Christian Apologist Vincent J. Torley Now Argues Michael Alter’s Bombshell Book Demolishes Christian Apologists’ Case for the Resurrection

Dr. Vincent J. Torley is no stranger to us at DC. We've dealt with him plenty of times before. To his credit he engages us in an intelligent and civil manner.

Not too long ago I challenged him to read Michael J. Alter's book Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry as the best book on the resurrection, by far. He read it. Alter's book changed his mind. Torley offered three reasons why he changed his mind about the resurrection and credited me with the first one! He now says:
It is not often that I encounter a book which forces me to undergo a fundamental rethink on a vital issue. Michael Alter’s The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry is one such book. The issue it addresses is whether the New Testament provides good evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead. Prior to reading Michael Alter’s book, I believed that a Christian could make a strong case for Jesus’ having been raised from the dead, on purely historical grounds. After reading the book, I would no longer espouse this view. Alter has convincingly demolished Christian apologists’ case for the Resurrection – and he’s got another book coming out soon, which is even more hard-hitting than his first one, judging from the excerpts which I’ve read.

Diehard skeptics will of course dismiss the Resurrection as fiction because they reject the very idea of the supernatural, but Michael Alter, a Jewish author who has spent more than a decade researching the Resurrection, isn’t one of these skeptics. Alter willingly grants for the sake of argument the existence of a personal God Who works miracles and Who has revealed Himself in the Hebrew Bible. Despite these generous concessions to his Christian opponents, I have to say that Alter’s book is the most devastating critique of the case for the Resurrection that I have ever read....reading Alter’s book will make you realize that what historians know about Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and post-mortem appearances to his disciples is very little: far too little for a Christian to base their belief in the reality of Jesus’ Resurrection on the historical evidence alone. I now believe that only the grace of God could possibly justify making such an intellectual commitment.
If you think that's stunning you won't believe what Torley says next, about the minimal facts and the maximal data approaches to defending the resurrection:
There are, broadly speaking, two ways of arguing for the Resurrection: first, a “minimal facts” approach (developed by Dr. Gary Habermas and Dr. Mike Licona) which sticks to facts about Jesus and his disciples which are generally accepted by historians, and then proceeds to argue for the Resurrection as the best explanation for those facts; and second, a “maximal data” approach (championed by Drs. Tim and Lydia McGrew) which first seeks to build a cumulative case for the historical reliability of the four Gospel accounts before attempting to argue for the Resurrection. Although Alter does not explicitly deal with either of these approaches in his book – he’ll be critiquing Resurrection apologetics in his second book on the Resurrection, which is forthcoming – the importance of this book which he has written is that it totally discredits both approaches.
Then this:
In short: Alter’s book does a brilliant job of eviscerating the apologists’ case for the high probability of the Resurrection. Whether one chooses to continue believing it (as I do) or not, one is forced to accept, after reading the book, that belief in the Resurrection cannot be built on the foundation of historical data, for it is a foundation of sand.
Torley changed his mind for three reasons:
--First, I have come to see that I was asking the wrong question. The question which a Christian reading the Gospels should ask is not, “Are there any knockdown arguments against the historical accuracy of the Gospels?” but rather, “Would an impartial historian, reading the Gospels, conclude that they probably contained factual errors which call into question their reliability?” I’d like to give John Loftus credit for this change in my thinking: although I reject his famous Outsider Test for Faith (OTF), as it leaves no room for the sensus divinitatis, I do accept an Outsider Test for Apologetics: in other words, you shouldn’t try to convince a skeptic of the truth of some historical claim unless you’re confident that your argument would also convince a fair-minded historian in that field. And when we are discussing the Resurrection, the question we need to ask is: “Would an impartial historian, reading the Passion and Resurrection narratives in the Gospels, be inclined to dispute their factual reliability?” If the answer is “Yes,” then Christians should not appeal to these narratives, when trying to persuade skeptics that the Resurrection occurred. Simple as that. And if it turns out that an impartial historian would query even the set of “minimal facts” employed by Habermas and Licona, then the entire enterprise of arguing for the Resurrection on historical grounds collapses like a house of cards.

The Resurrection is the pivotal miracle on which the apologetic case for Christianity stands or falls. An apologist who has already made a powerful case for the Resurrection and for the overall historical reliability of the New Testament can go on to argue that other miracles recorded in the Gospels – such as the virginal conception of Jesus – for which the historical evidence is far weaker than for the Resurrection, should nevertheless be treated as factual occurrences, because we can trust what the New Testament says, if its central claim is correct. (Such an argument is at least plausible, whatever one may think of it.) But it would be circular reasoning if the apologist were to argue for the Resurrection itself in such a fashion. The evidence for the Resurrection has to be strong enough to convince an open-minded outsider. There can be no special pleading here, when attempting to smooth over difficulties in the narratives. Instead, the question one constantly needs to keep in mind is: what would a hardnosed but fair-minded skeptic say?
In reference to the OTF I must say Torley's faith needs to reject it in order to allow room for a private subjective experience of the sense of divinity (i.e., sensus divinitatis). This is the same private subjective experience every believer has of their own divinity as interpreted through their own upbringing. So accepting this private subjective experience cannot be of any help to believers everywhere when seeking to objectively know which religion is true, if there is one. He understands the OTF applies to apologetics, for which I'm happy. It should also apply to one's theology, for one's theology either has the weight of greater evidence for it or it doesn't. For if nothing else, the OTF helps people eliminate, as best as possible, the many cognitive biases that force them to remain in the faith they were raised to believe, and to impartially judge their own private subjective sense of divinity. Let me put it this way. Doing apologetics is to present objective evidence to convince a nonbeliever to believe. To say the outsider's perspective applies to apologetics but not to one's own sect-specific faith--the one most believers are raised in--is to say believers around the globe need not require objective evidence for the faith they were raised to believe. Why are they exempt? This is a double-standard Torley needs in order to believe what he was raised to believe, and that's an unrecognized as yet intellectual dishonesty.
--The second consideration that changed my mind was the mountain of facts assembled by Alter in his book, which hit me like an avalanche when reading it. The case Alter assembles is so overwhelming as to leave any honest inquirer with no reasonable doubt that the New Testament makes statements about Jesus which are not only mutually contradictory but also demonstrably wrong – at least, as far as historians can tell. I now take a much more modest view of the Bible’s reliability in historical matters, and I’m quite happy to concede that on many occasions, the Evangelists “got it wrong.” I continue to believe in the Resurrection, for reasons that have more to do with the heart than the head.
--The third and final reason that led me to change my mind was Alter’s seemingly effortless ability to cut down arguments put forward by leading Christian apologists.
Torley's posting is very long. He provides the short and the long answer to his change of views. At the end of the short answer he says,
Alter’s work has accomplished something singular: it has convincingly rebutted the Christian Resurrection apologetic. Amazon reviewer Jerry Caine, an Evangelical Conservative Christian and a graduate of Talbot Theological Seminary, has nothing but praise for Alter’s book:

“This volume, in my opinion, is the new gold standard for the perspective that would seek to destroy Christianity by taking out the pivotal event of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Apologists for the Christian faith [which I count myself as a member] MUST deal with his arguments as they are, hands down, the best of the best I have ever encountered. This book will easily appeal to skeptics of the Christian faith and it should appeal to just about every Bible school and Seminary of the country as a standard textbook for students in apologetic classes.”
This is all very interesting to me. Let me say Vincent Torley is more honest of a thinker than I had previously thought. But it's quite clear he is still clinging to his faith despite the greater weight of evidence. You see, if historians cannot determine what happened in history then what makes him think he can? See this. One might as well claim to be a psychic, not a historian.

Read his whole essay here.