I'll have to address responses here, because there's something screwy with the comment box, at least here at work.
@ Eugene> well... here's the thing, I don't actually have to disprove that someone who was dead for 3 days happened to rise again, walk around for a while longer, and then rose bodily into the sky, because the whole idea is preposterous. From the repeated experiences of mankind, it is obvious that this simply doesn't happen, so the burden of evidence for that is on you... one might think it would be recorded more accurately and closer to the time of occurrence that the canonical gospels (or those that are apocryphal for that matter). I can however, offer evidence that throws the whole scenario into doubt apart from "well, that just doesn't happen". There are several religions from that area, that predate Christianity, that have a deity who is the son a virgin, who also happens to be resurrected and preach salvation: Mithras, Adonis, and Osiris, to claim three that predate Christianity. The myth of Hercules also predates Christianity and shares some of the elements of the story of Jesus. The Norse legends of Odin don't predate Christianity, but hail from a time prior to the introduction of the Christian religion to that part of the world. Are all of those, particularly Osiris and Mithras (whose stories are nearly identical to those of Jesus, and in the same region hundreds of years prior) also true? Or is it more likely that early Christians latched onto existing myths of the time in order to add a certain panache to their forming religion. December 25th, incidentally, was the date of the Roman Feast of the Sun, and the supposed birthday of Mithras, recorded in Roman histories BCE... The theft of ideas is rather obvious if you can look at it unbiased. So what needs to be asked of you is simply this: why is your story more likely to be true than the ones that preceded it or mimicked it?
It can also be demonstrated that there are reasonable, natural, explanations for purported miracles... Lazarus was dead and resurrected? or had goatherds in Palestine 2000 years ago perhaps never heard of a coma, if the event happened at all?
And if a hypothetical claim of super-nature intervening in the workings of nature cannot be ruled out on the basis of the generally observed regularities of the natural sciences or abstract philosophy, the only possible evaluation left is direct examination of the phenomenon to see if it is entirely explicable with reference to purely naturalistic causes.
Correct, science lies fully in the realm of the natural and the observable. Don't neglect that observing the effect of an event is still empirical observation, and can lead to knowledge of the event itself. Science and reason, which is intertwined with science if your a scientist worthy of the name, demand that unnecessary explanations be stripped away. I don't need to hypothesize a creator if I know how, or approximately how, something came about without one. Theistic evolution is exactly that: adding an unnecesssary and logically untenable element to an explanation that stands on its own.
Smijer responded quite well to the god of the gaps argument, so I'll let that lie.
As for what can be empirically disproven, the creation story/stories in Genesis can be demonstrated to be false, Ussher's claim of the age of the Earth is clearly false, and modern day "miracles" are explainable by other means that the supernatural ones, many of which have also been shown to be flat-out hoaxes.
Smijer> When something is that far out of the realm of observation, one has to use reason rather than empiricism. However, defending an idea by saying "well you can't prove it didn't happen is making your stand on some rather shaky ground. He also can't prove it did, and I can easily call into question the validity of the Bible as a historical document, by the age of the writing and the evidence that it has numerous, unrelated authors.
So you define religion, in your sense, as the social aspect? Once you strip away rituals, you're left with a social club. A college fraternity would then be a religion, by your definition, even more so because they still include ritual of some form or other.. all they lack is a professed doctrine in the supernatural.
On what basis, then, can one say with any sort of confidence that "[r]eason tells us" that super-nature cannot (theoretically) impinge on the workings of nature?
Because by definition, once something has a measurable impact on the natural world, it can be empirically observed, and is now part of nature.
And given an unbiased historical examination, the resurrection of Jesus proves extraodinarily resistent to naturalistic explanations.
Yes, I agree... however, given unbiased historical examination, the evidence that Jesus even lived, much less did or said anything attributed to him, is debatable. If one chooses, for sake of this discussion, to accept that he was indeed a real person, then we're left with second and third-hand accounts of his deeds, at best. Do you happen to recall the supposed miracles at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917? We had live eyewitnesses for those, and know them to be false, or naturally explainable. Honestly, how reliable would you consider a first century source, which has been transcribed and translated multiple times before reaching you, to be on a topic that was not a matter of your faith? How about if the oldest extant copy was, most definitely, a copy, with items clearly added afterward, and dated from several hundred years after the supposed date of the original manuscript?
Smijer> The comment box is only wonky on my blog, it works on other people's... bizzare, and something I need to resolve. (Although I rarely have commenters to reply to, so it doesn't usually matter).
I understand, and can respect, the idea of using church for a social gathering if that is your only source. That is indeed the reason why many people don't completely leave religion, per se, and the UU churches I've seen are the most tolerable for me by far. I attend a couple of meet-up groups in this area that fill that role, and have previously used my rugby team for that sort of outlet (not a whole lot of thought going on there, to be sure). I'm not one to claim that every aspect of every religion is bad... I do claim that a number of heinous things are done in the name of some deity or other, and the the spurious supernatural claims of religion are exactly that. I'd love a place to sit down with people, play some chess (or air-hockey, or another game of your preference), have a nice intellectual discussion, and possibly drink a few Guiness's... Providing a setting that matches the similar needs of others apart from church involvement is something that will have to come with the growing numbers of non-believers in the country.
Eugene> At the risk of making this incredibly long...
1) extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. 'nuff said. You presume that I wouldn't accept such evidence if it were presented because of my wording, I can assure you (who's opinion on the matter I frankly don't value) that I would. I know my own mind best... Flew's opinion isn't worth a whole lot to me because he's an addlepated, waffling twit; Ehrman's is generally sound and he accepts that there was a historical Jesus (yes, I did more research).
Also, something of which you are likely aware and not considering: just because it's written down doesn't mean it's true.
2) Paul was most certainly evangelising for Christianity, which, incidentally, he stood to gain a great deal from spreading. That doesn't mean that he's outright lying, but it does shed reasonable doubt on his motives. Six of the 13 Epistles aren't accepted as being authored by Paul in the first place, although Corinthians, which you quoted, isn't one of these.
3) Your analogy is off here... It is reasonable to assume that at some point a black man could be president of the US. It is an element of mythology to assume parthenogenesis in primates, because it doesn't happen in nature, but it is a common thread in a number of myths/religions throughout human culture both before and after Jesus. If we're going to discuss ideological biases, is it possible for you, as a Baptist preacher, to view Christianity objectively? Can you really evaluate its claims as if it were, say, Hinduism?
4) Can you prove the resurrection using unbiased sources? Moreover, I'd say the base of your religion is the existence of a deity at all. Thusly, please demonstrate the following:
a)The Universe was created
b)The creation was performed by a deity
c)The deity is interventionist and keeps interfering in the universe
d)The deity happens to be that of an iron-age Semitic people from one region of a small planet circling a star in a galaxy of some 100 billion others, the galaxy being one of some 150 billion others
e)All of this is documented in the "holy book" of that particular set of people
It might also be helpful to your case to demonstrate these auxiliaries:
f)The deity is omni-maximal, i.e. omniscient, omnipotent and omni-benevolent
g)All other creation myths, gods, demi-urges and supernatural beings are false
You agreed that the burden of proof lies with you, I eagerly await your explanations.
5). You're conflating evolution with abiogenesis, and further conflating it with the Big Bang and cosmic development. If I can demonstrate that abiogenesis is possible, which some current experiments are rather close to doing, is your god then reduced to starting the universe and stepping back? Otherwise, it has been conclusively demonstrated that no outside interference is necessary for evolution to occur, so positing a designer is indeed superfluous.
6). I think I mistakenly dealt with this in 1. I don't have serious doubts the man existed, I do have serious doubts that most of what is attributed to him isn't fabricated to make him sound better. My personal view of the historical Jesus is along the lines of Gandhi, or Siddhartha Gautama (without all the nirvana hooey). Rational skepticism of anything, especially something written from an oral history, re-written, and translated as many times as much of the Bible has been would expect numerous errors; The fact that it's also prone to exaggerations and outright mendacity only compounds this problem. You accuse me of not applying skepticism to my own ideology; On what basis should I give more credibility to your particular brand of religion/mythology than someone else's?
to simply say that the traditional super-natural explanation of the early belief in Jesus' resurrection is incorrect is not to provide a naturalistic explanation. One has to actually offer an alternative positive theory. And it is here that the difficulty lies because no positive and comprehensive naturalistic theory withstands scrutiny.
It isn't necessary to provide a plausible alternate hypothesis for something that didn't happen, or can't be demonstrated to have happened. The reason this applies to evolution and not to resurrection is that one is a naturally observed phenomena (the diversityof life on Earth), and one is claimed to have occurred once and only once, and it beyond attempts at empirical observation.
My base position is this, for the resurrection, the existence of any deity, and anything else that lacks evidence: If an entity X is postulated to exist, and no substantive evidence capable of withstanding intense critical scrutiny is present to support the postulated existence of entity X, then the default position is to regard entity X as not existing until said supporting evidence materialises.
Contrary to popular opinion, this is de facto atheism, not agnosticism, and is the stance that many/most atheists with whom I've spoken take.