The Jesus Delusion

July 20, 2014 • 12:04 pm

Don McLeroy, former head of the Texas State Board of Education and a regular member for several years during The Great Texas Textbook Wars, added his own comment (he’s moderated) to the post “Catholic biologist Ken Miller talks about God and evolution”. This is what appeared on my dashboard.

Screen shot 2014-07-20 at 1.57.43 PM
McLeroy, as many of you know, is a creationist dentist who, for a while, exercised enormous power over what Texas schoolchildren could learn about evolution. He was eventually heaved out of office, but can you imagine somebody putting this kind of trust in the gospels having any control over public education?

Feel free to ask him about those 500 witnesses. Maybe I’ll let him reply.


251 thoughts on “The Jesus Delusion

  1. Fortunately for the rest of us, at least some of those witnesses had seen at least one zombie movie in their lives, so the potential Armageddon was quickly prevented.

  2. As Hitchens pointed out, one account of the crucifixion claimed that the graves of the Jerusalem opened up, and all the dead walked around. Hence, Jesus rising from the dead, with over “500 witnesses”, was something of a banality at the time. Pity that none of these astounding events were recorded contemporaneously.

  3. And has anyone ever even tried to count the number of witnesses of Harry Potter taking on the Death Eaters at the final battle at Hogwarts? Checkmate, christians!

    1. We know the books of Harry Potter to be true because they describe the geography of London so accurately.

        1. Didn’t wosshername (the red headed girl) get jealous of Harry and JK’s relationship?
          I’m just having images of the Potter-world version of Google implementing the “right to be forgotten” Muggle law by responding to a sic transit gloriae mundae spell.

        1. Mention of which recalls the distressing occurrence (presumably perpretated for movie versions of Harry Potter) of a Great Western ‘Castle’ locomotive painted in Midland Red and (presumably on some other occasion) a Southern ‘West Country’ Taw Valley similarly mistreated. Thereby irritating Great Western, Southern and Midland aficionados equally. And neither of those locos would ever have been seen at Kings Cross or St Pancras.
          So I suspect that any accuracy in the description of London was merely laziness in inventing any new geography.

          (Signed): Prof. Pedant

    1. I’m guessing that revivalists host tent-meetings every year, where more than 500 people witness a faith healing. Doesn’t mean we should accept faith healing exists.

    1. Didn’t look it up, but I believe McLeroy’s coupling with the Higgs field is such that it would take a Saturn V to throw him out of office. “Heaved” has the sound of mere mortal effort.

      1. “Heaving the lead” : taking a depth sounding from a boat. A very mortal and practical action. Also “heaving bend” – for attaching the heaving line to the lead, so that you get the lead back.

  4. Other people have said this, but I wonder if 1,000 years from now, people will think Harry Potter, Superman or Paul Bunyan were real. “Look, there’s all this documentation! It can’t ALL be fiction.” Believers will be divided between those who take the stories literally, and those who try to identify the “historical Superman” behind the legend. (“There must have been a real person behind the stories, but maybe he didn’t really have X-ray vision.”)There are already people who think that “The Da Vinci Code” is non-fiction. I’ve met them.

    1. “The historical superman.”

      Yes, I can see how it would go:a guy called Clark Kent working as a newspaper journalist in the first half of the twentieth century? That entirely plausible. And it is. Completely. But that doesn’t mean Clark Kent existed. The same can be done with Jesus, and frequently is in historical Jesus research: remove all the myth, legend and inplausibilities and you’ll get to a historical man, whoever that may be. Well, perhaps not. You don’t necessarily get to the bottom of ancient religious documents that operate on an entirely different worldview from our own simply by performing a rationalistic paraphrase on them. That might simply destroy the author’s original intent and replace it with something we moderns find more palatable. A dangerous game to play.

      1. An interesting aside, Authur Conan Doyle “was convinced of the veracity of the five Cottingley Fairies photographs (which decades later were exposed as a hoax)” and “following the death of his wife Louisa in 1906, the death of his son Kingsley just before the end of the First World War, and the deaths of his brother Innes, his two brothers-in-law (one of whom was E. W. Hornung, creator of the literary character Raffles) and his two nephews shortly after the war, Doyle sank into depression. He found solace supporting spiritualism and its attempts to find proof of existence beyond the grave. In particular, according to some, he favoured Christian Spiritualism and encouraged the Spiritualists’ National Union to accept an eighth precept – that of following the teachings and example of Jesus of Nazareth. He was a member of the renowned supernatural organisation The Ghost Club.”

    2. Da Vinci code believers…ugh. I am glad I have only hearsay evidence for their existence. I hear they are dreadful.

      1. There was one quite good point made in that book; if one assumes that there was a ‘historical Jesus’ the further assumption that he wasn’t married would be unwarranted.
        I don’t recall that Baigent and Leigh made that argument as clearly, basically because their entire method of reconstructing hypothetical facts from hypothetical evidence made for a lack of clarity in exposition.
        (Yes, one does get given some books by parents and in-laws that one wouldn’t have chosen…)

        1. I have a minor crush on Audrey Tautou so I must admit I quite enjoyed that flick despite the theme.

      2. There’s a minor industry in debunking the Da Vinci Code. Leaving aside the religiously-motivated ones, there are a lot of people, presumably irritated by Dan Brown’s claim to have carefully researched all his locations, who have taken apart his narrative in a point-by-point descriptions. (I’d give links, but Googling ‘da vinci debunked’ brings up such a flood of refs I can’t find the ones I want).

        The most entertaining read I got out of it all was the judgement when the Baigent and Leigh, authors of ‘The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’ sued Dan Brown for plagiarism.

        “It would be quite wrong if fictional writers were to have their writings pored over in the way DVC (Da Vinci Code) has been pored over in this case by authors of pretend historical books to make an allegation of infringement of copyright” ‘pretend historical’ – ouch!

        And it got worse – “…Mr Leigh may have given an impression that litigation was brought for the purpose of extracting money in the expectation of settlement. I do not need to form a view as to that. All I will say is that if Mr Leigh believed that he demonstrated a folly which inflicts Claimants from time to time. It is a very dangerous exercise to commence litigation in the hope that the other side will settle and make a payment. I rather suspect this will be driven home to Mr Leigh (if that was his thought) at the conclusion of this judgment.” Ouch indeed.

    3. Unlikely; they’re not religious icons today.

      But there will still be those who think Xenu and Moroni are real, or at least have some factual historical basis.


        1. I have no clue about the quality of said coffee and donuts, but that’s certainly the type of ceremonial meal I could be persuaded to partake in…but only for special occasions.


          1. Someone had a Tim Horton’s licence plate protector on their car in front of me Friday. I almost took a picture because it is very odd that such a thing existed.

        2. Somewhere I read some satire or science fiction or something where future archeologists are convinced that McDonald’s was a very successful religion. Same idea, I suppose.

          1. In the video game Fallout: New Vegas, set several centuries after a nuclear war destroys civilization, a group of individuals found an Elvis Impersonation School in the ruins of Las Vegas and decided that it must have been some sort of ancient religion that they begin to practice.

            1. Vegas does seem to feature prominently in the form of the new Sodom in some fiction it seems.

          2. Arthur Clarke did it in ‘History Lesson’. From the Wikipedia summary:

            “The first part of the story is told from the perspective of a tribe of nomadic humans in a future where Earth has entered a final ice age…. The tribe carries with it a few relics from the mid-21st century which it considers sacred, although the functions of the various objects have been forgotten. Before the ultimate extinction of the human species, the relics are safely relocated to a mountain…

            …The Venusians travel to Earth and recover the relics of the last tribe of humans.”

            They discover how to project the film reel and observe a frenzied species avoiding frequent catastrophes by inches.

            The final paragraphs are worth quoting in full:

            “Once more the final picture flashed on the screen, motionless this time, for the projector had been stopped. With something like awe, the scientists gazed at the still figure from the past, while in turn the little biped stared back at then with its characteristic expression of arrogant bad temper.
            Its secret would be safe as long as the universe endured, for no one now would ever read the lost language of Earth. Millions of times in the ages to come those last few words would flash across the screen, and none could ever guess their meaning:

            A Walt Disney Production.”


      1. A fiction doesn’t have to be religious to be believed for centuries. The story of Atlantis, for instance, is older than Christianity (it was invented by Plato) and millions of people have believed it ever since. Another example is King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. If a story catches the imagination, it can live on indefinitely.

    1. No, they didn’t.

      One man, a couple generations later, reported that they (“the 500”) were themselves the same type of witness as he himself was.

      In other worse, Paul didn’t report 500 eyewitnesses to the Resurrection; he gave a summary head count of 500 members of the laity in the new church, in addition to the named clergy.

      Didn’t even pretend otherwise; you really have to twist the text to make it sound like the 500 were there outside the empty tomb or watching Thomas grope Jesus’s guts or what-not.


  5. Are you sure they saw Jesus and not just some random bloke with long hair and a beard? This stuff happens with lots of other dead celebrities.

    1. “there’s a guy works down the chip shop swear’s he’s elvis” (Kirsty MacColl)

      “There’s a santa who looks a lot like elvis, down at the Kmart store” Bob Rivers

  6. Funny how McLeroy would instantly dismiss all of the **millions** of witnesses of the miracles of the recently ascended Indian “god man” Sai Baba – witnesses who are still alive, here on earth rather than merely alleged to have existed by a book. I think it is safe to say that McLeroy doesn’t give a whit about “eye witnesses” unless they say what he wants them to say.

      1. I have formulated the Time Zone Credibility Adjustment Hypothesis™, which explains it:
        the truth of a religious claim is reduced by 1/12 for each time zone distance. (It’s a testable hypothesis.) E.g., the religion of someone 12 times zones away is pure poppycock. And contrariwise. Q.E.D.

        1. So, the credibility of those whack-jobs who live just west (*) of us is reduced to almost nothing? Sounds good to me.
          (*)Direction of counting variable upon denigrative needs.

  7. Bart Ehrman discusses the reliability or otherwise of these “witnesses” at some length in his recent book “How Jesus became god” (I recommend the book btw – was Sullivan’s first book of the month, so was also interesting to see the thoughtful catholic perspective at the dish). I’d rather hear the thought processes of a biblical scholar like Ehrman over over those of someone without formal training in the area.

      1. Which one?
        Ehrman is a new testament scholar with expertise in ancient languages and history in particular relating to the period around the time that jesus was supposed to have lived. McLeroy was trained as a dentist and has experience in politics.

        1. The concept of a new testament ‘scholar’ borders on the absurd. What Ehrman really is, is an opportunist who uses religion as a method to enrich himself (as is generally the case with people who work in that field).

          1. Is there something wrong with Biblical scholarship of Ehrman’s sort: trying to work out the sources of texts, which material was added later, and why? And what evidence do you have that he’s an opportunist trying to enrich himself?

            Be careful here, because if it’s just your opinion I’ll consider this a denigration of a valid area of scholarship, and one that is uncivil as well as ad hominem. Does Ehrman’s “opportunism” somehow invalidate his arguments? Lots of people are opportunists, including scientists and many artists, but that doesn’t make their arguments or their art worthless.

            1. Does he really sort it out, though? From his spat with Richard Carrier I had the impression he was doing the opposite of sorting anything out.
              I’m also under the impression, and this purely my opinion, that Ehrman is PR oriented to distraction. Did you think ‘Did Jesus Exist’ was worth reading? I felt it was an attempt to give each side a little bit of what they wanted to maximize sales- but I could be wrong.

              1. I’m not a fanboy of Ehrman, but several of his books, including “Misquoting Jesus” have been eye-openers for me. Yet on the basis of your “impressions,” “opintions without evidence, you brand him as someone who is untrustworthy and is motivated purely by money. I haven’t read that book, but maybe, just maybe, that is Ehrman’s real opinion. Maybe he doesn’t have to take sides. So why are you smearing him here?

                Sorry, but I won’t tolerate that kind of incivility. If you think he’s motivated by money sufficiently that it invalidates what he has to say, give us some evidence. Otherwise, obey Wittgenstein’s dictum.

              2. I’ll re-phrase: The backbone of NT scholarship as it stands is a historical Jesus. People wouldn’t spend time trying to decipher what he said, how he lived or if he actually was divine- or what any of it meant, without that central claim.
                He may actually believe what he said in ‘Did Jesus Exist?’, but his debate with Carrier (available here: ) gives the impression he’s playing a game. No need to take my word for it. People can take a look at their exchange and decide for themselves. In my judgement it’s reasonable evidence 🙂

              3. You still haven’t said anything but “read the debate” (and Carrier is VERY long-winded). Besides, you denigrated ALL of Ehrman’s work, not just that about the historical Jesus. I’ve read three of his other books and found them quite absorbing and didn’t get a whiff of the kind of self-promotion you describe. Besides, Carrier is hardly free of the same taint. Just look at his website.

                Anyway, I decree that you’ve said enough on this topic. As I said, i”m not fanboy for Ehrman, and I don’t see any convincing evidence that even a historical person around which the Jesus myth accreted actually existed, but I think it’s unfair of you to denigrate Ehrman by claiming he says stuff he doesn’t believe to make money.

          2. “The concept of a new testament ‘scholar’ borders on the absurd.”

            You mean that the bible is itself so absurd that it is not worth studying?

            1. Yes and no 🙂 Everything of cultural significance should be studied, but in a certain context. Culturally we’ve simply been indoctrinated into ascribing tremendous importance and respect to the study of the specific religious texts of our own social groups. How would a Muslim or a Catholic see the concept of a Book of Mormon scholar?

              1. How would a Muslim or a Catholic see the concept of a Book of Mormon scholar?

                With perfect equanimity, I’d reckon. They’d regard it as just another academic endeavor.

              2. Surely. That’s why there are headlines like Catholic scholar slams the creation of Islamic chair at ACU… And let’s not forget the Ayatollahs are Muslim scholars- not quite known for their equanimity.

    1. “Truth Matters” by Kostenberger, Bock, and Chatraw answers Ehramn’s clains. They admit he is “really one sharp guy.” But if read Ehrman you should read his critics.

      1. I have; Dr Richard Carrier’s critiques of Ehrman’s most recent works on the historicity of Jesus are very illuminating (as are Carrier’s works themselves).

      2. Indeed. However, your side are the ones making the extraordinary claim, and as such the burden of proof is on you/them. Ehrman provides good reasons to be skeptical about the relevant biblical passages. He also makes the solid point that we have no first hand descriptions of anything Jesus said or did, so there is an over reliance on hearsay accounts written well after the fact by people with a political/religious (can the two ever be separated?) motivation. While there are clearly counterarguments to Ehrman, none (at least to me) clear the doubt thrown up. If someone presented claims with this level of data and doubt at a scientific meeting and claimed them as a basis for a sound hypothesis they would be shredded.

  8. After almost a month of exposure to Texas Republican March 2014 primary election tv commercials (and I only had the set on for Sunday Morning and 60 Minutes), wherein each candidate pitted her/his Christian bona fides against opponent’s each and every flippin’ ad, I’m still surprised our Don the Dentist failed to retain his school board position. He seems quite mainstream — by Texas standards — to me.

  9. I wonder now if people like McLeroy also take things like the Fatima Sun Miracle for granted. After all, it’s a relatively recent, very well-documented event witnessed by at least 30000 people! But oh, only catholics seem to have been invited. Nobody else on earth, not even in the close vicinity, seems to have noticed.

  10. It’s worse than you can imagine. The Texas SBOE has no oversight. If they vote to teach the sky is pink, that’s what will be taught.

    The textbook committees are tacked with creationists and right-wing revisionist historians – no formal qualifications required.

    McLeroy, appointed by Gov. Perry, served as chair for two years before his senate confirmation failed and he had to step down. Only after that did he lose his elected seat.

    Not exactly “heaved” or “thrown” out.

    Perry’s next choice, another overt creationist, was told she wouldn’t be confirmed, either, so Perry appointed a sneakier creationist who currently holds the position.

    The current chair is just as anti-science, but not as publicly bat shit crazy as McLeroy.

    1. McLeroy, appointed by Gov. Perry…

      That pretty much sums it up. I don’t live in TX, but I desperately want Wendy Davis to win that gubernatorial race.

  11. That “500 witnesses” bit is from Paul. In that list, Paul includes himself. Yet by his own admission, he only experienced a vision of Jesus, not a physical body. So this is a list of people who, if they existed at all, may have had visions of a risen Jesus, as Paul did.

    Paul is quite cagey about the nature of the risen Jesus. In many places he seems to be talking about a non-physical risen body, and if he is, then the whole story is so obviously subjective that it can be dismissed without further discussion.

    And Don, if you are around, remember Paul wrote BEFORE the gospels. Paul is the most direct informant we have about Jesus. If Paul says the risen Jesus was non-physical, knowable via visions only, then this carries much more weight than the later, anonymous gospels (which are themselves very ambiguous about the physicality of the risen Jesus, with later gospels tilted more towards physicality than earlier ones).

    1. “Paul is the most direct informant we have about Jesus.”

      More than that. Paul is the ONLY direct informant.
      What is truly amazing in the origins of Christianity is, that, once all the documents of the early Christian documents are analyzed, it turns out that NOBODY HAS EVER MET JESUS ALIVE.
      Christianity is a cult of a figure that was never met on earth by anybody.

      Even though Christians adore the figure of a wooden corpse on a cross, the fact remains that nobody ever witnessed the crucifixion, and nobody ever saw the cross.
      The “original” cross was “discovered”, in fact invented, by Helen, mother of Constantine, 300 years after the alleged crucifixion.

      Christianity became a cult invented from whole cloth by a few individuals about a person that nobody had ever encountered, Paul being the major one.
      Small wonder that many scholars hold the view that Christianity was founded, not by the hypothetical Jesus, but by Paul himself.

      It is the glory of the Dutch Radicals in the 1870-1950 period to have thrown even more mud into the water by raising the suggestion that Paul himself may have never existed and is a construction of the early Christians, same as Jesus was.

        1. Correct.
          Self-claimed, or constructed as claimed. The views on Paul’s existence are still divided, with only the “radicals” holding to non-existence, and construction.
          All the arguments are presented on the German site “Radikalkritik”, with enough English-language material.

      1. “Small wonder that many scholars hold the view that Christianity was founded, not by the hypothetical Jesus, but by Paul himself.”

        Christianity is a religion founded on the death and alleged resurrection of Jesus. Jesus could not possibly have founded it, since he hadn’t died yet while he was alive and preaching.

      2. The Dutch radicals’ arguments are carried forward by the (RC theologian) Hermann Detering in books such as ‘The Fabricated Paul’ – the only one of his, as far as I know, which is translated into English, and which is available as a Kindle download for about three quid (or $4.22). It is an interesting read, although perhaps not history as, say, Richard Carrier would characterise it. Unfortunately, at the end of his book, having apparently demolished the entire historical foundation of his church, he retreats into vacuities such as ‘All so-called Christian facts of salvation are nothing …and that in our midst and within us God wills us to become reality and that we make a place for him’. Thanks a bundle.

    2. Yet by his own admission, he only experienced a vision of Jesus, not a physical body.

      Maybe we should admire his restraint. He could just as easily have claimed 5,000 or 50,000 or even the entire children’s matinee at the Colosseum.

      1. I believe the children’s matinee was not that well attended, so might actually be less than 5,000. (Sticking to our rigorous historical sources here).

    3. “Paul is the most direct informant we have about Jesus.”

      But Paul had no direct information about Jesus. As far as I know, he was nowhere near Jerusalem when Jesus was there.

      “Yet by his own admission, he only experienced a vision of Jesus, not a physical body.”

      That, by itself, does not preclude the possibility that others encountered a physical, but dead, Jesus.

      1. “Paul is the most direct informant we have about Jesus.”

        But Paul had no direct information about Jesus. As far as I know, he was nowhere near Jerusalem when Jesus was there.

        I believe that was Lou’s point — and I’ll certainly make it mine. Paul is as good as it gets, and he’s a laughably piss-poor chronicler for such an event were it really real.

        “Yet by his own admission, he only experienced a vision of Jesus, not a physical body.”

        That, by itself, does not preclude the possibility that others encountered a physical, but dead, Jesus.

        If we had some real evidence for all this, you would have a point. But with Paul being the best it gets, we can safely dismiss the whole thing as unabashed religious fantasy.



        1. I just think that calling Paul a “direct informant” is giving him too much credit.

          On the second point, I was simply pointing out a logical flaw in the argument, not making a factual claim.

  12. On the surface, that comment seems laughable, bordering on delusional. Of course we don’t know that there were 500 witnesses, we just have one anonymous book which makes this claim and many signs that this was fictionalized.

    But I bet that many people won’t see it this way. To them the bible is a work of historical fact, so why wouldn’t they accept the claims?

    It’s another area where their dogma and religion have blinded them so much that they think these claims which seem so clearly false aren’t just possible or probable but are unquestionably true. How do you even begin a conversation about this with someone that’s so far gone?

    1. It’s not entirely a waste of time. You’d be surprised at how many things some ardent and life long believers do not even know about their own religion, to say nothing of what they may not know about science and other topics. Even when firmly in the grip of the religious experience, people are not totally immune to the cognitive dissonance that new information or new thoughts can induce.

      On this very topic I can recall, in high school, studying Matthew 27 and for the first time hearing about all of these other dead people who supposedly rose from the grave when Jesus died. I’d never noticed that before and it rattled me a little. I mean, it’s one thing for one guy to come back to life unnoticed by society at large, but a whole bunch in one night? How could that not be noticed and commented on outside the Bible? That wasn’t enough to make me abandon being a Christian right there, that took another six or so years, but it was one of many little jolts where I could feel reality and my religion collide.

    2. I highly recommend checking google for Richard Carrier YouTube videos in which he lectures (has also published books and also sites other scholarly sources to back up his presentations) on how Jesus most likely didn’t even exist.

      Also check out Murdock’s sites for information and studies about this as well as what appears to be scholarly investigations as to whether or not even Moses existed.

  13. This is the famous statement from Paul’s 1 Corinthians 15:6, where Paul recites the list of all the witnesses to Jesus Christ resurrection.

    1 Corinthians 15 (ESV)
    The Resurrection of Christ

    3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
    4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
    5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
    7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
    8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
    9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
    10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
    11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

    Paul never repeats this statement, and doesn’t give any clue about those 500 “brothers”. They are interpreted as being members of the early Jesus as Christ movement. They are never heard of any more, and the only “witness” of their being around is Paul himself.
    Now, all this, under the assumption that the passage is authentic, and not a later addition.

      1. Mr. McLeroy, if you are going to participate as a Biblical literalist on tis site, I expect you will engage with all of the readers’ serious questions in stead of just cherry-picking the ones you want to answer.

      2. “Don’t underestimate the power of eyewitnesses.”

        What eyewitnesses? It is pretty clear that Paul was not present at these events, except the last. All we have is hearsay from Paul that the appearance to the 500 ever happened; it is not mentioned anywhere else, including Acts.

        “Christianity would have been stopped in its tracks if this were not true.”

        That would seem to apply to any religion or superstition. Are all religions true, then? Are leprechauns real? Surely belief in leprechauns would have been stopped in its tracks if they were not real. If not, why does your claim apply only to Christianity?

      3. It appears you’re overestimating the power of an nth-hand account of a hearsay report of an extremely implausible claim.

        Christianity attained its current heights due to an agreeable Roman emperor, arbitrarily selected scriptures that were illegal for laypeople to even read for centuries and a thousand years, on and off, of inertia, coercion, forced conversions, cultural misappropriation, torture and occasional all-out war, where the great houses of Europe were thralls to Rome until Henry VIII’s Reformation even as they bickered and plotted each other’s demise.

        The long and bloody history of exploration, conquests and empires that followed more or less explain Christianity’s place in the English (and Spanish) speaking world with the last of those Empires, the British, dissolving in the middle of last century. Christianity wedded to temporal power is what turned out to be unstoppable; the swords and muskets of the Europeans who colonised my country (Australia) and yours – and the all-too frequent conversion ultimatums that accompanied them – were far more compelling than your 500 eyewitnesses.

        1. Have you read The Invisible Gorilla? (There’s a website to promote the book).

          I think much of the fallibility of memory was already known but the authors have highlighted it.

          I know that I have a better sense of direction than most people (judging by the number of times I’ve seen others get lost) but I’m also aware how fallible my memory is even at that thing I’m ‘good’ at. (I’m also worse at faces).

          What is also very powerful is the ‘see what you expect to see’ phenomenon. It’s not a matter of seeing things in front of you, it’s necessary to fit them into a cognitive framework before you can make sense of them. It happens sometimes (e.g. driving at night) that I round a bend in a winding road and just see a meaningless pattern of lights hanging in space before my brain fits them into a perspective view of the road and the edge reflectors.

          1. The “Invisible Gorilla” (2010), by Christopher Chabris & Daniel Simons, plays a big role in Daniel Kahneman’s “THINKING FAST & SLOW” (2011), as well as “The Black Swan” (2007) by Nassim Taleb.

            They are both good illustrations of the ways our immediate intuitions (generated spontaneously by our “System 1”) — all the thoughts that immediately “come to our mind” from our unconscious — lead us to all our instinctive, uncritical, non-reflective intuitions, most often valid and lifesaving, but also, in many cases, deceptive and wrong, sources of all our biases and prejudices.

            Kahneman is mostly interested in how System 1 leads us into errors, biases and blindness (“I never saw the gorilla”. “Black swans simply don’t exist”), before our reflective powers of observation, comparison, computation, and reasoning (our “System 2”) kick in, and start examining what the fuss is about.
            System 2 is far from infallible, it is lazy and limited by whatever knowledge has been stored in our brain through experience and learning.

            Kahneman’s book is a must read in the 21st c. for all those whose System 2 is awake, active, and functioning well.

          2. My brain is a jerk. Driving at night it shows me all the wrong things. Maybe it’s the eyes, but I think it’s the brain.

            1. Decades ago I read two books by R L Gregory, The Intelligent Eye* and Eye and Brain, which were partly about visual illusions (quite fascinating illustrations) but also about how the brain interprets what the eye sees and directs it what to look for. So yes, it’s definitely the brain.

              This is probably why vision gets fatigued, such as why in WW2, aircraft observers scanning the waves for sub periscopes could report seeing men riding bicycles in mid-Atlantic, or why I, reaching Auckland after an all-night drive, clearly saw two men loading a piano into the back of a Morris Commercial van on the Southern Motorway (they disappeared when I got closer).

              1. Oops. The * was where I meant to say, the book by R L Gregory, not one of the several others by the same title.

              2. I wonder if that is the explanation behind this?

                On another note, I’ve always been somewhat interested in reading a skeptical take on all these truly bizarre things attributed to Padre Pio. He died less than half a century ago, John Paul II canonized him, and there are numerous wacky stories surrounding the man’s life, all which are far removed from Ground of Being notions.

              3. I often think roads bend when they actually end. Thank god for signs that warn me!

              4. “I wonder if that is the explanation behind this?

                Umm, no. That is to say, fatigue producing individual hallucinations like mine is I think not unusual. But the link you quoted would have to refer to repeated and identical hallucinations of separate people (quite aside from bombs ‘hanging up’ and aero engines ‘reversing themselves’ – how does a piston engine do that?). That would have no rational explanation.

              5. Yeah, I was referring more just to the claims to have seen a person in the sky. The other stuff I would say are either hallucinations or pure fantasy combined with the brain’s proven ability to poorly recall memories (the part about seeing a picture later and claiming that it was the person they saw).

      4. We know Vader killed Kenobi because Luke saw it.

        What is wrong with that claim? Why do you not accept it?

      5. Apparently there was only one witness who may or may not have been telling what he perceived to be the truth.

        You have to trust Paul in order for there to be more than one witness in this particular instance.

        Maybe ask yourself what is more plausible; More than 500 people simultaneously meeting Jesus after his death?

        Or one person telling a lie/in dire need of medication?

      6. What about the Hadith? The Hadith consist largely of testimonials form witnesses as to the deeds and words of the Prophet Muhammad. Does the existence of such eyewitness accounts of Muhammad’s life and teachings legitimize Islam in your eyes? I would think it would have to if one wants to be consistent, no?

        1. damned little of Jesus’s biography had yet been written^H^H^H^H^H^H invented in Paul’s time.


          1. damned little of Jesus’s biography had yet been written^H^H^H^H^H^H invented^W^Wstolen wholesale from the Greeks in Paul’s time.




            1. Elements were stolen from non-Greeks too. Utnapishtim, for example (spelling – was simplified to “Noah”).

              1. One way we can be certain that the Book of Moron is bullshit is because it implies commerce between New and Old Worlds, and the Christians didn’t incorporate anything from Quetzalcoatl into Jesus. There’s no question but that they would have had they been aware.


              2. I do wonder a bit how much of Quetalcouatl as he is now actually derives from Jesus as a result of being filtered through missionaries or recorded from witnesses already tainted by contact with Catholics (I’m not familiar with pre-contact sources, maybe there are lots after all). But it’s pretty clear that this process occurred in Australia, with gospel stories making their way into the desert and back again.
                I can’t find my source for this assertion, you’ll just have to take my word for it. But there are lots of witnesses 🙂

      1. “How could he have appeared to “the twelve” if Judas was dead? It should be “the eleven.””

        Acts 1:23-26 (KJV):

        23 And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.

        24 And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen,

        25 That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.

        26 And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

        1. According to Acts 1, Matthias was not made an apostle until after the Ascension, so there would have only been eleven apostles before that. Also Acts 1:15 says that in those days the number of believers was “about 120.” If Jesus appeared to 500, why so few?

          1. Possibly the story of the Ascension was created after Paul wrote. Possibly he just got confused about the chronology; his own hallucination was clearly long after the Ascension.

            1. The whole bloody thing looks more and more a fabrication.

              Not something I would have considered when I was 7 years old being indoctrinated by the nuns and priests.

    1. Cephas is Peter, right? So how could J have appeared to “Cephas and then to the twelve?” Unless, of course, Paul was writing before the gospel stories were invented, and so Peter/Cephas had not yet become a disciple.

      1. Susan:

        The general question about “who was who?” in the early Christian writings admits of no easy, simple answers.

        Yes, Paul’s letters are believed to have been written before the gospels, but they didn’t first appear until around 140 AD, when they were distributed as a collection by Marcion, a Greek shipowner who had his own views about the whole Jesus cult. Whereas the gospels were coming into circulation around the end of the 1st c., or beginning of the 2d c.

        So, yes, there are arguments to suppose that Cephas and Peter were the same person. But it is not universally agreed upon. Somebody like Bart Ehrman thought for a while that they were distinct individuals.

        And then, there’s the murky distinction between “apostles” and “disciples”. And the numbers varied. It’s not as if there was one coherent story behind all the texts.
        It is possible that in Paul’s list where Cephas is not in the “twelve”, the identity of the “twelve” is unclear, if not mysterious. The way the twelve appear or disappear in the early Christian accounts creates enormous confusion for readers who are looking for complete and perfect coherence.

        And if this quandary was not enough, there remains the possibility that the list is not even authentically from Paul, but was added later by an editor who wanted to rectify Paul’s original account, and introduced the “twelve” because of their image in the gospels and other texts. “Twelve” was a kind of sacred number in biblical writings as it was associated with the 12 tribes of Israel.

        In Paul’s list, are the “twelve” the same as the 12 apostles of the gospels and other early Christian writings?
        This discussion can go on for a while.

        If you have access to a good library, you may find the following books where a pretty thorough discussion of the puzzle is presented:
        1) “Did Jesus Exist?”, by George A. Wells (2d ed., 1986/7), where Ch. 5, “The Twelve” (p.122-142) is dedicated to the examination of the concept. (This is the book whose title was borrowed by Bart Ehrman for his own 2012 book.)
        2) “Cutting Jesus Down to Size”, by the same George A. Wells (2009), where Ch. 4 “The Resurrection” examines the key accounts, including “II. Paul’s Account” (p.133-151), which discusses “To whom the Risen Jesus Appeared”, going through a thorough examination of who were Cephas, James, the Twelve, the 500 and More.
        For many scholars, the enigma of who was James is even more galling than that of Cephas.

        Perfect, absolute clarity cannot be attained when deciphering the early Christian writings. Choices have to be made, dependent on the interpretation and the weight given to various fragmentary accounts.

      2. ‘Cephas is Peter, right? So how could J have appeared to “Cephas and then to the twelve?”’

        What’s the problem? If you meet someone when you’re alone, you can’t meet that same person later when you’re in a group?

        The bible is filled with enough rubbish that you don’t have to manufacture any more.

  14. First, the Bible hardly counts as independent evidence of the events it recounts. That said, though, how many of the five hundred witnesses had examined Jesus’s body before it was entombed, and verified he was dead in the first place. Or was it, “Hey, Jesus, they said you were dead.”

    1. More to the point: How did Paul know about the 500? Who made the count, and who told him about it?
      To count 500 “souls” takes a long time, and you need to get those people lined up if you don’t want to mess up your count.
      No problem. All numbers in Paul and later Christian writings were off-the-cuff inventions.

  15. McLeroy is just presupposing the inerrancy of the bible. No more argument is needed. It is God’s word.

    Its strange that such spectacular confirmation of the resurrection is never hinted at in the gospels. How could they ignore such a thing? A reason for this might be that the passage in 1st Corinthians 15 was added later. Robert Price makes a well argued case that it could be so.

      1. OK, smarty pants, if Oz doesn’t exist then where does the yellow brick road go to, eh? Answer that!

        1. And Sherlock Holmes was real
          When Dr Watson went to 221b Baker Street and knocked, who answered the door? How could that be possible if he didn’t exist?
          Checkmate atheists!

          1. “When Dr Watson went to 221b Baker Street and knocked, who answered the door?”

            I think you’ll find it was Mrs Hudson.

        2. To NZ, of course.
          Though I think there is considerable empirical evidence for the existence of Oz : emu burgers, Australian bar tenders, Crocodile Dundee “that’s not a knife, this is a knife” jokes, etc. That sort of thing.

          1. Oh, puh-leeze! Crocodile Dundee is clearly fiction! You don’t expect us to believe that he could get anything like that broadsword past the TSA and Customs, do you? Besides, if he did try to sneak it past, we all know the first thing he’d do is use it to hijack the plane — after all, that’s the only possible reason anybody could want to bring a sharp object onto a plane.


              1. a lengthy enumeration of all the things that do make you a terrorist?

                Uh, would “everything” about cover it.
                Remembering that the purpose of this sort of work is to help to distinguish between people who should be subject to further screening and those who should be subject to further screening.

              2. Not quite…it’s to distinguish between those who should be subject to further screening, those who should be subject to additional further screening, those who should be subject to enhanced interrogation, those who should be shipped to Gitmo, and those who should just be shot on sight….


              3. Hmmm, I think you’ve seen the “Super High Intensity Training” demotivational poster?
                Sorry, was just looking for a link to that joke, and instead stumbled upon

                In Salt Lake City Utah, people sell shirts like that SL.UT

                Which is probably better. I can just imagine that stretched across a large pair of hooters. On the windscreen of a car. Samantha‘s car.
                Super High Intensity Training

            1. Well, The Bride did it in Kill Bill. I just love how Uma Thurman stalks through an air terminal carrying a razor sharp katana and nobody takes the slightest notice…

              1. Never mind the blade; how’re we supposed to believe Ms. Thurman walking through an airport without being mobbed by fans and paparazzi?


              2. If I saw Ms Thurman walking through an airport with a determined expression on her face and holding that katana, *I* sure wouldn’t be mobbing her. I’d be giving her lots of space…


        1. I don’t see how that affects the point being made. Consider this minor emendation:

          This collection of stories is true. 500 witnesses prove the claim all those stories make. One of the stories says so.

  16. Has there ever been a study about the rapid spread of Christianity being based solely on economics? Since Jesus “died” for our sins, there was no more need to offer up sacrifices to Yahweh. So the people could keep their prized animals / harvests instead of wasting them on the altar. I can see how that would make the average struggling human being from those times move towards Christianity…makes it easier to survive.

    1. Sacrifices to the Jewish god ended with the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70CE. This catastrophic event may have been the major catalyst for Christianity to begin. Of course, Jesus is said to have lived 40 years earlier, but a lot of the New Testament, even in moderate modern scholarship, is seen to date after this time, so we can’t be sure if events post 70 haven’t been retrojected into an earlier period.

      A good example of this is the synoptic apocalypse (Mark 13 and its parallels) which many see as originating from a later time after the temple’s demise had occurred. Another example is the Book of Daniel, which pretends to be written during the Babylonian exile (6th century BCE), but was most likey written later in the Maccabean era (2nd century BCE).

      1. Christianity had already spread around the Med before the destruction of the temple. According to Tacitus, in 64 CE Nero blamed his fire on the Christians, so they had to be in Rome by that time.

        1. Michael:

          This is a most interesting point.
          I don’t want to re-open this can of worms, but it is not clear that the fire of Rome ever happened. Other Roman historians covering the same period don’t mention the fire at all.

          Moreover, Tacitus was writing in 117 AD, when the sect of Christians was known and labeled as such. Using this name in 117 AD to describe events that took place more than 50 years earlier is not clear evidence that the name existed then, in 64 AD.

          Let’s remember that in “The Acts of the Apostles” (written around 80-130 AD) the last page of the Acts (28:17-31) has Paul living in his house in Rome, having assembled the leading Jews of the city and simply announcing that “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (28:28).
          Paul never used the name “Christians” in all his epistles even once. While in Rome, Paul “proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” to the Jews of Rome. No mention of “Christians” or “Christianity”.

          Even more bizarre, no mention of the fire of Rome, and no mention of any resulting persecution. Moreover, “The Acts of the Apostles”, (written way later, anytime during the 80-130 AD period) mentions the name “Christians” only twice.

          Same thing with Josephus, living in Rome after 70 AD, and writing his “Jewish War” (75 AD) and “Antiquities of the Jews” (94 AD): he never mentioned the fire or persecutions resulting from it.

          Back in 64 AD, Christianity didn’t seem then to be existing as a separate entity. The term didn’t even exist. The followers of Christ were not distinct from the Jews. They were not singled out as a separate cult. They only followed and worshipped Jesus Christ and believed that he was bringing salvation and redemption. The name “Christian” was not yet used nor known.
          It spread only once the Acts started circulating around the turn of the century. Pliny writing his famous letter to Trajan (X, 96) around 110-112 AD used the name of “Christians”, but was not sure what it amounted to.

          It is most unlikely that Christians were known at the time of the Great fire, in 64 AD, as a separate cult from the Jews. They were considered a sect with a new message, as evidenced by Paul, by the Jews themselves. But outsiders, Gentiles, made no distinction, and had no special name for them.

          By the time of Tacitus’s writing, around 117 AD, the name of “Christians” was being circulated and used, and this is why Tacitus is using it, as Pliny did, and retrojecting the name into the period of Nero.

          But in 64 AD, we have no contemporary sources showing that “Christians” were known as such, and that “Christianity” existed as such.

          The story (myth?) of Nero’s blaming the Christians for the fire was given world-wide circulation by the novel “Quo Vadis?” (1895) written by Catholic Polish author Henryk Sienkiewicz, and further reinforced by the five movies made on the “Quo Vadis” fiction.
          The book and the movies also propagated the legend of Romans throwing Christians to the lions. Ordinary uneducated people have just swallowed the fiction, and remain thoroughly uninformed about the historical issues.

          Even the three sources we do have, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio, do not tell us exactly the same story. And none had “Christians thrown to the lions”.
          In addition, Sulpitius Severus (363-425 AD), rewriting the story around 403 AD (Chronica, II, 29) gives another slight variation. Only historians care to go back and look up the three basic texts.
          Everybody else goes with the exciting imagery of “Quo Vadis?”, especially the 1951 super-production of Hollywood by Mervyn LeRoy (with Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr and Peter Ustinov), not to be missed, even if it shamelessly garbles history.

          1. I believe Dio Cassius and Suetonius both mention the fire. Josephus was not writing a history of Rome or of Christianity, so there was no reason for him to mention it.

            As for the word ‘Christian’, Tacitus used the form ‘Christianos’. Pliny used similar forms. The word obviously existed then, and presumably earlier, since they expected their readers to understand it. Tacitus says that it was the common word used for Christians.

            Why would Paul use the word? He was writing letters to specific groups of Christians, addressing them in the second person, not the third.

            If you are going to assert that the word did not exist in 64, you will have to come up with positive proof. Merely saying that it did not exist is not enough. Even if no one wrote the word down in any surviving text, the word could still have existed.

            Again, you will need proof, not mere assertion, to claim that no outsiders could tell the difference between Christians and Jews. Paul certainly did so distinguish, contrary to your claim.

            1. Upthread, it’s pretty clear that Paul is as much a literary character as Jesus or Socrates (but in a slightly different sense than Harry Potter, who has an extant known author). No 1st Century texts of Paul even exist, so how can he reliably attest to events of AD 64?

      2. The conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine, who then made Christianity the official religion of Rome, probably helped a little too.

        1. That was a couple of hundred years later.
          One argument that has been made for Constantine’s choice of Christianity as a new official religion for the state of Rome was that he recognised the efficiency of the episcopal system of hierarchical, literate management as being an efficient way to run a large empire of disparate nations, and wanted to get in on it. The problems of the Roman way of doing things – particularly collecting taxes were very evident by that time.
          Not that I’m saying Constantine’s vision was unreal – just that he chose a very conveniently organised religion to have a vision of.
          Wordpress barfed – this may get double-posted.

    2. Sacrifices were not wasted, they were eaten afterwards. The Greeks even had a story about how Prometheus (I think it was) tricked Zeus into accepting the inedible parts of the animal, leaving the tasty bits for the humans. In one of Paul’s letters (Corinthians?) there is a discussion about whether Christians could eat meat that had been part of a sacrifice to pagan gods (he decided they couldn’t).

      1. “…accepting the inedible parts of the animal, leaving the tasty bits for the humans.”

        Sounds disturbingly like a typical episode of Tony Bourdain’s show.

    3. An excellent point that a recent “Jesus & Mo” made: Christ dying for our sins really just saved us all a few chickens and goats.

    1. Apologies to Jerry, I didn’t realize that a link to a tw**t would copy the image to his website’s comments. Hopefully, it’s humorous enough to excuse me.

    1. Please explain in depth how you’re able to make this claim. What specifically are you looking at that causes you to claim that there is no (or little) evidence for the evolution of a ribosome and, if true, how would that disprove the existence of evolution in general?

      1. I would add to that: if you’re dismissing evolution in general, how do you explain the transitional forms between fish and amphbians (Tiktaalik), amphibians and reptiles, reptiles and mammale, reptiles and birds, and of course between our early ancestors and us, all of which occur EXACTLY IN THE SEDIMENTS WHERE THEY’D BE EXPECTED?

        Also, I’d like to ask what observations would convince you that Chirstianity is false.

    2. Suppose God created the ribosome ex nihilo and we somehow had proof of that. We would *still* have to accept that the diversity of life came from evolution because we have proof of that too. To have proof that God poofed the ribosome into existence might invalidate atheism, but not evolution as the explanation for the diversity of life on earth. This is a common error of the religious, to imagine that the theory of evolution requires a theory of abiogenesis, or that it explain everything. I think this error comes from mistaking how and why the theory of evolution exists. It doesn’t exist to refute god. It wasn’t invented by and for atheists to war with Christians. It’s very corrosive to the idea of god, of course, but that was not it’s purpose. It’s purpose was to explain evidence and make predictions, and it does that exceedingly well. Nothing we can possibly learn about the origins of ribosomes, or of life itself, will undo what we can deduce about the history of life that we do have documentation for. To invalidate evolution as the explanation for the diversity of life on earth, at this point, would require vast museums of evidence to simply disappear.

      Or, to put it another way, the evidence for the origin of ribosomes is like the evidence for the founding of Rome… murky and buried in time. But doubting evolution in general because you don’t have a great deal of evidence for ribosome evolution is like doubting the existence of Rome because you don’t have signed documents describing it’s founding. That’s an absurd position that just doesn’t acknowledge how pervasive the evidence for the existence of Rome is. We don’t have to know how Rome was founded to know it existed, and nothing we can possibly learn about the founding of Rome will diminish our realization that Rome actually existed. There is simply too much evidence about Rome’s existence, including artifacts, for Rome’s existence and general character to be in any doubt. The dependency between knowledge of ribosome evolution and the theory of evolution generally that you assert here is simply not true. We know what we know, and ignorance of some detail does not invalidate what we know from direct evidence.

    3. You seemed to cling to their tentative qualification of using phrases like “may have”.
      Scientists always use tentative remarks, in science people are proud of their humility of leaving issues open for possibilities.
      I doubt that you will grasp this mentality, even though you amusingly title your post with a qualification.
      And an answer to that qualification (i.e. Why evolution is [probably] false), no, evolution is not probably false, it is probably true and in all likelihood never will be overturned.

      See, science doesn’t work the way of having one tentative new discovery falsifying the mountains of gathered robust evidence pointing in the opposite direction.
      Remember: you haven’t provided a testable alternative. The result of questioning the textbook explanation is that we are in the situation we were before: ignorance of that very specific issue.
      Even if the mystery of the origin of Ribosomes would remain unsolved, it would not overturn the vast understanding we have cultivated from all the evidence in the world, all converging upon the same elegant solution that is evolution.

      Here’s an example.
      Homeopaths usually cling to their few ambiguous studies that have some contestable conclusion with barely statistical significance, as if this would vindicate their pet theory.
      Problem is, as with the “adage” that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, in homeopathy their claims go right against everything else we know (Brownian motion and how information couldn’t even be stored in liquid water, the sympathetic magic of likeness being a cure for anything it is similar to, anthropomorphic qualities like memory given to molecules etc).
      So homeopaths have an uphill battle if they wish to be taken seriously, because all the other evidence goes against them, and that is no trivial amount of knowledge which speaks against a few questionable studies and one half-baked idea.

      Your situation is similar.
      You’re trying to argue against evolution – a subject heavily studied since the time of Darwin and even at his time with evidence supporting the notion – A field filled with ideas that have been explored and confirmed and others that have been spawned by discoveries and are just being explored, and you’re arguing using a few very specific mysteries against a whole body of evidence, which will not be moved without a similar amount of counter examples.
      Do you even have ONE fossil rabbit from the pre-Cambrian? Even one? At this day, even that that wouldn’t be enough given what we have discovered, but it would be a start.
      Instead, you point at something which is a mere mystery – could be discovered tomorrow to be another confirmation revealing a surprising aspect of the history of evolution – which is only that, a mystery, if I’m being generous with your caricature of the situation regarding Ribosomes.

    4. Are there any proteins anywhere in a living cell today that was not made by a ribosome? NO

      Are you completely unaware of nonribosomal peptides? If so, why should I prefer you as a source of biological teaching material over experts like Miller and Levine?

    5. Your linked post is entitled “Why Evolution is Probably False” not “Why Miller and Levine are Probably Wrong.” This seems to me to be over-reach. You ask for example,

      Does it explain the origin of the original four RNAs? NO…

      There is evidence concerning this and related questions which is not found in Miller and Levine (some of it is fairly new). To think that you have dealt with the entire issue by dismissing an elementary textbook appears as grandiose over-reach. See for example:

      Symmetry at the active site of the ribosome: structural and functional implications
      Agmon, Bashan, Zarivach & Yonath (2005) DOI: 10.1515/BC.2005.098

      Protoribosome by quantum kernel energy method
      Huang, Krupkin,Bashan, Yonath & Massa (2013)
      doi: 10.1073/pnas.1314112110

      A large number of articles found by searching for “proto-ribosome”

      It appears that you don’t even know how a researcher would attack some of the questions you ask, or what possible evidence might look like.
      Does it explain how the ribosome incorporated the “more than 80 different proteins?” NO
      Do they know which of the 80 ribosomal proteins was added first? second? third? and so on? NO

      Are you aware that the assortment of proteins differs in ribosomes from various sources? Do you understand that conservation of sequence is valid evidence of which portions of the ribosome, both RNA and protein, developed first?

      An Analogy – Consider an automobile…

      Do automobiles reproduce biologically? Do cars have sex? Or is your analogy entirely inappropriate and unenlightening?

      You seem to be stuck in the “life is cells, cells require ribosomes” rut. Are you aware of recent progress in the discovery of giant viruses, and how this might affect thinking on the origin of pre-cellular life?

      Pithovirus sibericum: awakening of a giant virus of more than 30,000 years
      Abergel, Claverie (2014) doi: 10.1051/medsci/20143003022

    6. Hi, Don.

      I’m a geologist, born and raised as a church-goer in South Texas and was taught to approach subjects like evolution and the bible just like you’re doing (for whatever all that’s worth to you). I still get these forms of (although interesting topics) straw man arguments like the one you raised about ribosomes from some in my family. The most common being, “how do you explain the existence of the universe?” as a way to end the conversation with me whenever anything about evolution or the bible comes up. I’m almost certain you’re clever enough to see a problem with this.

      I’m also confident that if you spoke with any oil & gas exploration geologist in Texas long enough you would start to understand why -and for good reason- they see the earth in terms of deep time and gradual processes (why private corporations hire them over all other possible options), and generally why they recognize that the rock/fossil record points to an evolutionary history of life. If you want to know specifics about fossils you’ll likely have to read or talk to paleontologists. My point being, if you genuinely want to have a conversation about evolution you have to at least acknowledge the evidence for a very old earth with a sensible, reliable, fossil/rock record full of richness and subtlety that geologists exploit (thousands of feet below the surface in Texas you can find coral reefs, predictable microfossil sequences from drill cuttings, the sedimentary remains of little streams and river beds seen in 3-D seismic, etc).

      Compound the evidence geologists like myself see, which provides a general framework of our world, with completely independent and highly sophisticated evidence like endogenous retroviruses (ERV’s) and evolution becomes as certain as just about anything outside basic mathematics, and this is regardless of the remaining -exciting- mysteries such as the origin of life itself. Here is a good link outlining what ERV’s are and how they support common ancestry among apes, mammals, etc:

      “Three Layers of Endogenous Retroviral Evidence for the Evolutionary Model.” Nov. 2009.

  17. usually christians say there were so called witness for this resurrection, and then say stuff like why would they martyr themselves for a false belief as if that proves the stories true. Then when you look at the actual martyr stories they are even more fantastical and require leaps of unimaginable faith. Paul’s martyrdom is described as when their cut of his head, milk was pouring from his neck.. Yes milk lol.. then he resurrects and appears to Nero and rebukes him. So to believe in one resurrection you got to accept another resurrection LOL.

    1. Still, people have definitely died for their Christian beliefs. Of course, that’s totally unremarkable. People willingly die for false ideas all the time. Why, I think I can recall a group of men flying themselves into buildings not that long ago in the name of some false god or another. History is full of martyrs for every kind of idea, good, bad, true, false, and in between. People are piss poor judges of truth, when you get right down to it, and the fact that there are fools enough to die for a bad and unproven idea is as unsurprising as the sunrise.

      1. Does anyone remember the Jonestown mass suicide? More than 900 people willingly died for their religious beliefs.

        1. Don’t count the children and mentally ill as dying ‘willingly’. Many of those 900-odd were just murdered.

  18. “…over 500 witnesses.”

    And not one of them had any inclination to write it down. Arguably Paul, but still that’s it.

    How many times did Jesus perform miracles in front of 5,000. Four Gospels, largely from the same sources. That’s it. The later ones add details on a variety of stories. That is a good indicator of legendary development.

    The disciples allegedly received the gift of tongues. Yet writing was granted. What a tremendous oversight by an omnipotent being to loose the testimony of the most important witnesses. Either that or Jesus was flat wrong when he said the end is near. If the end really was near, as the Bible plainly states, there wouldn’t be a need to write it down.

      1. Actually, there are pieces of other gospels. But the problem for the Christian is that they *disagree*, sometimes in very fundamental ways, with each other and with the “canonical” ones – which are themselves riddled with contradictions and confusions.

        It was reading about the noncanonicals which was one step on me becoming a mythicist. I figure that if there was anything to historicity there would much *less* confusion over basic details. Yet …

  19. It’s just like the zombie uprising in 30CE (Mt. 27:51-53) was seen by thousands of inhabitants of Jerusalem. Of course, we don’t have a single actual eyewitness testimony. But are you going to tell me that the testimony of Matthew isn’t sufficient to establish the unrefutable fact of the great zombie uprising? The alternative would be that the dead saints walked the streets and kept out of sight, but then why would whoever wrote Matthew say the dead saints rose if it weren’t so? Logic 101 here people.

    You really have to wonder about the quality of evidence for a historical Jesus when an offhand comment by a non-eyewitness is what counts as sufficient and unimpeachable evidence for a miracle.

  20. Excellent comments about the unlikely historical nature of the 500 witnesses pericope.

    But wait, there’s more. Let’s suppose, just for the sake of argument, that there really were 500 witnesses to some event. For thousands of years, eyewitness testimony was considered the best form of evidence as to the nature of some event. However, it is now known that it is, in fact, the very worst form of evidence, what with psychological studies of memory formation. So even then the story resolves into the myth which it so obviously is, based on other well-known arguments.

    Dr. McLeroy:
    If you’re reading this, I would urge you to read Dr. Elizabeth Loftus’ book Eyewitness Testimony. That will disabuse you of the notion that the eyewitness story means anything at all.

    1. Steve Novella includes the subject in Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills, beginning with lecture 3 which I just finished this morning. People like Don, enormously emotionally invested in motivated reasoning, are in the group with the most to gain from learning critical thinking skills. Those individual gains would accrue to us all, of course, the great whole of human society, to an even greater degree than for any one individual in the hive. Are there favorable odds this revolutionary event will occur en masse soon enough to prevent the next great civilizational collapse, or at least maybe something approaching even odds? Nah.

  21. Even smart Christians are aware that the four accounts of the Resurrection in the Gospels are in fact contradictory. Did Jesus first appear in Galilee or Jerusalem? Did he first appear (after Magdalene) to Peter or John? They can’t be reconciled. Ex-Christian ex-theologian Gerd Ludemann probably has the best analysis of this.

    The 500 are visionary experiences to unnamed people mentioned only once by Paul as noted by another poster above.

  22. There is no mention of the almighty stench as (allegedly)500 witnesses crapped themselves when this fellow Jesus rose from the dead.. they all ran for the hills, so in 2005 at this holy site a fossilized turd count was made and that is how they came up with this figure of 500.
    Interestingly enough, they also ran tests to see what they had been eating for lunch and found traces of hallucinogenics mixed in with the dates they had consumed.

  23. According to Acts 1:15, just after Jesus ascended there was a meeting of believers – “a group numbering about 120”.

    So 500 people saw the risen Jesus with their own eyes and 380 of them DIDN’T BELIEVE. *ahem* 76% of those 500.

  24. Suppose there really were these 500-some witnesses. What does that get us? Support for magical Jesus. And what does that get us? Support for what preachers have been intoned all over the planet today: “God/Jesus is watching over you,” for one. My ass.

    Here we are on exactly the 70th anniversary of Claus von Stauffenberg’s tragically failed attempt on Adolf Hitler. I’ve read that there were something like 13 attempts on Hitler – I think von Stauffenberg’s was the last if you don’t count the contemplated mustard gas to the bunker’s ventilation shaft. And this putatively omnipotent God couldn’t engineer the success of any of those attempts?

    So I could care less about claims of putative witnesses. The proof is in how the claims that have devolved from this hypothetical magic have fallen flat on their faces.

  25. This is as good a time as any to announce that I am writing the true biography of L Ron Hubbard and I happen to know that there were 10,000 witnesses to his resurrection – so there, Jesus freaks. My claim is as contemporaneous with Hubbard’s death as any gospel writer’s claim were with the putative crucifixion of Jesus.

    There! Scientology is now a source of objective morality.

    1. Oh yeah?

      And what about the 8,535,221 people who saw Elvis land his flying saucer on the White House lawn in 1933, according to the holy text I’m in the middle of writing? You just gonna call all them people liars? They sure as hell didn’t sacrifice their lives at Appomattox for nothing!


  26. Mr. McLeroy, I once witnessed (x)

    Is it therefore factual to say (x) is true?

    Why don’t you believe it?

  27. How many people saw Elvis walking around after his ineptly faked death? Not to mention all the witnesses to Area 51 and other alien abductions.

  28. Donnie-boy: How did the writers of those “eyewitness” accounts find someone fluent enough in both Greek and Aramaic to compile the stories and why do the resultant stories contradict each other?

  29. This is true– I was in a room with at least 300 people. We saw a man use a metal saw to cut a woman in half. I examined the table and there was no trick door, no fake legs, no mirrors. The saw was solid and sharp. I can find no explanation for how he managed to pass the saw through her without injury except magic. None of the other 300 witnesses could explain it either (I discussed with many of them, several of whole were professional illusionists). Do you believe this happened as I describe? Do you believe magic occurred? I feel safe in assuming that you are certain that there is a rational and prosaic explanation and we were simply not privy to the trick, which certainly violated no laws of nature. Why would the same standard of skepticism not apply in the case of the resurrection, (if we stipulate for the sake of argument that there were 500, they claimed to see the resurrection, etc. ) Isn’t trickery vastly more likely an explanation than miraculous resurrection?

    1. I’ve seen a couple of videos on YouTube with “evidence” that those illusions are real. Magicians allied with demons to make the impossible happen, cleverly disguised as sleight of hand! Some people cannot be helped.

      1. This becomes even more bizarre when you consider that professional magicians are often at the forefront of finding discrediting evidence against all sorts of miracle workers.

  30. The biggest difficulty with the reported “eyewitness” testimony is that even the disciples who were closest to Jesus completely failed to recognize him after his alleged resurrection. Two of them even walked with him on a long journey but didn’t recognize who he was until he broke bread and “vanished”. And then on his last day on earth 500 people saw him ascend “but some doubted”. No reasonable judge would admit such shady eyewitness testimony as evidence.

    1. Exactly. Almost one thing the four Gospels agree upon is that Jesus Resurrected had to introduce himself to be known.

      Think about Doubting Thomas: why did he desire to see nail holes? Why not just see Jesus alive to dispel all doubts? Most likely reason is that Jesus v2.0 didn’t look like original Jesus, and nail holes were the only way to prove the resurrection.

      1. And as Ben Goren is fond of saying – in the story, seeing isn’t believing, touching is.

        I take it the lesson of the story is to show that the ressurrection didn’t involve being some sort of insubstantial ghost or something.

  31. Question for McLeroy: would you still believe in the resurrection of Jesus if there had been no witnesses at all, or any other evidence? Assuming you answer affirmatively, what then determines whether you believe in something? If the Bible claimed Jesus never died at all, but ascended to heaven directly from the cross, would you believe that?

      1. Absolutely. For McLeroy, evidence is irrelevant.

        Follow-up question: Would you believe anything if it were in the Bible, regardless of logic or evidence? If for instance the Bible said that rain falls upwards, would you believe it?

        1. Karl:

          Yes, it can happen, sort of.
          Say you’re running on a golf course, early in the morning in Florida, and the manager in the club house decides to open the faucets embedded in the grass to sprinkle the course, suddenly you find yourself getting soaked by powerful jets of rain rising from the ground.

  32. I saw a UFO tonight and the aliens told me Jesus is living with them. They abducted him as he rose before the atmosphere got too thin. There were 500 other people who saw it too. I don’t know any of their names and none of them have the internet but trust me, they saw it.

  33. Or consider the Mormons. Unlike the unnamed and unknown and probably non-existent 500 witnesses, eleven *named* and verifiably real witnesses attested to the reality of the golden plates that Joseph Smith translated. Does that make anyone think they should take the Book of Mormon seriously?

    Or what about the thousands of miracles on the Catholic books? Gobs of those were witnessed by masses of people. Consider The Miracle of the Sun. Or Therese Neumann’s stigmata and ability to live on one consecrated host a day (confirmed by a medical doctor and four Franciscan nurses who kept a watch on her 24 hours a day for a two-week period). Every single saint in the Catholic pantheon supposedly had a witnessed miracle to their name. Do you accept all of these accounts as true?

    It’s plainly obvious that people believe the stories they want to believe, whether of Jesus raising from the dead, golden tablets brought by angels, weeping virgin statues, the miracles of Hindu holy men, the night flight of Mohammed, and so on. It has nothing to do with evidence, because if stories were evidence we’d have to accept all of these, and everything to do with personal familiarity and the will to believe.

    But really, Elijah had the answer to all of this. Where is God? Why won’t he rain down fire onto the altar now? Elijah strikes the right tone in that story, ruthlessly mocking the prophets of Baal for their god’s failure to show up and demonstrate himself:

    “At noon Elijah began to taunt them. ‘Shout louder!’ he said. ‘Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.'”

    Is the Elijah story is evidence itself? Of course not. If the stories themselves were evidence Elijah would have had no need of the fiery alter. He already had plenty of past stories about YHWH’s reality, plenty of eyewitness testimony to the power of YHWH. If stories were convincing, Elijah could have just quoted the story of the ten plagues to the prophets of Baal, and that would have convinced them, or the story of the parting of the Red Sea, or the story of Joshua’s freezing the sun in the sky. Just imagine if Elijah had done that… “Here, let me read to you from this book and that’ll prove it to you that YHWH is god and Baal is nothing.” But the story writer realizes that that wouldn’t do, that that’s totally unconvincing. Whoever wrote the story of Elijah knew that you needed a real demonstration, and so he wrote a really good demonstration into the story. That same demonstration would be completely appropriate now too. It’s absence makes Elijah’s taunts totally appropriate when addressed to modern religious leaders: Where is he? Shout louder! Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.

  34. It is claimed over 500 witnesses saw this event.
    I think the real question is, Why not over 730 witnesses?
    or alternatively eleven trustworthy mates?

    Not a hint to other species that could have been present at such a momentous occasion for I’m sure, even they would have noticed and possibly even been anointed and chosen to spend their afterlife in heaven, after all, this is the Son of God.

    So, it is not the numbers that matter or who was there in truth, it is whether you believe someone can rise from the dead.
    One witness could do that with serious paper work to back it up.
    A tweet is not going to do it. Sorry.

    1. Yeah, why couldn’t this resurrection be witnessed by the 300 members of the Senate of Rome, for example? That’s 200 fewer people but then we’d have extensive Roman writings about the event along with the writings of the members of the religious cult. It’d still fall far short of proving something as dramatic as someone coming back from the dead. Who said he was dead anyway? Merely showing up wounded and claiming you have been dead is not enough. What was the proof of death? Was he not breathing? How do you know? Was his heart beating? What test was done of that? Was he brain dead? Being dead is, itself, a key fact to be established. At least, though, with witnesses like the Senate of Rome the incident would rise to the level of intriguing historical incident. Without that kind of external corroboration, though, it remains in the realm of mere stories.

  35. Because of the time difference I’ve only read the McLeroy challenge just now, but I’d like to repeat my Fatima question.

    On Sunday 13 October 1917, some 30 to 100 thousand people are said to have seen a phenomenon where the sun started whirling or ‘dancing’ near Fatima, Portugal. This happened after a series of apparitions of the Virgin Mary to three children. We have newspaper articles and even photographs of the gathering.

    There are no reports from the meteorological institutes of neighbouring countries about this.

    I think it’s relevant because it’s very close to home, close in time, and well-documented. Does Don McLeroy, or any protestant, believe this happened? If not, what makes Paul’s story so much more convincing?

    1. I bet they don’t. Probably because it is not in the Bible – and round and round we go.

    2. But the sun does dance in the sky. Go outside and stare directly at the sun(*), you’ll see it dance.

      (*) Don’t do this, it’s incredibly stupid. If anything, the miracle of fatima is that so few people went blind. Same trick works with the moon though.

    3. Sly sleight-of-hand tricks like this drive me nuts. Make an unsubstantiated claim, then use that as a basis for another unsubstantiated claim.
      How did they know 30-100 thousand people were at Fatima? Even today, with overhead photographs and satellite images, estimating crowd size is difficult, as witnessed by highly varying estimates of crowds at White House demonstrations.
      But having claimed this figure, they then go on to claim that ALL 30,000 attested to seeing the Sun dance. Well,no.
      Were all 30,000 interviewed and did they all agree on what they saw? How many actually claimed they saw the miracle, and how many of those really didn’t see anything but lied that they had? (How embarrassing for a pious believer to travel all the way to Fatima to witness a miracle and then not see anything. Makes it sound like your faith is weak. Who would want to admit that to family and friends?)

      1. I also think that of the three children, Lucia Santos is the only one who was so severely deluded she actually saw the apparitions. She seems to have had a rather persuasive character. Her cousins (who were also younger) kind of got dragged in, and once they’d started confirming Lucia’s tales- and the adults believed them!- there was no backing out anymore.

  36. The Iliad tells that there were thousands of witnesses to the god Apollo slaying the hero Achilles, the entire Greek and Trojan armies.

    Yet McLeroy doesn’t believe in Apollo.

      1. I’d actually put Apollo pretty far down on the list of gods the Christians used in the fabrication of Jesus. The short list would have Perseus, Dionysus, and Mithras on it, with special mention to Mercury and nods to Bellerophon and Aesculapius. Apollo would be in the roll call, but in the generic crowd scene section rather than one of the leads.


        1. They also used a goddess, or a near-goddess, Wisdom, the female who appears in many “books of Wisdom” in the Hebrew Tanakh: Proverbs, Sirach, the Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch. This female was the right-hand of God in creating the world, and in knowing the secrets of its working. She tried to impart her knowledge to humans, but was rebuffed. She went back to heaven. Jesus was the one to take the relay of imparting God’s wisdom to mankind.

  37. Mr.McElroy, Thank you for the dialogue. Paul wasnt a witness to anything. He knows of Jesus only thru his self-described visions, and is adamant he got his knowledge “from no man” He lists the resurrection appearances as the first of the NT writers and they dont jive with later accounts in Mark (the first Gospel written) and Matthew, Luke/Acts. He claims he appeared to Cephas which contradicts Mark and others, then the 12? (Judas was already dead according to Mark), then the 500, and to James, all the apostles (again?), and to him. He wasn’t there at any of these supposed appearances. So he wasn’t a witness to anything and the 500 he mentions are either from his vision(s) or are from repeated oral accounts. He didnt meet Jesus and didnt see JC appearing to the 500. No “witnesses’ anywhere. No mention of the women who JC apears to 1st in Mark and other Gospel/NT accounts (which also contradict one one another). Despite what the apologists you list tell people there are no witnesses to the deeds of Jesus anywhere, either in the NT (all the Gospels were written anonymously)or in 1st century accounts. This is but one of dozens of examples why so many of us dont believe.

    1. “No mention of the women who JC apears to 1st in Mark” Mark is the earliest of the gospels and it only talks of 4 women seeing an empty tomb and, possibly, an angel. I’m discounting the last part of mark as it’s almost universally agreed to be a forgery.

      1. Sure makes you wonder, though, if the earliest reporting of Jesus’s final message to his creation are so obviously a forgery, how any of the rest of it can be taken seriously.

        What, Jesus can’t issue a press release to clear up the matter?


        1. God’s a pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps sort of guy who didn’t want to spoon feed us with clear documentation. That’s why he didn’t tip us off about that whole germ thing, or provide a multi-century religious war ending FAQ.

    2. “no man”. Hmmmmm that’s what Odysseus told the Cyclops he was. Maybe Odysseus was just tricking Paul like he tricked the Cyclops. Oh Odysseus, you joker. No wonder Dante put you in hell!

    3. “He claims he appeared to Cephas which contradicts Mark and others, then the 12? (Judas was already dead according to Mark)”

      Slight correction: he appeared to Cephas, “then one of the twelve”, but he didn’t actually appear to the other apostles until after he’d appeared to James the Just. You can find the passage in 1 Corinthians 15 and see for yourself. That should clear up some confusion.

      I’m still debating with myself to what extent early Christianity was a lucrative con that branched off after its founders’ deaths, and to what extent it was the work of self-righteous and deluded messiah-seeking Jews who really believed the world was going to end. The Christianity depicted in Paul’s letters has all the credibility of any other apocalyptic cult designed to rope in the credulous and poor, but it depends on how many references there are to earthy tributes to the church leaders (suggesting a material gain for them), and to whether’s Paul’s, Peter’s, and James’ executions weigh in either way.

      For instance, would Paul have escaped if he’d revealed to the Romans it was a con, for instance? If so, then that suggests his execution was evidence that he was sincerely deluded rather than opportunistic.

        1. I only mention it because of some passages at the end of Philippians, 1 Corinthians, and Romans that sound like tributes and gifts. It might just be the King James Version translation, but here they are:

          Philippians 4:15-18

          15 Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.

          16 For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.

          17 Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.

          18 But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.

          1 Corinthians 16:1-4

          1 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye.

          2 Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.

          3 And when I come, whomsoever ye shall approve by your letters, them will I send to bring your liberality unto Jerusalem.

          4 And if it be meet that I go also, they shall go with me.

          Romans 15:25-28

          25 But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints.

          26 For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.

          27 It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.

          28 When therefore I have performed this, and have sealed to them this fruit, I will come by you into Spain.

          I checked some of the words against wiktionary, and judging from what they mean (“liberality”, for instance), it looks very much like a routine “carnal” tribute. It’s not mentioned in the other letters, as far as I know, so I don’t know if it’s warranted to assume the worst, but it’s suggestive, at least.

          1. I’d say there’s at least a metric fuckton of fantasy on that list — especially considering all the “antipopes” and various other controversies, and that so many of the records only trace their provenance to the Mediaeval period.


  38. Dr.s Bart Ehrman, Robert Price, Richard Carrier, and David Fitzgerald are all noted Biblical scholar/historian/college professor/authors, or some combination thereof. All effectively refute that there were ANY witnesses at all to Yahshua’s rising from the dead, much less 500. In fact, they all effectively refute that “Jesus” rose from the dead at all. How is it that they, whose academic credentials far surpass you own, are wrong, but you are right? My 2nd question: How is it that there are no corroborating accounts of “500 witnesses”? It seems to me that historians of the period would have found such an occurrence note worthy.

    1. But there are “corroborating accounts”. If you look at Acts of the Apostles, they clearly report 120 witnesses were present.


  39. The ‘splitting of the moon’ was a miracle invoked by mohammed. I think it was witnessed by the whole of Mecca. There was also independent verification by an Indian prince. All those people can’t be wrong?

  40. I am sure that crucifixition, being a form of entertainment as well as punishment, would attract a crowd, but to allege that a dead person ups & walks & that there are plenty of witnesses is nuttiness on a grand scale!
    Try this article –
    Effect of religious context on the content of visual hallucinations in individuals high in religiosity
    “Participants measuring high on religiosity were more likely to report false perceptions of a religious type than participants low on religiosity.”

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