Of course, I am not an expert in the many fields necessary to judge the soundness of these arguments, especially when it comes to the historical facets of Christ's resurrection. I have organized the arguments into the "poor" and "good" categories based on my own opinions of the relative strengths of the arguments and responses. Note also that I do not necessarily agree with all of these arguments, and in fact find some of them quite flimsy.
Poor Christian Arguments and Responses
Good Christian Arguments and Responses
Poor Non-Christian Arguments and Responses
Good Non-Christian Arguments and Responses
Doubter: Leviticus 11:20-22 says that locusts, katydids, crickets, and grasshoppers have four legs. If you think that is insignificant, try taking Dan Barker's Challenge:
The conditions of the challenge are simple and reasonable. In each of the four Gospels, begin at Easter morning and read to the end of the book: Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20-21. Also read Acts 1:3-12 and Paul's tiny version of the story in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. These 165 verses can be read in a few moments. Then, without omitting a single detail from these separate accounts, write a simple, chronological narrative of the events between the resurrection and the ascension: what happened first, second, and so on; who said what, when; and where these things happened.No one has been able to respond to this challenge. Christian: (Argument from Design) Complex things such as watches and televisions are created by intelligent people. Surely the complexity of life arising from simple DNA, as well as the other forms of complexity in the universe also imply the influence of an intelligence.
Since the gospels do not always give precise times of day, it is permissible to make educated guesses. The narrative does not have to pretend to present a perfect picture--it only needs to give at least one plausible account of all of the facts. Additional explanation of the narrative may be set apart in parentheses. The important condition to the challenge, however, is that not one single biblical detail be omitted.
Doubter: God is certainly complex, so who created him? If you say that he has always existed, then why can't you instead say that the universe (and life) have always existed? Besides, there are examples of poor "design" in nature. The human eye, for example, has a blind spot when it could have been "designed" like the squid's (that doesn't have one).Christian: There can not be a causeless cause; someone must have caused the universe to come into existence.
Doubter: Who caused God to come into existence? Like the previous argument, this one is internally inconsistent.Christian: There are laws of physics that govern the universe. Someone must have created those laws.
Doubter: Firstly, the laws that physicists speak of are merely mathematical constructs that describe the operation of the universe that we observe. However, the core of your argument is about the seemingly delicate and orderly mechanisms involved in the operation of the universe (independent of our descriptions of them). Who made them? My answer is "I don't know". However, given the huge amount of knowledge that we lack about those mechanisms, it seems premature to attribute them to a god.Christian: The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that the earth should be decaying, and that life should not be arising. So a creator must be responsible for our existence.
Doubter: The Second Law only applies to a closed system, so it is not applicable in this case, period. As an example, take another open system, a human baby. Over the course of a lifetime, that person will take in food (open system), and use it to grow. To say that the baby is growing solely as a result of God is wrong.Christian: Millions of people have felt God's influence. They are witnesses to His truth.
Doubter: 1.9 billion people have felt God personally, and 1 billion have felt Allah personally. Are the Muslims crazy? If not, why are their personal experiences less real?Christian: I personally have felt the influence of God.
Doubter: How do you know that the sensation you felt didn't come from your own brain? Can you show an instance where this communication with God revealed something to you that you could not have possibly otherwise known? What do you say about Muslims who feel Allah's influence?Christian: Someone must have created the moral law that every person feels obliged to follow. (C.S. Lewis' argument in Mere Christianity)
Doubter: Many people do not feel the same moral law that Christians feel. In some cultures polygamy is allowed, and many criminals see absolutely nothing wrong with their actions. Morality is a sociological creation that varies from culture to culture, and one would expect certain similarities resulting from our self-awareness. Divorce is not the stigma it once was, for example.
Also, we must address God's morality. If he created the concept of right and wrong, then he must be beyond right and wrong, and it makes no sense to say that he is good. If however we say that God is good, then God is subject to the concept of morality, which must exist independent of him.Christian: What have you got to lose by believing in God? ([Blaise] Pascal's Wager) If you're wrong you'll burn in Hell, and if you're right nothing will happen to you when you die anyway.
Doubter: I can not be a hypocrite and play lip service to something I can't believe. God would see right through that anyway. Besides, this argument is very much mistaken. If there isn't anything after death, then I can't afford to squander precious moments of my life worshiping a false god.
Aren't you worried that Allah is the true God, and that the personal experiences you felt are your misinterpretations of his messages?Christian: You're consideration of the logical side of God is good. But eventually you will reach a point where you will have to put it aside and take a leap of faith which transcends but doesn't contradict reason.
Doubter: This leap of faith would require that I stop thinking about the insurmountable intellectual problems that I see. I would have to put aside my doubts and just believe, without proof.
I worry that the thing I will accept without proof will be the wrong thing. How do I know that there isn't a jealous god out there that hasn't revealed himself to humans at all? How do I know that all religions are wrong, and that he won't punish me when I die for believing in Christianity?Christian: Many people who have carefully studied the evidence have become Christians, like the literary scholar C.S. Lewis, the Lord Chief Justice of England Lord Caldecote, and one of the creators of the American space program, Dr. Werner von Braun. Likewise, Josh McDowell set out to disprove Christianity and instead became one.
Doubter: Certainly there are a lot of people who became Christians. But what about all the Christians who became agnostics or atheists? Dan Barker was an ordained fundamentalist preacher for years before becoming an atheist. John Dominic Crossan is a professor of religion at De Paul University and a former Catholic priest that rejects the virgin birth, miracles, and the resurrection of Jesus (but still considers himself a Christian). Joseph McCabe is a Catholic priest turned atheist, and John Shelby Sprong once was an Episcopal Bishop. Farrell Till, the editor of the Skeptical Review, was once a minister and missionary for the Church of Christ.
On TBN, Josh McDowell admitted that it was "God's love," not "evidence" that made him become a Christian (Jeff Lowder, The Resurrection - Hoax or History?).Christian: The Dead Sea Scrolls show how the Bible has not changed over the years. In Cave One at Qumran, a copy of Isaiah was found that differed from the Masoretic text of 895 A.D. This manuscript, dating from 100 B.C., differed from the traditional text on only 13 points.
In Cave 4, 157 fragmentary biblical texts were retrieved, among which is every book of the Hebrew canon, save Esther (and Nehemiah, which at that time was considered as one book with Ezra). Eventually, these Cave 4 fragments revealed a different story about the copying and transmission of Old Testament writings. In some cases, especially 1-2 Samuel, Jeremiah, and Exodus, the fragments brought to light forms or recensions of biblical books that differed from the medieval Masoretic tradition. For instance, one text turned out to be a shorter Hebrew form of Jeremiah, previously known only in its Greek version in the Septuagint. It now seems that the fuller form of Masoretic tradition represents a Palestinian rewording of the book. Another from Cave 4, written in paleo-Hebrew script and dated from the early second century B.C., contains the repetitious expanded form of Exodus previously known only in Samaritan writings, ("The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible: After Forty Years," America, October 31, 1987, p. 302, emphasis added). (Farrell Till, The Jeremiah Dilemma )Christian: All the Jews had to do to refute the Christian claim that Jesus had risen would be to produce the body, but they couldn't because he had risen.
Doubter: Roman custom was not to put a criminal in a tomb, but to throw him in a common grave. Add to this that it wasn't until the Day of Pentecost seven weeks later that the disciples started preaching about Jesus' resurrection (Acts 2:1-42), and it would have been nearly impossible to produce a body that would not been disfigured by decay.
Furthermore, the Romans would not have been interested enough in the claims of one of the religious groups to bother to refute them. Christian: There is evidence against the assertion that Roman criminals were mandatorily put in a common grave. Archaeological evidence shows that Jehohanen, a criminal charged with insurrection, was crucified and allowed to be buried in his family's tomb.
The Romans would have been interested in proving Jesus' resurrection a hoax because any popular Messianic movement having the hope of a restored Israel was a threat to Pax Romana. Likewise, the Sadducee High Priests were threatened by Jesus' teachings, and had some influence over Roman government, as evidenced by their suggestion to Pilate that the disciples may try to steal the body.
Christian: The Bible has over 24,000 manuscript copies. The second most prevalent work is Homer's Iliad, with 653.
Doubter: And why wouldn't the Bible have been copied thousand of times? Isn't it part of the nature of religions to preserve their most sacred texts, and to "spread the word" as far as possible? The printing press was invented to make many copies of the Bible. That is not in dispute. But we can not prove the veracity of the Bible by vote.Christian: Many manuscripts point to a first century date for the writing of the gospels. The John Rylands papyri are a second century copy of portions of John that were found in Egypt. The Bodmer papyri date to the end of the second century, and the Chester Beatty papyri date only 50 years later.
Doubter: (from Steven Carr)
"The John Rylands papyrus consists of fewer than 20 words, and, if I remember correctly, these are in a slightly different order to later versions of John.
There are 2 Chester Beatty Papyri. P46 has Romans 16:25-27 at the end of Chapter 15. P45 has differences from later versions of Mark and Acts. P46 does not have anything from the Gospels.
As for the Bodmer papyri, P66 and P75 overlap in John in about 70 verses and have about 70 differences of wording, excluding copyist errors."
Doubter: Mathematics is not as static as you assume it to be. As an example, it turns out that Euclid could have chosen parallel lines to cross, and we would have a consistent mathematical framework very different from the one we use now. The reason why he didn't choose this is because he felt that it didn't match what he believed about the world. In other words, mathematics evolves toward simplicity, and attempts to model the real world. Even E=mc2 is not as simple as it seems. The "m" really stands for mo x sqrt(1-v2/c2).Christian: (Anthropic Principle) The odds of life arising by chance are incredibly slim. There is no way we could be here without the influence of a creator. If many of the laws of nature were slightly different, life would be unable to arise.
Doubter: That's like saying the odds of winning the lottery are incredibly slim, so no one can win it without cheating. Please present your calculations on the odds of life arising (along with the necessary assumptions). How is your calculation more accurate than, say, the number of sand particles on the earth? You assume that we know every single way in which life can form. It's true that slight changes in our universe would probably have made life impossible, but we can not judge the possibility of life in other universes for lack of examples other than our own.Christian: (Divine Accommodation) God revealed himself incrementally over the millenia. At first he laid down laws, then he explained them through Jesus. He allowed people certain sins because they would be unable to follow his full glory from the start. Slavery is an example of one issue that he has not officially condemned as of yet.
Doubter: If one accepts that there is a Christian God, this argument is one that definitely offers a compelling explanation for the strange moral contradictions we see in the Scripture. It is even more strong when coupled with the next one.Christian: The Bible has small errors resulting from the human nature of the writers and copyists, but the meaning is generally from God.
Doubter: Depending on how important one finds the errors in the Bible, this is a good way of approaching the Scripture since most of it is very uncontradictory. But the way the Bible was written and compiled weeded out any possible major contradiction, since no one would accept works that contradicted major Christian tenets.Christian: The books of Luke, John, Acts, and 1 Corinthians say they were written by eyewitnesses and/or contemporaries. Over 500 people witnessed Christ's resurrection (1 Corinthians 15).
Doubter: Biblical scholars have evidence that Matthew and John were not written by their traditional authors (who didn't even sign their names), and the 500 people only mentioned by Paul, who was trying to convince others of the truth of Christ's resurrection. We have no writings from any of those 500 people, nor do we have writings from the woman or women that discovered the tomb empty. There are also no independent confirmations of Jesus' having risen from the dead.
Christian: As far as the authors of the gospels is concerned, we must realize that the manuscripts were known at the time to be authoritative and to have been from their respective authors, so signatures were not needed. The writers were trying not to distract the readers from the central issue, Christ. Also, these works went through the apostolic age, when they were confirmed for their accuracy, authenticity and reliability.Christian: The science of archaeology has confirmed many details of the gospels, and this tends to lend truth to the accounts. Sir William Ramsay was a skeptic who became a Christian after researching these issues. Luke, for example, references 32 countries, 44 cities, and 9 islands without error.
Doubter: The Bible may have aspects that are indeed historically correct, but it also contains problems like the differing accounts of the resurrection. Certainly not all of the facts can be true, since they contradict each other.
But even if parts of the Bible are factually correct, that doesn't mean that every part is. After all, most myths (such as Santa Claus) have a foundation in fact. It is usually the extraordinary facets such as flying reindeer or the defeat of death that have been added later.Christian: The writers of the gospels were known to be honest men, and would not fabricate a story like the resurrection. Christian: Scholars today believe that the New Testament books were written within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses to the events, probably between the years of 50 and 75 A.D. Even critics acknowledge that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians about 56 A.D., only 22 years after Jesus' crucifixion in 33 A.D. Christian: Paul said that the majority of the eyewitnesses were alive at the time, so they could have been used to verify the truth of his statements. Similarly, there were hostile witnesses at the time that surely would have corrected him had he made any inaccurate statements. Polycarp, a disciple of John, said that the gospels were so supported that even the critics accepted it. Christian: The Antiquities of the Jews (93 A.D., XVIII 3,3 63-64) speaks of Jesus in the passage in 20, and this is not disputed:
...convened the judges of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others." (20:197-203)Doubter: This passage is a forgery, the evidence for which is the following:
Likewise, the "Annals" of the Roman historian Tacitus were not quoted before the fifteenth century, and when it was quoted, there was only one copy of the Annals dating from the eighth century.
Christian: Actually, Pilate was known as a ruthless politico who did what was expedient, not what was just. The Sanhedrin wanted blood and he gave it to them.
First, there never was a worldwide census under Augustus. Second, the Palestinian census was undertaken by the Syrian legate, P. Sulpicius Quirinius, in 6 to 7 C.E., about a decade after the birth of Jesus...Its occasion was the annexation of Archelaus' territories under a direct Roman prefecture. Third, and above all, even if Augustus had ordained a complete census of the Roman world, and even if Quirinius had overseen its administration in Archelaus' territories, the Roman custom was to count you in the place of your domicile or work and not in that of your ancestry or birth. That is little more than common sense. Census was for taxation; to record people in their ancestral rather than their occupational locations would have constituted a bureaucratic nightmare. (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus, The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant (1991))Doubter: The Trinity makes very little sense, especially when one considers that Jesus prayed to God, said that the father was greater than him, and said "Father, why have you forsaken me?"
Christian: There is no place in the Bible where Jesus explicitly says that he, the Holy Ghost, and God the father are one, nor is there any place where he tells people to worship him. But there are examples where he is referred to as God:
Christian: Ronald Nash says in The Gospel and the Greeks (page 47):
Allegations of an early Christian dependence on Mithraism have been rejected on many grounds. Mithraism had no concept of the death and resurrection of its god and no place for any concept of rebirth - at least during its early stages ... During the early stages of the cult, the notion of rebirth would have been foreign to its basic outlook ... Moreover, Mithraism was basically a military cult. Therefore, one must be skeptical about suggestions that it appealed to nonmilitary people like the early Christians. Perhaps the most important argument against an early Christian dependence on Mithraism is the fact that the timing is all wrong. The flowering of Mithraism occurred after the close of the New Testament canon, too late for it to have influenced the development of first-century Christianity.Doubter: The "flowering" of Mithraism may have occurred after the close of the canon, but the religion may have affected Christianity before then. Doubter: History knows nothing of the slaughter of the innocents.
The crime for which today Herod is most notorious...was the massacre of the little children recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. The historian Josephus, who was of Hasmonaean descent, takes great delight in cataloging Herod's crimes. Yet he does not mention this. This is extraordinary for if it happened it must surely have been regarded as the worst of the king's atrocities. This omission by Josephus places it in the realm of belief rather than history. (Peter Connolly, Living in the Time of Jesus of Nazareth)Doubter: Why would the woman (or women) go to Jesus' tomb to anoint his body? He was already prepared for burial and covered in 100 pounds of spices. Doubter: If Christ was surrounded by disciples and enthusiastic people, and was asked questions constantly by the Pharisees, why did anyone have to betray him? He wasn't in hiding... Doubter: Paul never mentions the virgin birth, Jesus' parents, Jesus' place of birth, Jesus' area of ministry, "of Nazareth" is never used, any of the miracles Jesus performed, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' parables, the Lord's Prayer, the Roman trial, the empty tomb, or Jesus' bodily resurrection.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:5 that the risen Jesus appeared to "Peter, and then to the Twelve", which implies a lack of knowledge of Judas' suicide. In addition, Paul shows no knowledge of John the Baptist, Judas, or Peter's denials, even though the latter would have been useful in Galations 2:11-17. In the thirteen Epistles he never quotes a saying of Jesus. And in 1 Corinthians 2:8 he doesn't seem to know about Pilate, saying that "the rulers" crucified Jesus.
Why is Christianity's greatest writer so ignorant of the his savior? Paul was a missionary, and one would expect that he would have mentioned these things in order to prove the reality of Christ. On the other hand, the gospels, Josephus, Roman historians, and early Christian writers know nothing of Jesus' appearance to the 500.
In addition, Paul's concept of resurrection meant the transformation from a dead physical body into a living spiritual one (i.e. not physical): "Flesh and blood can never possess the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 15:50). This may explain why, despite Paul's visits to Jerusalem (as per Acts and Galatians), he seemed to know nothing of the empty tomb.
Christian: Paul never mentioned these things because he didn't need to. One must realize that he was writing to Christians who would have already known many of the common things about Jesus' life. Perhaps there were a few events that he was unaware of (such as the Sermon on the Mount), but it is unfair to use an argument from silence against Paul, since it is very possible that he knew of these things, but simply did not mention them.
On the issue of "the twelve", Paul most likely used this phrase for its symbolic significance in the church. He might not have meant it literally so much as figuratively as "the apostles". There is also the fact that the church considered the number 12 to be so important that it chose to complete the set by finding a new apostle that saw the risen Christ (Act 1:15-26). Since Matthias was "one of those who bore us company all the while the Lord Jesus was going about among us, from his baptism by John until the day when he was taken up from us" (Acts 1:21-22), he may well have been at Jesus' appearance, making Paul's statement correct.
Lastly, in 1 Corinthians 2:8, Paul is not speaking of any particular person, but rather of "the rulers" in general, of whom Pilate was one.Doubter: According to ancient Jewish Law:
Even if Jesus was guilty of blasphemy, it was not any of the Roman's concern. The traditional resolution would be to try Jesus in a Jewish court and then stone him to death if he was guilty. In other words, it was well within the Jews' rights to try Jesus themselves.Doubter: Why would a Roman guard accept a bribe or fall asleep when doing so would surely mean his death? Would the Jews break the Sabbath by approaching Pilate and asking him to seal the tomb? Why would Pilate have granted a guard for something he surely would have found to be absurd? Doubter: Why didn't the disciples invite people to come and talk to Jesus during the forty days that he spent with them (Acts 1:3)? Doubter: One would expect a trickster to be able to fool many people, except those that know him best. We see that when Jesus goes back to his home town: "And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, 'Only in his home town and in his own house is a prophet without honor.' And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith." (Matthew 13:57-58). In actuality, miracles were often done in the presence of non-believers, and sometimes in order to show that he was indeed to Messiah. Jesus' strange lack of ability can be attributed to the skepticism of people who knew him well.