Time is always an enemy of the debater, so I’m going to be just as brief as I can in the preliminaries so that I can say as much as I can possibly say in the twenty-five minutes that I have. I assume everybody understands that I’m happy to be here. I always consider it a privilege to discuss issues like these, and I also want to thank those who have spent so much time organizing the debate. I know from personal contact with Jeff Lowder that he has put quite a bit of time into it, and others have also, and I want to extend my personal thanks to those who are responsible for organizing this and inviting me to be Mr. Horner’s opponent.
Also, for the benefit of those who might not know this, Mr. Horner and I talked about that this afternoon; we spent about, what, three hours together? In the pressing of points in a debate one might think, well he’s mad at him. I’ve had people say that to me after a debate was over, "Why don’t you like brother so-and-so?" And it’s not a matter that I don’t like him, but in a debate you have to press your point. And in the time that I spent with him this afternoon, not a cross word was exchanged. And I’ll say this, if I have ever met a gentleman in my life, that’s Michael Horner; he was very cordial to me. So if I press a point tonight, I don’t want you to think that I’m picking on him personally because I’m not. But in order to make my case, I am going to have to press the point as forcefully as I can.
Now, some references have been made to this as a debate. I’m going to take issue with that at the very beginning because actually it isn’t a debate. In a debate, there is a previously agreed upon proposition which one of the participants agrees to affirm while the other one denies it. Mr. Horner did not want to assume the responsibility of affirming a definitive proposition that would declare that the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is a verifiable fact so that I could disclaim that or refute that. He insisted, instead, that we share equally the burden of proof. Now, in making that demand he has thrown to the wind a widely recognized principle of logic which says: he who asserts must prove.
To show you just how widely accepted this principle is, I’m going to just use an illustration or two. Let’s suppose that I came to you tonight and said, "I know why so many children in our society are vanishing, disappearing." I’m talking about the pictures you see on the bulletin boards in post offices across the land. And suppose I said, "They’re disappearing because they’re being abducted by alien creatures in UFOs who are taking them back to a planet in the Andromeda Galaxy." If I should make that assertion to you, how much burden of proof do you think Mr. Horner would feel was on his shoulders to prove that that is not the case, that that is not happening? And so I look upon that much in the same way as the issue that’s before us tonight. I don’t see that it’s my responsibility to prove that the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth did not happen. In March of 1994, I debated Dr. Norman Geisler at a college in Georgia on the same issue. And he kept bringing that up, "It’s his responsibility to prove that the Resurrection did not happen." And I denied that that is my responsibility because he who asserts must prove. However, in order to have a debate, I did agree to assume part of the burden of proof, and normally at this time in a debate, I would take his speeches, or the points he made in his speech, and take them one by one and refute them. But because I did agree to bear part of the burden of proof, I’m going to have to wait until my second speech to reply to some of the things that he said, and I’m going to present my case for why it is unreasonable for anyone to believe that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead as recorded in the New Testament.
There are three reasons why I am affirming to you that it is irrational for you ro anyone else to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. First of all, it is an extraordinary claim. And there is another principle of evidence that says that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And that is the case in the issue before us tonight, Mr. Horner is asserting that almost two-thousand years ago, in a time where superstition was very widespread, that a man died and we was stone, cold dead in his tomb for three days — or at least for parts of three days — and then that that dead body was revivified and restored to life.
You know, an assertion like that makes the abduction of children by UFOs and being flown back to the Andromeda Galaxy seem downright believable. And so this is an extraordinary claim, [and] he has the responsibility to produce to us extraordinary evidence to support that. But I heard no extraordinary evidence, Mr. Horner, in anything that you said. As a matter of fact, I could answer his whole speech by making this one rebuttal statement: did you notice how that practically every argument that he presented is based upon the assumption that whatever the New Testament documents say is historically accurate? If the New Testament documents say X, then X has to be a historical fact.
There was an empty tomb. How does he know that? Well, the Bible tells him so. The Apostles were magnificently transformed from people who were very doubtful to people who were willing to lay down their lives and die for the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. What is his proof that this happened? Well, his proof is that it’s written in the Bible and if the Bible says this is what happened, then he has to believe that it really did happen.
Now, he said he was surprised that I would ask him if he would believe the reports that Elvis Presley was seen alive. I had a good reason for presenting that to him. We all know that these reports are being circulated in various parts of the country and we don’t even spend one minute of time considering that that’s even a possibility because the death of Elvis Presley has been so widely publicized that we’re sure that it happened. And as it would be such an extraordinary thing if he were seen alive that we reject the evidence because we recognize this principle that I’m talking about: extraordinary evidence requires extraordinary proof. And their simply is no extraordinary evidence to support his case.
All that he can tell you is the Bible says that it was true and therefore it must be true. So that is reason number one why it is illogical for you to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. The claim is simply too extraordinary.
My second argument is this, this is a story that is strikingly familiar to the pagan myths of virgin born, miracle working, crucified, resurrected, savior gods that were widely circulated and believed centuries before Jesus of Nazareth allegedly lived. Now in his speech, he denied that there can be any parallels found in the pagan myths. In my second speech, I’m going to show you how that that simply is not true. It may be true that the Jesus of the New Testament Gospels was not an exact parallel to the savior gods of the ancient pagan myths, but you can find a parallel for practically every New Testament event attributed to Jesus in the myths that circulated in the pagan religions. And although there are no exact parallels, there are at least two things that you find in almost all of those pagan myths; the savior god was born of a virgin, and he was resurrected from the dead. And even the New Testament, you know, testifies to the fact that belief in the resurrection from the dead was very commonplace back at that time.
Do you remember how it is recorded in the fourteenth chapter of Matthew, beginning with verse one, that when word of the many, mighty works that Jesus was performing reached the ears of Herod, he said, "Well this is John the Baptist risen from the dead." Well, why would he believe that? Here’s an example that I like to use. Let’s suppose that this year, in the baseball season, a rookie should go on a home run hitting terror, and he should challenge the record of Babe Ruth. Would any of us try to explain that by saying, "Well this is Babe Ruth risen from the dead?" That would never even occur to us. I’m not trying to say to you that Herod actually said that, because I don’t accept something as fact simply because it happened to be written in the New Testament. But the fact that the writer of the book of Matthew would put that statement into the mouth of King Herod just tells us how widely recognized the possibility of a resurrection from the dead was in those days.
Justin Martyr was a second-century Church leader, and there is a place in his writing where he tried to prove the credibility of belief in Jesus Christ as a virgin-born son of God on the grounds that this was widely believed in the religions that were practiced by the people in the Roman empire. I’m going to read to you what he said in his first "Apology," Vol. 1, Chap. 22, p. 69 in the Reeves edition. If you find that in another edition, then you could easily find that by looking in Vol. 1, Chap. 22, and this is what he said: "By declaring the Logos the first-begotten of God, our master, Jesus Christ, to be born of a virgin without any human mixture, we Christians say no more in this than what you pagans say of those whom you style the sons of Jove. For you need not be told what a parcel of sons the writers most in vogue among you assign to Jove. "
Now do you understand what he is saying here? He’s simply asking why is it so incredible to you that Jesus of Nazareth would be born of a virgin when you have so many virgin-born sons of god in your own religion? Now, it’s true that he was talking here about the virgin birth of Jesus and not the Resurrection of Jesus. But the point that I’m trying to establish is that all of the major events that you find in the life of Jesus, you are able to find them in the pagan myths that circulated in that time.
I’m going to deviate from this point for just a moment to reply to something that he said in his speech. He said that — I believe you said that it was not until the second century A.D. that in the pagan religions you found any stories about resurrected gods. Well that simply isn’t so. I’m going to give you the name of a pagan god and I hope you’ll go to the library, and if you research this you’ll find that scholars agree that what I’m telling you is true.
Osiris. Have you ever heard the name? The myth of the resurrected god can be traced back to this Egyptian god who allegedly lived three thousand years before Jesus did. He was killed by his enemy. That’s a familiar thing, isn’t it? And to keep him from being resurrected from the dead, his body was cut into fourteen different pieces and scattered throughout the land of Egypt, so, you see, that his body could not be put together and resurrected from the dead. His consort, the goddess Isis, scoured the land of Egypt until she found all fourteen pieces… well I won’t tell you one of the pieces she didn’t find because it might not be suitable for a mixed audience like this, but, suffice it to say that she found enough of him to put his body back together. Then she hovered over him and fanned her wings and fanned into his nostrils the breath of life. Now that’s a familiar expression, isn’t it? And he was resurrected from the dead. He didn’t ascend into heaven; he went into the netherworld, the land of the dead, and there he reigned supreme.
If you’ll check those facts, I think you will see that three thousand years before Jesus of Nazareth allegedly rose from the dead, that this was believed about the god, Osiris. And there were others: Attis, Adonis, Tammuz — widely believed that these gods rose from the dead.
Now I’m simply going to say this: when an event seems to have happened everywhere, we can be reasonably sure that it happened nowhere. If there had been no stories like this widely circulated, if resurrection from the dead was not commonly believed at that time so that someone would say when Jesus started working his miracles, "Well this is John the Baptist risen from the dead," then we might be able to say that he has a point.
Now, most of you have been taught all of your life that the Christian religion is unique, that God just suddenly revealed it from heaven, smash, just like that. And that there were no parallels to it anywhere, at any time, before that. Friends, I ask you to research that subject and you will find that it simply isn’t so.
A third reason why you should not believe in the resurrection of Jesus is that there is no trustworthy testimony to the fact that this event happened. And the testimony that we have is very, very inconsistent and contradictory. Everything with the possible exception, Mr. Horner, of the testimony of the Apostle Paul, has to be immediately dismissed as hearsay.
You know what hearsay is. Yes, I’m talking to you [speaking directly to someone in the audience shaking her head in disapproval]. You’re objecting to this, but you know what hearsay is. There is firsthand testimony when the person presumably saw this happen leaves his testimony. But what did Mary Magdalene ever write? Where is any affidavit that she ever left? Take the other women who presumably went to the tomb. Where is the firsthand testimony that they left? Now I’m seeing the reaction of you — I’m used to that — it happens all the time. But tell me where you can find firsthand testimony from any of these people who saw Jesus after his resurrection?
I started to say saw the Resurrection. And that’s another point to make. No one actually witnessed the Resurrection. Even the New Testament does not say that there were witnesses to the Resurrection. You know, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, there were witnesses there at the time who actually saw it happen, according to the story. Mr. Horner, can you tell us the name of just one person who even claimed secondhand, third hand, that this person actually saw the Resurrection? He can’t produce it. Mary Magdalene left no firsthand report. Salome left no firsthand report. Who was she anyway, Mr. Horner? I’ve been wondering about that. She presumably saw Jesus at the tomb; she was one of the women who went to the tomb. She presumably saw him after he was resurrected. Who was she? We don’t even know who she was. When did she die? And someone out here did like this [shrugging with a so-what? gesture] as if to say, "Well, what does that matter?"
You mean you don’t wonder about the testimony of people who make outrageous claims? Who they are? Where they were when they saw this thing, whatever it is? You mean that doesn’t bother you? These five hundred witnesses that Mr. Horner referred to, who saw Jesus at one time, who were they? Where did this happen? Is there anyone in this audience who can give me the name of even one of those people? Would you raise your hand if you can give me the name of even one of those five hundred that the Apostle Paul said that Jesus appeared to at one time? The name of just one of them. Can you tell me where it happened? Can anyone? Can you tell me when it happened? Anyone?
[You] know that when I was being introduced, I saw the expression on the faces of some of you, and I thought you were thinking, "Is there really a person like this? You mean there is a person who used to be a preacher and now he doesn’t, and he denies the resurrection?" I’m trying to get you to see that those marvelous five hundred witnesses are completely anonymous; we do not know they are, who they were, when this happened, where it happened — and yet that is idea of amazing testimony.
So let me summarize them, because I see that my time is rapidly coming to an end. It is irrational to believe in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth because it is an extraordinary claim and the only thing extraordinary about the evidence that he has to support this is that it is extraordinarily unextraordinary. It is a story that is very familiar for the times because virgin-born, miracle-working, resurrected savior-gods were a dime a dozen in those days. And it is a story for which for which there is not a single witness anywhere. No one saw it. We do not have the testimony, that is the firsthand testimony, of a single person who allegedly saw Jesus after his resurrection. Now how can this be considered irrefutable evidence to prove such an extraordinary thing as the claim that Jesus rose from the dead?
I had hoped that I would have time to show you the inconsistency in the testimony that is presented in the New Testament. Matthew said that it happened this way, Mark said that it happened another way, Luke said that it happened another way, but I don’t have time to develop that point. I’ll just say: read the New Testament accounts of the resurrection of Jesus and you will see that they are highly inconsistent and contradictory.
Cross-examination, Michael Horner
Horner: Farrell, can you define what you mean by "extraordinary event" and "extraordinary evidence?" How do you define "extraordinary" in those two terms.
Till: I thought my example adequately explained what I meant by that. If I said, "I saw a dog jump over a ditch," you’d believe that. If I said, "I saw a dog jump over the Mississippi River," you wouldn’t believe that because you know that it just couldn’t happen. Things that our firsthand, everyday experience tell us happen time and time and time again those are ordinary. Those things like resurrection from the dead …
Horner: So a rare, infrequent type of event is an extraordinary event in contrast to an event that is more common, happens more often. Would that be the contrast your making?
Till: No, I wouldn’t say that just because it doesn’t happen a lot that it’s necessarily extraordinary. Someone might come in her someday and find that someone had climbed that wall and is hanging from one of those rafters up there. I’m sure that doesn’t happen very often, but no one would say that’s an extraordinary event because our common sense tells us that someone could do that. But UFO abductions, resurrection from the dead …
Horner: O.K., so, you are saying that an extraordinary event is an event that just can’t happen? That seems to be begging the question.
Till: Well, I’ll go ahead and take your bait.
Horner & Till: [both talking at once; dialogue unintelligible at this point.]
Till: … something that is completely contrary to what our observation tells us is natural law. That is an extraordinary event.
Horner: All right. So then, what’s extraordinary evidence? [An] extraordinary event is that which is contrary to natural law. Then extraordinary evidence must be that which is also contrary to natural law since evidence is made up of events.
Till: Well, you take us out to a cemetery and you call on the name of your God as, let’s say, the prophet Elijah did in the Old Testament and you bring people out of their graves and let’s see people come back to life, and I would say that that would be extraordinary evidence that would prove the possibility — or even the probability — that a resurrection like that in the past.
Horner: So, if I got you correctly, then, a miracle, an extraordinary event is that which, something which contravenes a natural law, can only be proved by another event which contravenes a natural law. But, then, that event could only be proved by another event that contravenes a natural law and you do not have a very useful criteria, here, for analyzing historical events. It leads to a useless, infinite regress.
Till: Well, if you could just give us the affidavits of one or two of these five hundred who saw him at one time, that would be a starting point.
Horner: That’s not the question. I’m trying to get you to get you to make some sense out of your statement. You say extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence. I just accused you of, accused that statement of being a nonsensical, infinite regress because it means that everything has to be proved by another miracle, or contravening of natural law. If that’s the case, you do not have a very useful principle for analyzing historical events here. Now, what would be your response to that?
Till: Well, I think I can answer that with a question. You said you were going to investigate some of these situations that I questioned you about to determine whether you want to believe that they happened or not. Well, I think that you’re going to reject them, if you investigate them, and you’re going to reject them for the same reason that I reject the story of Jesus, that there simply is no outstanding evidence that would justify believing that these things happened.
Horner: Well, I’ll pick it up in my rebuttal to show that this is actually the crux of the debate. This statement, extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence, is nonsensical when you really unpack it, and I will explain that in a couple more minutes. I don’t know if we have time to do much more; we have about twenty seconds here. I would just say this, well no, I’m not going to make a statement. I should ask a question. So I’ll just leave it at that.