Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Case Against Christ--draft of a book proposal

I'm working on a book manuscript. That's why the blog's been pretty quiet. Here's a draft of the proposal. Not the most entertaining thing I've written, but important. I'll take constructive suggestions. But please don't quote the Bible to me.

The Case Against Christ: Why Believing is No Longer Reasonable

Table of Contents
Introduction: Christianity and a Dissenting Voice
Chapter 1: The History of the Jesus Story
Chapter 2: Salem Witch Trials
Chapter 3: Transmission and Reliability
Chapter 4: Abducted by Aliens
Chapter 5: Irrationality
Chapter 6: The Problem of other Religions
Chapter 7: Would God do Miracles?
Chapter 8: The “F” Word
Chapter 9: Conclusion

Projected book length is about 70,000 words. I have drafts of the Introduction, Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7.

Scope of the Book

The goal of the book is to present a number of arguments and considerations that raise substantial challenges to being Christian. More specifically, it focuses on questions about the reasonableness of believing that Jesus was a divine being that was resurrected from the dead 2,000 years ago. My central argument is that believing that Jesus was resurrected from the dead on the basis of the evidence available to us—primarily a small group of testimonial stories recorded in the Gospels—is inconsistent with our other conventions concerning belief and evidence. I will present a number of other ordinary cases where we have a body of comparable evidence, yet we would reject the analogous conclusion. In fact, there are numerous cases where we have better evidence—both in terms of quantity and quality—but we would not accept a similar supernatural conclusion. Several other considerations fortify this argument: problems with the transmission and reliability of the Jesus story made clear by probability theory, modern developments in epistemology, and recent empirical research psychology also demonstrate that we have insufficient evidence to make believing the Jesus story reasonable. Additional discussions of other religions, miracles, and faith will complete the book.

Full Description

Introduction: The book begins with a two discussions to set the stage. First, I give a summary of the state of Christianity today—how many people are Christians? What types of Christianity are prevalent? And what do they believe?
Not only is Christianity, particularly in the United States, a dominant cultural, political, moral, and spiritual institution, but a set of cultural conventions have developed that suppress open, objective critical thinking about it. We are averse to directing critical evaluation at religious beliefs or the grounds on which people build them. Concerns about toleration, respect, and freedom of religion have led us to the point where even asking questions or raising doubts about the wisdom of being a religious adherent are met with protest. Our sensitivities have arisen in part from a confusion of religious affiliation with ethnic identity; raising doubts or criticizing someone’s religious beliefs feels offensive the way ethnic criticisms do, and they are wrong for similar reasons. As a result, doubters are considered angry, intolerant, spiteful, or strident. For example, the majority of the negative responses to the works of the New Atheists—Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens—have attacked them on just these grounds. In an atmosphere where critical inquiries about Christianity are stifled, poor thinking has run amok. Unfettered religious belief thrives in this indulgent environment.

The context has made it difficult to ask and answer a vital question: do the people who are the typical believers in the United States, 21st century adults with a modern education, and with the benefits of all the knowledge at our disposal, have adequate grounds to justify our believing that Jesus, the cornerstone of the Christian religious tradition, was a divine being who performed supernatural acts? In preparation for the arguments I will give, I plead for openness about the possibility that Christianity is built on a mistake. I make some suggestions about the relationship of openness to idealized rational belief formation, and I begin to outline some principles of critical thinking. My goals are to dissuade people from accepting the Jesus story on the basis of the information that we have, instill a desire to be a better critical thinker, and outline some principles and procedures for being more rational, particularly about religion and Christianity.

Chapter 1: The History of the Jesus Story
In order to address the question of reasonable belief in Jesus, Chapter 1 will give a general summary from the mainstream scholarly consensus of the history and character of the documents that relay the Jesus saga to us. The Gospels were written 30-90 years after the alleged events of Jesus’ death. The writers based their accounts on reports from unknown verbal sources with an unknown number of links to the alleged eyewitnesses. In the next 200 years or so, these accounts were copied while other Christian writings proliferated. Eventually the book that we know as the Bible was sifted from these writings and many of the other sources were lost, destroyed, or deemed heretical. I draw on prominent scholarly works to give an accurate picture of the relevant events in the history of the information that will be used in later chapters. I also make a novel application of the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy to a common view about the nature of the modern Bible.

Chapter 2: Salem Witch Trials
The general question facing us is under what conditions do we have a body of historical evidence that might lead us to conclude that some supernatural, miraculous, magical, or otherwise extraordinary event has occurred. Many Christians believe that the evidence we have concerning Jesus is sufficient to cross this threshold. The problem is that there are numerous examples in our lives where a comparable level of proof has been met (or exceeded!) but we reject the analogous conclusion. The accumulated body of evidence concerning the occurrence of witchcraft in Salem, Mass., in the 1600s is far better in quality and quantity than the evidence we have for the resurrection of Jesus. At Salem, they performed careful investigations, held trials, acquired sworn affidavits and testimonies from the alleged witnesses themselves, and so on. Yet a reasonable person does not think that Sarah Goode, Rebecca Nurse, and the other accused were actually witches. The belief that something else that can be naturally explained was going on at Salem is inconsistent with the belief that Jesus was divine and came back from the dead. I consider the implications of the Salem case for our views about what sorts of conclusions are reasonable and under what circumstances. In order to be reasonable and consistent, the Salem Witch argument forces us to either accept that the Jesus evidence is inadequate, or conclude that there were real witches at Salem. The latter is not reasonable, so we cannot justify believing in the resurrection of Jesus.

Chapter 3: It has been argued many times before that the decades between the alleged events of Jesus’ death and their recording in the Gospels raise doubts about the veracity of the account. I bring several new considerations to this discussion. In order to get an intuitive sense on the scale of the doubts, I use miracle testimonies from a famous source: Lourdes, France. I roughly estimate of the general reliability of human miracle testimony at .000016. Lourdes has had millions of alleged miraculous events, but only a handful have been acknowledged as real by the Catholic church. Other considerations like a propensity to accept supernatural claims, ignorance, a lack of skepticism and scientific skills further undermine the reliability of those who claimed to have seen Jesus come back from the dead. Additional evidence from recent research in psychology on memory, bereavement hallucinations, social dynamics, and other relevant features of the human cognitive system erode any confidence we might have had in the alleged eyewitnesses.

A simple probability argument also undermines our confidence in the transmission process that would have communicated the alleged eyewitness reports to us by way of the Gospels. The fidelity of a system of information transmission can be calculated by multiplying the reliability of each link in the system. If a chain of transmission conveys information through only three links (people hearing and repeating the story) where the reliability of each link is .8, the odds that the information will be accurately transmitted through the system goes down to .51. Add in the other considerations from above and the balance tips substantially against believing in the resurrection of Jesus.

Chapter 4: Abducted by Aliens
We can bring out the inconsistency of believing that Jesus was a divine being who came back from the dead another way. I give a hypothetical example where someone, call him Matthew, tries to convince you than an alien abduction story is true. He wasn’t abducted, nor was it someone who he knows. He heard the story from some other passionate believers that someone named Smith was abducted. They didn’t witness the event either. The abduction allegedly happened centuries ago, and the people who claim to have seen it retold the story to others, and an unknown number of people then repeated the story until it came to Matthew. But he’s sure on the basis features of the story itself that the people who communicated the story were honest, good intentioned, and deeply committed to the cause. He heard it from them and now he’s trying to convince you that you should believe on the basis of this body of information.
The alien abduction example illustrates a powerful lesson about the weakness of the Jesus story. If the resurrection advocate rejects the analogy, we can alter the fictional example as much as necessary in order for Matthew’s story to cross the believability threshold. Re-engineering the alien abduction story until it is believable will reveal how far short the information we have about Jesus falls. Our acceptance of the Jesus case is ad hoc and inconsistent.

Chapter 5: Irrationality
The arguments in the book thus far have made a number of presumptions about principles of evidence, reasonableness, and the conditions for rational belief. With those arguments in mind, this chapter makes some of the theoretical issues surrounding irrational belief clear. The focus, as has been suggested so far, is on consistency. One of the hallmarks (the chapter will discuss several others) of a rational belief system is one that treats the circumstances that lead to belief with a consistent set of evidential and inferential standards. The best kind of thinking, says Jonathan Baron, “is whatever kind of thinking best helps people achieve their goals.” Ad hoc, inconsistent, or arbitrary epistemic practices undermines the achievement of one’s goals. The latitude that we have granted the case of Jesus in our adherence to it amounts to a corruption of good practices in a healthy, rational cognitive life. This chapter will also outline a paradigm procedure for rational belief formation, and with the arguments and examples of the previous chapters in mind we will have a more sophisticated grasp of the problems with believing in Jesus.

Chapter 6: The Problem of Other Religions

With H.L. Mencken’s help, I offer a roster of 500 “dead” gods—forgotten, neglected, and rejected gods from human history. It’s been argued that Christians are atheists about all of these gods already, and that they just need to take one more step (see Dawkins and Harris.) What is the attitude that the Christian should take about Gefjun, Sobek, and Thor? And what are the implications for believing that the God of Christianity (not Islam or Judaism) is real? There is an argument against Christianity to be made here, but it has not been well articulated yet. I draw out several lessons from the dead gods:
After considering hundreds and hundreds of applications for patents on perpetual motion machines, patent offices in the U.S. and Britain finally put an end to a dead end pursuit. “We are not going to waste our time pursuing some far-fetched possibilities because we are justified in concluding that the whole enterprise is based on a mistake.”
This conclusion should not be dogmatic, but the utter failure of all of the perpetual motion machines that they had considered justifies them in adopting a very high standard of proof for any further attempts to get something from nothing. The 500 gods example should teach us a similar lesson about Christianity. Furthermore, if all of those gods are not real, then wouldn’t it be fair to apply the same reasoning to the gods that are familiar, like the God of Christianity? If there are enough similarities between the Christian God and the 500 gods, and between the role that the 500 gods played for their believers and the role that the Christian God played for its believers, then the same grounds for rejection should apply.

Chapter 7: Would God do Miracles?

God, through Jesus, and independently, is alleged to have performed countless miracles in order to achieve his ends in the world. And Christianity would be nothing without its miracles. But there are a number of problems and profoundly puzzling questions about the prospect of the almighty, all knowing creator of the universe employing miracles to achieve his ends. I argue that if we understand what it would mean for a being to have all power, all knowledge, and all goodness, it is clear that such a being would not perform miracles. They would be an ineffectual, backwards, and irrational means for God to achieve his ends. Christianity is built upon their occurrence, but their occurrence can’t be reconciled with a coherent account of God.

Chapter 8: The ”F” Word

One objection that will be on the minds of many of the readers of the previous chapters will be the question of faith. “Perhaps the evidence is insufficient to make it reasonable to believe in Jesus, but belief was always a matter of faith for us. It was never about the evidence or believing only that which is dictated by it. These arguments do nothing to undermine Christian faith.”

Believing by faith is believing despite the absence of evidence or despite contrary evidence that might otherwise lead you to reject a claim. I consider a number of other non-religious and religious examples to bring out the general features of faith.

As with many of these topics, the virtues and flaws of faith have been analyzed at great length. I will present two important problems with the faith answer to the preceding arguments against Christianity.

The Public Citizen Problem: The majority of the 300 million people in the United States are Christians. Many of them read the Bible, go to church, pray, and practice Christian rituals. As a result, Christian doctrines color their worldviews. Christian beliefs influence their votes for school board members, for presidential candidates, for which bond measures they will support. They form views and vote on same sex marriage, abortion, stem cell research, healthcare, and social policies on the basis of Christian values. Those values inform who they go to war with, who they will kill, who they will punish, and who they will reward in wars and in courtrooms. Christian values, for good or ill, affect almost every aspect of the public lives that they lead in a community with the rest of us. Opting out of the ordinary requirements of good reasoning and sound decision making is simply not acceptable. People cannot invoke faith to protect or justify their beliefs and actions when those beliefs and actions have such a direct and significant impact on everyone else around them. Being a good citizen and meeting one’s minimal moral responsibilities to your neighbor means that the faith umbrella cannot be used to shield Christian belief from critical scrutiny.

The Floodgate Problem: If disregarding the implications of the available evidence is permissible in the case of being a Christian, then what standards can there be to discriminate between all of the other options that defy the evidence? If the evidence doesn’t matter, then on what grounds can we justify or prefer Christianity? The Christian prefers her doctrine to that of any of the 500 gods on the list from chapter 6. What will the criteria of preference be if the evidence for the reality of the god or events in question is disregarded? We need criteria to judge the merits of Christianity over atheism, Jainism over Islam, or Santa over no Santa. The issues are too important for the guiding principle to simply be “believe that doctrine that I am most familiar with, or grew up learning.” Rational grounds are the most reliable, proven, and safe method we have for discerning what’s true and false, right and wrong. What’s true matters.

Justifying a doctrine by faith also disqualifies it from making any claims about reality. The Christian cannot on the one had insist that believing by faith is epistemically acceptable while on the other hand laying claim to know truths about what humans are, where we came from, what our purpose is, or what we should do with our lives. If the worldview ultimately rests on faith, then those claims are groundless.

Cross checking, tribunal, separation, discrimination, sifting the acceptable from the unacceptable, the importance of constructing an accurate model of the world in our cognitive lives.

The public citizen problem: school boards, presidential votes, taxes, neighborhoods, social and moral decisions, etc.

Need for cross checking is unavoidable.
Failing to make reasonable discriminations between alternatives is dangerous.

Chapter 9: Conclusion

This chapter will summarize the arguments: We only have a tenuous thread of evidence connecting us to the alleged resurrection of Jesus. Examples like the Salem Witch Trials and Alien Abductions with analogous weaknesses (and strengths) to the Jesus story show that we are being inconsistent and irrational when we believe that Jesus came back from the dead. Purported miracles at Lourdes and a empirical research show that human miracle testimony is highly unreliable, even more than we may have thought. The believability of the Jesus story is further eroded by problems with transmission across fallible human agents to the writers of the Gospels. Inconsistency is a hallmark of irrationality. An idealized standard of rational belief formation requires actively seeking out and balanced consideration of possibly disconfirming evidence. 500 dead gods, and many more, from human history teaches us a lesson about human religiousness and raises the bar for Christianity. Performing miracles cannot be reconciled with the acts of an infinitely powerful, all knowing, all good being, such as God. The Christian does not want to justify their belief by faith because of the ancillary problems that faith creates.


The book is pitched at the same market of readers as Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Paul Davies, Francis Collins, Sam Harris, John Loftus, and Dan Barker.

Book sales of these volumes in recent years suggest that a well-written, thoughtful, and accessible book about the subject has a big market.

While there are some calculations of probability, the writing is not technical and the use of powerful analogies and examples is intended to make some complicated issues in epistemology, psychology, and probability accessible and entertaining. My intention is to push the discussion of Christian belief into the 21st century, and everyone who is a Christian or who is affected by Christian belief has a stake in the arguments of the book.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Natural Minds

There’s something puzzling about ontological/a priori style arguments for us now. How do they work? For centuries, the prospect of proving God’s existence through some conceptual, a priori means seemed like an obvious, fruitful route. Like a proof in logic or mathematics, the presumption was that merely through understanding the concepts involved and unpacking their implications it could be discovered that God couldn’t not exist. God’s existence, it was thought, is a necessity—a deep structural feature of God and reality. He could no more fail to exist than 2 + 2 could fail to equal 4.

More generally, how do a priori proofs work? If a necessary truth can be revealed merely by my thinking about it, what are the implications for the relationship of our intellects to the reality that our concepts will reveal? Here’s one of the oldest and most profound epistemological problems considered by philosophers. The mind and its concepts are altogether different sorts of entities than the external reality that they are purported to be about. So how is that that intellect can come to have knowledge—know the truth—about that which lies outside the mind? What is the relationship between these two realms that allows for them to be bridged by knowledge? How is it that the containers that our minds happen to employ happen to line up with external objects and give us real access to them? For centuries the answer, which starts with Plato, was that the only real world is the one of concepts, universals, necessities, and logical truths. The material world is a fleeting, illusory realm. That is to say that insofar as knowledge is possible at all, we have it because the material world conforms our concepts, categories, and philosophical proofs. Mind is the ultimate arbitrator of knowledge, so the world conforms to mind.

With this sort of strong intellectual slant, the notion of proving God’s existence through an a priori proof like the ontological argument was obvious and natural. Our powers of reason are able to penetrate through to the real world when we employ them the right way, so if there is a God, we can come to know him by analyzing the concepts of him.

Questions still plague the intellectual approach to knowledge: how is it that the mind came to have this capacity to escape its confines and access the real world? How can we know that it can know? Why does it have powers that reveal truth instead of deception and mistake?

The embarassing and circular answer most often given is God. He endowed us with a set of cognitive capacities that allign with and grasp the real world. We can know that our faculties are calibrated to reality because God designed them. Of course the circular argument is that the alleged knowledge of God’s existence is a product of these faculties through the ontological argument. So we know that God exists by employing our intellectual powers, and we know that our intellectual powers are trustworthy because God makes them so.

There are other problems with the approach besides the circle. To modern ears, this sort of highly metaphysical and armchair approach to knowledge sounds alien. What’s happened in the last 200 years or so with the expansion of naturalism is that we’ve realized that this classic picture of the relationship of the mind to world has got it all upside down. Nature doesn’t conform to mind, mind conforms to nature. Humans, including their cognitive powers, are the products of the natural world, natural processes, natural (practical) necessities. Our intellectual faculties evolved, like everything else in us, through a process of natural selection. Competition for scarce resources in challenging environments slowly chiseled away the less adaptive biological features from the more adaptive ones. The long, circuitous process leaves us with a mishmash of kludged together features that were good enough at surviving to keep us alive long enough to reproduce. The human brain is not endowed with its cognitive powers by any intentional, thoughtful planning. In our case, as genetic variations occurred, those individuals whose neural capacities made it possible for them to better solve the basic problems of survival: locomotion, problem solving, anticipating the future, planning, and reacting were favored.
Given that our minds are the product of this sort of process, it would be remarkable and bizarre that something like an ontological argument succeeded. (Keep in mind that the philosophical consensus for decades has been that the ontological argument does not work.) In that case, our capacity to have knowledge of God would be a strange anomaly. We would be organisms composed of a varied set of just-good-enough capacities for the practical challenges of fighting, fleeing, feeding, and reproducing, and these capacities arose from thelong, convoluted, and blind process of evolution, yet somehow we have this magical, unerring ability to transcend ourselves and the conditions that produced us and go to heaven with our thoughts.

Perhaps we do have this anomalous intellectual capacity and the nature-makes-the-mind model is wrong. But if someone thinks that a priori proofs really do give us the long sought after certainty of God’s existence in the old school sense of certainty, then it is incumbent upon them to explain just how it is that animals that are produced by natural selection came to have the power to acquire this sort of knowledge. How is it that organisms that are built primarily for foraging nuts and berries came by their magical transcendent knowledge? For a reasonable person who understands the nature of scientific inquiry, there are no serious grounds to doubt that we evolved and that our cognitive faculties are the product of natural selection. So if we can also know God with these minds, how did we come to have that extraordinary ability? The answer is that we don’t have such an ability. A priori proofs don’t give us that sort of access to some deep structure of reality. They help us build more articulated models of reality that predict more and incorporate more of our observations—but the empirical world is always the yardstick that the model must conform to. Rather than giving us a medieval style proof that God is real, what the ontological argument does is open a window on the concepts and logical principles upon which it is built. It is more revealing about the creatures that thought it up than the magical being it is alleged to prove.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Money Bag

Bible scholars, particularly the Christian ones, are quick to boast about the reliability and fidelity of the Jewish oral tradition to explain away doubts about the period between when Jesus is alleged to have come back from the dead and 30-60 years later when it was first written down by the authors of the Gospels. To be fair, there is a tradition in Judaism where a deliberate, careful effort was made to pass some stories and some information on from master to student. I don’t know the research where the reliability of this tradition has been analyzed. What we have with documents like the Dead Sea Scrolls, I think, are earlier copies of documents that we also have later copies of, so we can compare and check for drift and fidelity in written transmission. But checking the reliability of oral transmission from 2,000 years ago would be a much more difficult matter. No doubt much has been written on it. Here are some reasons to doubt that this method can really do what Christians claim it does. (What follows is a better version of an analogy I’ve used before).

For all of the repetition about the accuracy of the Jewish oral tradition we hear, there are some very basic points about reliability and transmission between people that are often overlooked. The problem is that we often overlook the cumulative effect of having information repeated again and again as it passes through different speakers. A simple example from probability theory can illustrate the point.

Suppose that a bag with a police escort arrives at a courthouse in Los Angeles. We can suppose that is part of the evidence in a trial. A court clerk receives the bag, opens it and finds a large sum of money. The clerk then asks the police who brought it in some questions. It turns out that the bag travelled from New York. Along the way, it was carried by three different police escorts. It changed hands for different legs of the journey. Let’s also suppose that the manifest has been lost so the clerk doesn’t know how much money started the trip in the bag. The clerk does some checking and discovers that there is corruption in the three police departments that had custody so that the general likelihood that a given cop is honest is .8. Let’s stipulate that if a corrupt cop gets custody of the bag, he or she will take some. And if an honest copy gets custody, he or she will deliever it to the next leg of the trip without taking any of it. The clerk wants to answer this question: What is the probability that the money that arrived in my office is the same amount of money that left New York?

The answer is the probability that the first cop will take some multiplied by the probability that the second cop took some multiplied by the probability that the third cop took some, or .8 x .8 x .8. The probability that the amount that arrived in Los Angeles was the same as the amount that left New York is .51. If you add two more cops at the .8 honesty rate it goes down to .32. And that is despite the fact that the majority of cops in each department are honest. If five cops with a honesty rating of .9 escort the money, there is only a 59% chance that all of it will arrive at the destination. If seven cops with a .95 honesty rating excort it, there is only a 66% chance that all of it will arrive without some being stolen. Of you can think of the a system that captures and relays information. It doesn’t take many generations of copies on a copy machine, particularly a poor one, for the text on the original to become unreadable and for the information to be lost partially or completely. What’s important to note here is that even when the links are highly reliable, the cumulative effect of transmission across multiple links quickly diminishes the fidelity of the system. And it doesn’t take many links, even when the links are 95% reliable for the odds to drop off to the point that it is more likely that the information/money did not make it through than the probability that it did. If there were 5 cops relaying the money from departments that were 80% honest, there is a 68% probability that someone stole some along the way.

(These numbers deal with the transmitters. If we add in a multiplier that represents the reliability of humans at reporting miracles--think of Mary telling someone she saw Jesus as being comparable to the first person who filled the bag and handed it to the cops--then the overall probability that Jesus came back from the dead becomes vanishingly small. See The Case Against Christ.)

Matters are made worse by other variables. Suppose the clerk has no independent way to know what was put in the bag in the first place; she was just handed a bag, afterall. Then she doesn’t know if it originally contained drugs, or diamonds, or cash, or bonds. She could ask the cop who handed it to her, or she could check the contents of the bag for some clue. Suppose there is a note inside the bag itself that says “This bag originally contained $10,000.” Then she counts it and finds $10,000. Now can she be assured that all of the original contents of the bag made it to her safely? No, she can’t. Notice that the note is part of the contents of the bag too. For all she knows, there was $100,000 in the bag, or 5 kilos of heroin, and when one of the cops took $90,out, or replaced the heroin with $10,000, she wrote the note and stuck it in there. Using the contents of the bag itself to determine that fidelity of the system that transmitted the bag is circular and completely unhelpful. What she needs is some independent (trustworthy!) source to corroborate the origination and transmission of the bag. If she put the money into the bag in New York, and then flew to Los Angeles with it, keeping her eyes and hands on it all the way, then she could be more assured (although a person’s honesty with themselves and even their witnessing an event are issues in many circumstances).

The point of the extended analogy should be clear. We are told by a book that has been transmitted to us across 2,000 years and countless unknown people in between that there were some important religious events that transpired in 30-35 C.E. Between those alleged events themselves and the first recording of those events into a system with relatively high fidelity (writing), there were 30-60 years. And during those several decades we do not know how many times the story was repeated or how many people it passed through before it got the authors and they wrote it down.

We have some semi-independent means of secondary corroboration. We have other historical grounds to think that the oral transmission tradition in Judaism at the time was fairly reliable. Part of our evidence is using written sources to check the error rate of stories that were written vs. relayed orally in different eras of history where we have both streams of information. But as far as we know, the stories about Jesus were spreading far and wide among the early Christians in the first two centuries. And while there may be some transmitters who have a higher fidelity than others, we’re not sure who or how many sources the authors of the Gospel stories consulted. There may be a stream of information running through the Jewish oral tradition that is more reliable, but there can be no question that people will talk, and when normal people talk and repeat stories, we know that they embellish, omit, alter, and improve either deliberately or unknowingly. We can see that the story of Jesus’ resurrection varies greatly among the Gospels. And we also know that a number of non-cannonized sources that gave even more contrary accounts were deliberately excluded. So it is difficult to accept some of the exaggerated claims about the reliability of the verbal transmission of the stories.