Response to: Who Would Die for a Lie?

A whole slew of challenges come from Christians about how believable the evidence for physical resurrection of Jesus.

One of the most common Christian challenges involves asking the question:

"Who would die for a lie?"

See YouTube video of Lee Strobel giving a version of it here:

Essentially, the argument goes: "How can you explain the actions of the disciples -- willing to be killed for their belief that Jesus rose from the dead without recanting -- unless they actually believed that Jesus rose from the dead? Beyond their believing it -- they were in a position to KNOW."

There are so many ways to tear apart this ridiculous argument that choosing the most effective becomes problematic.

A very partial list of problematic considerations:

  1. Who died and how do you know? -- There is no historical record of any disciple dying at all.
  2. Were they killed for proclaiming that Jesus rose from the dead?
  3. Assuming we know that some number of alleged witnesses were killed for proclaiming Jesus rose from the dead, could they have got out of the punishment by recanting that Jesus rose from the dead? If the answer to even this question with all the assumptions being granted is "no" then the proposed argument loses almost all of its steam at this point.

However, instead of those, consider confronting such an argument with the following approach:

Say: Now let's also assume that the people who wrote the Gospel accounts and the various letters of the New Testament also believe them to be an accurate account of what occurred. Heck, let's also say that the witnessable events that they describe occurred as written. How could I possibly explain things given all this?

Then Ask: Is a supernatural explanation allowed in order to explain the claims of Jesus' disciples that they witnessed him resurrected and the 500 people that Paul talked to?

If no: then the person you are talking to isn't a Christian.  Simply explain that one cannot embrace the supernatural in his/her version and forbid others from using it in their explanations.

If yes: Propose the following situation:

The disciples were possessed by spirits who claimed that Jesus was resurrected.

Why it is an acceptable explanation:

There is some dispute in Jerusalem over whether Jesus rose from the dead.  Apparently, the people who condemned Jesus to death, and had Him killed, were completely unconvinced that Jesus ever came back to life. For example, the Sanhedrin remains Jewish (as opposed to Christian) and the ruling Roman authorities remain pagan. Additionally, the tomb guards (that only Matthew mentions), who are supposed to have been physically present for the "emptying of tomb," maintained that Jesus didn't come back to life, either.

However, the New Testament frequently mentions that demon possession is a common problem that apparently no person ever disputed in the day and age in question.

In fact, the Gospels record Jesus driving out demons more than any other activity.

Tactic: The Bear-hug embrace.

Oftentimes, non-believers will try to convince the person he is arguing with that there is no reason to believe that any supernatural event occurred. He will eventually run into a believer that absolutely cannot imagine a non-supernatural explanation for events that he thinks occurred.  The bear-hug embrace is similar to the tactic where you accept a false premise for the sake of argument because it still leads to a defeat.

Christians rarely realize the very real problem that arises for them once "supernatural explanations" are on the table.

Challenge to this argument from Christians:

Why would demons drive out other demons? That proves that Jesus was against the demons, and therefore not Satan.

Response:

Awesome, you just admitted that all that Satan would have to do to convince you that He is God-incarnate is to demonstrate power over other demons. Think about that sentence for a minute before deciding if you want to continue arguing down that path.

Challenge to this argument from Christians:

Why would demons falsely proclaim this and promote God?

Response:

Asking for human motivations for demons' actions exposes a rather silly bias.

This challenge assumes what the Christians wants to believe. Because I am feeling generous, I'll give just one of an infinite list of possible motivations that such spirits: they are mischievous tricksters that enjoyed messing with humans.

Challenge to this argument from Christians:

You can't give a possible supernatural explanation if you don't believe in the supernatural explanation itself!

Response:

I am meeting the Christian on turf that he himself defines.  He wants to live in a world of demon possession and exorcisms; a world where angels proclaim messages to shepherds and disciples. Fine, he can try to live in that world, but he had better not try to simultaneously argue that spirit possession is not a likely explanation for, well, anything.

The main point of this argument is that a Christian cannot simultaneously claim to live in a world of demon possession and exorcisms; a world where angels proclaim messages to shepherds and disciples -- and a world where naturalistic explanations are the only available ones to explain the behavior of people.

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