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Richard Carrier tells us that he has reasons not to "buy" the resurrection "story". Let's have a look at these arguments. Some of Part 1, this part, will deal with philosophical arguments, while Parts 1, 2 and 3 will have more to do with historical arguments.
According to the Christian theory, God is god of All Mankind, and more than that, He is god of All the Universe. This is inconsistent with the proof offered for such a deity, that of the Resurrection of Jesus. This event is said to defy nature and thus prove God's supremacy over death and to assure us that, by believing in this deed, God will perform the same deed for us. An inconsistency exists here in two respects:
(1) A miracle whose purpose is to prove something to all mankind must logically be an event that can be observed by all mankind.
(2) An event which is to demonstrate the power and existence of a "god of the universe" must logically demonstrate divine powers of such a magnitude, and not of a vastly lesser magnitude.
For example, a "god of all mankind" could have carved "Jesus Lives" on the face of the moon, where all mankind could witness the miracle, and observe it for all time without relying on hearsay--at the very least, he could have extended the darkness and earthquake and mass rising of dead people, reported to have occurred at his crucifixion by Matthew (27:45-54), over the whole earth, where it would be recorded by every historian of every civilization, so that all mankind could share in the prodigy--he could have attended the moment with a voice or vision seen and heard by every human being, affirming his divinity and sending the message of Life to all. Why, a "god of the universe" could have even rearranged the stars to spell "Jesus Lives"--the sort of feat that can never be replicated by technology and which would demonstrate a truly universal power over all of nature.
Carving "Jesus Lives" into the moon or arranging the stars, a voice or vision, etc. sounds like an excellent bit of work -- within the retrospect of the 21st century, in a Western nation in which everyone knows the Gospel story, the television generation. But what about, indeed, that person in India or elsewhere?
Carrier's moon and stars idea, to begin, falls to a major problem: While others are on the way to explain the Greek words (it is not as though those natives all had a Strong's concordance with them), who Jesus is (A man? A dog?) and how exactly he "lives" (In a house? As the "life" of the party?), others around the world have time to fill the omen with their own meaning which they may be hard-pressed to give up when missionaries arrive to fill in the details.
As an example, consider what happened with the stories of Quetzalcoatl. People named themselves after Quetzalcoatl, and their adventures were integrated together with that of the "original" Quetzalcoatl. Even if the name "Jesus" on the moon was applied to numerous children, and some of those became heroes as Quetzalcoatl did/was?
Even as in the church today, Carrier forgets that conversion is only the first component of a long process of discipleship and communion within the Body of Christ which moon carvings (and visions as well) would not serve to fulfill. Further, under the "moon carving" scenario and related ones, it is errant to suppose, as is necessarily implied, that arriving missionaries would cause these others to abandon their ideas about the meaning of the carving; it would be no more authoritative an interpretation in the view of the Indian, et al. than it would be merely to come preaching the Gospel at a later time.
Indeed, one could argue that it is better to do without a moon carving or an equivalent, since there is thereby no chance of a false interpretation that would be harder to displace as time passed. Worldwide earthquakes and darkness would be of even less use, not having any associated content.
And there is more. What of blind people? Why should they believe such a message is written on the moon, unless they can, as Carrier himself might say, "...see [it], directly, here and now, with [their] own eyes"? What about blind and deaf people? They'd be forced to rely on Braille signs in books and magazines telling them that "Jesus Lives" is carved on the moon, and why should they be forced to believe such a thing without direct evidence?
Carrier's thinking underlines and reveals how concerned only with self he is when viewing this matter. We would ask in reply: If he converted upon the fact of this moon carving, how would he convert in turn the man who thinks that "Jesus Lives" because he was raised by space aliens? Theis is not unreasonable to ask, for there are people who do believe such things, or worse.
Also for a note on hearsay, see here.)
It is said, "No amount of argument can convince me to trust a 2000 year-old second-hand report, over what I see, myself, directly, here and now, with my own eyes."
This is a strange statement, since at this stage in human civilization, over 90% of all communication was transmitted orally, so a large amount of the records would be written well after the fact by people who did not experience this event firsthand, and most people would have to trust the literate to interpret the message for them.
It requires more than eyes, and what is it that Carrier sees now with his own eyes that counters what was seen previously and recorded? It is not, as we shall see, tangible evidence against.
But even so, the problem would not be lack of knowledge of Greek (one could argue justly that an omnipotent God could carve the message in different languages, or make it appear in the sky elsewhere than the moon so that every person sees things in their own language), but that it would make no difference -- the objection is misplaced to begin with, under the paradigm that being a member of the body of Christ is not merely a process that starts and stops at conversion but continues throughout life with the process of discipleship and fellowship -- and this does not even address the problem that these suggestions would compel a "forced" choice rather than one made freely, producing not genuine converts who desire a relationship, but coercions whose subjects live in fear and are motivated by a display of power.
The "personal vision" idea comes closest to addressing these problems. Yet even then we do not have any root for discipleship and relationship, unless the line remains open at all times, so to speak -- which amounts yet again to a coercive display of power; and at any rate, are we not told by skeptics that a personal revelation is no guarantee of the truth?
Let us put it another way. Let us say that Carrier has his "best case" scenario. Every person on earth is followed around by a Blue Fairy that proclaims the truth of the Gospel in their ears 24 hours a day. Now I have another question.
Carrier implies that such levels of revelation would result in his conversion. Would it? How if it was revealed that this very God revealed by the Blue Fairies was also truly the God of the OT who ordered the destruction of the Canaanites, Amalekites, and Midianites, to name a few? How if it was confirmed thereby that God ordered the world destroyed by a Flood?
Let us make it even better: What if the Blue Fairy had time-travel capabilities and proved beyond doubt to Carrier that the Biblical record was completely accurate down to the last jot and tittle?
I raise this to make a point. We are also repeatedly told from Skeptical circles (though not from Carrier particularly, as yet) that one could not possibly worship a "monster" like the Biblical God of the OT. Now if that is so, are Blue Fairies any help at all? Would these Skeptics accept the idea that they would just as well live with this God they declare gruesome, and serve and love Him fully? If they suppose that God would then show the justness of His cause, would they believe Him, or put it down to further criminal behavior or deception on His part?
There is a certain irony in this in any case. The Christian paradigm does have a "Blue Fairy" -- the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is said to convict (but not coerce) persons of the truth. In essence Carrier's "best case" scenario is fulfilled already. We are left with that non-believers must simply deny that the Spirit is convicting them -- which is just as much what they would and could do with a non-stop preaching Blue Fairy.
In other words, Carrier's argument is irrelevant. We do have a way whereby "all mankind could share in the prodigy" and we do have "a voice or vision seen and heard by every human being, affirming his divinity and sending the message of Life to all" -- it simply is not as coercive or as blatant as Carrier thinks it needs to be. And in fact, it is as persuasive as it needs to be to allow a free choice and produce an enduring relationship between God and His creation.
Even beyond these matters, however, Carrier's request is misplaced, for it assumes as well that the "problem" from our perspective is that the Gospel has not been heard. This is not the case within our paradigm.
The Bible makes two assertions which may be paired here for an application:
- The evidence for God is clear, so that men are without excuse (Ps. 19, Rom. 1-2). The heavens aleady declare God's existence and majesty. Carrier of course would disagree with this, but within the context of the present discussion this is not relevant.
- He who seeks, finds (Matt. 7:7//Luke 11:9).
My own answer to the question, "What about those who never hear the Gospel?" is, "Those who want to know it, will be given the knowledge needed for salvation. Those who seek God will have God sufficiently revealed to them." There is also anecdotal evidence from the missionary field that may support this point; but such is currently beyond our discussion, and we may add it at a later date.
Nevertheless, it is not lack of hearing the Gospel that causes condemnation; it is sin that causes condemnation, and it is not hard to arrive at a deduction that sin is offensive to whatever powers one may suppose to be at hand (indeed, the religious history of sacrifice and penance suggests a broad awareness of this) and that there needs to be some connection or bridge in order to achieve a reconciliation.
Even the Greeks knew that when Zeus said to jump, they were to ask how high if they didn't want to end up turned into ashes. Signs in the moon and such are completely unnecessary; indeed, one may somewhat suggest that hearing the Gospel message isn't strictly "necessary" -- the Gospel message certainly adds clarity and improves disciple functionality, but under this paradigm, lack of hearing it is not a valid excuse for not turning to the Creator. In this context an event limited by spatio-temporal constraints is not an argument against the significance of the event.
And indeed, Carrier implicitly acknowledges the inadequacy of the "moon carving" and "personal vision" ideas and reaches the logically necessary conclusion of such suggestions, that more would be needed:
...if it is vital to have the whole New Testament confirmed as God's word, God can simply make every true and correct copy of the New Testament indestructible. If anyone wanted to test which Bible was correct, he need only slice a knife through a page and watch it heal miraculously, or see it resist the blade miraculously.... And thus the resurrection does not prove its point. I could literally list a hundred things that would be better evidence than what we have...
A list of supposed problems with the Biblical text follows; these we have answered (or provided links to answers) in other contexts. But as with earlier points, this reflects a high level of misplaced confidence in human ability to come to grips with hard proof. If every copy of the NT is indestructible, so what? What thereby stops men from having their own interpretations and baptizing them with the NT text, then taking the indestructibility of the NT as proof of their correctness? Perhaps the copies owned by such people could become destructible only? Perhaps those who choose to write commentaries disagreeing could vanish in smoke? Perhaps we could have "Bible burning contests" a la Elijah and the prophets of Baal?
Such is theoretically possible, of course. But I have answered such issues in my essay Inerrancy and Human Ignorance. The results of Carrier's suggestions would be chaos, enslavement, war and confusion. God would have to bring judgment upon such a world much sooner than the one we now reside in -- and as a result, I suggest that far fewer would be saved.
In terms of dismissing resurrection as a "small-time swami trick": if this is so, I hope to hear the names and addresses of several swamis who have lately pulled this off, within the correct defintion of a resurrection. (We will look more, later on, at Carrier's material on the resurrection body.)
But Carrier's dismissal of the resurrection as small-time is unfounded, and indeed, completely illogical, for a God that could bring someone back from the dead would by definition be an "All-Everything Cosmological God" of the sort Carrier demands.
Why? Nothing can outlast death. Everything succumbs to the aging process - flowers, trees, people, animals, insects, fish - even non-living things such as rocks, dirt, cars, even that moon and those stars that Carrier is so fond of - they all will eventually become non-existent. The point here is that death is clearly superior to anything that we are aware of.
Now, what does the Resurrection, if a deity worked it, prove exactly? Since the Resurrection demonstrates an ability to conquer death, logically, then, the Resurrection also proves that the only God Who could work behind the scenes of such an event would be a Being Who is an All-Everything Cosmological God. If a represents the cosmos and everything in it, and b is death, and c is God, then logically a is less than b, and since b is less than c in the case of the Resurrection, therefore a must also be less than c. Thus, by overpowering death, you must naturally be able to overpower anything that death can overpower, thus making the deity behind the Resurrection the All-Everything Cosmological God.
Thus, there is no such thing as a lesser deity who can conquer death, and thus, Carrier's entire objection of the possibility of a lesser deity working the Resurrection is self-defeating. But there is more to be said on this:
But the fact is that I no more believe that Sarapis used Vespasian to heal the blind and lame than I believe that Simon Magus used magic to fly through the air. But if we allow any evidence to point to the supernatural, to any unobserved possibilities like gods, then we allow all the evidence to do so. We must be consistent. If we think the resurrection story as we have it proves anything supernatural, then if Tacitus insists that eye-witnesses saw Vespasian, at the command of Sarapis, heal the blind and lame, if Aelius Aristides insists that Aesculapius came to him in a dream and cured his disease, we must accept that as proof that Sarapis and Aesculapius exist, too. There is abundant evidence of magic and demons and ghosts in antiquity. What are we to make of it?
I personally have no problem with any idea that Vespasian healed the lame and the blind; the allusion to Simon Magus I find less helpful, since (if the allusion I see is correct) this comes from the Toledeth Yeshu, which is proven of no use by other factors than what it reports.
But in terms of Vespasian, what is at issue here? Vespasian did not follow his miracle up with any relevant religious message. The problem for me is not that Sarapis and Aesculapius did or did not do miracles, or exist as some sort of entity, but that there isn't any follow-up.
What are we to make of it? Assuming even these miracles to be real, we may make of this at best that Sarapis et al. are second-rate powers who clearly were either not interested in maintaining a legacy, or else have been superseded and defeated. At worst they are demonic powers assuming the names of accepted deities to fool others, though I don't see a need to do more than mention that as a theoretical possibility within a granted Judeo-Christian paradigm.
The idea, "we cannot rule out the equally probable actions of a lesser deity," doesn't get beyond the stage of vain suggestion without the specific data of the identity of a rival and superior god and proof of that god's own actions to this day.
I consider much of the material referring to Paine to be sufficiently answered in my reply on David Hume and Paine. I note especially the unfortunate bigotry implicit in the comment about an "illiterate and ignorant land", especially unbecoming one like Carrier who was supposedly trained in historical study -- in this Carrier also forgets the scholarship of the rabbinical schools; Matthew was a tax collector, fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek; Paul was highly educated in the school of Gamaliel; Theophilus, the addressee of Luke's writing, was Luke's patron, likely wealthy and obviously literate, presumably educated in Roman schools; the Christian movement itself drew an unusual number of converts from within the educated and literare Roman upper class.
Not that this matters anyway, since we will later be told that literacy and intelligence did not help people like Pliny the Elder escape Carrier's condemnation. I note also this misplaced self-confidence:
This is actually the way everyone thinks, all the time: we do not believe stories that come to us second-hand which contradict our direct experience, because each fact presents us with two possible realities, the only evidence of one is a story, the only evidence of the other is direct observation.
This is how "everyone" thinks? I must be an exception. My reaction to such situations is to suspend judgment pending further investigation. Would that all Skeptics and critics were as fair and not delivered unto their biases.
On John 20:29 see here.
We may add as well that using John 20:29, as formulated, offers an inconsistency in thinking on Carrier's part. If we are right to call the Resurrection "bunk" until granted the same evidence as Thomas, pray tell what was the purpose of suggesting "Jesus Lives" being written in the stars or carved on the moon? What of that suggestion of a worldwide vision and darkness at the time of Jesus? I must assume that Carrier thinks these examples legitimate pieces of believable evidence; otherwise, there is very little point in bringing them up as such.
Either Thomas' same evidence, presented to us all, is the only good evidence, or there are others (such as appeals to indestructible NT copies, guns turning into flowers, etc.). Which way does Carrier want it? Furthermore, if Carrier appeals only to evidence that doesn't contradict his own observations and experiences, how can he allow that miracles in general just might persuade him to be a Christian?
If such miracles, unless we bring in a specific resurrection, do not directly reinforce Carrier's knowledge of his own mortality, how can he possibly subscribe to a belief in an event like the Resurrection without seeing one himself, according to his own stated thinking? One suggests that these arguments have been merely compiled loosely for the purpose of trying to hit any target of doubt possible, rather than carefully and systematically thought through and analyzed. (Indeed, we shall see this to be a pattern from Carrier as we continue.)
The miracle of the resurrection is inadequate to the task of convincing all mankind, and so a failure as far as divine plans go. The colloquialism of a tiny event happening only in Palestine makes no sense if a god wanted all mankind, including the Chinese, to witness the event and be saved. It makes more sense if it was a local idiosyncracy and not a divine event at all. That is to say, The Resurrection, as told, is more consistent with a mere natural occurrence which inspired a few local yokels, than with an act of a cosmic god aimed at saving all mankind. It is too small, too puny, too long ago. A god ought to know better.
It seems ironic that this is a comment being made by a person separated from the "too small, too puny" etc. event by 10,000 miles and and 2000 years. If it was that small and puny, why is Carrier able to comment upon it now? The point is self-refuting.
And again, it assumes that the problem is the hearing of the message, when the problem is actually of a much more universal nature: the problem of sin and offense. This is something cultures worldwide and throughout time have recognized, and even though their solutions have varied in quality and coherence, it is indeed the core problem they have tried to solve (or ignore).
A Resurrection, after all, is not all that impressive a feat. If so, why haven't there been more of them? There have been. I give examples later in section 2e. I could even add the obvious: how many resurrections have been secured by CPR and electric defibrillators?
To define such events as "resurrections" is to rob the word of all meaning within its context; again see here. Objections following about how a resurrection is not difficult are therefore off the mark; but more on this later.
It is easy to test the Christian's honesty in claiming that the evidence warrants rational belief. Simply posit essentially the same evidence and essentially the same account, but given of a modern Bob, whose central message was that Christianity was a lie, and that his was the true word of God, and his resurrection was proof of that. Would the Christian convert?
The obvious answer is yes -- though this rather simplified scenario doesn't really provide enough answers to be judged properly. Bob's central message would have to provide a positive alternative, and would have to consistently and definitively refute Christianity; how would that be done?
There are more questions we could ask, but it is enough to say, what then of our critic's supposition that there would be no honest answer, and the conclusion thereby drawn that the resurrection deserves no belief? Carrier is merely committing the Bad Analogy fallacy in order to construct an ad hominem against believers that has no practical use.
See here on Zalmoxis.
The meat of Carrier's presentation is a thesis that there is a worthwhile chance that Jesus did not indeed die on the cross, but survived. A 33% chance is granted, generously, that this thesis is valid. The supposition is added that perhaps the wine given to Jesus was drugged, though this is only given a 1% possibility.
At this point it is helpful and necessary to divert to a secondary essay by Carrier on the presence of "kooks and quacks" in the Roman Empire. The theme for this item: "There is abundant evidence that these were times replete with kooks and quacks of all varieties...Placed in this context, the gospels no longer seem to be so remarkable, and this leads us to an important fact: when the gospels were written, skeptics and informed or critical minds were a tiny minority. Although the gullible, the credulous, and those ready to believe or exaggerate stories of the supernatural are still abundant today, they were vastly more common in antiquity, and taken far more seriously."
Although not necessarily germane, one would comment upon the assumption inherent in the last sentence. The adverb "vastly" is used without any reference to rate of the "gullible" in proportion to population; no statistics are offered for today or the past in terms of the percentage of critical minds versus uncritical, and no correlation is made in terms of what particular claims or sorts of claims are such that critical capability would not be an issue. For this argument to go beyond propaganda, it would have to analyze these factors. It would not take great critical capability, for example, to evaluate a claim that the moon is turning purple and breaking into pieces.
There are also numerous other factors such as length of exposure, previous experience and knowledge, and collective evaluation among peers. Such calculations are of course not often possible, even with the records we have. Even so what Carrier offers is an opinionated remark that egregiously tries to stack the deck.
Even in Acts, we get an idea of just how gullible people could be. Surviving a snake bite was evidently enough for the inhabitants of Malta to believe that Paul himself was a god (28:6). And Paul and his comrade Barnabas had to go to some lengths to convince the Lycaonians of Lystra that they were not deities -- for the locals immediately sought to sacrifice to them as manifestations of Hermes and Zeus, simply because a man with bad feet stood up (14:8-18).
The accounts offered here implicitly are put out to suggest that people might be just as gullible in thinking that Jesus was resurrected. But there is a vast issue of difference: In both cases, an incident occurred and people drew their own conclusion concerning identity. The matter of whether or not a miracle occurred (in this context) was not at issue.
Moreover, in both cases the scenarios are far more complex. It is not merely "surviving a snake bite" but surviving where the expectation is that Paul should have fallen dead or swollen up (28:6). The people of this region above all others would know about the snakes of their country, and know what the results of one of their bites would mean -- it did not take a herpetologist to know such things; their experience was enough. There is no gullibility here insofar as Paul made no claim to be a god.
Paul was either somehow naturally immune to the snake's poison, for reasons unknown and without proof (a Skeptic might hypothesize a "broken" snake, or previous [unattested?] visits by Paul to areas where this sort of snake lived, and in which he received lesser bites and gained immunity, etc.) or a miracle occurred, of some sort.
The second case involves not just a "man with bad feet" but one "crippled from his mother's womb who had never walked" and again, is a matter of people reaching their own conclusions without data, not a matter of a charlatan deceiving others. There is no point of comparison here for people possibly believing gullibly in a resurrection.
Beyond the bible, the historian Josephus supplies some insights. Writing toward the end of the first century, himself an eye-witness of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D, he tells us that the region was filled with "cheats and deceivers claiming divine inspiration" (Jewish War, 2.259-60; Jewish Antiquities, 20.167.), entrancing the masses and leading them like sheep, usually to their doom. The most successful of these "tricksters" appears to be "the Egyptian" who led a flock of 30,000 believers around Palestine (Jewish War, 2.261-2; Paul is mistaken for him by a Roman officer in Acts, 21:38). This fellow even claimed he could topple the walls of Jerusalem with a single word (Jewish Antiquities, 20.170), yet it took a massacre at the hands of Roman troops to finally instill doubt in his followers.
It is illicit to appeal to Josephus' general comment in this context; "cheats and deceivers claiming divine inspiration" can range from people with a mere verbal message (which today would constitute the majority of deceivers of this rank, like the Koreshes, and hence have no application to the resurrection scenario) up to those like the Egyptian. As for that fellow, and the rest like Jonathan and Theudas, this provides only verification of the Christian message, for there is no indication of a conspicuous failure of this sort in the Christian context.
See here for a more thorough analysis in a different context, with regard to Sabbatai Sevi, and now here. This is the sort of complex analysis that is entirely missing from Carrier's citations throughout this essay of the likes of Peregrinus, etc., and as before indicates nothing more than an to use anything that will elicit doubt.
Miracles were also a dime a dozen in this era. The biographer Plutarch, a contemporary of Josephus, engages in a lengthy digression to prove that a statue of Tyche did not really speak in the early Republic (Life of Coriolanus, 37.3). He claims it must have been an hallucination inspired by the deep religious faith of the onlookers, since there were, he says, too many reliable witnesses to dismiss the story as an invention (38.1-3). He even digresses further to explain why other miracles such as weeping or bleeding--even moaning--statues could be explained as natural phenomena, showing a modest but refreshing degree of skeptical reasoning that would make the Amazing Randi proud.
We are not here stumping for any particular miracle or on behalf of Plutarch or Asclepius, but what slips right by here is the fact that Plutarch, no less than modern Skeptics (and Carrier with regard to Asclepius and all of the other personages and incidents he cites), question-begs game with his own explanations. "Did anyone see this miracle? Oh, er, there were witnesses, and they were reliable? Must have been a delusion, then."
When the witnesses can't be impugned, the Skeptic resorts to conveniently-nondisprovable psychoanalysis; although we do not say necessarily that Plutarch's naturalist explanations are wrong, it is obvious that the deck is predisposed to be stacked from the get-go, and that is simply poor thinking. (Regarding pagan gods existing, and this type of comment, see here.)
We are referred to Lucian's work, "The Death of Peregrinus," for "a look at what the story of Jesus might have been had a skeptic been around to give us a different account." Once again, the comparison is only a surface one. But of more detail is the matter of Alexander of Abonuteichos; see here for comments.
On the matter of witnesses being willing to die:
And if any original eye-witness did face death and recanted we might not have heard about it: Matthew's remark at 28.17 that some eye-witnesses didn't believe may be seen as a rhetorical defense against evidence of recanters.
Matt. 28:17 could in no way serve as a rhetorical defense of this nature. Matt. 28:17 does not say that some "didn't believe"; it said that some "doubted" -- doubted what? The answer is given in that Jesus addresses them with the Great Commission.
As Donald Hagner notes ["Gospel, Kingdom, and Resurrection in the Synoptic Gospels," Life in the Face of Death, 114] the verb used here points not to belief or uncertainty, but to hesitation and indecision. They did not doubt the presence or veracity of the resurrected Jesus; they wondered, rather, in the face of a heretofore unexpected event (a unique resurrection before the final judgment) what was to be done next, and that is why Jesus gives them instructions on exactly what to do next: spread the word. Carrier has misapplied this passage.
But most importantly, as I will argue in detail, most believers, and all whom we know died for their belief, were not eye-witnesses. This proves without a doubt that people were willing to die for something that they believed merely on someone else's word.
This is developed by Carrier further on. However, it would obviously be effective to prove if possible that Christian faith is placed in a faith-object comparable to those of kamikaze bombers (though the Japanese concept of honor and shame, and the likely result if they refused such duty, makes the comparison non-relevant); although this would not act as virtual disproof, it would merely remove one level of testimony strength.
Beyond this, as we show here the demand-belief level of Christianity was such that "someone's word" would not have done the job to earn converts. This renders Carrier's further comments about marytrdom and eyewitnesses irrelevant -- indeed he has simplified the matter far too much.
He has also made an erroneous report here:
It is important not to forget that, in actual fact, we have no reliable record of any eye-witness dying for their belief. All real martyrdom accounts are of converts, not witnesses, except for that of Peter... But the account of his death is first found in the Gnostic Acts of Peter, a tale which includes, among other things, a talking dog, a flying wizard, and the resurrection of a tunafish.
Elements such as a tunafish are themselves reminiscent of Carrier's arguments, though they are red and of a different icthyological genre. Apparently he is unaware of the fact that Peter's martyrdom was attested by Clement of Rome no later than c. 96 AD, but perhaps as early as 69-70 [see Michael Grant, Saint Peter, 152-3].
Stephen gives a speech, professing the belief for which he is killed and is willing to die, yet he does not mention the appearances of Jesus after death, nor the empty tomb, or anything like that. He merely professes that Jesus was the messiah, fulfilling Jewish anticipations, and that Jesus was unjustly killed. Indeed, he does not even claim that Jesus was God or the son of God.
In other contexts Carrier has made arbitrarily stringent textual demands such as this, for example, demanding that at the raising of Lazarus, John's Gospel ought to have been filled with commentary about the odor and condition of the body in order to prove to his satisfaction that a genuine reversal of death had taken place. Here we are apparently to expect Stephen, like some sort of Afranius, to have the time and ability even as the stones strike his head to lay out the entire kerygma for Carrier's personal satisfaction.
As it is, his speech does lay out the theme that the Jews -- his present company specifically implied -- never recognized God in action properly, the implication being that his hearers have not recognized God's activity in Jesus -- a concept-bucket which holds the premise of the empty tomb and resurrection.
Had that been done we might expect Carrier to accuse Luke of embellishment out of the practical impossibility of such an event; indeed Luke is already accused of this by some with regard to Stephen's speech. Writers do not write with the expectation of arbitrary questions or doubts posed by men reading thousands of years hence who assume a conspiracy to begin with based on their own prejudices. A thousand years from now it would be just as easy to say that there is doubt that Osama bin Laden is the only guilty party because there is "no evidence" that Yassar Arafat had been proven innocent. When starting with a premise it is always easy to raise doubts in support of that premise by means of expectations that take for granted their own importance.
Some other points are used as being discussed later and we will address those in their turn. We are then offered the example of other people dying sincerely for beliefs: Jonestown, a Buddhist monk, etc. None of these offer a sufficient parallel to the Christian situation as has been explained here and in links above. There is more to this than a mere "change for the good of Israel" and more than mere martyrs at stake.
Carrier next resorts to unsubstantiated character assassination, to wit:
But I have been accepting an assumption here: that the original believers were actually willing to die. But by all accounts, they avoided violence by any means possible. Look at the adventures of Paul, for example, e.g. Acts 9.23-25, 29-30. And why did what happened to Stephen never happen to Peter or any other eye-witness? Is it an accident that Peter recants precisely when he cannot protect himself from sudden retribution, but then reconverts when safe? And who else among the original cast could fall back on Roman citizenship for self-defense like Paul did?
Once again Carrier is guilty of oversimplification. Paul escaped from trouble -- what of it? Is it worth keeping a belief in exchange for a life on the run? (And since Carrier apparently takes Acts as reliable, note as well that Paul clearly took the heat in other places which Carrier does not deal with.
Peter's "recantation" occurred prior to his conversion and our evidence indicates that thereafter he did not resort to this (Acts 4, 1 Clement).
"Falling back" on Roman citizenship is of no relevance since Paul did this in a context where he apparently ended up not being charged with a crime -- and then went into custody even so and could just as well have been punished. Carrier also says nothing at all about Paul's hardships and sufferings recounted in Acts and in his own letters.
Finally, there is no paradigm demanding that Christians lay down and die; Jesus indeed instructed the disciples to flee when persecuted.
In short, Carrier's appeals to places where people left town, etc. are of no moment -- as though we are to compare this to a simple matter of contacting U-Haul and taking a new job in Corinth while continuing to live a normal life where one could stop at McDonald's for a burger on the way and live happily ever after. As shown in the link above, martyrdom is only one small piece of the puzzle, and Carrier is not anywhere near a proper consideration of the evidence.
Credit where it is due: Carrier has made a point against popular overstatements of the "persecution" argument. On the other hand, he is also misleading his readership with statements like these: "....Paul and the other persecutors merely put people in prison (Acts 5.17, 8.1-3), which was always, for whatever reason, easily escaped (Acts 5.19, 5.22)." (Whatever reason?? These passages attribute the escape to angelic influence.) "Moreover, no non-Jews would have cared, and there were whole cities of non-Jews in the Palestinian area, as well as Samaritans right between Galilee and Judaea, who also would not have cared."
As shown in the link above, this is patently false; Carrier is misinformed on the nature of a collectivist society in which everyone minded everyone else's business.
"Acts even says there were often times of peace (Acts 2.47, 9.31). Surely the opposition must have been rather fickle, if it allowed this."
Fickle? No, there was just nothing they could do in terms of hitting hard; the Romans wouldn't stand for that, but in the meantime there was more than one way to persecute -- socially, not just physically.
"When Paul returns to Jerusalem, preaches the creed, and starts a riot, it is only he, and no one else in the church--who were clearly there (Acts 21.17ff.)--who is attacked or arrested. Why is that?"
Because the cause of the ruckus was Paul's association with Gentiles at a time when anti-Gentile sentiment and Jewish patriotism was running high. The Jerusalem church wasn't associating with Gentiles that way.
"And why do the reasons he is attacked have nothing to do with his profession of Christianity?"
As noted, this is beside the point -- there are more issues at stake than merely being attacked.
"Why does there have to be a conspiracy of foreigners to trump up a false charge and drag out false witnesses to get Stephen arrested?"
What's the issue here? The "foreigners" were the ones Stephen argued with; this is who he offended, and it is hardly to be thereby taken that it "had to be" this way; this was just the camel whose back broke first. It means no more than that you might be a victim of "road rage" from someone out of town rather than nearby.
"And why does Paul only report that it was refusal of circumcision that caused persecution, not belief in the resurrection? (Galatians 6:12)"
Is Carrier reading clearly? The persecutors here were Jews; they would not persecute for belief in a resurrection (though as we also noted in the link above, nor would they be inclined to believe in that of Jesus) and neither would the pagans (though they would scoff at it!). Persecution comes not for the belief in resurrection itself but from the accompanying beliefs that were a necessary corollary in the Christian paradigm.
In terms of the circumcision issue, Witherington [Grace in Galatia, 447] connects this to Zealotic persecutions in the 40s at a time when there was reaction to the anti-Semitic Caligula; the lack of circumcision would have been a particular "sticking point" at this period and therefore an ideal "rallying point" for persecuting Christians -- and not to the exclusion of other reasons. (As Paul sees clearly: the offense is not lack of circumcision, but the cross of Christ. See more here.)
"On the other hand, how is it possible that a persecuted church can maintain its council of elders right in Jerusalem for years on end? They must have been very wily indeed. Why were they not all killed or arrested?"
This is correct: The NT does not say that the Apostles were not persecuted; but it does say that they were the only ones who did not leave Jerusalem. This does not mean that the rest of the Jerusalem church was not persecuted. One of two options is possible: Either the Apostles were persecuted, and they decided to withstand the pressure; or, they may indeed have escaped persecution - in that regard, Witherington [Acts commentary, 278n] observes that we cannot apply here the modern notion of "kill the head to destroy the body". Even if they were despised, holy men who were able to perform miracles, especially healing miracles, might be left alone out of awe or respect. Therefore the lack of persecution being stated of the Apostles does not have the force that Carrier supposes.
We close with a few accessory comments. On the matter that an infallible being would not entrust fallible minions with a message: This would only have any legitimacy to it if these fallible minions couldn't deliver the actual message, and if it could be shown that the message was seriously distorted by these minions. Clearly the message has been delivered, for Carrier, and every Skeptic of Christianity, knows what the Christian God declares of them.
Furthermore, an omniscient God most certainly would entrust His message to dedicated believers if He knew they would both spread the message and make it clear. Certainly this too has been accomplished, for the basic doctrines of Christianity are the most recognized in the world, and though efforts have been made to prove otherwise, there is no substantial reason to think that the message has been distorted -- and Carrier does not show this to be the case.
It is said as well:
Since no God would do this, it is reasonable to believe that no God did. And as I explain in my Lecture on the resurrection, it would in fact be cruel of a god to expect us to come to any other conclusion, much less punish us for it, or through inaction let us suffer for it.
Indeed! Well, when one relies on such contentions as a spiritual resurrection, an all-out lie by the Apostles, Jesus surviving crucifixion, the Apostles being deceived over something they were not expecting and could not comprehend in the first place, and the possibility of a lesser deity being responsible for raising Jesus from the dead, I think it becomes quite clear that one can only avoid Christianity by appealing to epistemically valueless speculations. If Carrier thinks it's wrong to suffer for not believing in what evidence the Christian God has presented to us, he can consider these concluding thoughts on the matter: God has given us evidence sufficiently clear to convince those with an open heart and mind, but evidence sufficiently vague so as not to compel those whose hearts and minds are closed. "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent, and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will."
On to section 2.