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The Resurrection And The Salem Witch Trials
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The Resurrection And The Salem Witch Trials

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It's often argued that it is reasonable to believe in the resurrection of Jesus because of the historical evidence in its favor. That's a mistake. We have a mountain of comparable evidence, much …

It's often argued that it is reasonable to believe in the resurrection of Jesus because of the historical evidence in its favor. That's a mistake. We have a mountain of comparable evidence, much more actually, that there were real witches at Salem, Mass in the 1690s. We should reject the resurrection for the same reasons we don't think the Salem Witches were real.

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  • 1. Did Jesus Return from the Dead?
    The Resurrection: Jesus and the Salem Witch Trials
    Debate 1: Matt McCormick and Russell DiSilvestro
  • 2. The Gospels: Some History
    Jesus is thought to have been executed about 35 A.D.
    Mark was written around 65 A.D.
    Matthew, Luke, and John were written 5-35 years later.
    Matthew and Luke got their account from Mark, and possibly another source sometimes called Q.
    None of these works were written by eyewitnesses, and none of them were written by the disciples Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.
    We do not know how many people the stories passed through from the events to their being recorded.
    The ending of Mark that gives the account of Jesus returning from the dead was added 125-150 years later still.
    We do not have any other original Gospels. We have copies of copies from 100-200 years later.
  • 3. The Historical Case for Jesus
    • The early Christian stories are often defended as reliable on the grounds that:
    • 4. there were multiple eyewitness accounts,
    • 5. it would have been too difficult to fake given the public nature of Jesus’ execution,
    • 6. the witnesses would not have had any ulterior motives about reporting something that would get them persecuted,
    • 7. the followers were so convinced that they gave up their jobs and their possessions,
    • 8. many of the events of the New Testament have been historically corroborated: the reign of Herod, the destruction of the temple, the growth of the early church. 
    • 9. A resurrection is an idea that the Jews would not have been able to come up with on their own, and so on.
    • 10. In general, the claim is that given all of our historical evidence, the best explanation is that Jesus really was resurrected from the dead.
  • The Salem Witch Trials:
    • Between 1692 and 1693, dozens of people were accused, arrested, stood trial, and were tortured or hanged for “Sundry acts of Witchcraft,” possession by devils, and other supernatural ill deeds.
    • 11. Strange behavior in some little girls fed suspicions.
    • 12. Ultimately over 150 people were accused.
    • 13. William Phips, the governor of Massachusetts got involved. A court was established.
    • 14. Thorough investigations were conducted. Witnesses were carefully cross-examined.
    • 15. Evidence was gathered. Many people confessed.
    • 16. The entire proceedings were carefully documented with thousands of sworn affidavits, court documents, interviews, and related papers.
    • 17. In the end, 19 people, including Sarah Goode, and Rebekah Nurse had been sentenced and executed. 
    • 18. Today, the Salem Witch Trials are a frightening example of how enthusiasm, hysteria, social pressure, anxiety, and religious fervor can be powerful enough to lead ordinary people to do such extraordinary and mistaken things. “Witch hunt” has come to be synonymous with an irrational and emotionally heated persecution.
  • Was there REAL magic at Salem?
    • Suppose we approach the Salem Witch Trials the way the resurrection has been treated.
    • 19. Consider that the accused at Salem were really witches.
    • 20. Hundreds of people were directly involved.
    • 21. They testified in court, signed sworn affidavits, and demonstrated their utter conviction that the accused were witches.
    • 22. Furthermore, they came from diverse backgrounds and social strata.
    • 23. They included magistrates, judges, the governor of Massachusetts, respected members of the community, husbands of the accused, and so on.
    • 24. These people had a great deal to lose by being correct—men would lose their wives, children would lose their mothers, community members would lose friends they cared about. It seems very unlikely that they could have had ulterior motives. 
    • 25. The trials were thorough, careful, exhaustive investigations. They deliberately gathered evidence, and made a substantial attempt to objectively sort out truth from falsity. In the court trials, they attempted to carefully discern the facts.
    • 26. That there were witch trials in Salem and that many people were put to death has been thoroughly corroborated with a range of historical sources.
  • We have a great deal of historical evidence about Salem.
    • The trials were a mere 300 years ago, not 2,000.
    • 27. We have the actual documents; we do not have any of the original Gospels, only copies from centuries later.
    • 28. We have the actual, sworn testimony of people claiming to have seen the magic performed; the Gospel stories are retellings of stories that were passed by word of mouth through an unknown number of people.
    • 29. For the Salem witch trials, we have enough evidence—primary, original document--to fill a truck.
  • Evidence for Magic in Salem >> Greater than Evidence for Magic in Jerusalem
    • By any reasonable measure of quantity and quality, the evidence we have for concluding that there were real witches in Salem is vastly better than the evidence we have that Jesus did anything supernatural.
    • 30. But it isn’t reasonable to believe that they were witches.
    • 31. Even though they were tried, convicted, and executed for witchcraft, they were not witches and they did not perform any magical acts.  Even though so many people were utterly convinced that they were, you don’t think they were witches.
    • 32. Nor do I need to defend any particular alternative explanation, such as the rotten rye grain/hallucination theory, in order to reasonably conclude that they weren’t witches.
    • 33. Salem shows that an even heavier burden of proof than what we have for the resurrection of Jesus, and it remains unreasonable to believe that anything magical happened.  
    • 34. No clear-headed, consistent, and reasonable person should accept the resurrection on the historical evidence.
    • 35. Notice that if you are a Christian, you already accept a historical argument just like this for what really happened for the origins of Islam, Hinduism, Mormonism, Sikhism, Baha’i, Buddhism, and all the other non-Christian religions.
  • Result: Three Responses
    Magic in neither: Consistently apply the standards of evidence you already accept and conclude that nothing supernatural happened in Salem or in Jerusalem.
    Magic in both: Lower your standards of evidence and conclude that supernatural events happened in Jerusalem and Salem.
    Magic in Jerusalem, but not Salem. Split the cases and argue for some disanalogythat makes it reasonable to believe in Jesus but not witches.
  • 36. Problems with Lowering Your Standards
    If we lower our standards to allow magic in Jerusalem and Salem, we open the floodgates for other alleged supernatural events.
    African witch hunts, the Inquisition, other incompatible religious miracles, many other non-Christian religions, Saudi Arabian witch craft trials, Youtube charlatans, faith healers, con men, spiritualists, seances, miraculous healings, . . . .
    Many of these events are easily revealed as frauds or mistakes. Many of the religious miracles are contrary to Christianity. You cannot consistently accept Jesus’ divinity and Judaism or Islam.
    Lowering our standards makes us into gullible and contradictory dupes.
  • 37. Split the Cases?
    Jesus was different than the witches at Salem, right?
    They’re disanalogous because, one might argue, there are features of the Jesus case that are not present in the Salem case and that they make it reasonable to accept the resurrection but not witchcraft.
    What are those features?
    Problem: We just don’t have much info about Jesus. Clearly, the evidence shows that something other than real witchcraft was going on at Salem. . .
    We know so little about Jesus, our information is so fragmented, tenuous, and remote from the source. We don’t have enough info to say that the same natural explanation wasn’t the case at Jerusalem.
    The biggest problem is that the cases are comparable in the important ways, and we have so much more and such better evidence about Salem.
  • 38. No Resurrection, and No Witches at Salem
    The principles and the good sense that lead us to conclude there were no real witches at Salem (and many other conclusions) are sound.
    Those principles and our good sense already show us that Jesus was not resurrectedand that Rebekah Nurse did not actually cast any supernatural curses on anyone.
    We should not believe that Jesus came back from the dead on the basis of the information that we have.