This post is about Keller’s 13th chapter. In this one he argues that Jesus really did rise from the dead. Really super duper for realsies. This isn’t exactly on point, but it’s closer than a lot of the recent stuff, so that’s good.
Keller’s big trick in this chapter is to try to shift the burden of proof. At least he is overt about it. He claims that the skeptic has a lot to answer for. Specifically, we have to explain how Christianity came to be if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Let me just say, nice try, but technically I don’t have to play. I will a little, just for the benefit of readers, but don’t let him trick you. He says that the resurrection is a “historical fact”, but it’s not. He’s got the oft translated word of a guy who says he heard it from some people 53 years after the event (Keller says 15, but that’s not what most scholars think). That’s his evidence that a miracle, something we know to be impossible, happened. Incredible, literally.
Before I get to playing Keller’s game, I want to point out something that tickles me. In discussing the letters of Paul, which are the first mention of the resurrection, he points to Paul’s claim that there are hundreds of witnesses to the resurrection. He says of Paul’s claims, “Paul could not have made such a challenge if those eyewitnesses didn’t exist.” He feels this way because it would have been easy for someone to check. Yet, on the previous page he just says, “… in the letters of Paul, which every historian agrees were written just fifteen to twenty years after the death of Jesus.” So he made up a claim and put it in a book even though its much easier for someone to check with a Google search now than it would have been to travel around the Mediterranean interviewing peasants then. He provides proof his own argument is false not one page before making it.
In general, how naive a point. That’s like saying that Lucky Charms must be part of balanced breakfast, or else they couldn’t say it on the box. Plus, even if someone did check, and wrote a scathing exposé, it’s not like it would make it into the modern bible, just like how all these blog posts probably won’t appear in the next edition of his book.
Keller’s next argument for the resurrection of Jesus being an actual thing that happened is that the records show that women were the first to see him risen, and that there’s no reason the church would have made it up that way, because of the low status of women then. First of all, it doesn’t really matter if the women are first, from that perspective, so long as there are some men to back it up as well. Second, there are all kinds of plausible reasons why it would be written that way. Perhaps the first people to make up the claim were women, and it spread from there. Or perhaps the women were chosen as patsies, in case someone found where they hid the body, none of the men wanted to take the blame.
The next bit cracks me up. Keller argues that the account must be accurate, because the empty tomb and the sightings of risen Jesus must be taken together. He says this is true because in the case of either one without the other nobody would believe it. Which is true. The body of Jesus could easily have been taken. And people are always saying they have seen the recently deceased, especially people they think is the Messiah. Keller points this out. So, what he’s essentially saying is that because two commonly explainable, and on top of that, related events occurred, it must be a miracle. That’s crazy. Here’s my own version.
I go look for a cookie in the cookie jar. I know there was one there recently, but when I look, it’s empty. I ask my young daughter and she says the cookie flew into the sky with a chorus of angels. Even though there are crumbs on her lips, I believe her story, because, I mean, how could her story and the empty cookie jar line up so perfectly?
I don’t get it. He’s explained every part of the “miracle” without having to resort to an act of god. He didn’t even have to get implausible. He has written in his own book a more reasonable interpretation of events than the one he espouses in his book. Two unlikely events happening in conjunction doesn’t a miracle make.
Ok, now to playing his game some. I’m not a biblical scholar or a historian, so I’m not the best person for this rebuttal, but I’ll do a little bit.
One thing that irks me is Keller says that skeptics have to explain how Christianity sprung up overnight. Which it didn’t. I mean, it wasn’t like a major religion with millions of followers. It was a small sect for centuries. The new testament wasn’t even written until 150 AD. It wasn’t recognized as separate from Judaism for 3 centuries. So Keller’s idea of a fully formed Christian religion suddenly showing up on day 4 AD is a false target.
Once you get that out of the way there’s nothing really for the skeptic to explain. Religions form with some frequency. How do they do it? Does it require a miracle? Keller doesn’t think Mohammad or Joseph Smith had the help of true miracles, yet somehow their religions are doing alright. And then there’s all those other religions that don’t have the advantage of piggy backing on Judaism, like Scientology and Sikhism.
Keller gives it all away at the end of the chapter. He quotes N. T. Wright,
Take away Easter and Karl Marx was probably right to accuse Christianity of ignoring problems of the material world. Take it away and Freud was probably right to say Christianity is wish-fulfillment. Take it away and Nietzsche probably was right to say it was for wimps.
I can’t say I understand what’s so important about the resurrection in all those cases, but if Keller believes it he has to come up with a reason to believe in the resurrection story. Powerful motivation like that and yet he gives these weak arguments and cheap tricks. If there were good evidence to believe in the resurrection, Keller and his type would have found it. As I’ve said before, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. He doesn’t have it.
In contrast, his flipped script that skeptics have to explain the rise of Christianity isn’t the same. Religions coming to power gradually over centuries isn’t extraordinary. It’s somewhat common, and we have somewhat common evidence for how Christianity did what it did.
Edit: I didn’t know it at the time I wrote this post, bit it is the last in this series. Chapter 13 and the Epilogue of the book were all that remained, and they made no new arguments of substance. They focus on asserting the virtues of Christianity as opposed to other religions, starting from the premise of the existence of god.
So it’s done. No reason for god. 🙂