Doubting Thomas Was Right: No Evidence, No Resurrection Belief

Concerning the Doubting Thomas passage in the Gospel of John, it’s often argued by contemporary apologists that Jesus didn’t scold Thomas for his demand for evidence of the resurrection as such, but merely affirmed the value of testimony: “Blessed are those who have not seen, yet believe.”

But if the Gospel of John was written around 90 CE, why should we put so much stock in the claims of supposed eyewitnesses made 60 years prior–let alone believe the second-hand testimony of others living at the time the book was written?

And recall that the resurrection is not just a claim, but an extraordinary claim. David Hume was the first to note that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” and we should “apportion belief to the evidence.” No matter how honest, sincere, or earnest a believer bearing witness to an experience, when it comes to a miraculous claim, it is always possible—indeed, likely—that he or she has misinterpreted that experience. And so independent verification of the data upon which the experience is based is a reasonable request. And that, of course, is what Thomas sought: “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Thomas had it exactly right. This is not an impious thing to insist upon; it is something that one says when you have a commitment to: (1) truth; and (2) getting the truth of matters right. The great American patriot, Thomas Paine, held the same view. In Part I of his The Age of Reason, he wrote this: “Thomas did not believe the resurrection; and, as they say, would not believe without having ocular and manual demonstration himself. So neither will I; and the reason is equally as good for me, and for every other person, as for Thomas.”

And regarding the nature of eyewitness testimony, Thomas Paine wrote this: “It is a contradiction in terms and ideas to call anything a revelation that comes to us at second-hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication. After this, it is only an account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me to believe it in the same manner, for it was not a revelation made to me, and I have only his word for it that it was made to him.”

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
This entry was posted in atheism, edward feser, God, philosophy, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Doubting Thomas Was Right: No Evidence, No Resurrection Belief

  1. dcyates says:

    The only reason John’s Gospel is dated as late as ca. AD90 – 95 is because several higher critical scholars (largely from the 19th-century) reasoned that it would take at least that long for the early Church to sufficiently develop and popularize the belief in a higher christology so evident in its writing. (This is also in large part why the Gospel of Mark is regarded as the earliest Gospel, as it was thought to have evinced the lowest christology. Plus, the fact that it’s the shortest of the canonical Gospels, with the thinking being that subsequent evangelists [i.e., Matthew and Luke] would be more likely to ADD to Jesus’ legend rather than that Mark would leave anything out. It’s specious reasoning at best.) It’s now realized that, no matter which of the NT writings one considers the first written, the earliest christology among the early Christians is also the highest.
    It was also simply assumed that all these stories about Jesus just had to have existed for several decades as ‘oral traditions’ first before being committed to the written form. Again, we now have good reason to believe that that is not necessarily the case at all. In fact, there’s evidence that plenty of things that were considered important were written down relatively soon afterwards.
    All this is to say, there’s really very little reason to date any of the writings of the NT much after ca. AD60. This is especially so when we consider that the one prophecy most ascribed to Jesus, the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, is never so much as mentioned in any of the NT books aside from Revelation, where it is only hinted at as imminent. (This would be like having several people today writing a recent history of New York City and not one of them bothering to mention the events of 9/11!)

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      I’m not buying your early dating of John. And even if you place it within thirty years of the crucifixion, one should remember that John is written in Greek, not Aramaic, and probably not anywhere near the scene of the incidents described. It may have been written in Alexandria, for example. In any event, the resurrection stories in the gospels, and the claims of Paul, amount to very, very thin reeds on which to hang so extraordinary a claim.

  2. dcyates says:

    Santi, where did I make the claim that John’s Gospel was written in Aramaic and not Greek?!?
    Aside from that, all you’ve done is gainsay my arguments without providing any of your own. What does the proximity to the location of the events described have to do with a text’s accuracy? (E.g., I may be the only eye witness to a murder in Los Angeles, but it happened just as I was boarding a flight to Hong Kong, where I gave my statement to authorities. Should those involved in the investigation then conclude, “Well, this statement can’t be accurate, because it was given in Hong Kong, which is nowhere near L.A. where the murder was committed”?) Plus, I have very little idea where anyone would get the notion that John’s Gospel was written in Alexandria! (All because of some perceived verbal affinities with Philo?!? THAT is thin gruel indeed! Were the writings of Philo — and hence, their influence — somehow restricted to Alexandria?!?) Although by no means conclusive, the early patristic testimony places its provenance in Ephesus.
    Further, I know you particularly like Carl Sagan’s aphorism that, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” but it just isn’t so. As I think I may have mentioned before, the extraordinary claim of winning the lottery is proved with a piece of paper with some numbers on it. (Yes, the numbers have to match in the correct order, but otherwise, there’s nothing about the evidence itself that is in the least extraordinary.)

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      We don’t know who the authors of any of the gospels were, and they were written in Greek, not the language that Jesus or the apostles spoke–so the time and distance from the scene of the purported events are issues. Your analogy with an airport witness who says, “I was there, I saw the event when I was in x at x time” is nowhere claimed by any of the anonymous authors of the gospels–and unlike the airport witness, there’s no opportunity for cross examination.

      And since what is claimed to have occurred are miracles, it’s relevant to ask whether we have any extraordinary evidence for believing the stories (which we don’t). Indeed, we don’t have evidence at all. We have anonymous sources in which we have to speculate about dates and times of authorship.

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