I promised a couple of weeks ago that as soon as I finished reading The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel, I’d post a full review. Well I’ve found a couple of reviews that are much more extensive than I could ever be bothered writing, so instead of writing a full review here, I’m just going to link to those, and pick out maybe a couple of things I took from it.
There’s one tiny thing that I did find a little convincing. I’ve already said how it’s pointless trying to compare evidence for the gospels with evidence for secular documents, because they deal with very different issues, but one thing that was repeatedly said was that if the gospels weren’t true and Jesus genuinely hadn’t risen from the dead, then the apostles and the early Christians wouldn’t have claimed so for the rest of their lives, leading them eventually to rather gruesome deaths at the hands of the Romans. This was a problem for me whilst reading; I could dismiss a lot of the other things, but this kind of stuck. So I’ve thought about it myself, I’ve been reading around a little bit, and I think I’m past it.
The review I linked to above has a section on this assertion (the first part of “The Circumstantial Evidence”, near the bottom, page 246), which makes the assertion that plenty of people have died for their faith in the past, Mormons and Muslims for example, which doesn’t prove that what they’re saying is true. This only partly answers my problem. The objection in the text is that although plenty of people have died for something they believe is true, none would die for something they know is false, which if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, the disciples would know, since they were the witnesses of it.
Since finishing this book I’ve started on ‘The Portable Atheist’, a collection of exerpts by various authors, put together by Christopher Hitchens. There are a number of chapters by or about David Hume, the famous Edinburgh philosopher, which half addresses this problem. Hume says that miracles are miracles because they go against the human experience, they’re not what we normally see. This amounts to as great a proof as any human experience can provide. Therefore, if there is human testimony which supports the occurrence of a miracle, you have to weigh that testimony against your own, subtract the difference of strength between them, and then you will naturally incline on the stronger side, albeit with a diminution of certainty.
He goes on to state that “no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact, which it endeavours to establish: And even in that case there is a mutual destruction of arguments, and the superior only gives us an assurance suitable to that degree of force, which remains, after deducting the inferior.” In simpler terms, is it more likely that the testimony come from someone who was deceived, or trying to deceive, or is it more likely that it’s true and the miracle took place? I think that in all cases I can think of, it’s more likely to be untrue.
Even the miracle of the sun at Fatima, where 70,000 people were reported to have seen the sun move and dive down towards the earth, can be explained using this logic, as Richard Dawkins writes in Unweaving the Rainbow. Would it be more likely that these 70,000 people were deceived into thinking the sun moved, or that the rest of the world were deceived into thinking it didn’t move whilst it actually did? That the people wouldn’t have been burnt up by the sun? That the physical effects of the sun’s nearness would be felt by the whole planet and would likely still be measurable? (In reality apparently there is some inconsistency in the reports of the crowd; Wikipedia says that some saw it dive down whilst others saw it zigzag. There are also no photographs of the event, despite photographers and reporters being in the crowd.)