Christianity is Falsifiable, which makes it distinctive among religions

C. Michael Patton:

This is a belief that has been a source of contention with many people, even Christians, in the past. But the more I research, the more I find this to be the case. I believe that Christianity is the only viable worldview that is historically defensible. The central claims of the Bible demand historic inquiry as they are based on public events that can be falsified. In contrast, the central claims of all other religions cannot be historically tested and, therefore, are beyond falsifiability or inquiry. They just have to be believed with blind faith.

Think about it: The believer in the Islamic faith has to trust in a private encounter Muhammad had, and this encounter is unable to be tested historically. We have no way to truly investigate the claims of Joseph Smith (and when we do, they are found wanting). Buddhism and Hinduism are not historic faiths, meaning that they don’t have central claims of events in time and space which call upon believers to investigate. You either adopt their philosophy or you don’t. There is no objective way to test them. Run through every religion that you know of and you will find this to be the case: Either it does not give historic details to the central event, the event does not carry any worldview-changing significance, or there are no historic events which form the foundation of the faith.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Adam

    I don’t think there are any non-christian sources that claim Christ rose from the dead. So the historic event itself is in question. Did or did not Jesus rise from the dead?

  • Andrew Dowling

    This is a bad road to go down and I think the evangelical tradition’s love to fight Modernist ‘fire with fire’ is a losing proposition. That Apostles had some sort of “Resurrection experience” is undeniable. That Jesus bodily rose from the dead . . .that must remain an article of faith and can’t be proven historically.

    Plus the whole idea of the Incarnation/virgin birth is in the same “how other religions started” bracket.

  • MatthewS

    I don’t see this as assuming that all reasonable non-christians accept the resurrection as fact, but more as a Christian showing his own cards and saying, Here, I’m all in on this; if you can beat this hand, I lose and will have to find something else.

  • Phil Miller

    That Jesus bodily rose from the dead . . .that must remain an article of faith and can’t be proven historically.

    Well, it can’t be proven historically at the present. But at the time that it happened, people were making that claim. I think that’s the point. The Apostles and other Christians were claiming that Jesus, who had been crucified, was actually raised from the dead. If others wanted to falsify that claim, it would have been rather easy to do so. They simply would have had to dig up his corpse.

  • NateW

    Eek. Spend 5 minutes in an atheist forum or blog and one will understand the worthlessness of this line of reasoning in the eyes of non-Christians.

    If this is meant to be some thing that those who already are Christians can hang their hats on, its a mighty precarious peg, I think. To imply that our faith is true because it is based on certainty of historical facts while others are false because they are based on “blind faith”…. It’s sort of like saying “I know my marriage is sound because I have a video of the ceremony from 1981.” That’s great… but people who don’t have videos, or even photographs can still say “I know that my marriage is sound because my spouse shows her love to me every day,” which is actually a more relevant argument even though it isn’t falsifiable.

  • Charles Tieszen

    According to Islamic tradition, many revelations were given to the Prophet Muhammad in the presence of others (e.g., Muhammad’s wife ‘A’isha). The angel Gabriel is even known to appear publicly in the form of a man in order to confirm revelations transmit other divine guidance. In this light, Muslims can appeal to the same sort of “falsifiability or inquiry” that C. Michael Patton discusses. But as others here have said, I find this line of thinking very unhelpful and frequently (though perhaps not always) based on a thin understanding of other religions.

  • Allan Bevere

    Michael Patton is spot on, though I would avoid the use of the term “objective.”

    The issue here is not proof in the bombproof sense, but making a reasonable and competent case historically for the bodily resurrection of Jesus. We like to talk about resurrection experience as if it is some intangible emotional transformation, but the point that Patton makes is that the proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection is made on the basis of eyewitnesses who saw the risen Jesus.Ultimately the experience of Jesus’ resurrection cannot be divorced from the eyewitnesses who experienced it and then proclaimed it. And Paul is very clear– if the eyewitnesses were wrong, then Christians are a pitiful bunch to believe it, and I would say even more pitiful if they try to salvage Christianity without Jesus’ bodily resurrection, as more than a few have attempted to do so in our day.

    We may not be able to prove the resurrection of Jesus in the way some think of proof today, but the central event of the faith is indeed rooted in history; and I would suggest that those who try to remove it from history are the ones giving in to modernist assumptions. And what kind of huge assumptions about the nature and character of history do we have to have to think that the resurrection of Jesus cannot be understood within history?

  • NateW

    “Ultimately the experience of Jesus’ resurrection cannot be divorced from the eyewitnesses who experienced it and then proclaimed it.”

    I don’t think that divorced is the word I would use, but I certainly think it is possible to talk about the resurrection of Christ in contexts other than historical.

    I don’t mean at all to imply that the resurrection isn’t historical, but that to engage in discussion those for whom it is not a clear historic fact it may be necessary to become as one of them, pointing to myriads of other examples of the present day resurrection of Christ.

  • Allan Bevere

    Nate,

    The fact that it is not historically clear to everyone is obvious, otherwise everyone would be Christians. I would never suggest that the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection is self-evidently clear, but its historicity cannot be treated as irrelevant.

    I am not sure what you mean by ” it may be necessary to become as one of them, pointing to myriads of other examples of the present day resurrection of Christ.”

  • Phil Miller

    We may not be able to prove the resurrection of Jesus in the way some
    think of proof today, but the central event of the faith is indeed
    rooted in history; and I would suggest that those who try to remove it
    from history are the ones giving in to modernist assumptions.

    Correct… I think it goes back to the Enlightenment ideas regarding religion and how it interacts with reality. It seems that many people are OK with the idea of freedom of religion as long as religion makes minimal claims about reality. In other words, people are free to believe what they want as long as they keep those beliefs to themselves. There is something inherent in Christianity, though, that won’t let that happen. Christianity does make some claims regarding the material world that we have to grapple with.

  • Hilary

    And does Judaism fit in this picture anywhere? And yes, Christianity is easily proven false. The greatest prophesy of them all in the Torah is this: Nation shall not rise sword against nation, nor shall they study war. That is what the Messiah is to bring, and so far Jesus and Christianity have been a total failure at it.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Paul is also very clear this his experience of the resurrected Jesus was in the same class as others, and according to Acts (and alluded to in his letters), his vision of Jesus was an apparition in the desert that appeared and then disappeared. Acts even says that it couldn’t be seen by Paul’s comrades. I’m afraid that’s not any proof for a literal bodily resurrection of a previously dead person.
    I think the power of the Resurrection story goes beyond whether a corpse literally rose from the grave.

  • Phil Miller

    Not really…

    Jesus was described as walking through walls and suddenly appearing/disappearing in the Gospels as well. He was physically resurrected, but that doesn’t mean His post-resurrection body was exactly the same as His pre-resurrection one.

    In any case, in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul seems to be adamant that the resurrection of the dead, of which Christ is the firstfruit involves our actual physical bodies in some way.

    N.T. Wright does a good job of summarizing the arguments here: http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Early_Traditions.htm

  • Paolo Russo

    Awesome! Can I remake in italian for my blog?

  • Ryan Hite

    Christianity thrived because it was one of many similar religions at the time against the hierarchical nature of Roman Religion at the time. What made Christianity so successful 200 years or so after the death of Jesus was it had won out against all the others and became extremely popular in the Roman world. It can’t be proven now but the ideas like the resurrection were common themes in Judea at the time.

  • Damien

    (I’m a Christian and I believe the tomb was empty, etc.)

    But that’s a problematic line of reasoning because we don’t really know what happened back then. The fact is that most people were NOT convinced that Christ had been resurrected, even back then. They must have had their reasons.

    Plus many people don’t really care much about evidence. There are thriving con-men in our 21st century, when claims are easily disproved and information is nearly cost-less to acquire. This must have been even truer in the 1st century when information traveled slowly.

    Once again, I’m a Christian so I believe in the Resurrection. But the best we can do is show that it fits the evidence that we have quite well. I don’t think it can be proven because an atheist could always argue that the Gospels are not accurate, that the authors had an agenda, that they wrote the stories in order to answer potential objections, even if it meant bending the truth or not being as critical as they should have been, etc.

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    Phil, how much have you studied the actual texts and the pertinent “backgrounds” info, etc. I might not say anything here but the kind of “exhume the corpse” idea and other supposed ways to discredit the resurrection at the time keeps popping up. It wouldn’t have been done, even IF claims of an empty tomb were quickly being made, which is doubtful indeed. I’ve studied the texts closely, and arguments on them, as well as the rest of the NT (and OT, though less in-depth). Too complex to go into here, but careful reading of Paul (per the Greek) in I Cor. 15, earlier than the Gospels, is one key data point… Jesus “appeared”… to the others AS to HIM… no empty tomb claim there or anywhere by Paul. And WE can’t assume HE assumed his readers would assume it. Remember he’s the earliest writer, even according to the most conservative scholars.

    The gospels do relate a supposed cover-story immediately after the supposed empty tomb but that falls into the same time-lapse and theological agenda issues as do the resurrection claims themselves. And they are hopelessly confusing and confused… even contradictory in key parts, in the various Gospels.

    Now I actually allow that Jesus MAY have vacated the tomb (can’t elaborate why here) but that in no way, upon deep and careful study, requires me, or even really leads me to accept the NT interpretations of either his appearances to many or his potential “missing body”, transformed and raised. With that, no need to take his death as an atoning sacrifice either. The brilliant and Christ-like A. Schweitzer, who basically ended the “first” quest for the historical Jesus with his youthful scholarship, wrote again, 45 years later on the same issues as a very mature and accomplished scholar and missionary. In “The Kingdom of God and Primitive Christianity” he shares changing only one key view over that span (1906 to 1951): he no longer believed that Jesus understood his own impending death (which he believes he DID foresee) as an atoning sacrifice! (Check the book… lots of lengthy quoted Bible passages given context, meaning…. Schweitzer was way above “proof texting”; and other gems to find in this almost-forgotten great book.)

    I don’t see “real time” evidence, or anything close enough to sources to believe the Apostles necessarily ever adopted that view either (cf. Epistle of James, though perhaps not by the Jeru. Church leader, brother of Jesus – a more typical Jewish-Christian than Pauline Christian religious outlook with messianic overlay, lacking apparent centrality of vicarious atonement), altho of course Luke puts it into their mouths, and Paul held to it, of his own accord.

  • NateW

    It’s hard to explain what Im thinking precisely, but I understand “the resurrection” to be an eternal reality that was manifested (made knowable, revealed, made available, etc.) perfectly in Christ rather than a one time event that occurred.

    In other words, I don’t doubt that it happened, but my I dont think that faith needs to hinge on its historicity either.

    For the current generation of skeptics I think that it will be more important for them to see the resurrection happen in Christians as they “put on Christ,”die to self,” in service of others, and surprise the watching world by rising from this self-death in regenerate love for their crucifiers.

    I don’t know if that makes any more sense or not.

    One more stab: the present generation will not be won over by powerful arguments about the historicity of Jesus because their skepticism is primarily concerned with the hypocrisy and scandal that they see in the church. The historic arguments are secondary. So, to communicate the gospel clearly will be a matter first of entering into their context, their way of thinking, perhaps even being willing to say that the historicity of the resurrection can’t be proven. The goal must be to be, as Rob Bell says, a tour guide, showing them the truth of the eternal Christ as he plays out in their daily lives every day.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “What made Christianity so successful 200 years or so after the death of
    Jesus was it had won out against all the others and became extremely
    popular in the Roman world.”

    So it became extremely popular by . . . being extremely popular?
    And Christianity was unique in proclaiming the Resurrection of one man and what it entailed . . .Jewish messianic groups were awaiting a widespread Resurrection of the Dead (a belief also shared by Christians) but they didn’t proclaim any of their fallen leaders to have been resurrected.
    I think, and I say as someone who most would call fairly liberal/progressive, Christianity isn’t given the credit it deserves for fostering beliefs about freedom of conscious and the uniqueness and inherent worth of each individual to a level which was extremely rare in the ancient world. I think a big reason why it did spread so fast, especially among women and the marginalized, was this fundamental message.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “Jesus was described as walking through walls and suddenly appearing/disappearing in the Gospels as well.”
    Yes, which supports my thesis. It’s no coincident that the 2 later of the 4 Gospels written, Luke and John, only go to some length to focus on the actual bodily components of the risen Jesus (Luke has him eating fish and John of course has the rather macabre touching of the open wounds). Which makes sense since as the Gospel spread deeper into Gentile communities, the evangelists (or in the case of John, editors as parts of the Resurrection accounts clearly come from different hands) would want to emphasize that Jesus was not a “ghost,” since the idea of a spirit roaming the Earth post-mortem was considered a punishment among Roman pagans and not anything to be exalted

    I don’t fully buy Wright’s argument about Paul and the physicality of the Resurrection. But the kicker is, if he did mean literal bodily resurrection of the dead, Paul was also adament that it would occur before he died. Since it didn’t, why should he be the authority on this subject?

    And if the risen Jesus can walk through walls and appear and disappear, why does his body need to leave the grave? One ends up twisting pretzels out of logic.

  • Michael Patton

    I happen to think this is the best blog post I have ever read. The author is a stinking genius. Just saying…

  • Michael Patton

    Andrew, can any event be proven historically? The way you use the word “proven” and “faith” may need to be qualified. If you use the word “proof” in an absolute sense (as I suspect you are here) there is very little beyond analytical statements (a triangle has three sides, my wife is married, etc) that qualify.

    But I think we can use it other ways that create a legitimate sense of obligation. The resurrection then, I believe, can be proven in the sense that those who look into it historically have a moral obligation to concede it truth.

    Of course this does not mean people will. But we need to be careful that we never quit proclaiming its historicity as the fact of the incarnation demands such a method. We have a historical faith, not a blind faith.

  • Gary in FL

    “the present generation will not be won over by powerful arguments about the historicity of Jesus because their skepticism is primarily concerned with the hypocrisy and scandal that they see in the church.”

    Nate, this is an important point, and I think I’d take your point even further: I’m skeptical non-Christians would turn to Jesus even if they were presented with indisputable proof of his bodily resurrection. The assumption of Christian apologists is if it could be shown Jesus really rose (and also therefore is alive and ascended to this day}, the facticity of the resurrection would leave people no choice but to get on board with Christianity. But is that a valid assumption? Might they not rejected the (now admittedly) resurrected Christ on the basis of the ones who claim him?

  • RJS4DQ

    A humble genius to boot :)

  • Westcoastlife

    Buddha doesn’t fit with his four scenarios, but then Buddha didn’t really start a religion, just an eastern-style philosophy which developed into a religion. Here are the parallels between Jesus and Buddha: they were both said to be born of virgins, Mary and Mara respectively, Buddha’s mom, Mara, had no pain during childbirth, both left their families and spent time seeking: Jesus 40 days in the desert for God, Buddha 3 – 10 years (depending on the accounts) with the Sadhus (Hindu holy men), both began public teaching and gained many, many followers.

    All of Buddha’s teachings were public from the get-go (from telling the disappointed Sadhus on). And, getting “enlightenment” in the east is equivalent to having a revelation/prophecy from God in the west, so Buddhism doesn’t fit the “private thought” category, the way we might view it. It would more fit the “great prophet” scenario like Moses.

    Hinduism is the last of the Ancient Fertility religions that were so common in the Ancient Near East in Old Testament times, although it has changed a lot since then, one could argue it is a continued revelation from its predecessors in Ancient Summeria – older than any other practiced religion on earth, it too doesn’t fit the four categories above. It is a collection of writings, likely from the Priests. They built huge public temples and depicted the stories in those buildings, but to trace those stories would be impossible.

    So, no, I don’t think his views on other religions is very accurate.

  • attytjj466

    I appreciate the point that there are historical tethers and context in the Gospel message. However, I don’t know how anyone today could prove or disprove the bodily resurrection of Jesus today. Today it is a proclaimation that must be taken as true by faith and belief. That is not to say it is not a reasonable proposition , but not something one can prove as a matter of history. Most dismissed and/or ignored the resurrection claim in the first century. As most do today. Paul himself, presumably, originally rejected the resurrection claim before he later embraced it.

  • Phil Miller

    I’ve read quite a bit regarding the issues surrounding 1 Corinthians 15 and early Christianity. I’ll just say that my take is different than yours. It seems to me that if we go down the road of saying that a physical resurrection wasn’t really that important to early Christians we have to ignore a lot. Mainly, it’s been something that’s been a sticking point in the Church since the start.

    I guess I find it ironic that those that would be identified as liberals are the ones who have the problem with it. It would seem to me that part of the liberal ethos is insisting that this life matters, the material world matters, and it’s worth saving. However, if we make the resurrection a purely spiritual event it really brings us to a place where we have to ask why any of that actually matter. Christianity becomes a pie-in-the-sky religion. The fact that physical creation and physical creatures will be redeemed, re-created, and renewed is why we can be assured that the Kingdom work we do on the earth is worthwhile. If you try to separate that aspect from the faith, one might as well become a Buddhist.

  • Ryan Hite

    It was its widespread popularity among the poorer classes and females that made it popular, then it was passed down. Other groups still had exclusivisity and that’s why they didn’t win. At the time, they were competing with Christianity. The other thing that makes it popular is its ability to absorb other beliefs to fit, which is also something we see to this day.

  • NateW

    Yeah, good point. “Even the demons believe… And shudder.” (Of course I’m not comparing skeptics to demons, just meaning to point out that the Bible makes it clear that it is entirely possible to believe but despise.

    I can’t remember who said it, but I remember reading recently where someone said, “It is more important to WANT God to exist than to believe that he does.”

    I would say that even if presented with all the facts, clearly proven, saving faith still requires the Holy Spirit, the breath of Christ-like Love, to be passed from one human soul to another. The Spirit opens eyes and ears via the pathways prepared within an encounter with the risen Christ flowing from another who has loved them sacrificially, without condition.

  • NateW

    Thanks for the post and your thoughts Michael. I don’t disagree that there are good reasons to believe in the Resurrection’s historicity, but many skeptics and probably all atheists are operating from the basic assumption that it is physically impossible for a dead body to be resurrected after 3 days. If the basic assumption is that this is impossible, then I can’t see any amount of historical evidence imposing a moral obligation to concede that it is likely historical. In their mind it would be like Miracle on 34th street, where dozens of kids testify that Santa is real, yet nobody except the kids really believes it. Because they assume the fundamental impossibility of a flying sleigh and a North Pole elf delivering toys at supersonic speed, no amount of corroboration amongst the child witnesses (who have a vested interest in Santa belief) will be sufficient to make them believe.

    So, that’s why I say that I would never go so far as to say that the resurrection did not happen, but my main focus will be on helping people see it happening today.

  • Michael Patton

    Definitely Nate. I am certainly not saying that a moral obligation will persuade anyone of anything. After all, I am a Calvinist (but, even Arminians believe that God’s intervention though preveniant grace). But if we are simply talking about the human side of things, the moral obligation simply says that being faithful to ones rational thought, one ought to be convinced of the truth of the resurrection.

    Having said that, this post did not present any of the arguments from history, only to bring to light that the central founding events of Christianity are based on testable historic claims while others’ are not.

  • Mark Farmer

    The thing is, the four boxes in the “Christianity” cartoon all presuppose that one accepts the Bible uncritically. It is therefore a “self-sealing” argument (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2013/07/self-sealing-argument.html), and so irrefutable. On the other hand, a critical reading of the New Testament would call into question the claims of each of the four boxes.

  • Mark Farmer

    Not really funny. See my comment above.

  • Andrew Dowling

    But the spiritual leads to physical. It doesn’t really matter IMO whether a corpse rose from the grave, what matters is that the Apostles proclaimed that Jesus lived; that he could not be defeated by death. And they were right. They carried on his ministry and work after his horrible execution, and ensured that he did live.
    How those Resurrection experiences occurred I’m fine to leave a mystery, but the evidence forces me to consider a literal bodily Resurrection unlikely.

  • Andrew Dowling

    “But I think we can use it other ways that create a legitimate sense of
    obligation. The resurrection then, I believe, can be proven in the sense
    that those who look into it historically have a moral obligation to
    concede it truth.”
    Huh? I’m afraid you lost me there.

  • Phil Miller

    But the kicker is, if he did mean literal bodily resurrection of the dead, Paul was also adament that it would occur before he died. Since it didn’t, why should he be the authority on this subject?

    What passage are you referring to here? 1 Thessalonians 4? I think Paul probably did think that Jesus would return in his lifetime, but I don’t see that he was adamant about it.

    And if the risen Jesus can walk through walls and appear and disappear, why does his body need to leave the grave? One ends up twisting pretzels out of logic.

    I suppose it could be possible that Jesus could have been considered resurrected in some way while not being physically resurrected, but this certainly isn’t what the Gospel writers passed down, and it certainly wasn’t what the Jews thought of when they thought of resurrection. As far twisting pretzels out of logic, what logic guides us in dictating how a resurrected and glorified body should behave? Up to now Jesus’ resurrection is a once in history event. He is the archetype. The logic is that we look to Jesus’ resurrection as the forerunner what our resurrected bodies will be like.

  • Grotoff

    Isn’t that disingenuous? What archeological or historical find would possibly convince Christians that Christianity is false?

  • Michael Patton

    Mark, that may be begging a question that this post has yet to get to. You are essentially saying “it is not falsifiable because I can falsify it”!

  • Charles Tieszen

    I understand the sarcasm here, Michael, but is it not also ironic since you also seem to misunderstand the religions you seek to summarize? In my comment below, I point out that many of the revelations given to Muhammad were offered *publicly* and even a basic knowledge of Islamic sources satisfies the criteria you set out in your approach. Am I missing something?

    I, too, believe Christian faith espouses unique truth, but I don’t see the value in your approach. With respect, I agree with philosopher David Burrell who writes that we need to “subvert the perfectly normal desire of each religious group to show it is superior to all comers. For characteristic efforts to do so will invariably involve presenting the other in ways that can at best be contested for fairness, and at worst display brutal colonization.” I don’t think we can dismiss apologetic and dialogue, but I think your approach is unfair along the lines of Burrell’s statement.

    Genuinely curious ….

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    Thanks for the reply, Phil. It is complex, thus difficult to discuss this all in this format. But a couple points: One, I get your point about a “liberal ethos”… one reason I don’t ID as “liberal” except in a very broad sense (neither politically nor theologically). But my preferred “Progressive” is unclear also; “Process” is closer but few really know what it’s about and its main contentions, beyond God being “in process” with us. If you haven’t, I’d recommend reading at least the short “Two Great Truths” by David R. Griffin; maybe also some Cobb (or their co-authored introductory “exposition” of Process, given you have some bkgd… otherwise it is tough for lay people).

    A major point of Process and the above book is that the simplistic natural/supernatural duality almost always used to discuss these and related matters creates more problems than it solves, for BOTH “sides.” In this light, my view of the Resurrection and other spiritual/physical phenomena is precisely that there are NOT two easily separable “realms” but one intertwined realm…. Some of the Gospel accounts do get at this via the quasi-physical nature of Jesus’ purported “body”. Something really unusual is quite likely to have happened, as I implied in my first comment. But not necessarily to be tied to an empty tomb, which I find virtually no solid evidence for, given problems of clarity and consistency, timing of writing, authorial intent, textual editing (at least seriously so with Mark 16… acknowledged even by conserv. scholars… though not major throughout the texts as the uninformed often think), etc.

    But was this “unusual” set of phenomena/experiences relative to Jesus after his death (as well as miracles, etc. prior) unique in history? First, impossible to substantiate; rather it seems not unique at all, in that many “unusual”, mysterious, puzzling quasi-physical or quasi-spiritual (interlinked, probably) events happen to many people, some of them now being studied and categorized… NDE’s; a subtly physical/non-physical “soul genome” in potential reincarnations, etc. (cf. Paul Von Ward.)

    Finally, a point I develop further on today’s post on my naturalspirituality blog: there is no direct and necessary connection between many core points of orthodox (begun as proto-orthodox in 1st couple centuries) theology and valid experiences of a “risen” Jesus. If the Resurrection can be said to spawn anything, it would be SOME kind of conviction/inspiration but almost NO consistent and developed theology… that all got worked out in what I can only see as by normal human processes (which includes ecstatic visions, etc., such as Paul says he had repeatedly in receiving “his” gospel). (People should learn the NT by reading only “genuine” Paul first and THEN the Gospels, beginning with Mark… makes things look a whole lot different, changing the picture we tend to form of Christian origins… I haven’t read it, but Borg has put out such a volume recently… far from first to suggest the general concept.)

    BTW, I agree with you in criticizing those liberals who make the resurrection a PURELY spiritual event, and in only a symbolic sense (i.e., within a purely naturalistic worldview, which I don’t share with them).

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    Good point… succinctly put! (Tho I do see “partial truth” in the statements there… but still misleading!)

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    Or is his point, though unclear, “It would be falsifiable IF non-circular evidence/reasoning were allowed, but it is not”? Personally, I find the either-or’s, yes/no’s unproductive (and other abstract “absolutes”) and would rather be doing exploration/description/application, as I mostly try to.

  • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

    Indeed, it seems he did first know of and reject it, adamantly. In the fashion of a passionate, idealistic person, in his case “zealous” for the high ideals of Judaism and its view of God, it took a profound ecstatic experience for him to reverse his resistance (seemingly very suddenly, as sometimes does happen in certain circumstances like those surrounding his “conversion”)…. To me, neither entirely natural nor “supernatural”… we need at least a 3rd category or, better yet, a flexible “unified field” perspective inclusive of both seen as non-exclusive — so to not be logically contradictory).

  • Michael Patton

    Charles, those interventions which you speak of would not parallel the type of criteria about which I speak. The is why in the OP I qualify the “footprint” of God so much. Christ’s ministry was in public for three years. His post resurrection appearances were very wide and extensive lasting 40 days.

    What you are saying would be comparable to if all we had to base our historical faith on was the transfiguration and, say, two of his miracles. This would not be of world-view changing significance. It would be far too private of a gathering.

    But the lengths the God went to to make this all public is extraordinary. This is why Luke wrote the way he did even though there were already many accounts. These thing, according to Paul, “were not done in a corner.”

  • Tim

    We’ve often heard it said that all that is needed to falsify Evolution is a Precambrian Rabbit. Now, there’s a very nice example of how to falsify a theory…and one with considerable support at that. If Patton is serious that Christianity is falsifiable, merely because it has a historical record following the time of Jesus, then I’d like to know what that Precambrian rabbit could be.

    I mean, the accounts of the gospel writers and appostles are what they are – that’s not going to change. And most scholars seem to agree that Jesus was at least a real flesh and blood person who was crucified – so that’s not likely to change either. But of course neither is a sufficient basis for Christianity – though certainly the ressurection is. So what is the Precambrian rabbit Patton might have in mind for that? Or anything else reasonably falsifiable?

    BTW, wasn’t Gautama Buddha reported to have performed miracles that, while not required for Buddhism to be true do lend it some historical credibility of sorts? So does Christianity really have a monopoly here?

  • Charles Tieszen

    Thank you, Michael, for the response and additional commentary. I appreciate it.

    I remain, however, unconvinced since everything you mention has, for Muslims, a parallel in Islam intended to publicly and historically validate their faith and their Prophet in the ways you describe: prophecy foretelling Muhammad, miraculous validation of his role as prophet and messenger, public revelations, public angelic appearances meant to validate his role, miracles, the miraculous nature of the Qur’an (this is enormously relevant here!), the vast and wide-ranging Sunnah built upon public, authentic and eye-witness accounts of Muhammad’s life and ministry, the rapid and far-reaching success of Islam, politically and religiously, etc. In fact, Muslims go to incredible lengths to do the very thing you’re arguing; far greater lengths, I would say, than others since it is a feature of their faith (since it Muslims made a historic claim that subverted Judaism and Christianity they had to do this).

    With this in mind, I remain a bit bewildered by your claims, at least about Islam, and left with the feeling that such approaches as yours are, as I mentioned in the earlier comment, built on thin, unfair conceptions of the other faith. They are horribly unconvincing to believers of other religions and would seem to me to only give a false sense of confidence to fellow-Christians who might be convinced of your argument.

    But, c’est la vie. I do wish you all the best.

  • Michael Patton

    This won’t let me reply to your thread below. I would ask what, in the Islamic faith, compares to the resurrection. This is the focus here. Not claims that Jesus walked on water and not inspiration. These are all small and beyond verification. But the resurrection is where all the cards are (just like the Exodus before it).

    What parallels the resurrection of Christ in the Islamic faith?

  • Charles Tieszen

    Ok, the specificity helps the discussion, I think (or it does for me, anyway). I’m wondering if it’s best to see the resurrection as functioning in the way we’re making it here, but that may be besides the point.

    For Muslims – and I’m speaking on their behalf here, so let’s take that for what it’s worth (my field is Islam, but still …) – the Qur’an, God’s literal word sent down from heaven and communicated to humanity via Muhammad, is the preeminent feature of Islam. Of course, this has direct comparisons to the Incarnation, not the resurrection. But Muslims will, I would say, see this as having the function you’re ascribing to the resurrection and other features of Christianity. What is more, the miraculous nature of the Qur’an (a doctrine known in Arabic as *i’jaz al-Qur’an*) places the event of the Qur’an and its function in Islam in the same light, I believe, that you’re putting the resurrection in with your approach. Muslims reading your argument, then, will be surprised at what you claim about Islam.

    But conceding your point – and it’s certainly possible I’ve missed the finer bits of what you’re saying and am therefore simply incorrect – I’m not sure what you’ve achieved. Muslims will find the argument unconvincing and can easily mount rebuttals (which you may, in turn, find unconvincing). What points, so to speak, have we won? it seems to me that there may be a better approach, a dialogical one born out of authentic interaction, reasoning, and even disagreement with the religious ‘other’, recognizing that no amount of logic will ultimately convince him/her, but rather, a divine work of God.

    Of course, provided I haven’t just misunderstood completely, we may just find value in different approaches. In any case, I appreciate your interaction.

  • robbycharters

    I’d say Judaism fits in quite well, being that it’s really part of the same stream as Christianity. The Exodus and the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai took place in the presence of the entire nation of Israel. I once heard a Lubbavitch rabbi expound on this. Even without being documented, the oral tradition would have been consistent throughout the whole nation for many generations to come.

  • robbycharters

    Good arguments — not so much for “proving” Christianity for an atheist, but more of a confidence builder for those in the faith. The fact that Paul would fearlessly mention those still living as confirmation of an event that happened during their lifetime; yet he didn’t appear to assume that that fact would necessarily convince those who were opposed to the message, such as the more staunch of the priestly and rabbinical community, or the pagan community.

    However, if we only apply this to the crucifixion and resurrection, we’re selling ourselves short. Christianity is/was really no more than a sect of Judaism, which has a far longer history, based in the Exodus and the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Those events are recorded as taking place before the entire nation of Israel, and therefore sharing at least the same level of “falsifyability” as the resurrection. Also, without these events, any claim to Jesus being Messiah would be meaningless. There would be no hope of Messiah, nor even a concept.

  • Tom F.

    I think the problem here is that *all* historical understandings are *not* falsifiable, according to the definition of falsifiable.

    “Falsifiable”: whereby it could be shown to be false if some conceivable observation were true.

    “Jesus rose from the dead”- could be falsified by finding a dead Jesus.

    “Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in Ford’s theatre.” – could be falsified by finding a very much alive Lincoln.

    However, this is only possible in the present. In order to be strictly “falsifiable”, we would need to be able to re-run history, or somehow directly observe history.

    History deals with evidence, and historical theories should explain the evidence. However, no one looks at historical evidence neutrally: if you don’t believe in God, how much more attractive will *every* other explanation look other than the resurrection? And if you do, how grasping and tenuous will alternative explanations be (mass hallucination, fabrication, ect.)

    It is important that the evidence be presented well, but it isn’t clear to me how much of an advantage Christianity really has in this way.

  • Jakeithus

    I know this is days late, but an undisturbed tomb from the 1st century, filled with a crucified body, and containing an authentic inscription along the lines of “Jesus, son of Joseph, of Nazareth. King of the Jews” would certainly qualify as Christianity’s “Precambrian rabbit”. Is it an unassailable proof? No, but in the field there is no such thing as 100% certainty in any case.

    Of course, even if such proof did exist at some point, the probability of it still existing is so small it would be tough to use as a proof to falsify the claim today. That’s beside the point however, which is not that Christianity is true because is cannot be falsified, but that it’s the only religion the author could determine that is built on this type of claim at all.

  • Tim

    Jakeithus,

    This is a rather cartoonish example. The idea of finding Jesus’ dead body, positively identified in a tomb is about nill should the possible reality that he never rose from the dead be true. In contrast to this, finding a severely out-of-order fossil such as a Precambrian rabbit would be quite high should evolution not be true. To flip your example around, it would be like saying one could falsify evolution if written in DNA were the words “I created you according to your kinds. Signed God.” Not likely.

  • Jakeithus

    The low probability of the example I have given is still greater than 0, which cannot be said for other religions. It is insufficient to convince you, but like I said above, that is beside the point that is being made in the original post.

    Ignore the fact that after 2000 years, the probability of finding a specific identified grave of a peasant from Palestine is very small. Those details are completely irrelevant to the issue. Do you agree that the Jesus’ body still in the grave would falsify Christianity? If yes, then we agree, and Christianity at its heart is based on a falsifiable claim. This differentiates it from a religion like Mormonism, for example, which at its heart is based on the personal revelation given to Joseph Smith, and cannot be falsified in any way.

  • Tim

    OK, you win. If Christianity is false we have a 0.00000000001% chance of falsifying it…at least according to the example you provided.

  • Jakeithus

    I’m not looking to win, just help explain what point the article is actually making.

    Also, it should be pointed out, that although 2000 years has caused the probability of discovering such falsifying evidence to plummet, the probability would be much greater in the First Century. I agree with you that if I make the claim “Christ is Risen!”, it is almost impossible for anyone to falsify it. The Apostle Peter making that claim 2000 years ago is a totally different story.

  • http://mikeblyth.blogspot.com/ Mike Blyth

    I can assure you, Nate and Gary, that there are people like me who do want God to exist and are even distressed to have come to the point where we no longer see the evidence for the Gospel as convincing. Many of us wonder why, if it was so critical for salvation, the evidence is so thin and ambiguous. For us, that proof would be welcome. On the other hand, if it is just the Spirit who “opens eyes and ears…” then perhaps we have somehow forfeited or missed that enlightenment.

  • http://mikeblyth.blogspot.com/ Mike Blyth

    On this basis, then, I would equally believe my Mormon friend who assures me that he believes in Mormonism because of the inner witness he experiences of the reality of God …

  • NateW

    Hey Mike, thanks for your comment. I hope you can trust me when I say that I’ve felt those same things too. I have been in a place where Christianity was no longer able to make sense out of the world I saw. I wholeheartedly agree that proof would be very welcome, but the place that the spirit has helped me to is NOT one of certainty, of some kind of invisible proof, but one of acceptance of the fact that there is no certainty and the inability to shake the sense that when I most deeply feel the absence of Christ, I am nearest to Him who was forsaken hanging on the cross.

    I can’t recommend enough Bob Dylan’s 1997 album “Time out of Mind.” The entire album is his reflections on the experience of feeling nothing but God’s absence, but being unable to shake the memory of the sweetness of his early faith, unable to see anything else in the world that could compare to that which he has now lost, but cant help but love nonetheless.

    I have felt the absence too, wanting to believe, even while being unable to see how it all makes sense. Everyone who wants to follow Christ will because to: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” For me, the peace didn’t begin to come until I finally, somehow, came to know that my security does not depend on my knowing, but on who knows and loves me. Since then, I have been freed to ask questions, seek answers without fear, and live with my only certainty being that I don’t know it all.

  • Kullervo

    How is the bodily Resurrection any more unprovable than any other given historical event?

  • dat nguyen
  • weylguy

    Panels 3,4 and 5 of “How Christianity Got Started” are not statements based on fact but are instead dogmatic assertions made by persons unknown. They cannot be proven (or disproven), and consequently Christianity is not falsifiable. How do we know Christ rose from the grave? Because it’s written in the Bible. How do we know the Bible is true? Because God said so. How do we know what God says is true? Because it’s in the Bible. Ad nauseam.

    As at least one other commenter has noted, the writer is trying to put religion on the same falsifiable basis as science. This is dishonest. Scientific theories rise or fall on the basis of observations, mathematical proofs and logic. There is no scientific theory that cannot in principle be disproven or at least revised. By comparison, show me one Christian theologian who, after studying whatever new evidence might come to light, would choose to deny that the graves of the faithful opened when Christ was crucified and that the risen dead walked around and were witnessed by many (Gospel of Matthew). Christian dogma does not allow such revision or change. Christianity is not falsifiable.


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