In chapter 11 of TCD, "Why The Resurrection is Unbelievable," Carrier attempts to apply the Outsider Test for Faith to the question of Jesus' resurrection. He argues that if one applies the same criteria in judging the historicity of the NT documents as one does in judging other ancient documents, then one will conclude that there is no more reason to believe the NT's miracle claims than the claims of other ancient documents.
Fifty years after the Persian Wars ended in 479 B.C. Herodotus the Halicarnassian asked numerous eyewitnesses and their children about the things that happened in those years, and then wrote a book about it. Though he often shows a critical and skeptical mind, sometimes naming his sources or even questioning their reliability when he has suspicious or conflicting accounts, he nevertheless reports without a hint of doubt that the temple of Delphi magically defended itself with animated armaments, lightning bolts, and collapsing cliffs; the sacred olive tree of Athens, though burned by the Persians, grew a new shoot an arm’s length in a single day; a miraculous flood-tide wiped out an entire Persian contingent after they desecrated an image of Poseidon; a horse gave birth to a rabbit; and a whole town witnessed a mass resurrection of cooked fish! (pp. 291-92)Carrier asks: Do you believe these things happened? Well, why not? Herodotus was an educated man, a critical historian, he consulted eyewitnesses, and he clearly saw nothing to doubt in these events (p. 292). He makes an excellent point. Herodotus is one of the best ancient historians and he is writing just 50 years after the events he reports. Yet, the fact is that virtually no one believes these events happened as described, including evangelical Christians. It is not just Herodotus either, as Carrier says in a footnote: Herodotus is just an example. Ancient and medieval literature was filled with incredible stories no one believes anymore. For examples, see Richard Carrier, Sense and Goodness without God, pp. 211-52 (p. 310).
Why don't we all just accept Herodotus' word that these things happened as he reported? Because we know from our experience and that of countless other people, especially after centuries of scientific research (p. 292) that these things are very unlikely. In addition, we also know people lie, even if for what they think is a good reason. They also exaggerate, tell tall tales, craft edifying myths and legends, and err in many ways. As a result, as we all well know, false stories are commonplace. But miracles, quite clearly, are not (p. 292).
But aren't the gospels different? Aren't they clearly historical as many evangelical apologists would have us to believe? Carrier opines:
I see no relevant difference between the marvels in Herodotus and the many and varied tales of the resurrection of Jesus. Even the most fundamentalist of Christians don’t believe half of them. When the Gospel of Peter (yes, Peter) says a Roman centurion, a squad of his soldiers, and a gathering of Jewish elders all saw a gigantic walking cross hopping along behind Jesus as he exited his tomb, and then saw Jesus grow thousands of feet tall before their very eyes, there isn’t a Christian alive who believes this. And yet that was among the most popular Gospels in the Christian churches of the second century, purportedly written by someone who was alive at the time of the events it reports. So why don’t Christians believe Peter’s Gospel anymore? Well, for many of the same reasons we don’t believe the marvels of Herodotus. But why then believe any of the other Gospels, those according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? (p. 293).He is right. If one were to treat the NT documents as one does the writings of Herodotus or the non-canonical gospels, the miracle claims of the NT would be dismissed as legends.
There is no good reason to treat these stories any differently than those we find in Herodotus, certainly not if these claims are to pass the OTF. Yet at least we know when and where he wrote, and know something of who he was and how he got his information, and that he was trying to report the facts as best he could find them out, and that he personally had no agenda here, no need for us to believe him, no great mission he was trying to accomplish by telling these tales. Not so for the Gospels. So when it comes to miracles, if we don’t believe Herodotus, we surely can’t believe the Gospels. That’s why I don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead: it simply isn’t a plausible event, and is not supported by any sources I trust. If this were any other religion, say the Heaven’s Gate cult or a growing sect of Victor Hugo worshippers, then that would be the end of it (p. 296).What would it take in order to believe the miracle claims reported in the NT? It would take extraordinary evidence. Carrier writes:
Denying that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence is among the rhetoric now resorted to by those who genuinely expect superman to fly down from outer space and kill me. So I have to say something about this first. If I tell you I own a car, I usually won’t have to present very much evidence to prove it, because you’ve already observed mountains of evidence that people like me own cars. But if I say I own a nuclear missile, you have just as much evidence that “people like him own nuclear missiles” is not true. So I would need much more evidence to prove I owned one, to make up for all the evidence I don’t have from any supporting generalization. Just think to yourself what it would take for me to convince you I owned a nuclear missile, and you’ll see what I mean. In contrast, the odds of winning a lottery are very low, so you might think it would be an extraordinary claim for me to assert “I won a lottery.” But lotteries are routinely won. We’ve observed countless lotteries being won and have tons of evidence that people win lotteries. Therefore, the general claim “people like him win lotteries” is already confirmed, and so I wouldn’t need very much evidence to convince you that I won. So “I won a lottery” is not an extraordinary claim. But “I own a nuclear missile” clearly is.(pp. 298-99).The simple fact is that we don't have extraordinary evidence or even strong evidence to believe the gospel accounts. None of the evidence is extraordinary enough to justify believing an extraordinary explanation. All the evidence we have is ordinary, and has ordinary explanations. In fact, those ordinary explanations actually explain the evidence better (p. 307). What we find in the NT and early Christian history can all be explained better by naturalistic causes. Carrier argues:
Now suppose I told you “I own an interstellar spacecraft.” That would be an even more extraordinary claim—because there is no generalization supporting it at all. Not only do you have tons of very good evidence that “people like him own interstellar spacecraft” is not true, you also have no evidence this has ever been true for anyone—unlike nuclear missiles, which you know at least exist. Therefore, the burden of evidence I would have to bear here is truly enormous. Just think of what it would take for you to believe I really did have an interstellar spacecraft, and again you’ll see what I mean.
Once you realize the common sense of this, it’s obvious that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. To deny that’s true is simply irrational. But there is no more evidence supporting the generalization that “people like Jesus get resurrected from the dead” than there is for people owning starships. Therefore the claim that Jesus arose from the dead is an extraordinary claim, and thus requires extraordinary evidence—more evidence, even, than I would need to convince you I own an interstellar spacecraft. For you actually have evidence confirming the generalization that “there can be an interstellar spacecraft.” We could build one today with present technology. But we have no comparable evidence at all confirming the generalization that “there can be miraculous resurrections from the dead.” That doesn’t mean miracles must be impossible. It only means we have less evidence that miracles are possible than we have that interstellar spacecraft are possible. And that means the claim that Jesus rose from the dead is even more extraordinary than the claim that I own an interstellar spacecraft. Think again of the kind of evidence I would need to convince you I had such a vehicle. I should need more evidence than that to convince you Jesus rose from the dead. Just as would be required to convince you a whole village witnessed a pot of cooked fish rise from the dead, or anything else as incredible
Only an ordinary explanation can easily explain why Jesus only appeared to die-hard believers, and then, much later, to only one of millions of outsiders across the entire planet. If God Himself were really appearing to people, and really was on a compassionate mission to reform and save the world, there is hardly any credible reason he would appear to only one persecutor rather than to all of them. . . . [He] could have visited Pilate, Herod, the Sanhedrin, the masses of Jerusalem, the Roman legions, even the Emperor and Senate of Rome. He could even have flown to America (as the Mormons actually believe he did), and even China, preaching in all the temples and courts of Asia. In fact, being God, he could have appeared to everyone on earth. He could visit me right now. Or you! And yet, instead, besides his already-fanatical followers, just one odd fellow ever saw him.Thus, as Carrier clearly demonstrates, when the OTF is applied to the story of the resurrection of Jesus, the only conclusion is that it is not historical. There is no more reason to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead than there is to believe the things Herodotus reported, the claim that Muhammad ascended to heaven on a winged-horse or that the angel Moroni gave Joseph Smith golden tablets. These are all inventions of the fertile imaginations of men.
If Jesus was a god and really wanted to save the world, he would have appeared and delivered his Gospel personally to the whole world. He would not appear only to one small group of believers and one lone outsider, in one tiny place, just one time, two thousand years ago, and then give up. But if Christianity originated as a natural movement inspired by ordinary hallucinations (real or pretended), then we would expect it to arise in only one small group, in one small place and time, and especially where, as in antiquity, regular hallucinators were often respected as holy and their hallucinations believed to be divine communications. And that’s exactly when and where it began. The ordinary explanation thus predicts all we see, whereas the extraordinary explanation predicts things we don’t see at all (pp. 308-09).