Dave S is one of the few youtube atheists I’ve seen who is willing to engage in the debate on the resurrection. Most just dismiss it as just another miracle claim, assuming a naturalistic worldview from the onset. However, Dave S has at least taken some time to dive into this topic and address the resurrection claim from a naturalistic perspective.
I first spoke with this guy after I posted part 1 of my resurrection series. He seemed like a nice guy and said he going to respond to my whole series when I finished. However, he took his videos down and I thought he left youtube. Then last year he uploaded a bunch of his old videos and started making more, and unfortunately, he became rather insulting in debating with me in the comment section under one of my videos. I had several followers request I respond to his resurrection videos and I was waiting until he was finished his full resurrection series but he has not uploaded any more videos for this series in 4 months. So I’ll deal with the ones that are currently up. I’ll respond to each video below in sections (hyperlinks included throughout).
This video was originally posted just after I’d uploaded part 1 of my series, so it doesn’t really address the evidence I went over in parts 2 and 3. So there isn’t much to respond to, and I responded to some claims he brings up in part 5 of my series anyways.
The next one is where the real response begins. This is his longest video and mostly on Bayes’ Theorem. There are a lot of problems with this video because it is a gross exaggeration of what Bayes’ Theorem can say and how it ought to be applied.
First, Dave starts off with the claim that Bart Ehrman has given time and time again, that miracles are, by definition, the least probable explanation for an event. Again, I addressed this objection in part 5 of my series. This is nothing more than circular reasoning, assuming the conclusion of naturalism so miracles by definition must be improbable because we have already presupposed they are (i.e. naturalism must already be true).
Dave has already implied his conclusion at the beginning without even studying the evidence. In other words, regardless of what the evidence leads to, we must first start with the presupposition the miraculous must be the least probable. So obviously Dave will arrive at the conclusion Jesus did not rise from dead, regardless of what the evidence suggests.
After this, what follows is a pretty good explanation of Bayes’ theorem, which I would recommend people watch. However, this will come back to haunt Dave later on, as applying to it the resurrection simply doesn’t work (even when Christians try this).
Bayes’ Theorem only is reliable when you have actual values or quantities to work with. For example, Dave gave a good example by pointing out Bayes’ theorem can help us calculate what the probability of someone who smokes a cigar is either a male or female. The reason why it works in his example is that we have numbers from statistical analyses we can use. We know 51% of the population is male, and we know 9.5% men smoke cigars, whereas 49% of the population is female and only 1.7% of females smoke cigars (I am just using Dave’s numbers to illustrate a point, I don’t know if these numbers are accurate). So we have actual numerical data we can enter into Bayes’ theorem and calculate the probability that a random cigar smoker is male or female.
It should be obvious to all that when it comes to the resurrection, we simply do not have numerical values to enter into. Atheist, and Founder of the website History For Atheists, Tim O’Neill says this as well. He wrote a response to Richard Carrier’s attempt to apply Bayes’ theorem to the question of whether or not Jesus existed, and he gave a petty good example as well of how we can use Bayes’ theorem by calculating the probability it will rain on a specific day. Given that we have observed for roughly the past 100 years the annual rainfall and have recorded how many days out of the year have experienced rain, we can calculate how likely it will rain on a given day.
Tim O’Neill says:
“The first thing our objective observer should notice here is that we have hard data to plug into the equation. We know how often it does rain in this region, how often it doesn’t rain and how often the weather forecast is right or wrong. So we can get a meaningful answer out of the equation because we can plug meaningful data into it in the first place.
So there are two problems here when it comes to trying to apply Bayes Theorem to history: (i) Carrier and Craig need to treat questions of what happened in the past as the same species of uncertainty as what may happen in the future and (ii) historical questions are uncertain precisely because we don’t have defined and certain data to feed into the equation.
Bayes Theorem only works in cases where we can apply known information. So, in the example above, we know how often it rains in a year and we know when the weather forecast is and isn’t correct. So by inputting this meaningful data, we can get a meaningful result out the other end of the equation.
This is not the case with history.
Bayes Theorem’s application depends entirely on how precisely the parameters and values of our theoretical reconstruction of a real world approximate reality. With a historical question, Carrier is forced to think up probabilities for each parameter he put into the equation. This is a purely subjective process – he determines how likely or unlikely a parameter in the question is and then decides what value to give that parameter. So the result he gets at the end is purely a function of these subjective choices. And this is the wrong way to apply the theorem as its based on subjective rather than objective parameters.
In other words: garbage in/garbage out.
So it’s not surprising that Carrier comes up with a result on the question of whether Jesus existed that conforms to his belief that Jesus didn’t – he came up with the values that were inevitably going to come up with that result. If someone who believed Jesus did exist did the same thing, the values they inputted would be different and they would come up with the opposite result. This is why historians don’t bother using Bayes Theorem.”(1)
In other words, Bayes’ theorem only works if you have hard values to enter in, like with annual rainfall, or current population percentages. When it comes to an event like the resurrection we don’t have values to enter in. We have to simply make them up based on our subjective preferences.
Bayes’ theorem is nothing really special, as some people like to imply (Carrier and Craig). As Aviezer Tucker says, “Philosophers find often that formal representation, Bayesian probability in our case, clarifies and concentrates the discussion.” (2)
In other words, it is telling historians what historians already know in numerical terms. In reality, it doesn’t really add anything extra to our knowledge of history. It only gives us a numerical value to apply to our probability factor, when we have hard numerical data available. If we don’t have hard numerical data, we have to fudge the numbers based on our subjective preferences of what we think the values out to be, and this is exactly what Dave does when he tries to apply Bayes’ Theorem to the resurrection.
About 13:00 in, Dave begins to calculate the prior probability, and says the background knowledge should be based on how many times in the past God has raised someone from the dead. The obvious problem is the Bible does not contain an exhaustive list of all the people who God has brought back to life. This information is simply unknown to modern humans. The Bible does mention sometimes God resuscitated someone and they came back to life, but nowhere does God or any biblical author ever put a number on how many times this has actually happened. We simply lack the background knowledge to make an inference. So Dave just decided to take the few cases in the Bible as the actual total.
On a side note, I want to mention that there is technically only one resurrection in the Bible, which is Jesus’ resurrection. The other times that someone came back to life these would be defined as resuscitations. In the Jewish sense, a resurrection (anastasis) is when a body dies and comes back to life in a new immortal, glorified form. This only was claimed to happen to Jesus. Everyone else in the Bible was just resuscitated back into their mortal body.
Back to the main point, in the strangest fashion I have seen, Dave doesn’t even give all the resuscitations in the Bible to God but instead says when the Bible records that someone like Paul or Elijah brought someone back to life this was not God doing it. Going even further, he says the people Jesus brought back to life do not count as God doing raising the dead. I had to watch this section multiple times because I could not believe what I was hearing.
Even if he rejects that Jesus claimed to be God (which is hard to argue given Jesus’ own claims) Jesus said the power he had came from the Father and Holy Spirit (John 5:19; 29-30, Luke 1:35; 4:1; Philippians 2:6-8). Paul was also said to be filled with the Holy Spirit and work through God (Acts 13:9; 2 Corinthians 13:5). It is also strongly implied in scripture all miracles come from God, not from the people themselves, but God working through them. This shouldn’t even be a controversial topic.
Also, I would like to reiterate this is still all nothing more than garbage in, garbage out. We don’t have an exhaustive account of all the people who came back from the dead. Dave only says two resuscitations count where God actually rose someone from the dead:
Dave includes the passage of Matthew 27:51-53, where it says the dead saints came out of their tombs when Jesus died, but only calculates this as one resuscitation God performed, even though Matthew implies there were multiple people who rose. So Dave, awkwardly, just counts this as one resuscitation. Why? Does Dave know only one person came back? The fact remains, if this event did happen, we don’t know how many people came back to life. This is what I (and Tim O’Neill) mean when we say without hard numerical values to go on, people subjectively just make up values to suit the conclusion they want. It only goes to show us you can’t use Bayes Theorem properly when evaluating events like the resurrection.
Dave then compares the resuscitations God directly did, to the ones where he worked through someone else, and then concludes the background knowledge for the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead is low.
This should be enough to show the conclusion is going to be flawed. The numerical value Dave assigned to the background knowledge is flawed and not an objective hard fact. It is not based on an exhaustive account of all resuscitations, he discounts most in the Bible as not being caused by God, and has no other factors to calculate in when studying the background knowledge. There are so many issues that it ought to be completely discounted.
To be fair, Dave does admit just after this the rest of the data points will not be easy to calculate. I would say it is impossible with our current knowledge, but let’s hear him out. Dave says next we need to calculate how likely it is that we would have evidence we do if God did raise Jesus from the dead. He then says to do this we need to talk about the early Christians and how they viewed the resurrection. He says the first recorded appearance is what Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 15.
However, Dave says, “it is fairly obvious this is not the same sort of resurrection that’s recording in the Gospels. Paul never says he saw Jesus in the flesh, and even denies it in Galatians 1. Instead, he insists that the resurrection is into a spiritual body, not the rising of a corpse.”
Ok, the errors are piling up, so let’s deal with this before moving on. This has already been extensively dealt with in part 6 of my series on the resurrection and a follow-up video on alleged development in the resurrection story, so I’ll only briefly address this here.
Paul does not deny Jesus physically rose from the dead in Galatians 1. This should be plainly obvious from just reading the passage:
Galatians 1:11-12 (ESV)
“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Paul says the Gospel is what he received from revelation. In other words, the message of how salvation has come is what he learned through revelation. He does not say he learned of Christ’s death and resurrection through revelation. So this is nothing more than misquoting what Paul actually says. Even if I was wrong Dave is plainly incorrect that Paul denies Jesus physically rose.
In 1 Corinthians 15, he says he delivered to the Corinthians what he received. He uses a Rabbinic statement of a teacher passing something on to his students that he was taught. So this creed Paul cites would have to have come from the disciples themselves very early on so they could teach it to Paul, and what he tells them is that Jesus died and rose from the grave (see part 2 of my series for more on this).
Paul also doesn’t teach a spiritual resurrection. As I went over in part 6, the Greek words for natural and spiritual more likely denote an enlightened and unenlightened body, not different states of being, but more like different states of mind. In other words, the resurrected body will be enlightened, not ontologically something other than flesh (like a spirit). Paul even says right after this that what dies is what is raised (1 Corinthians 15:42-55). Also, in the first century and prior, there is no evidence the Greek word for resurrection (anastasis) even meant anything other than physically coming back to life when speaking about a person. So Dave has done nothing more than misquote and quote-mine Paul.
Dave then plays a clip of Bart Ehrman going on about how Jesus could not have appeared to the 12 disciples, because this appearance would have occurred after Judas died and before they elected his replacement. So there were only 11 disciples, so this has to be false. Dave doesn’t comment anything about this, but let’s response to it anyway.
This is a fairly easy objection to address. The twelve seems to just have been a title for the closest disciples of Jesus, which originally totaled 12 men. For example, in John 20, it says Jesus appears to the disciples behind a locked door. We would assume all 11 are there because it says “the disciples.” However, in verse 24 we are then told Thomas was not there. The verse also implies “the twelve” was being used as a title, “Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.” This would be an odd phrase to use if it was a numerical value since it was fairly understood in the Gospels that Judas was dead at this point (Matthew 27:3). So it’s probable when Paul says Jesus appeared to the twelve in 1 Corinthians 15, he is just speaking of the collective group that was known as the twelve.
Following this, roughly the next 30 minutes of Dave’s video is a string of different video clips edited together which argue the Gospels were written late and cannot be trusted. I have argued against a lot of the points in this my 9 part New Testament Reliability Series, in my 6 part Resurrection Series, and I am currently going through two series addressing alleged contradictions and alleged errors in the Bible so I won’t focus on that here. But what I do want to do is ask why is this actually even relevant to the topic at hand?
Dave already said at 12:42 in his video that the position he’s arguing against is Gary Habermas’ 5 minimal facts, which doesn’t rely on the Gospels being credible sources. In part 2 of my own resurrection series, I say I will not rely heavily on the Gospels but only the minimal trustworthy facts. Yet most of his video is a string of video clips arguing the gospels are not credible, so this really seems like a waste of time and doesn’t really address the minimal facts argument.
I do want to address one part in this section, which is Richard Carrier’s remarks that the Gospels are just symbolic myth because there are patterns in them he seems to think he can identify. Carrier even says this is not how history was written. Well, perhaps we should check with scholars on this (I am repeating a lot of what I said in my blog response to Godless Engineer).
New Testament scholars have speculated for years that the Gospels were written in a way to mirror individuals and events from the Hebrew Bible. N.T. Wright argues Matthew is deliberately painting Jesus as a second Moses, whereas Luke is trying to make him look like another King David.(3) Is this a problem for Christianity? Of course not, because ancient authors often looked to the past to see similarities to current events so that they could draw connections. This doesn’t imply they simply made everything up.
Oral tradition specialist, Albert Lord says, “Traditional narrators tend to tell what happened in terms of already existing patterns of story… When I say that an incident in the gospel narrative of Jesus’ life fits in a mythic pattern, there is no implication at all that this incident never happened. There is rather an implication that traditional narrators chose to remember and relate this incident because an incident of similar essence occurred in other traditional stories known to them and their predecessors. That its essence was consonant with an element in a traditional mythic (i.e., sacred) pattern adds a dimension of spiritual weight to the incident, but does not deny… the historicity of the incident.” (4)
Other ancient historians like Tacitus and Virgil also made use of this style, but never once have I heard a skeptic conclude that means they made things up. Dr. Rhiannon Ash says about Tacitus that he “…embeds such points in the very language which he uses,” and uses “linguistic echoes and structural similarities.” (5) Jan Bremmer and Nicholas Horsfall note Virgil borrowed from Roman legends to paint current events of his day. (6)
Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh say, “To be able to quote the tradition from memory, to apply it in creative or appropriate ways . . . not only brings honor to the speaker but lends authority to his words as well . . . Luke 1:68-79 is an example. It is stitched together from phrases of Psalms 41, 111, 132, 105, 106, and Micah 7… The ability to create ouch a mosaic implied extensive, detailed knowledge of the tradition and brought great honor to the speaker able to pull it off.” (7)
So Carrier is ignoring the cultural context of how history was written in the ancient Greco-Roman World and applying our cultural understanding of how to write history to the Gospels, which is unfair. There are clear patterns in the gospels, but that doesn’t mean the events did not happen. It means the Gospel authors purposely picked certain elements out to highlight patterns. Patterns simply happen sometimes and humans like to highlight them because it is in our nature. Ironically, that is all Carrier is doing, looking for patterns where ever they may or may not exist and assuming correlation is causation.
Finally, after all the video clips have finished Dave gets back to assigning values to plug into Bayes’ theorem. He says he is being as kind as possible and takes the value of 0.8 from Dr. David Baggett’s paper “An Application of Bayes’s Theorem To The Case For The Historicity Of The Resurrection Of Jesus” to assign to value of “how likely it is that we would have the evidence we do, if God did resurrect Jesus from the dead.” The paper he is citing is actually doing the opposite of Dave, in that it is trying to use Bayes’ theorem to argue it is probable Jesus did rise from the dead. Following this, Dave also takes the value from the paper for the probability that God didn’t raise Jesus from the dead as 0.3.
The problem I have here is the paper commits a lot of the same problems that Dave is committing. There just isn’t hard numerical data to quantify this. Everyone who applies Bayes’ Theorem to the resurrection on both sides of the debate gets the result they want because they arbitrary assigned values to get that. It is all purely subjective and so when Christians use it, garbage in, garbage out. When non-Christians use it, garbage in, garbage out.
Dave ultimately gets a value of .4966 that Jesus rose from the dead, but this is because he assigned such a low value to the background knowledge, which we addressed early in this blog post, and that was based on obvious insufficient data, cherry picking, and skewing things to his liking. Again, and I cannot iterate this enough: when you don’t start with cold hard objective quantities to plug in, you subjectively assign what you want to get the result you want. If there are no values available you cannot use Bayes theorem to evaluate the past.
So the reality is this is not the correct way to evaluate a historical claim. Mike Licona does a far better job in his book, “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographic Approach,” where he says the best way to evaluate a historical claim is to use Behan McCullagh’s criterion for weighing historical theories. (8)
I went over this in part 2 of my series, but I’ll briefly address it again. For a theory to be successful it must:
Have Greater Explanatory Scope – This criterion looks at the quality of facts accounted for by a hypothesis. The hypothesis that includes the most relevant data has the most explanatory scope.
Have Greater Explanatory Power – The criterion looks at the quality of the explanation of the facts. The hypothesis that explains the data with the least amount of effort, vagueness, and ambiguity has greater explanatory power.
Have The Most Plausibility – This criterion assesses whether other areas known with confidence suggest a certain hypothesis. A hypothesis is more plausible if other disciplines support the hypothesis.
Be The Least Ad Hoc – A hypothesis possesses an ad hoc component when it enlists nonevidenced assumptions, that is, it goes beyond what is already known. When a hypothesis adds extra unnecessary assumptions it becomes ad hoc. In other words, the simplest explanation is the best.
Provide Illumination – This criterion means a hypothesis can be more powerful if it provides possible solutions to other problems without consuming other areas held with confidence. This criterion is less important than the other four.
When it comes to the data we went over in my series, McCullagh accepted the resurrection hypothesis has the most explanatory scope and power and we argue it is also more plausible and less ad hoc. It is more plausible because other arguments for God’s existence in cosmology, quantum mechanics, ethics, fine-tuning, etc., make the resurrection claim more plausible. So we have other areas of knowledge which already support the existence of God. As William Lane Craig says, “Only if the naturalist has good reasons to think that God’s existence is implausible or his intervention in the world implausible could he justifiably regard the resurrection hypothesis as implausible.” (9)
It is the less ad hoc because it posits fewer assumptions than alternative naturalistic explanations. Dr. Campbell points out the resurrection hypothesis only adds one extra assumption, not multiple, “…it is difficult to see why the resurrection hypothesis is extraordinarily ad hoc. It requires only one new supposition: that God exists. Surely rival hypotheses require many new suppositions.” (10) In other words, the number of assumptions that naturalistic explanations employ make them all far more ad hoc than the resurrection hypothesis.
Finally, the resurrection hypothesis also provides illumination and strengthens the likelihood of Jesus’ other claim, like that He is divine and YHWH.
Dave should take this route and try to find a better explanation that fits this criterion. Attempting to debunk the resurrection through Bayes’ Theorem simply doesn’t work and luckily there is a better way to go about it. I argued in my series the resurrection hypothesis meets all of these criterions, and my challenge is if there is a naturalistic hypothesis that can overtake the resurrection hypothesis through this methodology.
This is a much shorter video and there is not much to address here. The aim of this video is simply to argue that even if the resurrection did happen it would not prove Christianity is necessarily true. Well, obviously that is correct. No one should claim it proves Christianity is true, however, that doesn’t mean the resurrection does not provide illumination for the rest of the claims of Christianity and make them more plausible.
I’ve argued the reliability of the New Testament, various arguments for God’s existence, and the case for the Resurrection is enough to support the truth of Christianity. Soon I’ll add a series on Old Testament archaeology to support the truth of Christianity as well. Furthermore, the resurrection does provide illumination on the truth of Christianity and does make it more plausible. After all, if Jesus did rise from the dead, that shows He has power and is trustworthy.
In fact, throughout the Bible, miraculous signs are given as reasons to trust the claims of God. In Matthew 9:5 Jesus heals a man paralyzed so they will have evidence or know He is the Son of Man. In John 14:11, Jesus tells the disciples to believe, or have faith in Him on the works they have seen Him do. Even in Exodus 9:14 God told Pharaoh through Moses that the plagues will be given so they may know there is no one like YHWH.
Specifically, Jesus says in Matthew 12:38-42 that the resurrection will be a sign of the truth of what He has claimed. So although we agree the resurrection could possibly be just an odd coincidence (anything is possible), the fact that the evidence suggests Jesus did rise from the dead makes the rest of the claims of Christianity more plausible.
Next, Dave makes an odd claim towards the end of this video. He says, “…1 Corinthians 15 should not be read as the resurrection of Jesus validating the truth of Christianity. Instead, this is intended to provide a framework about the overall mission of Jesus as “the Christ”. That is, Paul is not attempting to demonstrate that the resurrection occurred, or even that Jesus rose from the dead rendered him to be “the Christ”, at least not yet, but this merely laying down the argument at this is, in fact, the first stage of the overall plan for the future state of the world… In fact, when reading this passage in full, it becomes clear that this passage is intending to remind the church in Corinth, not only that Jesus rose from the dead but the important point Paul is stressing is that this is not the end of the story. Given that Paul is stressing that the benefits of the resurrection have yet to come. Therefore, what this means, is that the point he is making is almost the opposite of what Christian commentators claim; that the resurrection validates the truth of Christianity.”
The reason why this is an odd claim is that Paul makes several points as part of a larger goal in 1 Corinthians 15. Dave is correct his main goal is to teach the Corinthians that we will all be resurrected, but what is important is Paul makes several other points related to the overall goal along the way.
He first starts by reminding them of the evidence for the resurrection by citing the witnesses who saw the risen Lord (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). So Paul is, in fact, beginning with evidence Jesus rose from the dead and that is why they ought to believe there will be a future resurrection for all Christians. He then reminds them of the utter importance of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:12-20), that all Christianity fails if Jesus has not been raised.
So I am not sure what the point of Dave’s 3rd episode is. Sure, the overall message of 1 Corinthians 15 is there will be a coming resurrection for all Christians, but in order to make that final point, Paul makes several other additional points to support this. One is that if Jesus has not been raised then our faith is in vain. Paul is capable of making additional points in 1 Corinthians 15 besides the main argument.
In conclusion, there is not really much in these three videos that challenge the case for the resurrection of Jesus. Now, Dave did say at the end of part 3 that more videos were to come, but we have not seen any in a while. So if he does make more videos and offer any reasonable points or challenges to the resurrection I’ll respond when I have the time. However, if all he does is build on his misuse of Bayes’ theorem, or assume naturalism is already true so the resurrection has to be the least probable, there really won’t be much to address because we have already dealt with this issues extensively.
Dave also responded to a video I made on defending the laws of logic and people have asked why I didn’t respond to that in-depth. Well, because the entire video is a straw man, as I never once claimed in my original video I was defending classical logic, and that was the basis of his reply. If I did a response it would just be me saying over and over, “No Dave, I didn’t say or imply that.” My video is not a defense of classical logic (which I do not even hold to). Plus, he employed a lot of the same misunderstanding AnticitizenX did in his blog reply, and Derezzed83 wrote a guest post on my blog which dealt with that. So there is really nothing more to say other than that Dave built up an entire straw man argument.
2. Tucker, Aviezer. Our knowledge of the past: A philosophy of historiography. Cambridge University Press, 2004, 22
3. Wright, NT. The New Testament and the People of God. Fortress Press, 1992, 341- 435
4. Lord, Albert. The Gospels as Oral Traditional Literature in The Relationship among the Gospels: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue. Trinity University Press, 1978, 39
5. Ash, Rhiannon. Tacitus. Bristol Classic Press, 2006, 85-87.
6. Bremmer, Jan. Horsfall, Nicholas. Roman Myth and Mythology. University of London, 1987, 99-100
7. Malina, Bruce. Rohrbaugh, Richard. Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. Augsburgh Fotress Press, 2002, 293-294
8. Licona, Mike. The Resurrection of Jesus:A New Historiographic Approach. InterVarsity Press, 2010, 109-111
9. Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith. Crossway, 2008, 188-189
10. Campbell, Travis. Defending the Resurrection. Xulon Press, 2010, 292