Vincent Torley’s response to Andrew Loke on the Resurrection

Hi @Andrew_Loke,

Let me put my cards on the table. I’m a Christian who believes in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. I also have a Ph.D. in philosophy, but I’m not employed in academia. I was once strongly persuaded by apologetic arguments in favor of the Resurrection of Jesus, but I no longer think those arguments work. For my part, I believe in the Resurrection partly on the basis of the Christian message (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount), and partly on pragmatic grounds, because of the difference Christianity has made to the world (e.g. without Christianity, female infanticide and slavery would still be prevalent worldwide today).

I’ve been looking at your video, Who Saw Risen Jesus? Dr. Andrew Loke Responds to @Paulogia and I think you have mounted a convincing rebuttal to most of Paulogia’s arguments, as well as demonstrating that he has misquoted you and other Christian apologists. I also agree with you that it’s certain beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus was seen by one or more groups of people on one or more occasions, after his death, rather than by a single individual (e.g. Peter or Paul) as Paulogia proposes.

However, I do not agree that this kind of evidence is anything like enough to establish the truth (or high historical probability) of Jesus’ resurrection, even when we factor in additional evidence such as the willingness of the apostles to be martyred, and the implausibility of alternative naturalistic explanations.

Re 1 Corinthians 15, I’d just like to bring to your attention a paper written by Ryan Turner, of the Christian Apologetics Research Ministry (CARM), titled, An Analysis of the Pre-Pauline Creed in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11. In his paper, Turner points out that there is considerable disagreement among scholars as to what the original form of this creed was. Some scholars argue that the original form of the creed went like this: "“that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” In other words, there is no scholarly consensus that the appearance to the 500 was part of the original creed (which is very old and probably goes back to before 40 A.D.) It may have been a Pauline addition.

Now, you may argue that Paul would not have added this segment to the original creed unless he believed that it was historically true, and I agree with you. But that does not mean that Paul rigorously fact-checked its accuracy. Remember: Paul was already convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead. After all, he’d had a personal apparition of Jesus. He also knew other Christians, some of whom had seen Jesus too. No doubt, too, he trusted most of these Christians, who lived by a simple code of “Let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no,’ no.” So all we need suppose is that Paul got his story about the appearance to the 500 from a source whom he highly trusted, and that he repeated this story in his first letter to the Corinthians, because he sincerely believed it was true. But who was this source? Paul does not say. For that reason, it is impossible for people living in the 21st century to know whether such an apparition actually took place or not.

Now, you argue that the Corinthians could have checked out Paul’s story for themselves, and that it would have reflected badly on Paul if it turned out he was mistaken. Indeed, you argue that the skeptical Corinthians would have carefully checked out Paul’s testimony regarding Jesus’ Resurrection, before coming to believe in it. A couple of quick points in reply:

(1) I think it’s probably fair to say that one person’s testimony, however sincere, would not have been enough to convince the Corinthians that Jesus had actually risen from the dead.

(2) In any case, the Corinthians knew of other Christian leaders, such as Peter and Apollos, as 1 Corinthians 1 reveals. It’s quite likely they asked these leaders about their apparitions of Jesus, assuming they met them.

(3) The early Christians were also famous for healing the sick. A public and instantaneous healing of several people who were widely believed to have been incurably ill could well have been enough to sway any doubters, without the need to consult all of the Twelve, let alone the 500.

(4) The Corinthians would have been highly motivated to check out Jesus’ Resurrection. They would not have been so highly motivated to check out each and every account of an appearance of Jesus, such as the appearance to the 500. In short: we have no reason to suppose they actually sent someone to Jerusalem to follow up on that particular story.

(5) In any case, there are independent reasons for doubting the historicity of the apparition to the 500. Put briefly: if Pilate had heard reports that no less than 500 people claimed to have seen, spoken with or eaten with a man whom he had previously condemned to death in front of a large crowd of people, he would surely have ordered an investigation. So, why didn’t he? Also, wouldn’t the Jewish leaders have called on Pilate to re-arrest Jesus and condemn him to death a second time, if they had heard a story about him appearing to 500 people? After all, they had every reason for wanting to kill off Christianity once and for all, as they regarded it as a blasphemous heresy.

As Turner acknowledges in his paper (cited above), many scholars doubt the authenticity of the rest of the Pauline creed (which describes subsequent appearances of Jesus to James and all the apostles). So we are left with the appearances to Peter and to the Twelve, and later to Paul, as the only ones which are highly probable on historical grounds. The only group apparition here is the appearance to the Twelve. Nearly all scholars agree that this episode is historical.

What we don’t know, however, is whether the eleven (or twelve) apostles had an essentially identical experience or whether they merely had overlapping experiences, with a solid core of agreement. For instance, they may all have seen Jesus approaching them and perhaps heard him say, “Greetings! Peace be with you!”, but their experiences may have diverged after that point. Or Peter, James and John may have substantially agreed on what they saw and heard, while the others merely saw Jesus but did not hear him. (I’m thinking of the apparition of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917, where Francesco saw Our Lady but didn’t hear her or see her lips move, while Lucia and Jacinta, who both saw and heard Our Lady, didn’t always hear the same thing. Nevertheless, the three children showed themselves willing to die for their faith in the reality of the apparitions: these little divergences in the details of what they saw and heard did not shake their faith.) A skeptic might add that Peter, James and John were individuals who were prone to having visions, as shown by the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration of Jesus, which they witnessed. Moreover, the Acts of the Apostles says almost nothing about the other members of the Twelve: these three are central figures, along with Paul and James the brother of Jesus.

Lastly, regarding the solidity of the risen Jesus’ body: while we can be quite sure that the disciples did not believe Jesus was merely a ghost or disembodied spirit, it does not follow that they personally went to the trouble of verifying his solidity. It is quite plausible to suppose that they drew this conclusion on other, independent grounds: (i) the discovery that his tomb was empty (as to how it became empty, a skeptic might argue that the body might have been removed by enemies of Jesus who didn’t want his disciples turning the tomb into a shrine, and who would’ve subsequently kept silent about their highly illegal act, even when it backfired); (ii) Jesus had previously predicted his resurrection on numerous occasions in the Gospels; and (iii) the disciples subsequently found passages in the Scriptures which appeared (retrospectively) to confirm their belief in his resurrection. The original appearance of Jesus might have been that of a luminous being (think of Paul’s experience). Belief in Jesus’ solidity may have been an inference that the disciples made later on.

I’ve been playing devil’s advocate here, and at this point I will stop. The general point I want to make is that “coulda-woulda-shoulda”-style arguments are highly dubious when we are dealing with an alleged supernatural occurrence that took place 2,000 years ago, among a people whose mindset was very different from our own. We don’t know how their minds would have functioned under such circumstances, and we don’t know what standards of evidence they would have demanded. What we do know is that apparently disconfirming evidence (no Second Coming after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.) failed to stop the Christian movement - and I don’t think it should have, either, in view of the fact that we don’t know what Jesus actually said on the subject. However, on strictly evidential grounds, I find it difficult to rule out the hypothesis proposed by the late Professor Maurice Casey, in his work, Jesus of Nazareth (T&T Clark International, 2010), where he suggests that Biblical prophecy , coupled with Jesus’ own prediction that he would rise again, may have played a vital role in generating belief in Jesus’ Resurrection, among his disciples. As he puts it:

The following conclusions may therefore be drawn. Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead, leaving an empty tomb behind. He was probably buried in a common criminals’ tomb, where his body rotted in a normal way. He had however predicted his Resurrection in terms which did not imply bodily resurrection or belief in an empty tomb. After his death, his bereaved followers, including Simeon the Rock and some other members of the Twelve, as well as Jesus’ brother Jacob, had visions of him, which they interpreted as Resurrection appearances. They studied the Scriptures and found in them proofs of his Resurrection. The passages which they studied included Psalms 41 and 118, as Jesus had taught them, and Psalms 15 and 110, which, as far as we know, they studied themselves. (2010, pp. 497-498.)

There are problems with Casey’s skeptical view, of course: for instance, his skepticism regarding Jesus’ burial in a separate tomb (more specifically, a marked grave) places him somewhat “to the left” of most Biblical scholars. But it’s certainly a tenable view, and although it may seem rather improbable, I can’t see any good argument that renders it hugely improbable.

However, Casey, who is ever the gentleman, freely acknowledges that the Christian view is perfectly compatible with the available evidence: “In other words, the historical evidence is in no way inconsistent with the belief of the first disciples, and of many modern Christians, that God raised Jesus from the dead, and granted visions of the risen Jesus to the first disciples, and to St. Paul on the Damascus Road” (2010, p. 498).

So I think we should simply agree that the evidence available to us today doesn’t settle the matter, and leave it at that. Faith is a choice.

Heads-up: have you read Eric Bess’s online article, Andrew Loke on the Resurrection: A Skeptic’s Review? Thought you might want to respond. Cheers.

Finally, I would urge you to read Matthew Wade Ferguson’s 2017 article, Why Scholars Doubt the Traditional Authors of the Gospels - especially the footnotes, which are invaluable.

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Thanks for this Vincent. It articulates in a more fully-formed manner many of the issues with Andrew’s book that I was groping towards in the original thread on this topic.

I will take some vindication from the fact that I am not alone in considering Andrew’s presentation to be “seriously” worthy of comment, given that Eric’s first criticism is that “[t]he book is too repetitive.” :slight_smile:

Also, if I had to sum up my issues with Andrew’s arguments in a single phrase, I could not do better than Eric’s “Loke’s unbridled and outlandish speculation asserted confidently as fact”.

Given that this thread’s topic is, at least ostensibly, “The Resurrection of Jesus and the Martyr Argument”, I would also like to highlight the following article that Eric suggests:

‘March to Martyrdom (Down the Yellow Brick Road…)’ - by Matthew Ferguson

The original blog post has evaporated, but I was able to find it in the Wayback Machine/Internet Archive.

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Hi Vincent, thank you for this message, and for alerting me to Eric Bess’ review. I had read it a few days ago, and thought that it is badly written. While the abundance of details in his review may impress some people, on closer reading they are filled with misrepresentations and fallacies. I have written a reply and posted it here: (DOC) Reply to reviews of Investigating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Routledge 2020) | Andrew Ter Ern Loke - Academia.edu . I shall reply to the other points you raised at a later date; at this moment I am busy with preparing the opening statement for my written debate with Paulogia (who is the source of fallacious arguments for my objectors in this thread), and my upcoming debate with Shabir Ally next week, and also with teaching and administrative duties at my university. In the meantime you can check out my book (PDF) Investigating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ | Andrew Ter Ern Loke - Academia.edu ; most of the points you raised are already answered by the other considerations which I mentioned in the book. Wish you a blessed Lent and a glorious Easter.

Hi @Andrew_Loke,

Thank you very much for your reply. I’m currently having a look at your book, online. On page 126 (in section 6.4), you write:

Whether there were guards at the tomb is of significance because, as
explained later, their presence would (together with other considerations)
rule out all the naturalistic hypotheses concerning Jesus’ body.

On page 141, you elaborate:

In particular, the presence of guards at the tomb would imply that Jesus was buried in a well-identified place (contrary to unburied hypothesis). The early Christians would not have come to the widespread agreement that Jesus resurrected and be willing to suffer persecution for proclaiming this if the guards were still guarding the body inside the tomb (contrary to remain buried hypothesis). The presence of guards would also make it unreasonable to think that friends, enemies, or a neutral third party would risk getting caught stealing the body for any reason and did so successfully (contrary to removal by friends/enemies/neutral party hypotheses). Contrary to the removal by nonagent hypothesis, it would be unreasonable to think that animals or earthquakes removed Jesus’ body without the guards preventing or suspecting it.

In other words, the presence of the guards at the tomb forms a crucial part of your case. If we cannot be reasonably sure that there were guards at the tomb, then we cannot rule out all the naturalistic hypotheses concerning Jesus’ body. And that means that we cannot be reasonably certain on purely historical grounds that Jesus rose bodily from the dead.

I have discussed the question of whether there were guards at Jesus’ tomb in an online post at The Skeptical Zone titled, Why there probably wasn’t a guard at Jesus’ tomb (March 3, 2019) in response to Professor Tim McGrew. I think it is fair to say that you won’t find a more rigorous discussion anywhere on the Net of the reasons why Matthew’s account of the guard is historically improbable, although by no means impossible.

Michael J. Alter discusses the guard story at considerable length in his 2015 book, The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry. I was astonished to see that you did not cite him in your bibliography, because his inquiry is an exhaustive one.

On page 193 of your book, you dismiss the evidence for Marian apparitions in a single sentence:

Likewise cases of Marian apparitions have workable naturalistic explanations (e.g. hallucinations, illusions) (O’Connell 2009).

I was amazed when I read that sentence, because the evidence for the most famous Marian apparitions is very impressive. Indeed, it could be argued that it’s better than the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.

First, we can rule out fraud decisively, in the case of Our Lady of Fatima. You can see why if you have a look at this online article: Fourth Apparition of Our Lady. On August 19, 1917, the three seers (who were children) were threatened with death by officials, but they all refused to recant. I’ve written at length about Fatima in an online article here.

The sincerity of St. Bernadette Soubirous (the seer of Lourdes) and St. Catherine Laboure (the French seer responsible for the creation of the Miraculous Medal) is equally evident. Both seers ended their days as nuns, living in obscurity and devoting themselves to a life of service. For instance, Rene Laurentin et Patrick Sbalchiero, in their 2007 work, Dictionnaire des ‘apparitions’ de la Vierge Marie (Fayard, pp. 704-705) record of St. Catherine Laboure that her life was notable for her devotion to the poor and elderly and for her humility and profound silence.

The apparition of Our Lady to St. Catherine Laboure is an especially remarkable one, as it actually involved her resting her hands in Our Lady’s lap. That is, she had a solid apparition of Our Lady. I might add that the bodies of both St. Catherine Laboure and St. Bernadette were found to be incorrupt, after their death.

So how does O’Connell, whom you cite, handle these cases? He refers to another apparition (Garabandal) in which he alleges fraud, and then comments in a footnote on page 87 of his article:

Since the Garabandal event was clearly a hoax, and since Fatima,
Medugorje, and others have produced no evidence beyond what was produced by the
Garabandal seers, it seems fraud is a plausible natural explanation for all of these
events.

I put it to you that that’s sloppy investigative journalism.

Finally, I find it odd that O’Connell, unlike yourself, apparently considers that group hallucinations are possible. He has his own reasons for believing the Gospel accounts, noting that none of them involve luminous apparitions, as might have been expected.

I’ll stop there, as I’m heading out to dinner. Happy Easter.

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I’ve watched the entire video of the interview with Dale Allison and I quite recommend it. He is an engaging speaker with a very nuanced view of the alleged resurrection as well as a healthy skepticism towards his own positions and conclusions.

But in terms of the current discussion, I think it is quite devastating to @Andrew_Loke 's claims. If you watch the entirety of Allison’s discussion of the appearance to the 500, Loke’s claim that Allison believes this number of people encountered the risen Jesus is indefensible IMHO. While Allison is certainly open to that possibility, he also considers it plausible that this was something as mundane as people “seeing” the image of Jesus in a cloud formation.

But watch and judge for yourself:

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