Next up in Why I’m Not a Christian: Paul is not persuasive of the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection.
(This post won’t be very in-depth, vs. my last one in this series. When I was doing the research that led to my deconversion, I looked into this topic in more detail than I will represent here, but I thought it best to include this for completeness. Also, it was a while ago, I forget a lot of the details, and I’m not planning on digging into that minutiae again just for this post, so if I make any mistakes, feel free to point them out.)
As far as biblical evidence for the supposed resurrection of a divine Jesus, besides the gospels, the writings of and about the apostle Paul are also cited by Christian apologists. They refer to his Damascus road conversion experience, and his claims of witnesses of the resurrected Jesus.
In short, my rejoinder is that most rational people disbelieve that other people’s religious visions are of supernatural or spiritual origin – at least when the claims don’t align with our own already-held beliefs. To do otherwise would be special pleading. Perhaps we could be persuaded, if the experience were more common – if we could make sense of some mechanism besides hallucination to explain it, and why a god would be communicating in that way.
In Acts 9, we have hearsay (since Paul isn’t the author), saying that Paul had a vision and heard a voice from Jesus. The men with him didn’t have the vision. Supposedly they “heard the voice”, but did the hear the same words? This…is supposed to convince me of the Christian truth claims?
In I Cor 15, Paul claims Jesus appeared to others (Cephas, the disciples, the unnamed 500, and himself). More hearsay about all but himself. Apologists claim that if he were lying or mistaken, that someone would (necessarily?) have written a rebuttal, which we would know about today. Just like we do today with every religious nutjob, which is why there’s only one true religion in the world, and all the false ones never got off the ground. Err…oops.
I stumbled upon some relevant commentary from DagoodS in a debate review:
Christian apologists…stay away from Paul’s conversion. It does not help you.
People convert for a variety of reasons to a variety of bizarre beliefs. People go from Protestant to Catholic. Christian to Jew. Atheist to Buddhist. And in looking at the beliefs throughout history, there are some very off-beat beliefs that somehow manage to obtain followers. Heaven’s gate, anyone? If 50 years ago someone explained Scientology would be taken seriously, we would have laughed. Yet here we are. The “why” Paul converted is unknown. The “how” is problematic.
First, Paul had the minimal facts. And they did not convince him. He knew Jesus was crucified and buried. Heck, he is closer to the evidence than we are—he could see the empty tomb! He could talk to the soldiers who were guarding it, who felt the earthquake, who were bribed to say they fell asleep. He could talk to people who saw the resurrected saints. He could talk to the priests from the trials; see where the temple veil was repaired. He knew the disciples were proclaiming they had seen Jesus. He knew they were willing to be persecuted for it. He knew every single minimal fact plus a great deal more.
And Paul was not convinced by them. If Paul—who was far more intimately familiar with the evidence than we could ever hope to be—was not convinced…why should we be convinced today? The only way to convince Paul was for him to receive direct revelation (in Paul’s words) or a vision (in Luke’s words.) But this was a vision—NOT an encounter with a physically resurrected Jesus.
As those who argue with the “wouldn’t die for a lie” approach know—people are willing to die for belief all the time. The strength in the argument is to claim the persons encountered a physically resurrected Jesus. That does not include Paul—he saw Jesus in a vision. While Paul is much closer in time than many Christian martyrs, he is no different in encountering a physically resurrected Jesus than anyone today. Whether Paul saw Jesus in a vision 2 months after Jesus died, or Mary down the street saw Jesus in a vision 1,980 years after he died—BOTH have the same evidentiary value!
Further, we often hear that naturalistic presupposition hinders our weighing the evidence. No problem with Paul—he was a theist, immersed in a culture readily believing God interacted through miracles.
Paul’s conversion and willingness to suffer persecution has no more evidentiary value than a person converted today and equally willing. Worse, Paul had all the minimal facts (plus more) and was not convinced by the evidence. I do not see how Paul’s conversion helps the Christian apologist.
No appearance for you. If Jesus is alive and interested in having people believe it, he’s got a funny way of (not) showing it.
Some people probably had some religious experiences 2000 years ago, which they credited to a particular god. During my research, this just didn’t add much to the case for resurrection. And at this point, it’s hard for me to meet these claims with more than a shrug.