Christian Philosopher Says the Popularity of Apologetics Book Shows Christians Care about Evidence

Victor Reppert, a Christian philosopher who is a friend of this blog and who has his own blog at Dangerous Ideaargues that Christians really do care about basing their beliefs on the evidence. How does Reppert justify this conclusion? Because of the popularity of Josh McDowell’s book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. In Reppert’s words:

It is interesting that atheists say Christians are not interested in evidence when one of the most popular Christian books of the last 50 years is Evidence that Demands a Verdict.
I respect Reppert’s philosophical expertise and critical thinking skills. And I respectfully submit that this isn’t one of his better pieces of reasoning.
I would not want to make a generalization about whether Christians as a group are interested in evidence. But I don’t think Reppert’s attempted refutation of that atheist meme works.
I am very familiar with the book Evidence that Demands a Verdict (ETDAV). Many years ago, I coordinated a team rebuttal to ETDAV known as The Jury Is In: The Ruling on McDowell’s “Evidence.” 
The fact that ETDAV is one of the most popular Christian books of the last 50 years has many potential explanations. One explanation is that Christians are open-minded people who are willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Another explanation is that many of the Christian readers of ETDAV were looking for confirmation of their Christianity after they became a Christian. Indeed, the content of ETDAV (much like the content of Lee Strobel’s Case for Christ) is a textbook example of understating the evidence. At best, McDowell (and Strobel) presents genuine evidence which does favor Christianity. He does not, however, discuss the evidence against Christianity in his book, so we don’t even have a prime facie reason to believe that McDowell’s book is a good discussion of the total relevant evidence about Christianity (for and against), and so we don’t even have a prima facie reason to believe that the total relevant evidence favors Christianity.

Of course, one could make precisely the same argument about many atheist books, and one would probably be justified in doing so. (Imagine someone who argued that atheists care about the evidence, as shown by the fact that Richard Dawkins’ book The God Delusion is a best seller. That would be a weak argument and for the same reason.)

Far too many people seem to cherry pick the evidence. But let’s return to Reppert’s post, which is titled, “Is there good evidence for the resurrection?” He writes:

I have yet to see a good theory that explains the historical events without running into serious problems when you look at it closely.

Let’s look at Reppert’s claim closely.

First, notice that when Reppert talks about “explaining the historical events,” he’s presumably referring to events such as Jesus’ death by crucifixion, his burial, his empty tomb, and his post-mortem appearances. We only need an explanation for these events if they actually happened. I have yet to see a good argument for any of these events, however.

For the avoidance of doubt and for the record, I want to state that I’m inclined to think that all four events really did happen. (In fact, I think I may actually have a logically correct inductive argument for the empty tomb. More on that in the future if I ever publish it.) But it seems rather one-sided to focus on the fact, if it is fact, that skeptics haven’t produced a good alternative explanation for the historical events, while neglecting the fact that Christians haven’t produced good arguments for the events that skeptics are supposed to be explaining with their alternative explanations.

As an analogy, I don’t have an alternative explanation for the historical events regarding alleged sightings of Mohammed flying to heaven on a winged horse (Buraq), but I’ve never been given a good reason to believe those events happened either.

But let’s return to Reppert, the Resurrection, and alleged historical events. I think the current state of Resurrection apologetics and counter-apologetics may be best described as immature. Neither side seems to have made much effort into analyzing the logical structure of the arguments for the evidence. (Yes, you read that right.) In other words, what’s lacking is a good, solid analysis of the evidence for the evidence. So far as I can tell, no one from either side has done this. Not William Lane Craig. Not Stephen T. Davis, Richard Swinburne, Gary Habermas, the McGrews, N.T. Wright, Michael Licona, Norm Geisler, Frank Turek, Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, Frank Morison, or Simon Greenleaf. And not Hume, Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, Michael Martin, G.A. Wells, Robert M. Price, Richard Carrier, Robert Greg Cavin, or Carlos Colombetti.

Because the current state of both Resurrection apologetics and counter-apologetics is immature, I’m just not impressed by the fact (if it is a fact) that skeptics have offered no good alternative explanations. The best explanation of ‘the lack of good alternative explanations’ may well be that skeptics just haven’t come up a good alternative explanation yet, not that one doesn’t exist. To think otherwise is to make a logically incorrect argument from silence.

Second, even if we grant for the sake of argument that all of the alleged historical events really did happen, Reppert is left with an enormous problem. He seems to assume that the Resurrection theory explains the relevant historical data. The problem with that assumption, however, is that it is just that: an assumption. Not only does Reppert not defend that assumption, but there is excellent reason to doubt it. The Resurrection theory by itself does not explain the data. The Resurrection theory explains the data only when we combine it with one or more extra (auxiliary) theories. Philosophers Robert Greg Cavin and Carlos Colombetti explain this beautifully in their PowerPoint presentation on slides 129-185.

Speaking of Cavin and Colombetti, I will close with this point. There are far better criticisms of Resurrection apologetics available than what you will find from the writings of, say, Bertrand Russell, Antony Flew, Michael Martin, G.A. Wells, Richard Dawkins, and so forth. Arguably the best critics of Resurrection apologetics are Robert Greg Cavin and Carlos ColombettiHopefully Christians like Reppert will eventually get around to interacting with the work of C&C.