The Problems With
The Biblical Resurrection

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From: "Positive Atheism" <>
To: "David"
Subject: Re: Conversations with a Theist
Date: September 21, 2001 12:06 PM

Or so Paul said; but this, of course, is not true. They have Fellowship and have enjoyed tremendous political clout wherever they've been able to infiltrate a culture with their teachings.

This only allows you to say that the Fundamentalist Christian godhead does not exist. You cannot, with this, address Progressive Christianity, neither can you address any of the 4,997 other deities which humankind has endorsed.

I don't pay attention to the Resurrection angle because I consider it a throw-away argument. It is one of the items of the Christian agenda that they're least likely to use in order to prove the validity of their other claims. Au contraire, it's the Resurrection that they seek to prove when they bring other arguments into play. In other words, to try to prove Christianity by the Resurrection, either Christ's or the general resurrection, is bass-ackwards.

Even if Jesus had been raised from the dead (most assuredly he wasn't -- if he existed at all), his Resurrection would mean nothing to us unless we had prospects for joining him in his Resurrection. So, let's address our own prospects for resurrection and leave Jesus out of the picture for the most part.

1. The Source of the Idea

First, how do we learn about resurrection? Do we learn about it from people who have done it and have come back to tell us about it? No. We can neither prove nor disprove claims for resurrection given the evidence that we currently have. [1] We learn about it only from reading the Bible. Henceforth the question turns to the trustworthiness of the Bible.

The Bible makes many claims that we can neither verify nor refute: they are untestable. These include such things as the existence of God and the meaning of the Cross. But the Bible also makes many statements about things which we can check for ourselves. Is the Earth flat and does it have a lid (firmament) on top? No and no. Is there a mountain wherein "all the kingdoms of the world" can be shown at one time? No. This could not happen because the Earth is a globe. Is it possible for the Sun and Moon to "stand still" (or the Earth to stop rotating) without us knowing about it through other means? No. We'd be able to discover something like this through any number of means, plus it violates everything we know about physics.

The Bible makes numerous errors when pronouncing about physics (not counting the miraculous), biology, zoology, astronomy, mathematics, geography, history, and any number of other things that are listed on your nearest "bible contradictions" web site (these are hosted by atheistic activists who place more weight on biblical errancy than I do). Although I don't like using this phrase, I would venture to say that anybody who thinks the Bible is inerrant is in denial, pure and simple. The Bible doesn't even teach this about itself, come on!

So, we have a Bible that makes many statements which can be shown as false. We also have the notion of resurrection which we learn about not through natural experience but by reading the Bible. Furthermore, we cannot verify or refute the Bible's claim about general resurrection, and we lack the proper evidence to assess its claim about Christ's Resurrection.

Thus, all we have left to go on is the Bible's measurable credibility -- that is, regarding those claims that we can test, has the Bible shown itself to be a credible work? And the answer is a resounding No! The Bible not only makes claims that can be shown to be false, but the Bible's moral track record is reprehensible. It is also easily shown to be myth in that it fits almost every criteria for mythmaking that I've encountered, and I've studied mythology stuff a bit. (Check the Mythmaking chapter in White's Warfare of Science with Theology.)

So, if our only source of information regarding resurrection is flawed, we really have no reason to believe the claims of the resurrection. We have not disproved it, but since this is where we heard about it, we really don't have to believe it.

2. Life After Pluralized Life

I will continue, though, since some people just won't give up. In fact, there are those who are so afraid of the prospect of their own destruction that they will "refute" my little essay after reading only the first paragraph. Fine! Let 'em believe, I don't care, just don't use falsehood to tarnish my reputation simply as a means to bolster an opinion that is not even your idea but belongs to someone else entirely.

One popular scenario posited for an afterlife is as follows: You die, your body then rots, and then your original body is reconstructed from the original elements (never mind if a worm eats some of you, gets eaten by a bird, who then become your neighbor's lunch, thereby making certain molecules successively parts of both bodies). Another, similar scenario is this: You die, your body rots, and then Jesus (or whoever) rebuilds your body from different molecules. In either event, there is an interruption, a length of time when you don't exist. In other words, there is a complete interruption of the sequence of events in that unique experience of being "You."

The story of Lazarus demonstrates a side problem, because presumably Lazarus again died for good like all humans do. At least I've heard no reports that he still walks among us. What would have been the case had Lazarus already been cremated by the time Jesus arrived (he did tarry several days, didn't he)? Even one as skeptical as I would have to take note had Jesus resurrected a dead and cremated Lazarus! But our problem is this: assuming the Lazarus story to be true (which I don't), his death was only temporary; he was "technically dead," as Theodore M. Drange [2] puts it. We cannot distinguish this from somebody whose heart stopped on the operating table. So, by death we will mean you die, and then your body is subsequently destroyed to the point where no natural means could be used to simply revive it. Drange calls this "reducible death," noting that to define "reducible death" as "death without an afterlife would be begging the question.

This scenario raises so many questions that most who posit an afterlife suggest some form of disembodied afterlife. In any event, even if the above is suggested, they need to deal with the person during the gap between death and resurrection, and this usually involves the claim for a disembodied state.

The big problem with this is identity: how do I know I'm "Me" and not somebody else? The big problem comes with the question of whether I am unique or pluralizable. If I am pluralizable, then I can exist now, then cease to exist (die and be cremated) tomorrow, and then come back into existence again after a thousand years. If this is so, then I could die and be resurrected any number of times.

But, if this were the case, if I could be pluralized in sequence, what's to stop me from being pluralized in parallel, so to speak? Why couldn't there be two of me at the same time? I'm not talking about clones with the same DNA but two separate egos, because a pair of identical twins has that. I'm talking about two copies of "Me" simultaneously cognizant as me! Am I beginning to sound absurd? Can you imagine being two people at the same time? Just think about shaking hands with yourself and being both people! I can't imagine that!

This is where all concepts of "Me" ceasing to exist for a time and then existing once again fall apart. The entity which I call "Me" is, in part, because I have experienced a sequence of events beginning with my conception and birth and then living my life up to this point. Even my abilities to see and hear are trained in, as we found out when they developed an operation to provide sight for some who had been blind from birth. The problem was that those individuals never went through that phase of infancy when the brain trains itself how to take neural signals and convert them into that cognizant set of information which we call vision.

So much of what I think of when I ponder what it is to be "Me," what it is to be a conscious, aware agent or entity involves neural functions that had to be trained into place: I was not born with a complete sense of self-awareness but had to spend years growing into this sense of "Me."

Imagine, for a moment, you could (temporarily, for the experiment) strip away everything about being "You" that wasn't trained in: sight? go blind; hearing? go deaf; smell? lose that sense; the "voice" that is "Me" talking to myself within the thoughts of my mind? silence that; even my sense of location and the distinction between "Self" and "not-Self" which Dr. Newberg so eloquently describe to us when discussing mystical experiences? cut off that ability; etc. Let's lose all that and see what's left. What do you think would be left?

All of these things would need to be "rebuilt" if I were resurrected. But how could they, considering that they are present in me because I have lived in the same body nonstop for a number of years, and these functions have a continuous, non-stop memory. One might argue that being struck blind does not stop you from being "You." True, and you could lose probably any one or two of these functions and still be "You." But how many of these functions could you lose and still be "You"? Would there eventually be a point where you are no longer "You"? And now many of these need a continuous, uninterrupted "memory" dating back to infancy in order to function properly? Thus, serial pluralization becomes, to me, every bit as absurd as the notion of parallel pluralization.

Thus, the more I think about this, and the more I toy with the notion of serial and parallel resurrection, the more absurd the idea of an afterlife actually becomes. The question stops being, Is this the case? and now has become "How could they possibly pull it off?

3. A Replica of the Real McCoy

Any resurrection except that involving the same molecules would be a replica of the original. It would be "numerically different" from the original, as Drange puts it. We now have a question of identity: is that "You" in there, or is it someone else? Even if I feel as if I'm still "Me," am I, in fact, "Me"?

This problem becomes worse when you consider the disembodied states posited for afterlife situations. Without a body with identifying characteristics, how will we know that that's Grandpa over there?

Most important to me, having been a collector, is that I wouldn't be "an original," as we say in the collector's circuits. The analogy of a book being reissued with a new cover with nice print on acid-free paper doesn't grip me with desire at all: an original from the era is what I want -- it just feels good. Let me have a vinyl copy of the White Beatles album -- with serial number -- is what I want. Let me listen to the original issue of the Mothers of Invention's We're Only In It For The Money, even if it's been censored; I know what it's supposed to say, and besides, it just doesn't sound right being a 1960s recording with 1990s bass and drumming substituted in; that's the version I grew up with and that's what sounds right with me. I want the original third edition of George Eliot's translation of Das Lehen Jesu. I don't want a diskette with the Bank of Wisdom OCR translation done with the single pass of a scanner from the Book of the Month Club edition. I want the original Finnegan's Wake without the fly-speck, because I've read the commentary and I know that it's actually supposed to be there and why.

So, if it took all these years for me to be "Me" then how could instantly building a new "Me" be any kind of improvement? And why did we not start out that way? If God is adept at the crafts of the supernatural, then why did we bother having to live through infancy and childhood?

I won't go through the problems with Adam and Eve, but I'm sure a little imagination on your part can raise all sorts of questions about that story if you care to think about it.

4. Where'd Everydisembody Go?

The big problem with disembodied afterlife, either during the "gap" after death and before resurrection or as a permanent state is also tied up with identity. Who am I? Is this really "Me" since part of me (my body, with all its senses, thoughts, and memories) is gone? Are my memories stored in my physical brain or are they stored elsewhere, in some sort of "soul"? If the "soul," then how does this transfer of neural impulses to thoughts to memories to "soul" take place? what's the physics behind it? And why has nobody been able to detect the existence of anything other than neural structures and processes in the brain? Nobody since Descartes has seriously posited this idea.

Drange raises a series of questions about the simple processes of perception and communication, which almost all of us take for granted:

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However, I am not one who has ever had such an experience, and I am skeptical about it all. For one thing, I don't understand what seeing without eyes, or even a head, could come to. If there is no head to block one's vision, then does one see in all directions simultaneously? Also, does one see from a certain location? If so, what exactly is it that is located there to do the seeing? Presumably there are no eyes to do the seeing, so what is it that is there in that exact spot that is doing it? Similarly with hearing and the other senses. How can real hearing, as opposed to hallucinatory hearing, occur in the total absence of a physical body? And how can communication occur in such a circumstance? Is it by mental telepathy? If so, then what exactly is that and how does it work? For example, how does the receiver of the telepathic message know who the sender is (or even that it is a message at all)? These are not merely matters of detail, but fundamental conceptual issues.
    -- Nonbelief & Evil, p. 368

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A detailed study of the objections to each of the various hypotheses presented for afterlife can be found in Anthony Flew's Merely Mortal? (2000), which is a new rewrite of an older book, The Logic of Mortality (1978). I am sorry I haven't gotten very far with this one. Being a man who reads a book from cover to cover, I am still bogged down in the introductory and historical portions, those which prepare the reader to understand what follows (the good part). However, perusing the chapters, I see that I have at least touched most of the main objections to the idea of immortality. I have particularly touched on the main defense of idea behind Christian immortality, which is entirely wrapped up in the Christian Bible. I hope this gives you a brief overview so you can get your own work done. Perhaps after reading Flew's book, you could put together an overview of the arguments that he presents and make it available either to our readers or somewhere else. We have done this with several important books, reporting on the basic gist of the book and reporting it so that readers may decided if they want to carry their own studies further.

However, I will reiterate that we at PAM do not place much weight on discussions of the god-question in general and the notion of the afterlife in particular. These beliefs are so popular because they make people happier. That's fine with me.

Sometimes the notion of the afterlife can backfire, creating suicide bombers who are convinced that they will wake up out of the explosion gazing directly into the loving eyes of Allah. Others will be more willing to march to their deaths if they think they will be rewarded for their faith. Very few humanists and atheists favor the idea of war, and hardly any would be capable of engaging in a suicide bombing or a kamikaze flight. Unfortunately, since all cognizance is established within the structures and processes of the brain, such pilots aren't even graced with the surprise that there is no afterlife: the state they are in now is indistinguishable, to them, from the state they were in before they were born. They might as well not have been born.

Our brains establish our consciousness and that was the result of evolution. The ability to distinguish light from darkness evolved into an ability to distinguish the direction from which light came (an opaque wall to one side of the photosensitive cell) which eventually evolved into the various eyes that we have observed on Earth. And all these things evolved because they served a function. I suggest, in my March, 2001, column, "You Can't Take It With You," that all these senses and functions would be "rather easy to explain away as useless in the Christian Heaven. These exist so we can cope with life on Earth."

The sense of self-awareness, that is, the ability to be a conscious, aware "Me" likewise evolved from a crude ability to achieve locomotion and distinguish "Me" from "not-Me" all the way to the ability that you and I share to ponder how absurd it would be to be two people at once! But since all these other functions evolved because each step gave the animal advantage over its fellows until that gene became dominant. It's easy to see that awareness itself, the "Me" part of me, evolved the same way and for the same reasons: we obtained advantage with each improvement that happened to come our way, and anything that proved disadvantageous died off.

As natural as these processes are, as necessary as they were to survive and evolve -- in short, as much as they are a product of evolution, "nobody who posits a non-physical afterlife bothers thinking about the need for a conscious, aware 'Self' in order for us to survive on Earth," as I stated in the March, 2001, column. So I find myself asking, what is so special about consciousness that it gets to survive the death of the body? My answer? Nothing. Biologically, there is nothing special about any function of the human -- even the human "Self."

All that's happening is that we have seen death, we have looked the grim reaper right in the eye and know that what awaits us is our own destruction. Without knowing that the awareness of "Self" is a necessary product of evolution, we began to fear our own destruction and posit ideas that could remove some of the fears. Perhaps these started to make soldiers of defense more ready to be brave in battle -- where or how it started is of no concern to me right now. But the prospect of one's own destruction is not new, as Epicurus (341 to 270 BCE) shows:

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Why should I fear death?
If I am, death is not.
If death is, I am not.
Why should I fear that which
    cannot exist when I do?

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So expediency in assuaging fear, or expediency in war, or expediency in controlling the masses, or expediency in winning converts, all these things could have contributed to the popularity of the notion of the afterlife. Certainly the persecution of anybody who taught that all this was nonsense and poppycock did not hurt the popularity of these ideas, and could be called a form of "un-natural selection," because what was left was the tendency toward credulity and what was weeded out was the tendency toward skepticism. This would explain why so many people, in the face of an almost daily scientific revolution, would still hold on to their comfortable myths.

But just because an idea is popular does not make it true. I have examined the arguments both for and against the afterlife and know where I stand on those claims. However, I also know that this is not a very crucial issue to be debating even for practice (which no Christian ever does anyway, there being no such thing as Mencken's hypothetical off-duty Evangelical). The claims for the validity of the Christian religion do not hinge on the notion of resurrection (or even the Resurrection of Christ).

Paul was saying that Christianity was a stupid and disadvantageous lifestyle to lead except for the promise of resurrection, which made up for all these disadvantages. I disagree with him, and think he probably knew he was lying when he wrote that. Paul was given to exaggeration, and it was important for him to emphasize the resurrection. This was one way to do just that. But Christianity, even in Paul's day, held great material advantages for its practitioners, particularly considering that most of the early Christians were the uneducated and the unproductive, the slave and the runaway slave, the elderly and the feeble-minded. Never before had these classes had the opportunity to unite and become a strong political power, wherein a handful of leader could negotiate with the powers that be by swaying thousands of individuals into or out of action in just about every realm.

I do agree that were the resurrection true, Christianity would be the most advantageous lifestyle to lead period. That's not to say that I'd do it, because I am passionately curious: my personality is geared toward discovering truth and following it wherever it may lead. I'm not convinced that the Christian afterlife would mean much to me if I had to lie and cheat in order to attain it. I'm not convinced that worshipping the Christian godhead (from what I know about it) is something I'd do. But many people have cheated for much less. Some have even lied to me just to try to get me to believe that the Christian religion is a philosophy of truthfulness. I cannot see myself doing that, even if it meant life itself.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
    people with no reason to believe

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1. Elvis Presley could conceivably make an appearance, prove that he is himself through DNA tests from all those fingernail clippings that the souvenir collectors have listed on e-bay, and then show that he was really dead by digging up the corpse and showing that that is, indeed, his old body. This would definitely prove resurrection; theology would be a whole new ball-game.

2. Portions of this section are derived from Appendix E of Theodore M. Drange, Nonbelief & Evil.

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