Tag Archives | Jesus

For God so loved the world…

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son to be publicly humiliated, tortured, and killed… because God had created a strange rule that required blood sacrifices whenever people did something he didn’t like. And he thought it was getting out of control. So many goats were dying. It just wasn’t fair to the goats. But somebody still had to die, right?! “Sure, why not”, God thought, instead of just admitting the whole blood-thing was a little overboard in the first place. So, he sent his son to die as the eternal sacrifice to replace the goats. And his son died for, like, three whole days. It was terrible. But his son’s alive again and now the goats get to live as well. And they are grateful.

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Is a “magical resurrection” really the best explanation for the known facts?

When it comes to the resurrection of Jesus, Christian historians such as Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, N.T. Wright, Lee Strobel, and others will typically conclude that “Jesus’ resurrection [is] the best explanation of the known facts” (Habermas & Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Chapter 4).

So what are the known facts? For the sake of brevity, since this is a massive topic with books upon books written on both sides of the debate, here is an ultra-brief summary of the known facts surrounding the resurrection of Jesus:

  1. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and died somewhere between 30-33 A.D.
  2. The tomb where Jesus was buried was found empty.
  3. Jesus’ disciples genuinely believed that they saw Jesus risen from the dead.
  4. Saul of Tarsus (later known as the apostle Paul) was an enemy of the church but became one of its biggest promoters after seeing what he believed was the risen Jesus.
  5. James, the half-brother of Jesus, was a skeptic during Jesus’ 3 years of ministry but became a leader in the Jerusalem church.
  6. The disciples went from fearful for their lives to boldly proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection even under pang of death.

Now, it must be stated that these facts are not all granted by all historians, and that several mythicist arguments demonstrate that it is difficult to consider anything to do with Jesus’ life as a fact. However, for the sake of this article, we will grant the above list as facts.

When considering the list of facts, it seems at face value that there is only one true explanation: Jesus must have been supernaturally resurrected! How else do you explain it? He died, his tomb was later found empty, people believed they saw him after he died, and people boldly proclaimed their belief in his resurrection. So what other explanation could there possibly be?

Instead of getting into the arguments against the resurrection (here’s a link with some, if you’re interested), I’m going to create an analogy and hope you follow along.

Time for a magic trick…

Imagine a magician came up to you and a crowd of others and offered to perform magic that would blow your mind. You accept. As the magician performs, there are several facts established along the way:

  1. The magician cuts and shuffles a deck of cards a couple times. You and other audience members catch glimpses of different cards.
  2. You are asked to remove a card from the deck, memorize it, and place it back (wherever you wish) into the deck of cards.
  3. After you return the card, you are asked to name the card you had removed. “Queen of hearts!”, you proclaim.
  4. The magician puts the deck of cards into his mouth. He bites down, groans, wiggles, and acts like the card is moving down his body into his leg and continuing downward. After quite a struggle, the magician asks you to pull off his right shoe and look inside.
  5. You remove his right shoe, and within it you find the queen of hearts.
  6. Unprompted by the magician, you grab the deck of cards, examine it, and find that it is missing the queen of hearts.

How do you explain this event?

Do you immediately proclaim to the rest of the world that the magician swallowed your card and somehow made it appear in his own shoe? How else could you possibly explain such a thing? You were right there, you held the card, you placed it in the deck, you watched the magician as he seemed to swallow it, you removed the shoe, you found the card, and you later examined the deck to find that the queen of hearts was missing.

Would you reach a conclusion that is similar to that of the Christian apologists and submit that  “the magician’s magical powers are the best explanation of the known facts”? Or would you still be unconvinced?

A rational person would not conclude that supernatural magic was the best explanation for the card trick. Magic may be the most obvious explanation, the simplest explanation, and the cleanest way to resolve all the facts, but this doesn’t mean it is the best explanation!

You will likely agree that the true and natural explanation for the magic trick is far more difficult to find. You may have dozens of different reasons as to why you don’t think it was actual, supernatural magic – and yet you may still not be able to create a narrative that fully resolves the known facts.

Perhaps you will never be able to explain the magic trick completely, but you should still stubbornly submit that “there’s not enough evidence to conclude that it was magic”, because you recognize that the more reasonable explanation is that you were missing some very important details.

The true explanation is far more difficult to find…

The actual explanation for the trick may seem horribly unbelievable if you are only willing to grant the six fully-supported known facts, as it might combine rare and unlikely explanations together… and require adding additional details to the picture that were otherwise unavailable to you from your initial vantage point. Meaning, in order to reach the actual best explanation for the magic trick, you will necessarily need to go beyond the known facts.

However, even if you never find out the true explanation for the magic trick – and cannot on your own (or with input from others) formulate a natural theory that addresses all of the known facts – you should still not agree that ‘magic’ is the best explanation. Quite simply, to suggest it was magic would be to assert an extraordinary claim without having an extraordinary amount of evidence to support the claim.

Do you want the real explanation for the magic trick?

I have performed this trick multiple times – and nobody has ever come close to guessing the actual explanation. But… here it is. The actual explanation requires these additional facts:

  • The magician was using a special deck of cards with 18 queen of hearts cards, 18 ace of spades cards, and 18 two of diamonds cards.
  • The magician had pre-planted a queen of hearts in his right shoe, an ace of spades in his left shoe, and a two of diamonds in his wallet – so that no matter which card you selected from the deck, it could ‘magically’ appear in either a shoe or the wallet.
  • The magician switched decks while you were pulling the card out of the shoe, so that if you ever desired to examine the deck after the trick, your card would be missing (along with the two other hidden cards).

(Side Note: Here’s a great link where Teller, of Penn & Teller, explains why this sort of trick is so effective.)

But that’s not good enough for a magic-apologist!

While an observer might be able to come up with these possibilities in order to explain what happened without appealing to the supernatural, a staunch magic-apologist would argue against considering any of them as valid. For one, none of the real-life witnesses (audience members) were able to corroborate any of these details. And you certainly can’t prove that it was a special deck, that the magician had pre-planted cards on himself, or that he switched decks.

Not only is there zero evidence to support any of these ‘additional facts’ – but each of them are so far-fetched and unreasonable that they should be washed away as meaningless speculation.

The magic-apologist would conclude that if we were to examine and value the actual evidence, rather than speculate with unsubstantiated guesses, that magic remains the best explanation. And yet… you and I know otherwise. We know that magic is not the best explanation for the known facts. We know that the more difficult, disjointed, and convoluted explanation is better; and even if we never knew the actual explanation, we would not believe that the magic trick was supernatural. So why should we treat the resurrection any different?

If it truly was magic, the truth should be able to set itself free!

If you did believe that magic was the most reasonable explanation, you would expect that this belief would be confirmed time and time again in the future, without relying on confirmation bias. As in, if the magic was real you would expect that it would be able to pass the tests of both believers and skeptics! If you believed the magician could perform supernatural magic, then you would think that he would be able to provide extraordinary evidence to support this extraordinary claim.

It wouldn’t be enough to allow the magician to choose his tricks and perform them whenever or however he wishes. In order to prove his supernatural abilities, the magician would need to prove his abilities in a monitored environment – such as being examined to make sure he doesn’t have trick cards or pre-planted cards on his body, being given a normal deck of cards and only being able to use it during the trick, and so forth. Actual magic should be able to prove itself throughout all sorts of tests and inquiry!

(Note: magicians, psychics, faith healers, mediums, fortune tellers, and so forth all fail to prove their abilities according to this sort of test… and nobody has ever passed James Randi’s One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge.)

And once again, there’s a parallel here to the story of Jesus. If the resurrection story is true, and Jesus is in fact still alive and well today and personally involved in our world, then we should expect to find evidence that supports his existence. And I’m not talking about the sort of evidence that passes the test for current believers such as ‘feeling his power’ or interpreting positive events as being caused by him. Rather, I’m talking about evidence that would be able to withstand the scrutiny of skeptics. And yet… it just isn’t there.

The evidence for a personal God that is interacting with our world is unrecognizable, at best. God is either non-existent or impossible to measure. Terminally ill people who pray to Jesus for healing do not have a statistically significant better chance of recovering from their illnesses than non-believers who don’t pray, or to people of other religions who pray to other gods. Quite simply, the studies on intercessory prayer fail to produce any significant findings. And it extends beyond prayer as well. There is simply no empirical evidence to demonstrate that there is a personal God, which is why believers of all religions must necessarily rely on faith.

So should we believe in a magical explanation simply because it does the best job of accounting for all of the known facts? Or should we instead question a response that appeals to the supernatural – and require such an extraordinary claim to have an extraordinary amount of evidence to support it before we accept it as true?

When it comes to a card trick, it seems obvious that magic isn’t the best explanation. So why should magic be considered the best explanation for the resurrection story? I don’t think it should…

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Why did Jesus need to die for your sins?

Christians will argue that the reason Jesus had to die for our sins was so that we could be forgiven and be considered clean again in the sight of God in order to be eligible for heaven.

This answer is built upon the premises that:

  1. God exists
  2. God is infinite, holy, righteous, and just
  3. God spoke the Law – therefore the law is infinitely holy, righteous, and just
  4. To break the Law of God is sinful – it is an infinite offense since God is infinite.
  5. Sin must be punished – and the wages of sin is death (Ezekiel 18:4, Romans 6:23)
  6. The sinner needs to escape the righteous judgment of God or face damnation (Romans 1:18, Matthew 25:46)
  7. But no sinner can undo an infinite offense to make things right with God (Galatians 2:21). The sinner cannot fulfill the law because he is sinful (Romans 8:3), so it follows that only God can fulfill the law and die in our place. Jesus is god in flesh and was also a man under the law – and he became sin for us and bore our sins on the cross, thus fulfilling the law (Galatians 4:4-5, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:24, Romans 8:3-4).

I find this answer to be unsatisfactory. While it offers an explanation as to why the Bible says Jesus died for our sins, it doesn’t explain why this warped view of justice was necessary. It doesn’t say why it would be absolutely necessary for a loving God to require his own son to die.

Why must a loving God categorize sins as infinite offences that require death as the penalty? Why not make a more reasonable punishment? And if it was completely necessary for God himself to ‘fulfill the law’ since sinful humans could not, then why couldn’t he fulfill it in a way that didn’t require death? Was it not possible for God to fulfill his own law in another way? Why not just say… “Yeah, so you humans are really bad and clearly not worthy of my abundant life on your own. You fail to follow my law and I think you deserve to be punished to death, although I kind of like you so here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to forgive you by grace if you simply love me rather than requiring you to be perfect in regards to the law”.

Why the need for bloodshed? And, if for some strange reason Jesus’ bloodshed was absolutely necessary (a reason that I cannot fathom), then why would he only need to die for three days? What sort of death is that? Can such a temporary death even be considered an ‘infinite’ sacrifice?

Comic from Jesus and Mo

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The Case Against Christ

“Doesn’t it just make more sense to assume that there was a historical Jesus, even if we are unable to recover the real facts about his life and death? As it turns out, no. The opposite is true: the closer we look at the evidence for Jesus, the less solid evidence one finds; and the more one finds suspicious silences and curious resemblances to the pagan and Jewish religious ideas and philosophies that preceded Christianity. And once one begins to parse out the origins of this tradition or that teaching from their various sources, the sweater begins unraveling quickly until it becomes very difficult to buy that there ever was – or even could have been – any historical figure at the center.” -David Fitzgerald

Or if you’d prefer articles:

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Links Galore: Overcoming Problems Without Jesus

The Onion: Man Somehow Overcomes Alcoholism Without Jesus
“Despite a lack of divine intervention by the Son of God or any other higher power, area man Tom Wendt has somehow managed to overcome his alcoholism, sources confirmed Friday. “It was causing so many problems at work and with my family that I decided to stop drinking before it ruined my life,” said Wendt, who credited his own willpower, a desire to better himself as a human being, and not Jesus Christ for the otherwise inexplicable recovery. “It hasn’t been easy, but I took a hard look at myself and made some important lifestyle changes. I’m sober almost three months now, and I never could have done it without [wife and non-supernatural-entity] Susan.” Reached for comment, Wendt’s aunt Clara, who spent years praying for her nephew, remained steadfast in her insistence that Jesus most likely had something to do with it.”

British Columbians Head to Homeless World Cup
The Onion story, of course, is satire. But it’s based on the reality that people change themselves for the better without the intervention of supernatural entities. Even in the case of ‘turning to Jesus’, the positive changes can be better attributed to a personal decision towards self-improvement and the benefits of a positive, supportive community. From the CBC article:

“Erin Backer was recovering from drug and alcohol addition when she saw a poster for the Vancouver Street Soccer League.

She joined up and hasn’t stopped playing since.

‘Through that I started going to these workshops and then I got into a job training program and then I got a work experience then I got a job,’ she said.

‘Now I have my own place and I’m working full time so it could have been something else, but it was soccer.'”

The Devil You Know
Some people, some times, can jump to the strangest, harshest conclusions…

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Human Genome Research Says “There Was No Historical Adam and Eve”

National Public Radio posted an interesting article in which Christian scholars suggest that Adam & Eve did not exist.

Asked how likely it is that we all descended from Adam and Eve, Dennis Venema, a biologist at Trinity Western University, replies: “That would be against all the genomic evidence that we’ve assembled over the last 20 years, so not likely at all.”

Venema says there is no way we can be traced back to a single couple. He says with the mapping of the human genome, it’s clear that modern humans emerged from other primates as a large population — long before the Genesis time frame of a few thousand years ago. And given the genetic variation of people today, he says scientists can’t get that population size below 10,000 people at any time in our evolutionary history.

To get down to just two ancestors, Venema says, “You would have to postulate that there’s been this absolutely astronomical mutation rate that has produced all these new variants in an incredibly short period of time. Those types of mutation rates are just not possible. It would mutate us out of existence.”

Venema is a senior fellow at BioLogos Foundation, a Christian group that tries to reconcile faith and science. The group was founded by Francis Collins, an evangelical and the current head of the National Institutes of Health, who, because of his position, declined an interview.

And Venema is part of a growing cadre of Christian scholars who say they want their faith to come into the 21st century. Another one is John Schneider, who taught theology at Calvin College in Michigan until recently. He says it’s time to face facts: There was no historical Adam and Eve, no serpent, no apple, no fall that toppled man from a state of innocence.

“Evolution makes it pretty clear that in nature, and in the moral experience of human beings, there never was any such paradise to be lost,” Schneider says. “So Christians, I think, have a challenge, have a job on their hands to reformulate some of their tradition about human beginnings.”

Click here to read the entire article >>

Of course, the problem here is that a historical Adam and Eve are central to the entire story of the Bible. If Adam and Eve didn’t decide to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit, then perhaps humanity didn’t have the freedom of choice to choose sin or not, but were rather predisposed to it. Without Adam and Eve, the work of Jesus doesn’t make sense in Paul’s description of the Gospel – being the redeemer that saves humanity from its decision to live sinful lives. The notion that humanity was decidedly sinful is what set up the need for a savior. If we never had the chance to be perfect, why would we ever be expected to live perfectly? Why would anything less require animal (OT) or human (NT) sacrifice?

Andy of The Happy Puppy Sunshine Blog says: “The problem with trying to reconcile faith with science is that it results in a pretty unimpressive – if not wholly unnecessary – deity. It’s evident that the myths spread among the world’s many cultures are factually incorrect, when they aren’t busy being magically ridiculous.

With regard to Christianity alone, the genome says no Adam & Eve, the geological record says no global flood, the historical record makes Jesus questionable, and Moses describing his own death and burial in Deuteronomy shows that God really could have used a script supervisor.

But perhaps it all did begin with a glimmer in some deistic entity’s eye, and then the universe was off and running like a clockwork machine, but (a) that’s not what most religious types believe and (b) if true, so what? You still can’t demonstrate necessity or evidence. You still have answered an unknown with an unknown. You still have nothing but your own incredulity masquerading as the force of argument.”

I’ll agree, of course, that Andy takes it a step far with the Moses line. There are many alternative explanations regarding the authorship of Deuteronomy 34. But let’s move beyond that… aren’t Adam & Eve absolutely necessary to the story of Christianity? And how do Christians try to adapt to scientific evidence – display ignorance while maintaining biblical orthodoxy, debate the merits of such science and assert that the bible is still true anyways, or roll with the punches by abandoning certain theologies but maintaining faith?

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