Chapter 11 is written by Richard Carrier and entitled “Why the Resurrection is Unbelievable.” The chapter opens by summarizing some miracles written by the historian Herodotus the Halicarnassian. Carrier says it is reasonable to doubt stories of miracles because it is more likely that human error can account for the story than that a miracle really took place. The author believes there are no relevant differences between the miracles recounted by Herodotus and the miracles recounted in the New Testament. I admit up front that I have not studied the miracles in Herodotus and therefore have no firm opinion on them either way (only a naturalist must deny all miracles). In this review I will focus merely on Carrier’s argument against the resurrection of Jesus.
He believes the NT documents are not reliable. Unfortunately Carrier does not go into much detail and resorts to childish comments such as the book of Revelation being a “veritable acid trip” (p. 300). He is even sympathetic to the idea that Mark wrote his Gospel as a deliberate myth (p. 303), a viewpoint held by virtually no modern scholars. Suffice it to say that I do not have such a low view of the NT writings (I provided some references in my review to the last chapter). Carrier resorts to claiming that Paul and all the other apostles believed Jesus rose from the dead solely on the basis of visionary experiences as opposed to witnessing a physically resurrected Jesus. He misses the fact that both Galatians and 1 Corinthians (two letters he quotes from) use the technical terminology for passing down a tradition. In other words, the witnesses cataloged in 1 Corinthians 15 are witnesses to the resurrected Christ who started the tradition that made its way to the church.
Carrier believes that it is possible to explain the rise of Christianity without resorting to the supernatural. The only two things that need to be explained are (1) why the first Christians believed Jesus rose from the dead and (2) what happened to Jesus’ body. Carrier never really gets around to providing an hypothesis for what happened to Jesus’ body but merely notes that the disappearance of a body is not sufficient grounds to believe the resurrection. I imagine the first Christians would agree that a missing body without other evidence would not be proof of Jesus’ resurrection. It is important to point out, however, that the Jews also thought Jesus’ body was not in the tomb (Mt 28:15). Regarding the first point, Carrier says that the first Christians believed Jesus rose from the dead because it was foretold in the Scriptures and because of hallucinatory revelations. This is an unsatisfactory hypothesis since the first Christians believed Jesus physically rose from the dead, not that he merely went to heaven after death. In fact, if Jesus merely went into the afterlife as everyone else was thought to do, then he could not be said to have been resurrected at all. Carrier also suggests that the first Christians may have made up their encounters with the risen Jesus so that they could support a movement whose moral goals they approved of. This is even less convincing since it explains nothing. Are we to believe that they could not pursue their moral goals without claiming Jesus rose from the dead? And why would Paul start believing Jesus rose from the dead? Even when he has Paul’s own account of why he converted, Carrier feels free to concoct his own hypotheses. Perhaps Paul was guilt-stricken by persecuting Christians, perhaps he hallucinated, or perhaps he made it all up.
A final argument against the resurrection is that if God really wanted to save the whole world the resurrected Jesus would have appeared to everyone. This isn’t so much an argument against the resurrection as it is an argument from divine hiddenness. I believe God will one day make Himself known to everyone and that all men will eventually be saved. The mere fact that God does not do what Carrier thinks He should do (p. 309) is not a compelling argument.