So in a comment on a previous post, I am asked
“what sort of evidence would convince you of, let’s say, the resurrection of Jesus?”
I want to break this up into two separate questions, because it will put into context my perspectives on historical evidence.
What would it take for me to believe that there was a modern resurrection?
Take a case of a Nigerian Pastor resurrected in 2001 after being dead for 3 days following a severe car accident. Sounds about as good as it gets, as far as evidence. Certainly way more evidence than we have for Jesus – many more “witnesses”, documentation of medical examination, many more recent accounts, etc… There are some skeptical accounts here and also here. This is the first I’ve heard of it. Am I convinced? Nope. Why not?
- the fact that there is a definite possibility of motive for fraud and/or exaggeration
- the fact that the events occur in a culture riddled with superstitious thinking
- the fact that the events take place in a region without the proper diagnostic technology
- the story contains elements such as a transfer to a smaller, lesser equipped hospital where the patient knew the doctors when – given the supposed severity of the accident- the nearby, bigger hospital would be the logical choice
Each of these raises the level of suspicion. What I am criticizing here is that the claims are being made and investigated by possibly credulous individuals, who have something to gain, and do not make the proper steps to rule out fraud, exaggeration, mistakes, etc… When I look at an extraordinary claim, I want these. To convince me it would take
- a group of unrelated individuals backing up the claims…
- …applying strict skeptical methods, …
- …with nothing or little to gain, …
- …and a history of honesty
I would want to see confirmation from people who have something to lose in agreeing to it, either a significant departure from their professed beliefs, or something similar. Pretty much I’m asking for something similar to the JREF prize, although it need not be that particular organization.
Is this too skeptical? I don’t think so. I hold this same level of skepticism for scientific claims, two examples I outline in a previous post. To shamelessly quote myself,
“If the evidence is not enough to convince a reasonable skeptic, then we can’t be particularly confident in it.”
This is especially the case with extraordinary claims.
What would it take for me to believe that there was an ancient resurrection?
Given this, could I ever be made to believe in an ancient resurrection? Probably not. Not because I am closed to it, but the kinds of methods and evidence that I would need to convince me of a modern resurrection just didn’t exist 2000 years ago. Four accounts (five if you count Paul), that demonstrate mutual copying, and don’t even claim to be eyewitnesses is hardly convincing for even more meagre claims than miraculous resurrections.
Christians, do you believe every miracle claim? If not, what criteria do you use? If the same amount of evidence for Jesus’ resurrection existed today (i.e. a handful of 2nd and 3rd hand reports, no physical evidence, and no skeptical inquiry), would you be convinced? I would wager that not a single honest Christian would accept this, or else they’d have to accept a million other miracle claims from other faiths, and be so credulous as to not be functional.