The Hero Savior of Vietnam
So the supposed evidence that Christians try to offer for God's existence, creative activity, or goodness simply doesn't cut it. It turns out not to be evidence, but theories about otherwise ambiguous evidence, theories that themselves remain unproven, and often barely plausible when compared with more obvious alternatives that more readily explain the full range of evidence we have. Therefore, the Christian theory has insufficient support to justify believing it. And this would be so even if Christianity was true. For even if it is true, we still don't have enough evidence to know it is true. By analogy, even if it were true that Julius Caesar survived an arrow wound to his left thigh in the summer of 49 B.C., the fact that we have no evidence of any such wound entails that we have no reason to believe it occurred. We can only believe what we have evidence enough to prove. And there are plenty of true things that don't make that cut.
So much for the general propositions. Now we get to the more specific propositions that Jesus performed miracles and rose from the dead. Many Christians really do offer the miracles and resurrection of Jesus as evidence that God exists and that the Christian theory is true. We will set aside the problem that even doing such things would not prove Jesus was God, since other supernatural powers or agencies could have arranged the same result. More problematic for Christianity is that we have insufficient evidence any of these things really happened. To understand why, let's consider an imaginary alternative:
- HERO SAVIOR OF VIETNAM
Suppose I told you there was a soldier in the Vietnam War named "Hero Savior" who miraculously calmed storms, healed wounds, conjured food and water out of thin air, and then was blown up by artillery, but appeared again whole and alive three days later, giving instructions to his buddies before flying up into outer space right before their very eyes. Would you believe me? Certainly not. You would ask me to prove it.
So I would give you all the evidence I have. But all I have are some vague war letters by a guy who never really met Hero Savior in person, and a handful of stories written over thirty years later by some guys named Bill, Bob, Carl, and Joe. I don't know for sure who these guys are. I don't even know their last names. There are only unconfirmed rumors that they were or knew some of the war buddies of Hero Savior. They might have written earlier than we think, or later, but no one really knows. No one can find any earlier documentation to confirm their stories, either, or their service during the war, or even find these guys to interview them. So we don't know if they really are who others claim, and we're not even sure these are the guys who actually wrote the stories. You see, the undated pamphlets circulating under their names don't say "by Bill" or "by Bob," but "as told by Bill" and "as told by Bob." Besides all that, we also can't find any record of a Hero Savior serving in the war. He might have been a native guide whose name never made it into official records, but still, none of the historians of the war ever mention him, or his amazing deeds, or even the reports of them that surely would have spread far and wide.
Besides the dubious evidence of these late, uncorroborated, unsourced, and suspicious stories, the best thing I can give you is that war correspondence I mentioned, some letters by an army sergeant actually from the war, who claims he was a skeptic who changed his mind. But he never met or saw Hero in life, and never mentions any of the miracles that Bob, Bill, Carl, and Joe talk about. In fact, the only thing this sergeant ever mentions is "seeing" Hero after his death, though not "in flesh and blood," but in a "revelation." That's it.
This sergeant also claims the spirit of Hero Savior now enables him and some others to "speak in tongues" and "prophecy" and heal some illnesses, but none of this has been confirmed or observed by anyone else on record, and none of it sounds any different than what thousands of other cults and gurus have claimed. So, too, for some unconfirmed reports that some of these believers, even this army sergeant, endured persecution or even died for believing they "saw Hero in a revelation"--a fact no more incredible than the Buddhists who set themselves on fire to protest the Vietnam War, certain they would be reincarnated, or the hundreds of people who voluntarily killed themselves at Jonestown, certain their leader was sent by God.
Okay. I've given you all that evidence. Would you believe me then? Certainly not. No one trusts documents that come decades after the fact by unknown authors, and hardly anyone believes the hundreds of gurus today who claim to see and speak to the spirits of the dead, heal, and predict the future. Every reasonable person expects and requires extensive corroboration by contemporary documents and confirmed eyewitness accounts. Everyone would expect here at least as much evidence as I'd need to prove I owned a nuclear missile, yet the standard required is actually that of proving I own an interstellar spacecraft--for these are clearly very extraordinary claims, and as we saw above, such claims require extraordinary evidence, as much as would be needed, for example, to convince the United Nations that I had an interstellar spacecraft on my lawn. Yet what we have for this Hero Savior doesn't even count as ordinary evidence, much less the extraordinary evidence we really need.
To complete the analogy, many other things would rightly bother us. Little is remarkable about the stories told of Hero Savior, for similar stories apparently have been told of numerous Vietnamese sorcerers and heroes throughout history--and no one believes them, so why should we make an exception for Hero? The documents we have from Bob, Bill, Carl, and Joe have also been tampered with--we've found some cases of forgery and editing in each of their stories by parties unknown, and we aren't sure we've caught it all. Apparently, their stories were used by several different cults to support their causes, and these cults all squabble over the exact details of the right cause, and so tell different stories or interpret the stories differently to serve their own particular agenda. And the earliest version, the one told by Bob, which both Bill and Joe clearly copied, added to, and edited (which Carl might have done, too, perhaps by borrowing loosely from Joe), appears to have been almost entirely constructed out of passages from an ancient Vietnamese poem, arranged and altered to tell a story full of symbolic and moral meaning. These and many other problems plague the evidence, leaving it even more suspect than normal.
This Hero Savior analogy entirely parallels the situation for Jesus. Every reason we would have not to believe these Hero Savior stories applies to the stories of Jesus with all the same force. So if you agree there would be no good reason to believe these Hero Savior stories, you must also agree there is insufficient reason to believe the Jesus Christ stories. Hence I am not a Christian because the evidence is not good enough. For it is no better than the evidence proposed for Hero Savior, and that falls far short of the burden that would have to be met to confirm the very extraordinary claims surrounding him.
That's the problem.
Things could have been different. For example, if miracle working was still so routine in the Church that scientists could prove that devout Christians alone could genuinely perform miracles--restoring lost limbs, raising the dead, predicting tsunamis and earthquakes (and actually saving thousands with their timely warnings)--then we would have a well-confirmed generalization that would lend a great deal of support to the Gospel stories, reducing the burden on the Christian to prove those stories true. Likewise, if we had credible documents from educated Roman and Jewish eyewitnesses to the miracles and resurrection of Jesus, and if we had simultaneous records even from China recording appearances of this Jesus to spread the Gospel there just days after his death in Palestine, then the Christian would surely have some solid ground to stand on. And the two together--current proof of regular miracles in the Church, and abundant first-hand documentation from reliable observers among the Jews, Romans, and Chinese--would truly be sufficient evidence to believe the claim that Jesus really did perform miracles and rise from the dead, or at least something comparably remarkable.
But that is not what we have. Not even close.