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Did Jesus rise from the dead?

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Kilk1Kilk1 (PRO)
I thank my opponent for the opportunity to do this debate. When some among the Christians at Corinth said “that there is no resurrection of the dead,” the apostle Paul pointed out that the logical consequence would be that Jesus Himself didn’t rise. “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.” Christianity is confirmed by Jesus’ resurrection, and it’s refuted if He didn’t rise.

The Evidence

To begin, I will set up four fairly uncontroversial facts regarding Jesus’ resurrection. Three are virtually unchallenged by scholars in the field, and one is conceded by a tightly‐gripping majority.

Fact 1: Jesus’ Crucifixion

Evidence favoring Jesus’ crucifixion is that it’s reported in all four Gospels. For Christians to report such a painful, humiliating death satisfies the criterion of embarrassment used by historians: If people report something that’s embarrassing for them or their cause, it’s probably because it’s true!

Ancient non‐Christian sources—Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18:3:3), Tacitus (Annals 15:44), Lucian (The Death of Peregrine, 11–13), and Mara bar Serapion—also record Jesus’ crucifixion. Reported by Christian and non‐Christian alike, no wonder scholars of virtually all strains accept the historicity of Jesus’ crucifixion. Even John Dominic Crossan of the Jesus Seminar states, “Jesus’ execution is as historically certain as any ancient event can ever be …”

Fact 2: The Empty Tomb

Although they’re not virtually unanimous, as they are with the three other facts I’m presenting, a study found that approximately 75% of scholars who address whether Jesus’ tomb was found empty after His crucifixion concede such as being historical. The scholar Géza Vermès, a skeptic of Jesus’ resurrection, wrote, “[W]hen every argument has been considered and weighed, the only conclusion acceptable to the historian must be that … the women … found to their consternation, not a body, but an empty tomb.” Let’s consider just three arguments favoring the empty tomb’s historicity.

First, preaching of the resurrection began in Jerusalem (referenced by Acts and corroborated by Tacitus’ The Annals, which calls Judea “the first source of the evil” known as Christianity). This is significant, considering it’s the city where Jesus’ tomb was located. If the tomb weren’t empty, surely Christianity wouldn’t have been able to start off in the very city that would have proven the resurrection wrong!

Second, there’s enemy attestation. If a child tells his suspicious parents that someone else just broke in and stole the cookies from the cookie jar, we at least know they’re not in the jar. Otherwise, the child would just point out that the cookies are still in the jar, rather than make an excuse for their absence. In the same way, since the early enemies of Christianity claimed that Jesus’ body was stolen (sourced here, here, and here)—rather than that it was still in the tomb—we at least know that no corpse was in Jesus’ tomb.

Third, if the empty tomb story were made up, so would be its details. But then we would find men, not women, as the primary witnesses to the empty tomb. During this time, the testimony of women was considered weak and could only be used in select circumstances. Josephus, for example, says that “on account of the levity and boldness of” women, their testimony should not be admitted. It’s argued in the Talmud “that any testimony which a woman is qualified to give[,] [gamblers, usurers, slaves, etc.] are also qualified to give.” Thus, the criterion of embarrassment supports the empty tomb.

Fact 3: Jesus’ Post‐Crucifixion Appearances

In the words of Germany’s leading resurrection skeptic, Gerd Lüdemann, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’s death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ” (What Really Happened to Jesus, pg. 80, quoted online here). The apostle Paul delivers in 1 Corinthians 15 what is “first of all” concerning the gospel:

that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas [Peter], then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.

We have here appearances to individual disciples, to groups of disciples, and even to unbelievers. The Gospels and the Book of Acts both corroborate and add to this list.

Also, the appearances were convincing such that the disciples sincerely believed Jesus was risen from the dead. This is supported by the fact that they were willing to suffer and die for their belief. Many ancient sources testify to the apostle’s willingness to die for their claims (see The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, by Gary R. Habermas and Michael R. Licona, pgs. 56–69).

Therefore, those proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection went from abandoning Him, denying Him, and for some simply not believing in His authority in the first place, to sincerely believing they saw Jesus risen from the dead.

Fact 4: Predisposition Against Jesus’ Resurrection

“In the first century, people didn't understand what we know today; dead men don't rise.” Actually, those in the first century knew about death just as well as we do. One might posit their “superstitious religion” as a difference. But in fact, their religious background only served as a further hindrance, not an aid, to their new belief!

In first‐century Judaism, the Messiah was viewed as the one who would overthrow the Roman government. Death, then, seemed only to disprove that one was the Christ. And the fact that Jesus died by crucifixion would prove that He was cursed!

Furthermore, the Jews' understanding of the resurrection was for it to occur universally at the end of time. Christians shared this belief, but it suddenly became centered on, of all people, the Messiah, who now was considered to be the One bringing in the resurrection for everyone else—quite a leap from believing the Messiah wouldn’t die in the first place!

Some witnesses even were hostile to Jesus, such as Paul. Jesus’ brother James didn’t believe Him to be the Christ. Later, however, he saw Jesus alive, and became a leading member of the church at Jerusalem.

Thus, the fourth and final fact is that the disciples’ prior inclination was against such a thing as Jesus rising from the dead before the future resurrection.

Interpreting the Evidence

C. Behan McCullagh lists seven criteria to decide whether an explanation of facts (the hypothesis) is justified based on the facts themselves (the observation statements). The first qualification appears redundant to me, so we’ll consider the remaining six:

Explanatory Scope

Jesus’ resurrection explains why Jesus’ tomb was empty and why both follower and skeptic alike saw Him alive afterward. It also explains how their understanding of the resurrection was transformed.

Explanatory Power

If a certain explanation makes the facts we know highly likely, then it has strong explanatory power. Jesus rising from the dead not only explains the facts but also makes the facts probable; we’d expect His tomb to be empty and for people to become convinced of seeing Him to such an extent that they would die for their belief, even if such were against their bias.


To say a hypothesis is plausible is to say that it is probable based on accepted truths. A theistic worldview would make probable Jesus’ resurrection, but a worldview denying the existence of God would do just the opposite. Since neither position is assumed in this debate, we'll take the neutral path here and say the resurrection is neither plausible nor implausible.

Ad hocness

Also, an explanation must not be ad hoc, requiring, in the words of McCullagh, many “new suppositions about the past which are not already implied to some extent by existing beliefs.” The resurrection hypothesis requires only two statements: 1) that Jesus died when He was crucified and 2) that He was alive after He was crucified; and these are implied by existing beliefs. Statement 1 is supported by the fact that, well, Jesus was crucified; let’s just say He wasn’t given a slap on the wrist. Statement 2 is supported by the fact that people of diverse backgrounds and persuasions saw Jesus alive after crucifixion both individually and in groups. Thus, the resurrection is not ad hoc.


Obviously, a theory cannot be true and contradict something else that’s true. Though people don’t rise from the dead naturally, this doesn’t disconfirm Jesus’ rising from the dead supernaturally.

Relative Superiority

Finally, to be considered true, a theory must fit the qualifications above much better than do its competing explanations. There isn’t any good competing hypothesis challenging Jesus’ resurrection:

Thus, it is only rational to conclude that the resurrection of Jesus is a historical event. I look forward to my opponent’s case.

Return To Top | Posted:
2017-05-13 02:25:31
| Speak Round
adminadmin (CON)
I'd like to thank my opponent for the opportunity to do this debate. In this debate I'm going to do something I rarely do: offer a counter-model.

I've argued before that most if not all of the Jesus narrative may be fictional, but in this debate, let us assume there was some dude called Jesus, killed on a cross around the time of the Jewish passover in roughly 30AD. All four canonical biblical gospels then agree Jesus was buried in the tomb of a pharisee known as Joseph of Arimathea. Mark 15:43 states "Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body." The other writings even provide an explanation for why this was - Joseph was "a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews" according to John 19:38. At no point is there any indication Joseph communicated with the other disciples about his intentions during this process. He picked up the body, gave it a funeral, dumped it in his own grave, and the disciples of Jesus (who were themselves in hiding at this point) found out about it. Jesus' mum and kinda-girlfriend (who I call the Marys) attended his funeral.

All this happened quite late in the day on a Saturday, which is significant because Jews don't work on the Sabbath. They had to get everything done fast. Mark records that Joseph worked with such urgency, Pilate was surprised to hear that Jesus was already dead when Joseph requested the body. John records that the crucifixion itself was also cut short because of the fast-approaching Sabbath. Matthew also adds that guards were posted and an extra sturdy stone was used to prevent grave-robbing to fulfill Jesus' prophecy, and that the tomb was new, so nobody else was probably buried there (which is significant - nobody had checked the place, and the only person who helped oversee the burial preparations was Jesus' and Joseph's mutual friend Nicodemus). After the three days the authorities apparently allowed open access to the tomb, since the gospels agree the Marys just expected to be able to take a look at that time without any hassle other than moving the rock at the entrance (and they expected to be able to ask for help).

In Judaism, the practice was for rock tombs to be family traditions. Perhaps the most famous is the Cave of Machpelah, used for Abraham and his family. Archaeological evidence proves this practice is at least ~5000 years old. The tombs were reserved for the wealthy, which makes sense since the gospels agree Joseph was wealthy and a powerful religious figure. Common people were buried in the ground outside of the city. After one generation in a rock tomb, old bodies would be removed to make room for the new. Simple explanation here.

In my model, Joseph took Jesus into his own tomb, guarded him carefully for three days, and then moved the remains to a common grave.

This fits in several ways. If Joseph really was a devout follower of Jesus, then as the Jewish authorities themselves suspected, he simply removed the body to stage a "resurrection." Other disciples would not have had access, but Joseph would because it was his family tomb, probably right under his house, certainly in his garden. Nor would him removing a body from the tomb be considered unusual. If Joseph was not really a devout follower of Jesus, which I think is quite probable given his position on the council, then he put Jesus in a tomb as a temporary measure in a hurry, while he made arrangements for the body to be properly buried in a common grave underground. This also makes sense because Joseph's grave was in the city, closer to the palace of Pilate than the outskirts of the city.

Either way it appears the action could have broken some elements of Jewish custom, and other non-biblical writings from the period do attest that Joseph was subsequently imprisoned for this act. He later fled to his hometown. It also explains why access to the tomb was opened after 3 days, since the authorities would have known first that Jesus would not be there, and why the Jewish authorities seemed subsequently quite unconcerned that the body of an important religious figure had gone "missing." Most importantly it explains Matthew's account in 28:11 for why the guards of the tomb were "paid" to tell the story the body was stolen. Either the act was misinterpreted as a bribe by Christians, or the payer was Joseph himself - in both accounts, as a means for Joseph to save face for moving the body of Jesus. The last thing the council could afford at the time was a scandal against them from one of their most senior members.

It is my contention that this account equally well fits the historical narratives that have been preserved, while not relying on a supernatural occurrence. As pro has pointed out, this is also the very narrative that the earliest opponents of Christianity used. While hesitant to name Joseph as the exact culprit, they do suggest that this was at least what Jewish authorities suspected, if not outright could prove happened.

How does this story fit pro's "facts"?
First, we both agree in our models that Jesus died. No contest.

Second, we both agree an empty tomb was found, with the stone rolled away. In pro's narrative this is because Jesus flew up to heaven - in mine it is because Jesus' body was moved by Joseph.

Where we disagree, then, is on the post-resurrection appearances and their context. At the time, Judea was in the grip of the Romans, who were not popular. They were so unpopular the Jews revolted soon afterwards, which is what Josephus mostly wrote about. Jesus message was at odds with most of the other Jewish sects in that it was distinctly anti-nationalist - indeed he openly expressed support for the coexistence of Roman government and religious piety. However, the Roman authorities didn't understand his teachings until much later. In particular, we know Romans suspected the Christians of cannibalism, taking the "body and blood of Christ" thing literally, among other dark practices. Most of the empire, therefore, subsequently persecuted Christians. But it is easy to see how common Jewish people, who did not wish to revolt and were sick of constant violence in the region, would be attracted by a charismatic preacher offering a religious message of hope in such dark times. The gospels record that Jesus drew in huge crowds, and although he didn't seem to like the attention much, he remained consistent in his message until his death.

So what about the actual resurrection narrative then? Well...
  • The earliest writings after Jesus death, like the gospel of Mark or the letters of Paul, make no mention that anyone who knew Jesus personally ever saw him after his death. In these narratives, it is entirely possible the people may have seen somebody, but that this person was not Jesus. There are numerous other contradictions in later accounts of Jesus-visitations, which people still experience to this day.
  • Later writings do suggest that the disciples saw Jesus privately. If this is true - which is unlikely since the earlier writings didn't record this important detail - then there are two possible explanations. Either they were lying - which is what the Jewish authorities at the time in fact said, and which the disciples had a very strong incentive to do. Other writings, like the non-Biblical Gospel of Peter, have another interpretation - that the disciples themselves did not believe in a physical resurrection as the Pharisees did, but a metaphorical one, which was subsequently misinterpreted by others. Jesus' own messages don't give many hints, although there were other sects in Judea at the time - like the Sadducees - that took this view. The disciples are fundamentally unreliable witnesses, because they had every incentive to lie.

A common answer to this is "why didn't the Jewish authorities just produce Jesus' dead body to shut everybody up?" Again, this narrative has the simplest explanation: they literally couldn't. Jesus' body was buried among hundreds of other commoners underground on the outskirts of the city. Even if they could find the same spot and dig Jesus up again, the decomposed remains would hardly convince anyone it was Jesus. It could have been anyone of roughly the same height.

In the next round I'll expand further on Jewish society at this point in time, because understanding it is crucial to understanding the resurrection.

Which model better meets the criteria?
For brevity's sake I'll use pro's model to assess which outcome is more reliable.

SCOPE - both models explain the actions of the Christians following the burial of Jesus. My model better explains the actions of the Jewish authorities, and in the next round I'll expand on how the Romans reacted as well.

POWER - both narratives explain the empty tomb and appearances, with few gaps (although it's easy to have few gaps if you can resort to "God did it" every time).

PLAUSIBILITY - in general, I disagree this point is simply moot for his case, and that no other explanation is plausible. Not only is this explanation plausible, it is supported by Christian authors themselves writing in the Holy Bible. It is further reinforced by evidence from other texts from the period and archaeological findings, with no internal contradictions. Whether God exists or not, my model is plausible, while my opponent's is not.

AD-HOCNESS - I can't figure out what pro thinks is ad-hoc about this view since it is fully supported by the same evidence. Furthermore, my model is considerably more robust, meaning it is less ad-hoc than pro's model. It does not rely, for example, on the disciples lying or Joseph being a Jesus-follower - in each case there are many alternatives that still fit the overall narrative - it is merely the most plausible based on historical evidence.

DISCONFIRMATION - neither model is inherently disconfirmed. History is murky.

The resolution is negated.

Return To Top | Posted:
2017-05-19 23:55:15
| Speak Round
: Do you agree that at the time of Jesus' death, one of the major concerns of the Jewish authorities was preventing the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem?
: I never read anything about this, but I could be persuaded by sources.
: Just to be clear, of the four facts I presented—Jesus’ crucifixion, the empty tomb, Jesus’ post‐crucifixion appearances, and the predisposition against Jesus’ resurrection—which are you conceding?
: For this case, I agree that Jesus was crucified, buried, and that the tomb was subsequently found empty. I strongly disagree there was a predisposition against Jesus' resurrection. We agree that some people may have claimed to see Jesus after his death, although perhaps we can enter into a discussion around who exactly saw him and when.
: Do you agree that at the time of Jesus' death, one of the major concerns of the Roman authorities was preventing a revolt, while meeting the tax demands of the emperors?
: Yes, this seems correct.
: You said, “The earliest writings after Jesus death, like the gospel of Mark or the letters of Paul, make no mention that anyone who knew Jesus personally ever saw him after his death.” How would you reconcile this statement with 1 Corinthians 15:1–8?
: I have a lot to say about that passage actually. Paul provides a shopping list of people who had a revelation of Jesus before him to show his own ethos. He didn't know about the empty tomb or a bodily resurrection. Drawing on this we might assume by "revelation" Paul actually meant this was the order in which people came to accept Jesus' testimony, although he exaggerated the size of the church in Galilee according to Acts. The original Greek word ὤφθη can mean both "was seen" or "was taken" so textually either fits. Note this is the only passage in Paul's writing that references this.
: Do you agree that at the time of Jesus' death, both Roman law and Jewish custom demanded that dead bodies of prisoners be buried outside the city walls?
: I agree that the tombs existed outside the walls of Jerusalem.
: What in particular was your reasoning for the claim that “the disciples had a very strong incentive” to lie?

Return To Top | Speak Round
Kilk1Kilk1 (PRO)

Let’s continue this important discussion.

The Facts

In Round 1, my opponent conceded Jesus’ crucifixion and empty tomb but not His post‐crucifixion appearances (other than “that some people may have claimed to see Jesus after his death”) or the predisposition against Jesus’ resurrection. We’ll first revisit the facts Con disputes, and then we’ll compare each of our theories explaining the facts.

Jesus’ Post‐Crucifixion Appearances

Again, the fact of Jesus’ post‐crucifixion appearances involves more than just “that some people may have claimed to see Jesus after his death”; it entails that they sincerely believed they saw Jesus alive. Con’s refusal to acknowledge this puts him on the fringe, pitting himself against virtually all scholars on the topic. As already discussed, Gerd Lüdemann rates this fact as “historically certain.” North America’s leading resurrection critic, Bart Ehrman, writes that “it is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution,” citing as example “the apostle Paul, [who] claims quite plainly to have seen Jesus alive after his death.”

My opponent claims that the Greek word horaó (Greek, ὁράω) can also mean “was taken,” not just “was seen.” This is false. The word means, “I see, look upon, experience, perceive, discern, beware.” When it’s in the passive aorist form ὤφθην—which is how it appears in 1 Corinthians 15—the word specifically means, “I was seen, showed myself, appeared.” This explains why the various translations of 1 Corinthians 15 never render the word “was taken,” but rather translate it “was seen” or “appeared.” If Con should still claim the word can mean “was taken,” he must offer sources.

(As a side note: Con argued that if horaó could mean “was taken” [which we’ve seen is false], then this rendering should be preferred because Paul allegedly “didn’t know about the empty tomb or a bodily resurrection.” This also is problematic. Paul writes in Philippians 3:20–21 that when Christ returns [i.e., to raise Christians from the dead, 1 Cor. 15:22–23], He “will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body” (emphasis added). Paul, then, taught resurrection as being where the mortal body is transformed to an immortal, “glorious body”—thus being bodily in nature. Also, Paul must have believed in the empty tomb, because to believe “that [Christ] was buried, and that He rose” bodily, He would no longer be buried in the tomb.)

I extend what I’ve said concerning the disciples’ willingness to suffer for their belief. Thus, some of the original disciples and even some unbelievers became convinced they saw Jesus alive after His crucifixion, occurring both individually and in groups.

Predisposition Against Jesus’ Resurrection

Con denies the disciples having a predisposition against Jesus’ resurrection, claiming “they had every incentive to lie.” However, as far as I could tell, he didn’t provide any evidence to back up his claim. I extend my case favoring the disciples’ predisposition against Jesus’ resurrection.

Let me again bring up that these facts are accepted even within skeptical scholarship. Bart Ehrman, for example, goes as far as to write, “There was not a Jew on the planet [when Jesus died] who thought the messiah was going to be crushed by his enemies — humiliated, tortured, and executed. That was the *opposite* of what the messiah would do.”

The Interpretation of the Facts

My opponent posits a theory I didn't deal with in my opening statement, which I will call the reburial theory. Con argues that Joseph moved Jesus’ body, either a) to fake that Jesus rose from the dead or b) because he was going to put the body in a common grave after the Sabbath. Let’s compare our theories using McCullagh’s criteria.

Explanatory scope

Con’s reburial hypothesis does not account for Jesus’ post‐crucifixion appearances; they are in no way considered. The resurrection hypothesis, on the other hand, explains the post‐crucifixion appearances and how the disciples could believe in Jesus’ resurrection despite their predisposition against the resurrection—all while still accounting for the empty tomb.

Con claims his hypothesis “better explains the actions of the Jewish authorities.” I don’t see which actions in particular are better accounted for.

Explanatory power

Since Con’s theory doesn’t even take all the facts into account, it definitely can’t go further and make us expect the facts to occur. With Jesus’ resurrection, however, we would expect that His tomb would be empty as well as that people would see Him and be convinced of such despite having predispositions to the contrary.


In order for my opponent’s theory to be plausible, he will need to show that this has happened with other cases in Judaism. While my opponent claims it “is further reinforced by evidence from other texts from the period and archaeological findings, with no internal contradictions,” he did not provide any sources to back up his claims. 

Ad hocness

Con’s theory allows for two versions. In the first version, in which Joseph of Arimathea is a devout follower of Jesus, he removes the body simply to fake a resurrection. Can my opponent cite any evidence that Joseph even understood the concept of Jesus’ resurrection—given that the Jews’ understanding of the resurrection was for it to occur universally at the end of time, not ever before—let alone that he would have any reason to fake that Jesus rose? If not, this version of the theory is ad hoc.

The alternative theory, that Joseph wasn’t really a devout follower of Jesus, also has problems. Con says that with this scenario, Joseph “put Jesus in a tomb as a temporary measure in a hurry, while he made arrangements for the body to be properly buried in a common grave underground.” What’s the evidence that Joseph would want to move Jesus’ body so soon? At this time, reburials like this would occur. However, it would occur to the bones after the body decayed! “A year [not a few days] after the death, members of the immediate family returned to the tomb for a private ceremony in which the bones were reburied after the body had decayed” (Dictionary of New Testament Background, emphasis mine).

Thus, both versions of the theory are ad hoc.


My opponent argues that Joseph’s “action could have broken some elements of Jewish custom, and other non-biblical writings from the period do attest that Joseph was subsequently imprisoned for this act.” If this is true, there would be nothing for Joseph to gain by moving the body except punishment, a circumstance which serves as disconfirmation to the reburial theory.

Relative Superiority

My opponent’s theory lacks relative superiority and thus falls with the other naturalistic hypotheses as being inadequate. Thus, the resurrection hypothesis still is superior relative to the naturalistic alternatives.

The resurrection hypothesis stands.

Return To Top | Posted:
2017-05-28 21:21:43
| Speak Round
adminadmin (CON)
Running out of time. Very briefly:

  • People still sincerely believe they have seen Jesus today.
  • The disciples also believed Jesus would rise after the Passover because that was Jesus' own interpretation of the prophecy.
  • The disciples needed that precisely because it seemed like their messiah had been crushed.
  • These facts alone can explain appearances.
  • Pro's case doesn't answer for certain key facts such as:
  1. Why Jewish authorities were adamant the body was stolen even though they kept a close watch
  2. Why Roman authorities were very unconcerned about the prospect of a rebellion or clash of faiths
  3. Why Jewish authorities were the same.
  • Joseph would have moved the body at the next time it would have been legal for him to do so under Jewish law (which was precisely when Jesus "resurrected" - right after the passover)
  • Joseph had to gain by moving the body: either to confirm Jesus' resurrection (bear in mind the Jewish authorities didn't trust Joseph and Joseph was in a huge rush to be first to claim Jesus' body) or to give Jesus a proper Jewish burial (which would have been crucial in those times even for prisoners)
  • Bear in mind also the Pharisees believed in resurrection at the end times. Other Jewish sects didn't, like the Sadducees. The very concept of resurrection was highly contested.
  • Several other points remain unaddressed. The resolution is negated.

Return To Top | Posted:
2017-06-04 21:18:32
| Speak Round
: I have some work to do in this CX! So ... do you agree Jesus prophesied his resurrection?
: I disagree with your statement, “The disciples also believed Jesus would rise after the Passover because that was Jesus’ own interpretation of the prophecy.” The same sources that tell us Jesus predicted His resurrection also tell us the disciples didn’t know what He meant (e.g., Mark 9:9–10).
: In your rebuttal, you attempted to explain the post‐crucifixion appearances. Does this mean you now are conceding them?
: There's no contest that people thought they saw Jesus, some literally, others not. That doesn't imply people actually saw Jesus.
: Do you agree that even if the disciples didn't know the meaning of something, any one follower (Joseph for instance) could still have taken a guess?
: It’s certainly possible.
: You said that Joseph could have something to gain by moving the body because “the Jewish authorities didn’t trust Joseph.” What are you saying they didn’t trust Joseph over?
: Guarding the body. In those times, nobles would often have "house guards," servants and gardeners to watch over such places. Grave robbing was a thing and suspicions were extra high for Jesus. The temple authorities posted their own guards just beyond where Joseph's guards were, out of sight of the tomb but able to intercept anyone carrying a body. However, according to all accounts, those guards fell asleep. The fact the Sanhedrin felt this was necessary shows they did not trust Joseph to guard the body on his own.
: Do you accept that, if your narrative is true, we might expect Jewish authorities to be worried about the possibility of religious turmoil?
: What do you mean by "religious turmoil"?
: Conflict along religious lines, as had existed (for instance) during the split between the kingdoms of Judea and Israel.
: You mean like the dissensions and disputes that occur in Acts 15 over circumcision, where Christians no longer would religiously practice it, for example?
: I mean like "oh so if that prophecy was true maybe that makes him the messiah" kinda stuff.
: Okay, so you basically mean that some people would form one group, who believed Jesus was the Messiah, and the other would represent another group, that Jesus isn’t the Messiah. Yes, it does seem that we would expect the Jewish authorities to fear such religious turmoil and try to stifle it—which is what we find in Matthew 28:11–15.
: How would you say Paul and James saw Jesus?
: There are no recorded details of Jesus' appearance to James other than a brief mention by Paul. It is not even clear if this is James the brother of Jesus or somebody else. As for Paul, we see no evidence he saw Jesus. Luke records he heard a voice from heaven and saw a bright light. Paul's own writing seems consistent with this. Given Paul had no clue what Jesus sounded like, we cannot reasonably find evidence of a bodily resurrection in this view. Interestingly, in most gnostic texts, Jesus "resurrects" as a light going up to heaven, sometimes in the shape of a cross, not as a body.
: Why do you think the Jewish authorities didn't punish the soldiers involved for failing in their duties, bearing in mind that Roman soldiers at the time would have been put to death for the same act?
: Because, instead of punishing the guards, the authorities decided to bribe them. This way, the guards would keep their mouths shut. This fits if the resurrection is true. (Also, as a side note, we don’t know that these guards were “Roman soldiers.” They could very well have been Jewish guards.)
: Since there didn’t seem to be need to clarify who he was, which James do you think is the one which the original readers of 1 Corinthians 15 would have understood him to be?

Return To Top | Speak Round
Kilk1Kilk1 (PRO)

As we enter the next round, it appears for the most part that we agree on the facts. Therefore, most of my emphasis in this round will be on the interpretation of the facts, only defending the facts themselves where we disagree.

Con said that people sincerely believe to have seen Jesus today and alleged that the disciples believed Jesus would rise after He would die—and really needed this for coping, too—arguing that this explains the post‐crucifixion appearances. Because of this, it appears that Con is combining the hallucination theory (meaning the disciples saw something that wasn’t there; Jesus wasn’t really in their presence) with his other theories to provide explanatory scope.

The more I think about it, Con is actually positing two related theories, not one hypothesis. I will call one the reburial (and hallucination) theory while calling the other version the Joseph‐fraud (and hallucination) theory. Let’s evaluate his two hypotheses and mine against McCullagh’s criteria.

The Reburial and Hallucination Theory

The reburial and hallucination theory argues that Joseph of Arimathea reburied Jesus’ body and that the disciples hallucinated.

Explanatory scope

Since the hallucination hypothesis has now been added to the reburial theory, they together have explanatory scope.

Explanatory power

While the theory takes into account all the facts, we would not expect them with said theory. Common sense dictates that hallucinations don’t occur in groups, because there’s nothing objective, actual for everyone in the group to see. And knowing that Jesus was crucified would confirm to skeptics Paul and James that He was not the Christ. (Although Con may object to me saying that this James is the skeptical brother of Jesus, who else would the readers of 1 Corinthians 15 have in mind, considering no clarifications were needed?)

What’s really significant is what scholar and apologist William Lane Craig points out:

So if, as an eruption of a guilty conscience, Paul or Peter were to have projected visions of Jesus alive, they would have envisioned him in Paradise, where the righteous dead awaited the eschatological resurrection. But such exalted visions of Christ leave unexplained their belief in his resurrection. The inference “He is risen from the dead,” so natural to our ears, would have been wholly unnatural to a first century Jew. In Jewish thinking there was already a category perfectly suited to describe Peter's postulated experience: Jesus had been assumed into heaven.

In other words, if the disciples hallucinated, their religious culture would make them conclude Jesus died, not resurrected!


I extend what I’ve said in the previous round. My opponent needs sources to show that moving the body to another tomb like Joseph of Arimathea did was a normal practice at the time.

Ad hocness

I extend what I’ve said concerning ad hocness. Also, adding another theory to the reburial hypothesis (i.e., the hallucination theory), while helping explanatory scope, makes it even more ad hoc than before.


I extend what I’ve said about Con’s statement that Joseph’s “action could have broken some elements of Jewish custom, and other non-biblical writings from the period do attest that Joseph was subsequently imprisoned for this act.” If true, this disconfirms my opponent’s theory.

Also, consider this: Like I pointed out in the last round, reburial would occur to a body’s bones after the body decayed. I extend my reasoning. What’s interesting is that once a body was buried, it would stay buried until this 12‐month, yearlong period would conclude; “as soon as the grave is closed the corpse must not be moved” (Semahoth IV.L). This also disconfirms Con’s hypothesis.

Resorting to hallucinations is disconfirmed by the fact that Jesus was seen in groups and by skeptics.

In conclusion, everything we know goes against the reburial and hallucination theory; it’s not one we should advocate.

The Joseph‐Fraud and Hallucination Theory

The Joseph‐fraud and hallucination theory advocates that Joseph attempted to fake a resurrection of Jesus and that the disciples hallucinated.

Explanatory scope

Like with the reburial theory, since the hallucination hypothesis has now been added to the Joseph‐fraud theory, they together have explanatory scope.

Explanatory power

This is the same as with the reburial theory. While it takes into account all the facts, we would not expect them. Also, we wouldn’t expect these hallucinations to be seen in groups. And we certainly wouldn’t expect skeptics like Paul and James to suddenly convert, claiming to have seen Jesus alive. To them, knowing that Jesus was crucified would confirm that He was not the Christ.


As far as I can see, there aren’t any accepted truths that would cause us to expect Joseph to want to lie about Jesus’ resurrection. If Con disagrees, he must source why. Also, let’s just say it’s a stretch at best to claim that this theory or the reburial theory “is supported by Christian authors themselves writing in the Holy Bible.

Ad hocness

As I said in the previous round, can my opponent cite any evidence that Joseph even understood the concept of Jesus’ resurrection—given that the Jews’ understanding of the resurrection was for it to occur universally at the end of time, not ever before—let alone that he would have any reason to fake that Jesus rose? Simply speculating “that even if the disciples didn’t know the meaning of something, any one follower (Joseph for instance) could still have taken a guess,” without giving sources, is a perfect example of a theory being ad hoc.

Also, adding another theory to the Joseph‐fraud hypothesis (i.e., the hallucination theory), while helping explanatory scope, makes it even more ad hoc than before.


The Joseph‐fraud theory does not seem as disconfirmed as the reburial theory; nevertheless, this hypothesis is disconfirmed since, according to Con, Joseph would only get punishment for the fraud he knowingly would be advocating. Also, adding the hallucination theory to the mix further disconfirms the theory in the same way it further disconfirms the reburial hypothesis.

In conclusion, we see that the Joseph‐fraud and hallucination theory fails the test of McCullagh’s criteria.

The Resurrection Theory

The resurrection theory holds that Jesus rose from the dead. 

Explanatory scope

My opponent argues that my theory lacks explanatory scope for not accounting for the following things:

1. “Why Jewish authorities were adamant the body was stolen even though they kept a close watch

2. “Why Roman authorities were very unconcerned about the prospect of a rebellion or clash of faiths

3. “Why Jewish authorities were the same.”

I don’t see why Con’s theories explain the first of these any better than does the resurrection hypothesis. The reburial theory certainly doesn’t account for it any better. And although the Joseph‐fraud theory would take such into account, the hypothesis does not explain how the disciples came to believe Jesus rose. Therefore, these theories don’t explain any more than does the resurrection theory.

The other “key facts” that Con claims is unexplained haven’t been shown to be facts. My opponent must demonstrate that the Roman and Jewish authorities “were very unconcerned about the prospect of a rebellion or clash of faiths.”

Thus, the resurrection theory has no less explanatory scope than the theories my opponent provides.

Explanatory power

The resurrection has explanatory power. We would expect Jesus’ tomb to be found empty and for His disciples, whether previously believers or not, to become convinced they saw Him alive despite having predispositions to the contrary.


In my opening statement, I treated plausibility as if being implied by accepted truths was positive plausibility, being disconfirmed was negative plausibility, and neither would be neutral plausibility. However, since disconfirmation is a separate criterion with McCullagh, perhaps plausibility really only refers to what I’ve been calling positive plausibility.

If so, then since I haven’t argued for the existence of God or anything else that would cause us to expect the resurrection, the resurrection theory is not plausible. (However, it isn’t disconfirmed either; see below.)

Ad hocness

The resurrection theory assumes two things:

1.  Jesus died when He was crucified

2.  Jesus was alive after He was crucified

Really, these aren’t “assumed.” I extend my argumentation from my opening statement.


There is nothing that disconfirms the resurrection theory being true. There is nothing we agree to be true that contradicts the hypothesis, in other words.


To examine the final criterion, relative superiority, let’s compare the three theories under consideration. It is clear that the the resurrection theory far outstrips the two theories my opponent has posited and thus should be awarded the status of being historically true:

Return To Top | Posted:
2017-06-13 21:10:24
| Speak Round
adminadmin (CON)
I'd like to thank my opponent for continuing his case. Since we're now into the latter half of the debate, I think it fair to start narrowing down some of the key points of contention.

At it's core, my theory is simply that any one of the following people lied: Joseph, the disciples, or any source informing a gospel author other than Mark. The most likely of these scenarios, given the facts I have already presented, is that Joseph was not really a follower of Jesus. This would simply mean the body was placed in Joseph's garden tomb during the passover celebration, when it could not be properly buried. It was claimed quickly so that it could avoid the Christians claiming it and staging a resurrection. Then, after the passover, it was quickly sent to a common tomb. The emptiness of Joseph's tomb, however, was then misinterpreted by Christians as a resurrection. However, the same logic is consistent if the gospel authors were somehow correct about Joseph being secretly a devout Christian. As I have shown, the Jewish authorities believed Christians would stage a hoax-resurrection of Jesus. There is no convincing evidence that this did not happen, and indeed the circumstances were ideal for it. In any event, the theory places Joseph at the front and center of the story, because it was his tomb. Whereas pro has framed these as separate contentions, I would contest they are fundamentally the same.

Therefore I see three real points of contention, which differ somewhat from what pro wanted to discuss.

1. Why was Jesus buried in Joseph's tomb in the first place?
This is an important question that any supposed theory must answer. Conventionally, criminals would be buried outside the city limits. However, Jesus was killed immediately before the Sabbath. Even with Joseph claiming the body quickly, there was no way it could be buried in a common tomb in this time. Joseph was a Pharisee and therefore observed that dead bodies had to be promptly buried. At least ostensibly, he claimed the body so that Christians could not claim it and fulfill the plot claimed by the Sanhedrin on the matter. If Joseph really was a Christian, then again his claiming of the body quickly makes sense, because of the plot to resurrect Jesus.

2. Did Christians want Jesus to resurrect?
Two key reasons. First, as indicated previously, this was a core teaching of Jesus himself. The disciples, having just witnessed their prophet die, were in hiding for fear of their safety, and not exactly feeling great. The resurrection of Jesus was the one thing that gave them a measure of hope. Secondly, doing this would confirm Jesus' status as a Jewish messiah according to some interpretations of old-testament prophecy. Doing this would be a significant blow to the established order in society to punish ruling Jewish sects for their persecution of their sect. This was specifically what the Sanhedrin were concerned about.

3. Why did the Sanhedrin fear the Christians?
Because the chaos caused by the foundation of a change to their religion at that time would have been disastrous. Numerous Jewish writings from the time reference the fear of the destruction of the Temple of Solomon and the difficulty in dealing with the Roman military governorship. Furthermore, it would undermine their own positions of authority, which contrasted in some teachings with those Jesus preached himself during his lifetime.

4. Who did the Romans support?
The Christians. We know that because Romans repeatedly showed compassion to Jesus and his followers throughout the New Testament up until the later letters of Paul. Even on the cross, Roman soldiers gave Jesus vinegar to drink, which was the safest drinking water in that time and therefore carefully rationed almost-exclusively to Roman soldiers. This is likely to have been because Jesus preached support for the Roman occupation, which the Jews detested. Shortly after this time, the Jews revolted, coinciding roughly with the time the Romans turned against the Christians.

5. Why were temple guards paid to say the body was stolen?
They were paid because they were paid guards. It is not clear if they were also punished for falling asleep. Perhaps this was a sign of compassion to the soldiers, as again, Roman soldiers would not have been treated the same, and Roman and Jewish political institutions were at odds at the time. The instructions to say the body was stolen can be explained in at least two easy, both equally plausible ways: either because it actually was stolen, or because the Jews wanted to shut the Christians up. The gospel authors almost explicitly endorse the latter opinion.

6. Why would Christians advocate something that would only get them hurt?
Christians go to North Korea today. Seriously, the bible is littered with examples of this. Paul, all of the apostles, and most other major figures in the new testament were conveniently martyred. Joseph got out with barely a scratch, spending a few days in a cell. According to some less-reliable accounts he may have been responsible for bringing Christianity to England. It is certainly plausible he subsequently traveled.

7. How can we explain post-resurrection appearances?
I saw Elvis at an amusement park once too. That people believed they saw Jesus is no more surprising than that people believe it today, especially when their very lives and souls were at stake. Indeed people seem to have been engaged in a game of one-upsmanship over who saw Jesus first, with those earlier making claims of being closer to Jesus. This is something Paul takes particular exception to, as he writes to Corinth, partly because he was clearly one of the last, and partly because that was his interpretation of the teaching. Paul disagrees significantly with those close to Jesus on several key aspects and shows his ignorance repeatedly of key events in Jesus life, yet claimed to know for certain exactly what Jesus sounded like. No other skeptic saw Jesus in the Bible except "Doubting Thomas," who never appears again and even if he wasn't a convenient plot device, was certainly a disciple with a clear incentive to lie.

What are the alternatives to these facts that pro presented?
In pro's world, all such naturalistic perspectives are implausible. There is no plausible way Joseph could potentially have reburied the body - he was too ignorant. And besides, he claims such bodies cannot be moved by the ever-sanctimonious super-pious Pharisee that Joseph was (in doing this, by the way, he is citing a Jewish book compiled hundreds of years AFTER Jesus died - which, incidentally, has its own Jewish-God-approved explanation for Jesus dying and not resurrecting, as a "false prophet"). Oh and several people can't hallucinate at the same time for some reason. People see mirages one at a time. No, the only possible explanation is that God did it. That's frankly absurd. There are naturalistic explanations that fit the facts presented. Again I'll briefly use pro's model here:
SCOPE: pro's explains that Jesus rose. Mine explains everyone's actions and reactions.
POWER: we would expect the tomb to be empty and followers be happy about that if the body was moved. Given those circumstances it is reasonable to suppose they'd counter the story from the guards with "oh but I just saw him recently."
PLAUSIBILITY: Con concedes his theory is not plausible.
AD HOCNESS: Adding more ways a theory could be true makes it less ad hoc, not more. The literal opposite of ad-hocness is robustness.
DISCONFIRMATION: Again I must emphasize that pro's model cannot be disconfirmed and is therefore not a reasonable explanation. Anything can be put down to the will of God. History is murky, but if we're to adopt a meaningful approach to finding out the truth we have to look for evidence. If God can do stuff without leaving evidence, we have to find evidence of that.

I will conclude with some minor remarks of rebuttal.

There is no evidence there was a consistent interpretation of the resurrection in the early church. Indeed the majority of writings of the early church were gnostic and explicitly oppose a bodily resurrection. The accounts we have accepted today are there because they were accepted by the Council of Nicea as the most authentic, after considerable debate. But that is not to say they are the most truthful. These schisms point to contested understandings of the resurrection and therefore varying interpretations of the notion of post-resurrection appearances. If Joseph did have some different idea of resurrection, and Luke concurred (bearing in mind Luke had also been there for Lazarus' resurrection), and Jesus' own words were not blindingly obvious enough, then literally any other model of resurrection would have been sufficient for the Christians at the time. However, it seems more plausible that the body was moved so Joseph could have his own tomb as well. Even if Joseph had been a Christian, doing this would be both pragmatic and meaningful in a church context outside of any interpretation.

There is some evidence that the normal one-year rule was a norm by that time. However there is no evidence that it was a formal sin. The sin would be in the cleanliness rules surrounding handling of the deceased, a relatively minor transgression, not the actual moving of a dead body out of a rock tomb. Jesus himself could have killed an ant, put it under a rock, taken it out and buried it in a pile with other dead ants, and still have committed zero sins in doing so.

At this point the entirety of pro's case rests on post-resurrection appearances being "better" explained by his model, even though he has no proven that Jesus appeared to anyone. The circumstantial evidence is flimsy and inconsistent, while my model indubitably better explains the range of outcomes of the incident beyond a mere level of "he died and was seen again."

The resolution is negated.

Return To Top | Posted:
2017-06-20 13:32:17
| Speak Round
: To answer the question from the previous CX: we don't know for sure. There were 2 apostles called James, as well as Jesus' brother. Numerous other Jameses appear in the NT and some probably don't appear. Regardless of who it was it was part of Paul's narrative device to show his own humility, and given the context, likely linked to Paul's prior teaching in Greece.
: In my case I presented 7 key questions that our theories address in different ways. Are there any questions among them that you feel our theories answer in the same ways, or are there any questions not among them that you feel are substantively important issues of fact where we have disagreement?
: As for your first question, why Jesus was buried in Joseph’s tomb in the first place, I think this can be explained by either of our theories; Mark 15:43 suggests that Joseph was becoming more bold to help Jesus. (Also, I’m skeptical of the claim, “Even with Joseph claiming the body quickly, there was no way it could be buried in a common tomb in this time.”) I think we should be careful about whether the second question is true. Question 3 applies whether Jesus arose or not and explains 5.
: Question 4 seems too general to be supported by the Roman soldiers offering vinegar for Jesus; furthermore, while Luke 9:36–37 mentions the soldiers offering Jesus vinegar, it hardly suggests they did such as an act of kindness. Also, because people don’t die for something they know to be false, so only theories in which the disciples sincerely believed (whether right or wrong) that Jesus arose can account for this the sixth question. Question 7, if explained by hallucinations, couldn’t occur in groups and to unbelievers.
: Since you apparently are claiming people hallucinated the risen Jesus, and since hallucinations can’t occur in groups, can you cite an example of a group hallucinating someone as living?
: It sounds as though you agree, then, that those key questions are of relevance to our debate. I note also you don't raise any questions that are missing so we can proceed on that basis.
: Of course I can cite examples of hallucinations occurring in groups. Here's one: http://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/music/5079309/Hackers-claim-Tupac-alive-in-NZ . Bear in mind that hallucination simply means ANY experience of something not actually there. If you lose something and several people think you put it somewhere you actually didn't, that's an everyday group hallucination. Or if you and a friend think somebody looks like some celebrity, boom, group hallu
: Probably the most relevant example: large groups have been convinced that the "end is here" and hunkered down in bunkers waiting for the apocalypse to come any second now.

Return To Top | Speak Round
Kilk1Kilk1 (PRO)

I am eager to continue this important discussion. Since
both versions of Con’s theory have different problems, I will continue to address them separately.


Both of Con’s theories depend on hallucinations.

Defining a hallucination

My opponent claims “that hallucination simply means ANY experience of something not actually there.” I already said that by hallucination I’m “meaning the disciples saw something that wasn’t there.” Hallucinations, as I’m using the term, are false sensory perceptions, not just any false perception. If I perceive that someone wants me to help them when in reality they don’t, I’m wrong, but I’m not hallucinating. Here is a medical definition:

A profound distortion in a person's perception of reality, typically accompanied by a powerful sense of reality. An hallucination may be a sensory experience in which a person can see, hear, smell, taste, or feel something that is not there.

Elvis sightings

Elvis? This can be explained by his many impersonators running around.

Appearances to disciples in general

My opponent dropped, and I extend, that if all the disciples only experienced hallucinations, they would have concluded Jesus was dead, not risen!

Appearances to groups

Hallucinations can’t happen in groups. Although my opponent cited mirages, these are not hallucinations. “In contrast to a hallucination, a mirage is a real optical phenomenon that can be captured on camera, since light rays are actually refracted to form the false image at the observer’s location” (source). Surely Con isn’t going to argue that refracted light rays caused visions of Jesus! Since hallucinations are formed—not just reinterpreted—in the mind, they can’t be accessed by the minds of others.

Appearance to Paul

Paul was very hostile to Christianity before he saw Jesus risen. Con only replies, “Paul disagrees significantly with those close to Jesus on several key aspects and shows his ignorance repeatedly of key events in Jesus life” (not sourced or otherwise verified by my opponent), “yet claimed to know for certain exactly what Jesus sounded like.” The Book of Acts (my opponent’s key source against Paul believing Jesus rose bodily) explains Paul didn’t know who was speaking to him; Paul found out after Jesus identified Himself. Also, those who went with Paul seem to be contrasted with him, “hearing a voice but seeing no one”—implying Paul did see someone, as Paul himself wrote.

(Also, using Acts to deny Paul’s belief in Jesus’ bodily resurrection is very problematic. In Acts 13:35–37, Paul argues that Psalm 16:10 can’t refer to David because he “fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption,” unlike with Jesus, who “saw no corruption.” Paul is saying Jesus underwent no bodily decay but arose. This affirms a bodily resurrection. Also, I extend what I’ve written in Round 2 on Philippians 3:20–21.)

Nothing my opponent has argued refutes that Paul, a severe persecutor of Christianity, converted due to a sincere belief that he saw Jesus risen, going from persecutor to persecuted. This cannot be explained by hallucination.

Appearance to James

Con questions whether Jesus’ brother really converted and was the James mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:7. However, as I already mentioned, it wouldn’t make sense to refer to “James” if it was unclear who he was; the default one that would come to mind is the brother of Jesus. Previously, Paul does refer to “the brothers of the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 9:5 as if they now became Christians, and he mentions “James, the Lord’s brother” in Galatians 1:19.

Furthermore, James the brother of Jesus became willing to die for Christianity. His martyrdom is recorded by Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria. Although we have Josephus’ reference physically preserved today, the other two sources haven’t been so preserved. However, we have the writings of Eusebius, who quoted all three sources—Josephus, Hegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria—over James’s martyrdom, and thus they are preserved indirectly.

Josephus reports James being executed by stoning due to breaking Jewish law. Jews often considered Christians to be lawbreakers due to their beliefs. Hegesippus corroborates Josephus, writing that they stoned James for saying Jesus sat “in heaven at the right hand of the great Power.” He is recorded as saying this “upon the pinnacle of the temple,” to which they “[threw] him down.” Clement agrees that they performed this deed to “James the Just bishop of Jerusalem.” All three references are to Jesus’ brother.

Clearly, then, James the brother of Jesus became a Christian. How are we to believe this skeptic of Jesus hallucinated?


Again, both of my opponent’s theories depend on hallucinations. However, we have seen that the only way everyone involved could have seen Jesus is if Jesus was there to be seen! The foregoing alone verifies the resolution.

Evaluating the theories

My opponent argues that his theory is that one of the following lied: “Joseph, the disciples, or any source informing a gospel author other than Mark.” However, the main argument of his is that Joseph is the guilty culprit, either lying as a pious fraud for Christianity or reburying the body.

My opponent has listed seven statements. I would add the empty tomb to the list. And since we disagree whether two of the seven statements are true, we get six points of agreement between Con and myself, which I’ll list in a slightly more chronological order:

1.  The Sanhedrin feared the Christians.

2.  Jesus’ body was buried in Joseph’s tomb.

3.  The tomb was subsequently found empty.

4.  Disciples, whether followers or not prior to this, had experiences in which Jesus appeared to them risen, both individually and in groups.

5.  The guards were paid to say Jesus’ body was stolen.

6.  Christians were willing to say Jesus arose even despite persecution.

The disciples are portrayed as not understanding what Jesus meant prior to experiencing the post‐crucifixion appearances, I’m not convinced that they were thinking about Him rising; everyone appears to think the movement ended when He died; in fact, when Mary Magdalene saw the tomb empty, she didn’t even consider that Jesus might be raised. Also, my opponent’s evidence is insufficient to show that the Romans supported the Christians, as I explained in the CX round. Therefore, I’m leaving these two statements out.

Furthermore, not all these facts are relevant to the discussion. Facts 1, 2, and 5 are unexplained whether Jesus’ body was moved by Joseph or He arose and left Himself. We both explain 1 the same way, and it in turn accounts for 5. To explain 2, John does refer to the tomb’s nearness as a factor. But that isn’t necessarily the only factor. Per Glenn Miller:

[The] farthest plausible distance [that could be chosen to bury Jesus was] to the vicinity of the Haceldama--"Field of Blood" area--around a mile [at 3 mph, that's a 20 minute walk for a worst-case scenario] . So the distance to an alleged community/criminal gravesite would not be a factor.

As already said, Mark adds that Joseph was becoming bolder to help Jesus. So, our theories explain only statements 3, 4, and 6 and thus have equal explanatory scope.

Now, let’s evaluate the theories.

Resurrection theory

Explanatory power
All theories have equal explanatory scope.

Explanatory power

We’d expect the facts explained to be true simply if the theory itself is true, so it exhibits explanatory power.


The theory, at least for the sake of argument, isn’t probable by accepted truths.

Ad hocness

Con never challenged that the resurrection theory passes regarding ad hocness.


Con exhibited a great misunderstanding of disconfirmation; not being disconfirmed is a good thing. McCullagh explains that a theory “must be disconfirmed by fewer [not greater] accepted beliefs than any other incompatible hypothesis.”

Con’s theories

Explanatory scope

All theories have equal explanatory scope.

Explanatory power

The hypotheses lack explanatory power, since we wouldn’t expect groups and skeptics to see Jesus if they just hallucinated. In fact, we wouldn’t even expect them to believe in the resurrection! See “Hallucinations” above.


Con never denied the theories lacking plausibility.

Ad hocness

As already shown, a theory is ad hoc when things are assumed that aren’t already established. Having multiple “ways a theory could be true” doesn’t do anything if each way still makes many assumptions.


More than any other qualification, a theory can’t be disconfirmed, because “if evidence incompatible with it cannot be explained away satisfactorily, then it is abandoned” (McCullagh, pg. 28). Both of Con’s theories are strongly disconfirmed. See “Hallucinations” above. Also, the reburial and hallucination theory is further disconfirmed since once a body was buried, it would stay buried till it became a bone pile. Con questions the quality of my source, but it’s stronger than no source, which is what Con provided for the claim that Joseph moving the body wouldn’t “be considered unusual.”

Final remarks

My opponent brings up Gnostic writings but fails to cite any and doesn’t show any written by eyewitnesses. Therefore, this is irrelevant.

The resolution is validated.

Return To Top | Posted:
2017-06-28 23:02:04
| Speak Round
adminadmin (CON)
I thank my opponent for continuing his case.

Despite his insistence that my "theories" are differently problematic, pro only presents one single problem in rebuttal. Given his admission that his own theory is relatively implausible, then by his own standards and framework, both of us agree that if post-resurrection appearances of Jesus can plausibly be explained without a physical resurrection taking place, I win this debate. If one does not accept any of those premises, I also win the debate. The only way I lose this debate is if my competing theory cannot explain post-resurrection appearances. It is important to note that I have also provided additional analysis to these points, to which the response has been little more than a request for additional evidence, without questioning the underlying logic or providing specifics as to what evidence pro believes should be the standard.

Pro denies impersonation can account for the sightings of Jesus after his death because that would be like Elvis. Let's remember three basic facts here:
1. Jesus impersonators exist today. You can hire one for $5 on Fivrr and they'll get "Jesus" to announce who won the debate.
2. The vast majority of those who Jesus has "appeared to" in the Bible and in all other recorded history, have no actual knowledge of what Jesus looked or sounded like.
3. It is possible to impersonate anyone in front of any group and, given a sufficiently successful impersonation, for all of them to be deceived.
It would be highly surprising if nobody has ever successfully impersonated Jesus. Historically we know for a fact that people have impersonated the likes of the Greek goddess Athena to change the course of history while being observed by thousands of witnesses (in the case of Pisistratus), and there were pretty good descriptions of what Athena looked like. It is much more reasonable to suppose that at some point, somebody has been fooled into believing somebody else is literally Jesus. The question is more one of whether this is/was quite common (remembering that Jesus-appearances have hardly ceased - he even appears on toast nowadays) or more of a sporadic thing.

Dead vs Risen
I'd like to begin this by saying that according to my opponent's exact definition of a hallucination here, lying about seeing somebody is not a hallucination. This was one of the many explanations that I have identified as entirely plausible for my theory to hold. Therefore hallucinations are not the only position my theory depends on according to pro's standard.

It should be noted that the vast majority of appearances have few details recorded about them. Even in Paul's narrative, it is not possible to tell whether "Jesus" is in heaven at the time. Several gospel narratives mention Jesus going back or up to heaven. Numerous appearances are only attested with few details given, and it is certainly not possible to explain how such appearances would have been interpreted. However these are still quite consistent with a death narrative. There are two essential elements here that give things away:

1. Messages Jesus gave while he was alive - for Dr Craig's theory to work, we have to assume those who were receiving the messages were really orthodox Jews. Even Jesus' own disciples were common fisher-folk, not monks. The idea of a resurrection was certainly well established by that time in literature, including religious literature, that predates Christianity by millennia. A good portion of that was recorded as fact. Even if they were pious Jews, bear in mind that the situation they believed they were in was exactly akin to Ezekiel 37 (which, by the way, is traditionally read during the Passover), where God literally is said to breathe life into dry bones, among numerous other Old Testament verses explaining the same principle. Alternatively we have to assume that these people who followed Jesus despite persecution, believed almost everything he said except that he would rise from the dead. Given that Jesus had previously performed a resurrection this seems impossible.

2. Messages given after his apparent death - Jesus and some random angel both make clear to the disciples that they rose from the dead in different appearances, as if to validate and confirm Jesus' teaching. If we believe the disciples' visions were genuine (which I personally doubt) then such messages would be expected because they conform to Jesus' own teachings.

Depending on exactly how you define hallucination, of course they can. When some girl appeared to sing the Chinese national anthem during the Beijing Olympics, everyone believed she was singing - until it was revealed she was merely lip syncing. Yes, people were perceiving something that wasn't real. I gave a mirage as a similar example in a previous round. While it's true the light that causes the phenomenon is real, the image generated to the group is not. Other than impersonation, there are numerous ways people can be tricked or deceived into thinking they had an encounter with people they didn't. People have literally sworn they've been abducted by aliens in groups, taken on spaceships on fantastical adventures in groups, and then returned in the same group to the same spot they were in before. Groups swear to have partied with Tupac, groups swore they saw the Islamic Prophet Muhammed on fire while he was delivering the Qu'ran, and so much more.

My guess is my opponent will retort "well all those other people are lying but people who saw Jesus are always perfectly honest." Bear this double standard in mind. I also noted that the majority of writings cite a non-bodily resurrection took place. This can reasonably be interpreted as "the majority of people didn't see Jesus after he rose from the dead" but perhaps had other kinds of experiences.

Pro brings these gentlemen up as specific examples to bolster his case because apparently they were skeptics. It's like on those ghost films where they have "skeptics" do some investigating and get freaked out. In fact, the appearance of easily-converted skeptics often makes them look more like stooges. Go to any church today (of any religion) and you'll hear countless bits of testimony from people miraculously converted to that faith after being skeptical at first. Whether James was the James pro wanted him to be is not terribly relevant in this light.

In the case of Paul, it's a little more convincing because he still disagreed with the church. We have already discussed his views in some depth, including his own lack of clarity that there even was a bodily resurrection. His own experience was certainly vague and limited. At best the issue is mooted at this stage in the debate.

Distance to burial sites
In fairness, my opponent does raise a totally new argument in this round regarding how distant potential known grave-sites would have been. This is significant because ancient Jerusalem is, of course, not totally excavated - the real distance could be considerably more or less. However, the Bible isn't counting time from when Jesus was killed (it is reported the sky went dark pretty much immediately then anyway) but from the time that the body had been prepared for burial. In ancient times this process typically took hours. Some bodies were prepared for days. Jesus' body was hastily prepared by two people after going through a claims process with Pilate, but before the end of the day with the fast-approaching Sabbath. Even if we're talking a few minutes to take the body to the graveyard, it is entirely logical to assume that it already was nearly nightfall and Joseph had his doubts over whether it could be done on time, or alternatively, that it already was nightfall and the burial could not be righteously committed - in this case, the least sinful path would have been to bury the body in the nearest tomb, ie Joseph's own. In answer to my opponent's source, then, the point is that the burial sites were outside of the city. Bodies were prepared inside the city for a funeral procession and burial. This process was not followed in the case of Jesus. The gospels mention a perfectly valid reason for this, ie the Sabbath day. Unless we have good reason to dispute the gospel account, it is affirmed. The physical distance to the gravesites is irrelevant to the gospel narrative - Joseph's garden tomb would always be nearer.

Let me therefore revisit our key points of contention.

1. Why was Jesus buried in Joseph's tomb in the first place?
Con's theory continues to fail to explain any reason for Joseph to bury Jesus' body. I maintain that this question cannot be answered in such a way that doesn't put a lot of blame for the resurrection on Joseph, as I cited previously.

2. Did Christians want Jesus to resurrect?
Pro doesn't dispute any of the two key reasons I gave in the previous round. Ignoring this he extends his analysis on appearances to disciples, which I have provided additional rebuttal material to in this round.

3. Why did the Sanhedrin fear the Christians?
Pro agrees they did but his theory doesn't account for why. Even if the Sanhedrin were afraid of an empty tomb narrative, that simply proves they expected the tomb to be empty if Jesus' teaching was right.

4. Who did the Romans support?
Pro cites insufficient evidence. Pro is not winning this point. His theory needs to explain why the Romans seemingly didn't care somebody just rose from the dead. You'd think that would be big news.

5. Why were temple guards paid to say the body was stolen?
Pro's theory depends on one very specific answer to this question. As I have previously shown, this is unlikely. Extend.

6. Why would Christians advocate something that would only get them hurt?
I gave a reasonable response to this question, and pro has pretty much dropped the point.

7. How can we explain post-resurrection appearances?
This is pro's only remaining real point of contention. I have answered it extensively in this round.

The resolution is negated.

Return To Top | Posted:
2017-07-05 10:51:02
| Speak Round
: Is it okay if I jump in first this time, Con? In the last round I cited page 28 of McCullagh’s book, in which he explains that above all else, a theory can’t be disconfirmed. “For even if a hypothesis is of greater explanatory scope and power than another, if evidence incompatible with it cannot be explained away satisfactorily, then it is abandoned.” Since your theories’ disconfirmation is under dispute, wouldn’t this go against your statement that as long as your theory can explain the facts well, you win?
: Of course, I apologize for my own lack of time. As I see it, disconfirmation is based on facts. A theory that explains all facts well cannot be disconfirmed. The only fact you believe disconfirms my theory, according to your previous round, was post-resurrection appearances. It stands to reason then that if this is not a source of disconfirmation, I win this debate.
: So pro, do you stand by the claim that it is fair to characterize all reburial explanations for post-resurrection appearances as hallucinations according to your definitions?
: If you’re adding impersonation as a possible explanation for the appearances, then this would result in new theories. For example, you could argue for a reburial and impersonation theory separate from the reburial and hallucination theory; also, there could be a Joseph‐fraud and impersonation explanation. Basically, you would be positing additional theories.
: In your last statement, you argued that William Lane Craig’s theory assumes that “those who were receiving the messages were really orthodox Jews.” Would you agree that, at the very least, this is not an assumption with Paul (in light of Phil. 3:4–6) or James (considering, for example, Hegesippus, who describes him as a pious Jew)?
: Not necessarily for several reasons, including: 1. There is no record Jesus appeared to either of them in bodily form, 2. It's not even clear either of them believed in a literal bodily resurrection, 3. This assumes both of them had genuine experiences, 4. This takes their righteousness on their own authority, 5. By the time they had their experiences the assumptions of Christians that Christ had risen were already well-known (in Paul's case, by his own account), etc.
: That reminds me - you keep saying I'm positing like a zillion countermodels. Isn't it really just one really robust one, ie ways the body could have been reburied by Joseph? If not, why do you keep promising completely separate lines of attack and then only delivering one? It's genuinely confusing.
: McCullagh’s criteria look at different scenarios. If the resurrection theory has relative superiority over the competing scenarios, it’s considered true and I win. Your explanations are mutually exclusive and have separate problems, so I organize them as separate theories.
: Also, I’m not sure I “keep promising completely separate lines of attack and then only delivering one.” Although I did lump your theories together last round, I still dealt with them separately. For example, I pointed out that the post‐crucifixion appearances disconfirm both your theories, while “the reburial and hallucination theory is further disconfirmed since once a body was buried, it would stay buried till it became a bone pile.” This problem wouldn’t exist with the other scenario, but it would be more ad hoc.
: “Messages given after his apparent death,” you argued, could be used to show that Jesus’ disciples would expect Him to rise from the dead. However, since these messages come from “Jesus and some random angel,” wouldn’t you have to already concede that Jesus had risen to give the message or believe that angels exist before you could use this as an argument?
: No. An impersonator could have said it. One of the disciples could have made it up to shut up critics. The disciples could have mistaken anyone else for Jesus and misinterpreted what they said. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to come up with a plethora of alternatives to "he must have risen from the dead"
: Yes, and if one of the alternatives is true, you win. While this at first sight makes my theory appear difficult to defend, it’s common in historiography (the writing of history) for an event to have numerous explanations—and at the same time have one clearly true one. This is why we evaluate theories against criteria. As discussed, if there is a theory that passes the criteria with flying colors and stands out from the alternative scenarios (see my graphs concerning Jesus’ resurrection), then it has relative superiority and is considered true. This is why your theories are separate scen
: With this point, Con, do you think a Jesus impersonator can explain why Paul or James saw Jesus alive and converted? (On a less serious note, don’t worry; I won’t hire any “to announce who won the debate.”)
: I think the less somebody knew Jesus, the more likely they are to have been convinced by an impersonator. I, for one, have no idea what Jesus looked like so if I had a genuine vision of Jesus I
: d have no idea.
: So in other words, impersonation is considerably easier to do if you're not a close associate of the person being impersonated. In the cases of those specific visions, it has some merit as a theory, bearing in mind Paul never saw a physical body and we have no idea what James saw.
: But if an impersonator came to Paul, would we expect that he “never saw a physical body”? Don’t impersonators have physical bodies?
: Depends on how they show themselves I guess. I went to a show once where a spotlight came on and a booming voice announced over some speakers that it was God. Presumably just an impersonator. Didn't see a physical body. True story.
: But Paul was on the road to Damascus, out in the open! Furthermore, spotlights and speakers causing a “booming voice” weren’t invented yet. Even if they would have existed, how would this have convinced Paul. I consider you friendlier to Christianity than Paul was; to my knowledge, you haven’t physically persecuted Christians or anything like that. So, if you weren’t convinced by the spotlights and “booming voice,” do we really think Paul would have?
: To be clear, I was answering the question of whether an impersonation can show a non-physical body. I agree Paul would have likely recognized a stage show. I also agree what Paul saw was not a stage show. That doesn't mean it wasn't some form of act.
: Yeah, but when you think about it, if we were having this debate in 1st century, when all this happened, you wouldn’t have been able to cite such inventions as spotlights and speakers. Therefore, in the limited context of the 1st century, could someone have impersonated Jesus at the road to Damascus in such a way as to convince Paul?
: It doesn't necessarily take high-tech to do a reasonable impersonation. Greeks used to roll stones in their theaters so the ground would literally shake when their gods spoke. All Paul saw was a bright light and a voice. Technology existed to focus light and talk.
: Paul didn’t just see “a bright light and a voice”; he writes that he saw Jesus as well (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8). What further complicates things is that the people with him heard a voice (Acts 9:7) and saw the light (22:9) but unlike Paul did NOT see anyone (9:7). Can you cite an example of 1st‐century technology capable of producing this effect?
: Sure. Paul saw the impersonator, other people didn't. Whether intentional or not. This could be because: their view was blocked, they were unobservant, they looked away more readily, etc. Note I don't necessarily agree with this interpretation.

Return To Top | Speak Round
Kilk1Kilk1 (PRO)
Well, as we approach the end of the debate, we have two alternative explanations of Con’s over how people could have seen Jesus after he was crucified—incorrect visual perception (which he refers to as hallucination) and impersonation. In agreement with my opponent, it seems that explaining the appearances of Jesus is the core issue in this debate, one that can swing the outcome in one direction or the other. Because of this, let’s dig in to why my opponent’s theories fail.


I think it’s clear that the impersonation theory isn’t a good explanation. My opponent concedes that it wouldn’t fit with “a close associate of the person being impersonated.” All the appearances in 1 Corinthians 15 are to people who knew Jesus well, all except for Paul and possibly the 500+. The main target, then, is Paul. But does impersonation adequately explain even his post‐crucifixion appearance? I think we’ve seen just how difficult it is to defend such a scenario, so much that even my opponent concedes he doesn’t “necessarily agree with this interpretation.” However, let’s look at it quickly.

There would have to be technology in the 1st‐century allowing the alleged impersonator(s) to shine light around Paul, make a voice, and create an image of Jesus so Paul could see Him, a sight which those with Paul did not see. Having stones roll isn’t enough for all this—especially when out in the open. I deny such technology existed, and my opponent failed to actually cite what technology could do all this. What sources can be given to back up the claim? Unless Con can source some method available in the 1st‐century capable of producing images of people, etc., this theory fails.

Furthermore, even if enough technology did exist to produce such effects, we need to understand that as a skeptic—in fact, an enemy and persecutor—of Christianity, Paul wouldn’t be convinced by something he thought only could be Jesus; my opponent “[agrees] Paul would have likely recognized a stage show,” for example. If something doesn’t convince my opponent, we can’t expect it to convince the church persecutor Paul either. Therefore, the alleged impersonator(s) would need something truly convincing, something we could expect to convince even Con that Jesus arose!

Thus, this theory fails, because 1) there would need to be technology in existence at the time able to produce the phenomena at hand—which Con did not evidence—and 2) we can’t expect Paul to fall for an impersonation unless it was completely convincing.

Incorrect visual perception

Since Con uses hallucination broadly to refer to any incorrect visual perception, I will also have to deal with hallucination (as I’m using the word) and the alternative type of incorrect visual perception—illusion. The difference is that with illusions, what is seen does exist but is misinterpreted by the mind.

As already discussed, hallucinations can’t occur in group settings. Since your mind produces an image of that which isn’t there, no one else could see it. Furthermore, if the belief in Jesus’ resurrection isn’t even in your mind to begin with, then it certainly couldn’t produce the image. This rules out both Paul and James as experiencing hallucinations, in addition to the groups. Hallucinations simply don’t fit.

The illusion scenario has with it basically the same problems as with the impersonation theory. People who knew Jesus well could tell the difference, which brings us back to Paul. But no technology at the time could produce the effect, and Paul wouldn’t have fallen for it anyway.

Bodily resurrection?

Con asserts “that the majority of writings cite a non-bodily resurrection took place.” Again, he doesn’t verify this with any sources. I can cancel out his assertion by asserting the opposite: “The majority of writings cite a bodily resurrection taking place.”

My opponent also points out that Paul’s appearance of Jesus seems to be from heaven and that the Gospels report Jesus ascending to heaven. It appears that this ascension is the reason Paul’s appearance isn’t normal—not because the appearance wasn’t bodily. Surely Con won’t deny that the same Gospels he’s using advocate a bodily resurrection of Jesus. Otherwise, what was the significance of the empty tomb? (Also, see Matt. 28:9; Luke 24:36–39; John 20:27.) Regardless of how Jesus looked, sounded, etc. to Paul, understand that what was seen would have convinced even you, Con.

Group appearances

My opponent attempts to downplay group appearances. He gives many examples of groups perceiving something that wasn’t true. However, this does nothing to explain whether this could be the case with Jesus’ appearances. Mirages, for example, do give an example of how something (e.g., water) can be seen by groups when it’s not really there; however, it requires a certain mechanism, one that doesn’t work in the context of seeing someone risen—refracted light rays. Mirages are only relevant to the discussion if you actually were to posit refracted light rays as explaining how groups could see Jesus alive! The same applies for the other things Con referenced; what does any of them have to do with the appearances of Jesus? Therefore, simply bringing up examples of how something can apply in one context with its set of factors doesn’t begin to show it can work in another.


Con also tries to downplay the fact that skeptics were among those who experienced appearances of Jesus risen. I’m not saying that skeptics converting to a religion proves it to be true; some may convert for a spouse, emotional comfort, political gain, etc. What I’m saying is that passionate skeptics can’t experience hallucinations or illusions of something they don’t believe in. Now if there are ex‐passionate skeptics who say they saw a religious figure risen and so they converted, they could be lying. Can we verify that they are willing to suffer persecution for their new beliefs, as did Paul (see 2 Corinthians 11:23–28) and James (see JosephusHegesippus, and Clement of Alexandria)? If so, then we know they’re honest, and we’ll have to explain what they’re saying.

My opponent drops arguing for whether the James who saw Jesus risen was His skeptical brother, instead saying it’s irrelevant considering the that many skeptics have converted to other religions. See the previous paragraph.

Con brings up that Paul “[lacked] of clarity that there even was a bodily resurrection” and that the appearance of Jesus to Paul “was certainly vague and limited.” Considering the transformation it gave him, it’s hard to see the appearance being too much limited. So far, my opponent hasn’t brought up a single passage to verify Paul having a “lack of clarity that there even was a bodily resurrection.” I extend what I’ve said about Philippians 3:20–21 and Acts 13:35–37, dropped by my opponent for the entirety of this debate.

Time for burial

Jesus died at three
in the afternoon
. Citing Glenn Miller

The time frame available for all this is from approximately 3:00 pm until 'deep' sundown-plus in April (somewhere between 6.15pm and 7:15pm). That gives a spread of 3-4 hours …

Even working alone, Joseph and Nicodemus (perhaps with their servants) could have done this in two hours


Now for the facts, most of which are unexplained whether Jesus’ body was moved from the tomb or He arose and left Himself. We’ll use the facts as described by Con.

Why was Jesus buried in Joseph’s tomb in the first place?

The gospels say because this secret follower started to become more bold; Con says either to stage a resurrection or so the Christians couldn’t get the body.

Did Christians want Jesus to resurrect?

Certainly they would like this—if they expected such to happen. Con doesn’t dispute any of the passages I gave in the previous round, which show the disciples didn’t expect Jesus’ resurrection despite Con’s two points that Jesus predicted it and that such was prophesied.

Why did the Sanhedrin fear the Christians?

It seems Con’s point is that since they expected the tomb could become empty, there must have been reason—namely, because Joseph was the culprit. However, they didn’t suspect the secret follower Joseph to steal the body; only that the others might, because Jesus predicted such. Jesus’ prediction therefore explains this, not what Con’s saying.

Who did the Romans support?

The reason they seemed unconcerned is that they didn’t believe He rose in the first place.

Why were temple guards paid to say the body was stolen?

To shut them up. Con says he’s shown this to be unlikely, but I’m not sure where he did.

Why would Christians advocate something that would only get them hurt?

Because they believed it to be true. And as I’ve already shown, this could only be the case with, for example, Paul and James if Jesus was really there to be seen.

How can we explain post-resurrection appearances?

Only by Jesus’ resurrection, as we’ve seen above. Therefore, Con’s theories are disconfirmed. If you assume naturalism—and we’re not—then Jesus’ resurrection would be disconfirmed. However, all worldviews agree that Con’s “naturalistic” theories aren’t the way nature works, for reasons I’ve expressed above.

The resurrection of Jesus, therefore, is a true doctrine.

Return To Top | Posted:
2017-07-14 06:25:24
| Speak Round

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Time extensions will be provided as required on this debate owing to some really serious site errors that I apologize for.
Posted 2017-07-13 13:08:14
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