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For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

~ 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

How often have we come across this in apologetics – “What about the 500 eyewitnesses that saw Jesus after his crucifixion?” Every time I hear it I know exactly how Kif groans when Zapp Brannigan says something dumb. And this is dumb.

Paul presumably wrote this passage in a letter to the Corinthian sect of Christianity.  Yet Paul never saw Jesus except through a vision on the road to Damascus, a claim rather low on the believability meter. Certainly, Paul never met Jesus while he was alive and did not become a follower till after the supposed resurrection. 

Paul is at best presenting us with hearsay evidence. At worst, he’s lying. We have no way in which to gauge the veracity of the statement. So, do we really have 500 eyewitnesses here? Not at all. We have a statement from one (count ’em – ONE!) claimant who was not at the event in question saying 500 people saw Jesus after his crucifixion. Does this constitute reasonable evidence? No matter how much tap dancing you do, even at a Richard Gere level, the answer is decidedly “No.” , not even in a kangaroo court.

500 eyewitnesses, my ass.

Here’s another one that I’ve run across many times  – “Would those Christians put to death for their beliefs have become martyrs for a lie?” Putting aside the attempt at sympathy for their cause (no sooner than Christianity became the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire than they themselves became the oppressors – just ask Bruno), who says that these martyrs didn’t believe the lie? Many people in history have died for ideas that they believed in. But belief does not lend any veracity to the ideas themselves. 

Even for Christians who subscribe to this it’s easy to see why this is a silly argument when it is placed in a different context. More than 900 people died in Jonestown believing in the divinity of Rev. James Jones, but I doubt many Christians (even those that subscribe to the argument) think this lends any truth to the claims. Is it any different for those who died spreading their brand of belief? I don’t see how. 

The Abrahamic religions each teach that we are all unworthy and born sinners, and that it has the cure. This is exactly how snake oil salesmen operated (and continue to operate – Q-Ray bracelets, anyone?). The only real cure is to realize that you don’t have a disease, that you are not responsible for fictitious original sin. How can one possibly be truly happy living under such oppressive belief? My friend The Atheist Next Door put up a great video on why Pascal’s Wager (in any and all of its forms we see on the ‘net) is wrong – if atheists such as myself are wrong, I will simply stand before my maker (please do not quote mine me hear, making it look as if I actually believe this nonsense – this is just a hypothetical argument, remember), accept responsibility for being wrong and say what Bertrand Russell would say: “Not enough evidence!” If believers are wrong, their belief will have cheated from them the one life they get. In essence, contrary to what most believers claim with Pascal’s Wager, they lose everything. At least I still get this one life and live it the way I think it should be lived. And we only have knowledge about this one life we are living now, not any potential future one which seems to me to be merely an exercise in wish fulfillment. Certainly we have no good evidence for any other life that believers claim exists and have failed to substantiate.  

So shake off the shackles of dogma and like the bus ads say, enjoy your life!

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2 Comments

  1. “Would those Christians put to death for their beliefs have become martyrs for a lie?” The followers of Christ were Cowards in the gospel accounts. They would no sooner associate with Christ when it put them in harms way. Something had changed them. They would have certainly been devistated by their Messiah being put to death on the cross. their hope of the kingdom to come had vanished in that moment. I would say the Key wording should be, would you die for what you KNOW to be a lie? They certainly would have known if their Messiah was who he said he was. If he was in the grave they were still cowards. I can see you are well read and an intellect and have studied the Bible. So I do have a great deal of respect for you, your not just spouting platitudes like so many ( really on both sides of the issue.)I thought i would tweek this argument a bit. Regards. Oh by the way what is an atheist exactly? No belief or mabie but no real evidence?

    • When the Lindberg baby was kidnapped, several hundred people came forward and claimed to have done the deed. Why would anyone, let alone the astounding number that actually did, claim to have done such a thing when if their confessions (and I think it safe to say that most of them, at least, were not exactly truthful) had been accepted they would face the death sentence? Neither you nor I may be willing to die for a lie, but there are people who would! It is even possible for people to be willing to die for a lie because it serves what they believe to be a greater good. Thus the question is not anywhere near as supportive of your posiiton as you seem to think. There is no extrabiblical corroboration that any of the apostles actually died for such reasons anyway. We have only the bible’s word, written by people who were not only NOT eyewitnesses to such events, as they were relying on oral traditions being passed around for several decades. Not exactly quality evidence. It is hardly surprising the Jesus would go from a carpenter teacher to a miracle worker, particularly when anyone who was anyone at that time was said to perform miracles.

      As for what is an atheist, it is certainly not “no belief”. I believe in freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, secularism, and many other things. The problem with answering the question is that there are almost as many types of atheist as there are atheists and I do not presume to speak for all atheists. The short version is that we do not believe in the existence of any gods. But I suspect you are more interested in why atheists are atheists. Again, that varies greatly. My wife is an atheist because she finds Christianity totally absurd and self-inconsistent. I feel that way too, but for me it is about evidence. There is absolutely no evidence available in support of the claims of Christianity that passes a minimum bar. In fact, none of it comes close. And it is up to those making the positive claim for existence of a god to make their case, not on those maintaining the null hypothesis that the claim is not supported.

      The gospels are known to be written by authors unknown, decades after Jesus’ supposed life and based on oral traditions. This isn’t even good evidence for Jesus’ historical existence, let alone the biblical version of him. Why would the apostles associate with Jesus if it was all a lie? Assuming Jesus existed, why not for power? This is clearly Paul’s position. His conversion at seeing Jesus in a dream on the road to Damascus should have no effect on anyone due to its subjective nature. For all we know, he was lying. Or maybe Jesus was a good magician and convinced the apostles that the lie was true that way? There are lots of possibilities that believers simply ignore.

      Of course, it’s all moot. Not a single historian living during the supposed time Jesus was alive gives him even a passing mention. Even the oft-quoted Josephus passage (those that aren’t known to be later inclusions by Christians) only shows that Christians existsd and provides no support to the claim of Jesus’ existence. There’s quite a bit in the gospels that we know simply didn’t happen. The Massacre of the Innocents, the census which forced Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, Quirinius being governor of Syria during Harod the Great’s reign (Harod was long dead). These are just a few things that the gospels get wrong. There is no reason to think that anything else it contains is any more accurate, including the deaths of the apostles standing up for their religion.

      I’m an atheist about the Abrahamic god as you are about Zeus. There is simply no evidence to support the existence of either, which is where the burden of evidence lies. It is not required by those who reject the claim to show that it is not true.


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