I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist

February 8, 2009

CrossExamined.org presents:

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist

Featuring:
Dr. Frank Turek
TV Host and Award-Winning Co-Author of:
I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist
(Monday’s at 7 P.M. on DirecTV Channel 37 8)

Guest on:
The O’Reilly Factor,
Hannity & Colmes,
Politically Incorrect

Among the Topics Addressed:
 How Can it Be True That There is No Truth?
 Three Arguments That God Exists
 Einstein’s Evidence for The Greatest Miracle
 Dawkins and Hitchens Exposed
 Your Questions (The Presenter on the Hot Seat!)

When: Saturday, February 7, 2009
9:00-4:00 pm

Where: Grace EFC

2005 Estates Parkway, Allen, TX 75002

Info: CrossExamined.org

Don’t Miss this Unique Opportunity to Find out Why it
Takes More Faith to Be an Atheist than it does to be a Christian.

*If you would like Dr. Frank Turek to speak at your church or school then email me at ntapologetics@yahoo.com

 


Rediscovering the Historical Jesus: The Evidence for Jesus

December 31, 2007

From Dr. William Lane Craig and his website Reasonablefaith.org.

William Lane Craig

“Five reasons are presented for thinking that critics who accept the historical credibility of the gospel accounts of Jesus do not bear a special burden of proof relative to more skeptical critics. Then the historicity of a few specific aspects of Jesus’ life are addressed, including his radical self-concept as the divine Son of God, his role as a miracle-worker, his trial and crucifixion, and his resurrection from the dead.

“Rediscovering the Historical Jesus: The Evidence for Jesus.” Faith and Mission 15 (1998): 16-26.

 

Last time we saw that the New Testament documents are the most important historical sources for Jesus of Nazareth. The so-called apocryphal gospels are forgeries which came much later and are for the most part elaborations of the four New Testament gospels.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t sources outside the Bible which refer to Jesus. There are. He’s referred to in pagan, Jewish, and Christian writings outside the New Testament. The Jewish historian Josephus is especially interesting. In the pages of his works you can read about New Testament people like the high priests Annas and Caiaphas, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, King Herod, John the Baptist, even Jesus himself and his brother James. There have also been interesting archaeological discoveries as well bearing on the gospels. For example, in 1961 the first archaeological evidence concerning Pilate was unearthed in the town of Caesarea; it was an inscription of a dedication bearing Pilate’s name and title. Even more recently, in 1990 the actual tomb of Caiaphas, the high priest who presided over Jesus’s trial, was discovered south of Jerusalem. Indeed, the tomb beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is in all probability the tomb in which Jesus himself was laid by Joseph of Arimathea following the crucifixion. According to Luke Johnson, a New Testament scholar at Emory University,

Even the most critical historian can confidently assert that a Jew named Jesus worked as a teacher and wonder-worker in Palestine during the reign of Tiberius, was executed by crucifixion under the prefect Pontius Pilate and continued to have followers after his death.1

Still, if we want any details about Jesus’s life and teachings, we must turn to the New Testament. Extra-biblical sources confirm what we read in the gospels, but they don’t really tell us anything new. The question then must be: how historically reliable are the New Testament documents?

Burden of Proof

Here we confront the very crucial question of the burden of proof. Should we assume that the gospels are reliable unless they are proven to be unreliable? Or should we assume the gospels are unreliable unless they are proven to be reliable? Are they innocent until proven guilty or guilty until proven innocent? Sceptical scholars almost always assume that the gospels are guilty until proven innocent, that is, they assume that the gospels are unreliable unless and until they are proven to be correct concerning some particular fact. I’m not exaggerating here: this really is the procedure of sceptical critics.

But I want to list five reasons why I think we ought to assume that the gospels are reliable until proven wrong:

1. There was insufficient time for legendary influences to expunge the historical facts. The interval of time between the events themselves and recording of them in the gospels is too short to have allowed the memory of what had or had not actually happened to be erased.

2. The gospels are not analogous to folk tales or contemporary “urban legends.” Tales like those of Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill or contemporary urban legends like the “vanishing hitchhiker” rarely concern actual historical individuals and are thus not analogous to the gospel narratives.

3. The Jewish transmission of sacred traditions was highly developed and reliable. In an oral culture like that of first century Palestine the ability to memorize and retain large tracts of oral tradition was a highly prized and highly developed skill. From the earliest age children in the home, elementary school, and the synagogue were taught to memorize faithfully sacred tradition. The disciples would have exercised similar care with the teachings of Jesus.

4. There were significant restraints on the embellishment of traditions about Jesus, such as the presence of eyewitnesses and the apostles’ supervision. Since those who had seen and heard Jesus continued to live and the tradition about Jesus remained under the supervision of the apostles, these factors would act as a natural check on tendencies to elaborate the facts in a direction contrary to that preserved by those who had known Jesus.

5. The Gospel writers have a proven track record of historical reliability.

I don’t have enough time to talk about all of these. So let me say something about the first and the last points.

1. There was insufficient time for legendary influences to expunge the historical facts. No modern scholar thinks of the gospels as bald-faced lies, the result of a massive conspiracy. The only place you find such conspiracy theories of history is in sensationalist, popular literature or former propaganda from behind the Iron Curtain. When you read the pages of the New Testament, there’s no doubt that these people sincerely believed in the truth of what they proclaimed. Rather ever since the time of D. F. Strauss, sceptical scholars have explained away the gospels as legends. Like the child’s game of telephone, as the stories about Jesus were passed on over the decades, they got muddled and exaggerated and mythologized until the original facts were all but lost. The Jewish peasant sage was transformed into the divine Son of God.

One of the major problems with the legend hypothesis, however, which is almost never addressed by sceptical critics, is that the time between Jesus’s death and the writing of the gospels is just too short for this to happen. This point has been well-explained by A. N. Sherwin-White in his book Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament.2 Professor Sherwin-White is not a theologian; he is a professional historian of times prior to and contemporaneous with Jesus. According to Sherwin-White, the sources for Roman and Greek history are usually biased and removed one or two generations or even centuries from the events they record. Yet, he says, historians reconstruct with confidence the course of Roman and Greek history. For example, the two earliest biographies of Alexander the Great were written by Arrian and Plutarch more than 400 years after Alexander’s death, and yet classical historians still consider them to be trustworthy. The fabulous legends about Alexander the Great did not develop until during the centuries after these two writers. According to Sherwin-White, the writings of Herodotus enable us to determine the rate at which legend accumulates, and the tests show that even two generations is too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts. When Professor Sherwin-White turns to the gospels, he states that for the gospels to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be “unbelievable.” More generations would be needed.

In fact, adding a time gap of two generations to Jesus’s death lands you in the second century, just when the apocryphal gospels begin to appear. These do contain all sorts of fabulous stories about Jesus, trying to fill in the years between his boyhood and his starting his ministry, for example. These are the obvious legends sought by the critics, not the biblical gospels.

This point becomes even more devastating for skepticism when we recall that the gospels themselves use sources that go back even closer to the events of Jesus’s life. For example, the story of Jesus’s suffering and death, commonly called the Passion Story, was probably not originally written by Mark. Rather Mark used a source for this narrative. Since Mark is the earliest gospel, his source must be even earlier. In fact, Rudolf Pesch, a German expert on Mark, says the Passion source must go back to at least AD 37, just seven years after Jesus’s death.3

Or again, Paul in his letters hands on information concerning Jesus about his teaching, his Last Supper, his betrayal, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection appearances. Paul’s letters were written even before the gospels, and some of his information, for example, what he passes on in his first letter to the Corinthian church about the resurrection appearances, has been dated to within five years after Jesus’s death. It just becomes irresponsible to speak of legends in such cases.

5. The Gospel writers have a proven track record of historical reliability. Again I only have time to look at one example: Luke. Luke was the author of a two-part work: the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. These are really one work and are separated in our Bibles only because the church grouped the gospels together in the New Testament. Luke is the gospel writer who writes most self-consciously as an historian. In the preface to this work he writes:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed. (Lk. 1.1-4)

This preface is written in classical Greek terminology such as was used by Greek historians; after this Luke switches to a more common Greek. But he has put his reader on alert that he can write, should he wish to, like the learned historian. He speaks of his lengthy investigation of the story he’s about to tell and assures us that it is based on eyewitness information and is accordingly the truth.

Now who was this author we call Luke? He was clearly not an eyewitness to Jesus’s life. But we discover an important fact about him from the book of Acts. Beginning in the sixteenth chapter of Acts, when Paul reaches Troas in modern-day Turkey, the author suddenly starts using the first-person plural: “we set sail from Troas to Samothrace,” “we remained in Philippi some days,” “as we were going to the place of prayer,” etc. The most obvious explanation is that the author had joined Paul on his evangelistic tour of the Mediterranean cities. In chapter 21 he accompanies Paul back to Palestine and finally to Jerusalem. What this means is that the author of Luke-Acts was in fact in first hand contact with the eyewitnesses of Jesus’s life and ministry in Jerusalem. Sceptical critics have done back-flips to try to avoid this conclusion. They say that the use of the first-person plural in Acts should not be taken literally; it’s just a literary device which is common in ancient sea voyage stories. Never mind that many of the passages in Acts are not about Paul’s sea voyage, but take place on land! The more important point is that this theory, when you check it out, turns out to be sheer fantasy.4 There just was no literary device of sea voyages in the first person plural—the whole thing has been shown to be a scholarly fiction! There is no avoiding the conclusion that Luke-Acts was written by a traveling companion of Paul who had the opportunity to interview eyewitnesses to Jesus’s life while in Jerusalem. Who were some of these eyewitnesses? Perhaps we can get some clue by subtracting from the Gospel of Luke everything found in the other gospels and seeing what is peculiar to Luke. What you discover is that many of Luke’s peculiar narratives are connected to women who followed Jesus: people like Joanna and Susanna, and significantly, Mary, Jesus’s mother.

Was the author reliable in getting the facts straight? The book of Acts enables us to answer that question decisively. The book of Acts overlaps significantly with secular history of the ancient world, and the historical accuracy of Acts is indisputable. This has recently been demonstrated anew by Colin Hemer, a classical scholar who turned to New Testament studies, in his book The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. 5Hemer goes through the book of Acts with a fine-toothed comb, pulling out a wealth of historical knowledge, ranging from what would have been common knowledge down to details which only a local person would know. Again and again Luke’s accuracy is demonstrated: from the sailings of the Alexandrian corn fleet to the coastal terrain of the Mediterranean islands to the peculiar titles of local officials, Luke gets it right. According to Professor Sherwin-White, “For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming. Any attempt to reject its basic historicity even in matters of detail must now appear absurd.”6 The judgement of Sir William Ramsay, the world-famous archaeologist, still stands: “Luke is a historian of the first rank . . . . This author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.”7 Given Luke’s care and demonstrated reliability as well as his contact with eyewitnesses within the first generation after the events, this author is trustworthy.

On the basis of the five reasons I listed, we are justified in accepting the historical reliability of what the gospels say about Jesus unless they are proven to be wrong. At the very least, we cannot assume they are wrong until proven right. The person who denies the gospels’ reliability must bear the burden of proof.

Specific Aspects of Jesus’s Life

Now by the very nature of the case, it will be impossible to say a whole lot more beyond this to prove that certain stories in the gospels are historically true. How could you prove, for example, the story of Jesus’s visiting Mary and Martha? You just have here a story told by a reliable author in a position to know and no reason to doubt the historicity of the story. There’s not much more to say.

Nevertheless, for many of the key events in the gospels, a great deal more can be said. What I’d like to do now is take a few of the important aspects of Jesus in the gospels and say a word about their historical credibility.

1. Jesus’s Radical Self-Concept as the Divine Son of God. Radical critics deny that the historical Jesus thought of himself as the divine Son of God. They say that after Jesus’s death, the early church claimed that he had said these things, even though he hadn’t.

The big problem with this hypothesis is that it is inexplicable how monotheistic Jews could have attributed divinity to a man they had known, if he never claimed any such things himself. Monotheism is the heart of the Jewish religion, and it would have been blasphemous to say that a human being was God. Yet this is precisely what the earliest Christians did proclaim and believe about Jesus. Such a claim must have been rooted in Jesus’s own teaching.

And in fact, the majority of scholars do believe that among the historically authentic words of Jesus—these are the words in the gospels which the Jesus Seminar would print in red—among the historically authentic words of Jesus are claims that reveal his divine self-understanding. One could give a whole lecture on this point alone; but let me focus on Jesus’s self-concept of being the unique, divine Son of God.

Jesus’s radical self-understanding is revealed, for example, in his parable of the wicked tenants of the vineyard. Even sceptical scholars admit the authenticity of this parable, since it is also found in the Gospel of Thomas, one of their favorite sources. In this parable, the owner of the vineyard sent servants to the tenants of the vineyard to collect its fruit. The vineyard symbolizes Israel, the owner is God, the tenants are the Jewish religious leaders, and the servants are prophets send by God. The tenants beat and reject the owner’s servants. Finally, the owner says, “I will send my only, beloved son. They will listen to my son.” But instead, the tenants kill the son because he is the heir to the vineyard. Now what does this parable tell us about Jesus’s self-understanding? He thought of himself as God’s special son, distinct from all the prophets, God’s final messenger, and even the heir to Israel. This is no mere Jewish peasant!

Jesus’s self-concept as God’s son comes to explicit expression in Matthew 11.27: “All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” Again there is good reason to regard this as an authentic saying of the historical Jesus. It is drawn from an old source which was shared by Matthew and Luke, which scholars call the Q document. Moreover, it is unlikely the Church invented this saying because it says that the Son is unknowable—”no one knows the Son except the Father”—, but for the post-Easter church we can know the Son. So this saying is not the product of later Church theology. What does this saying tell us about Jesus’s self-concept? He thought of himself as the exclusive and absolute Son of God and the only revelation of God to mankind! Make no mistake: if Jesus wasn’t who he said he was, he was crazier than David Koresh and Jim Jones put together!

Finally, I want to consider one more saying: Jesus’s saying on the date of his second coming in Mark 13.32: “But of that day or that hour no man knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” This is an authentic saying of the historical Jesus because the later Church, which regarded Jesus as divine, would never have invented a saying ascribing limited knowledge or ignorance to Jesus. But here Jesus says he doesn’t know the time of his return. So what do we learn from this saying? It not only reveals Jesus’s consciousness of being the one Son of God, but it presents us with an ascending scale from men to the angels to the Son to the Father, a scale on which Jesus transcends any human being or angelic being. This is really incredible stuff! Yet it is what the historical Jesus believed. And this is only one facet of Jesus’s self-understanding. C. S. Lewis was right when he said,

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.8

2. Jesus’s Miracles.Even the most sceptical critics cannot deny that the historical Jesus carried out a ministry of miracle-working and exorcism. Rudolf Bultmann, one of the most sceptical scholars this century has seen, wrote back in 1926:

Most of the miracle stories contained in the gospels are legendary or at least are dressed up with legends. But there can be no doubt that Jesus did such deeds, which were, in his and his contemporaries’ understanding, miracles, that is, deeds that were the result of supernatural, divine causality. Doubtless he healed the sick and cast out demons.9

Back in Bultmann’s day the miracle stories were thought to be influenced by stories of mythological heroes and, hence, at least in part legendary. But today it is recognized that the hypothesis of mythological influence was historically incorrect. Craig Evans, a well-known Jesus scholar, says that “the older notion” that the miracle stories were the product of mythological divine man ideas “has been largely abandoned.”10 He says, “It is no longer seriously contested” “that miracles played a role in Jesus’s ministry.” The only reason left for denying that Jesus performed literal miracles is the presupposition of anti-supernaturalism, which is simply unjustified.

3. Jesus’s Trial and Crucifixion. According to the gospels Jesus was condemned by the Jewish high court on the charge of blasphemy and then delivered to the Romans for execution for the treasonous act of setting himself up as King of the Jews. Not only are these facts confirmed by independent biblical sources like Paul and the Acts of the Apostles, but they are also confirmed by extra-biblical sources. From Josephus and Tacitus, we learn that Jesus was crucified by Roman authority under the sentence of Pontius Pilate. From Josephus and Mara bar Serapion we learn that the Jewish leaders made a formal accusation against Jesus and participated in events leading up to his crucifixion. And from the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a, we learn that Jewish involvement in the trial was explained as a proper undertaking against a heretic. According to Johnson, “The support for the mode of his death, its agents, and perhaps its coagents, is overwhelming: Jesus faced a trial before his death, was condemned and executed by crucifixion.”11 The crucifixion of Jesus is recognized even by the Jesus Seminar as “one indisputable fact.” 12

But that raises the very puzzling question: Why was Jesus crucified? As we have seen, the evidence indicates that his crucifixion was instigated by his blasphemous claims, which to the Romans would come across as treasonous. That’s why he was crucified, in the words of the plaque that was nailed to the cross above his head, as “The King of the Jews.” But if Jesus was just a peasant, cynic philosopher, just a liberal social gadfly, as the Jesus Seminar claims, then his crucifixion becomes inexplicable. As Professor Leander Keck of Yale University has said, “The idea that this Jewish cynic (and his dozen hippies) with his demeanor and aphorisms was a serious threat to society sounds more like a conceit of alienated academics than sound historical judgement.”13 New Testament scholar John Meier is equally direct. He says that a bland Jesus who just went about spinning out parables and telling people to look at the lilies of the field– “such a Jesus,” he says, “would threaten no one, just as the university professors who create him threaten no one.”14 The Jesus Seminar has created Jesus who is incompatible with the one indisputable fact of his crucifixion.

4. The resurrection of Jesus. It seems to me that there are four established facts which constitute inductive evidence for the resurrection of Jesus:

Fact #1: After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in the tomb. This fact is highly significant because it means that the location of Jesus’s tomb was known to Jew and Christian alike. In that case it becomes inexplicable how belief in his resurrection could arise and flourish in the face of a tomb containing his corpse. According to the late John A. T. Robinson of Cambridge University, the honorable burial of Jesus is one of “the earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus.”15

Fact #2: On the Sunday morning following the crucifixion, the tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of his women followers. According to Jakob Kremer, an Austrian specialist on the resurrection, “By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb.”16 As D. H. van Daalen points out, “It is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions.”17

Fact #3: On multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead. This is a fact that is almost universally acknowledged among New Testament scholars today. Even Gert Lüdemann, perhaps the most prominent current critic of the resurrection, admits, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’s death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.”18

Finally, fact #4: The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every reason not to. Despite having every predisposition to the contrary, it is an undeniable fact of history that the original disciples believed in, proclaimed, and were willing to go to their deaths for the fact of Jesus’s resurrection. C. F. D. Moule of Cambridge University concludes that we have here a belief which nothing in terms of prior historical influences can account for—apart from the resurrection itself.19

Any responsible historian, then, who seeks to give an account of the matter, must deal with these four independently established facts: the honorable burial of Jesus, the discovery of his empty tomb, his appearances alive after his death, and the very origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection and, hence, of Christianity itself. I want to emphasize that these four facts represent, not the conclusions of conservative scholars, nor have I quoted conservative scholars, but represent rather the majority view of New Testament scholarship today. The question is: how do you best explain these facts?

Now this puts the sceptical critic in a somewhat desperate situation. For example, some time ago I had a debate with a professor at the University of California, Irvine, on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. He had written his doctoral dissertation on the subject and was thoroughly familiar with the evidence. He could not deny the facts of Jesus’s honorable burial, his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection. Therefore, his only recourse was to come up with some alternative explanation of these facts. And so he argued that Jesus had an unknown identical twin brother who was separated from him at birth, came back to Jerusalem just at the time of the crucifixion, stole Jesus’s body out of the grave, and presented himself to the disciples, who mistakenly inferred that Jesus was risen from the dead! Now I won’t go into how I went about refuting his theory, but I think that this theory is instructive because it shows to what desperate lengths skepticism must go in order to deny the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, the evidence is so powerful that one of today’s leading Jewish theologians Pinchas Lapide has declared himself convinced on the basis of the evidence that the God of Israel raised Jesus from the dead!20

Conclusion

In summary, the gospels are not only trustworthy documents in general, but as we look at some of the most important aspects of Jesus in the gospels, like his radical personal claims, his miracles, his trial and crucifixion, and his resurrection, their historical veracity shines through. God has acted in history, and we can know it.”
 

Endnotes

1 Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996), p. 123.

2 A. N. Sherwin-White, Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), pp. 188-91.

3 Rudolf Pesch, Das Markusevangelium, 2 vols., Herders Theologischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament 2 (Freiburg: Herder, 1976-77), 2: 519-20.

4 See discussion in Colin J. Hemer, The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, ed. Conrad H. Gempf, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 49 (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1989), chap. 8.

5 Ibid., chaps. 4-5.

6 Sherwin-White, Roman Society, p. 189.

7 William M. Ramsay, The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1915), p. 222.

8 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1952), p. 56.

9 Rudolf Bultmann, Jesus (Berlin: Deutsche Bibliothek, 1926), p. 159.

10 Craig Evans, “Life-of-Jesus Research and the Eclipse of Mythology,” Theological Studies 54 (1993): 18, 34.

11 Johnson, Real Jesus, p. 125.

12 Robert Funk, Jesus Seminar videotape.

13 Leander Keck, “The Second Coming of the Liberal Jesus?” Christian Century (August, 1994), p. 786.

14 John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, vol. 1: The Roots of the Problem and the Person, Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 1991), p. 177.

15 John A. T. Robinson, The Human Face of God (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1973), p. 131.

16 Jakob Kremer, Die Osterevangelien–Geschichten um Geschichte (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1977), pp. 49-50.

17 D. H. Van Daalen, The Real Resurrection (London: Collins, 1972), p. 41.

18 Gerd Lüdemann, What Really Happened to Jesus?, trans. John Bowden (Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), p. 80.

19 C. F. D. Moule and Don Cupitt, “The Resurrection: a Disagreement,” Theology 75 (1972): 507-19.

20 Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus, trans. Wilhelm C. Linss (London: SPCK, 1983).


Q&A With the Great Philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig

December 28, 2007

Another excellent Q&A with the great philosopher Dr. William Lane Craig at his website Reasonablefaith.org.

Subject: Our Grasp of Objective Moral Values

Question:

Dear Dr. Craig:

In one of your papers (“The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality”), you argue that the existence of objective morality leads logically to the conclusion that God exists. The argument seems powerful but not totally clear to me.

In that paper, you make the following claims:

To say that there are objective moral values is to say that something is right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes it to be so. It is to say, for example, that Nazi anti-Semitism was morally wrong, even though the Nazis who carried out the Holocaust thought that it was good; and it would still be wrong even if the Nazis had won World War II and succeeded in exterminating or brainwashing everybody who disagreed with them.

But then you later make the following claims.

And could anything be more obvious than that objective moral values do exist?

The fact is that we do apprehend objective values, and we all know it. Actions like rape, torture, child abuse, and brutality are not just socially unacceptable behavior—they are moral abominations.

First, I understand that if objective moral values are rules that are right or wrong independently of whether anybody believes them to be so, then Nazi atrocities were morally wrong even though the Nazis thought they were good. But then how can you say that “we do apprehend objective values, and we all know it”? How could we “all know it” if the Nazis didn’t know it and if they destroyed or brainwashed all who disagreed with them?

Second, if we indeed do apprehend objective values, and we all know it, how can we be sure that evolution is not just making it seem to us that these values are objective? For example, most people see a young female model as more beautiful than an elderly woman. Why is that the case? A likely reason is the young model is at the peak of reproductive fitness. Her appearance (a proximate factor) is linked to her reproductive fitness (an ultimate factor) as our recognition of beauty evolves. We respond to beauty, but it is the underlying reproductive fitness that ultimately directs evolution. In the same way, our moral values (proximate factors) could be linked to our or to our group’s reproductive fitness (ultimate factors) as our recognition of moral values evolves. We respond to morality but it is the underlying reproductive fitness that directs evolution. I cannot see how one can ever recognize morality as objective if our perceptions have been colored by the inevitable link between proximate and ultimate evolutionary factors.

Carmine
Dr. Craig responds:

The article you cite, Carmine, was originally a paper I presented at a meeting of the American Academy of Religion. So with respect to your first question, my phrase “we all know it” was intended to include my listeners, not any imagined Nazis. Even so, since there’s doubtless a number of folks in the AAR who give lip-service to relativism, it’s a rhetorical flourish, intended to elicit some commonality with one’s audience. It’s as if I were to say, “We all know that we must guard against terrorism”—even though the terrorists themselves would dissent from this statement!

As a matter of fact, however, I don’t think the Nazis would dissent from the statement that there are objective moral values. They would just disagree on what they are. That was the point of the quotation I read concerning Peter Haas’ book Morality after Auschwitz:

. . . far from being contemptuous of ethics, the perpetrators acted in strict conformity with an ethic which held that, however difficult and unpleasant the task might have been, mass extermination of the Jews and Gypsies was entirely justified. . . . the Holocaust as a sustained effort was possible only because a new ethic was in place that did not define the arrest and deportation of Jews as wrong and in fact defined it as ethically tolerable and ever good.

Haas’s point is precisely that the Nazis were not moral relativists or nihilists but rather objectivists who had a different value system than those of us who see all persons as intrinsically valuable. Something similar could be said of Islamic terrorists today.

So while there are nihilists around, I think you’ll have to look very hard to find them. People may give lip-service to relativism, but you’ll find that if you ask a few penetrating questions, like “So do you think child abuse is just fine morally?,” you’ll discover that people do believe in objective moral values.

Now your second question—“if we indeed do apprehend objective values, and we all know it, how can we be sure that evolution is not just making it seem to us that these values are objective?” —is somewhat misstated. For if we DO apprehend objective values and we KNOW this, then it follows automatically that we know that evolution is not just making us believe that these values are objective. (Otherwise we don’t really apprehend them or know this.) You might say, “Yes; but how can we be sure?” But it’s no part of my argument to claim certainty about these matters. There are very few matters in life about which we can be certain. All that matters is that, after thoughtfully reflecting on the question of moral values and weighing the alternatives, we come to the conclusion that, yes, objective moral values probably do exist.

What you’re really asking, I think, is, “Why should I think that objective moral values exist rather than that evolution has made me believe in the illusion that there are objective moral values?” And the answer to that question is, “Because I clearly apprehend objective moral values and have no good reason to deny what I clearly perceive.”

This is the same answer we give to the sceptic who says, “How do you know you’re not just a body lying in the Matrix and that all that you see and experience is an illusory, virtual reality?” We have no way to get outside our five senses and prove that they’re veridical. Rather I clearly apprehend a world of people and trees and houses about me, and I have no good reason to doubt what I clearly perceive. Sure, it’s possible that I’m a body in the Matrix. But possibilities come cheap. The mere possibility provides no warrant for denying what I clearly grasp.

That’s not to say that our senses don’t sometimes deceive us or that some people don’t have physical impairments that prevent them from accurately apprehending the world. But that doesn’t justify total scepticism about the veridicality of my senses. Analogously, our moral sense is not infallible, and in some people, like the Nazis, it is terribly twisted and blunted. But that’s no justification for general moral scepticism.

Now, of course, the objector’s claim here will be that we’ve got good evidence that evolution has, in fact, determined our moral perceptions and so gives us a good reason to doubt the deliverances of our moral sense. But is that true? Two issues arise with respect to this claim.

First, to infer that because evolution has programmed us to believe in certain values, therefore those values are not objective is a logical fallacy. This was the point I made in the article against Michael Ruse, when I said,

The reasoning of Ruse is at worst a text-book example of the genetic fallacy and at best only proves that our subjective perception of objective moral values has evolved. But if moral values are gradually discovered, not invented, then such a gradual and fallible apprehension of the moral realm no more undermines the objective reality of that realm than our gradual, fallible perception of the physical world undermines the objectivity of that realm.

The genetic fallacy is committed whenever someone tries to invalidate a view by explaining how that view originated or came to be held. People commit this fallacy, for example, when they dismiss your belief in democracy by saying, “You believe in it only because you were born in a democratic society.” That may, indeed, be the explanation of why you believe in democratic government, but that in itself does absolutely nothing to show that your belief is false. (Compare “You believe that the earth is round only because you were born in a scientific age!” Does that make your belief false?)

Your example of the aesthetic value beauty is a perfect illustration of my point. Suppose we agree for the sake of argument that evolution has programmed men to see young women as more beautiful than old women because of the selective advantage to the species of mating with younger women. Does that do anything at all to show that younger women are not in fact generally more beautiful (physically) than old women, that there is no objective difference between beauty and ugliness? Obviously not! Objective aesthetic values can exist regardless of how we come to apprehend them.

Now you might say, “All right; I see that objective moral values can exist even if we’re programmed by evolution to believe in them. But, still, why should I think that they are objective, given the evolutionary story?” The answer is, “Because you clearly apprehend them and the evolutionary story gives you reason to doubt your moral sense ONLY IF naturalism (atheism) is true.” The objection begs the question because it presupposes that naturalism is true. I agree that if there is no God, then our moral experience is, plausibly, illusory. Indeed, I said as much in my defense of premiss (1) of the moral argument:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

But why think that naturalism is true? To undermine the warrant which our moral experience gives to our moral beliefs much more must be done than hold out the possibility that naturalism may be true. In the absence of some argument for naturalism, I’m entirely within my rational rights to stick with my moral sense and accept the objectivity of the moral realm. The real issue, then, is not evolution but naturalism.

Secondly, there’s no good evidence that our perception of moral and aesthetic values has been programmed by evolution. Darwinists are extremely imaginative and creative in coming up with what are called “just so” stories in order to explain things via evolution for which there is no empirical evidence. Indeed, these stories are almost endlessly adaptable, so that they become almost irrefutable and, hence, unfalsifiable.

I take your example of why we find young female models more (physically) beautiful than old women to be the reductio ad absurdum of this approach. Why in the world should I believe that the reason I think Claudia Schiffer is more beautiful than Madeleine Albright is because the former but not the latter is closer to her peak of reproductive fitness? That strikes me as preposterous. What evidence is there that warrants so absurd a conjecture?

In fact, doesn’t the evidence point in the opposite direction? If reproductive fitness determined our appraisal of beauty, then why wouldn’t a young woman with a big nose and a harelip look as beautiful to me as a fashion model? Ugly young women are just as fertile as beautiful ones. So what selective advantage is there in being attracted to beautiful women rather than just younger women? Or again, isn’t it odd that you, a woman, agree with me that the young model is more beautiful than an old woman, since you as a woman could have no selective advantage from such an aesthetic judgement? Even if evolution programmed you to think that young men are more handsome than old men, why do you also find the young female model more beautiful (physically) than an old woman? Or again, how is it that we also recognize beautiful members of other species? We often admire a particularly beautiful Arabian horse or a champion in a dog show. How can such judgements be plausibly explained as due to evolutionary programming, since differential judgements of beauty in other animals has absolutely no selective advantage for us?

I’m sure that given their ingenuity for coming up with “just so” stories, Darwinists can figure out ways to explain away these anomalies. But why believe such stories? We should demand some pretty strong evidence for thinking that evolution has, in fact, determined our moral and aesthetic judgements. But there is no such evidence. Rather I suspect that these “just so” stories are accepted by many because on the assumption of naturalism it seems natural to suppose that our tastes have been determined by their selective advantage. But then the question arises once more: why think that naturalism is true?


Proving the Resurrection of Jesus Christ with Minimal Facts

December 1, 2007

From epologetics.org.

The minimal facts approach is a method of proving the resurrection of Christ using only the minimal historical facts. These minimal facts must meet two criteria:

  1. They are well evidenced
  2. Nearly every scholar accepts them (even the skeptical ones)

The idea is to build a case without having to argue from the inerrancy of Scripture. After all, it would be foolish to expect unbelievers to accept the Bible as inspired and inerrant. Though there is much more evidence available, the minimal facts approach uses only what is accepted by even the skeptical scholars, thus moving the argument away from the evidence itself and onto forming the conclusion that best fits the agreed upon data. These minimal, agreed upon data are:

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion
  2. Jesus’ disciples believed that He rose and appeared to them
  3. Paul the persecutor was suddenly changed
  4. James, the skeptical brother of Jesus, was suddenly changed
  5. The tomb was empty1

It should be noted that the Bible is a collection of historical documents. Thus, it can be examined and scrutinized just as any other historical document, and its claims can be evaluated. Some sections of Scripture can be referred to on the grounds of the historical merit as accepted by nearly all scholars.

Jesus Died by Crucifixion

The crucifixion is recorded in all four gospels. Non-Christian sources report the fact, as well.

When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified….Josephus, Antiquities 18.64 (, 49)

Nero fastened the guilt [of the burning of Rome] and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.Tacitus, Annals 15.44 (, 49)

The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day–the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account.Lucian of Samosata, The Death of Peregrine 11-13 (, 49)

Or [what advantage came to] the Jews by the murder of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them?Mara Bar-Serapion, letter to son from prison (, 49)

On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged.2Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a (, 49)

Even a highly critical scholar from the Jesus Seminar said:

That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, 145 (see also 154, 196, 201) (, 49)

1 The empty tomb does not meet the second criteria for being a “minimal fact” (that nearly all scholars accept it). However, Gary Habermas has discovered that about 75 percent of scholars do accept the empty tomb (Habermas and Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, p70). For this reason, the empty tomb will be included in this discussion, though I will not argue with a skeptic who chooses to discard the evidence for the purpose of examining only the absolute minimal historical facts.

2 Crucifixion was referred to as being hung on a tree, as in Luke 23:39 and Galatians 3:13.

Jesus’ disciples believed that He rose and appeared to them

This fact is recorded outside the Gospels in other historical sources.

The disciples claimed that Jesus appeared to them

Paul records that, more than his own experiences (addressed later), the apostles agreed with his teaching that Christ rose, having appeared to them and to others.

Oral traditions tie the resurrection and appearances back to the early church. Written documents had to be made and copied by hand, which was tedious and could only reach a few people (since most people could not read), so oral traditions were passed down to teach others. When an oral tradition is recorded, it proves that the oral tradition existed before they were written down. Keep this in mind.

One type of oral tradition is a creed. Creeds were meant to pass along important information in a manner that would make the information easy to memorize. One of the earliest and most important Christian creeds is recorded in a letter Paul wrote around AD 55:

3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received – that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.1 Corinthians 15:3-5

The phrase, “I passed on to you…what I also received” was a way of indicating oral tradition. Since the first Christians were Jews, we would expect to find creeds to appear in their primary spoken language of Aramaic. The four-fold use of the Greek word hoti (“that”) was common in Aramaic narration, and the name Cephas is Aramaic for “Peter”. The text uses parallelism. Lastly, the creed includes non-Pauline terms, indicating that it did indeed originate from someone else, as Paul claimed (Habermas and Licona, 259-260). Most scholars believe that Paul received the creed from the disciples Peter and James no more than 3 years after his conversion, putting the origin of this creed at no more than 5 years after the death of Christ.

Another type of oral tradition is sermon summaries. Most scholars believe that the sermons recorded in Acts are short summaries of the actual sermons given. They also believe that, at minimum, the sermons were preached during the time of the apostles, attributed to the apostles, and in agreement with the teachings of the apostles. That the apostles believed the resurrected Christ appeared to them is recorded in the Gospels and Acts (the sequel to Luke’s gospel). Even critical scholars agree that these works were completed by the end of the first century, dating the records at no more than 70 years after the death of Christ.

The testimony of the early church fathers agrees that the apostles claimed to have seen the resurrected Christ. In many cases, these early church fathers knew the apostles themselves, or knew someone close to the apostles. In Philippians 4:3, Paul refers to a Christian named Clement. This may be Clement, bishop of Rome. Around AD 95, Clement wrote a letter to the church in Corinth.

Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing, and their traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone, for there were many still remaining who had received instructions frmo the apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among theb rothers at Corinth, the Church in Rome dispatched a most powerful letter to the Corinthians.Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.3.3 ~AD 185 (, 54)

For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter.Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics 32 (, 54)

Therefore, having received orders and complete certainty caused by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and believing in the Word of God, they went with the Holy Spirit’s certainty, preaching the good news that the kingdom of God is about to come.First Clement, 42:3 (, 54)

So Clement knew the apostles, especially Peter, and was in a great position to pass on their teachings. He tells us that the apostles did indeed believe in the resurrection.

But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering mrtyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles.Iranaeus, Against Heresies, 3.3.4 (, 54)

When I was still a boy I saw you in Lower Asia with Polycarp, when you had high status at the imperial court and wanted to gain his favor. I remember events from those days more clearly than those that happened recently…so that I can even picture the place where the blessed Polycarp sat and conversed, his comings and goings, his character, his personal appearance, his discourses to the crowds, and how he reported his discussions with John and others who had seen the Lord. He recalled their very words, what they reported about the Loard and his miracles and his teaching–things that Polycarp had heard directly from eyewitnesses of the Word of life and reported in full harmony with Scripture.Irenaeus, To Florinus (, 54-55)

So Polycarp, appointed by the apostle John (according to Tertullian), affirms the apostles’ belief in the resurrection as well.

The disciples believed so strongly that Christ had appeared to them alive that they were instantly changed from cowards who ran from death, and men who doubted Christ, to men completely sold out for Christ, willing to live, suffer, and die for the Gospel of the Christ who they believed appeared to them after His death.

Paul the persecutor was converted suddenly

Paul was a powerful and infamous persecutor of the very early church. Yet, he was suddenly converted to Christianity. In fact, within 3 years of his conversion, even those Paul had never met had heard of his amazing conversion:

22 But I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They were only hearing, “The one who once persecuted us is now proclaiming the good news of the faith he once tried to destroy.”Galatians 1:22-23

Paul was converted not as a neutral observer, but as an enemy of Christ. What’s more, his conversion was not the result of his friends trying their best to convince him of Christianity, but of what he believed to be a personal encounter with the risen Christ.

James, Jesus’ skeptical brother, was converted suddenly

Josephus mentions “the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, whose name was James” (Antiquities 20:200). Skeptics often argue that Josephus’ writings have been proven to be fraudulent. While some of his supposed writings (especially Testimonium Flavianum) have been shown to be altered texts, this particular writing is considered by nearly all scholars to be authentic, and thus is included in the list of minimal facts. Needless to say, there is much other evidence, both from secular and Christian sources, telling us about James the brother of Christ.

James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles. He has been called the Just by all from the time of our Savior to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James. He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the [public] bath. He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel, in consequence of his constantly bending them in his worship of God, and asking forgiveness for the people. Because of his exceeding great justice he was called the Just, and Oblias, which signifies the Greek, “Bulwark of the people” and “Justice,” in accordance with what the prophets declare concerning him.Hegesippus (, 67-68)

James was a pious Jew, skeptical of Christ, along with Jesus’ other brothers. He is listed in the ancient creed in 1 Corinthians 15:2-7 as having witnessed the resurrected Christ, and it is after the resurrection event is supposed to have happened that James is found to be a leader at the church in Jerusalem. He was so convinced of his experience that he was willing to die as a martyr, a fact which is noted by even secular historians, recorded by Josephus, Clement, and Hegesippus (through Eusebius). Reginald Fuller noted in The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives that, even had we no historical records of James’ encounter with the risen Christ, “we should have to invent” one in order to explain both his conversion and his rise to such a position in the Jerusalem church.

The tomb was empty

As noted previously, this fact does not fall under the “minimal facts,” because not “nearly all” scholars agree with it. However, the majority of scholars do (roughly 75%) and it is well evidenced.

Enemy attestation

That the tomb was empty is admitted even by enemies of Christianity. Matthew records that the Jews paid some to say that the disciples had stolen the body (28:12-13). Justin Martyr and Tertullian record the same claim. If the tomb were not empty, this would be needless. However, in their attempts to disprove the resurrection, the enemies of Christianity actually argued for the empty tomb.

Location in Jerusalem

Jerusalem is the place where Jesus was publicly executed on the Roman cross. It is there that He was buried, and there that His resurrection was first proclaimed. If the resurrection were false, surely there would be some evidence for this–the body being presented, perhaps, and records of this being done. The early church exploded to life in Jerusalem. If someone wanted to see if Christ were really resurrected, they could simply visit the tomb which was supposed to be empty. Yet there is no evidence that anyone found reason to doubt the resurrection of Jesus.

The fact that the Christian fellowship, founded on belief in Jesus’ resurrection, could come into existence and flourish in the very city where he was executed and buried seems to be compelling evidence for the historicity of the empty tomb.

It would have been impossible for the disciples to proclaim the resurrection in Jerusalem had the tomb not been empty.William Lane Craig

Testimony of women

The first witnesses of the empty tomb were women, as recorded in all four Gospels (the men are only mentioned in two). Were the resurrection a hoax, it is unlikely the made-up testimony would have included women, and certainly not as the primary witnesses to the empty tomb, since women were looked down upon in the cultures of that time.

Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women.Talmud, Sotah 19a (, 72)

The world cannot exist without males and without females–happy is he whose children are males, and woe to him whose children are females.Talmud, Kiddushin 82b (, 72)

Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer), also they are not valid to offer. This is equivalent to saying that one who is Rabbinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a woman.Talmud, Rosh Hashannah 1.8 (, 72)

But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probably that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment.Josephus, Antiquities 4.8.15 (, 72)

Even the disciples didn’t believe the women:

But these words seemed like pure nonsense to them, and they did not believe them.Luke 24:11

Notice that even the Christian writer Luke did not try to make the disciples look good, as he would be expected to do were the resurrection narrative a hoax. He faithfully recorded that even the disciples did not believe the resurrection at first. He also did not appeal to Joseph of Arimathea or any other more respected person to make the account more credible. There seems to be no reason to invent an account involving women as witnesses. Rather, the testimony of the women argues in favor of a true, historical account.

Summary

The minimal facts, as accepted by nearly all scholars, include the following facts and evidences:

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion
    • Josephus
    • Tacitus
    • Lucian
    • Mara Bar-Serapion
    • Talmud
  2. Jesus’ disciples believed that He rose and appeared to them
    • Paul’s accounts
    • Oral tradition (creeds and sermon summaries)
    • Written tradition (both Biblical and extra-Biblical)
    • Willingness to live, suffer, and die for their convictions regarding the risen Christ
  3. Paul the persecutor was converted suddenly
    • His conversion records
    • His suffering and martyrdom (recorded in both Christian and non-Christian sources)
  4. James, Jesus’ skeptical brother, was converted suddenly
    • His conversion (gospels, early creeds, Paul, and Acts)
    • His martyrdom (Josephus, Clement, and Hegesippus through Eusebius)
  5. The tomb was empty
    • Enemy attestation
    • The Jerusalem location
    • Testimony of women

Though nearly 2000 years have passed, not a single naturalistic explanation has been given that can account for the minimal facts.


Who Is The Real Jesus: The Jesus Of The Bible Or The Jesus Of The Qur’An?

November 26, 2007

From Dr. William Lane Craig and reasonablefaith.org.

“Jesus of Nazareth is the most influential person who ever lived.  Twenty centuries after his death, he continues to exert his power of fascination over the minds of thinking men and women.  Peter Jennings’ television special “In Search of Jesus” attracted some 16 million viewers across the country.  Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” grossed   million dollars.  Dan Brown’s book The DaVinci Code has been a runaway best seller, exceeding the 100 million mark in some 40 languages.  People obviously continue to be fascinated by Jesus.

But who is Jesus really?  Is he, as the Bible says, the divine Son of God?  Or was he merely a human prophet, as Muslims have been taught to believe?  Who is the real Jesus?

I propose to answer that question as a historian.  I shall look at the New Testament and the Qur’an as the historian looks at any other sources for ancient history.  I shall not treat them as inspired or holy books.  Accordingly, I shall not require them to be inerrant or infallible in order to be valuable historical sources.  By taking this historical approach, we prevent the discussion from degenerating into arguments over Bible difficulties or Qur’anic inconsistencies.  The question is not whether the sources are inerrant but whether they allow us to discover who the historical Jesus really was.

Now in order to determine who the historical Jesus really was, we need to have some objective criteria for assessing our sources.  Prof. John Meier, an eminent New Testament historian, lists the following four criteria: 1

1. Multiple, independent sources.  Events which are reported by independent, and especially early, sources are likely to be historical.

2. Dissimilarity.  If a saying or event is different from prior Judaism and also from later Christianity, then it probably doesn’t derive from either one and so belongs to the historical Jesus.

3. Embarrassment.  Sayings or events that would have been embarrassing or difficult for the Christian church are unlikely to have been invented and so are likely historical.

4. Rejection and execution.  Jesus’ crucifixion is so indisputably established as an anchor point in history that words and deeds of Jesus must be assessed in terms of their likelihood of leading to his execution as “King of the Jews.”  A bland Jesus who just preached monotheism would never have provoked such opposition.”

To read more click here.


Christianity Is No “Leap of Faith”

October 11, 2007

From Gregory Koukl and Townhall.com.

“The spate of atheists on the bestsellers list dismiss Christianity as irrational. They exude a palpable condescension. But what they ignore or are unaware of is that some of the most significant thinkers in western civilization have been Christians. Stringent rationality and Christianity have found harmony in the minds of some of the most lettered people in our history books.

I noticed something stunning a few years back while paging through Frederick Coppleston’s landmark work, A History of Philosophy, for a class. Virtually every major thinker in the history of western civilization since Aristotle was a deeply committed Christian theist.

The list is impressive: Irenaeus, Eusebius, Augustine, John Duns Scotus, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham, Rene Descartes, Gottfried Leibniz. It isn’t until the Enlightenment that God and the Bible are not a standard part of the philosophic equation.

For 18 centuries, those who thought deeply and carefully about reality did so with the conviction that God was real, that Jesus was His messiah, and the Gospel was the power of God to change lives.

Let me tell you why this discovery was so important to me. As you may know, I used to think I was too smart to be a Christian. As an Honors College student in pre-law at Michigan State University, I thought Jesus was for socially unacceptable fools who needed someone to do their thinking for them.

So when I was drawn into the Kingdom, it was an epiphany of sorts to realize how wrong I was. Early on I discovered Francis Schaeffer and his seminal trilogy—The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, and He Is There and He Is Not Silent. Then there was C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, J.P. Moreland, and a host of others since.

These luminous minds convinced me that Christianity is worth thinking about. It’s a phrase I use often. I open my talks at radically liberal schools like Cal Berkeley, UC San Diego, UCLA, and Ohio State with those words.

It’s become almost synonymous with STR. In fact, I frequently use both phrases together: “Stand to Reason—Christianity worth thinking about.”

Even with the popularity of the so-called “new atheists” – Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins— it’s clear to me that it’s no leap of faith to believe in God. In fact, the more we learn about science, the more credible Christianity becomes. Recently the number one philosophical atheist in the world, Antony Flew, did a dramatic about-face and embraced theism—against his will, as it were—on the strength of the scientific evidence for a designer.

Believing in leprechauns is a leap of faith. Believing in God is like believing in atoms. You follow the evidence of what you can see to conclude the existence of something you cannot see. The process is exactly the same. The effect needs a cause adequate to explain it.

There is nothing unreasonable about the idea of a personal God creating the material universe. A Big Bang needs a “big Banger,” it seems to me. A complex set of instructions (as in DNA) needs an author. A blueprint requires an engineer. A moral law needs a moral law giver. This is not a leap. This is a step of intelligent reflection.

It’s also not a leap to believe in the Jesus of the Gospels. Eminent historian Will Durant, author of the 11 volume set, The Story of Civilization, after a careful assessment of all the evidence, concluded:

No one reading these scenes can doubt the reality of the figure behind them. That a few simple men should in one generation have invented so powerful and appealing a personality, so lofty an ethic, and so inspiring a vision of human brotherhood, would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the Gospels.

All views and religions give you a picture of the world. That’s what a worldview is. The more I read, the more I study, the more I thoughtfully reflect, though, the more I’m convinced that Jesus doesn’t just give us a view of the world. He gives us a view of reality. When you follow Him, you’re not wishing on a star, you’re living in the real world.

Gregory Koukl is founder and president of Stand to Reason, an organization devoted to a thoughtful and engaging defense of classical Christianity in the public square. He is also a radio talk show host and author of Relativism—Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air. “


A Rational Belief

October 11, 2007

From Chuck Colson and Breakpoint.

“I’ve got to hand it to the new wave of militant atheists like Christopher Hitchens and arch-Darwinist Richard Dawkins. They are getting their message out, in best-selling books and in page-one articles in major newspapers like the Washington Post. Their message is simple: There is no God, and people who believe there is a God are simply being irrational. But is faith in God truly irrational?

The much-respected philosopher Alvin Plantinga is well-versed in the arguments employed by these atheists. He has debated his secular colleagues many times on the question: “Is it reasonable to presuppose that God exists?”

Their response, of course, is “no” because they believe only in physical phenomena and a material universe. Plantinga then asks them whether it is rational to believe that other people have minds. After all, there is scarcely more material evidence that other people have minds, as distinct from brains, than there is for God’s existence.

When the philosophers say “yes,” Plantinga argues that believing in God is just as rational as believing that other people have minds: Both conclusions reflect a faith of sorts.

There are other reasons why belief in God is rational, which I discuss in The Faith, my new book, to be published in January. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that the universe is the product of intelligence, not chance.

What’s called the “anthropic principle” says intelligent life is possible only because of a precise combination of “seemingly arbitrary and unrelated constants in physics.” As one physicist put it, it is as if the “universe knew we were coming.” And the billions of human cells that make up our body, we know function only because of intelligent information.

This and similar evidence make belief in God far from an irrational leap in the dark, much less a delusion, as Dawkins says. Even atheist Richard Dawkins admits that there is a one-in-seven chance that God might exist. He simply chooses to take, as he sees it, the six-in-seven chances that God does not exist. That’s a bad bet.

The great philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote that if there is no God, and you bet your life there is, you have lost nothing. But if there is a God, and you bet your life there is not, you have made an eternal mistake. Or put it this way: If Dr. Dawkins had been on the Titanic and was offered two lifeboats—one certain to sink and the other with a one-in-seven chance of staying afloat—he would not have chosen the one that was sure to sink. That would be irrational.

But there is another kind of evidence for the rationality of belief in God: that is, its impact on human lives and society.

As Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, people noticed that, compared to the squalor and general hopelessness of Rome, Christians lived a profoundly different, more hopeful life. This difference made conversion to Christianity a rational choice.

The same thing is true today: Studies of evangelization show that people come to Christianity because it delivers the results. It changes families, which atheistic worldviews cannot.

All of this and more makes belief in God rational and makes one wonder what’s behind disbelief. Philosopher Mortimer Adler, one of the great intellectuals of the twentieth century, believed Christianity was true, but refused to accept it because it would interfere with his lifestyle. In time, he overcame that objection and became a Christian, which, given the evidence, was the only rational thing to do.”