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There is also the little tidbit that there may have been some mistranslation along the way and it will be 72 white raisins waiting in heaven for those who have believed enough.

David D.G.

Even C.S. Lewis, a fairly intelligent man, made this absurd argument about the Apostles dying for their faith being some kind of evidence that Jesus was God. (I think that it was part of the "Liar, Lord, or Lunatic" argument, sometimes called the "trilemma" argument.)

Apart from the fact that the three possibilities presented in the "trilemma" are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive, one of the most straightforward possibilities seems never to have occurred to Mr. Lewis --- namely, that the Apostles were simply wrong. They were human (if they existed at all), and humans make mistakes.

~David D.G.


Indeed, the idea that Jesus might have been a fourth option(legend) apparently didn't occur to him? wtf?

I'd heartily encourage anyone that finds the 'die for a lie' argument interesting who wants more information to go check out ProfMTH on Youtube. He's a college teacher/admin who has a playlist devoted to that topic. It's somewhat lengthy, with quite a few videos, but I think it shows quite clearly how this argument is bunk from multiple angles of analysis. Link should be in my name.

Hell, he's got loads of other really top-quality stuff as well, check some of it out too! :)

Glad to see you doing your bit to show how intellectually bankrupt the "die for a lie" line of apologetics is Greta :)

the chaplain

I'm always amazed that people still pull this argument out of their bag of tricks, as it's one of the lamest ones in there.

I never thought of the guilt-trip angle before. That's an interesting take on it. But, what you mentioned in the OP is not even the worst of it. Assuming that Jesus was real and believed he had been chosen by God to accomplish some special mission, think how futile his sacrifice was!

Joshua Zelinsky

I'm not sure I agree with your analysis here.

The point of the argument from the death of the apostles is not that an argument that "they were willing to die so it must be true" but rather is an argument that they believed that they had seen miracles and such. Thus, it is an argument to accept their testimony.

You touch on this argument and its problems (such as the fact that eye witnesses are very unreliable) however comparing it to the Muslims or Heaven's Gate members isn't a great comparison because those people aren't including their claims explicit observation of claimed miracles.

There are however, additional serious problems with this argument. In fact, there's very little evidence that most of the apostles were martyred. Most of the martyrdom stories of the apostles date to very late. So even if one did buy into this sort of argument it would have a very questionable premise.


I've heard a variant of this argument though - its not that "the apostles BELIEVED and died from it", but rather "the apostles (as its told in the bible) KNEW and died instead of recanting what they knew".

Which does make the Christian argument a little stronger, and atheist have to fall back on the "but we can't be sure if they knew because the testament isn't reliable" argument.

Greta Christina

N and Joshua: But the followers of the People's Temple were also there to see Jim Jones and "know" that he was God. The followers of the Heaven's Gate cult were there to see Marshall Applewhite and "know" that he was a prophet or a seer or whatever the hell they thought he was. Does that make their conviction and their willingness to die for their beliefs any more persuasive?


N,I dont' find theists claiming that prior theists "knew" anything to be any stronger than they "believed". There is no evidence that there was anything to "know". The argument that there is no reason to believe in the NT because of the total lack of evidence of any magical occurences is still just as strong.


I've seen that argument from theists (what a strangely circular one it is, too), but
I've also been given the somewhat related "It's true because *I* really believe it. No, I mean, REALLY, REALLY believe it." argument twice.

The first time, I was so astonished that anyone could imagine this is a worthwhile argument that I found myself unable say anything at all.

The second time, while not as shocked, I realized that anyone that did think that way was either unable to comprehend basic logic, or was capable of comprehending it but had simply chosen to abandon it.

Either way, it was difficult to see any point in further discussion, since all my arguments relied on the very logic that they were not going to apply, whether by accident or design.


Either way, it was difficult to see any point in further discussion, since all my arguments relied on the very logic that they were not going to apply, whether by accident or design.

My feelings exactly in many cases. Apparently these kind of people are also often convinced that what made me stop discussing with them was me going speechless at their brilliant intellect and arguments... :-)


On this topic (and sorry for self-linkage, but I think it's pretty relevant), I find that the best way to respond to this argument is as follows:

"How exactly did the apostles die, and how do you know?"

This tends to stop proselytizers dead in their tracks, because the facts are that we know virtually nothing about the life or death of any of the apostles. Only a few of them are even mentioned in any detail in the Bible, and for the rest, we have nothing but late, poorly sourced, and often conflicting medieval legends.

The claim that the apostles were willingly martyred for their beliefs is an item of faith among Christian evangelists, something they tend to repeat even without knowing any facts that would support it. When you call them out on this and ask them to provide supporting evidence, they come up blank in every instance that I've seen.

Joshua Zelinsky


No because they weren't making miracle claims. The argument as used in the version which N and I discussed is a version in which the willingness to die is used as evidence that the apostles aren't lying about their witnessing 1) miracles and 2) Jesus making specific statements. See for example the take C.S. Lewis has on this argument in Mere Christianity. The argument is a bad one but not as divorced from logic and reality as you give it credit.

Thus, responses like my objections or the objections of Ebonmuse become more relevant.

Nurse Ingrid

Sorry, Joshua, but WHO wasn't making miracle claims? Are you arguing that the followers of Jim Jones didn't claim that he performed miracles?

Jim Jones did many public "faith healings" at his church, with people getting up out of wheelchairs and so on. These displays were later proven to be frauds, of course, but that doesn't mean that his followers didn't believe they were real instances of faith healing.

el cid

New to your blog. Your retort on this one is a few donuts short of a dozen, namely because you take cause for skepticism about testimonial evidence as cause for doubt of testimonial evidence. That's forcing an agenda.
No problem in remaining skeptical but active disparaging of the apostles argument just has a chip-on-the-shoulder mentality to it. It's rather important to acknowledge that there was something to this christianity thing that made it take, even when simplistic literalist views of it don't quite meet standards of internal consistency. You need to float the alternative for why this particular myth (if that's all it is) took hold so well. You have to do that because there is a real phenomenon which is belief of many. When you do put together the story line for why so many could believe in something that is in fact not true, and when you subject that story to the same criticism that you subject to the arguments for belief, you wind up with --- neither chain of evidence is meritless or especially meritorious. So be happily unconvinced but check the misplaced allusions to Jonestown.

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