Friday, February 26, 2010

Review: Doubting Jesus' Resurrection

I have just finished reading Doubting Jesus' Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box? by Kris Komarnitsky.

The book may be described with one or more of the following adjectives: excellent, fantastic, superb. These adjectives apply to Kris' work in several senses: First, Kris' book is an honest, objective, and thoughtful attempt to explain the origins of Christianity. It is not angry or unduly biased by ideology. Second, the book is very concise (a mere 151 pages excluding the index, references, and bibliography) but at the same time it is packed with numerous references, extensive quotations, and overall shows that the author has examined voluminous material concerning that about which he writes. Third, I believe that the positions laid out in the book are mostly correct and represent the most probable explanations available for Christian origins. However, the views that I disagree with in the book do not affect the book's main conclusion: the rise and spread of early Christianity is completely explicable (and best explained) in non-supernatural terms.

However, I do think that the book could be improved slightly. Kris never addresses the question, "If Jesus never rose from the dead, and the disciples knew it, then why did they die for a lie?" Of course this question is completely illegitimate (as I will show) but nevertheless it is a widespread myth that Kris should have addressed (perhaps he could launch a companion site or blog to answer questions like these).

The question "Why would they die for a lie?" is not legitimate for many reasons: first, there is no solid evidence that any of the disciples were martyred for their belief in the resurrection, much less any evidence that they were given a chance to recant. As Kenneth Daniels says in his book Why I Believed:

"[T]he assertion that Jesus' disciples died for their faith has no historical foundation; it is mere hearsay, as Bart Ehrman informs us:

"'And an earlier point that Bill made was that the disciples were all willing to die for their faith. I didn't hear one piece of evidence for that. I hear that claim a lot, but having read every Christian source from the first five hundred years of Christianity, I'd like him to tell us what the piece of evidence is that the disciples died for their belief in the resurrection (Craig and Ehrman 2006, 28-29).'

"What Erhman is saying is that we have no historical grounding for the martyrdom of even one of Jesus' disciples. All details regarding their manner of dying emerge years later in accounts that are far removed from the actual events. Even if it could be proven historically that some of the earliest disciples were martyred, we would still be unable to look into their minds and know they died specifically for their belief in Jesus' Resurrection.

"Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob in 1844 in Nauvoo, Illinois. Latter Day Saints believe he was martyred for his unwavering conviction that God revealed himself through golden tablets that Smith had discovered in 1830. Many non-Mormons believe he was killed because he was a criminal. If the facts are so readily disputed for a relatively recent and well-documented event like Joseph Smith's death, how can we say with any confidence how or why Jesus' disciples perished, let alone what was in their minds when they died?"


Another point that Kris does not address is the claim that the resurrection hypothesis is simpler than all secular explanations of the facts surrounding Jesus' death. This claim is commonly made by William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas, and I would imagine that they would make the same point to Kris if ever they engaged him in debate: Isn't the single hypothesis of Jesus' resurrection simpler (and therefore more likely to be true) than Kris' multi-hypothesis explanation of the origins of Christianity (Kris' hypothesis requires numerous hypotheses, such as grief hallucinations to the individual appearances of Jesus after his death, plus postulating that Paul's report of an appearance to the 500 is a fringe legend and not at all factual, and so on)?

Of course Kris could easily counter this question: Occam's razor (the principle of simplicity) states that all things being equal, the simplest explanation is most probably correct. But all things are not equal in this instance: Each of Kris' hypotheses occurs with relatively high frequency (people exaggerate, hallucinate, etc. all the time) while resurrections either never occur or occur on a mind-bogglingly low basis (so low that we know of no other cases). So even the conjunction of all of Kris' hypotheses together is a lot more likely than the resurrection. The only way that a Christian could get out of this is if he could successfully show that Kris' hypothesis was less likely than the existence of a miracle-working God of the sort who would actually want to raise Jesus from the dead. Any takers on that one?

7 comments:

Kris said...

Thanks for the positive review of my book. If I could, I would like to correct one thing and then make one comment.

On the first page of my chapter six I say, "The belief that Jesus was the resurrected son of God was not a legend; it was an authentic belief and those who believed it were willing to die for that belief." So I do address this issue. In my hypothesis, Jesus' disciples really did believe that he was bodily raised up to heaven. I cover this in detail in the cognitive dissonance chapter of my book. I do not know if any of Jesus' disciples were given a clear choice between recanting their beliefs or death, but if they were, and if they chose death, it would not present a problem for my hypothesis.

Regarding the closing of your article, I purposely did not make in my book a comparison of the plausibility of my hypothesis to the resurrection hypotheses, or for that matter to the various other non-traditional hypotheses, because when I've seen others (on both sides of this issue) attempt to do so, it looks to me like a fruitless attempt to objectively measure something that is largely subjective. I believe the most anyone on either side of this issue can responsibly say is that their hypothesis is ONE plausible way to read the evidence (which is what I say on pg. 130). That is all I claim for the hypothesis in my book. What people do with religious claims when there are other plausible options is a different matter.

Thanks again for the review and all the best.

Kris K.

AIGBusted said...

Hi Kris,

Thanks for clearing those things up.

I suppose that I should have phrased the question "Why would they die for a lie?" differently. That's usually the way apologists put it, but in your case it might be better to ask, "Why would these people die for something if they had insufficient evidence for it?" That is, we know that people can and do come to believe things because of cognitive dissonance reduction. But do those people believe these things strongly enough to die for them? I don't know of any examples of that happening, but nevertheless this is not much of a problem since the martyrdom of the disciples is incredibly questionable.

I believe that this issue isn't all that subjective. Once it is agreed that the past must be interpreted in terms of the present (and this is a must for all those who accept inductive reasoning) then it becomes clear that a resurrection in the past is improbable (or impossible) because resurrections do not occur in the present.

If we interpret the past in accordance with what happens in the present, we find that the hypotheses that you have proposed are quite probable since we have numerous examples of them from the present day.

ROLLIE POLLIE OLLIE said...

Kris,

JD Walters over at the Christian Cadre made some comments on your book. Have you seen them?
http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/2009/12/on-doubting-jesus-resurrection_14.html

Kris said...

AIG,

I don't see a problem with a belief that came about due to cognitive dissonance not being strong enough to withstand martyrdom. Would the most hard core of Sabbatai Sevi's followers, or the most ardent Millerite really have recanted if faced with death? Modern day suicide bombers would seem to count against that. It seems to me that people with strong beliefs are just sometimes willing to die for those beliefs, no matter what the cause of the beliefs in the first place.

Rollie,

Thanks for the reference. Yes, I had already seen the comments from christiancadre. I didn't think them worth responding to in light of these addmissions:

"I have not read the book yet and I am sure it contains much more detailed evidence..."

"I grant that Komarnistky has developed these arguments in greater detail in his book, presumably responding to the kinds of objections that I and Wright himself raise..."

The writer of the article was responding to an article I wrote that was already pushing the word limit on what people are willing to read on a blog. My article was just a brief intro to my book for those interested. I really don't know what to say to someone who critiques my book without reading it, and I doubt anything I say will change the mind of anyone who forms their opinion from a critique of a book intro.

Kris K.

feralboy12 said...

My version of Occam's Razor says the correct explanation is probably the one with the fewest magic dingleberries attached.

educlaytion.com said...

Kris, you certainly know your behavioral scholarship, but I wonder how much of this analysis of the disciples is based on historical research vs. psychological philosophy. We have thorough accounts of the murder of Every disciple except the suicidal Judas Iscariot. Only John died of natural causes but even he had been tortured and thrown in boiling oil. AIGB, saying their martyrdom is "incredibly questionable" does not alter the historical record.

We also have a reasonable amount of evidence that proves the tomb of Jesus was empty. The only explanation the guards and Jewish leaders could come up with was that the disciples stole the body, but that is not logically borne out.

Kris, you are correct that lots of people die for what they believe. What does not happen is so many people dying for a lie, a coverup they created, in separate places and at separate times. The disciples (who were executed for not recanting) ran and denied Jesus at his arrest and death, yet a few weeks later were completely conviced and willing to die for his divinity claims. They changed, they said, because they had seen their master risen.

There's lots to recommend on the subject but perhaps check out William Lane Craig for a few minutes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYdzUYyIKMM

Take care.

AIGBusted said...

"We have thorough accounts of the murder of Every disciple except the suicidal Judas Iscariot. Only John died of natural causes but even he had been tortured and thrown in boiling oil."

Why don't you cite your sources and tell us what reliable evidence proves your point?


"AIGB, saying their martyrdom is 'incredibly questionable' does not alter the historical record."

And using rhetoric like that will not place the martyrdom of the disciples in the historical record.

"We also have a reasonable amount of evidence that proves the tomb of Jesus was empty. The only explanation the guards and Jewish leaders could come up with was that the disciples stole the body, but that is not logically borne out."

I've refuted reasoning like this in my book "Atheism and Naturalism". You should buy it if you're interested in knowing the truth, because I'm not getting paid for this comment to correct your errors and your foolishly buying into whatever Christian apologists say.

"Kris, you are correct that lots of people die for what they believe. What does not happen is so many people dying for a lie, a coverup they created, in separate places and at separate times."

You should read Kris' book and mine as well. No one is proposing that anyone died for what they knew to be false. You're just creating a bullshit caricature of what you think we are saying because you don't actually understand the positions we advocate.

"There's lots to recommend on the subject but perhaps check out William Lane Craig for a few minutes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYdzUYyIKMM"

Ah, of course, the typical citation of a William Lane Craig video. You have no idea how many people I run into online who naively buy into everything he says. William Lane Craig has been refuted more times than I can count. Just do some googling, or read my book.