Questioner #1: My first question is to Mr. Horner. Mr. Till says that Christianity is so much like a lot of other, I’ll call them pagan religions, that were developing around the same time. My question to you is, why would you think that if this is so, why did Christianity flourish so much and become the huge religion that it is right now and all of these others seem to die out and go away?
Horner: I suspect that you’re trying to give me a chance to somehow argue for the superiority of Christianity. I’m not going to grab that chance because I’m not sure that’s the best explanation. Sometimes there’s all sorts of reasons why one particular world view or religion wins out over another. And just because they win doesn’t mean that it’s the truth and others aren’t. So I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t use that argument. I would, again, just come back to the fact that there just wasn’t, there’s no good evidence that there was a pagan influence in first century Palestine. And, in fact, there’s good evidence that, in the light of the lateness of the sources of these pagan stories, that the influence is probably the other way around, Christianity influencing them.
Till: Well, I don’t see that Christianity took the world by a storm. If you will check, you will see that the conversion of Constantine had a big influence on the spread of Christianity and that actually Christianity at that time was pretty well confined within the borders of the Roman Empire, and that says something to me that it was the fact that Constantine had been converted and that he was using his influence to spread the religion and it spread primarily within the borders of the Roman Empire. But look today at a map of the world in terms of religion, it hasn’t made much inroads in places like India, or China, or Japan. If it’s a religion for which the evidence is so overwhelming, why didn’t it take these places too?
Questioner #1: For Mr. Till, I just wanted to see if I could get you to comment briefly on, you mentioned the three witnesses from the first part of the Book of Mormon, could you comment on whether or not this is true or not, two out of the three witnesses denied what they said and said to a news reporter that what they said in the Book of Mormon, their testimony, was in fact false. They said this about fifteen, I believe it was twelve to fifteen years after the Book of Mormon was first published. I was wondering if I could get some comments on that?
Till: Yes, I’m aware that that happened. But you’re aware also that a controversy developed in the, in the Mormon Church, and that had a big influence on why they did that. How do we know that they were lying the first time and telling the truth the second time? Or whether it was just the other way around, and because of the controversy that developed in the Mormon Church, that it was sour grapes on their part and they just decided well we’re going to get you, "ha, ha, ha," we’re going to deny that what we affirmed in that affidavit is true?
Horner: That’s a logical possibility; we would have to have some evidence to support that explanation. But again the point that I was trying to say that I reject the Mormon claims because there are good reasons, like what was mentioned, to doubt the trustworthiness, the integrity of the witnesses. I accept New Testament claims because I don’t think there are good reasons to doubt their integrity; there are good reasons to accept their integrity and trustworthiness.
Questioner #2: This is for Mr. Till. I’d really love to take time and ask you specific questions about specific things you brought up, but I’d like to take the skeptic issue as a whole, present two premises, and then ask you a personal question.
First of all, would you not agree that, philosophically, there are very few things that we can prove? Descartes came up with the assumption that we can only prove two things: one, I exist, and two, God exists. Premise two; would you not agree that there are certain historical events that are easier to prove than others, and even more so, the historicity of those events are easier to prove than others? For example, if I were to tell you that, if you were to get in a car accident and have complete amnesia, and I were to make four statements to you: one, Ronald Reagan is President; two, Santa Claus exists; three, a man landed on the moon; and four, Lee Harvey Oswald killed John F. Kennedy. Well, the first one you could take and say, "Well, of course not; look at the evening news, look at the newspaper; Bill Clinton is President; this gentleman’s information is inaccurate." Two, Santa Claus, you see pictures of Santa Claus, he must exist; well, you do your research, what have you, you realize Santa Claus doesn’t exist; you come to the third statement [and] you think, "Well, maybe this young man has a point that he said the other two things happened, maybe his third point isn’t true." You look up in the encyclopedia, you look at the NASA what-have-you and you say, "Well, a man did, in fact, land on the moon," but did he? Was that George Lucas’ first film project?."
Were these astronauts paid off by the U.S. government to demoralize the Soviet Union in the space race? I mean, I don’t believe that; I believe the man landed on the moon, but my point is this: that historical events and [the] historicity of those events are hard to prove. If we were standing in Madrid in 1400 and I tried to prove to you in intellect that the Earth is spherical, you’d probably think I was an idiot. But we know who had the last laugh on that point. Third point, my question to you: you at one time believed what this gentleman over here believed; you had the faith at one time, saying, "I believe what he believes and what I believe, that the Lord has risen from the dead." You put your faith in that belief, that fact. What would make, there’s, there’s substantial evidence, you know, that Christ existed and rose from the dead; if there wasn’t, there wouldn’t be such a large population of Christians and obviously there’s, you can prove that he didn’t resurrect, otherwise there wouldn’t be… My question is, I’m sorry, what did you, what did you gain personally, what are you gaining personally from saying, "what I believed before is false, I was an idiot to believe it," giving up your, your faith, your belief that you’re going to heaven? What did you gain personally in not believing this and putting your career into proving it wrong?
Till: Well, before I start my time I’m going to, going to make a statement. I don’t see how in the world anyone could expect me to respond to all of that in three minutes, which is all the time that I have, but I’ll try to say as much as I can. During the car ride to the radio station today, and Mr. Horner may remember this, we actually talked about how it’s almost impossible to really know anything. And do I know that Abraham Lincoln existed? No, I don’t actually know it, however there’s historical evidence that would make me look pretty stupid if I didn’t believe it, but I cannot say I actually know it. Do I know that a man landed on the moon? Well, I remember, I believe it was in 1968 or 69, we watched it on television. But like you say, it’s possible that that was faked, and there was actually a movie that was made once on that premise. I can’t really say I flat out absolutely know that Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and that it’s absolutely impossible that he didn’t land on the moon, because there’s always the remote possibility that he didn’t. On the matter of Lee Harvey Oswald shooting John F. Kennedy, we don’t actually know whether he did that or not because, unfortunately, he was assassinated before we had the opportunity to hear the evidence; the evidence seems pretty conclusive, but I can’t actually say that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Lee Harvey Oswald shot John F. Kennedy. You see, we’re getting back to what I’ve been trying to argue all night long; when history records common, ordinary events that we just know from our personal experiences could happen, then we’re willing to accept those. But when you get into the fantastic, the extraordinary, we’re very reluctant to accept that just on the testimony of someone who lived a thousand years ago or two thousand years ago that it really did happen. To me there’s nothing extraordinary about landing on the moon; they went up in a rocket, and natural law can explain that. I’ll talk to you privately about what I think I’ve gained; I’m sorry I didn’t have time to get to it, but you gave me too much.
Horner: Well, it still seems to me that Mr. Till’s essential argument tonight is circular. We asked the question: did the Resurrection happen? Well no, the Resurrection’s a miracle and miracles are impossible. He’s, he’s built in to the conclusion that he wants to draw which is: a miracle doesn’t happen. That’s the conclusion he wants to draw, the miracle doesn’t happen, that miracles don’t happen. Well, that’s not an argument; that’s a circular, that’s a circular argument, and it really doesn’t prove anything. So I’m, I’m disappointed that that’s ultimately all we’ve got [as an] argument from Mr. Till tonight. I thought we would have more. Now, he presented some challenges to my position, and that was good and I wish I had more time to respond to those, but in terms of his case for his position, it’s just a circular argument.
Questioner #3: Mr. Horner, you quoted Michael Grant, the historian, and used him as evidence that historians in general accept the empty tomb as being historical, however, are you aware that Michael Grant went on to say that the Resurrection did not happen, that the disciples were mistaken? And if so, why did you not mention that?
Horner: I, I quoted Michael Grant as someone who is not necessarily a conservative, Christian scholar on, on one point. Yeah. And that’s, that’s legitimate. What he believes on other things, for whatever reasons, would be worthy of discussion, but on that point that I was trying to make, that the tomb was empty, I was trying to show that there is widespread agreement even from people like Michael Grant, and the fact that he disagrees on other points would further strengthen the point that he agrees on the point of the empty tomb.
Till: [Getting up and going to the overhead projector] I’m going to use the overhead projector to respond to that because it so happens that I have that quotation. [Additional comments about overhead projector deleted.] Here is where he said, "Their testimonies cannot prove them to have been right in supposing that Jesus had risen from the dead." He [Horner] quoted to you what he said earlier in that paragraph, but it went on to say, as the questioner said, that it doesn’t prove that he actually did rise from the dead. That’s the type of sleight of hand that you get from the fundamentalists, friends. [Groans and gasps of disapproval from the audience. Someone said, "Oh Lordy!"]
Questioner #4: For Mr. Till. Getting back to the Book of Mormon and witnesses to each book of the Bible, or of the Book of Mormon, you failed to mention that Joseph Smith himself — you’re probably aware of this — you’re probably aware also [that] he heaped very vicious accusations against these same three witnesses, which the Book of Mormon doesn’t record. In fact only one of them, Cowdery, ever even returned to the, supposedly returned to the faith later on. The question is: if people like that can leave their testimony on just simply uncomfortableness, how do you account for the fact that among the Christian viewpoint of Resurrection, and the people willing to die and be tortured for their faith and still willing to testify that Jesus rose from the dead, and not only them, but people that they taught, like Bishop Papias, who was willing to be tortured rather than recant that he knew Jesus as his Savior, it was a life-transforming experience, and willing enough that to die, universally? And any conspiracy, like the Watergate conspiracy, comes unraveled very quickly. Or if it was hallucinations, the same way. Or if it’s myth, those things get unraveled very quickly. But even in, early in the second century and late first century, there’s positive evidences from Nero torturing Christians from secular history for people willing to die, an almost universal example of people not recanting on that situation. Would you like to respond to that?
Till: Okay, we talked about that this afternoon in the car ride, among the many other things, and I told them that I live about thirty-five or forty miles from Carthage, Illinois. Do you people know the significance of Carthage, Illinois? That was where the mob took Joseph Smith by force and lynched him. Now, we might ask the question, "Why didn’t Joseph Smith say, ‘hey, I take it back’?" It didn’t happen. Why was he willing to die at the hands of the lynch mob for this thing that he said had happened? The Mormons were persecuted at Nauvoo, which was not far from Carthage, and they had to pull up stakes and go farther west. They settled at Independence, Missouri, and then they went on, finally, to Utah. Why were they suffering these persecutions for things that they knew did not happen? Now, you know I get this question quite often, and I simply say this: Christianity does not have a monopoly on martyrdom. And surely people in the audience know that when you think about all of the news stories that you hear about Islamic radicals that are willing to blow themselves to pieces for something that they believe in because they believe that they will go to paradise, how can we explain the thinking of someone whose mindset is on some religious belief that he has. Now, as far as this actually happening, you know you’re looking back two thousand years and how much was the history of that time edited? Joseph McCabe , the man who wrote The Myth of the Resurrection, if you’ll believe that, he’ll show you how that the Church saw that a brand of history that they wanted was what was transmitted to us. The persecutions didn’t happen nearly as much as Christians today believe.
Horner: I think this is very confused here. The point the Christians bring up when they say that the disciples were willing to die is brought up as evidence against the conspiracy theory. That’s the reason it’s brought up. To people who claim that there was some sort of deliberate conspiracy by the disciples, we say that their willingness to die is evidence that it’s not a conspiracy theory. People don’t die for a lie when they know it’s a lie. People die for lies all the time, but not when they know that it’s a lie. So, [now] how does this apply to the Joseph Smith situation? Well, [it] seems to [leave] about two options: one, either, you know, he is a liar, or he was a liar, and he just didn’t have the chance (in terms of this mob coming to get him) to recant; it was just too late, he had let it go too long, and that’s one possible explanation; or, he wasn’t a liar and he was possibly deceived. But neither one of those undermine the Christian claims in any way at all.
Questioner #4: Just one last point: if Joseph Smith died with a pistol in his hand, in a shoot-out…
Till: Well, that’s beside the point.
Questioner #4: Yeah, that’s usually not considered a martyr.
Till: Why wouldn’t it be martyrdom?
Questioner #4: Well, I don’t, I’m not here to make a statement.
Till: If the mob had not come for him at the jail, then he wouldn’t have been lynched.
Questioner #5: Mr. Horner, I wanted to inquire about the last point that you made in your first speech, the bit about the implications of Jesus’ resurrection, the significance, because I didn’t see very much talk on that. I’m wondering how you go, I mean let’s just say for the sake of argument, not only was there a person named Jesus Christ because that is not obvious either, there’s contention over that, I myself still think the preponderance of historical evidence indicates there was no Jesus Christ and you can’t very well have a resurrection unless there was …
Horner: There’s no good evidence for that. There’s …
Questioner #5: At the very least it’s, there’s controversy. But …
Horner: Not much.
Questioner #5: Oh, actually on the e-mail groups that I talk on there’s a great deal, but I don’t care, I don’t need that.
Horner: Believe me, that doesn’t prove anything.
Questioner #5: No, no, it doesn’t. I would never say that it does. So let’s say that he was real. Let’s further say that he was, indeed, resurrected. I’m wondering how in the world you go from that to saying … I forget your exact wording, but basically that Christianity is correct. And then, Mr. Till, I’d really love to hear how you would respond to his process of that because, and I’ll explain why I asked that because I understand this is a very odd question to be asked [if we mean] if Jesus was resurrected you’d think that Christianity [just follows anyway]?
Horner: Yes, that’s right.
Questioner #5: Not too long ago, there was a debate at my school, the University of Washington, between my metaphysics teacher, Corey Washington, and Dr. Craig, one of your favorite references to be dropped tonight, although I’m not sure why …
Horner: Because he’s a very good scholar, that’s why.
Questioner #5: Well, yes, but he doesn’t even have a degree in philosophy. His degrees, I believe, were all in …
Horner: No, he has a Ph.D. in philosophy, under John Hick at Birmingham, and a Ph.D. in theology under Wolfhart Panenburg in Germany.
Questioner #5: Right. I was aware of his theology degree. I wasn’t aware of the philosophy degree. Thanks.
Horner: okay He’s probably more of a philosopher than he is a theologian, less works than philosophy.
Questioner #5: I asked Corey, "Why in the world isn’t it enough just to say that its [all talk]," and he said, "Well, I go to church." And I can’t help but wonder why because there are less remarkable explanations.
Horner: Okay, let me respond. Your question is: what are the implications of the Resurrection and how we’d argue that? Given the context of the Resurrection, that it happened within the context of Jesus’ life, which I believe clearly showed a self-understanding that he was more than just a man, his self-understanding that he spoke with divine authority through his behavior and his claims, that he saw himself as divine, and his predictions that he would rise from the grave, the Resurrection vindicates Jesus’ claim to be the Old Testament Yahweh, to be the Old Testament God. And therefore, it’s proof of the deity of Jesus Christ. And therefore, what Jesus Christ said is true. And then you begin looking through the Gospels, what did he say, and those are the other implications that I mentioned: Christianity is true, we are truly forgiven, we can be truly forgiven for our sins, there is eternal life, and so on.
Questioner #5: I guess that was, I’m not quite seeing how you go from one to the other. There are other explanations for why he might have risen from the dead, for example, I don’t know, maybe he wasn’t really dead. One suggested that. Another, this is going to be really far out, …
Horner: That’s not a resurrection then.
Questioner #5: No, it isn’t, but …
Horner: You said the hypothesis is that he rose from the dead.
Questioner #5: Sure. This would be. Let’s say, and this is going to be really far out, that he was an alien, who … [unintelligible] … regenerate himself or something like that, if anybody watches Dr. … [unintelligible]…
Horner: I’m glad you asked that. Can I respond?
Questioner #5: And this is, I have no evidence for this, but I don’t need it. It’s logically possible, and the thing is, the only, you seem to be implying that the only possible explanation is that he was the Son of God and that would imply that there is a god. The only way you can do that is if God is the only possible explanation for something. Given …
Horner: Let me respond, okay? You’ve given me enough to go on. Let me respond. I’m not suggesting it’s the only possible explanation; this is a very critical point. I’m talking the areas of probabilities. See, skeptics come up with all sorts of possibilities. Could have been an alien. Yeah, it’s a logical possibilities, possibility. Possibilities come cheap. The issue is: what is the probability of that hypothesis; is there any evidence to support it? How does it compare to the other hypothesis, the resurrection hypothesis? The resurrection hypothesis explains all the data; it’s consistent with the data. The alien hypothesis doesn’t fit the data.
Questioner #5: What data, exactly?
Debate moderator: Okay, I’m going to have to just ask if we can move on to rebuttal. There’ll be time afterwards ….
Till: Gee, this is one of those situations again where I, I hardly know what to say. I’ll just say this: you touched on something that’s very interesting. There is no evidence outside of the New Testament, or some apocryphal books which even the Church rejects because they’re so ridiculous, there is no testimony of any kind coming from that period to corroborate anything about the life of Jesus. I mean the life of Jesus. Understand I’m not saying he didn’t exist, I’m just saying there is no evidence to corroborate the story of his life and certainly nothing to corroborate the Resurrection.
Horner: I disagree that there is absolutely no corroboration. But the important point is there’s also no corroboration for [an] alternative hypothesis. So the argument cuts both ways.
Questioner #6: [For Mr. Till] You mentioned the three or four persons with that affidavit in the beginning of the Book of Mormon referring to the gold tablets, and I was wondering if you considered those, I guess, viable resources to base, I guess, credible witnesses, I guess.
Till: No. Certainly not, and I’ll tell you why. They were biased. If you look at the names of those witnesses, and then look at the names of the eight witnesses, you’ll see some family names are the same. They were obviously followers of Joseph Smith and so that alone is sufficient to question their objectivity. And that’s exactly the point that I’ve been trying to make; whoever wrote the book of Matthew, and it certainly wasn’t the Apostle Matthew, and whoever wrote the Gospel of John, whoever wrote Mark, whoever wrote Luke, they obviously were trying to propagate the premise that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. And even John said, be, uh, that Jesus did many other things that are not written in this book but these are written so that you might believe that he was the Son of God. That’s a rough paraphrase. Well, that’s an admission that they were simply writing something that they thought would sell the idea that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. And since they were biased, we have to take with a big grain of salt the things that they said , especially when we read that here was a man that was born of a virgin, here was a man that went around healing the blind, and curing the lame, and raising people from the dead, and then he himself was resurrected from the dead. Those things are simply so fantastic that we want more evidence than the fact that someone who were fanatical followers of Jesus made the claim that these things happened. Where is the corroborating evidence from those who were not disciples of Jesus? It seems to me that there would have been some testimony to at least the three hours of darkness and the resurrection of the saints who appeared unto many.
Horner: Just because they had theological motives for writing the Gospels does not mean that they are biased. I mean, all historians have motives for writing their history because they think it’s important. They’re trying to persuade people that certain things happened; that doesn’t mean they should not be believed as reliable history. It wasn’t just the followers of Jesus; we have James, a skeptic, and Paul, an enemy. Furthermore, there was corroborating evidence of some of the broad strokes of Jesus’ life. And lastly, again, even if there’s no corroborating evidence for the resurrection hypothesis, there’s no corroborating evidence for the alternative hypothesis. And I repeat, we are comparing hypotheses here tonight. And so, if that argument counts against me, it counts against you as well.
Questioner #7: [For Mr. Horner] What were the initial, what was the initial reason that you believed in the Resurrection? Was it because of a personal experience you had, or because of an intellectual investigation, and what, today, would be your best reason for still believing that the Resurrection actually did happen?
Horner: Yeah, thanks for that question. That’s a good question. Different people, I think, it can happen in different orders. For me, I had the personal experience first with the risen Christ that changed my life. That was a self-authenticating experience. As I began to realize that there were maybe other possible explanations and, you know, had some doubts, and looked at the evidence, then I began to see that the evidence was actually very good on an objective level. I’m always willing to lay out all of my beliefs on the table and let them be attacked and challenged, and I want them to be able to be supported both objectively, but I also have that subjective experience that corroborates it. So which is the most important one right now? It’s a combination, sort of a symbiotic relationship, I guess.
Till: Well, people like Mr. Horner always say, "I’m a Christian because I’ve examined the evidence, and the evidence is just so overwhelming in favor of this that that’s why I am a Christian, not a Hindu, or a Zoroastrian," and all you gotta do is look at a map of the world and you can see that that obviously is not so. If everyone made a decision about their religion on the basis of laying out the evidence and looking at it and deciding accordingly, then you would expect for the religions of the world to be evenly distributed all over the world. But it isn’t that way; here’s a section of the world where Buddhism is the dominant religion, here is one where Hinduism is the dominant religion, here’s a part of the world where Christianity is the dominant religion. It’s all a matter of birth and the influences that one has in his childhood.
Horner: I think it’s clear that all of us go through a stage where we tend to rebel against what we’ve been brought up with, and people do change their positions. You changed your position. That seems to undermine your argument right there. Everyone does not develop their position on the basis of analysis of the evidence. That doesn’t mean that people cannot develop their position on the basis of an analysis of the evidence.
Till: Well now do I get to rebut that? You spoke for two minutes, and then I got a one minute rebuttal, and now you’re wanting a rebuttal. There were many speeches that he made, I mean many things that he said in answering the questions, that I would like to have referred to when he was the last speaker. Let’s go by the rules.
Horner: I’m not sure what you’re talking about.
Till: Well, the question was asked of you and you spent two minutes answering it and I responded to it and you said can I respond to that.
Horner: No, no I didn’t ask. The moderator asked me to respond. I’d forgotten who was asked the question. So I agree with you.
Questioner #8: This is a question for Mr. Till. We all, I think most of us agree tonight that the resurrection of Christ, whether it’s true or not, is a very significant question, or obviously we wouldn’t be here, having to do with how it impacts the lives of people; how they respond to that question influences a lot of things in their values and lifestyle. And for you, sir, after you have rejected historical Christianity in your own life after your investigation, I wanted to ask, at this point in your life do you have hope? And, if so, would you be willing to explain what that hope is to the rest of us?
Till: Well, of course you’re wanting to know do I have hope of living on in another life, and the answer to that is "no" because I do not believe that there is an afterlife. Now, you want to say, "Well, you’re without hope." Well, how am I without hope? You know, before I was born on April the 26th, 1933… Well I’d better back up, I did exist in my mother’s womb, but the point is, before I was born I didn’t exist. I wasn’t unhappy, I wasn’t suffering in any way, I just didn’t exist. And when I die, I’m going to return to what I was before. And I think the American poet, Philip Freneau, provided just about as excellent a comment to what you’re digging for here as I could, as I could possibly make. In his poem, "To the Honeysuckle." he said, "If nothing once, you nothing lose, for when you die, you are the same. The space between is but an hour, the frail duration of a flower." Before I was born I was nothing; when I die I will be nothing. That’s my personal belief, but I can’t say that I lost everything. I at least had the time in between.
Horner: I do believe that the issue of truth, here, is the most important one tonight, which view is true. But, apart from the issue of truth, it’s clear which view does provide hope. Jesus said that I am the Resurrection, the life, he who believes in me live even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Till: And now since he was given a moment awhile ago, could I get mine now? Mr. Horner, all of the wishing and hoping in the world will not make anything true that isn’t true. If there is a life after death, that is a fact. If there is no life after death, that’s a fact also. And you can hope and wish and dream and pray all that you want to, and that will not change reality.
Horner: And hoping and believing that God isn’t there won’t change the fact that he is either.
Questioner #9: Mr. Horner, in your talk you gave evidence for an early dating of the Gospels in order to support your idea that legend would not have had time to develop. Can you tell us when the Gospels were first referred to by, for example, a Church Father? When something was quoted from a Gospel, for example, or when they were used in an argument against heretics?
Horner: In the early second century.
Questioner #9: In the early second century. How early?
Horner: I’m not sure exactly.
Questioner #9: And who would those people be?
Horner: I’m not sure exactly.
Questioner #9: Okay, from what I’ve read, myself, this occurred, actually, late in the second century and when those two people, Papias and Iranaeus, became aware of the Gospels, they thought the story ridiculous.
Horner: Well, you’d have to give me specific documentation. >From what I gather reading, I don’t what you said is, it is correct, but we’d have to get into specifics to really get down to it.
Till: Well, a good point has been made here, and it’s really tragic that people don’t know more about the history of their religion than they do. But what the question said here is true, the Gospels were not quoted until the second century, that is they weren’t quoted by the Church Fathers until well into the second century. And if they existed as early as you say they were and if they were the inspired Word of God, it’s strange to me that they weren’t quoted earlier than that.
Questioner #10: [For Mr. Till] You repeatedly said that you believed that Mr. Horner’s arguments were based on the fact that he assumed the New Testament to be historically accurate. Can you present any historical or archaeological evidence to say that it’s not?
Till: Well, I’ll say again all of his arguments were based on the assumption that if the New Testament says X — and let X be anything whatever you want to — then he’s assuming that that’s historically accurate. Now, in saying "Do I have any proof that it did not happen," no, I don’t have any proof that Mohammed did not ascend to heaven on a white horse. I don’t have any evidence that Krishna, the Hindu Savior, was not born of a virgin. I do not have any proof that King Kasna considered the birth of Krishna to be a threat to him and so he ordered all of the male children in that region to be executed. I don’t have any evidence that that did not happen. But it’s very familiar, by the way, to the story of how that Herod ordered the execution of the male children in and around the region of Bethlehem. When you ask somebody to prove that something did not happen, how are you going to go about doing that? If I said I flew to the moon last week, how would you prove that that did not happen? And would you even feel any need to prove that it did not happen? You would see that it’s so extraordinary that it would be up to me to prove that I did fly to the moon last week.
Horner: I don’t think so. The claim that Mr. Till is making is that the New Testament writings are legendary. He says, "He who asserts must prove." So he’s got to, he’s got to prove that. The reason that we reject events about the life of Krishna, and so on, as being reliable rather than legendary, that there’s reasons to reject it, and one, it’s at least theoretically possible to compile reasons. He’s suggesting that you can’t even do it, it’s an impossible task. As a matter of fact, he does do it. He tries to point out that the accounts are contradictory and therefore should not be considered reliable. So he is doing the very thing he says can’t be done. So I just don’t know, to me it just seems like a way to get out of having to present a case, and I find it very frustrating in debating atheists and skeptics that they tend to do this time and time again, put all the burden of proof on the other side and don’t accept any onus for their case at all.
Questioner #10: What I"m trying to ask is: the preponderance of historical evidence and archaeological evidence has supported the claims of the Bible thus far, as far as we’ve discovered, and textual criticism of the New Testament has proved the number of manuscripts, the early date of those manuscripts, and their reliability. Why, then, are you comparing a document with this kind of historical, physical manuscript evidence to documents that don’t have equal evidence?
Till: Well, I’m going to ask you a question and I"m going to give you some of my time to answer that question. Are you saying that there is a correlation or connection between the number of copies of an ancient document that are still in existence, or whether that document is true or not is dependent on the number of manuscripts available? Is that what you’re saying?
Questioner #10: No, what I’m saying is that the number of manuscripts available relates to, first of all it’s importance in its day when it was originally written, it relates, the dating of the manuscripts relates to their reliability through the original autograph and to the original text and therefore we have more, the documents or the manuscripts that we have are from different branches of New Testament criticism and we feel that by looking at and comparing the manuscripts that we can get a closer look at what was originally written and also that the number of manuscripts confirms the importance of the document.
Till: Well, you’ve been reading in F. F. Bruce and Norman Geisler I see. I debated Norman Geisler in Georgia in 1994, and he used that same argument, and I asked him to show the correlation between the number of documents that were in existence of the New Testament manuscripts and the accuracy, historical accuracy, of what they reported. I have a document here that has 1600 copies made of it, and everyone of them is exactly alike. If, if two thousand years from now those 1600 copies should be discovered would that be any proof at all that what is said in here is true? What’s the correlation between the number of the documents and what the documents say, and truth?
Horner: Farrell and I agree on this point. It’s a good point that we have large numbers of manuscripts and a short time gap that allows us to determine that the text we have for the Scripture right now is very, very close to the original, and that’s a good conclusion. But it doesn’t follow from that that the text is reliable, that is correct. You have to marshal a different arguments for that conclusion.
Questioner #11: [For Mr. Horner] Do you believe that miracles are possible?
Horner: Yes, because as long as it’s even possible that God exists, miracles are possible and I have not seen a good argument that God does not exist. So that would be a very rational conclusion. Whether they happen or not, you have to investigate. But at least I’m an open agnostic when I approach an issue like that. Rather than someone who dismisses them, they can’t happen, or someone who says no, they’re happening all the time, here’s one here, here’s one there. It’s possible, let’s check it out.
Till: Well, I’ll just say I think I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject of the existence of God and I even had one debate on the subject, and I haven’t heard a good argument, a convincing argument, for the existence of God at all; they have all been responded to. And on the subject of miracles, does he believe in miracles? Yes, he believes in miracles if their written in this book [holding up a Bible], but he doesn’t believe in miracles if they’re written in this book [picking up the Book of Mormon]. He doesn’t believe in miracles if they’re written in this book [picking up another book] which is The History of the Twelve Caesars, by Suetonius, and he recorded a lot of miracles in this. But he doesn’t believe in them. He believes in the miracles that are in the Bible. And he says he’s not biased.
Questioner #12: [For Mr. Till] What is your definition of objectivity? What is your definition of being biased? And how are we to maintain objectivity today?
Till: First of all, I really doubt if it’s possible for any person to be totally objective. I’m sure, in talking to Mr. Horner, that he would agree with me on that. Total objectivity would be where a person would write an account of something and would keep, keep his personal ideas and opinions totally and completely out of it. Would that be possible? I don’t think that it would be. But certainly if you’re going to accept tradition and the idea that the book of Matthew was written by the Apostle Matthew, who was an avowed disciple of Jesus, then you couldn’t very well accept the premise that he was objective in what he was reporting. And when we read the things that he reported that have no corroboration whatsoever, like the Slaughter of the Innocents that Herod ordered in the region of Bethlehem, Mark didn’t mention that, Luke didn’t mention it, Josephus wrote a pretty detailed history of Herod — and he didn’t treat him kindly at all — but he made no reference at all to that event. Yet if you study Hindu literature, you find that allegedly the same type of thing happened when Krishna was born. And when we know things like that, we have good reason to doubt whether Matthew, for example, was being objective when he said that that happened. My definition of bias, and I’m going to have to be very brief here. Well, if it’s someone who is prejudiced, he is against something or someone; if he is biased he is in favor. That’s the technical definition and the difference between the two. John said, "I’m writing this so that you might believe that Jesus is the Son of God." That expresses a bias to me.
Horner: The word bias is a psychologically charged word, you know, and to say that just because their a follower of Jesus that therefore they’re biased is implying therefore, you know, they’re lying or their fudging, and that just doesn’t follow. I mean, you’ve got to throw out so much of history if you’re going to carry that principle across, across the board. With regard to the Murder of the Innocents, it’s quite possible that just a very small number were, were killed. The fact that there’s no corroborating evidence for that is not a reason, strong reason to, to doubt its happening.
Questioner #13: Mr. Horner, you gave several supporting factors in making a cumulative case for the empty tomb, and I wanted to ask you a two-part question about the empty tomb. First, philosophically speaking, wouldn’t you agree that the background probability of the empty tomb story being true for an atheist is very low? That is to say that if I don’t believe in God, it’s just really bizarre and highly unlikely for me to, for that to be true? And then secondly, historically speaking, doesn’t it strike you as strange the Apostle Paul, in 1st Corinthians 15, when he’s trying to convince the people of Corinth that there was a resurrection of the dead, that he doesn’t mention the empty tomb, and to anticipate possible answers to that, that the phrase "he was buried" does not imply the empty tomb, because there’s no evidence that Paul believed in the burial reported in the Gospels, and also that the phrase "on the third day" is tied to the phrase "he was raised" and not "he was buried."
Horner: For an atheist, the background probability of any hypothesis that suggests a miracle would be low, but I don’t think that’s the unbiased way to approach the analysis. That’s why I say I think you don’t approach the analysis, you lay aside your presupposition that miracles are impossible, that I’m an atheist, you know, before you approach this, because if you don’t, I think you’re just arguing in a circle.
Questioner #13: What I’m getting at, though, is wouldn’t you agree that it doesn’t make sense to talk about something like the Resurrection in a vacuum, because it sort of begs the prior question of the existence of God in general.
Horner: No, I don’t think so. I think you can discuss whether there’s historical evidence that a Resurrection took place, or that the tomb was empty, that the appearances happened, that these transformation took place, and then you look, you know, for what’s the best explanation for that. You know, there’s one given in the text that it’s a Resurrection. What’s the probability of that, those witnesses being correct? What other hypotheses are there with the probability of those things being correct? But I think to just say that there’s a, the background probability of anything miraculous happening just kind of settles the issue because, you know, I’m an atheist is not an unbiased way to approach the investigation. Second question?
Questioner #13: The second question was regarding the silence of the Apostle Paul on the empty tomb in 1st Corinthians 15.
Horner: Yeah, I mean he, he quotes the old Christian saying that Christ died, he was buried and he rose, and I mean that just implies that the tomb was empty; there’s no need to mention the two words ’empty tomb’ there. It just seems to me to be clear that to Paul, who had a Jewish mind, that if a guy was buried and he rose, that the tomb’s now empty. The idea of a resurrection or somebody rising, the body still being in the tomb, would be like a square circle to the Jewish mind. And it doesn’t make any sense to us either; it’s just some liberal critics who seem to think it makes some sense. So?
Till: Oh my, how do I rebut that in one minute? I’ll just confine my remarks to the Apostle Paul and what he said. The fact that he said that Jesus died, and was buried, and rose, doesn’t necessarily imply an empty tomb especially when you go on and read his argument where he used the analogy of a, of a seed being planted: unless the seed dies, you know, it won’t grow. Well, I’m enough of a farmer to know that if you bury a seed, and then when the plant grows if you dig down and look under the plant, you’re not going to find an empty hole in the ground, but the seed is still there nurturing the plant. Paul believed that a spiritual body rose from the dead as opposed to a physical body rising, and so that doesn’t necessarily imply an empty tomb.
Questioner #14: Mr. Till, I have to share something that I thought was kind of funny when I was listening to you use the Book of Mormon. There’s a substantial body of evidence that the manuscript that actually became the Book of Mormon was taken from a print shop by a guy named Sidney Rigdon who was an ex-Church of Christ Pastor, so you have a bed-fellow there.
Till: I’m familiar with that.
Questioner #14: okay My question is: wouldn’t you agree that if there were a carnal evil entity bent on deceiving mankind, that it would be very easy for that entity to propagate resurrection myths, myths about children being born of a virgin, based on prophetic passages from the Old Testament before the actual advent of Christ? A simple "yes" would do.
Till: Let me comment about Sidney Rigdon. Do you know that the Mormons teach the same plan of salvation that the Church of Christ teaches and that was because Sidney Rigdon was a member of the Church of Christ and he became acquainted with Joseph Smith and evidently had enough influence on him to get in the five-point plan of salvation that the Church of Christ had been teaching? I don’t know if many of you knew that. Manuscript Lost was also the name of that work that Rigdon supposedly stole and then Joseph Smith used it as the basis for the Book of Mormon. Let everyone understand in here, I’m not saying that this book is inspired; I’m just trying to make some analogies. And, oh yes, the second thing, do you know that there was a Church Father, and I can’t think of his name right now, who actually proposed that thing that you’re saying here. And I’m engaged in a correspondence with a person who is saying that same thing, that the Devil made the legends about Krishna arise and about Tammuz and about Osiris because he was going to try to thwart the plan of God so that when the true Messiah actually came that people would not believe in it because they had heard it all before. Well, actually if the Devil did that he was pretty stupid because, as I said, Christianity conquered that part of the world where those mystery religions were believed in and many scholars think that the attitude that the people had was, "Well why not believe in this Jesus, he’s just another resurrected savior?"
Horner: Every time you add a little information about what you believe about the Book of Mormon, you’re confirming the point that I’m making, Farrell, that is that it’s rational to reject Mormonism because there are arguments against its veracity, not just because the claims are extraordinary.
Questioner #15: [For Mr. Till] Yes. What was your initial reason for denying the Resurrection when you were rethinking that process, and was it an intellectual decision, an intellectual investigation, or was it some personal experience that happened to you? And now, what is the base reason for why you deny the Resurrection?
Till: Okay, I grew up in the Church of Christ. The Church of Christ believes very solidly in the inerrancy of the Bible. I was exposed to smorgasbord Bible study at Church and at the Bible colleges that I attended, and after I was away from there, and did some pretty serious studying of the Bible, if I may say so, I began to see, well, what this says here doesn’t agree with what’s said over here. And when I saw that time and time and time and time again, I got to the point to where I could no longer believe in biblical inerrancy. and that was a big blow to me. After that I began to see, "Well, this God, Yahweh, in the Old Testament, he wasn’t a very admirable character; do I want to worship a God like that? The Resurrection came later. Are you getting my point? I didn’t wake up one morning and say, well I’ve been preaching now for twelve years, heck I think I’ll go to the Bible and see if I can find some reason to reject it. It was a gradual thing that happened. All of this accumulated, and eventually I got to the point to where I couldn’t believe any of it, and so I couldn’t believe in the Resurrection since it’s a fantastic claim.
Horner: I was expecting Farrell to spend a lot of time tonight on the alleged contradictions and discrepancies in the Resurrection account. I thought that was one of the main reasons why he had, you know, made the move from Christianity to his position now. I wish we had because he really didn’t bring it up until his final speech and I didn’t have a chance to respond to it at that point. Because I analyzed everything that he’s written that I could find on those contradictions, I think there are very good answers to every alleged contradiction, alleged discrepancy in the Resurrection accounts, mainly found in the writings of John Wenham, The Easter Enigma, which is a very, very good book, and harmonization done by Murray Harris as well.
Questioner #16 [For Mr. Till] Yes. Presuming an extraordinary event did happen in the distant past, something fantastic, something that defies natural law, a miracle, if you will, what requirements must be satisfied before you will believe it? And please be specific.
Till: Let me say first, I’ve read The Easter Enigma too; I have that book, and, of course, I have a different opinion of it. I can’t think of a single so-called miracle that happened in the distant past that I’m willing to believe did happen, because it … you see, you just can’t go back to that time and authenticate it. I’ll just talk about Occam’s razor. I haven’t mentioned it tonight, but I’m a firm believer in Occam’s razor. Occam simply said that when there are more than one, there’s more than one explanation for a phenomenon that is unusual, the most likely or probable explanation is the simplest one. Men can lie; we know that to be true. Men can be deceived; we know that to be true. Men can be misled; men can, uh, can have illusions about things happening that really didn’t happen, we know that to be true; we have all had personal experiences with this. We do not know that anyone has ever risen from the dead because we have not been able to test that, we’ve not experienced it. So why wouldn’t a sensible person reject the idea that that happened or anything that’s contrary to natural laws?
Questioner #16: So you couldn’t be convinced no matter what. In other words, there’s no way to convince you.
Till: Well, I suppose if God would come down here right in front of us and give an unequivocal demonstration that he was God, and then tell me that Moses parted the Red Sea, I suppose I would accept that. By the way, why doesn’t He do that?
Questioner #16: Would you accept it anyway?
Till: If He gave an unequivocal demonstration, yes, I would accept it.
Questioner #16: Well, what I’m saying is …
Till: ‘Unequivocal’ means it cannot be disputed.
Questioner #16: Right, what requirements for … [interrupted by member of audience shouting suggested questions for questioner to ask Till]
Till: Okay, if God would appear here, tonight, and take us outside to an empty lot and say, "I am going to make a fifty-story skyscraper suddenly appear here," and that fifty-story skyscraper came into existence, and I went over and I touched it and felt it and saw that it was real, and got in the elevator and rode up (and some people here know I wouldn’t go up very many floors) but anyway, if I had tangible proof like that that He was God, and then he said to me, "By the way, I had Moses part the Red Sea, and Jesus Christ was my Son and he rose from the dead" — after an unequivocal demonstration like that I would be very willing to consider that it all did happen.
Horner: I don’t think you can say a priori that it’s always more likely that witnesses are lying rather than that a miracle has taken place. I mean it could be the case that the testimony and evidence for a miracle is stronger than the possibility of lies or mistaken. And if you’re saying that the probability of a miracle is always less than the probability of it being a natural event that only shows that what took place, if the evidence is good, is a physically impossible event, or a nomologically impossible event. We agree on that; that’s why we call it a miracle. But it doesn’t show that the event didn’t happen. It’s comparing apples and oranges. And, so, you have to prove that in this case it’s more probable that the witnesses are lying or some other explanation rather than a, say a resurrection or a miracle explanation.