The Twitter Debates Series

I posted what I thought was a simple, innocent tweet the other day and was completely surprised by the responses I got to it. Here’s my tweet:

Little did I know, there were a number of atheists trolling the hashtag #JesusChangesEverything, and I was suddenly “cyber-jumped” by a few of them. I thought it very strange, not only that they would take the time to engage me, but that they would do it with such hostility. It’s particularly ironic that these atheists were attacking my Christian beliefs with the zeal of religious fanatics trying to evangelize a heathen by shouting a fire & brimstone message of repentance.

Why BotherNot only do they say what I believe is wrong, but they also say I am brainwashed and ignorant for believing it, and even further, they feel a burden to actively fight against me believing it. Why? One fellow gave the reason, “religion makes parents sick enough do things like scare children into belief by threatening them with Hell.” Something about the Christian faith offends them to such a degree that they just can’t let it go unchallenged.

Well, the good news is I love a good, robust debate with people who don’t believe the same things I do. I am not a professional in apologetics, theology or philosophy, but that arena of thought is something I love and have been studying on my own for a number of years. So I welcome any opportunity to present an intelligent, reasonable defense for my beliefs in a respectful way. These discussions always challenge me and force me to test (and when necessary, revise) my assumptions and beliefs about reality. As I explained to one atheist with whom I am currently engaged in a discussion:

“I don’t believe it’s possible to argue anyone into belief in God, anyway. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit. My goal in maintaining this discussion is merely to defend the position that belief in God and the claims of Christianity are both rational. I want to do what I can to bring some clarity to your misconceptions about the Christian worldview. To “clear away the brush”, so to speak, so you can take a good look at what Christianity actually claims.”

Because there were some really interesting ideas discussed I wanted to document some of these conversations here on my blog. Since they unfold over a period of days and dozens of posts, I’ve assembled them into an easy-to-read format, editing for spelling, grammar, clarity, and Twitterisms (ex. changing things like “ur” to “your”). But I took care in my editing not to alter the meaning or intent of the original posts.  You’ll find these discussions here on my blog under the tag Twitter Debates.  And you can research these discussions in their unedited glory on my Twitter account.

I’ll to start with the most civil conversation I had in the aftermath of my infamous Tweet, which was with @frank_is_free. He initially jumped into a conversation I was having with @doubtism, who was trying to equate belief in God with belief in fairies. I replied, Christianity is rooted in history; there’s plenty of historical, archaeological and extra-biblical evidence for His resurrection.”

To which @frank_is_free posted: “Extra-biblical evidence for His resurrection”? Interesting. What would you point at?

My discussion with Frank quickly got buried in all the back-and-forth with other folks, so we took it offline and into a polite, respectful Direct Message conversation where we exchanged pleasantries and then proceeded with our conversation:

@frank_is_free:
So, if you have moment, maybe you can explain why you feel that the extra-biblical references to Jesus and Christianity are evidence for a resurrection of Jesus? Because to me that sounds like saying that extra-quranic references to Mohammed are evidence that he received a revelation from an angel called Gabriel.

@roso_creative:
Hi Frank. I’ll try my best to explain why I believe the extra-biblical sources I mentioned could be considered evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Let me first put it in context that, as I said yesterday, these sources are just one brick in a giant wall of evidence and information. The overall case for Jesus’ resurrection does not rely solely on these extra-biblical sources, nor is it lost without them.

I’ll assume you’re familiar with the history of Judaism and how it’s tenets, teachings and prophecies form the foundation of Christianity. So the most direct bit of evidence I’ve found in the extra-biblical sources would be the possible references to the Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection in both Tacitus and Josephus. Josephus also records that Jesus’ followers believed He was the Messiah. This provides historical, non-Christian agreement and confirmation of the authenticity of the belief that early Christians had in the Resurrection. And the level of this belief is borne out in what we know about the lives and deaths of the disciples following Jesus crucifixion. A man may choose to die for something that turns out to be false in the end, provided he truly believed it to be true and was mistaken or misled. But a man will not die for something that he knows to be false. The Resurrection was believed to be true by many men, including the apostles who would have known if it were otherwise. In fact, all but one of the 12 apostles were martyred for this belief.

These extra-biblical sources also indicate that Jesus was regarded as wise, powerful, a revered teacher, that He performed miraculous feats, and that Christians worshipped Jesus as God. While these are not directly related to the Resurrection, they do provide the consistency in narrative one would expect to see if the Resurrection were true.

@frank_is_free:
Hi Rob, thanks. So you’re saying that the extra-biblical references provide confirmation of the authenticity of the beliefs of early Christians and that that confirmation increases the likelihood of their beliefs being true (or it wouldn’t be evidence, right?).

Suppose that we have similar records for Islam (from non-Muslims, soon after Mohammed’s death, etc), would that increase the likelihood of Mohammed being a prophet of Allah?

Suppose we have similar records for Joseph Smith, would that increase the likelihood of Joseph Smith being a prophet?

Suppose my neighbor really really really believes the earth is flat and I (not believing the earth is flat) confirm that he really really really believes the earth is flat, does that increase the likelihood of his belief being true?

You get my gist, right?

@roso_creative:
Sure. You’re saying that the authenticity of one’s belief has no direct bearing on whether or not the thing they believe is actually true. I agree with that.

The authenticity of one’s belief, however, when used as supporting evidence, can help to determine other factors. That’s the sense in which I view the extra-biblical evidence.

For example, suppose your neighbor and 100 of his friends claimed an alien spaceship landed on your house last night. Some of them said they actually saw it, and all of them really, truly believed it happened. And suppose those people all made life-altering decisions based on that belief, even to the point of being put to death for it. That many people believing something to that degree, which some even claimed to have witnessed, does count as valid evidence in support of the possibility that the event really happened. And it also serves as good evidence against opposing theories, for example, that they were just pulling a hoax.

Of course, proving if that event really happened would require a whole lot more evidence than just your neighbor’s authentic belief. But it is a valid contributing factor.

@frank_is_free:
It seems we’re talking past one another a little bit. Let me try to clarify.

First, I didn’t say the authenticity of one’s belief has no direct bearing on the correctness of the belief, although I agree with you that that is the case.

Second, I thought we were discussing the reason why you think extra-biblical references to early Christians are evidence for the resurrection. So I don’t understand why you’re going into witnesses and such? I mean, I understand you think those are relevant for your beliefs, but they are not extra-biblical, so not relevant to the topic at hand, I’d think.

What I suggested, poorly perhaps, is that a third party confirming the authenticity of the belief that some party holds doesn’t increase the likelihood of that belief being true. Your example doesn’t address that as far as I can tell.

To summarize:
In response to your statement that extra-biblical references to early Christians and Jesus are evidence for the resurrection I ask: how does the confirmation of a third party that people believe something increase the likelihood of that belief being true?

@roso_creative:
I apologize if I’m missing the finer point of your question. Let me try to do a better job of explaining how I see 3rd party confirmation fitting into the equation.

We’ve already established that the authenticity of one’s belief has no direct bearing on whether or not the thing they believe is actually true. And in my alien spaceship scenario I explained that when you’ve got so many people believing something to such a degree, which some even claimed to have witnessed, it counts as valid evidence in support of the possibility that the event really happened. In other words, it increases the likelihood of that belief being true.

Now let’s add the dimension of history to my example. Imagine the spaceship actually landed 500 years ago and no one is alive today who saw it. Historians studying the event would not only examine the writings of the neighbors who witnessed the event, they would also examine any secondary sources they could find to determine to what degree they support or contradict the primary sources on any parts of the story. If the secondary sources are in agreement with the primary sources they become one more piece of valid evidence in support of the possibility that the event really happened. That’s how 3rd party confirmation increases the likelihood of that belief being true.

@frank_is_free:
But the extra-biblical sources are not in agreement with the bible on the resurrection story. They are quiet on it, aren’t they?

@roso_creative:
They are mostly quiet on it, yes. Although, as I mentioned earlier, there are possible references to the Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection in both Tacitus and Josephus. So the extra-biblical sources, when taken as a single “brick” of corroborating evidence for the overall Christian narrative, as set within a large brick wall of facts and evidence, do yield some evidentiary value and therefore, increase the likelihood that the actual event really happened.

@frank_is_free:
Are you saying the extra-biblical references to Christian beliefs are only evidence for the resurrection when viewed together and in conjunction with all the other evidence? It wouldn’t constitute evidence when viewed in isolation?

@roso_creative:
As regards the Resurrection, yes. As I mentioned earlier, these sources are just one brick in a giant wall of evidence and information. The overall case for Jesus’ resurrection does not rely on these extra-biblical sources, nor is it lost without them. I’m not a professional historian, but as I understand historical research methodology, there are a number of techniques and guidelines by which historians gather evidence, from primary and secondary sources and other evidence (ex. archaeology), to research, analyze and make a determination on the historicity of any event, religious or otherwise. That’s the sense in which I see the extra-biblical sources playing a role with regard to the question of the Resurrection.

And that’s where we’ve left it.  So far.