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


Anonymous said...

I would like to bring up another point that I don't understand about Jesus, which may have been bought up before, it may not be a unique thought. But, if he was without sin and the sin nature, then he could've lived for however long he wanted to. "For the wages of sin is death". He was without sin, he could've lived forever on Earth. I think if one man lived on Earth for 2,000 years and had numerous testimonies and ancient proofs he existed, then he may be onto something. He would not really have need for another's testimony about him. He could just carry proof in a suitcase, have letter's from the biggest heads of state over the years or something like that. At this time in human development, he could have used tv or the internet to share his message to the whole world by himself, so hat there was NO doubt that he lived for 2,000 years, and was the son of god. I mean, if one man lived 2,000 years, he obviously was sinless and wasn't prone to the same punishment as I am as a sinner. I would think it would be more effective to have a saviour like that.

Anyway,what do I know.

Anonymous said...

Jesus as a character from Highlander, eh? Interesting.

Jesus also seems to have miscalculated the time scale. Christianity originated so far back in recorded history that many modern people really can't relate to its world view. And the more centuries pass, the more likely an effective competitor religion (like Islam) will come along to push christianity to the margins.

Anonymous said...

God does not suffer from pride as we do, so it is difficult to understand and perceive what motivates Him. He is innocent and spontaneous, not bound by our legalistic and rigid demands. Because He is without pride, He is not compulsively engaged in "proving" Himself like we relate to one another. He is right without being arrogant or abusive about it - He is invitational and gracious. #1 - Your statement presumes that these occurrences no longer happen - if you were to hear of a case, would you dismiss it or condemn it as delusional? #2 - again, God is not compulsively engaged in proving Himself as we often are - He did leave a spirit that testifies to the truth (refer to #1). #3& #4 dismiss spontaneity as being a component of actual life events - your expectations seem legalistic and oppressive,as though actions should be according to your expectations and demanding conditions and not free to occur spontaneously - we desire that sort of freedom for ourselves but don't believe that God should possess that right for Himself (we apply a double standard toward God). #5 is an interesting perspective - again, it is hard to understand the type of judge that God is. He cares deeply about us so His purpose is not to accuse us, but to save us. He doesn't demand proof of our innocence in order to love us - just the opposite! How much of our lives are caught up in having to "prove" ourselves to others and pursuing self righteousness (a vain pursuit)?. How much of our lives are spent squeezing square pegs into round holes in order to gain acceptance from others? It is enough to inherit God's righteousness, His definition of love (which, by the way, does provoke territorial mindsets and upsets the status quo). Some seem to want evidence of god, but stigmatize spirituality. In another comment I mentioned that even by psychological standards, spiritual experience is included in the measure of a self-actualized person. Jesus did not invite us to look for god in history or sacred texts or churches - but to look to Him. He invited us to bond with God by loving Him back. Thanks - Your questions are thoughtful ones.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to add a comment about points #3 & #4 - as stated, there is a presumption that only those who reported the sightings were the only ones who saw. In fact, I am not acquainted with all the people who are buried in the local graveyard. If one were to be resurrected and walking about my neighborhood, my perspective would not be one of a miraculous event but one of just an ordinary person walking about - in order to report such a miracle, I would have to have been an acquaintance of the resurrected person. I am certain that even though many may have witnessed these events their testimonies no doubt came under scrutiny and were dismissed as delusional, just as it is in these current times.

Anonymous said...

I believe in the resurrection of the dead the same as I believe in macroevolution. Don't see either happening in front of my eyes, but with the astronomical odds against both, they've got to be God's miracles!

Steven Carr said...

Anonymous tries to rationalise away the Bible.

Apparently people in Jerusalem weren't too impressed by many people rising from their graves and appearing to many in the city.

But they did believe Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the grave.

Apparently the good citizens of Jerusalem took bizarre delusions to be fact, and dimissed solid, well-attested facts as delusion.

Little wonder 3,000 people converted after one speech by Peter.

He was peddling delusion, rather than fact, and it was delusion rather than fact that people wanted.

I do wonder why 3,000 converted after one speech by Peter, yet almost nobody converted after resurrected people appeared to many in the city.

Anonymous said...

I think you are right about something Mr. Carr - I do think that some people seek and prefer delusion so that they themselves can ease their consciences into thinking it's okay to vent their hostility on other people. Thanks for responding to my comment! :-)

Anonymous said...

Oh, here I am again! Actually your comments just enlightened me -it just makes common sense that a city where the people killed Jesus wouldn't have a huge success rate in softening their hearts! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

It's true that the seed of the Pharisees was the governing influence in Jerusalem at the time, so it does make sense Mr. Carr, that people there lacked faith.

Steven Carr said...

That's probably why 3,000 converted after one speech by Peter.

They lacked faith.

Probably the reason why so many people believed Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. Lack of faith.

It all makes sense - not.

Steven Carr said...

And Jesus said people in his home-town had little faith.

And John 6:66 says many if his own disciples left him.

I wonder why sp many people had so lirrle faith in Jesus, despite seeing him in the flesh.

Or have I answered my own question? Perhaps nothing special happened?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Carr, thanks for responding to the comments I made. Placing faith in God is more than having agreeable thoughts about Him - it is an attitude, an inward assurance that compels me toward loving Him and others. I have a different foundation of spiritual security that I draw from. It is not formulaic - I believe that might be a symptom of pride that demands an absolute and complete compliance (pride, an infection of the human heart that transcends religious, political, racial, sexual orientation, national, etc. differences). I know that is the way a lot of people sadly define what it means to love each other though. God doesn't stigmatize the truth - so I am not surprised at all that there wouldn't be consistancy in the way people responded to His message or to Him - it is evident that people operate out of different viewpoints - I would deserve to be ridiculed if I chose to argue about that. E Pluribus Unum - there is a unity that is not uniform - there is unity in diversity with Jesus but without the power struggles. Jesus doesn't abuse His power. Mr. Carr,the ones who believe in Him, love Him. That's because I know that He doesn't give the appearance of civility and love and then upon intimacy,turn into someone who is abusive - that is a human habit! I used to idolize humanity, but now I have a more functional and proactive way of caring for others. It is difficult to have childlike faith and go to God as a child when so many of us did not even get the opportunity to be innocent and a child's trust is broken at an early age. I am a witness that innocence and healing is available. Mr. Carr, I love God and I am willing to have you call me delusional for that - I don't let mockers govern my life anymore but I also understand what it's like to be a mocker. When I was young, I had agreeable thoughts towards God, but adopted atheism when I grew into adulthood. The thought to love God had never occurred to me - to give Him tolerance even though I hated the bible and church. I was not honest and forthright enough to say "I hate God" - my disbelief was more insidious and undermining than that when I turned away toward worshiping man and our creations. At any rate, Mr. Carr, this is lengthy. I will not overstay my time here - thanks once again.

Anonymous said...


I wrote the first post and will respond to the third post.

"God does not suffer from pride like we do". I do not undertand this comment. I have read the book of Job. When I read it, I read of mankind asolutely humble and powerless over life. That God or Satan can do as they wish to a man to prove THEIR points! I see mankind as really humble. How more humble can man be when he is in the crossfire of two enities power struggle and is ravished by THEIR experiment?

Point #2 "God is not compulsively engaged in proving himself". If we are to be godly, then we shouldn't have to prove ourselves either right? Nor would Christian's have to "study to show thyself approved". I agree that certain truth's are SELF-EVIDENT.I agree that God deosn't have to "prove himself". I agree with Romans about natures teachings. But, if nature teaches the truth about God so that "we are without excuse". Why would anyone need the Bible? Unless, their is a "pride issue" with those who penned it.

#4 "your expectations seem legalistic and oppressive". What about the expectations that God seems to have towards man? Having to "believe in God's grace" is oppressive and legalistic. We HAVE to believe or the result is DAMNATION for eternity! That sounds really oppressive to me! EVEN though it's advertised as love and grace.

Anyway, I'm not arguing against a loving or graceful creator. I hope everyday that there is something to look foward to after death. I think it would be really cool! I just don't understand Christianity any longer. I was a Christian at one time. I guess I am getting older and not needing any parental "love me or else", thinking at this time. If God want to "save" people fine. I don't understand all the rules and reguations involved with it.You ALMOST need a lawyer to be saved. You have to sit down and tell your lawyer all the law's you broke, and cut a deal and exchange temporary death with an eternal life. In our natural lives when prisoner's make deals, they really don't need faith to make a deal.

Anonymous said... continue. Basically if God came to me while I was just sleeping or working and said. "Hey, your going to Hawaii, you have a house there and food and clothes, all paid off, all tax free etc. Who wouldn't take it? I would think that as a great act of love and grace. What I don't understand is the "advocate" Jesus having a conference with us saying, well, before you go you have to sign an agreement that you are guilty and have to recongnize that if it weren't for me your lawyer, you would have NONE of thse great offers from God. To me, it would seem a simple childlike faith woud be the first scenerio. Just saying, "Farout! God loves me, I'm going to Hawaii"! The second scenerio seems to cheapen the first intent. Like, " oh great, im going to Hawaii, I am an evil, law breaking, sinner, who is barely worth speaking to, I better get on my knees and tremble before my lawyer, because I got away with being really evil and bad, just by being born, oh joy is mine":(

Anonymous said...

Hi! Thanks for your questions. I do not idolize scripture but I enjoy it - I believe and love God. I trust Jesus when He said if we see Him, and understand Him, then we can "see" God. There is a benefit in having a human visual aid of God so we can learn to relate better to one another - I know from Him. God's message was not a vague or undefined one - it was proactive and compassionate in the life of Jesus. Jesus, Himself rarely quoted from the Torah, but did so to relate to those who cherished it. Believing in Jesus's words/actions, I sometimes take for granted and forget about how difficult it must have been to try and understand and relate to God before His appearance, and I know what you mean about not understanding the lack of pride in God, because pride comes naturally to us in our territorial mindsets. The reason Jesus was condemned and crucified as a blasphemer is because He challenged the religious leaders' belief fashioned on the authority of Moses and the Torah. Jesus's tongue is referred to as a double edged sword - meaning, His words let us know the diference between what is God's perspective and what is the influence of man's influence of God's nature in scripture ("loving the enemy" makes it really clear about God's motive - I am tempted to vent hurt on others though sometimes!). Before Jesus, man didn't have a visual aid of what God was trying to communicate so the writings before that time are infected (as they can be now) by human understanding and perspective. Jesus gave up every hint of an ulterior motive to let us know that God loves humanity even though we view ourselves with skepticism and hostility sometimes. Jesus denied the temptation of gaining worldly power just to let us know that God's love is pure, void of any ulterior motivation than to SHARE that with us! God does not use His power or freedom abusively as we often do. He wants us to be free but bonded in love - a bonded freedom -something that is a bit paradoxical to our understanding.

Point #2 I do not idolize scripture but I love to read it to encourage myself to remain free and healed from the guilt and hurts that we people heap upon one another. I am tempted to act pridefully and act out in anger with others, but I'm gradually losing my appetite for that. Jesus didn't say not to be hurt or angry - just don't be ashamed to be human and to bring all the hostility to Him to be healed - I pray honestly now when I am hurt or have hurt someone - I tell God when I've been in involved in the cycle of emotional biting and devouring and He is faithful in healing me. He is teaching me to love the truth instead of feeling stigmatized by it. So, studying is one way that I am reassured that I am approved by God - that kind of assurance does not always come from other people. Remember also, that Jesus's words tell us that He is alive and living - not just in words or books but in the spirit. #4 "Having to believe in grace" - I had to be healed of compulsion - the fear of rejection and reproach before I understood I would not be punished for needing and accepting love. If you "had" to accept grace, it would not be much of a gift. Although, receiving gifts from other people can often be just like the trojan horse!!! But I totally understand your perspective - I shared in it once. Jesus died so we would know what it's like to be loved unconditionally by a God who is both all-powerful and all-loving - I used to get confused because as a little kid, I would be punished or rejected and ridiculed if I went to an authority for basic needs. Instead of them honestly saying, "I'm tired, not available for you" I would be mocked and made to feel ashamed and blamed for coming honestly and innocently for something I was powerless to achieve on my own. So innocence and childhood were a stigma to me. I learned to hate and hide myself. It is difficult to be healed of that insecurity and perspective and association of God. I kept invisioning God as an abusive person who would give the appearance of good, but turn against me if I came close to Him. That belief system is reflective of mental abuse. #4 Before I started loving God, I really had a lot of intimacy issues - I used to complain about the idea of a hell, but I in fact was unwilling to stop practicing and creating it!! In fact, because I hated intimacy, I would not have been comfortable in heaven being up close and personal - I had way too much shame and fear of rejection and reproach. God is healing that for me and now I see how loving He is - do you realize that He was kind and merciful, even to demons??? But they wanted to run away from Him, not toward Him - like me, they probably had intimacy issues! :-). Jesus offers us a gift - the gift of spiritual security - I still am tempted to believe that I am not that valuable, but that message comes through other people and I now practice praying to get my feelings healed and I am developing and growing into a more compassionate person - a lot of religious practices are very discompassionate and lack God's love. I acknowledge fully that I am no influence with most people here so my writing this is to respond to your questions and to bring what I believe is God's invitation. If I eat at the best restaurant in the world and love it, I naturally get enthusiastic about it and want to share that with others - I respect that others may not share my same enthusiasm, but I certainly hope they do! You do not have to trust or believe me, but I hope you will revisit Jesus's words - they are very cool and I have gotten to understand them. The message from God is basically, I have a Way that is WORTH turning your other cheek toward. Thanks!

Klatu said...

While I must agree that what exists masqurading under the name of christianity is indeed an illusion, I can only say that because the first testable proof for faith has been posted on the web and should eventually blow exisiting christian tradition out of the water and offer a lession in humility to others.