I recently came across a video called, “When an Atheist Says Why Should I Believe in Jesus and All Those Other Fairytales”. It presents “Five Historic Facts” about Jesus that somehow prove the Resurrection. I initially dismissed it as yet another ineffectual attempt by apologists to “prove” their fictional beliefs.
But, it seems that this video has been gaining a lot of traction on social media, being shared by both believers and non-believers alike. I’ve had a few friends ask for my thoughts on it, so here we are…
You could almost do a second to second commentary on this video – it’s so jam-packed with assertions, presuppositions, and logical fallacies. However, I’m just going hit a few of the main points in the video. So strap in – it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Let’s start with the “facts” that warrant the “rational” belief in the Resurrection:
Fact 1: Jesus Died By Crucifixion
I’ll grant the author of the video that most scholars and historians do believe that Jesus was a historical person that lived in the Middle East and was likely put to death by the Romans. However, I’m skeptical of his claim that they all accept his 5 Facts as true. This is a mere assertion. I’m not familiar with all of the people the video lists shows, but I am familiar with Bart Ehrman’s work, and he most certainly does not believe all of these facts are historically true (more on this later).
It’s worth noting that while most scholars accept that Jesus was a historical figure, it is widely noted that the stories surrounding Jesus – the Virgin Birth, miracles, the Resurrection, etc – are mythology and legend. This type of hero archetype was common in ancient times and can be found in cultures all over the world, many bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Jesus story.
(Related: Mythbusters: The Uniqueness of Jesus)
It’s also important to note that the only contemporary record that we have of Jesus comes from the Bible. There is not a single mention of Jesus in any contemporary Greek, Roman, or Jewish sources. None. The first surviving account of Jesus’s life was written thirty-five to forty years after his death and none of the accounts are written by eye-witnesses of even people who knew Jesus. It is therefore impetuous to claim that the stories surrounding Jesus are “historical fact”.
Fact 2: His Disciples Were Convinced He Rose From the Dead.
Calls for speculation, your Honor! The last we hear of all the disciples is in Acts 1 when they’re all sitting around the table together. From there, only a few are mentioned, namely Peter, James, and Phillip. The rest could have gone back to fishing for all we know. The Bible even says that some of his disciples doubted (Matt 28:17). But, let’s say for the sake of argument that this claim is true, that all the disciples believed Jesus rose from the dead. This has no bearing on the validity of said claim. The early followers of Mohammad unanimously believed that he flew up to heaven on a winged horse. Does that make it true? Most Christians certainly wouldn’t think so, yet they attempt to use the same logic when it comes to claims of the Resurrection.
Fact 3: Paul Became a Christian
Yes, Paul had his famous vision on the road to Damascus. But what does this have to do with the historical reliability of the Resurrection? Sticking with the Muslim theme – does the fact that Mohammad converted to Islam after meditating in a cave on the mountain and being visited by the angel Gabriel make the claims of the Quran “historical fact”? People converting to a religion has no bearing on the legitimacy of said religion.
Besides, as I’ve written about before, Paul likely had epilepsy and his vision was the result of a seizure.
(Related: Paul’s Sacred Disease)
Fact 4: James Became a Christian
Fact 5: The Tomb Was Empty
As mentioned in point 1, there is no extra-Biblical text to validate this claim. The earliest accounts of Jesus come from Paul, who mentions nothing of the empty tomb. Since the author of the video seems to hold Ehrman’s opinions in high regard, I’ll quote him here:
“I should stress that the discovery of the empty tomb appears to be a late tradition. It occurs in Mark for the first time, some thirty-five or forty years after Jesus died… the whole story was in fact a legend, that is, the burial and discovery of an empty tomb were tales that later Christians invented to persuade others that the resurrection indeed happened.”
The author then goes on to say that these “facts” demand and explanation, and continues down the path of fallacious arguing and baseless claims. We’ll go through a few of these quickly:
Empty Tomb Explanation
- How many is a “bunch” of guards? In some places, the bible says only one guard was put in place (Matt 27:65,66), in others it says there were soldiers, plural. So which is it?
- No mention of a 2 ton stone, only that it was “great” (Matt 27:60), yet one man was able to roll it into place. Stand to reason that if one guy can roll it into place, one or several could roll it out of place.
- Why was there “a city swarming of people trying to find [the body”? There’s no mention of this anywhere in the Bible. Jesus’s followers at this time were only in a few hundred and no one else would have had any reason to look for a body.
- There is no “good historical evidence” that the disciples were martyred. This is church folklore. Peter is about the only disciple we can be reasonably certain died for his faith.
- People die for false beliefs all the time. Ever heard of suicide bombers? How about Jonestown?
- Mass hysteria is not uncommon and there have been many documented cases of it throughout history. If you want to hold to a belief based on how many claimed to have encountered someone, you should be praying to the Virgin Mary, who has been seen by thousands of people in the last two millennia.
“Precisely those conservative evangelical scholars who claim that mass hallucinations don’t happen are the ones who deny that the Blessed Virgin Mary has appeared to hundreds or thousands of people at once, even though we have modern, verified eyewitness testimony that she has.” – Bart Ehrman
I’ve addressed this more times then I can remember. The atheist in the video rightly points out that dead people stay dead and miracles don’t happen. The author gives what I consider the “Alamo” of apologetic arguments – science only deals in the natural and since miracles are supernatural they happen outside the realm of science. Therefore science can’t disprove miracles.
First of all this is a classic argument from ignorance – just because science hasn’t proven something false, doesn’t make it automatically true. Second, you have to first demonstrate the the supernatural occurs before you can use it as an explanation. Thirdly, science can test miracles when they happen in this, the natural, world. And, so far science has yet to confirm a single supernatural event, including bodily resurrection.
Supernatural explanations are by default the least likely explanation for an event. A natural explanation, no matter how far fetched, will always be more likely then a miracle. Occam’s Razor states that when there exist two explanations for an occurrence, the simpler one is usually better. When it comes to an explanation for the empty tomb and the witnesses who claimed to have seen Jesus after he arose, there are many natural explanations – mass hallucinations, shared psychotic disorder, groupthink, legendary accretion, mistaken identity, false memories, and yes; lying. No matter how implausible some of these explanations may be, they are far more plausible than the supernatural explanation of a bodily resurrection. You cannot claim that the most likely explanation is the least likely event possible; a miracle.
I have no doubt that this video will convince many Christians that their belief in the Resurrection (and by default, allegiance to their faith) are perfectly rational. I’m sure many of these well meaning individuals also think that they can convince an atheist of their viewpoint using this video.
Let me dispel this myth right now – no atheist is going to be convinced by this line of arguments. We can spot presuppositions and logical fallacies a mile away, and this video is chock-full of both!
The entire argument is based on the assumption that the Bible is a historical accurate source of information. It confuses “beliefs” with “facts”. It makes bold assertions with out any evidence to back them. It makes claims about its own religion that would be dismissed if they were made by another (i.e. special pleading).
Contrary to the atheist in the video, most of us have “heard of this stuff before”, and we’ve found the claims of Jesus’s resurrection to be just as hollow as the supernatural claims made by other religions.
Thanks for reading.