Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Problem of Hell

One of the most common lines of attack against Christianity is that the Christian God is evil. It's not surprising this is the case, because to conclude someone is evil because they do evil things is a fairly unanswerable argument, and there are so many different ways of reaching this conclusion. You can reach it by thinking about Christian theology, especially the doctrine of hell. You can reach it by reading how the God of the Bible just hates some people before they are born. You can reach it by noticing that God cares primarily about people stroking his ego and comparatively little about people actually doing any of the kinds of things that we call good. You can reach it by reading the Bible, and seeing the genocide that God commanded, and the barbarisms that he takes care of himself. You can reach it by simply looking at how the world works, and at how much pain God could stop and chooses not to stop. And yet, somehow, Christians think they can portray their religion as nice and cuddly and loving, and largely seek to win converts in this way.

This is not merely incorrect. The inanity is so breathtaking that it's difficult to organize a coherent response. When a position has a flaw or two, it's not too hard to point it out. But here, the flaws are so severe, so unanswerable, and so pervasive that it's difficult to even convince myself that I'm not engaging minds irreversibly wrecked by religion. But if I let that stop me, I wouldn't have a blog on why I'm not a Christian. And if Christians were really so lost that reasoning can have no effect, I would not have made it out.

But before I lay bare the utter awfulness of Christianity, I wish to first explain what it is that I'm arguing. God is evil arguments are all but universally met with, “but what is your basis for the morality by which you judge Christianity to be evil?” This response usually has more to do with parroting apologists and just believing by faith that it actually engages the argument, than it does with actually thinking about what was said. With the arguments I make, responding like that will merely proclaim that you haven't taken the effort to understand or even read what I clearly state.

First of all, I am arguing that Christianity is evil as judged by Christians' morality. For instance, Christians say they value human life. The Bible and the Christian God do not. Therefore, Christians do not get their morality from the Bible. Christians say they value religious freedom. The Bible and the Christian God do not. Therefore, Christians do not get their morality from the Bible. Christians' theology completely and utterly fails to account for their ethics, therefore something is seriously wrong with either Christians' ethics or their theology.

The second thing I am arguing when I say Christianity is evil is that some parts of the Bible promote things that are evil as judged by the standards in other parts of the Bible. Therefore, one or both parts of the Bible are false, and not just about matters of history and science, but even about matters of morality. This is what happens when “God is evil here” is met with “but God is good here.” I absolutely agree that doing to your neighbor what you want done to you is good as judged by pretty much any standard of morality. But unless genocide and sadism are things you want done to you, seeking to answer the genocide and sadism in Christianity with nicer parts merely shows that the Bible contradicts itself. Nice and cuddly parts affect the degree to which Christianity is damaging, but it does nothing to answer the argument that Christianity is false.

The third thing I am doing is opposing the deceitful PR campaign more commonly known as “evangelism.” People are told that Jesus loves them. The truth is that Jesus loves people in much the same way that a stalker in a horror movie loves the woman he's harassing. When he's turned down, he'll turn nasty, hunt her down, and begin torturing her. But if only she hadn't rejected his love, she would have seen how loving he is! Nice and cuddly evangelism is claiming that God is good and loving in ways that are consistent with what people mean when they use the words good and loving to describe anything else. God is clearly not loving in the sense that evangelists are communicating. He is also not loving in a “not a tame lion” sense either. I am exposing the lie.

And fourth, when I point out that God is evil as judged by human moral intuitions, I am blocking the moral argument for the existence of God. The argument is premised on taking seriously our moral intuitions as a valid basis for learning about moral truth. One of many ways to parry this argument is to simply point out that our moral intuitions judge God to be evil. Therefore, either our moral intuitions are wrong, or God is evil. Either way, the moral argument fails. If you say that our moral intuitions are evidence for God, despite believing in a God that is the exact opposite of our moral intuitions, you are not merely being illogical. You are being dishonest. If this is your position, then you don't believe because of this moral evidence. You are believing in willful defiance of the very sort of evidence that you claim is the evidence for your beliefs.

God commanded genocide in the Bible. There are three possibilities: God didn't really do this, commanding genocide does not mean you are evil, or God is evil. The options are similar with the other barbarisms of evangelical Christianity. To believe the Bible, it's quite obvious that you must be an apologist for genocide, and trying to parry with “AH, AH, but what's your basis for morality!!” only serves as a proclamation of one's unwillingness to think about the four implications that I have listed.

It is true that Christians who fully bite the bullet and embrace the utter awfulness of their religion are immune to many of these arguments, and all of these arguments if they can explain how the nice parts of the Bible wouldn't really be nice if we understood them correctly and disowned the heretical moral argument for God. Fred Phelps nearly qualifies. Maybe God hates America. To say it would suck if true is not an argument that it is false. I fully recognize that I haven't debunked his religion with this post. But if you say or even think things like “Jesus loves you”, “God is love”, or something else emotionally equivalent, then this post does contradict your version of Christianity.

Another response that says absolutely nothing is that good is simply defined as what God's character is, therefore God being evil is logically impossible. The obvious problem here is that this is not all Christians and the Bible say about goodness. Being good and loving also means having specific loving intentions and performing certain loving actions, as described in the list in I Corinthians 13. Surely Christians would also claim that being a genocidal sadist is not good, and this implies that Christians are claiming that God is not a genocidal sadist. So when I argue that Christian beliefs mean that God is a genocidal sadist, this is a perfectly valid argument that Christian beliefs are false, regardless of how you twist the definition of good. Similarly, if you define “fuzzy” as “what alligators are like”, all that can be said against this position is that it's an abuse of language that facilitates misunderstanding. It's not false yet, because for a claim to be false, it must first be a claim. If you go further and claim that not only is the nature of alligators the definition of fuzziness, but fuzziness also means having lots of hair, this is a position that can easily be disproven by simply looking at an alligator. It's rather disingenuous to counter
this argument by inquiring about the basis for my concept of fuzziness. (The analogy is due to Phil Stilwell.)

While it's not always easy the cut through the rhetorical wordplay of theologians to see precisely where the flaw is, it should be obvious that the “but what basis do you have morality” response is not even a response. It is a question completely unrelated the argument that God is evil, for in all four of the ways I've listed, I clearly state what standard of goodness I'm talking about and what the implications are if God is not good according to that standard. All I'm really saying is that when someone is called a genocidal sadist, any defense of their complete and perfect goodness will have to involve saying they are not a genocidal sadist. I've belabored this point for so long because Christians consistently try so hard to not understand it. Although, this is to be expected. Once it is granted that “human” reasoning about morality should be allowed to influence beliefs about God, Christianity is doomed.

The clearest way to see that the Christian God is evil is to look at the doctrine of hell. I have one suggestion I'd like to give God: make hell only last 100 years, after which the souls of the damned are snuffed out of existence. Or the time can very from an instant up to 100 years depending on how evil someone was. I'm certainly not saying this plan would make God good either, but I don't need to imagine what moral perfection would look like to see that God is less than perfect. If a single improvement exists, then God is not perfectly good. And if an infinitely massive improvement exists, then God is not even moderately good.

Imagine this: the world ended 100 years ago, and God is trying to decide what to do with all the souls. One of his options is for one billion people to continue enjoying eternal bliss, while 9 billion continue to experience eternal torture. Another option is for only the one billion to continue enjoying eternal bliss and for the others to no longer suffer. Christians believe that God will choose the first, and will continue to make this choice for every moment for all eternity.

Whenever someone makes a choice, it tells you something about what they want and what they value. God's choice tells us he wants some people to suffer. Or more precisely, what evangelicals believe God's choice will be tells us something about what they believe God wants and values. In other circumstances, such as not stopping suffering on earth, or commanding genocide, it could mean that God wants some beneficial result that comes from suffering more than he wants to stop the suffering. Not a great position, but at least there is some minor suffering that can be explained this way. But not with hell. The end is already known. The damned will not eventually become better people who no longer need the punishment, and there is no one watching them to receive moral instruction from seeing the consequences. In fact, many evangelicals believe in the mind-wipe theory of heaven, where God deletes all knowledge of the damned from the minds of people in heaven, so there is not even any room for making up ways that hell produces even marginal benefits for the people in heaven. The damned continue to suffer simply because God wants them to. It makes him happier than he would be if they were not suffering. It is difficult to image how a being could be more perfectly described as an infinitely cruel sadist.

(The mind-wipe theory comes from the verse that says there will be no tears in heaven. For people in heaven to be happy despite knowing about hell would require them to be utterly unfeeling and heartless. Evangelicals usually find it unimaginable that they could be so unfeeling and heartless in heaven, and instead imagine the goodness of a God who is equally unfeeling and heartless.)

This isn't something that should be “balanced out” with the nice things God does. With hell, we're talking about eternity for the majority of people. If one really must bend to the other, it's the nice things God does that should be balanced out with his eternal sadism.

Perhaps the most biblical answer is “Who are you, O man, who answers back at God?” Or to put it more practically, “Thou shalt not think about these things!” It's difficult to overstate the influence of this biblical defense of not allowing thinking to effect beliefs. I suspect this is the biggest reason for merely asking the questioner what their basis for morality is instead of thinking about the question. Rebuttals this poor usually originate not with apologists themselves, but with the Bible. To repeat: God is evil as judged by even what Christians will say they believe is good and evil, therefore Christians don't get their basis for morality from religion. The God of the Bible is evil as judged by other parts of the Bible, therefore one of both contradictory parts of the Bible is false. Evangelists' emotional arguments about how loving the Christian God is are based on lies. And the moral argument for God fails because it's premised on trusting the moral intuition that Christians cannot trust without judging God to be evil.

The standard Calvinistic “you're so evil that you deserve it” is no good here either. Look back at the argument: either God doesn't want people to suffer for eternity, and so they won't, or God wants them to suffer, and is a sadist by definition. Either explain how God isn't a sadist, or admit to worshiping a sadist. Just saying people deserve it is nothing more than an explanation of why sadism follows as a consequence of the Christian definition of goodness. And I certainly agree that it does.

A sickeningly weak way of defending the claim that people deserve hell is to hypothetically exaggerate how evil God is and say that it would still be “justice” if everyone went to hell. What's so amusing about this is that it sounds like a slippery slope argument that skeptics would come up with: “What's next? Soon you be saying that we would still owe worship to the justice of a God who does nothing but torture people.” But, no. This is an actual argument used by actual people who are trying to defend the justice of hell. This isn't one step further down the slippery slope. This is what Christians already believe.

I like to imagine what would happen if God threw everyone in hell, and then after a million years, God let Satan out and gave him the reins to the universe. Satan would be more frustrated than a monkey in a canned banana factory: What!? You're already torturing everyone? That was my idea! This really sucks, because there is no way for me to do anything evil, for the universe is already as bad as it could possibly be. Oh, I know what I can do! I can be rebellious, and defy the will of God! I'm going to just choose some people, not based on anything they have done, and create a heaven for them! That would be completely unjust, and that'll show God! Total depravity is not the inherent nature of man. It's choosing to worship the goodness of an all-sadistic God whose actions make him indistinguishable from Satan, and then pretending that evil means not joining in the worship of Satan.

The response of “I'm sorry it's like this, but it's still true” is worth something, but certainly not what apologists would like it to be worth. How could you be sorry that it's true? It's not an impersonal fact, like an atheist being sorry that a hurricane is about to hit. Hell is the way it is because a good God wants it to be like that. Even if, contra many Calvinists, God wants all people to be saved, hell is still eternal because God wants it to be eternal. If you believe that a good God chooses to make hell eternal, you must logically believe that in the balance of the good and bad results, it is good that hell is eternal. (Unless, of course, I'm building a straw man by using the words “logically” and “believe” in the same sentence.) When Christians are sorry it's true, this tells me that many Christians don't really believe their own theology, and are replacing it at select points with their compassion. So while being sorry hell is true does keep me from calling someone a sadist for believing in hell, it only dodges the criticism by backing down from Christian beliefs. You can only be sorry that hell is true to the extent that you don't really believe that a good God makes it or that you don't believe God has the power to make it work the way he wants.

Despite the way hell is clearly not consistent with the kinds of things Christians usually call good, still, Christians believe that “somehow” hell will still be good once we understand it better. It's a mystery, which is a euphemism for a belief that has been shown to be false. This reasoning about hell is why I can't believe Christians when they claim to be trusting that God has a plan with smaller things, like financial needs, or that Jesus really is coming quickly. You aren't trusting that God has a plan and will make things work out in the end. The reason I know this is that even when you know what the end is, you still try to apply the same reasoning and have faith that God will work things out, even when you already have an inflexible belief in precisely how it is that things will not be worked out. So I must conclude that you aren't really trusting God. You are living in rebellion against reality, and willfully refusing to allow facts, reason, or even a basic sense of decency to influence your beliefs.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Haiti and Israel

As I'm sure everyone has heard far too many times by now, Pat Robertson is convinced that the earthquake hit Haiti because they've signed a pact with the devil. I will spare you my moral outrage – I have a very different point to make.

Robertson's is by no means the normal Christian response. A more common response would be that it wasn't God who directly caused the earthquake, but rather Satan who directly caused it – God merely allowed Satan to cause it. (Another common response would be admitting ignorance of whether or not Satan or God caused it and therefore not drawing a conclusion about the Haitians morality.) But for the sake of example, I'll contrast Robertson's position with the response that Satan caused it in opposition to God.

The first point I'm making is an obvious one. So obvious, that it may be confusing why I'm even bothering to say it. Here goes: the people who think God did it and the people who think Satan did it disagree with each other. These are different positions. Are you with me so far?

Okay, next point: because they are making clear claims about the agent of causation, and because they disagree with each other, at least one of them is wrong. Still with me?

I would like to pause and note that this conclusion is contestable. One could try to find a clever interpretation of one or both sides, so that we could reconcile these two positions with each other. After all, the people on both sides are Christians. So maybe they have some special knowledge that God gave, and we are simply getting two perspectives on the same thing. But to take this approach would be ridiculous. We can look at the two claims, see that they disagree, and therefore conclude that one or both sides isn't getting a special message from God. One or both sides are wrong. How could anyone see this any differently?

This is an extraordinarily common situation. Two sides disagree as to whether evil spiritual forces caused something, or good spiritual forces. It even happened in the Bible:

When David was king, there was a plague that killed 70,000 people in I Chronicles 21:14. And why? God was punishing Israel for David's sin. (Yes, God was punishing Israel for David's sin, although that's not quite the point I'm making.) Backing up a step, what was David's sin, and why did he do such a thing? David's sin was to take a census. Ignore, for the moment, whether or not this sin merited such a response from God. The point I want to make is in I Chronicles 21:1:

“Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.”

That's what started this whole problem. Satan started it by tempting David who then incurred God's wrath and allowed Satan to get his way as Israel suffered. In that sense, the author of I Chronicles is rather like normal Christians.

But the author of II Samuel was more like Pat Robertson. He tells the same story starting in II Samuel 24:1, where he writes:

“Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, 'Go, number Israel and Judah.'”

Satan didn't do it. God did it. He was angry at the Israelites, and he needed David to sin so as to have an excuse to judge them.

I'll start with a trivially obvious point. The author who thought God did it and the author who thought Satan did it disagree with each other. Still with me? And because they are making clear claims about the agent of causation, and because they disagree with each other, at least one of these Bible verses is wrong.

I'm sure that you could find some creative interpretations of one of both so that they are still consistent. After all, both authors are inspired by God, so maybe he gave them some special knowledge, and we're just reading two different perspectives. But to take this approach is ridiculous. We can look at what the books say, see that they contradict, and therefore conclude that one or both sides aren't getting special knowledge from God.
One or both authors of the Bible are wrong. How could anyone see this any differently?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My Rebuttal to Tim and Lydia McGrew


This post has been completely re-written. The new version appears here.


Tim and Lydia McGrew have written a chapter in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology titled The argument from miracles: a cumulative case for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Understanding Bayes factors is an prerequisite to understanding the McGrews' argument and my rebuttal to it. Their article includes a description of what you need to know - this post does not.

The article covers a lot of ground, and I'm not responding to all of it. While you should read the article yourself, here's my brief description of the portion I'm responding to:

Scholars disagree as to the accuracy of the Gospels and New Testament. But what if we conclude them to be as accurate as any other historical document, not counting the times they refer to miraculous events? Which is to say, it's accurately reporting what Peter said, even if this isn't what Peter actually saw. This is still an interesting question even to people who disagree with the historical conclusions of conservative scholars.

If these assumptions can be used to make a solid case for the Resurrection, this means that the case against Christianity depends on the problems in the Gospels and Acts even as a mere historical documents. Reasons for discounting the Gospels as even history are within the last couple centuries. If the case against Christianity rests on this more recent scholarship, that means David Hume would have been a Christian if he had accurately evaluated the evidence available to him. (Talk about ultimately refuting Hume...) I guess one could technically hold this position and still not be a Christian. I have no problem saying that Hume would have been unjustified in believing in evolution if he had heard of the idea but not the evidence for it. But I don't hold that Hume should have believed in the Resurrection. To hold this position means I should be willing to argue against the Resurrection, even under the assumption of the Gospels' and Acts' historical reliability.

Moving on the argument itself, Paul, the disciples, and the women who went to his tomb all claimed to have seen Jesus. To what degree does this support the resurrection? Bayesian statistics give a language with which to communicate the answer. Let R be the Resurrection of Jesus, and P, D, and W be the events that each of Paul, the disciples, and the women claimed to have seen Jesus, and in many of these cases, died for this belief.

There are 13 disciples in the argument (the twelve minus Judas plus Matthias plus James the Just.) The events that they testified they had seen Jesus will be denoted
D1-D13. For each of these and for Paul, the McGrews estimate that their Bayes factor supporting R is 1000. What this would mean was that the martyrdom of a specific disciple given R was fairly likely, while roughly a 1 in 1000 chance given ~R. They estimate the factor for W to be 100.

First suppose these are independent. If so, the cumulative Bayes factor is found by multiplication, which gives 10^3 * 10^(3 * 13) * 10^2 = 10^44. This would be strong enough to overcome even an extraordinarily small prior probability on R and make belief in R reasonable.

Of course, they aren't independent. This is recognized and responded to on pages 40-46. While dependence could lead to overestimating the factor, it could go the other way too. While it's possible that killing one martyr could encourage more, the more likely effect is that it scares off other people, who now realize that their life is in danger. So while the McGrews recognize that these aren't independent, the claim is that factoring in the dependence makes the case stronger.

Before beginning my response, I want to mention an alternative approach that I'm not taking: I could list contrary evidences C and argue that the Bayes factor of P & D & W & C is fairly small. Sure, it works. Stronger evidence to the contrary is a valid reason to not be persuaded. But here, the topic is the strength of the evidence P & D & W, and bringing up C's do not help answer this.

I will be responding to the claim from which the majority of the Bayes factor comes. I will be objecting to the factor of 10^39 for D by arguing that the dependence among D1-D13 means the Bayes factor has been overestimated horribly. (D1-D13 are similarly dependent on W. I'm leaving out W from here on because it complicates the notation without really adding anything. On the other hand, P could not be added.)

Without a doubt, I can imagine some likely circumstances (call them A), where once fixed, the D's are negatively correlated or correlated little enough that the odds against D & ~R are at least as bad as the independence assumption provides. But on the other hand, the disciples spent a lot of time together in the time leading up to their belief in the resurrection. So I can also imagine some plausible circumstances (call them B), where the D's are highly positively correlated and thus P(D1-D13 | ~R & B) is much, much larger than the independence assumption estimates. Actually, B need not even be plausible for my first point. It's enough for B to be highly implausible.

A & B are not two hypotheses that we should choose between purely based on which one has a higher prior probability. D changes the odds of A and B, and it will turn out that B is the hypothesis that matters, even if its prior probability is extremely remote. To show this I will suppose the odds in favor of A over B are a billion to one. Now condition on D1-D4. The odds against these four testimonies happening is a trillion to one under ~R & A, while vastly less under ~R & B. It is true that ~R & A started out only one billion times more likely than R & B. But once we conditioned on D1-D4, suddenly B is probably more likely than A. ("Probably" depends on the specifics of "highly positively correlated.") While A & B are not a dichotomy, setting up a more comprehensive list of possibilities won't change the idea – every Di shifts the odds enormously in favor of a stronger and stronger positive correlation.

Speaking of ~R without specifying which of A or B is true, we can see that D1-D13 are not even close to independent. Even if B is extremely unlikely, my argument still goes through. The event ~R & D1-D4 consists mostly of ~R & D1-D4 & B, and thus P(D5-D13 | ~R & D1-D4) is not even remotely close to the value reached by the independence assumption.

This make sense anecdotally as well. Suppose 13 soldiers/civilians/terrorists/we don't know what have been captured and are being interrogated, and these 13 are each capable of giving the desired answer. "Tell us where the whatever thing is, or we start killing you." A gun is pointed at the first person – there's a good chance he gives in. The first person is shot, and the gun is pointed at the second person. With the second person, it's not clear which factor is stronger – what we have learned of the group from the first death, or the intimidation factor. But if you start going down the line, and the first four die rather than sharing their secret, the interrogator's expectation that anyone will speak dwindles to a mere hope. The fact of the first four deaths is reason to think that these are not 13 random people, but a group of Navy Seals, thoroughly dedicated ideologues, or something else that makes this group so tough that they can stand up in the face of certain death, and this something else will cause the other 9 to be willing to die too. This "something else" includes both R and ~R & B.

So to compute how large of a Bayes factor D1-D13 produce, we can find an upper bound by computing P(B | ~R) x P(D1-D13 | ~R & B). The independence assumption gave a factor of 10^39, which is of no use whatsoever in computing this probability.

I would like to also hold a stronger position than simply that the factor is much less than 10^39. What could count as B, and more importantly, how probable is it?

***Edit 4/19/10*** The rest of this post is a terrible argument - I still stand by the first half.

First of all, I would like to defend a dismission of ancient historical arguments in defense of the supernatural that scarcely depends on even looking at the specifics. Even under the assumptions about the reliability of Acts, D1-D13 are not mathematical certainties – they are historical probabilities. When the highly probable is plugged into a mathematical equation that takes input in the form of certainties, the results are not necessarily reliable. What is the probability that believing in Peter's martyrdom is the best conclusion to reach based on the evidence available to us, and yet he didn't? One in a hundred? One in a million? If the odds of Peter's death given that the evidence supports it are a million to one in favor, Peter's death cannot produce a Bayes factor greater than a million – while this is actually larger than the thousand to one factor placed on a single Di, it combines differently with the rest of D. When D1-D13 are not taken to mean the events that the disciples actually died for their testimony, but rather to be that the historical record has come to support these conclusions, their positive correlation is exceptionally strong. The circumstances that would lead to made-up stories about Peter being believed, written down, repeated in the historical record, and mistakenly believed could easily lead to the same thing happening with the other 12, so the additional Bayes factor from D2-D13 is relatively small, giving a total factor of “a small factor” times one million – this is far, far out of the range of 10^39. The Bayes factor coming from historical evidence cannot exceed the odds against the evidence itself being false.

Returning to the position that the 13 disciples really did testify about their experiences, the first thing that needs to be brought up is the effect beliefs in an afterlife can have on one's behavior. For a Christian to die for their faith is gain – or at least, it is perceived as gain, which is all that matters here. It doesn't require any special level of devotion. It requires actually believing. To learn that God wants one to die soon is not merely a sacrifice that is well worth it. It's a non-sacrifice – it would be a good thing for the person who dies. This is even true in the relative paradise of middle-class America. How much more persuasive would this reasoning be in first century Palestine? So what would it take for people who believe in heaven and hell to give their lives for their beliefs? Only the same level of dedication that countless groups all manage to reach every single generation.

The intuition of Pascal's Wager is clear even without the math behind it. “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” Circumstance forced the disciples to deny Jesus and risk hell or believe he was still alive. If the disciples thought there was any chance that Jesus rose from the dead and that living for it would influence the afterlife, they could convince themselves to give their lives for this chance out of faith that it was true. So what remains to explain is what could cause the disciples to consider the possibility of the Resurrection and think there was, say, a 5% chance it was true. That's not to say their beliefs only reached a 5% level – but that is to say the 5% level would be more than sufficient to not only explain their actions, but also to explain the rationality of their actions, given their level of belief. This greatly increases P(B | ~R), for what each of the disciples believed about the influence of being a faithful witness on eternal destiny is definitely not independent.

Once beliefs in hell and heaven have taken hold of your mind, it is nearly impossible to escape. When trying to hold onto such a belief that is looking more and more false, and while struggling to escape the mind control of hell, your head plays tricks on you. A pencil isn't where I left it – did God move it as a sign? If yes, then that is a way to escape the torment of the cognitive dissonance, and without risking hell. If God didn't do it, and I say that God did it, what do I lose? After the disciples left their lives behind to follow a Messiah who died, they had nothing left to lose. I've been there – I know how it works. When you want to believe something badly enough, God does nothing at all and this is interpreted as a surprisingly detailed conversation. Upon retelling, a semi-metaphorical “God told me” can become literal. I don't believe these stories when it's a friend telling me in person, and I definitely don't believe these stories when they are written down and aged for nearly two thousand years. While Christians then and now usually have nothing to gain by directly lying, they have everything to gain by deceiving themselves. Pascal proves this – or at least Christians tend to accept his conclusion, which is all that matters here. Under ~R, the disciples' beliefs that they saw something and their deaths for these beliefs was little more than the disciples' failure to escape the mental prison that is the doctrine of hell. While the strength of these factors could have varied from disciple to disciple, how strong it is with each is decidedly not independent, and they all depend on what Jesus actually said, as well as content of the discussions among the disciples about what Jesus meant.

For the sake of contrast, consider something that requires much, much more sincerity than martyrdom: de-conversion. You can't really escape from the logic of Pascal's Wager as a defense of the rationality of trying to believe. You can only find yourself as unable to believe in your invisible friend are you are unable to believe that 2 + 2 = 5. It is far more difficult for a Christian to admit to themselves that it's all in their head than it is to give their life for Christ. My sincere disbelief proves as little as the sincere belief of martyrs, but it still means I can look at Christian martyrs or a passionate testimony and not be that impressed. For a Christian to give their life while believing God wants them to is a very little thing. To push through the “am I going to hell?” stage without relapsing into belief: now that's hard. And yet appeals to a supernatural experience are not needed to understand how it could happen.

With this is mind, a specific explanation of what happened to the disciples is not needed to be unpersuaded by their deaths, for they are not even the kind of outliers who make you scratch your head and wonder "How did they do it?" Or at least nothing beyond "they believed in heaven and hell."