TUTORIAL - Christianity is falsifiable

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TUTORIAL - Christianity is falsifiable

Post by xouper »

This is a TUTORIAL thread, an exercise in critical thinking.

The purpose of these TUTORIAL threads is for members of this forum to help each other improve our critical thinking skills by discussing examples of flawed arguments we find on the net. The point is not necessarily to discuss the subject of the argument, but rather to discuss the form of the argument, the logic or illogic of it.

(A meta-discussion about this is in “a proposal for improving our critical thinking skills”
http://skepticalcommunity.com/phpbb2/vi ... php?t=1566
and any meta-discussion of the proposal itself should be taken there.)

OK, on with the exercise.

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Post by xouper »

Just yesterday, I found an interesting website, Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (www.carm.org), which seems upon first glance to be fertile ground for extracting exercises in logic and critical thinking.

For example, consider the article, "The Raelians and non-falsifiability".
http://www.carm.org/rael/falsifiable.htm

That article about the Raelians is not long and is perhaps interesting as an example of irony, but I would like to focus instead on one particular claim in the article and discuss their argument for it.
... Christianity is falsifiable. That is, it has the potential of being proven false.

Christianity was begun 2,000 years ago by a man named Jesus who lived in ancient Israel. The story is recounted in the biblical documents and the copies of these documents can be examined -- along with their accuracy and reliability. In addition, their content can either be verified or proven false since they mention historical events, geographical locations, and ancient people. This means that Christianity "occurred in history"; that is, it occurred in a real place, in real time, with real people. Therefore, because it rests in reality, it is falsifiable. It has the potential of being proven false.

Proving Christianity false could be done, for example, by simply producing the body of Jesus. If it could be proven that Jesus never did rise from the dead, then all of Christianity is proven false. All that is needed is to find sufficient archeological evidence sufficient to demonstrate that Jesus died, was buried, but did not rise. This could be done by discovering a tomb with an inscription or document in it of who He was, His alleged miracles, His patronage, etc. If the archeologists also found that he bones of the wrists and feet damaged from nails consistent with those used in at the time, etc., this could be sufficient proof that Jesus didn't rise from the dead. It would be a very serious problem for the Christian faith. Therefore, this is a way that Christianity is falsifiable.
The question I would like to address here is the claim that Christianity is falsifiable. The topic of this TUTORIAL thread, then, is a discussion of the flaws in the argument used to support that claim.

And with that, I step off the virtual "podium" and let someone else take a turn, or ask questions, or say whatever else is on your mind.

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Burn for Jesus!

Post by Abdul Alhazred »

So you're going to burn forever 'cos you don't like Jesus?

This one puts the point on it:
<a href="http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/003 ... 1.asp">The Good, the Bad, and the Fundy</a>

Here's one for the African-Americans among us:
<a href="http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/006 ... .asp">Soul Story</a>

Here's the one on evolution:
<a href="http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/005 ... 1.asp">Big Daddy</a>

Here's the one on Dungeons and Dragons:
<a hreg="http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/004 ... .asp">Dark Dungeons</a>

www.chick.com

Gotcha!
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Re: Burn for Jesus!

Post by xouper »

Abdul Alhazred wrote:So you're going to burn forever 'cos you don't like Jesus? ... Gotcha!
The topic of this TUTORIAL thread is a discussion of the flaws in the argument used by carm.org to support their claim that Christianity is falsifiable. May I ask, how does your reply relate to that?

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Re: Burn for Jesus!

Post by Abdul Alhazred »

Bumping Xouper to the top to make up for my paroxysm of forumism.

I will say that I don't think we have much to worry about from Raelianism, but you never know.

There was a while a few years ago when it was credible to think that the Lubavitcher sect of Judaism might become a separate major world religion, what with their new messiah. But it didn't and it won't.

How many false alarms in how many sects before one catches on?
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Re: Burn for Jesus!

Post by Abdul Alhazred »

Addressing the question of the falsifiability of Chistianity, or rather I should say its patent falsity, how can a man be God? That right there nails it as far as I'm concerned. But then I've never been a Christian, even in my religious days.
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Post by exarch »

OK, taking this thread back into its intended direction.
I do not know the names of al the logical fallacies though, but I can try to spot them:
... Christianity is falsifiable. That is, it has the potential of being proven false.
I will assume the term "Christianity" to mean "the Christian belief system", i.e. all the claims made by the Christian religion.
Subjectively, the word "potential" means this statement is acceptable. Although technically speaking, Christianity has already been largely discredited, literal Chritianity anyway, so large portions of it have already been proven false. And no matter how many counterproof was ever found, some would probably still consider Christianity to be entirely true.
Christianity was begun 2,000 years ago by a man named Jesus who lived in ancient Israel. The story is recounted in the biblical documents and the copies of these documents can be examined -- along with their accuracy and reliability.
Their accuracy and their reliability can, despite the authors claims, not be examined from the documents themselves. On the contrary, the documents and and biblical stories are part of the claim that is to be falsified. I believe the term is "Circular reasoning"?
In addition, their content can either be verified or proven false since they mention historical events, geographical locations, and ancient people.
The mention of real, existing events, places and people in a document doesn't logically infer that ALL the content of the documents is therefore real. "Jumping to conclusions". Simply because all the falsifyable statements in a text turn out to be correct still doesn't say anything about the non-falsifyable statements it contains.
This means that Christianity "occurred in history"; that is, it occurred in a real place, in real time, with real people. Therefore, because it rests in reality, it is falsifiable. It has the potential of being proven false.
The claim is that it occured in real time, in a real place, with real people, this claim can be falsified. Nothing wrong (logically) with this claim, although some of the terminology is a bit contrived.
Proving Christianity false could be done, for example, by simply producing the body of Jesus. If it could be proven that Jesus never did rise from the dead, then all of Christianity is proven false. All that is needed is to find sufficient archeological evidence sufficient to demonstrate that Jesus died, was buried, but did not rise.
More "jumping to conclusions" I suppose. debunking one single fact doesn't debunk the entire story. What's more, the entire rest of the story could still be true, except this one little fact. Of course this one fact would logically refute the notion that everything in the bible is true, but that is not the hypothesis the author started out with. The veracity of "Christianity" as a whole does not hinge on a person having risen from the dead 2000 years ago.
This could be done by discovering a tomb with an inscription or document in it of who He was, His alleged miracles, His patronage, etc. If the archeologists also found that he bones of the wrists and feet damaged from nails consistent with those used in at the time, etc., this could be sufficient proof that Jesus didn't rise from the dead.
I'm quite sure that even this would not be sufficient proof for the true believers that Jesus never rose from the dead. They would come up with countless alternate explanations and ideas. And they would probably be right in doing so, because it's a defective argument. Having a few details match will in no way be sufficient evidence to confirm Jesus' identity. Never mind the fact that many christian archaeologists will make wild claims about less detail than this matching the bible, but the truth is it's just not sufficient. It's not quite a logical fallacy though, apart from the authors assertion that this itty-bitty bit of proof will somehow be enough to prove Jesus didn't rise from the dead.
It would be a very serious problem for the Christian faith. Therefore, this is a way that Christianity is falsifiable.
Many things pose a very serious problem for the Christian faith, yet none of those have proven christianity false yet (I know, I'm making an appeal to popularity here :D), and they probably never will. Still, just because one element supporting the hypothesis is false doesn't logically mean the hypothesis itself is therefore false.

That's my first attempt. Any comments?
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Re: Burn for Jesus!

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Abdul Alhazred wrote:Addressing the question of the falsifiability of Chistianity, or rather I should say its patent falsity, ...
That's a good question to ask. A key concept here is the notion of falsifiability. Wikipedia has a nice article discussing this important concept.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falsifiability
wikipedia wrote:For an assertion to be falsifiable, in principle it must be possible to make an observation or do a physical experiment that would show the assertion to be false. For example, the assertion "All crows are black" could be falsified by observing one red crow.
Looking again at the claim by carm.org that Christianity is falsifiable, some obvious questions arise:
  1. Is their proposed test for falsifying Christianity sufficient to falsify it?
  2. Are there other aspects of Chrisitanity that are not falsified by their proposed test?
  3. Are there any aspects of Christianity that are not falsifiable at all?
There are many ways to analyze the claim by carm.org, but this is a start.

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Re: Burn for Jesus!

Post by Evolver »

xouper wrote:Looking again at the claim by carm.org that Christianity is falsifiable, some obvious questions arise:
  1. Is their proposed test for falsifying Christianity sufficient to falsify it?
  2. Are there other aspects of Chrisitanity that are not falsified by their proposed test?
  3. Are there any aspects of Christianity that are not falsifiable at all?
There are many ways to analyze the claim by carm.org, but this is a start.
1. This is all based on a theory that Christ actually existed. I have heard/read that the Christ mythology is pasted together from other pre-existing mythologies. If no one who exactly matches the myth was ever around, there would be nothing to find that would convince a believer. If a basis for the pre-existing mythology is found, they could say "well, that wasn't Jesus".

2. The other powers attributed to Christ have nothing to do with whether or not he rose from the dead. One could show how illusion could be used to walk on water, change water into wine, etc. (much as Randi has done with modern day claims), but that neither proves or disproves how Christ had done it, just that non-mystical ways could have been used.
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Post by exarch »

Evolver wrote:1. This is all based on a theory that Christ actually existed. I have heard/read that the Christ mythology is pasted together from other pre-existing mythologies. If no one who exactly matches the myth was ever around, there would be nothing to find that would convince a believer. If a basis for the pre-existing mythology is found, they could say "well, that wasn't Jesus".
In other words, a form of circular reasoning. Their so called falsifyable "facts" are only falsifyable (or relevant facts, for that matter) if you assume the story to already be true. Basically, they will not consider those facts relevant to their hypothesis if they don't support it (or at least confirm the existence of Jesus as a real, falsifyable person).
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Post by Evolver »

exarch wrote:
Evolver wrote:1. This is all based on a theory that Christ actually existed. I have heard/read that the Christ mythology is pasted together from other pre-existing mythologies. If no one who exactly matches the myth was ever around, there would be nothing to find that would convince a believer. If a basis for the pre-existing mythology is found, they could say "well, that wasn't Jesus".
In other words, a form of circular reasoning. Their so called falsifyable "facts" are only falsifyable (or relevant facts, for that matter) if you assume the story to already be true. Basically, they will not consider those facts relevant to their hypothesis if they don't support it (or at least confirm the existence of Jesus as a real, falsifyable person).
I would venture to say that this is by design.
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Post by Soubrette »

My thoughts have pretty much already been said but to repeat them. How is the term Christianity defined. Parts of the bible have been falsified - we know we're not the centre of the universe and there are outright contradictions in the apostles' narration of the Jesus story for instance (I know these can be explained as allegories, human error etc for those who truly believe).

Secondly is the falsification offered feasible - how likely is it to find a 2000 year old body and to be able to name it "Jesus"? It seems that even if such a body were found and the marks of crucificion were upon then any Christian worth his faith would point out that a) Jesus was a common name in those times and b) crucificion was a common way of administering the death penalty.

Evolution Psychology could be falsified too - once that damn time machine is invented :P

I have no idea what these fallacies are called - if anything, perhaps someone could help me out here or point out where I'm going wrong :)

Thanks for starting the thread Xouper :)

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Post by exarch »

Soubrette wrote:My thoughts have pretty much already been said but to repeat them. How is the term Christianity defined. Parts of the bible have been falsified - we know we're not the centre of the universe and there are outright contradictions in the apostles' narration of the Jesus story for instance (I know these can be explained as allegories, human error etc for those who truly believe).

Secondly is the falsification offered feasible - how likely is it to find a 2000 year old body and to be able to name it "Jesus"? It seems that even if such a body were found and the marks of crucificion were upon then any Christian worth his faith would point out that a) Jesus was a common name in those times and b) crucificion was a common way of administering the death penalty.
I guess the author is setting up a straw man of his own argument. If you were somehow able to find a 2000 year old body with the appropriate markings, believers would debunk your claim of having found Jesus immediately, but for the time being, he can claim Christianity is in fact less frivolous than Raelianism because facts might exist. He is making it appear as though the skeptic's job is really quite easy, but despite the relative ease with which one could (according to the author) debunk Christianity and its claims, this has not happened yet, with which he seems to want people to conclude that Christianity has already been falsified through lack of evidence for the opposite case (a combination of "argument from ignorance" and "shifting the burden of proof").
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Post by Skeeve »

Well, to start with, I find their assertion ... Christianity was started ... to be in the form of an accepted hypothesis. To me, that appears to be a very questionable, and extraordinary hypothesis. Are we not, then, being asked to accept having the burden shifted from the one making the assertion to the one doubting it in this case?

If we independently consider the argument surrounding the body of Christ we have a similar quandry. How do we know it's the right body? Do we take the biblical words as meaning that the body itself was literally taken into heaven, or was that just the spirit, leaving the body behind?

That brings us to the ressurrection. Need I point out that the evidence is rather slim to start with, and so we don't get to assume that, either.

All of these bring us back to the hypothesis that there was a Jesus, one single figure, in the first place. The only way to falsify that is to prove the negative, to prove the assertion that There was never any Jesus. One can not prove the negative, therefore on that basis, the original hypothesis is not falsifiable.

I think, however, the whole argument is shifting the burden from the one making the assertion to the one doubting it, and I reject the question on that basis.
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Post by specious_reasons »

xouper wrote:
... Christianity is falsifiable. That is, it has the potential of being proven false.

Christianity was begun 2,000 years ago by a man named Jesus who lived in ancient Israel. The story is recounted in the biblical documents and the copies of these documents can be examined -- along with their accuracy and reliability. In addition, their content can either be verified or proven false since they mention historical events, geographical locations, and ancient people. This means that Christianity "occurred in history"; that is, it occurred in a real place, in real time, with real people. Therefore, because it rests in reality, it is falsifiable. It has the potential of being proven false.

Proving Christianity false could be done, for example, by simply producing the body of Jesus. If it could be proven that Jesus never did rise from the dead, then all of Christianity is proven false. All that is needed is to find sufficient archeological evidence sufficient to demonstrate that Jesus died, was buried, but did not rise. This could be done by discovering a tomb with an inscription or document in it of who He was, His alleged miracles, His patronage, etc. If the archeologists also found that he bones of the wrists and feet damaged from nails consistent with those used in at the time, etc., this could be sufficient proof that Jesus didn't rise from the dead. It would be a very serious problem for the Christian faith. Therefore, this is a way that Christianity is falsifiable.
The question I would like to address here is the claim that Christianity is falsifiable. The topic of this TUTORIAL thread, then, is a discussion of the flaws in the argument used to support that claim.
Well, I actually sorta agree with most of the first part of this. The central tenets of Christianity relies on an actual living person being present in history. Jesus can't be a mythological figure, because he has to be sacrificed for our sins. Hence, proving there was no Jesus, or that Jesus wasn't what people said he was would falsify the philosophical basis of this religion.

However, actually coming up with enough evidence to show falsifiability is highly unlikely at this point in time.
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Post by Abdul Alhazred »

Offending posts deleted or modified.

I beg your pardon Xouper.
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Re: Burn for Jesus!

Post by specious_reasons »

xouper wrote:Looking again at the claim by carm.org that Christianity is falsifiable, some obvious questions arise:
  1. Is their proposed test for falsifying Christianity sufficient to falsify it?
  2. Are there other aspects of Chrisitanity that are not falsified by their proposed test?
  3. Are there any aspects of Christianity that are not falsifiable at all?
There are many ways to analyze the claim by carm.org, but this is a start.
I missed this the first time around.

Specifically Christianity could be falsified by disproving some aspect to Jesus. According to doctrine, Jesus was intended to be the perfect sacrifice. Since no person could be perfect, Jesus was the embodiment of God in human form. Jesus rose from the dead to prove his Divinity. If any aspect of that could be proven false, Christianity would also be proven false.

However, that would not falsify the rest of the doctrine. There is still the idea that there is an all powerful God, which is not disproven by evidence about Jesus.

Now specifically about how the author might show how Christianity can be falsifiable I find are interesting, or possibly misleading.
In addition, their content can either be verified or proven false since they mention historical events, geographical locations, and ancient people.
I think this is established as a strawman. Certainly if a Gospel contained gross mistakes of historical record, it would be more suspect. However, if I remember correctly, none of them do, how convincing it will be later on when this is shown to be true!
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Post by Beleth »

I don't think Christianity can be falsifiable in the way they describe:
All that is needed is to find sufficient archeological evidence sufficient to demonstrate that Jesus died, was buried, but did not rise. This could be done by discovering a tomb with an inscription or document in it of who He was, His alleged miracles, His patronage, etc. If the archeologists also found that he bones of the wrists and feet damaged from nails consistent with those used in at the time, etc., this could be sufficient proof that Jesus didn't rise from the dead.
... mainly becase none of those pieces of evidence are non-falsifiable themselves.

They present two pieces of possible evidence: documentation, and wounds consistent with crucifixion. Let's take them in reverse order.

Crucifixion is not a punishment unique to Jesus. In fact, the Bible says that He wasn't even the only one crucified that day. So finding a body or skeleton with marks consistent with crucifixion is not sufficient proof that the body or skeleton in question is Jesus's.

Then there's documentation. We, in our heavily-documented age, assume that every age was nearly as well documented. This is not the case. Documentation associated with a body could be accurately describing that body, or it might be a clerical error (intentional or no) describing another body. With something as important as all of Christianity on the line, one would need a far better proof of accuracy of a document than they are providing.

Then there's the hypothetical. Say that this event actually did come to occur. Some archaeologist finds a long-forgotten tomb with the bones of someone who has wounds consistent with crucifixion, and tied to these bones is a scroll that reads "This is the body of Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, ..." This discovery gets reported and all the tests that can be performed on these items (the age of the scroll, the condition of the bones, etc.) do nothing to disprove the validity of the statements written on the scrolls. Would this, then, cause all Christians to give up their faith? I daresay it would not. And if it would not, then it cannot be considered disproof. And if it it not disproof, then no hypothetical has been given so far to show that Christianity is disprovable.

So the flaws in this argument that I see are that the evidence suggested would, if actually produced, would not be convincing enough for the majority of Christians to give up their faith, and therefore cannot be used to show that Christianity is falsifiable.

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Post by Earthborn »

I am going to look at this from a slightly different perspective. This is because I think they are technically correct: if the body of Christ is found and confirmed that it is Him, then at least one claim of Christianity is falsified. There are obviously many difficulties for this to happen, but they are not fatal for the argument.

To figure out what the problem is, we’ll have to go back to what falsification actually means and how some philosophers of science have argued it must be used. We will find that the idea of falsification comes from the philosopher of science Karl Popper. He was one of the first to argue that it is practically impossible to prove a scientific theory to be absolutely correct, so he argued that scientists should be doing the opposite: to try to prove their own theories wrong. Falsify them. A theory that still stands after many rigorous tests to prove it wrong, is a theory that comes close to the truth.

Whether a theory is falsifiable depends on its empirical content. Empirical content consists of the predictions it makes about the results of tests that are different from a competing or older theory. If any of the observations turns out to be different from what the theory predicts, then it is falsified. It then can’t logically be true, and Popper argues that a scientist must then abandon it.

A theory with a high empirical content makes many far reaching predictions, and has a high chance of being falsified. If despite this vulnerability to falsification, and despite rigorous testing, the theory cannot be falsified then the theory must be very close to the truth. According to Popper, it is possible to get increasingly closer to the truth when theories that are proven to be incorrect are falsified and only those theories remain that can pass all the challenges that scientists submit them to. It is a bit like the Sherlock Holmes saying: “When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains - however improbable - must be the truth.”

Now let’s assume that a scientist, an experimental archaeo-theologist, tries to determine the empirical content of Christianity. The theory predicts that there can be no body of Christ, as He has arisen. There is of course a snag: a competing theory tells us exactly the same. Different archaeo-theologists have come to believe that there has never been a Christ. Our scientist can try to find the body of Christ in order to falsify the theory, but not finding it will not mean the theory has passed a rigorous test. It may well be that this scientist has not been looking hard enough or that the body never existed in the first place.

Whether Christ has arisen or not does not provide us with many leads that might falsify the theory if they proved incorrect. The theory predicts very little – at least in terms of objectively measurable facts – that is not predicted by competing theories that tell us the exact opposite. We must therefore conclude that the theory has a very low empirical content. This means that it is difficult to prove that it is untrue and that means that it can’t be tested very well.

The real problem in the thinking of these Christians is in thinking that the ideas of Christianity are testable in the same way as physical sciences. Karl Popper considered mostly exact and experimental science, such as physics, chemistry and biology, when he outlined the principle of falsification. When studying the past, historians and archaeologists can’t use the same rigorous testing as he prescribed. Their conclusions are too dependent on interpretation and often can’t be subjected to experimentation in the same way theories in the physical sciences can. Historians often prefer to speak about ‘interpretations’ instead of theories.
These Christians try to argue that history can be tested with a method that is too crude and destructive to be applied to historical facts. A historical interpretation does not become necessarily untrue just because some of the evidence for it is missing.

To me it seems more like some know-it-all (but-do-not-know-it-all-really) atheists have seduced them into believing that their religion must be falsifiable in the same way General Relativity is. This is not true. They are too occupied to try to argue the scientific truth of their doctrines, and too little with considering whether their doctrines serve a useful purpose even if some of what they base it on turns out not to be historical fact.

Even if the body of Christ is found and it is possible to confirm it is Jesus, most Christian doctrines will stay unaffected since they are unfalsifiable. The idea that Jesus is God and sacrificed himself for the good of mankind even becomes a bit stronger: if Jesus is dead, his death was more of a sacrifice than if he was alive. Some of his teachings also will be unaffected. If Jesus’ body is found, it does not suddenly become a bad idea to love your neighbor like yourself, or to feed the hungry and to clothe the naked. Still the article tries to argue exactly this: “If it could be proven that Jesus never did rise from the dead, then all of Christianity is proven false.”

They apparently believe it is a good idea to make Christianity into something that comes crashing down when something occurs like a misplaced card in a house of cards or a calculating error in a mathematical proof. Just one little error and everything needs to be abandoned. Trying to turn Christianity into a falsifiable scientific theory is not only impossible, it would also necessarily remove many of Christianity’s strengths. That is perhaps the most damaging error in their thinking.
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Post by viscousmemories »

Many good points have already been made. I would add (or reiterate, in case I missed someone else saying this):
Proving Christianity false could be done, for example, by simply producing the body of Jesus. If it could be proven that Jesus never did rise from the dead, then all of Christianity is proven false.
This, I believe, is the logical fallacy begging the question. Even if they had made an effort to defend the claim that "all of Christianity [would be] proven false" by proving that Jesus didn't rise from the dead, it still doesn't follow that producing his body disproves his resurrection. All it disproves is that his physical body was sucked up into heaven after his resurrection. I can easily imagine the argument being made that his spirit was sucked up and his body left behind.