Why I Don’t Buy the Resurrection Story
Assessing the Odds
After years of study as an historian, I now believe that Jesus simply died, and the rest was invented, consciously or not, by his disciples, as a means to carry on his teaching and gain divine authority for it–precisely the same thing preachers use the story for today (for what I think really is most likely, see Summary). But even if we posit that there is some truth to the appearances of Jesus after his death, even if we grant half of the argument, as I am willing to do here, the argument fails to convince. Why? Because there are too many reasons to doubt that a miracle occurred at all.
For the event to be a miracle, the Resurrection must defy the course of nature, and for that to happen, Jesus had to have died. His heart had to have lain still and quiet for up to half an hour, his brain had to have starved from lack of oxygen, with the whole network of neurons largely disintegrated, dissolved from massive cell death and the pooling of blood acids. Gases and fluids had to pool in his extremities and body cavities, with rigor mortis setting in, and coming and going as it does. His body had to begin to rot.
Anything less than this cannot be considered death. If his heart kept beating, perhaps one can argue it was only in defiance of nature that it did so, and perhaps one can extend this argument to the brain, to the decay of the corpse, or to every aspect of death. Perhaps Jesus lay in a magical, miraculous stasis.
This would entail that he was not Resurrected from death, but that he survived by a miracle instead. But this would still be the claim that he survived by miraculous intervention, and that his survival was in spite of nature, and not an exhibition of the natural, if extraordinary, course of physics, chemistry, and biology. I claim that we have no reason to believe that either miracle occurred.
For we have no reliable evidence that Jesus died, and we certainly have none whatsoever that he survived by some magical kind of stasis: no one observed the corpse of Jesus while it lay in the tomb, and no doctors examined him, on the cross or off it.
Indeed, not only do we have no way of really knowing that Jesus died on the cross (we can’t travel back in time with the medical machinery and team of doctors necessary to certify it), there is an abundance of evidence which throws suspicion on the claim that he did. This suspicion, even though it does not produce a belief that he survived, is nevertheless sufficient for any rational person to remain unconvinced that anything miraculous happened, even if it actually did.
That is, even if a god wanted this to be a proof of something, he failed to make it so. The evidence leaves enough room for survival to be naturally possible. But even though the survival of Jesus is very unlikely, it still cannot be excluded with enough certainty to justify categorically denying it as something impossible, and so it cannot be excluded with enough force for one to believe that divine intervention is the most sensible explanation. This is all that this essay will show.
It is easy to test the Christian’s honesty in claiming that the evidence warrants rational belief. Simply posit essentially the same evidence and essentially the same account, but given of a modern Bob, whose central message was that Christianity was a lie, and that his was the true word of God, and his resurrection was proof of that. Would the Christian convert?
Logically, he must, for the evidence is exactly equal in merit but for these details: the new message is more recent and has not had the opportunity of being doctored or mishandled in transmission, and it has occurred in an age where almost everyone is literate and in possession of more scientific literacy than even the most educated scholar of two millennia ago.
These two advantages are enough to give the evidence for the new messiah far more weight than that for the old (we might even add a third: the fact that the means and personnel would be available to test the event in ways never possible two millennia ago).
But would the Christian convert, and renounce Christ? I doubt it. I think, then, the Christian would see all that is really wrong with his own evidence. It is far too weak to warrant conversion to Bob. But this entails that it is even weaker still in the case of Christ.