leaders and Jewish synagogues, and eventually the Romans, it’s just not adequate. It doesn’t adequately explain that, something they knew to be false, it never happened. This is an extremely weak hypothesis, much weaker than the Resurrection hypothesis which explains the empty tomb, which explains the appearances, and explains the motivation for the disciples.
So, I went on to argue that Jesus did physically appear, and I covered those points, and that the origin of the belief in the Resurrection is still inexplicable. The earliest Christians believed in a physical resurrection, and the earliest Christians, it’s been proven by C. F. DeMoul [sp?] and Martin Hengel, believed in Jesus as Lord, and Risen Lord in the first twenty years. It wasn’t fifty years later when it happened.
Now the second major point that I made was that there are [no] good reasons to deny the Resurrection. Dan really only gave us one point here. He says he does not hold to an a priori dismissal of miracles. No, not explicitly, but his position amounts to such, or it at least amounts to a methodological bias against miracles. Dan says that if you allow for a miracle, you allow for the overriding of natural law and you can’t do history any more. This is complete nonsense. This is an old-fashioned, out-of-date understanding of natural law. I mean, no scientist of philosopher any more thinks of natural law as prescriptive. They’re statistical generalizations that are descriptive. And, an exemption to natural law would have to reoccur repeatedly under the same conditions in order for one to have to posit the abolition of this natural law. J. L. Mackey, one of the most outspoken atheists of our century, said an occasional violation does not in itself necessarily overthrow the independently established conclusion that this is a law of working.
So, what’s strange is, if the evidence for the Resurrection is strong, Dan’s in the strange position of having to give up on this law that we tend to both agree on right now that dead men generally don’t rise from the dead. I wouldn’t have to give up on that law. I would hold to that law, but say that in this case a cause from outside of the set of natural laws entered in and caused an event, but I still hold generally to the principle. Dan would have to say, “Oh, no, now we have to give up the principle that dead men don’t rise.”
So, this position that you can never allow a miracle because it throws history into “anything goes” just is not true. It amounts to a methodological bias.
I argued that the alleged contradictions can be harmonized. We haven’t really heard of any yet, but we probably will. And that extraordinary evidence as a standard is nonsense, and we haven’t heard any response to that. And that the alleged pagan parallels are inadequate, Dan mentioned that they’re not really very good, but he thinks they’re still adequate. He’s got to make that case, that they are adequate.
The case is still strong that the Resurrection hypothesis is the best hypothesis to explain the data.
Dan Barker’s rebuttal, 12 minutes
How much over did he go, about a minute, two minutes?
Moderator: Five seconds. [The recording shows 33 seconds over]
Barker: Five seconds. I can keep track of five seconds.
It would have been good evidence if Mike could have given us some historical corroboration, if there could have been some other historians somewhere in the first century who could have said something about the Resurrection. There is none. The Gospels are all anonymous. We don’t know who wrote them. We can’t cross examine them. We can’t find out who they were, where they lived. It was only in the end of the second century when the names were assigned to the Gospels. I know that conservatives like to try to — I suspect Mike holds to Apostolic Authorship, I don’t know — but I think he also realizes that he is in a minority among the scholarship on this one.
The Gospels are written in an admitted propagandistic style, and an admitted propagandistic manner. John even said, “These things are written in order that you might believe.” He’s not just telling us history, he has an agenda here. He’s preaching. He wants you to believe.
What time did the women visit the tomb? Matthew said “as it began to dawn.” Mark said “when the sun had risen.” Luke said “at early dawn.” John said, “When it was yet dark.”
Now, you mention John Wenham as a great harmonizer of the New Testament. John Wenham says, well, you know what this could mean? It could mean that even though John says that it was dark when the women “came to” the tomb, it could mean that it was dark when they “left for” the tomb. Aha! It took them a while to get there, then the sun came up. But that’s overly speculative, and it’s obviously a defensive, ad hoc rationalization to these contradictions.
Who were the women who came to the tomb? Matthew said it was Mary Magdalen and the other Mary. Mark said it was Mary Magdalen, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. Luke said it was Mary Magdalen, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women. John said Mary Magdalen.
What was their purpose. Matthew said it was “to see the tomb.” Mark said, no, they had already seen the tomb, it was to bring spices to anoint the body. Luke said they had already seen the tomb, and brought spices. John said the body had already been spiced, before they arrived.
Was the tomb open when they arrived? According to Matthew, it was not. The tomb was opened in their presence. But Mark, Luke, and John say, yeah, the tomb was open when they arrived. One of these guys is wrong. They both can’t be right.
Who was at the tomb when they arrived? Mark said there was one “young man.” Now, look at [how] this supports the evolutionary hypothesis here. Mark said there was one “young man.” Luke said there was two men. Matthew said there was one angel, and John, the last writer, said, there’s two angels. See what’s happening here? See how the myth is growing and getting more exaggerated?
Where were these messengers situated? Matthew said there was an angel sitting on the stone. Mark said there was a young man sitting inside, on the right. Luke said there were two men standing inside. John said there were two angels, sitting on each end of the bed.
What did the messengers say? Now this is really strange, the messages are so different. In Matthew the angel, or the man, the angel said, “Go quickly, tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead. Behold he goeth before you into Galilee, there shall ye see him.” Mark generally says the same thing, but Luke gets it backwards: “Remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, saying, The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise again?” This whole Galilee thing got twisted around. Luke was for a Jerusalem center of Christianity, so he downplayed Galilee. [In] John, what did the angel say? “Woman, why weepest thou?”
Did the women tell what happened after they left? Matthew said yes. Luke said yes: “They returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest.” But Mark said, no: “And they went quickly and fled from the sepulchre, for they trembled and were amazed. Neither said they anything to any man, for they were afraid.” One of these writers got it wrong. John said, yes, they did tell.
When Mary returned, did she know that Jesus had been resurrected? According to Matthew, Mark and Luke, yes; but according to John, she did not know that Jesus had been resurrected.
Did Mary first see Jesus before or after she returned to the disciples. Matthew and Mark say before, but John says after.
Could Jesus be touched after the Resurrection? Matthew says yes; John says no, but then John changes and said yes.
After the women, to which disciples did Jesus first appear? Matthew says to eleven disciples. Mark says it was to two disciples in the country, later to the eleven. Luke said it was to two disciples in Emmaus, and later to the eleven. John said it was to ten or eleven disciples. Paul said it was first to Peter, and then to the twelve.
Where did Jesus first appear to the disciples? If you read Matthew, it’s on a mountain in Galilee, 60-100 miles from Jerusalem. In fact, Jesus made a point of predicting this at his Last Supper, and this was the message that the angel gave to the women, “Go to Galilee. That’s where you’ll see them.” So Matthew has them go to Galilee, and there they see Jesus. But according to Mark, Jesus first appeared to two men strolling in the country, [and] as they sat at meat. According to Luke, it was to two men at Emmaus at evening, and then later to the rest in a room in Jerusalem. In John it was just in a room at evening.
Did the disciples believe the report of those two men? According to Mark, no. But according to Luke, yes, they believe the report. (It’s the group that is speaking here.) Now, John Wenham says, well, this looks contradictory: Mark says no and Luke says yes, but the answer her is that they must have been in “various stages of belief and disbelief.” That’s the kind of argumentation that your great scholars give us to try to harmonize these contradictions. When two things are contradictory, they both can’t stand. If Wenham’s rationalizations and speculations are allowed to stand, we’re going to have to take the word “contradiction” out of the bible [dictionary], nothing could ever be contradictory because you can always find some creative, speculative way — I would challenge any of you to come up with two contradictory statements that I couldn’t kind of figure out something, and you could probably do it just as well as I can.
What happened at the appearances? Matthew said the disciples worshipped, but some doubted. If this wasn’t the first appearance, in Galilee, then why would some have doubted if they had already seen Jesus, right? So obviously Matthew intended the Galilee appearance to be the first one. Jesus said, “Go preach.” In Mark, Jesus reprimanded them, and said “Go preach.” In Luke we have this Christ incognito, a vanishing act, materializes out of thin air, he reprimands them and then he has dinner. In John, he passed through a solid door. See how this thing is evolving? He passed through a solid door. He materialized out of thin air, and the disciples were happy. No reprimand, Jesus blesses them.
Did Jesus stay on the earth for a while? According to Mark, no. You can compare Mark 16:14 with John 20:19 to show that this all happened on Sunday. According to Luke, no, it all happened on Sunday. According to John, yeah, he stayed at least eight more days, and according to Acts he stayed at least 40 days.
Where did the ascension take place? According to Matthew there was no ascension, it ends in Galilee. [In Mark] It ends at the tomb. In Mark, it’s in or near Jerusalem. In Luke, he ascended from Bethany, close to Jerusalem. John and Paul have no ascension, obviously. In Acts he ascended from the Mount of Olives.
Now, this is fascinating. Christian scholars have struggled with these contradictions for years. Christian scholar A. E. Harvey, says, “All the Gospels, after having run closely together in their accounts of the trial and execution, diverge markedly when they come to the circumstance of the Resurrection. It’s impossible to fit their accounts together into a single coherent scheme.” This is a believing Christian saying this. P. W. Schmeidl says the same thing. D. F. Strauss, of course, back in the 1800s. Albert Schweitzer says “there’s nothing more negative than the result of the critical study of the life of Jesus.” A modern believing Christian, Thomas Sheehan, who wrote The First Coming, said, “Despite our best efforts,” and he tried, “the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ post-mortem activities, in fact, cannot be harmonized into a consistent Easter chronology.”
For a number of years now, I have issued an Easter Challenge — it’s called “Leave No Stone Unturned” — not to prove the Resurrection, but simply to tell what happened. Any one of you who wants to take this challenge, if you admit that the Resurrection is important, come take one of these purple/pink sheets here, and do it. Do what Sheehan tried to do. All I’m asking is, tell me what happened. Write a simple, chronological narrative: what happened first, what happened next, who said this, who said that, who went where, when did this happen. You can add things to it, if you want, put it in parentheses, add explanations. But the criterion of this challenge is: don’t omit a single detail. Can you do that? Do you think that can be done with the Resurrection accounts?
John Wenham tried it, and he failed. [Easter Enigma, by John Wenham] Let me read to you what John Wenham said about whether the tomb was open or not. Listen to this. Matthew said the tomb was opened when the women arrived, and the other Gospel writers say it happened before they arrived. Wenham says:
“On a superficial reading it would seem that the great earthquake took place after the women had arrived and that the guards lay prostrate on the ground while the angel delivered his messages [message]. But on deeper reflection,” Wenham says, “it becomes clear that it is unlikely that Matthew intended his readers to understand this.” Why? “Such a notion is contrary to the thrust of the rest of the New Testament.”
That’s all he gives us. He suggests that you can cut and paste a piece of Matthew and pull it out and put parentheses around it and move it in front of when it happened. He suggests that maybe this would explain — put it in the past perfect tense, and that would make the contradiction go away. And what is his reasoning? Look in his book for any reasoning. He says, “Such a notion is contrary to the thrust of the rest of the New Testament.” In other words, the New Testament can’t contradict itself, because if it did, it would be contradictory.
This is circular reasoning. This is begging the question. This is an a priori bias against the natural. This is an a priori bias against natural human beings making mistakes. They were human beings, after all. Were they exempt? Were they special? Were they not prone to exaggerate? Were they not prone to make up things? Were they any different from us, from all the myriad of religions of true believers that are around exaggerating, and over-zealous, and saying this and saying that, and believing this and that? These people were just human beings. They told lies.
Your star witness, Peter, was a liar. He promised to Jesus that he would not deny him. Would any of you deny Jesus? And make a promise? But when really push came to shove, Peter denied Jesus. He lied. And here’s a man that, if we had him on the witness stand, we would have to question his credibility as a witness. This guy has trouble with the truth. He was hot-headed, uneducated, and he was under immense emotional distress. We’re supposed to believe the testimony of this kind of a person? I don’t think so.
[Dan gets a cup of water, offers some water to Mike]
Dan: Water. Do you want some water?
Dan: “If you shall give in the name of atheism a glass of water to the least of one of these . . .: how does the verse go?
Mike and Dan seated at separate microphones.
Mike: Okay, I think it’s my turn to ask you questions?
Dan: Can you hear okay? Oh, good. Okay.
Mike: All right. Dan, you said that you don’t have an anti-supernatural bias, that you don’t assume miracles are impossible. Does that mean that we can agree to approach this investigation tonight with what I call an “open agnostic” position?
Dan: Yes, of course.
Mike: That is, one that doesn’t rule out miracles from the beginning?
Mike: But you have ruled out miracles from the beginning with your methodological bias.
Dan: No, I haven’t.
Mike: Yeah, you did. You ruled out miracles from the beginning with the way you described history.
Dan: I explained that you can have miracles if you want, but then you can’t have history. If you want to believe in miracles, fine.
Mike: Then let me rephrase my question. Can we approach this historical investigation — that’s not a rephrase, that’s an exact quote of what I just said a minute ago — can we approach this historical investigation with the “open agnostic” position, one that doesn’t rule out miracles from the beginning. You just really said “No” there. You just contradicted yourself.
Dan: No, I did not say no. I said you can have miracles if you want. I’ll say it four times if I have to. But if you have miracles, and if the historical method requires a strict adherence to natural regularity, which it must do in order to have any confidence at all, then history is impotent to examine that miracle. You can have miracles other ways, maybe by faith. But you can’t have them by history. That’s all I’m saying.
Mike: So you are not approaching this historical investigation by not ruling out miracles from the beginning. You are ruling it out with your methodology. How can you get around that? You just said it again.
Dan: I’m saying that the miracles might have happened, but you can’t know it by history.
Mike: That’s right. You can’t do a historical investigation unless you rule out miracles from the beginning.
Dan: I’m not saying rule them out. I’m saying history is impotent to even examine the question.
Dan: I’m not ruling out miracles.
Mike: Well, I think you’re dancing on this one. Your methodology rules out miracles. Secondly, let me see here. It says most of modern scholarship of all theological stripes has given up on the theory of pagan influence on first century Palestine. What basis do you have for suggesting that there are pagan parallels. I’ve heard you say that Krishna, for example, of all things, had parallels to Jesus Christ. I checked with a Christian scholar and he laughed over the phone at that. What are your sources for this, Dan?
Dan: Well, what I’m saying is not that there were — I’m not saying that Christianity directly cut and pasted from other myths. I’m not saying that at all. I don’t think any scholars are saying that, except in modern cases. For example, Christmas on December 25. I think you would admit that that is cut-and-paste, because no scholars, well very few Christian scholars believe Jesus was born on December 25. It probably happened in the spring.
Mike: Exactly, so that means there is no way that Christianity could have borrowed that from Krishna. In fact, he wasn’t born on December 25.
Dan: But other religions did practice [celebrate] the birth of their saviors on or near the Winter Solstice, and many of them were on, and Mithra’s birthday was being celebrated on December 25.
Mike: Yeah, Christians co-opted the date December 25, that’s all.
Dan: Exactly. If Christians can do that, if they can co-opt, to accommodate other pagan religions, and especially in Galilee — Galilee at the time of Jesus was a newly annexed part of the kingdom. There was still a lot of pagan influence at that time. It wasn’t completely Jewish.
Mike: That’s not what the scholars say. You’re flying right in the face of scholarship.
Dan: That’s exactly what scholars say. That’s what Sheehan just said, and that’s what Gerd Luedemann said in his new book, The Resurrection of Jesus. In any event, I’m not saying that we have to pretend that the Christians were so uncreative that they had to go to some other myth and cut it out whole and put it in. What we can show is that human beings at that time showed an immense propensity to have parallels, not pulling from each other, but in the way they thought. There were a lot of crucified savior gods at the time. There were a lot of claims to ascensions. It was claimed that Augustus Caesar ascended bodily into heaven. There were a lot of claims of virgin births. It would be strange . . .
Mike: But we don’t have evidence, we don’t have documentation for that until much, much later, and it’s more likely the influence went the other way, that these stories developed out of the Christian influence.
Dan: Well, maybe so. But what I’m saying is not that they cut-and-pasted, but that the Christians were human beings like all the other human beings, and they were not exempt from this propensity to develop, Mithra being, you know, developed and born and raised and buried all this time. Some of the aspects of the Christian mythology are shown to have been cut from the same kind of fabric, human fabric of imagination. It doesn’t mean they directly borrowed. But I think we all agree that a lot of these ancient mythologies had similarities, if not direct borrowings from each other.
Mike: Well, no, we don’t agree. That’s exactly the point. The evidence does not show that. And that’s the point I’m trying to make here. What is your evidence that that is true? The parallels are so abstract as to be, there’s no borrowing at all. There’s not only no cutting and pasting, as you’re saying, but no borrowing. Any minute parallels that there are are from much later documentation. So there really is no case.
Dan: If I had time, I would read, but it says “Stop” there. I would read about Mithra, but it says “Stop.” [The moderator’s sign for controlling time]
Mike: All right.
Dan: Okay, now, let me clarify something. It’s my turn to ask questions, is that right? Okay. Let’s phrase this right. If there is a widely held belief by thousands or millions of people who were not direct participants in an event — take your pick of religions, okay? — but if there’s a widely held belief among a great number of people, do you agree with me that the only really two options we have here are that the core of that belief claim is either a historical one, or it’s legendary?
Mike: Not exactly, unless you’re building an awful lot of options under the word “legendary.”
Legendary could mean, sort of gradual, almost accidental embellishment without deliberate fabrication going on, or it could mean deliberate fabrication. So I would divide it into at least those two categories.
Dan: Okay, but it’s either historical or it isn’t, right?
Mike: Okay. Okay, sure.
Dan: Because there’s no middle ground. It’s some kind of a legend, or it’s some kind of a myth, or some kind of a misunderstanding, or it’s something other than history.
Mike: Well, it’s either true or false. Those are your only two options.
Dan: To illustrate this, let’s bring it up to the 20th century. In 1981 — let me see if I can find this here — in 1981 there was a group of people in Yugoslavia. Do you know the story about Medjugorge?
Dan: Okay. June the 24th. There were these six people that were out on a hillside. They claimed that the Virgin Mary appeared to them, talked to them. They were able to touch her. The names of these people are Ivanka Ivankavic, Mirjana Dragecevic, I can’t say [pronounce] them all. But these are real people with addresses and names. The next day they went back, and a few of the villagers went with them, just to see what was happening, and some of them said, Ah, they saw a light. The next day, the rumor had spread, and thousands . . .
Mike: Is this your time to ask me questions? I don’t mean to interrupt.
Dan: I’m asking. This is important.
Mike: All right. All right.
Dan: The next day, thousands of people came from everywhere to see this. And they attested that they had seen a light, and they saw these people out there. All right? Since then, a lot of people, thousands and millions of people have been going to this place, this little tiny village of Medjugorge — now, of course, there’s hotels and all this stuff there — and they, a lot of them claimed that they have been healed by going there. A lot of them claim that the message of the Virgin Mary was to look at the Sun and you’ll see it spinning. A lot of them claimed that they could do that, that it was really real. Some of them actually burnt their eyes, but a lot of them didn’t. So, here’s a widely held belief by thousands of people, maybe millions of people. And according to you either the core of this belief is historical, or it isn’t. Do you belief that the resurrected Virgin Mary really did appear to these six people?
Mike: Well, that’s a great question. I’m unable to answer it because I haven’t done an investigation into it right now. So what should the rational approach be to that? Well, it shouldn’t be the approach that you take, which I call a “close-minded skepticism,” that says, “No, miracles don’t happen, so that just didn’t happen. We can’t allow miracles in our methodology.” I would have what I call a “healthy skepticism,” one that says, “Well, I don’t know. I’m reserving judgment. I’m not going to assume that the people are lying, but I would have to do an investigation to determine whether there’s any good evidence to support these claims or not.” Until then, I will reserve judgment.
Dan: Well, I agree with you on that. I happen to be skeptical, too, Skepticism is exactly that. Skepticism is reserving judgment. It’s not saying yes or no. So, you don’t rule out the possibility that this is legendary, then?
Mike: Well, there’s certain things in my background knowledge that I already hold that would count against this, and so there’s some there, but I can’t be absolutely sure until I do an investigation.
Dan: But could this be a legend? Could it be legendary?
Mike: Oh, it’s that, well, it’s possible. It’s possible it’s legendary. It’s possible it’s historical. I don’t know.
Dan: Okay. I just scored a touchdown. Does anybody see why? Did anybody catch it?
Mike: I don’t think so.
Dan: He just stepped into a whopping contradiction.
[Someone talking from the audience]
Dan: No, no, no. I’ll explain it later. I don’t want him to weasel out of it. He just stepped into a whopping contradiction.
Mike: Why don’t you tell us right now? Come on.
Dan: Because, like a lot of fundamentalists, you’re going to weasel your way, and say, “Oh, but I didn’t mean what I said.” Okay?
Mike: If you’re going to accuse me of a contradiction, let’s hear it, Dan. Let’s hear it.
Dan: I will tell it in my closing statement that he blatantly contradicted himself.
Mike: In a closing statement where I won’t have a chance to respond. You know, that’s — talk about weaseling. Let’s hear it. [laughter]
Dan: Okay, well, I’ll tell you what. I’ll tell you what: somebody ask him a question about it, then, okay, afterwards, to give him a chance.
Mike: He still won’t tell. He still won’t tell me. Unbelievable.
Dan: Now, let’s see, what was my final — one minute left? — what was my final question here? How do you know that women were not allowed to be witnesses in Jewish law? How do you know that?
Mike: From Jewish history. From Jewish rabinnic writings talking about . . .
Dan: Which ones?
Mike: I’m appealing to authorities there.
Dan: Okay. In fact, women were allowed to be witnesses in Jewish courts. You’re wrong on that account. Even in the New Testament, Jesus admitted that a woman could divorce her husband. How could she do that if her testimony were not valid? In fact, according to the authorities that I have read, women’s testimony did stand in a court of law if there was no man. Women were valued less, but women could testify if there was no male witness to it. So one of your facts is basically wrong.
Mike: But in the Resurrection there were male witnesses, so the fact that the women were listed then, is still counterproductive. They wouldn’t have had to do that.
Dan: Time’s up, right? Okay.
Second Rebuttal, Dan Barker, 8 minutes.
You ask why the authorities didn’t just dig up the body of Jesus to prove that he was still in the grave, because after the Christians were preaching . . . One thing you are forgetting, though, is that the Gospel of Jesus was not preached, was not beginning to be widely spread or preached at all, until the Day of Pentecost, which was about two months later. You even said that it was weeks later that Peter was out preaching, right?
Mike: Forty days.
Dan: Forty days? How long is that?
Mike: It’s closer to one month.
Dan: Okay, well, seven weeks, or whatever that comes out to from that day. [Pentecost was 50 days.] In that temperature, in that climate, a body in a grave, after that many weeks, would not have been recognizable anyway. From the time when the idea of the resurrection of Jesus was being propagated, it would have been a colossal waste of time, even if they could have found that grave, to dig [it] up. Who would have believed that this decayed, unrecognizable body was the body of Jesus, anyway? Especially at that point after they had started to preach. Would you believe it, after you had invested your life into it? It would have made no sense at all, even if they could have found it.
And, there’s a shrine today for the Tomb of Jesus. Why do you think that they would not have had a shrine to the empty tomb in those days? You use the argument that the absence of a shrine shows that the body wasn’t there. But you could use the argument the other way around. You could say, well, the absence of a shrine means that there was no shrine, there was no tomb, there was nothing at all. I mean, you could go both ways with that. In fact, there’s two competing shrines, I understand, in Jerusalem right now.
You suggested that it was against Jewish thought that you could have a resurrection with the body still in the grave. But you don’t have to go any further than the New Testament itself. Some of the Jews in the New Testament were saying that Jesus was the resurrected John the Baptist. [Mark 6:14-15] They had thought John the Baptist had resurrected. Jewish people had thought that a dead man was resurrected in a different form. And you know those verses that are in the bible. So that contradicts.
You tell us about Michael Grant saying that you can’t deny the empty tomb. But what you neglect to tell us is that Michael Grant goes on to say that it does not follow, therefore, that we must believe in a resurrection from the empty tomb.
Well, okay. Let’s get to his contradiction. All right. I mean, you want to get to the goodies, right? You want to see who wins the debate? Well, this one wins it.
Mike told us earlier that it takes two or three generations in order for a legend to develop. Yet he just told us now that a legend can develop, could develop in two days. Didn’t he just say that? He said he’s open to the possibility that that legend could have happened two days after the event, in that same location, in that area where the event happened. But he just quoted authorities to us to say that legends can’t develop unless there’s two generations that have gone by, after the people had died. We know that’s not true. We just know that from what we know about human nature, the things that people believe.
A lot more people claim to have seen and to have been healed by Elvis Presley than ever claimed to have been healed [by] and seen Jesus. I mean, really. Think about it. I know none of us take that seriously. But you know what the mentality of people is, especially two thousand years ago.
So, you blew it. You blew that one. You can’t win every debate, Mike, but it’s a valiant effort here.
You talk about the historical accuracy of the New Testament, as if confirming some of these secondary events in the story. You forget to tell us that there is no historical confirmation at all for anything about the life of Jesus. Nothing. Josephus has been considered a later interpolation in the beginning of the fourth century. There is nothing from the first century. In fact, Matthew and Luke were pretty bad historians. Luke had Jesus born in the year 6 AD, under the reign of King Herod, yet we know from history that King Herod died in 4 BC. So how could Jesus be nine years old when he was born? Luke really screwed up a lot of his facts. Matthew as a historian messed up a lot of his facts as well. He misinterpreted the Septuagint in a lot of cases. He thought the word “almah” meant “parthenos” because the Septuagint thought it did. He thought that since Jesus was born of a “young woman” that that proved the virgin birth. These guys were sloppy scholars. Their historical accuracy was somewhat good and give-and-take.
Suppose two thousand years from now somebody were to uncover one of the novels of James Michener. They could say, “Ah, there was a New York City. There was a Cedar Falls, Iowa. There was this person. There was a Hitler.” They could say, “Look at all the historical facts that are in his novel.” But no one claims that the actual story itself is true. It’s a fictional, a historical fiction that’s being written. And that’s what the early Christians were doing. They were writing historical fiction. They were going back into history, using . . . they knew there was a Pilate. Luke kind of got his dates wrong — he thought Herod had died at a certain time, but he didn’t quite get it right. And it would be surprising if there were not some corroborating historical details from the next century looking back through history from what was known. This does not confirm the story of Jesus at all, by the way.
I would ask you another question. Maybe . . . you don’t have to answer this at all because the answering time is over, but, you said that the fact that their are discrepancies — I call them contradictions, you call them differences in point of view, I suppose — you said that that strengthens the case for the Resurrection because it shows that there was no collusion. I would ask you, then, if all the New Testament accounts were in perfect harmony and perfect agreement, then would you suspect collusion? I bet you wouldn’t. I bet this is not a sincere argument of yours. If they were in complete harmony, you wouldn’t say, “Ah, they’re colluding with each other.” You’re only using this argument as an ad hoc defense against the appearance of contradictions. Why is an omnipotent, omniscient, all-caring god, who has to communicate a message of crucial importance to the human race, why is he doing it in such a sloppy manner? Doesn’t he care more than that? Why is he allowing me not to believe it? I mean, think about it. Why couldn’t he do it in a clear way? Why couldn’t he do it in a simple way?
Now, obviously, it’s okay if different witnesses of a car accident disagree. Somebody might say, “Oh, the car was blue.” Somebody might say, “Oh, the car was green.” You could account for that. But what if one person said the accident happened in Cedar Falls and someone else said it happened in Des Moines? Then you would know, “Wait a minute! One of these people is wrong.” The first appearance of Jesus to the disciples happened either in Galilee, which was 60 to 100 miles away, or in Jerusalem. Now, I would not call that a trivial discrepancy: a difference in viewing angle, or something. You know? There is a major contradiction in the bible here.
Why can’t we just admit that these people were human beings, and they made mistakes? What’s the problem? Why can’t you admit that they were trying their best, but they made some . . . they goofed a little bit? Were they exempt from human error? Were they exempt from exaggerations? Why do fundamentalists have so much tied up in inerrancy? It just doesn’t seem right.
Well, I used to believe that myself.
The evidence that you have given us tonight for the resurrection of Jesus is not even up to the level of good evidence yet. It’s weak evidence. It’s not up to the level of what we ordinarily expect. I’m not asking for extraordinary evidence. I know Thomas Paine made a quote that extraordinary [outrageous] claims require extraordinary [outrageous] proof, and there is some sense to that. But we don’t have to discuss that tonight because we haven’t even got to ordinary proof yet on the resurrection of Jesus. We’ve got ad hoc ideas. We’ve got third- and fourth-hand testimony. We’ve got anonymous writers. We’ve got people whose character is impugned by telling lies and by being under emotional distress. We’ve got things that we can’t check out. We have an obvious progression, evolution of events from simple to fantastic embellishments. So, I don’t call this strong evidence. It is some kind of evidence, I agree. It’s something. But it’s not yet up to the level of what we would ordinarily expect to believe that [when] somebody said they had a flat tire. It’s not good enough. Your arguments are weak, and they fail.
Second Rebuttal, Michael Horner, 8 minutes.
Okay, I was making two basic points tonight. One: there are good reasons to affirm the Resurrection. I said that the writings are too early to be legendary. Dan says that he has claimed that he’s caught me in a contradiction that on the one hand I’m claiming legend doesn’t happen very quickly, but yet I’m saying it can happen in just a few days. All that I admitted was that an event, it either happened or doesn’t happen. That’s all I admitted in that little exchange there. And that is true. An event is either true or false. It either happened, or it didn’t happen. I don’t know if it’s legendary or not. The point I’m making is [that] legends can’t win out over history in less than two generations. Legendary stories can begin to develop. But as long as the eyewitnesses are still there, legend will not win out. We don’t know what the case is with these events over in Yugoslavia yet.
The idea that Elvis, the Elvis analogy. The analogy actually proves the opposite. I mean, people laugh at the idea of Elvis sightings because the evidence is strong that he did not rise from the dead, and there’s no evidence that he did. If anybody thought it was serious, they would have exhumed the body. See, with Elvis we do see how legends prevail over truth in such a short time. This provides support for the Resurrection account, since the history did prevail over legend.
I argued that the tomb was empty. He says that the body would not have been exhumed because it would have been unrecognizable after 40 days. Not at all. There still would have been ways to identify that body, clues to whether this really was Jesus or somebody else. That’s an extremely weak point.
He commented on my point that the tomb was never venerated as a shrine. Yes, later on, in Catholic Christianity, there has developed shrines around it, and my point is, in the first century there was no shrine, that [if] the body had been there, there would have been a shrine there, and the best explanation is that the tomb was empty.
He said there’s no corroboration. Well, there’s no corroboration for his hypothesis either. And, in fact, there is corroboration for the existence of Jesus. I can’t believe that Dan said at the beginning that he doesn’t even believe Jesus existed. That puts him in probably the .001% of the scholars in the world today who would hold a position like that. But, he said he wasn’t going to argue for it. But, there’s corroboration that Jesus existed. Tacitus said that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate, for example. Now, they don’t give us new information, but they establish the broad strokes that we already have in the New Testament.
Josephus is from the fourth century? I don’t know where you come up with some of the stuff you come up with, Dan. Some of the stuff is pretty wild.
Then I argued that Jesus physically appeared to many witnesses, from five independent historical sources. There’s the corroboration. But, you see, what Dan does, is he just lumps them all together and says, “Well, we just can’t accept them because they’re from these writers who are liars and have propaganda in mind.” But, look. Simply because a writer is passionately committed to promoting a cause does not at all mean he or she will falsify the facts. This is a false dichotomy. Often such a person will work all the harder to tell the story straight. So, a personal commitment to and involvement with something does not mean a person cannot present a truthful account of the topic in question. After all, often the truthfulness of something is what produced the personal commitment in the first place. So this is just a false dichotomy.
An excellent modern example. Some of the most detailed, reliable reporters of the Nazi Holocaust were Jews who had been passionately committed to seeing that such atrocities never occur again. If we use Dan’s methodology, we should not believe the reports of the Jews, especially the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust.
Paul’s account is more likely historical than legendary, I argued, because he had appealed to over 500 witnesses. He did not refer to that.
The Gospel accounts are more likely historical than legendary, that it’s still too early for legend to win out, not develop, but win out over the historical core.
The women witnesses, I argued. There’s two sayings from early, first-century Jewish culture:
“Sooner let the words of the law be burnt than be delivered to a woman.”
“Alas he whose children are female,” and, I forget how it goes, “and applaud those whose children are male,” something like that.
The status of women was extremely poor in first century Jewish Palestine. They never would have had the women being the witnesses, unless that’s the way it happened. It was counterproductive to their story.
The stories lack legendary embellishment. You compare them to the later writings about Jesus that did arise in the second century — those stories read like Paul Bunyan in style. But Dan rejects the Gospels because they have supernatural elements to them. It’s his antisupernatural bias again creeping in, that’s why he calls them legends.
The origin of the Christian movement is inexplicable apart from a real Resurrection, I said. And, he still hasn’t really answered this point. He has to explain the very early belief in a physical resurrection. He just assumes that there wasn’t one, but I’ve already refuted his points about the Apostle Paul’s view that I Corinthians 15 is about a physical resurrection, so he doesn’t have anything to go on there anymore. And so, he’s got to explain the origin of this belief in a physical resurrection. And words like “cognitive dissonance” or Peter feeling guilty doesn’t explain anything. It’s showing no connections there at all. He’s got to flesh out this supposed hypothesis.
Then I argued that there are no good reasons to deny the Resurrection. Unfortunately, there’s just not going to be enough time to go through all these contradictions. But I want to be really clear here. Dan’s analysis of this was superficial. It was frivolous, and quite frankly, in a number of places, it was irresponsible scholarship. And I’m very disappointed in what’s here. I’m not going to have time to go through hardly any of these at all, but let me just touch. Let’s touch on the one that you referred to.
When was the stone rolled away? Mark 16 says that the stone had been rolled away. Matthew 28 usually has the word that the stone was rolled away, implying in the presence of the women. But, as John Wenham has shown, the word that’s used there often needs to be, can be rendered in the pluperfect, that is as “had happened,” “had rolled away.” And so Matthew is liking the coming of the angel with the earthquake, and therefore the rolling back of the stone and the sitting on it all at the same time. It had to have occurred, therefore, before the woman had arrived. Now this is not ad hoc. This is not arbitrary. The Greek language allows this. And when you are arguing that there is contradictions, the burden of proof is on you to prove that it’s an actual contradiction. If someone can show that there is another possibility here that is reasonable within the text, then that shows it’s not a contradiction. The burden of proof is all on Dan here.
If you’ve got two angels, you’ve got one angel. Remember, these accounts were not exhaustive. They’re only in a summary fashion. And his point that these Gospels say that, like Matthew says that the first meeting of the disciples was in Matthew [Galilee], that is just plain irresponsible. He’s assuming that Matthew was completely exhaustive. The word “then” at the beginning of that paragraph is a loose connective, and it can be implied that “this is the next thing I want to tell you,” not “this is the next thing that happened” in the text.
So, frankly, I’m very disappointed in what’s done there. I wish I could do a better job of refuting his allegations there, because of the time.
[Dan holds up a copy of his “Leave No Stone Unturned” Easter challenge]
Why sometimes you can be rude. [laughter] I won’t hold that against you.
The Resurrection hypothesis still explains the evidence better than the alternative hypothesis that Dan has raised. [applause]
Closing statement, Dan Barker, 5 minutes.
Now we’re to the closing statement. Then we’re going to have some questions, I guess.
Okay. This is the way debates are supposed to go. Hypothesis, another hypothesis, one idea, another idea. Mike did give us a hypothesis, but he did not give us good evidence for his hypothesis.
If he had produced some eyewitnesses, that would have been good evidence. Don’t you agree? An eyewitness testimony would have been good, but he gave us something less that that. Third-hand hearsay. Well, actually, there was some eyewitness testimony to the events at the tomb, but Mike rejects that. The Roman soldiers were there, and they said the body was stolen.
If Mike could have identified some of the authors, that would be good. But the Gospel authors are all anonymous. And, of course, Paul is quoting another anonymous formula in I Corinthians.
If Mike had given us some reliable reporters, that would have been good. Instead, we have a key witness who is an uneducated, hot-headed fisherman who is in the habit of telling lies, and betraying his friends. He was under extreme emotional duress for more than one reason. We have women, even to the own apostles, their tales seemed to them as “idle tales.” Mike seems to be arguing that we should believe these women because they were unbelievable. Does that make some kind of sense? Their testimony was so unconvincing to those people in that day that even Thomas didn’t believe it. He didn’t even believe his own buddies, and he lived with these guys. He had seen Jesus do miracles. He supposedly knew all this, and yet when they tell him about the Resurrection, he didn’t even believe. Why should we, therefore, believe?
Paul? You think Paul’s character was stellar? Listen to what Paul says in Roman’s 3:7: “For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto God’s glory, why yet am I also judged a sinner?” Paul said it’s okay to tell a lie for the glory of God. Here’s a man who admits that lying is okay. And we’re going to trust his testimony? [woman in audience objects] Look it up. Romans chapter 3, verse 7. The Greek word there is “pseusma,” a “lie.”
If Mike had given us some coherent account of the Resurrection, that would have been good. Instead, we have a mishmash of contradictory stories that has never been harmonized. Wenham didn’t do it. And your explanation about Wenham’s past perfect doesn’t work. It is completely ad hoc because the Greek word there is [in] the strict aorist tense, and all else being equal we should treat it like a simple narrative in the aorist tense. There is no past perfect there.
No one has ever been able to fit it together into a coherent scheme, and I would ask any of you believers here tonight to do that, and send it to me.
If Mike had given us some historical confirmation from nonbelievers, that would have been good. But he’s never done that. History is silent about the Resurrection.
It has been suggested that extraordinary claims, such as miracle reports, might require somewhat more evidence that what we ordinarily expect from history, but we don’t have to do that tonight. Mike, your first job is to get your evidence up. Get it up to the level of ordinary good evidence. Then maybe we can discuss whether a miracle report might require something more, I don’t know how much more, but a little bit more, okay? Because it is a somewhat unusual event.
Now, I presented a hypothesis, and I gave good historical and biblical evidence for this hypothesis. And my hypothesis accounts for all the facts. In fact, it accounts for all the problems in his. We would expect an evolving church to come up with contradictory stories. We would expect an evolving church to not have eyewitnesses. We would expect an evolving legend to have these shortcomings. We have no eyewitnesses because it was written too late for that. We can’t identify the authors, we should not expect the historical confirmation of a legend.
One of the nice benefits of my hypothesis — okay, we’re moving out of history into the benefits of believing that this hypothesis is true — is that it respects the freedom to believe. If Mike is right, I don’t have a choice. I have to believe by the brute facts of history.
It also respects the humanity of the early Christians. They were just people. They were imperfect. They made mistakes. They told lies. They exaggerated. Why not? They, like humans all over the world, had a tendency to be over-zealous in their evangelism. What makes them exempt?
This hypothesis also respects the historical method. It doesn’t require us to so quickly jettison the necessary naturalistic presupposition of historical regularity. I’m not saying we should never do that — I’m just saying that this hypothesis keeps that presupposition in place. We can take the Gospels as important historical accounts of what people believed to have happened, not necessarily historical accounts of what actually happened.
And, this hypothesis is also respectful of theology. Many Christians accept this hypothesis, because, you know why? Because it doesn’t limit God. It doesn’t make a spatially limited god who is stuck in a body — that Jesus had to physically ascend up into some physical throne up in some physical heaven somewhere. I mean, that really limits what “god” is. I mean, if Jesus’ body is up there somewhere, shouldn’t he be needing a haircut about now? I mean, if his flesh and blood is up there, shouldn’t he be . . . I mean, where is he? Most Christians don’t think their god is that limited, into a spatial body, and that he is going to physically come back to earth again. That’s an ancient idea, an ancient thought. But true Christians who want to believe in a powerful god who transcends the physical world can jettison the bodily resurrection of Jesus and still hold on to their faith. I happen not to believe it’s true . . . Oh, it says “Stop,” okay . . . I happen not to believe it’s true. Those of you who wish to believe its true, you do so on faith, and on faith alone, and not on the basis of history. [applause]
Michael Horner, Closing Statement, 5 minutes
Okay, my first point was that there are good reasons to affirm the Resurrection. Dan’s response is that the evidence for my position is weak, it’s not even good evidence. He says eyewitness testimony would have been good. Let me quote from Larry Hurtado, a New Testament scholar, about that very point. He says, “The very anonymity and the early positive reception of the Gospels, that they were immediately seen as reliable collections of Jesus traditions by other Christians, is the strongest indication of their worth.” Not whether we know the authors’ names or who the authors were. The claim of the Gospels is not an eyewitness for an author, but the testimony of the churches at that time, while the eyewitnesses were still alive. Here’s the key point. Eyewitnesses were involved, because they were still alive while the Gospels are being accepted. They were accepted by the early church. And these works reliably convey what the churches knew of Jesus. If these works didn’t, they would have been rejected by the eyewitnesses, by the early church
So, we are dependent upon these sources exclusively, but the Christians at that time when they appeared, they were not dependent upon those Gospels alone. They had a larger fund of Jesus tradition by which to evaluate the Gospels, and they found them to be acceptable.
And, in fact, we do have testimony from the late first century, not from the end of the second century, that the traditional authors are who we usually think they are.
He says, Peter was a liar. Well, just because somebody has told one lie, it doesn’t mean that everything they say is lie. He’s jumped to the conclusion that because Peter told one lie under that situation that the rest of his life he can’t be trusted. He’s got to give evidence that he told lies for the rest of his life. And, look, the idea of spreading this message for 50 years under persecution, and torture and hardship, can’t stand up to the hypothesis that Dan is offering.
He says Paul is a liar, Romans chapter 3. [Romans 3:7] I just read the passage. Paul is talking about someone saying that, and then he says, “their condemnation is deserved if they say that.” [Romans 3:8] That’s the point of the passage there. This is an irresponsible use of Scripture again, Dan.
So, we’ve got the tomb being empty, Jesus physically appearing to many witnesses, and the origin of the Church being inexplicable apart from a real resurrection. That is good evidence for the Resurrection.
Then I argued that there are no good reasons to deny the Resurrection. I said that an a priori dismissal is illegitimate. Dan’s position still amounts to a methodological bias, based on his false understanding of Natural Law. He says that if you allow one miracle, oh, well, then everything just collapses. You just can’t trust history any more. Well, there’s just no scientist that understands Natural Law that way any more. It’s statistical descriptions, generalizations, not prescriptive. And to say that a law . . . what’s the word I’m looking for here? . . . to reformulate a law, that same miracle would have to happen again and again under the same circumstances. One exception does not throw out the Natural Law. And so he really begins his historical analysis by not allowing miracles. Even though he says he doesn’t, that’s his methodology.
The alleged contradictions can be harmonized. And again, I really . . . go ahead and take up Dan’s challenge. It’s already been done. It’s already been done. Wenham and Murray-Harris have done it. I’ve got their . . . I’ve got Harris’ right here, on the table. I can show it to you. Been there. Done that. Okay, he hasn’t given something new here.
And the things that he said tonight, even the way he said, “this is what this verse says, and this is what this Gospel says,” they weren’t accurate. He’s the one who is forcing things into his own mold.
Extraordinary evidence. I won’t really comment on that one. Let’s jump right to the last point.
He says that his position allows freedom and mine doesn’t. This is very, very strange. The Christian position is that each of us has the freedom to respond to God or not. If the evidence that Jesus rose from the grave, if the evidence is good for that, then one has the freedom to give intellectual assent to that, or to say they don’t want to give intellectual assent to that. But, then, there’s a further step that’s involved that’s a more important one. Even if one admit he rose from the grave, one could still say, “I still don’t want anything to do with you, Jesus.” And you have complete freedom to do that, Dan. And all of us do.
So, what is the significance of Jesus of Nazareth rising from the dead? Well, it provides substantiation for his divine self understanding. As Wolfgart Pannenberg said, the German scholar, he said, “The Resurrection can only be understood as the divine vindication of the man whom the Jews rejected as a blasphemer.”
But more than that, the Resurrection offers hope. Jesus holds the key that unlocks the door to eternal life. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies. And whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” [John 11:25-26] Thank you. [applause]
Moderator, Dustin Shramek
First of all I’d like to thank Mr. Barker and Mr. Horner. And also, again, everyone — the cards that are on your seats. If you’ll take those back up, and just fill the rest of that out. “What is your answer to the question after the debate?” Did Jesus rise from the dead or not? The next question, “Who do you think won the debate?” Who presented the best arguments and best refuted the other arguments. Also, we are offering a free article, so you can ask about that. On the next point, if you would like to talk to someone about how to know Jesus Christ personally, please mark “Yes” there. Any comments you have about the debate you can mark on the back of the card. And also if we could get your name, address and phone number, that would be great.
Now, we’re going to open up the mikes, the two mikes here, for questions from the audience, for Mr. Horner and Mr. Barker. If you have a question for Mr. Horner, please line up over there. If you have a question for Mr. Barker, please line up over there. You’ll have basically a minute to state your question, and then after that, after that minute is up, whoever you asked the question to will have two minutes to respond, and the other person will have a minute if they choose to. Okay?
Dan Barker: Can I mention one thing? There’s literature on the table outside, from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, that’s free. Please take it with you, but not the books that are there. The books are just to look at. But the newspapers, the fliers, those things are free to take. So, help yourself.
Dustin Shramek: Okay, and also the cards that you leave out, just leave them at the door. And like Mr. Barker said, there’s free literature out there, but don’t take the books. All right. Oh, and also, we’ll rotate questions, one from each side.
Questions from the audience.
Questioner #1 [Farrell Till]: Michael,you remember in our debate in Seattle, I questioned you extensively about this matter that came up tonight in the debate, the rejection of miracle claims. I won’t ask again the specific question that I asked you, but I cited several instances from non-biblical literature that was written at the same time that the New Testament documents were written, or about the same time, and I asked you, “Do you believe that that really happened?” And you always said, “I’d have to investigate that. I’d have to investigate that. I’d have to investigate that.” And these were miracle claims from the works of Josephus, Seutonius, Tacitus, and so on. I wonder if you have investigated those, and if you have any opinion on them now. Do you accept any nonbiblical claim of a miracle. Can you think of one? You said “No” in the debate.
Horner: I think your point is well taken, Farrell, that I should investigate those, and I admit that between our debate and this debate I haven’t yet done that. Part of the reason is that one has only so much time, and I’m trying to decide, what should I spend my time doing? And, there’s not strong testimony from other people saying that, you know, that here’s something that is very likely historically accurate, you should check it out. And so that’s why it’s a little bit farther down on my list. But, I will get to those.
Farrell Till: So, you would say that it’s true that you cannot think of a single nonbiblical miracle claim that you would say actually happened.
Horner: Well, at this point, I don’t know. I wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility. I just don’t know at this point.
Questioner #2: Hi, Mr. Barker. Can you hear me? Hello? I think I went to the wrong debate, seriously, because I thought we were . . . it says, “Did Jesus Rise From The Dead?” and we debated, “Is the Bible completely accurate?” and “Is it a bodily or a spiritual resurrection?” and I want to hear if he rose or not. And you’re a person who is debating about a person that you don’t believe in and you’re defending a hypothesis that you don’t believe in. So it seemed a little strange to me. I just wanted to make that comment. And you’re having an “evolution” from somebody who didn’t exist at all. So, therefore, all this stuff that you were talking about tonight, is that just a bunch of people in a room sitting there and making up these stories? Those are my comments, and you can respond to those.
My question is, you were a songwriter. If I were to write a song about Bill Clinton and mention that he was 40th, whatever, president, and where he was born, and I didn’t mention that he lived in the White House, would be that be strong historical evidence that he didn’t live in the White House?
Barker: Thanks. No, Jesus did not rise from the dead. I don’t believe he did. The reason I selected my hypothesis tonight is to show that there is an alternative hypothesis that is better than Mike’s, that accounts for the facts better than Mike’s. I realize coming into tonight’s debate that to discuss the general historicity of Jesus was a bit far out of field. For example, Mike was wrong when he said Tacitus mentioned Jesus. Tacitus did not mention Jesus. He mentioned a “Christ,” but he did not mention the name “Jesus.” And there were many Christs at that time. There were many self-proclaimed first-century Messiahs. That would be a wonderful debate. Maybe we should have that debate next time, because it’s really juicy, and it’s good. I did not say Josephus was written in the fourth century, by the way. I said that little passage about Jesus was inserted in the fourth century.
Horner: Oh, okay.
Barker: It’s absent from the early copies of the writings of Josephus. It does not appear in history until the beginning of the fourth century. Unless you have some evidence that it did appear before the beginning [end] of the first century, then we have to treat that like the interpolation that it was. Josephus did not mention Jesus Christ.
No, of course not. You can write . . . songs are poetic, right. One of my points was that the song that Paul was quoting was poetic, and that’s one of the earmarks of legend, that biblical scholars say. They say, “Look at Luke and Matthew, [they] are writing in straight, historical narrative, right? If that was committed to oral memory and written down later, why wasn’t that put in a poetic way. So the whole point of it being poetic shows that it shares some similarities with other legendary events that were not recited as history but as a remembering back into the far past. So, no, I don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead. How could someone who didn’t really exist rise from the dead? But that’s another debate. I’m sorry we can’t go into it.
Horner: Yeah, I’m sorry I misunderstood you about Josephus there. That testimony in Flavianum, I admit, has been altered as Christian interpolation there, and that’s widely agreed upon. But I don’t agree that it wasn’t present in another form in the earliest forms of Josephus. I argue that a case can be made that it was present, but not in its sort of Christianized form, but it was present enough to show that, you know, Jesus existed, but just not the more, you know, clearly Christian claims that were made by Josephus. And Tacitus, no scholars think that Tacitus was talking about another Christ. He was talking about Jesus Christ when you look at the context, very clearly.
Questioner #3: Okay, first I’d like to say, Barker, me and my friend, Justin, we have taken up the challenge to harmonize every detail in the Resurrection accounts, and we have done it. And I have it in my dorm room right now. It’s about six pages. We did it. And we’ve harmonized every detail. So, even us two college students have done it.
But I would like to ask Dr. Horner . . .
Horner: Thank you for that honorary doctorate. [laughter]
Questioner #3: Mr. Horner. I’d like to hear some of the more, more of the evidence that the Apostle Paul was aware of the teachings of Jesus and what Jesus did, in other words, that he really was aware of the core historical events surrounding the life of Jesus.
Horner: Well, I’m not sure how to respond to that, to be quite honest with you, because it is true that he doesn’t quote Jesus very much in his writings. but my argument there was that he didn’t need to, given the purpose of his particular letters, and the fact that that material was already around. It was already present. And I think that what Paul say of his theology is quite consistent with what we see in the writings about Jesus. So, unless you’re thinking of something specific, give me a clue, but I’m not quite sure if I know what you’re . . .
Questioner #3: Well, I was thinking, like I Corinthians 11, where Paul quotes the Last Supper, the tradition about the Last Supper, and stuff, if that relates into this at all.
Horner: Okay, well, no, that’s a good point. I mean, there are some places, albeit not very many, where Paul does seem to be quoting the historical Jesus, yeah.
Dan: Well, I agree . . . we get a minute to respond . . . I agree that Paul did mention the crucifixion and the burial, of course some of the events, but none of the miracles, none of the Gospel sayings of Jesus. That’s all I was saying.
Questioner #3: Oh. She told me I could ask one more question. Sorry. First Corinthians 15:3-8, Paul receiving that from the, very early from the apostles, or whatever, I’d like to hear a little bit more on that.
Horner: Okay, yeah, Paul. The exact words of Paul are, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance,” and then he quotes this saying: Christ died, buried, et cetera. And he’s using technical Jewish language there for the passing on of important information and tradition. He said he received it, and he’s passing it on to others, and the language being used there shows that he’s taking great care to pass on something that is accurate and true. And, so, that’s the context of this saying.
Questioner #4: Mr. Barker, I just had one question I’d like to ask,out of curiosity, because I’ve heard a lot of the arguments you’ve made before. One argument I would pose against that is we have several of the apostles that were martyred, we have Paul who had a rather interesting life being abused and misused by both the Jewish and Roman authorities. What possible motivation would they have had if the Resurrection did not take place, or if they did not believe in Jesus as their Savior?
Barker: First of all, you don’t know how they died. This was much later in Christian tradition, in the second century, when the stories about their deaths and torturing came about. We have no way of really knowing how these people died. These were stories that even Mike admits come from a period of history when there was all sorts of wild, crazy, Paul Bunyan embellishments. The stories about the deaths of the disciples . . . except for Stephen — Stephen was one who was stoned to death, and he wasn’t a close follower of Jesus — and Judas — Judas had two different accounts of his death which are contradictory — except for those two, we don’t know how any of them died. We do know that a lot of religions have their martyrs. Martyrdom was a big concept in Judaism. The people as Masada allowed themselves to be martyred for their faith. The Muslim extremist who drove a truck full of explosives into the American embassy in Beirut became a martyr for his faith. Does that prove that it was right? The Hari Kari bombers were dying for their faith. The Hindu [Buddhist] monk who set himself on fire in protest of the Viet Nam war. Martyrdom is a thing that happens in a lot of religions where people are committed. Look at these Hasad people — they’re calling it a “wonderful” thing to kill themselves as martyrs for the faith. So, if it proves Christianity is true, it proves all the other religions are true as well.
Horner: I’m glad this was brought up because this is a complete misunderstanding that both Mr. Barker and Mr. Till have done. They say that just because you have martyrs doesn’t prove that the religion is true. But that’s not the argument we’re giving. We’re raising that point not as a positive case for the truth of the Resurrection; we’re raising it in defense of their claim that these people are liars. And in defense of that claim, it works. Liars make very poor martyrs. And we do have information from the end of the first century, from Clement of Rome in AD 96, from Ignatius in his letter to the Romans, from a book called the Ascension of Isaiah around the same time period, that Peter and Paul were martyred. So we do have information about that.
Questioner #5: My question is for Mr. Horner. You said that it takes about 80 years, two generations or something, for myth to overcome factual accounts of an event. Okay, now, lets just assume that that’s true. I mean, I don’t know whether it is; let’s just assume that it is. If that’s the case, isn’t that only on events that are true? For instance, if I write a fictitious story, it’s fictitious now. It doesn’t take 80 years to become fictitious. It’s fictitious right now. But if I write a true story, then maybe it would take 80 years, or whatever, for maybe fictitious accounts of what I claim to be true to happen. So, to me it seems like what you are doing is you are assuming that the Resurrection is true, and then saying, now, how can these people, later, how can myth happen? Okay, what if it was a myth right to begin with? You’re assuming it’s true . . .
[short break in the recording]
. . . the case.
Horner: I don’t think so. We’re asking the question, “Is this historically reliable, or is it legend?” with an open agnostic approach, saying, “We don’t know.” And given the principle that it takes longer than two generations for legend to prevail over fact, then these writings which were produced within that time frame are more likely reliable than legendary. That’s the logic of the argument. It’s not . . . you don’t begin with the assumption that it’s true.
Questioner #5: Well, what if I wrote a fictitious story? Isn’t it false right now?
Horner: Yes. But, so?
Questioner #5: So, what if they wrote, what if what they wrote was fictitious?
Horner: But that’s what’s called a counter-factual, in philosophy. What we’re . . . how do we find out? What criteria do we use to find out whether it’s fictitious or legendary, or historically reliable? And I’m saying one of the criteria that’s been shown in historical research by Professor Sherwin-White, is that it takes more than two generations, because the eye-witnesses are around, and a fictitious or legendary story that would arise earlier would not be accepted, but these writings by the disciples and followers of Jesus were accepted by the early church, by the eyewitnesses.
Questioner #5: It’s only true, only if it’s true to begin with, would that be the case.
Horner: I don’t think so.
Barker: I agree with the questioner that you have a circular argument here. You are assuming that from the beginning that these are historically accurate accounts, that needed time to be changed, right? You just told me earlier that the miracle at Medjugorje could have been a legend, it could be a legend. You used that word “legend,” and you said it . . . two days after it happened. Well, obviously, there . . . you don’t need time . . . the story at Medjugorje, I believe is a fiction. I don’t believe it happened, and I don’t believe you do either. I’d be willing to have my mind changed, but, I don’t think you believe that the Virgin Mary bodily rose . . . I mean, should we look for the empty tomb of Mary? I mean, don’t think you really believe that, even though you are open like I am to the possibility. You still said that it could be legendary, even a day or two after the event. So, you’re falling all over yourself, here, see, by first saying that it takes time for the legend to develop — it takes two or three generations for it to develop, to replace the fact . . .
Horner: To “replace.”
Barker: . . . the questioner is asking . . .
Questioner #5: Right. So if it is replacing a fact, it would have to be a fact in order to replace it.
Barker: Yeah, it’s replacing, so it’s a circular argument. And you’ve already answered the question — this was my response.
Questioner #6: Okay, Mr. Barker. I have first just a couple of comments, and then a question. One comment, just short, on the Josephus, the testimony of Flavianum. I have personally looked into it, myself, and the vast majority of the scholars would agree with Mr. Horner, who deal specifically with this issue that Josephus wrote something about Jesus, that the entire thing is not an interpolation. And also, just something that I’ve noticed in your debate, as well as some of you answers to people’s questions: you assert a lot of things in the Gospels and in the New Testament are contradictions, and that you assert that some of the things that Mr. Horner says are contradictions, and they’re not contradictions at all, and it seems that you don’t really understand what a contradiction is.
Barker: For example?
Questioner #6: For example, the two so-called contradictory accounts of Judas’ death. Okay. One account is that he hung himself, the other account says that he fell off of a cliff. Okay, if that were a contradiction, it would be one account saying “he hung himself,” and another account saying “he did not hang himself.” We don’t have that. We have one account saying he hung himself and another account saying he fell off a cliff. Both of those are possible. They’re not mutually exclusive ideas, so you do not . . .
Barker: Oh, the rope broke, and then his body fell off . . .
Questioner #6: Right. They’re not mutually exclusive ideas . . .
Farrell Till [from audience]: He fell headlong.
Questioner #6: . . .They are possible. So they are not a contradiction.
Moderator: Could you get to the question, please?
Barker: He fell on his head, is that what it said?
Farrell Till [from audience]: He fell headlong.
Barker: He fell headlong.
Questioner #6: Right. What I’m saying is that, yes, we have two stories that don’t, if they are part of the same story, they don’t both give the same story, but that’s not a contradiction because they’re not mutually exclusive ideas . . .
Moderator [Greg Chenoweth]: Could you get to the question, please?
Questioner #6: . . . and they do not contradict each other . . .
Moderator: Let’s get on with the debate.
Questioner #6: But my question was . . . Sorry, Greg. I didn’t want to take that long with it, but that was just a comment. My question was, you contradict yourself, and I wondered why. Why you say that your hypothesis is “nice” because it doesn’t force anybody to believe in the Resurrection, but then you assert that God is perhaps “not nice” because he does not force us to believe in the Resurrection. Your words were, “Doesn’t he care more than that?” As if, he cares for us, so he ought to force us to believe. But you suggested that your hypothesis is nice because it does not force us to believe. So, I was wondering what the contradiction is there. Why you think that your hypothesis is nice, but God is not.
Barker: So, you think God is being deliberately a little bit ambiguous so that we have room for faith, is that what you’re suggesting? That’s the way he communicates this crucial message to us, by being . . . giving us a tantalizing amount so that we still have to take that leap of faith. That’s the whole idea, right?
Questioner #6: Well, all history is like that.
Barker: If that kind of a god existed, I couldn’t respect that god anyway. I mean, that’s my business. I could not respect a god like that, who would toy with us.
Questioner #6: My question was, why don’t you respect a god who allows you not to believe facts, but then you turn around and pose a hypothesis that allows you not to believe facts?
Barker: Because one of the allowances deals with what history is saying, and the other one deals with what theology is saying. Theology says God may or may not give us free will. But I’m talking about what history allows us, and according to Mike’s hypothesis, the brute facts of history must force us to accept, or to take very seriously the Resurrection. Under the theological question of God’s — whatever you want to call it, it’s nonsensical to me now. I used to preach it but it’s nonsense — we have a whole different question of free will. So, we’re comparing apples and oranges here. And maybe I have contradicted myself. I’m not perfect either. I’d be happy to admit that I made a mistake, and if I did, I’m sorry. So, I’m not omniscient and omnipotent.
[From the audience]: So should we throw out your whole testimony if you lied [like?]? [laughter]
Barker: If you want to . . . [more (unintelligible) audience remarks, applause]
Moderator: Could we refrain our comments from the audience, please?
Barker: I’m not asking you to believe me. I’m looking at the historical evidences.
Moderator: Please refrain from commenting from the audience. If you have a comment, please go to the microphone in respect for our speakers.
Horner: Yeah. I think the questioner did identify a contradiction, but I think it was inadvertent. I mean, I don’t think Dan realized that he did make one there. But Blaise Pascal said something that is relevant here. He said, “God has given us evidence sufficiently clear to convince those with an open heart and mind, but evidence sufficiently vague so as not to compel those whose hearts and minds are closed.” True, God could have made the evidence better, stronger than it is. Why didn’t he? I think, possibly, it’s because he doesn’t want to compel people to their knees who really don’t want anything to do with him.
Barker: Like me.
Horner: Possibly like like you. And if the evidence . . . and if somebody doesn’t want anything to do with God, they will not find the evidence sufficient. He’s got the evidence in exactly the right amount . . .
Barker: That’s ad hominem.
Horner: . . . that those that are open, with their open heart and mind, will find the evidence sufficient.
Moderator: I think we’re overtime. Mr. Horner?
Questioner #7: I think my question, for just directly on what you just said, it seems to me you either know something, or you have faith in it. If you can know it with certainty, then there’s no room for faith. For example, I know you’re sitting there. I can’t have faith in you sitting there. It’s simply a fact. If you prove your case as well as you set out to prove, you really do deny any element of faith. It becomes an intellectual exercise. It seems to me a self-defeating argument from the start. If you could do your job really, really well, you would eliminate the need for faith, in fact, any room for it. Or am I misunderstanding this approach?
Horner: I’m glad you asked the question, because I think you’re, in philosophy it’s called “equivocating” on the word “faith.” That is, the word “faith” can be used in more than one sense. When we mix up the two ways we use it, that’s the problem. We sometimes use the word “faith” in the intellectual sense that we have a certain amount of evidence for a proposition, but it doesn’t provide us with certainty, and so, we say, “Well, I believe it because I have a good probability.” But that’s not the way the Bible uses the word “faith,” okay? The Bible assumes that there is enough evidence for God’s existence and Jesus’ claims to be God, the Resurrection. But the faith the Bible says we have to have goes beyond that. It says, “Given these historical facts, you then need to put your “trust,” your personal trust, in God and Jesus, and that’s a different use of the word “faith.” Faith as trust. Like if I say, “I believe in God,” that could mean, “I believe that God exists,” or it could mean, “I put my trust in God.” Which is it? Those are the two different ways that it can be used. So, my point is this. The evidence does give us . . . there’s enough evidence that we can conclude, not with certainty, but with a high degree of probability, that the Christian claims are true. And we bridge that gap with the sort of intellectual sense of the word “faith.” But that’s not biblical faith. Then, one must make the decision either to put their faith in God, or not put their faith in God after they have made that intellectual decision.
Questioner #7: So, sir, in fact, you have been arguing for probability and not certainty.
Horner: That’s, absolutely. That’s right. That’s right. We know very little with certainty, if anything at all.
Barker: I’d like to respond to that. Intellectual faith is irresponsible.
Horner: That’s what science is. All science is probability, Dan.
Barker: Intellectual faith . . . if you have to accept an assertion by faith, you are admitting that that assertion cannot be accepted on its own merits. You need to make some kind of a leap outside of the merits of the argument itself. Otherwise, what is faith? In Hebrews [11:6] it said, “He that cometh to God must believe that He is.” You don’t know that God exists. You [to Horner] don’t know that God exists. You must “believe” that he exists. That’s what . . . faith is “the evidence of things not seen,” [Hebrews 11:1], right? So any time anyone trumpets faith, that is an intellectual dishonesty. What we skeptics say is that it is better not to believe than to have a false answer. And your belief in Jesus is a false answer. You’re jumping to conclusions. You’re jumping outside of the evidence and you are . . . well, who knows what your personal motivations are? I’m not going to stoop to ad hominem like you just did to me about being “close minded.” I think you are open minded. I think I’m open minded as well. I mean, I have demonstrated that I am able to change my mind, at least once, haven’t I, from something that I used to preach. So, I’m quite open-minded, and would be happy to change my mind again if you come up with better evidence. After all, it would be stupid to ignore something like a god. What kind of a game would that be? I would have a million questions to ask this deity. But, the evidence is not strong enough. I am not going to prostitute my intellect to take that leap of faith, to believe something that is merely wishful thinking because it makes me have a chance of going to heaven and being eternally coddled by this deity, who has a vanity that’s so insecure that he has to threaten me with eternal hell if I don’t believe in him? I mean, what kind of respect could I give to a deity like that? [applause]
Questioner #8: If I might set up a question with a few comments. Drawing from the Bible, we must realize that the Resurrection was a fulfillment of prophecy. Isaiah 26 speaks clearly of that they are, that “with my dead body all men will be raised up with me. If we come unto him, we will have rest to our soul, and we shall live.” Now, that is obviously not speaking in some abstract, or some complicated term, that we as believers can’t realize, say, with Paul, that he didn’t quote from Jesus directly, and yet that would for some reason make him ineffective or would annul anything that he taught as far as being one of the main advancers of the Scriptures. He quoted from the Law, from the Prophets, and from the Psalms, just as Jesus as he spoke to the eleven apostles . . .
Moderator: We need to get to the question, please.
Questioner #8: . . . he said that what is of the law and of the prophets and of the psalms must be fulfilled concerning me. Paul knew that he could draw from the existing Scriptures and bear out and confirm that the Resurrection was indeed a fulfillment of prophecy. It wasn’t something that Jesus manifested or made up in the course of his three and a half year ministry . . .
Moderator: We need the question, please.
Questioner #8: . . . where he thought . . . Pardon?
Moderator: We need the question, please.
Questioner #8: One more thing. Jesus said . . .
Moderator: We need the question. I’m sorry, we need the question.
Questioner #8: . . . “I am the bread of life, I am the water of life.” He knew in order for us to receive of those elements that there was going to be a Resurrection. Him dying on the cross does not provide the bread of life, and it does not provide the water of life. The water of life . . .
Moderator: Sir, we need to respect the time limit and either ask the question or please sit down.
Questioner #8: Well, okay. My question would be, how anyone who has been invited as we have to believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, by faith — faith being, as he says, “the things that we have not seen.” Thomas, in the famous statement of our Lord to him, was that, “Well, you’ve touched your hands into my wounds, and you have seen for yourself that I am resurrected, but greater is the reward for those who have not seen, but believed.” And that is fundamental. Not that he, or anyone who is an atheist is our greatest enemy or threat. Jesus said . . .
Moderator: Sir, you have disrespected our time limits and I am going to ask you to sit down and go on to the next question. Thank you.
Questioner #8: Thank you.
Barker: I would only respond by saying that I used to preach that very sermon, just like you preached. And I have changed my mind.
Questioner #8 [from audience]: Well, if I could be given an opportunity, I think that you might have been following instruction at such a late date, as your intellectualism will not let your heart make room for the truth.
Questioner #9: I have a couple of questions. First question is, I’m interested in why you became an atheist. The second question, and I’m assuming that you’re not over 50 years old, okay? And so my next question is, has to do with your attack on Peter’s personality. You said that we shouldn’t believe him because he’s hot-tempered, and that you called him a liar, and quoted scriptures for doing that.
Barker: He called himself a liar.
Questioner #9: Okay. All right, that’s fine. But, my . . . I just want to bring that out that you said that . . . and, so, what I’m . . . but what my question actually is, is, why should we, or why should I believe you, who spent half of your life getting up, living a lie, and being a minister and proclaiming God?
Barker: Okay. That’s a fair question. And I can’t answer why I became an atheist in just one quick question. I have a book on it. There are some excerpts of this book on the Internet, if you want to get some free chapters out of it. I became an atheist because I read, I studied, I looked at the evidences, and I changed my mind. What else can I say? I’m putting together a book of former clergy who are now unbelievers. Farrell Till has submitted a good chapter. We all have different reasons, but we all agree that reading, reading more than the prescribed lists. Reading broadens your mind. Reading had a lot to do with our “seeing the light,” I think you would say. I’m not quite over 50. I just had . . . I shouldn’t say “I just had” . . . but my family, I just had my third grandchild this [last] year, so I guess that makes me half a century old. I’m not asking you to believe me. My arguments are whether we should believe the history. I’m not asking you to believe that what I say is true or false. What if a Moslem in Iraq were to suddenly reject Islam and to come to Jesus. Would you question that person’s conversion because they spent most of his life in Islam and preaching the wrong? Wouldn’t you applaud the ability of the person to rise above their culture, to rise above their teaching and say, “Hey, you’re thinking for yourself now! Great!” You would want that Moslem to do it, right? Because you want them to consider Christianity. Well, that’s what I’ve done. I’ve considered my culture, my Christianity, my religion, and I have risen above it. There is a better way. Atheism is not a negative thing. There’s a higher way. There’s a higher moral way, that’s more moral than the bible, more moral than Jesus, more moral than what the Christian Church has taught us. And if I were going to argue for atheism tonight, I would argue against the moral virtues of Christianity, but that’s a different debate. So, I think what I’m doing is a good, positive thing.
Horner: Just a comment on that. I’ve read Dan’s story, at least some of Dan’s story, and it seems to be that his background was one of Pentecostalism, that seemed to be somewhat anti-intellectual. He really wasn’t familiar with a lot of the arguments, and that’s typical for a lot of Christians. And then, all of a sudden, he got exposed to some thinkers who challenged some of the traditional orthodox claims of Christianity, and just didn’t have any defense to handle those. But what was missing, at that [time] was that he was not exposed at the same time to some of the good Christian scholars. The very best he was exposed to some popular stuff. But if at that same time as he was reading, you know, Thomas Paine, he was exposed to philosophers like William Lane Craig and Alvin Platinga and Thomas Morris and others, some of the top Christian philosophers right now, I wonder if things might have turned out a little bit different.
Questioner #10: I was just curious is you have any sense of peace, or what you feel about life after death?
Barker: Yeah, I feel much more peaceful now as an atheist than I ever did as a Christian, because as a Christian you’ve got all these . . . look at the Christian Church. There’s thousands of denominations, they differ with each other, and they all claim that they are the right one, and they can prove it biblically . . .
Questioner #10: But, that’s not my question. My question is, what do you think?
Barker: . . . and now that I have rejected that, I have a much better feeling of peace. I don’t believe in life after death. That’s wishful thinking. Albert Einstein said that there is no evidence for it. There was an eternity before I was born when I did not exist, and it did not bother me one bit. The same will be true after I’m dead. But I’m alive now, and this life is what is important. I don’t want to sacrifice this life for some future pie in the sky or some promise, I mean, I’m not going to live my life because of fear of punishment of hell or because I’m going to be rewarded with the carrot of heaven. What kind of a morality is that? I would rather respect human rights and human dignity and human freedoms and live to make this world a better place. That gives me a purpose, much more peaceful, much more purposeful than Christianity, much more sensible, much more meaningful in the real world in which we live, spending time doing things that matter more than prayer and all those things. And so . . . that’s my testimony. Personal testimony time!
Questioner #10: So, it ends with the grave. That’s what you’re saying?
Barker: Yep. And I’m happy with that.
Horner: Dan has brought up the concept of hell a couple of times, and I think it deserves a bit of a response. God doesn’t send anyone to hell. That’s not the motivation why people should become Christians. We each have the number-one choice to make in our life, and that is, do we want to commence a relationship with the Creator submit to Him as a creature to a Creator, or do we say, “No, thanks. I don’t want that relationship”? Now, if we say, “No, thanks” to God, what can God do? Apart from, if you’ll excuse the expression, spiritually raping us, he just has to give us our free choice to be apart, separate from Him. And that’s all that hell is. Hell is just the complete absence of God. If God himself is the ground of all goodness, if goodness is the very nature of God, then being in the complete absence of God is being in the complete absence of goodness, and that’s why hell is described in awful terms. The Bible talks about it as a fact, but the reason people should come to the Lord is not to avoid that, but because they want to love, trust and obey the Creator that gave them life and loves them. And the Christian life is life that is abundant now, plus in eternity.
Questioner #11: Thank you. I would like to ask one question. I believe and respect your opinion and everything, and I don’t believe anyone owns the truth. Everyone has probably a bit of it. But I would like to ask, what is it that is in atheism? Personally I was raised as a Christian, as a default religion, by my parents, not that I chose it. But I would change to Islam or to any other religion if I find something that is comparably . . . say if Islam is better, what is it that is in atheism that you found? That probably is not a debate, and everything, about doubting the Christian . . . Personally I say I am a Doubting Thomas, but I am a Christian. I have found anything [in] atheism that I can say is so much better than being a Christian. And having studied as a Christian yourself, what is it that you find [in] atheism that is not so much in Christian that . . . did you find anything, any, say, definite — there are no definite answers — and having studied as a Christian, what changed your mind?
Barker: The freedom to think for myself was what was so seductive about freethinking and atheism. The bible says we should bring “every thought into captivity unto the obedience of Christ.” The bible says “Lean not on your own understanding.” The bible is anti-intellectual. The bible wants us to be like children. I don’t like that. I have a mind; I want to use it. One of the biggest sins is to doubt, according to Christianity. The freedom to think for myself, to be able to be free of the restraints of Christianity or any other religious tradition. That me that’s attractive; the idea that I’m not going to be eternally condemned because I have a question. The idea . . . who created hell? I mean, that hell that exists is there because God must have created it. Jesus phrased it in terms of weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, a physical place where we will have teeth, right? This hell, I don’t believe this hell exists. I think it’s . . . I’m surprised that in the 20th century, here we have an educated man who believes there is such a place as hell! I mean, really! Mike, really — this is the 20th century. We use our minds. We use intellect, we use science, and you’re taking some mish-mash writings from some ancient book by people who were religiously motivated, and you think it’s true! You should be ashamed of yourself. In any event, atheism for me represents the freedom to think. It represents the freedom to search all avenues and follow the path wherever it leads. And if it leads back to Jesus, I’ll go there. I’m not fighting God. If it leads there, I’ll happily go there. I’m not stupid. I’m not dumb. I’m not closing my mind. I don’t hate the whole concept of it. I do think the God of the bible is beneath dignity and beneath moral respect, the way he treats people, the way he acted, the way he committed genocide, the way he devalued women, and on and on. The way Jesus encouraged owning and beating slaves. For example, he never once spoke out against slavery in his entire life. And I could go on and on and show the shortcomings of Christianity, but that would be a different debate as well. Atheism brings me up to zero, and then things like humanism or feminism or social issues give me a purpose in life to go on and make this world a better place.
Horner: The Bible is not anti-intellectual. That is just a misrepresentation of the Scriptures. As I said, it implies that there’s plenty of evidence for God’s existence and the other Christian truth claims. But the problem with atheism . . . I mean, I agree with Dan that the issue of truth is really what is most important here, you know, which view is true: Christianity, or atheism, or some other view. And I think the evidence does show that the Christian hypothesis has much more evidence in its favor than atheism does. But there’s another level here that can be looked at, and that is, even if the evidence for and against Christianity or atheism, if they were equal, they kind of balanced each other out, say, the second level here is that atheism cannot provide a basis or a foundation for ultimate significance, meaning and purpose and human dignity and objective morality. Whereas Christianity succeeds precisely in those same spots where atheism breaks down. So it’s completely irrational to adopt a world view that can’t give you a foundation for these very values that we need to live with day by day. All the atheist can do is play Let’s Pretend. There’s no ultimate meaning, purpose, significance to the universe, but let’s pretend there’s meaning and purpose, and I’ll choose to do this today to give my life meaning. But it’s just a game of Let’s Pretend.
Questioner #12: Sir, in the midst of all your generalizations about how it is, people who are Christians are somehow in bondage or in restraint. Most Christians I know would not say that, and certainly would not believe, would believe the Scripture in saying that Jesus Christ has made them free, if they are truly to be free. But in the midst of your many generalizations, sir, you claim that it is foolish for God to leave room for you personal decision for faith in him. Let me ask you this, if you have a child, would you want your child to love you, and accept you by force or by choice? That’s my question.
Barker: The thing about bondage was a Scripture verse that I quoted in — what epistle is it, Thessalonians? — to bring “every thought into captivity unto the obedience of Christ,” it wasn’t . . .
Horner: Second Corinthians 10:5, 3 to 5, in there.
Barker: Second Corinthians? It’s been a long time, and it’s getting fuzzy now. The idea of choice. If my child chooses to love me or not to love me, it should be based on my merits, not because I’m the authority figure. The bible says God should be loved because he is powerful, because he is the authority, because he’s the one . . . the biblical morality is really a morality of “might makes right,” because he’s the one who created us. But if you look at the actions of that god of the bible, they do not inspire respect, moral respect. If you look at the way he treats people, if you look at the way he acted in history, if you look at the things he said, they do not inspire respect. So, if there is a God, if the God of the bible does exist, okay — let’s pretend that he does — and he’s asking me to make a choice, I’m going to give him very good reasons why I reject loving him, because he has not measured up to my idea of what a respectful moral authority should be. He’s beneath respect of morality. There might be some other god outside of Christianity who is better than the god of the bible. This is hypothetical, obviously.
Questioner #12: But one thing, sir, you’ve made that your own personal decision, and you call — I’m making just a word to summarize what you have called Mr. Horner — is basically an “idiot” for believing anything outside what you believe, saying that if he believes opposite, or that if he does believe in this God, and does submit to this God, somehow he’s some fool.
Barker: I never said that.
Questioner #12: No, you didn’t say that, but you have implied that. The fact that he believes in a hell is absurd, according to your own . . .
Barker: Yeah, that is absurd.
Questioner #12: Yes. But that’s all a part of the whole message, all a part of the whole thing.
Barker: But, see? My view is positive towards Mike. I think there’s hope for Mike. [laughter]
Questioner #12: I think there’s hope for you!
Barker: I think Mike can also be a part of that process of improving his theology and his philosophy and coming up to a better, more inclusive, more moral way of living. The Christian way of living is not a more moral way of living. And I think Mike is the way I used to be years ago, and I see a lot of myself in him . . .
Horner: Give me a break.
Barker: . . . and this is not condescending. This is not to condescend to him. It’s just to say that some of us grow at different rates than others, and Mike’s still a little further . . .
Horner: Give me a break! [laughing]
Questioner #12: With all due respect, sir, you are the way I was years ago. [applause]
Horner: Yeah. That’s it. You see, I think the more Dan talks, the more he’s revealing what’s really deep down in his heart. Dan presumes to pass judgment upon God and his actions. He assumes that if he can’t figure out why God would do X, Y and Z, then God can’t have a good reason for doing X, Y, and Z. And therefore, he as a creature is not going to submit to his Creator. That’s the ultimate decision we all have to make. Am I going to be autonomous and independent from my Creator, or am I going to acknowledge the fact that I am a creature, and submit to my Creator. And it seems that deep down in Dan’s heart, that’s the decision he’s made. He does not want to submit to his Creator, and as a result of that, he, even without realizing it, I’m sure, has gone out of his way to find arguments to support that initial moral and spiritual decision that took place a number of years ago.
Barker: But I am proud of that fact, that I do not submit to that Creator. I admit that openly.
Horner: That’s exactly my point. Exactly my point.
Barker: I’m happy with that. And I think it’s a better position.
Horner: Okay, that’s fine.
Barker: Do we have one last question, or are we done? Can we be done now?
Questioner #13: Can you hear me here?
Questioner #13: What I’d like to say is that this God is just as guilty in my mind of all the evil that goes on in this world as any sinner that is committing a sin. I don’t see how you can disassociate the happenings that go on in this world and say that this initial God is not responsible. I think that everything that goes on, if it’s a reality, God would have to take his responsibility for the evil. I think this is a very confused place that we live in. And I certainly agree with that person there that if I had a god that I couldn’t respect, in that Bible . . . it’s a monstrous book. Even the fact that they couldn’t appreciate the fact something died on a cross, and you put any status in something so evil. How can you think that that’s uplifting? I think it’s, like he says, completely ridiculous. In itself it is evil.
Moderator: Is there a question, please?
Questioner #13: Well, I’m commenting. That’s a comment. I hope you appreciate the fact, because I think it’s very true. If you have any intellect at all, how you could appreciate an evil book that only . . . everything that he says, putting down women, negating women, and murder, and retribution, every evil thing that you can think of.
Moderator: Thank you for your comment, ma’am. Thank you for your comment.
Moderator [Dustin Shramek]: Okay . . .
Horner: Could we respond to that? Because I wouldn’t want the debate to end on that. I would like Dan to have his chance to respond, and then I would like to respond if . . . do you want to respond to that, Dan?
Barker: I respect her right to interpret the bible and the acts of the god of the bible that way, and I agree that much of what she says is right. The god of the bible is morally reprehensible in the things that he did, and we ought not to love and respect this being [because of] the way he’s treated human beings and the way he’s treated this world. There’s a better way. There’s a higher way. That god . . . I told you in our last debate that that god not only does not exist, that god could not exist, for very good logical reasons.
Horner: You see, to blame God for the evil in the world, one must prove that it’s logically impossible that God could have good reasons for allowing what He’s allowing for a greater good. Unless you can do that, prove it’s logically impossible that God had good reasons, you can’t draw the conclusion that God is not good. And as to the cross, the cross not being uplifting but evil, the cross is the perfect solution to the human dilemma, the problem that we all have, our own self-centeredness deep in our heart, that God himself satisfied the tension between his love for us and his holiness and justice that demanded that evil be punished, that Hitler be punished for what he did to the Jews, that I be punished for my self-centeredness. His holiness and justice demands that, but his love didn’t want me to experience that punishment, or any of us, and so Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the perfect solution. He, paying the penalty which had to be paid because of his holiness and justice, but his love showing through because he paid the penalty for us. And all we have to do is respond and accept it. And the cross is the most uplifting story. It’s the greatest news we could ever hear.
Moderator [Dustin Shramek]: All right. Thanks, everyone, for coming. If we could give a hand for Mr. Barker and for Mr. Horner. [applause]
Again, as you leave, if you could just leave the cards at the end. And also, there is literature at the table, somewhere out the door, I presume? Thanks a lot.
Out of the 450+ in attendance, 195 turned in ballots. Of those, 140 voted in favor of Horner, and 55 voted in favor of Barker.
An ellipsis represents a break in thought or a break in the recording, not a deletion, except where it appears in a quotation. Square brackets contain unspoken editorial remarks, corrections, or comments about the event.
© Copyright 1996 by Dan Barker and Michael Horner.