Richard Carrier's Five Questions Concerning "The Resurrection"

Dear Richard Carrier,
The five questions (that you prepared for your recent radio discussion with Gary Habermas and Mike Licona on "the resurrection") were well put. In case anyone missed them, they were:

1. "In the Book of Acts the Apostles are having vivid and powerful visions and dream communications from God all the time. We hear of similar experiences reported in that era from Jews and pagans, who were also having vivid and powerful visions and dream communications from a variety of gods and angels. Why isn't this happening now? And why was that happening back then, even to pagans and Jews, who weren't seeing or hearing what the Christians were seeing and hearing?"

2. "This might sound like a frivolous question, but it really isn't. I mean it quite seriously. Why does God give me more evidence that smoking cigarettes is harmful than he gives me that Jesus lives?"

3. "The Gospel according to Matthew says (27:52-54) 'the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints who slept rose up and came out of their graves after His resurrection, and went into the Holy City and appeared to many'. Do you believe this happened? If Yes: How could this amazing event have escaped everyone else's notice, even the other evangelists? If No: How could the author of Matthew get away with such a lie?"

4. "The following three questions are all closely related and really amount to one question. Why did the risen Jesus only appear to his followers, and to only one previously obscure enemy among the thousands opposing his Gospel? Why didn't he appear to Pilate or Herod or Caiaphas or the Roman Senate? Why didn't he also appear to deliver the Gospel to China--or to the Americas, as the Mormons claim he did?"

Or... "Why was the death of Jesus so public, but his resurrection so private?"

5. You seem to trust what the Gospels say is what actually happened. I want to understand why. I have an analogy that I think might help. Suppose I hauled you into court on a murder charge, and the only evidence I had against you was a bunch of letters that described you murdering the victim in vivid detail. Of course you would ask who wrote those letters. I answer, "Joe, Mike, Bob, and Dan." You then ask, "Who are they?" And I answer, "I don't know for sure." That's a dead end, so you would ask, "How do they know any of the things they claim in those letters?" And I answer, "I don't know. They never say exactly where they are getting any of their information." Okay. Imagine that happened to you. Would you conclude that I had a convincing case against you? Do you believe the jury should conclude that you committed the murder those letters describe you committing?"


Dear Richard Carrier,
You mentioned some errors that you made during your aforementioned radio discussion on the resurrection. One of which was simply choosing the wrong questions with which to begin, and not even getting through all of the above questions, but getting bogged down discussing minutely a few less relevant questions. Perhaps the most common error was the assumption by all concerned that communication can take place with relative ease and transparency, when in fact, communication is never that easy, especially between two people who have read many different books and articles, known different people, and who espouse widely different philosophical and/or religious views.

I suppose that if a Designer had wanted people to communicate with greater ease then S/he/it might have installed a port in the side of everyone's cranium through which we could download and upload data with others, i.e., whole lifetimes of learning and experience being shared quickly and easily. Or in lieu of such a physical port perhaps such a Designer might at least allow two people to share their knowledge and experiences in some "psychic" fashion so as to be able to focus sharply and intently on their greatest singular points of agreement, disagreement, and in-conclusiveness. (I suspect that each pair of individuals engaged in a discussion has different points or major singularities that overlap and mean the most to each of those individuals concerning each question. Hence for two individuals to "connect" at points that they both find equally significant, equally meaningful, and/or equally perplexing, is a task in itself.)

Instead, as things stand in this cosmos, misunderstandings of the sort that you mention occur with great frequency.

And what about the choice of the show's producer to interview people lying on far sides of a question (i.e., putting an atheist together with people speaking for revealed religion) means that large gaps in communication and understanding were being sought by the interviewer, perhaps to keep listeners a bit more interested and boost ratings, because listeners would then get to "root" for their "team" which is a team distinctly different from that of the "other side." Instead, if moderate believers in revealed religion were chosen to discuss matters with conservative believers in revealed religion, like a moderate Christian arguing a visionary interpretation of the resurrection with a conservative Christian arguing a physical interpretation of the resurrection, then each side might have been able to listen more openly and comprehend the views of the other side a bit more easily, since the other's views would have lain just a bit further down the road from their own, and not across the canyon-sized gap of atheism and revealed religion.

Indeed, Christians have spent far more time and written far more books debunking each other's interpretations of their Bible and theological views than non-Christians have ever spent debunking Christianity. Today there's even a burgeoning series of "viewpoints" books published by Zondervan and Intervarsity in which Christians of the Protestant Evangelical kind debate their differing views both practical and theological and scientific, including debating the meaning of Genesis, Revelation, and the brain-mind question as well (not all Evangelicals believe in substance dualism!), not to mention differing interpretations concerning differing "Christian" responses to a host of questions.


"Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is his only Son."
--C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

"Theology is a comprehensive, rigorous, and systematic attempt to conceal the beam in the scriptures and traditions of one’s own denomination while minutely measuring the mote in the heritages of ones’ brothers."
--Walter Kaufmann, The Faith of a Heretic

"Every sect, as far as reason will help them, make use of it gladly; and where it fails them, they cry out, 'It is a matter of faith, and above reason.'"
--John Locke


At base, I suspect that most debates shed little light because they begin with ignorance. Polls reveal that not many Christians in America can even name all four Gospels. Many people also are far more ready to defend the Bible than read it. Or they are ready to state they believe the Bible "cover to cover" without having studied what's between the covers or thought about it very much. (There are some excellent college level lectures by the way produced by "The Teaching Company" that are available online. They sum up a lot of major scholarly views of which anyone studying or debating religion ought to be aware. I'd suggest directing Christians to learn more about what theologians really believe today than spend much time arguing matters.)

Neither does life leave the majority of mankind with much time for studying the world's questions. Life is short and we all have to spent time and effort on surviving, maintaining families and friendships, even maintaining our health. Emotional ups and downs also play a role throughout our lives. And our beliefs can be influenced by all manner of things, including social factors, familial factors, national factors, tragic or happy events, individual psychological factors including fear of death, the joys of feeling certain about what we already believe, or simple mental inertia after we have imbibed or developed a view of the world (the brain/mind does not eagerly rearrange all the furniture it has previously laid down in specific spots just in order to accommodate a new end table).

"We believe in nothing so firmly as what we least know."
--Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Essays

"Even the weakest disputant is made so conceited by what he calls religion, as to think himself wiser than the wisest who thinks differently from him."
--Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864)

"Only a Designer would have made it sooooo easy to find the 'one true faith' that even your parents could pick it out for you, and in most places on earth, they do. It's even easier to find a 'true' Christian as opposed to a false one, or a 'true' Moslem as opposed to a false one. The 'believer in the true way' (of a religion or denomination or interpretation) is always the one with whom you are speaking at the moment."--E.T.B.

"Only a Designer would have made it so that 'The type of person who devotes himself to the pursuit of wisdom is most unlucky in everything, but above all in begetting children--as if Nature had taken pains, I suspect, to keep the disease of wisdom from spreading too widely among mortals.'"
--Erasmus, In Praise of Folly


"Remember to be kind to everyone you meet, for everyone is fighting a great battle."
--Philo of Alexandria