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September 21, 2010

The Claims:

There are multiple aspects to the phenomenon of resurrection:

1)      Miraculous healing

a)       from the Hebrew scriptures:  1 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 4:32-37, 2 Kings 4:8-16 – accounts of the prophets Elijah and Elishah raising several people from the dead

b)       from the Christian scriptures:   Mark 5:35-43, John 11:1-44, Acts 20:9-12, Acts 9:36-43 – accounts of Jesus and his apostles raising various people from the dead

c)       resurrection of Jesus: Mark 16:1–8, Matthew 28:1–8, Luke 24:1–12, and John 20:1–13 – accounts of Jesus rising from the dead after having been buried for 3 days

2)      Reunification of a soul with a perfected body, at the end-times:  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all have variants of this concept.   This is intertwined with the belief in the immortal soul.  Eventually, the soul will be re-united with the body, though the new body will also be eternal, and will be healed of any infirmities.  For this reason, many sects of the Abrahamic religions prohibit cremation, and have explicit rules for how bodies of the deceased are to be handled.

3)      Occult resurrection:  zombies, vampires, re-animated mummies, and other undead.

The Evidence:

1)      The testimony of eyewitnesses is notoriously unreliable.  There have been no verified claims of resurrection in modern times, which casts further doubt on the veracity of the accounts of resurrection in the Old and New Testaments.

2)      No one knows what happens when we die, though some posit that we have some sort of spiritual essence that can survive the death of the body.  (This concept is discussed further here.)  There is no evidence to indicate that there will be a paradisiacal Heaven and Earth recreated after the world ends, and there are numerous physical and logistical issues that arise, indicating that such a scheme is incompatible with physics as we know it.  Granted that physics, like all sciences, is subject to challenge and change, however, the appropriate evidence has not, as yet, been provided.

3)      Despite the popularity of undead creatures in art and culture, there is no reason to think they have any correspondence with reality.  Some scientists have provided explanations for how some legends of the undead arose – e.g. the disease  of porphyria has been suggested as an explanation for vampire-related folklore (, and various drug cocktails are said to be able to produce a death-like trance, followed by re-animation (; however, these theories have so for not been proven.


All resurrections require that the human soul be able to survive independently of a physical  brain and body.   However, the overwhelming scientific evidence is that this would be impossible – indeed, damage to the brain starts within just  a few minutes  after the death of the body, and after a few minutes the damage is profound and irreversible.

1)      The evidence for the resurrection events as described in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, including the resurrection of Jesus,  are in contradiction of the current model  of medical knowledge.  Much more evidence than has been provided would be required in order for this claim to be acceptable to biologists and physics.

2)      There is no evidence that the claim of the resurrection of the body at the end time is anything other than wishful thinking.

3)      There is no evidence that accounts of the re-animated “undead” are anything more than stories and folklore.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 1, 2011 4:44 AM

    ironically, assertion that resurrection is an extraordinary claim carries with it the implicit assumption that there is something magical about the essence of a human.

    Having a magical transcendent soul that floats around and haunts people and such things is indeed an extraordinary claim.

    But, so is the belief that a specific body and set of circumstances has magic to it.

    The simpler logic would be that the essence of a human is informational, albeit information incarnated in a vessel capable of adaptation to a greater or lesser degree (aka, a human is not static information).

    The obvious ramification to this, and the most common connotation of resurrection, would be that all one would need to accomplish is to have a sufficiently high resolution scan of all the relevant physical aspects and reproduce them.

    Obviously, this is not achieved via traditional cloning techniques as simply growing someone with the same dna means the brain will undergo the usual development, and you’ll get a whole new human who just happens to have the same dna.

    However, traditional cloning is certainly not the only replicative approach possible in theory. With sufficiently advanced nanotechnology, you could go cell by cell, dendrite by dendrite, synaptic connection by connection. With such an approach, you either believe that you’ll hit some “magical” level that technology can’t handle (which seems rather like an extraordinary claim in itself), or, you’ll dig deep enough to have sufficient detail for replication.

    The obvious counterargument would be “well yes, but what if you did this multiple times, one person can’t resurrect again and again”. But this presupposes, again, that people are magical and inherently unique creatures rather than collections of information in an adaptive vessel: yes, you CAN be replicated again and again, and each replication will be influenced differently by the world, and go in different directions as a result of differing influence.

    Another counterargument “well, what about consciousness? How does it ‘jump’ to the new form”. Same thing: it’s either magical and ephemeral or it isn’t. The less extraordinary claim is that it’s no more magical than any other part of the system. Parents have children, children have consciousness, but people don’t believe that parents cast some sort of spell to endow children with consciousness, it’s just part of the deal of coming into existence as a human. It shows up in a system with characteristics sufficient to support it, such as a human vessel.

    The less obvious ramification is that such resurrection should also be possible in nonhuman and even nonbiological substrates. But that gets into more complex architectural battles as to what can and cannot change, what aspects are critical, etc, so I’ll set it aside for now 😉

  2. Klippenstein permalink
    December 12, 2010 8:51 PM

    Ritter wrote:
    “First of all – bible quotes . . . don’t qualify as evidence [for extraordinary claims of the Bible such as the resurrection].”

    Agreed. Logical fallacy: circular reasoning. But is that an oversimplification, since one part of the Bible written before 1000 BCE may be corroborated much later? Genesis 15 says of Abraham: “I will make your name great.” Later evidence in the Bible shows Abraham’s name became great, and no one today would argue that Abraham’s name is not great. Did God do that? Faith, not evidence will have to decide. Still, I appreciate your point that you can’t rely on claims in a book about itself to support the reliability of that same book as whole.

    But that is not to say some quotes are unsupported by evidence. It is a complex book written in many genres, (law, treaty, genealogy, letter, prayer, poetry, fable—if exceptional (Jotham’s fable Judges 9:8ff), parable, etc.) some of which are by definition not amenable to ‘evidence’. For example, proverbs (of which there is a collection in a book by that name) are simply wise generalizations about life. You might have quoted some of them yourself, such as “Like mother, like daughter.” On the other hand, some quotes are geographic or historical in nature that are supported by reliable evidence, the location of springs, streams, hills, valley, roads, buildings, city walls, etc., indeed some of these features remain unchanged and can be visited today.

    Unlike the Quran, the biblical collection of 66 books was written over a 1000 year period: we are talking about a primary document that contains much first-hand historical data and geographic record for which there remains abundant and irrefutable evidence. For instance, I have walked through a 540 metre long tunnel under Jerusalem that verifies the description in 2 Kings 20:20 (need I quote it?) of a tunnel dug about 2700 years ago, lost for many centuries, and rediscovered in the 1800’s. (Search: “Hezekiah Tunnel” for discussion, photos, etc.). Many other things stated in the Bible, and only in the Bible, were regarded with scepticism until they were confirmed by external evidence, e.g., Solomon’s gates, the existence of Pilate who sentenced Jesus. So we are in the position of having to distinguish Bible quotes that are supported by external evidence from ones that are not.

    Okay, it is the ‘extraordinary claims’ that are suspect, not the mundane. Over my years of study, I have found enough compelling evidence for enough biblical texts, mundane or not, to give me confidence that quotes for which direct evidence is unavailable are more likely true than not. Mine step of faith that goes beyond evidence, but does not disregard evidence. I respect those who do not share that step of faith. We are both obligated to follow and submit to well-attested evidence.

    At the very least, ancient biblical manuscripts (some of them dating back to several centuries BCE) are verifiably authentic documents or artefacts. Evidently, they come from a time period much closer to the events described than we are. As such, it is a kind of historical evidence that cannot be waved away with a wand or with a dismissive comment as though it is irrelevant to interpreting history or understanding our society that has been affected by it. In legal terms, the biblical collection of books is a kind of testimony that requires explanation. Scientifically, earliest biblical manuscripts have been examined closely by the scientific methods of archaeology for dating and origin. Textual critics have compared them and found a strong preservation tendency rather than a tendency to gloss over, change, or correct difficulties. When copies were found at Qumran in 1947 of parts of Isaiah 1000 years older than available copies of copies, scholars found far fewer textual variants than expected.

    Ritter wrote:
    “It’s like proving Harry Potter according to Ron and Hermione as eyewitnesses.
    Harry, Ron and Hermione are all well documented in books and it’s thoroughly explained how they use magic.”

    Ritter’s comparison with Harry Potter is interesting but it is a weak analogy. Does anyone put religious faith in Harry Potter? The Potter series are patently written as fiction—a familiar modern genre. Would the DaVinci Code be a modestly better comparison for your argument? It is clearly in the mystery/fiction genre though many contemporary readers forget that and treat it as though they are reading well-documented history! However, we don’t find any biblical writers writing in the fiction genre—a relatively modern genre. Authors of biblical books were generally writing about contemporary events which their first audience could verify. So either they were deliberately deceptive (which would not commend them to their contemporaries), or the writers were deluded, or they were doing what they said they were, as for example Luke, the physician mentioned in my first post. He opens up his writing with this appeal to evidence:
    “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

    Ritter wrote:
    “Religious people arguing agains the freeing of slaves quoting the bible. Womens right to work, go to school, being selfreliant and not recuire to marry a man, isn’t exactly churc policy. Womens right to wote – woting and democracy even isn’t really part of religious thought is it?”

    If you check out the status of slaves or the status of women in biblical times, you will find the marginalized were elevated in the Bible above what they were in their predominant culture. Who spear-headed the abolition of slavery? You will find Christians, “William Wilberforce” and the “Clapham Sect”. It is true that much evil as been perpetrated in the name of Christianity. A hallmark of authentic Christianity is to champion equality of human dignity and rights. If Christians do less today, it does not discredit the Bible any more than a poor performance of Beethoven’s 9th symphony discredits Beethoven. He survives a poor performance.

  3. Brian Ritter permalink
    December 10, 2010 2:27 PM

    “Having said that, I agree that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and I believe the extraordinary proof for the resurrection is well attested upon closest examination of the available evidence.”

    “Note in these articles that it was sceptics who changed their mind in the light of compelling evidence, from a man named Saul a reputed Christ-hater (renamed Paul) on down, who are most compelling.”

    First of all – bible quotes and relegious quacks don’t qualify as evidence.
    It’s like proving Harry Potter according to Ron and Hermione as eyewitnesses.
    Harry, Ron and Hermione are all well documented in books and it’s thoroughly explained how they use magic.

    Second: Saul/Paul was the guy who hated christ (even though they had never met) Saul became Paul after he had a vision (funny how visons, then were an act of god – and now tends to get you locked up or heavily medicated;).
    Paul came to be THE major force for christian advances in the area. Paul is often considered the founder of christianity – and he never really met the guy!
    He wrote quite a considerable amount of crap in the bible, about how to be a “true christian.”
    If we treat Paul with a little critical thinking, like we would any other person we encountered talking about meeting known-to-be-dead-persons, saying that he ‘knows’ what god wan’t us to do. Ad to that a lot of ignorant and hatefull stuff about women and homosexuals.

    And also – the quran makes the same claim as to being right, infaliable, work of god
    (not just inspired by – but actually directly dictated to Muhamed by Allah himself), full of proven miracles, angels, demons, Allah proving himself to almost any doubter and killing anyone that din’t belive or in some way offended him – sounds familiar?

    It’s bronzeage ethics and we have moved on since then – but why is it that every advance in moral and ethics comes with the religious fanatics kicking and screaming: Homosexuals right to marry (or even to be alive). Religious people arguing agains the freeing of slaves quoting the bible. Womens right to work, go to school, being selfreliant and not recuire to marry a man, isn’t exactly churc policy. Womens right to wote – woting and democracy even isn’t really part of religious thought is it?

    Come on – treat that as you would something you were not already familiar with. Read the quran like you would read the bible, and then read the bible as you would the quran – notice the similarities 🙂

    I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours – Stephen Roberts

    If I wan’t great stories I read Wilde, Twain, Poe, Tolstoy, Bukowsky, Auster, Steinbeck or even J.K. Rowling.
    If I wn’t to know about ethics i read philosophy; Rawls, Stuart Mill, Kant or Hume

    If I wan’t to know how the world works I will read sciencebooks and browse sites like National Geographics, NASA and podcasts from different lectures at universities around the globe.

  4. AndyC permalink
    December 7, 2010 12:40 PM

    There are some real classics in this pdf! :

    “Indeed, other religions in the world are believed in despite the lack of genuine evidence for their
    truth claims”

    “The historic Christian claim differs qualitatively from the claims of all other world religions at the epistemological point: on the issue of testability”

    “Regrettably, what is often overlooked in the field of comparative religion today is that no genuinely historical/objective evidence exists for the foundational religious claims of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, or any religion other than Christianity”

    “Other religions depend on subjective experience and blind faith,”

    Sure… Christianity, the only TRUE religion… (pats AlvinKlippenstein on the head and slowly walks away laughing)

    AlvinKlippenstein, you don’t really think that you’re the only religion to have testable evidence do you? They all claim it using their thousand year old scriptures.

    Heavily deluded this one is.

  5. AlvinKlippenstein permalink
    December 5, 2010 6:32 PM

    Right on! If there is no resurrection the Christian faith is truly futile. The lead article on “Christ” in this website has it right that the claimed resurrection of Jesus is what distinguishes his life from that of others. Luke, a first century (CE) physician and historian presented the resurrection itself as the ‘proof’ of who Jesus was (Acts 17:31). We are agreed that the resurrection would qualify as an extraordinary attestation of the extra0rdinary claims of Jesus. What we need is certification that the resurrection happened.

    However, even if the stupendous claim of his resurrection were scientifically or empirically verified and even if thereby the truthfulness of many other associated claims made by his followers might be less suspect, how many of the individual statements of the Gospels or of the Bible would have to be independently scientifically proven by ‘extraordinary proof’ to convince the empiricist to believe in Christ, or follow his teachings? Would proof of the resurrection lead the sceptic to believe the entire New Testament record about Jesus?

    Germaine to the discussion is this: the requirement of “extraordinary proof” by definition displaces faith, and faith is a biblical prerequisite for approaching God according to its own testimony (Hebrews 11:1-6). I suspect that if it were possible to construct knowledge of God purely upon proofs, the evidence should have been liberally provided by the supposedly loving God of the Bible who wants us to believe.

    In my experience, there are different ways of knowing, scientific proof being one of them. Not everything is known scientifically, but extraordinary claims it is said, require extraordinary proof. Love itself can compel faith more than other proofs.

    Insofar as legal opinions, historical evidence and the weight of scholarly opinion can comprise extraordinary proof, an truth-seeking sceptic may find these substantial and thoughtful pieces of research helpful:

    Note in these articles that it was sceptics who changed their mind in the light of compelling evidence, from a man named Saul a reputed Christ-hater (renamed Paul) on down, who are most compelling.

    Christianity is a revealed religion, not one that is come upon by this or that series of proofs or evidence. Note the following lines of Hebrew poetry written (ca. 800 BCE) in a style called poetic parallelism in which one poetic stiche is kind of stereophonic with the next: “Who has believed our message //and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1). Belief is paralleled with revelation, not with “extraordinary proof”. The [outstretched] “arm of the Lord” is figurative imagery in that literary genre for both judgment and salvation which were centred in the death and resurrection of the messiah whom the balance of the chapter prophetically describes with surprising graphic details.

    Having said that, I agree that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and I believe the extraordinary proof for the resurrection is well attested upon closest examination of the available evidence.

    But I’m sure nothing I (or anyone else) could say would convince the one who insists on their criteria of “extraordinary proof” when it comes to matters of belief –matters that have profound implications for how they henceforth live life. –Not so different from the followers of Jesus who, according to the record post-resurrection, “when they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17).

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