Carrier: “Pearce’s New Take-Down of Resurrection Apologetics Is a Must-Have”

Carrier: “Pearce’s New Take-Down of Resurrection Apologetics Is a Must-Have” May 3, 2021

I am honoured to have Richard Carrier do a full write-up of my new book on the Resurrection (The Resurrection: A Critical Examination of the Easter Story [UK]) in one of his latest pieces on his blog. In it, not only does he fully endorse the book, but he also makes a case (not featured in my book) for the thinking involved in Christian belief of something like the Resurrection of Jesus with belief in conspiracy theories like QAnon.

His promotional blurb for the book already read:

This book is the definitive starting point for anyone intent on questioning or defending the resurrection of Jesus. Introductory and aimed at a broad audience, but thoroughly researched, all the key works are here cited and arguments addressed, and with sound reasoning. If this book cannot be answered, belief in the resurrection [of Jesus] cannot be defended.

Carrier adds:

That’s the promotional blurb I contributed for Jonathan M.S. Pearce’s new book The Resurrection: A Critical Examination of the Easter Story. And I don’t offer such things to authors unless I’m serious about what I say. Of course I am cited and quoted a lot in it, but that’s to be expected of any cutting edge work now as I’ve cultivated a long history of publication and expertise on the subject of resurrection apologetics (including my contributions on the subject to The Christian DelusionThe End of ChristianityResurrection: Faith or Fact, and, famously, The Empty Tomb, with its accompanying online FAQ). But Pearce marshals a great deal more than that here, and it can be fairly said he cites or relies on pretty much everything on the subject worth citing or relying on, synthesizing a thorough survey of the field. As well, he addresses all the leading works in resurrection apologetics to date (his bibliography extends to fifteen pages). And he covers all the key arguments in detail. And you can dive further into anything he covers by following up through his sources cited. This is a valuable reference work and handy guide to arguments whenever dealing with resurrection apologetics today….

The point of comparing resurrection apologetics to Flat Earth apologetics, Creationist apologetics, QAnon apologetics, or any Denialist apologetics for that matter (Moon Landing, Holocaust, Global Warming) is that they are identical. They employ the same tactics and rhetoric, are motivated and maintained by the same psychology, depend on similarly constructed systems of mythology, and are contrary to reality in all the same ways. And Pearce recognizes this: throughout his book he identifies and shows the relevance of several general psychological phenomena responsible for resurrection belief; as with Creationism or Flat Earthism or QAnon or Denialism, all a believer’s appeals to evidence and argument are just rationalizations to maintain a belief they need, rather than identify which beliefs are true. Getting at their motives is thus essential to any effort to get them to realize they’ve been deluded and to escape the hall of mirrors they’ve trapped themselves in. It is more important to know why a Christian needs to believe something than on what evidence he or she convinces themselves of it.

Carrier briefly discusses dubious Christian assertions:

Such as, for example, that the Gospel narratives of the resurrected Jesus were written by, or ever even known to, any eyewitness of the time: there is literally no evidence for that assertion, and even a lot of evidence against it; yet there are Christians still going around asserting it as a fact, upon which they can verify and rest their faith. Pearce locates a whole menagerie of such “assertions” promoted as facts in defense of “reasonable belief” in the Resurrection, and exposes them for what they are: factless assertions—often, in fact, contrary to fact. Just as we find in every other false belief system, from QAnon to Flat Earthism. Indeed, just as we see those theories develop mythologies and fake histories of what happened even in recent history, Christianity began doing exactly the same thing; and is now perpetuated by continuing to do it (from myths about a scholarly consensus favoring the historicity of an empty tomb, to myths about rapid legendary development being impossible).

Getting someone to realize they are trapped in a delusion also requires teaching them the psychology they need to look out for, and getting them to recognize that as happening in themselves, such as Pearce covers at various places: motivated reasoning (“wanting” something to be true rather than wanting to know what actually is true even if it’s not what we want), cognitive dissonance (escaping painful mental contradictions through often elaborate rationalization rather than any actually reliable methodology), and relying on our innately broken mechanisms of intuition rather than the tools that human civilization invented specifically to correct for their constant failings—namely scientific methods, logic and mathematics, a prophylactic understanding of rhetoric as a system of both public- and self-deception, and critical thinking. Most dangerous of all is an over-reliance on intuition rather than a developed and correct understanding of probability, which is evident in resurrection apologetics in numerous ways, from neglect of probability to base rate neglect and ambiguity neglect, even the conjunction fallacy, and the human tendency to ignore strong arguments when they are paired with weak arguments that are more easily dismissed (a person will attack the weak argument and conclude they also defeated the strong argument, or for some reason don’t have to). Even just innumeracy in general can trap someone in a delusion (see my developed example from the apologetic rhetoric of Gary Habermas).

He concludes:

Thus countering resurrection apologetics remains relevant and important. Pearce’s book can arm you as a better and more effective ideological soldier fighting to kill off this belief, on the internet or in regular life….

For all of these reasons, Pearce includes sections on the underlying motives for maintaining “resurrection” belief today, including atonement theology and trinitarianism and supernaturalism, beyond just pointing out the connection between resurrection-belief and harmful ideologies, and thus the need to get rid of all this….

You might see many more parallels and analogies yourself throughout Pearce’s book on The Resurrection, which he structures to first show that the underlying theology of it doesn’t make sense (atonement theory, trinitarianism, supernaturalism), then show that a plain reading of the Gospel accounts in order shows we are dealing with literature and not history, then show that Christian apologists aren’t entirely honest with their audiences and readers about the facts, then survey the peculiar absence of evidence for so incredible an event that is hard to explain, and then show the literary and propagandistic way the Gospel stories were fabricated. Then he tackles specific apologetic tacks: that Joseph of Arimathea is real and therefore so is the resurrection; that the burial account is realistic and therefore the tomb really was found empty; that women placed at the tomb in those accounts must really have witnesses that; that reports of “seeing” Jesus afterward can’t have been dreams or hallucinations or any other kind of natural mistake or useful lie; that both the tomb’s being venerated and the tomb’s not being venerated prove the resurrection really happened; and then finally the old saw, “Well, you can’t explain it,” or when that gets exploded, “Well, all your explanations are improbable.” In the process Pearce analyzes the incoherence of resurrection apologetics, its psychological defects, how it doesn’t comport with or follow from the actual facts, and how proposing it is reasonable to believe always depends on unreliable epistemologies. His citations and bibliography then direct you on every issue to further reading should you want to get into it more. I think anyone who wants to master or advance resurrection apologetics or counter-apologetics needs to read and make use of this book as a complete survey of what you need to know and address.

I have to admit that Carrier was very courteous and nothing short of exceptionally helpful in consultation over the book and some of its content. He really is a wealth of knowledge on this topic. I am very grateful that he ran this piece; I really do think my book does a fantastic job. In short, I am very happy with the end result.

Another nugget that I have to agree with is his assessment of my book on the kalam (a book that I am equally a fan of) as I hadn’t realised he had either read it, let alone appreciated it so much:

Pearce tends to do good and thorough work (his book on the Kalam Cosmological Argument, for example, is among the best and most complete you’ll ever find). And this is no exception.

Thanks hugely to Carrier for this: please check out his substantial and fascinating piece.

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