bookmark_borderGenuine Inquiry vs. Partisan Advocacy: Philosophy of Religion vs. Apologetics

Yesterday I blogged about a “recommended apologetics reading” list created by Western Michigan University philosopher Tim McGrew. After several cordial exchanges with Tim, I’ve decided that, despite my best attempts to be charitable, I failed. Contrary to what I had suggested, Tim stated, “I certainly would not recommend that anyone with a serious interest in the truth of Christianity restrict himself to reading only the works I have listed.” I take him at his word, and so I have decided to delete the entire blog post, rather than try to repair it, and replace it with this one.
I want to make a distinction between genuine inquiry, on the one hand, and partisan advocacy, on the other. Consider a central (but far from the only) topic in the philosophy of religion: the existence or nonexistence of God. Consider, for a moment, what it would mean to engage in genuine inquiry regarding God’s existence. If the word “inquiry” means anything at all, surely it means more than “read stuff which confirms the point of view you already hold.” It should include, at a minimum, reading opposing viewpoints, not with the goal of preparing pithy one-liners for debates, but with the goal of actually trying to learn something or consider new ways of looking at old topics. For professional philosophers, I would imagine that inquiry would also include trying to “steel man” your opposition, i.e., trying to strengthen the arguments for your opponent’s position. It might even include publishing arguments for a position you do not hold and even reject.
In contrast, partisan advocacy is, well, exactly what it sounds like it is. Much like an attorney hired to vigorously defend her client in court, a partisan advocate isn’t interested in genuine inquiry. To the extent a partisan advocate reads the “other side” at all, she does so in the same way presidential candidates try to find out the “truth” about their opponent under the guise of “opposition research.” So, for example, if a partisan advocate were to create a reading list about God’s existence, they would compile a list of recommended resources which either exclusively or overwhelmingly promoted a certain point of view and without even a hint that a balanced inquiry should be taken.
As suggested by the subtitle of this post, if we apply the genuine inquiry vs. partisan advocacy distinction to religion, I think we get the distinction between (an ideal) philosophy of religion vs. apologetics.
Now, this raises an interesting question.  At what point is a person, especially a professional philosopher, entitled to say this: “Genuine inquiry is nice and all, but viewpoint X is such obvious nonsense that the time for inquiry is over. After all, no geologist engages in ‘genuine inquiry’ about whether the earth is flat. So why should we treat theism (or atheism) any differently?”
I am not sure about the ‘full’ answer to that question, but I think at least part of the answer has to consider two points.
First, I think the current state of professional opinion is relevant. Surely part of the reason no one engages in genuine inquiry about the flat earth hypothesis is the fact that there are no competent geologists who endorse it. In contrast, among philosophers generally and philosophers of religion specifically, there are equally qualified authorities on both sides.
Second, I think the concept of intrinsic probabilities can play an important role here. I’m a naturalistic atheist, but I’m fully convinced by Paul Draper’s theory of intrinsic probability, which shows that naturalism and supernaturalism have equal intrinsic probabilities. While theism is a specific version of supernaturalism (and so is less intrinsically probable than naturalism), its intrinsic probability is not infinitesimal. Furthermore, not only does theism have a non-negligible intrinsic probability, there is evidence in its favor. It seems to me that if a theory (1) has a non-negligible intrinsic probability; (2) has evidence in its favor; and (3) is held by significant percentage of philosophers, not to mention the general population, then that theory is worthy of genuine inquiry. And notice that these same points apply to atheism or naturalism, which is why theists should also engage in genuine inquiry.

bookmark_borderUnapologetic Review – Part 1

John Loftus’ new book has just been released:
Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End
(Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2016)
My copy arrived from Amazon by UPS yesterday.
The text starts on page 7 (the Forward); the introduction starts on page 11, and the main body of the text ends on page 235.  There is a blank page just before the start of each chapter, and there are nine chapters, so there are 9 blank pages in the main body of the text. So, the main body of text runs about 216 pages (235 – 10 pages prior to main body = 225 pages in main body – 9 blank pages  = 216 pages) .  There are end notes at the end of each chapter.
There is also an Appendix A (“My Interview with Keith Parsons”) on page 237, Appendix B (“Robert Price’s Rebuttal to William Lane Craig”) on page 250, and Appendix C (“The Demon, Matrix, Material World, and Dream Possibilities”) on page 257.  Appendix C ends on page 271, and there is one page “About the Author” at the very end of the book, on page 272.
I have not started to read the book yet.   However, I do have some key questions that I will be attempting to answer as I read, analyze, and evaluate this book:
GENERAL CRITICAL QUESTIONS:

GCQ1. Does Loftus provide clear and significant evaluative conclusions about the philosophy of religion?

GCQ2. Does Loftus provide clear and significant prescriptive conclusions concerning how things ought  to change if we accept his evaluation of the philosophy of religion?

GCQ3. Does Loftus present a clear and solid argument (or arguments) for his evaluative conclusions about the philosophy of religion?

GCQ4. Does Loftus present a clear and solid argument (or arguments) for his prescriptive conclusions about the philosophy of religion (based on his evaluative conclusions)?

SPECIFIC CRITICAL QUESTIONS:

SCQ1. Does Loftus provide a clear analysis of these concepts: philosophy, religion, and the philosophy of religion?

SCQ2. Does Loftus provide a well-supported analysis of the concept of philosophy and the concept of religion?

SCQ3. Is the analysis that Loftus provides of the concept of the philosophy of religion a fair and well-supported analysis, or is it a Straw Man characterization that makes it too easy to criticize, condemn, and reject the philosophy of religion?

SCQ4. Does the argument that Loftus makes against the philosophy of religion apply to philosophy in general? or to other respected sub-disciplines of philosophy? or to other clearly legitimate disciplines (science, psychology, sociology, history)?  Does his argument prove too much?

SCQ5. Does the argument that Loftus provides for either his evaluative conclusions or for his prescriptive conclusions depend on a dubious or unclear or ambiguous concept of faith?

bookmark_borderThe VICTIMs of Christian Apologetics

My latest video, “The VICTIMs of Christian Apologetics: The Things Apologists Falsely Say Depend on God, But, if God Exists, God Depends on Them,” is now available on YouTube. It is a narration of some of the many hundreds of PowerPoint slides I created in preparation for my recent debate with Frank Turek on naturalism vs. theism.

This video presentation is a (roughly) 2 hour 30 minute critique of Frank Turek’s latest book, Stealing from God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case. Turek accuses atheists of stealing from God in order to argue against God. How do atheists steal from God when arguing against God’s existence? According to Turek, this is summed up by the acrostic CRIMES (Causality, Reason, Information and Intentionality, Morality, Evil, and Science). So his argument is that atheists must assume each of those things, but each of those things in turn presuppose God’s existence.
For each letter in CRIMES, atheism can steal these concepts from God if and only if: (a) atheism is logically incompatible with the concept represented by that letter; and (b) positing an all-powerful God explains that concept, not just assumes it. But as I will explain, each letter in CRIMES fails one or both conditions.
Now, since repeatedly accusing an innocent person of a crime harms the accused, I’m going to frame my response as an acrostic of my own: VICTIM (Value, Induction, Causality, Time, Information and Intentionality, and Morality). Instead of talking about crimes, what we instead need to talk about are the VICTIMs of Christian apologetics. The VICTIMs of Christian apologetics are things which Christian apologists falsely claim depend on God, but the truth is that God depends on them.
Since the video is quite long and detailed, the following serves as a handy index:
Counter Apologist went through the effort to list the topics covered and give time-stamps/links for each topic which you can find below:

HT: Counter-Apologist for creating the index

bookmark_borderG&T Rebuttal, Part 2: Chapter 3

Chapter 3. In the Beginning There Was a Great SURGE

 
G&T tell us that the “Cosmological Argument is the argument from the beginning of the universe” (74). That is sloppy; G&T have conflated the family of arguments known as ‘the’ cosmological argument with one specific version of that argument (the kalām cosmological argument). But let that pass. G&T formulate the argument as follows.
1. Everything that had a beginning has a cause.
2. The universe had a beginning.
3. Therefore the universe had a cause. (75)
This argument is clearly deductively valid—i.e., its conclusion follows from its premises. If one accepts its conclusion, there are three pertinent questions to answer.
First, what bearing does the argument have on metaphysical naturalism? If sound, the argument would also refute metaphysical naturalism. (Since nothing can cause itself, the universe would require a cause outside of itself, something that is incompatible with naturalism.)[1]
Second, what sort of cause did the universe have? G&T argue that the cause of physical reality, if it exists, must be self-existent, timeless, nonspatial, immaterial, very powerful, highly intelligent, and personal.
Third, what was the universe created from? There are three options.

Creation ex nihilo: physical reality was created out of nothing by the will of a timeless and immaterial person a long time ago.

Creation ex materia: creation out of some pre-existent, eternal matter

Creation ex deo: creation out of the being of God.

G&T argue that the scientific evidence supports creation ex nihilo.
I shall provide a very brief summary of G&T’s support for both premises, before providing some critical comments about G&T’s assessment of atheistic and Christian interpretations of the evidence.
(i) G&T’s support for premises (1) and (2):
(a) The Law of Causality: On behalf of premise (1), which G&T call “The Law of Causality,” G&T argue that the Law of Causality is “the fundamental principle of science;” and observation shows that things don’t happen in the universe without a cause. For reasons that will soon be clear, I shall refer to the “Law of Causality” as the “Law of Causal Beginnings.”
As stated, however, premise (1) is false. The kernel of truth in (1) is what I shall call the “Law of Temporal Causal Beginnings,” namely, that everything that had a beginning in time has a cause.
This is why our observation shows that things which begin in the universe (and so in time) have a cause. Quantum mechanics events aside, I agree with G&T that it would be absurd to believe that cars, mountains, or whales could just pop into existence without a cause. But what about things that have a beginning which happens at the beginning of time itself (i.e., with time)? We know of only one such thing and that is the universe itself.  And there is good reason to doubt that time (and so the universe) have a cause. It’s logically impossible for time itself to have a cause since causes always precede their effects in time. So to say that time itself had a cause is to say, “Before time existed, something happened and then at a later time, time began to exist,” which is self-contradictory.
In order to avoid this problem, some theists have argued that God’s creation of the universe is simultaneous with its beginning. Even if simultaneous causation is possible, which is debatable, that simply solves one problem and creates a bigger one. If God’s causing the universe is simultaneous with the universe’s beginning, then it’s entirely arbitrary to pretend that God is the ‘cause’ while the universe is the ‘effect.’ If “God’s causing the universe” and “the universe’s beginning” are simultaneous, one could just as easily say, “God had a beginning,” and, “The universe caused God.” Both of those statements are incompatible with theism.
But in fact simultaneous causation seems inapplicable to God’s (alleged) causation of the universe. First, even simultaneity expresses a temporal relationship between causes and effects. It seems to be a contradiction in terms to say that the beginning of the universe is simultaneous with an atemporal (timeless) cause.[2] For that implies there was a time when there both was time and was not time, which is a self-contradictory statement. Second, simultaneous causation seems to involve “states of other things that pre-exist the effects in question.”[3] But that entails that the total cause includes something that existed prior to the partial cause which is simultaneous with its effect. In short, the concept of simultaneous causation provides no reason at all to think that premise (1) applies to things (like the universe) which begin with time.
There is an even deeper problem with G&T’s defense of premise (1), however. If we abbreviate “thing that had a beginning” as B and “had a cause” as C, then it is clear that premise (1) expresses a categorical generalization, i.e., it has the form “All Bs are Cs.” If there is even just one counter-example (i.e., at least one B is not also a C), then (1) is false. Is it?
It appears that, In support of (1), G&T appeal to observation, namely, “All observed Bs are Cs,” and infer the categorical generalization, “All Bs are Cs.” In other words, G&T seem to be implicitly relying upon an inductive argument form known as simple enumeration to a generalization. The implied argument is this.
(1) All observed things in the universe with a beginning have a cause.
(2) Therefore, all things with a beginning have a cause.
where B is called the “reference class” and C is called the “attribute class.” The problem is called the “reference class problem,” i.e., the problem of deciding which class to use when stating a generalization. In the case of our universe’s origin, it is far from clear which reference class should be used because our universe belongs to many different reference classes. Wes Morriston, a philosopher at the University of Colorado at Boulder, explains.

Here are some other well-attested empirical generalizations, each of which is incompatible with that hypothesis [supernatural creation ex nihilo] about the origin of the universe.
(A)   Material things come from material things.
(B)   Nothing is ever created out of nothing.
(C)   Nothing is ever caused by anything that is not itself in time.
(D)   The mental lives of all persons have temporal duration.
(E)    All persons are embodied.[4]

Consider, for example, the generalization in Morriston’s (A), which we’ll call the “Law of Material Causality.” That generalization supports an argument I’ll call the “Anti-Creation Ex Nihilo Argument”:
1. Everything that had a beginning comes from pre-existing material.
2. The universe had a beginning.
3. Therefore, the universe came from pre-existing material.
If the universe came from pre-existing material, then it follows that the universe was not created “out of nothing” (ex nihilo). Rather it was created out of pre-existing material (ex materia). But that entails that supernatural creation ex nihilo is false.
(b) The Universe’s Beginning: On behalf of premise (2), G&T offer five lines of scientific evidence, which they summarize in the mnemonic acronynm “SURGE,” which represents (a) the Second law of thermodynamics, (b) the Universe is expanding; (c) Radiation from the big bang; (d) Great galaxy seeds; and (e) Einstein’s theory of general relativity. In addition, G&T offer one a priori argument—which they mistakenly call the kalām argument—to show that the universe cannot be infinitely old. G&T conclude, accordingly, that the universe had a beginning.
I agree with G&T that it is now beyond reasonable doubt that our universe, as it is now, has existed for a finite time. Whether our universe, in any form, has existed for a finite time may be open to reasonable doubt, however. But let’s put that issue to the side and assume,  but only for the sake of argument, that G&T are correct and our universe had a beginning. As G&T admit, the evidence for Big Bang cosmology shows more than just the fact that our universe has a finite age.

In fact, chronologically, there was no “before” the Big Bang because there are no “befores” without time, and there was no time until the Big Bang. Time, space, and matter came into existence with the Big Bang. (79, italics mine)

In other words, the evidence for Big Bang cosmology also shows that time itself began with the Big Bang (i.e., our universe began with time). Here’s the problem for the proponent of the kalām argument. Although our universe is not eternal (i.e., infinitely old), it’s still the case that it has always existed (i.e., for all of time). But, for the reason just given, it follows that time itself (and hence our universe) cannot have a cause. Thus, once the evidence about our universe’s beginning is fully stated, that evidence does not support theism over naturalism.
(ii) Atheistic Interpretations of Big Bang Cosmology: This is where G&T’s partisanship really comes unleashed. As I read them, G&T discuss and reject three atheistic explanations of Big Bang cosmology:  (1) a view they call the ‘Cosmic Rebound Theory;’ (2) Stephen Hawking’s ‘Imaginary Time’ hypothesis; and (3) the hypothesis defended by chemists Peter Atkins and Isaac Asimov.
When I first read this chapter, three things stood out. First, for each of the views they discussed, G&T neither quote proponents of these views nor fairly explain their values. Regarding (1), why do defenders of the ‘Cosmic Rebound Theory’ think that view is correct? G&T never say. In fact, G&T never even name anyone who promoted such a view. Turning to (2), whereas it is called the “Hartle-Hawking model” or the “no boundary model” in the literature, G&T even rename it to the ‘Imaginary Time’ hypothesis to suit their rhetoric. Many people believe that Stephen Hawking is one of the greatest scientists, if not the greatest scientist, alive today.  But if someone knew nothing about Hawking other than what they read in G&T’s book, they’d get the mistaken impression that Hawking is a quack whose theories are not taken seriously, even by Hawking himself! As for (3), G&T don’t even bother to tell the readers what Atkins’s view is; they just proceed to quote William Lane Craig’s refutation.
Second, G&T don’t respond to the best critics of the kalām cosmological argument.[5] In fact, their book may even mislead their readers by making it appear as if only nontheists reject the argument. But that’s false. Thomas Aquinas, who has been called “more or less the official philosopher of the Roman Catholic Church and esteemed as the greatest Christian philosopher even by many Protestants,” rejected it.[6] In the present day, philosopher Wes Morriston  (quoted earlier) has written some of the best critiques of the argument, while he was still a Christian. It is unfortunate that G&T chose to ignore the critiques of both Aquinas and Morriston in their book.
Third, like many theistic apologists who use the kalām cosmological argument, G&T use the following “money quote” from nontheist philosopher Anthony Kenny.

According to the Big Bang Theory, the whole matter of the universe began to exist at a particular time in the remote past. A proponent of such a theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the matter of the universe came from nothing and by nothing.[7]

At first glance, what Kenny describes does sound absurd. But Kenny is no dummy; philosophical charity demands that we try to understand why someone as brilliant as Kenny would write such a thing. What would it mean to believe that “the matter of the universe came from nothing and by nothing?”
One interpretation, which I shall call the scientific interpretation since it seems to be held primarily by scientists, treats “nothing” as if it were a something, such as a giant empty box into which the universe suddenly began.[8] The problem with this interpretation is that it reifies “nothing.” As philosopher Bede Rundle explains,

… accounts of physical reality as ‘coming out of nothing’ risk not taking ‘nothing’ seriously, perhaps replacing it by ‘nothingness’ to make, as it were, something out of nothing.[9]

But there is another option. According to this second interpretation, which I call the philosophical interpretation, there is no “giant empty box,” i.e., there is no “nothing” for the universe to “come from.” Instead, according to this interpretation, there was no time at which the universe did not exist; and there is no place the universe came from.  This is the interpretation favored by philosophically sophisticated nontheists, such as Sean Carroll, Graham Oppy, Keith Parsons, Bede Rundle, and Quentin Smith.[10]
Let us now return to the Kenny “money quote.” G&T do not distinguish these two interpretations, perhaps (?) because Kenny himself does not, so it’s unclear which interpretation Kenny favors.  On the scientific interpretation, Kenny’s statement does make the combination of atheism and Big Bang cosmology sound absurd. But, as we’ve just seen, many competent authorities disagree with that interpretation, so any appeal to Kenny as an authority is fallacious (assuming he even holds this view). On the scientific interpretation, however, the combination is not only not absurd, but plausible.
(iii) Big Bang Cosmology and the Genesis Accounts: G&T quote astronomers Robert Jastrow and Robert Wilson, who both apparently claim, without qualification, that Big Bang cosmology confirms the Genesis accounts of creation. This curious assessment, however, understates the evidence. On the one hand, Big Bang cosmology is strong evidence for one logical implication of Genesis, namely, that everything in our universe is only finitely old. But, again, that fact hardly exhausts what modern cosmology has to say about the Genesis accounts. NASA explains the first moments after the “Big Bang” as follows.

According to the theories of physics, if we were to look at the Universe one second after the Big Bang, what we would see is a 10-billion degree sea of neutrons, protons, electrons, anti-electrons (positrons), photons, and neutrinos. Then, as time went on, we would see the Universe cool, the neutrons either decaying into protons and electrons or combining with protons to make deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen). As it continued to cool, it would eventually reach the temperature where electrons combined with nuclei to form neutral atoms. Before this “recombination” occurred, the Universe would have been opaque because the free electrons would have caused light (photons) to scatter the way sunlight scatters from the water droplets in clouds. But when the free electrons were absorbed to form neutral atoms, the Universe suddenly became transparent. Those same photons–the afterglow of the Big Bang known as cosmic background radiation–can be observed today.[11]

Furthermore, according to modern astronomy, the entire solar system, including the earth, didn’t even form until approximately 8.7 billion years after the Big Bang.
In contrast, Genesis 1 tells a very different cosmological story. According to Genesis 1, God created the earth on the first day and the sun on the fourth. Thus, Big Bang cosmology is strong evidence against the literal chronology of Genesis accounts. But this entails that, when the available evidence from cosmology is fully stated, that evidence makes it probable that a literal interpretation of the Genesis accounts are false.

Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

Notes
[1] In the interest of simplicity, I am treating the expression “the universe” as it appears in G&T’s argument as synonymous with “physical reality.”
[2] Wes Morriston, “Must the Beginning of the Universe Have a Personal Cause? A Critical Examination of the Kalam Cosmological Argument” Faith and Philosophy 17 (2000): 151.
[3] Wes Morriston, “Causes and Beginnings in the Kalam Argument: Reply to CraigFaith and Philosophy 19 (2002): 233-44 at 240.
[4] Wes Morriston, “Doubts about the Kalam Cosmological Argument,” in Debating Christian Theism (ed. Meister, Moreland, and Sweis, New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 29.
[5] Paul Draper, Adolf Grünbaum, Wes Morriston, Graham Oppy, Bede Rundle, and Quentin Smith.
[6] Edward Feser, The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism (South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine’s Press, 2008), Kindle location 1538.
[7] Anthony Kenny, The Five Ways: St. Thomas Aquinas’ Proofs of God’s Existence (New York: Schocken, 1969), 66, quoted in G&T 2004, 81.
[8] See, e.g., Isaac Asimov, Beginning and End (New York: Doubleday, 1977), 148, quoted in G&T 2004, 414, n. 11; Peter Atkins, Creation Revisited: The Origin of Space, Time, and the Universe (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1994), 139; Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam, 2010); Lawrence Krauss, A Universe from Nothing: Why There is Something Rather than Nothing (New York: Free Press, 2012); and Victor Stenger, God: The Failed Hypothesis: How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist (Buffalo: Prometheus, 2007), 115-17.
[9] Bede Rundle, Where There Is Something Rather Than Nothing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 117-18.
[10] See Sean Carroll, “Why (Almost All) Cosmologists Are Atheists,” Faith and Philosophy 22 (2005): 622-640; Graham Oppy, “Review of J.P. Moreland (ed.), The Creation Hypothesis” The Secular Web (1998), http://infidels.org/library/modern/graham_oppy/review-m.html; Keith Parsons; and Rundle 2004.
[11] NASA, “The Big Bang” National Aeronautics and Space Administration (March 8, 2013), http://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/focus-areas/what-powered-the-big-bang/.

bookmark_borderG&T Rebuttal, Part 1: Introduction

The book’s introduction divides into six parts: (i) the crucial role that beliefs about God play in worldviews; (ii) an overview of three major “religious” worldviews; (iii) a discussion of the role of faith and facts in religion; (iv) three categories of problems with Christianity; (v) the faith of an atheist; and (vi) a high-level summary of their 12-point case for Christianity.
(i) The Role of (A)theology in Worldviews: Geisler and Turek (G&T) state that the answers to life’s “five most consequential questions… depend on the existence of God” (20). I take this to be a typo. As I’m sure G&T agree, if God does not exist, it does not follow that those questions have no answers. In fact, G&T themselves summarize what they think the atheistic answers to those questions must be! So I assume that what G&T meant is that such answers “will be informed by one’s beliefs about the existence of God.” And I take it that this claim is clearly right.
(ii) Three Major “Religious” Worldviews: G&T assert that “Most of the world’s major religions fall into one of these three religious world-views: theism, pantheism, and atheism” (22), which they then define as follows:
Theist: someone who believes in a personal God who created the universe but is not part of the universe
Pantheist: someone who believes in an impersonal God that literally is the universe.
Atheist: someone who does not believe in any type of God.
Additionally, they define an “agnostic” as someone who is unsure about the question of God.
For the most part, I think these definitions are fine. The one concern I have is with G&T’s definition of agnosticism. Since theism, pantheism, and atheism are defined in terms of beliefs, I think it would have been better to define agnosticism as “the lack of beliefs about God’s existence.” Not only does this keep the symmetry going, but, more important, it keeps beliefs separate from a person’s degree of belief, i.e., how much certainty or uncertainty they attach to their beliefs.
(iii) Faith and Facts in Religion: G&T argue that religion is not “simply a matter of faith” because “religion is not only about faith.” Rather, religion also makes truth claims and so “facts” play  a central role as well. This invites the obvious question: what do G&T mean by “faith”? The answer is found in a later section, where they write:
We mean that the less evidence you have for your position, the more faith you need to believe it (and vice versa). Faith covers a gap in knowledge. (26)
Elsewhere, they claim that “every religious worldview requires faith” (25).
There are times where two people speak the same language, use the same words, and mean very different things by the same words. In conversations between Christians and atheists, “faith” is one such word. For many atheists, the word “faith” means, by default, belief without evidence or even belief against the evidence. Atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell probably summed up the views of most atheists when he wrote this.

We may define “faith” as the firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. Where there is evidence, no one speaks of “faith.” We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence. The substitution of emotion for evidence is apt to lead to strife, since different groups, substitute different emotions.[1]

In contrast, I doubt many Christians would accept that definition. For example, Hebrews 11:1 (NIV) states, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” In other words, faith is a belief that (a) is about something a person hopes is true; and (b) goes beyond the evidence.
Regarding (a), many atheists hope that God exists and that atheism is false. Indeed, for those of us who are former believers, in many cases their loss of belief in God was depressing. In the Hebrews sense of “faith,” then, such atheists do not have faith in atheism, even if they are uncertain about their atheism.
As for (b), I agree with both Christians and atheists on this point. I agree with those Christians who point out that the Biblical concept of faith doesn’t seem to support belief against the evidence. “Going beyond the evidence,” does not mean “going against the evidence.” I also think that “going beyond the evidence” doesn’t entail “there is no evidence at all.” (For example, the conclusions of logically correct inductive arguments go beyond the content of their premises, but their premises are nevertheless evidence for their conclusions.) But I also agree with Russell that, in everyday language, the word “faith” is often used just as he says it is.
In light of this difference in language, then, it’s always puzzled me why Christian apologists like G&T insist on using a word like “faith” in their exchanges with atheists and agnostics. There are other ways to make the same point; there’s no apparent “upside,” and there is a clear “downside.” Christian philosopher Victor Reppert seems to agree. He writes:

Every time you use the word “faith” in a discussion with an atheist, they are going to declare victory. They will presume that you are believing for no reason, and that you are admitting that the evidence is against you.[2]

I think Reppert is probably right. The word “faith” simply has too much baggage and is too off-putting to nontheists. The expressions “uncertain belief” or “probable belief” are two much less contentious ways to make the same point.
(iv) Three Categories of Problems with Christianity: G&T describe three types of obstacles to Christian belief: (1) intellectual (such as the argument from evil); (2) emotional (such as hypocrisy); and (3) volitional (i.e., the desire to sin).
I take it that this list of categories is clearly right, but incomplete. I would add a fourth category: (4) biological (such as mindblindness associated with severe forms of Autism Spectrum Disorders).[3]
Furthermore, as I’m sure G&T would agree, we can use these same four categories to describe Christian obstacles to becoming atheists. For example: (1) intellectual (such as the kalām cosmological argument); (2) emotional (such as the prospect of no afterlife); (3) volitional (i.e., the desire to fit into a religious community); and (4) biological (i.e., the natural tendency to form beliefs about invisible agents).[4]
But G&T do more than just list the different categories of obstacles to Christian belief. They also summarize their assessment of the evidence against Christianity and against God’s existence.

That is, once one looks at the evidence, we think it takes more faith to be a non-Christian than it does to be a Christian. (24)

In fact, they put the point this way.

Indeed, we think our conclusions are true beyond a reasonable doubt. (This type of certainty, say, 95-plus percent certain, is the best that fallible and finite human beings can attain for most questions, and it is more than sufficient for even the biggest decisions in life.) (25, italics mine)

This remarkable degree of probability is supposed to follow from their 12-point case for Christianity. In fact, as I will show in this review, their biased and incomplete summary of the evidence comes nowhere close to justifying a 95% or greater probability that Christianity is true.
(v) The Faith of an Atheist: Consistent with their definition of faith, G&T argue that since atheists are dealing “in the realm of probability rather than absolute certainty,” they have to “have a certain amount of faith to believe that God does not exist” (26). It seems to me that G&T are clearly right that atheists, like theists, can have beliefs about God that are, at best, highly probable, not absolutely certain.
(vi) High-Level Summary of Case for Christianity: In this section G&T offer a preview of their “twelve points that show Christianity is true.” The most important of these points may be summarized as follows.
(a) Arguments for theism: these include versions of the cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments
(b) Evidence for Christianity: evidence that Jesus is God, such as his fulfillment of prophecy, miracles, and his resurrection from the dead.
Having outlined G&T’s case for Christian theism, I shall now analyze its logical structure. The good news for G&T is that I have only one comment. The bad news is that I think it is fatal to their project.  The comment is this: G&T’s evidence for Christianity, even if accurate, doesn’t make it probable that Christianity is true. Although G&T explicitly recognize that they are dealing with probabilities, the logical structure of their argument is defective because it fails to satisfy the rules of mathematical probability known as the axioms of the probability calculus.
This is best shown with a concrete example. Let’s suppose, but only for the sake of argument, that the following evidence favors theism over atheism, i.e., is more probable on the assumption that theism is true than on the assumption that atheism is true: the beginning of the universe, the design of the universe, the design of life, and the existence of the moral law. Even so, it still doesn’t follow that, all things considered, God’s existence is more likely than not. For example, it may be the case—and I think is the case—that there is other evidence which favors atheism over theism. But, if true, that entails that G&T’s case violates the Total Evidence Requirement and so G&T’s case accordingly fails to show that Christianity is probably true.

Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

Notes
[1] Bertrand Russell, Human Society in Ethics and Politics (1954, New York: Routledge, 2013), 215.
[2] Victor Reppert, “Matt McCormick on the Meaning of Faith,” Dangerous Idea (July 29, 2012), http://dangerousidea.blogspot.com/2012/07/matt-mccormick-on-meaning-of-faith.html.
[3] Simon Baron-Cohen, Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995).
[4] Justin Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe in God? (Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2004).

bookmark_borderIndex: Rebuttal to Geisler’s and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist”

Review of Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004). 
Like all apologetics books, both Christian and non-Christian, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist book takes a partisan approach to the philosophy of religion. Of course, by itself, the fact that it is a partisan book isn’t a problem. The existence or non-existence of God is an important topic; it’s appropriate for people who’ve reached a conclusion to try to persuade others of their position.
The fundamental problem with this book is the particular way it takes a partisan approach: there are partisan books and then there are obnoxiously partisan books.  Like many (but not all) of those other books in the apologetics genre, the basic approach seems to be the following.

  1. Present and defend the author’s preferred view as favorably as possible.
  2. Represent opposing views as unfavorably as possible.
  3. Reach the remarkable conclusion that–surprise, surprise–the author’s view is true.
  4. Suggest that anyone who disagrees is ignorant, irrational, or has ulterior (non-rational) motives.

The problem with obnoxious apologetics, which seems to afflict as many atheist apologists as theist apologists, is that it’s a fatally flawed way to search for truth. If our goal is the sincere pursuit of truth–and it should be–then the above approach is what not to do. Rather, if our goal is the sincere pursuit of truth, then our basic approach should be to represent opposing views fairly, in the best possible light, and interact with the best arguments both for and against the different viewpoints.
The philosopher George H. Smith once wrote, “We have nothing to fear and everything to gain from the honest pursuit of truth.”[1] Along the same lines, obnoxious apologetics is in no one’s self-interest. First, it clearly is not in the best interest of the community who feels their position has been slandered by the straw men created (and then torn down) by apologists.
Second, it’s not in the self-interest of the obnoxious apologist, since in the long-run it can backfire.  Think of the last time you read or listened to something which you felt misrepresented one of your beliefs (or your arguments for your beliefs). Did you change your mind and drop the belief? Of course not! Did you start thinking of objections and rebuttals as you were reading or listening? Probably!  Indeed, if the misrepresentation was made by someone in the public eye, such as a well-known author, it runs the real risk of inviting corrective reviews (like this one) and damaging the author’s credibility.
Third, it’s not in the self-interest of undecided, sincere seekers who truly want to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Following the evidence wherever it leads requires that all of the available relevant evidence be presented and presented fairly. As we shall see later in this review, Geisler and Turek (hereafter, G&T) fail to do this—over and over again.
This failure not only has a practical cost, but a logical cost as well. As G&T admit, their goal is to show that Christianity is highly probable through the use of inductive arguments based upon empirical evidence. But inductive arguments succeed only when they satisfy the Total Evidence Requirement, viz., that their premises embody all of the available relevant evidence.  As I show below, however, G&T’s inductive arguments fail to do this–both individually and collectively. Accordingly, even if all of G&T’s evidence were accurate, which it isn’t, G&T’s case still wouldn’t succeed in showing that Christianity is probably true.
In order to support this verdict on the book’s approach, I’m going to provide a fairly detailed review of the book’s contents, divided into sections according to the table of contents.
Here is the table of contents for the book:
Foreword by David Limbaugh
Preface: How Much Faith Do You Need to Believe This Book?
Acknowledgements
Introduction: Finding the Box Top to the Puzzle of Life
1 Can We Handle the Truth?
2 Why Should Anyone Believe Anything At All?
3 In the Beginning There Was a Great SURGE
4 Divine Design
5 The First Life: Natural Law or Divine Awe?
6 New Life Forms: From the Goo to You via the Zoo?
7 Mother Theresa vs. Hitler
8 Miracles: Signs of God or Gullibility
9 Do We Have Early Testimony About Jesus? (Part 1, Part 2)
10 Do We Have Eyewitness Testimony About Jesus?
11 The Top Ten Reasons We Know the New Testament Writers Told the Truth
12 Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?
13 Who is Jesus: God? Or Just a Great Moral Teacher?
14 What Did Jesus Teach about the Bible?
15 Conclusion: The Judge, The Servant, and the Box Top
Appendix 1: If God, Why Evil?
Appendix 2: Isn’t That Just Your Interpretation?
Appendix 3: Why the Jesus Seminar Doesn’t Speak for Jesus
Notes
 
[1] George H. Smith, “Atheism: The Case Against God,” speech delivered to the Society of Separationists, 1976. Transcript published as “How to Defend Atheism,” The Secular Web (1976), http://infidels.org/library/modern/george_smith/defending.html.

bookmark_borderWhy I am Not Concerned about Christian Theist Philosophers of Religion

One reason I am not concerned about the prevalence of Christian theists in the field of philosophy of religion is that they do a nice job of arguing against each other.
William Lane Craig’s favorite argument for the existence of God is the Kalam cosmological argument. I’m happy that there are some atheist philosophers who challenge this argument, but there are good objections raised against this argument by Christian theist philosophers.
For example, Richard Swinburne rejects this argument (as well as all other deductive proofs of the existence of God), and has put forward some significant objections to the argument in The Existence of God (2nd edition, footnote 10 on p.138-139). Swinburne objects that Craig’s argument for the premise “a beginningless series of events in time cannot exist” is based on a false assumption, and further that IF the assumption were true this would imply that the inference from that assumption to the premise was an invalid inference.
Another favorite argument of Craig’s for the existence of God is the Moral Argument, which goes something like this:
1. There are objectively true fundamental moral principles.
2. There are objectively true fundamental moral principles ONLY IF God exists.
Therefore:
3. God exists.

Swinburne rejects all such deductive proofs for the existence of God and argues that there are no sound deductive proofs of God. Furthermore, Swinburne raises a specific objection to this argument. He agrees with premise (1), but firmly rejects premise (2), on the grounds that God is a logically contingent being, while objectively true fundamental moral principles are necessary truths, truths that hold in all possible worlds. The existence of a logically contingent being cannot explain or cause the existence of a logically necessary truth. Thus, premise (2) is false.
Craig’s favorite argument for the truth of the Christian faith is the argument from the resurrection of Jesus to the conclusion that Jesus is the divine Son of God. One of the best and most neglected objections to Craig’s case for the resurrection comes from Norman Geisler, a fellow Evangelical Christian theist philosopher.
Geisler clearly asserts that in order to establish the claim that “Jesus rose from the dead”, one must first prove that “Jesus actually died on the cross.” I call this requirement “Geisler’s Criterion”. Since Craig has utterly failed in his attempt to prove the latter claim, Geisler’s Criterion will lead any truth seeker to reject Craig’s case for the resurrection.
Swinburne’s case for God and also his case for the resurrection are both dependent upon a key insight about miracles: in order to show that a miracle has occurred, one must show that God has certain specific purposes that would be satisfied by performing the miracle in question. I believe that Swinburne is absolutely correct on this point, and also that this opens the door to a potentially powerful skeptical argument: How do we know what are the specific purposes of God?
Sure we can all agree that “God is a perfectly morally good person” by definition. But it is far from clear that this very general and abstract notion can be used to rationally justify claims like “In such-and-such circumstances, God would be likely to…” In any case, I think Swinburne’s attempt to make that sort of move fails, and it remains an open question whether anyone else can succeed where he has failed.
So, I’m not concerned about the prevalence of Christian theists in the philosophy of religion, because they do a pretty good job of pointing out the flaws and errors in each other’s arguments. I have learned about many skeptical arguments and objections from Richard Swinburne, including many such arguments and objections that he puts forward and supports.

bookmark_borderNorman Geisler’s Case for the Death of Jesus – Part 2

In When Skeptics Ask, Norman Geisler presents eight reasons in support of the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross. In my previous post on this subject I argued that six of those reasons should be quickly set aside as weak or defective reasons. In my view, only two reasons out of the eight reasons are worthy of serious consideration.
Both of the remaining two reasons are related to various alleged wounds and injuries of Jesus that supposedly occurred just prior to or during the crucifixion. First let’s consider the third reason:
3. When His side was pierced with a spear, water and blood flowed out. The best evidence suggests that this was a thrust given by a Roman soldier to insure death. The spear entered through the rib cage and pierced His right lung, the sack around the heart, and the heart itself, releasing both blood and pleural fluids. Jesus was unquestionably dead before they removed him from the cross and probably before this wound was inflicted. … The final wound to His side would have been fatal in itself (v.34).
(When Skeptics Ask, p.121)
The quick-and-dirty objection to reason (3) is that the story about the spear wound to Jesus’ side is found ONLY in the historically unreliable Fourth gospel (John 19:31-37). This fact gives us good reason to doubt that the spear wound story is true. But there are other problems with the spear wound story, and since reason (3) is widely used in Christian apologetics, I’m going to take a bit more time to beat this particular deceased horse.
First, there are some general reasons to doubt the spear wound story:
GR1. The gospels are historically problematic
GR2. The Fourth gospel is the most historically unreliable of the gospels
GR3. The Passion narratives of the gospels are historically unreliable
GR4. The Passion narrative of the Fourth gospel is historically unreliable
GR1. The gospels are historically problematic
(GR1) is a big topic that would take a book, or at least a few chapters in a book, to cover properly. But I’m just going to quote from a leading N.T. scholar, to show that this is more than just the opinion of a skeptical atheist with an ax to grind against the Christian faith.
According to N.T. Wright, E.P. Sanders is “Probably the most influential NT scholar in the English-speaking world.” (The Original Jesus, p.155). If you look up “Jesus Christ” in the Encyclopædia Britannica, you will find an article written by E.P. Sanders. So, I think it worthwhile to give serious consideration to Sanders’ view of the gospels and of the effort to figure out what Jesus actually said and did:
Most scholars who write about the ancient world feel obliged to warn their readers that our knowledge can be at best partial and that certainty is seldom obtained. A book about a first-century Jew who lived in a rather unimportant part of the Roman empire must be prefaced by such a warning. We know about Jesus from books written a few decades after his death, probably by people who were not among his followers during his lifetime. They quote him in Greek, which was not his primary language, and in any case the differences among our sources show that his words and deeds were not perfectly preserved. We have very little information about him apart from the works written to glorify him. Today we do not have good documentation for such out-of-the-way places as Palestine; nor did the authors of our sources. They had no archives and no official records of any kind. They did not even have access to good maps. These limitations, which were common in the ancient world, result in a good deal of uncertainty.
Recognizing these difficulties and many others, New Testament scholars spent several decades – from about 1910 to 1970 – saying that we know somewhere between very little and virtually nothing about the historical Jesus. Excess leads to reaction, and in recent decades we have grown more confident. Confidence, in fact, has soared, and recent scholarly literature contains what I regard as rash and unfounded assertions about Jesus – hypotheses without evidence to support them.
My own view is that studying the gospels is extremely hard work. I sympathize with the scholars who despaired of recovering much good evidence about Jesus. I also think, however, that the work pays off in the modest ways that are to be expected in the study of ancient history.
(from the Preface to The Historical Figure of Jesus[hereafter: HFJ], p.xiii)
Sanders is not a skeptic, nor is he an atheist looking for a way to attack the Christian faith. He is a leading mainstream N.T. scholar who warns us of the historically problematic nature of the gospels and that only with “extremely hard work” can we expect even “the modest” sort of results common to investigations of ancient history, and that there will unavoidably be “a good deal of uncertainty” concerning the words and deeds of the historical Jesus.
I am not as optimistic as Sanders is about discovering the historical Jesus through hard scholarly work. I am more of a Jesus agnostic, who has serious doubts about the possibility of “knowledge” about the words and deeds of Jesus and the events that he experienced (if he in fact existed). But Sanders view of the gospels is much more sane and reasonable than that of Norman Geisler.
Geisler simply makes all sorts of speculative claims about the crucifixion of Jesus based on the assumption that every detail found in the Fourth gospel is absolutely true, historical, and accurate. In doing so, Geisler shows that his views are completely outside of the mainstream of N.T. scholarship, and even outside of any resemblance of scholarship of any sort that deserves to be called such. E.P. Sanders would gag upon reading the crap that Geisler spews in his case for the death of Jesus on the cross. So, although I am more skeptical than Sanders, my views are much closer to those of mainstream N.T. scholarship than are the views of Geisler (and other Christian apologists who make similar naive bible-thumping arguments).
GR2. The Fourth gospel is the most historically unreliable of the gospels
Again, it would not be difficult to write an entire book on this one issue. So, I cannot do this topic justice here and now, but I will simply quote E.P. Sanders once again, to show that my skeptical views about the Fourth gospel are closer to mainstream N.T. scholarship than the naive and unreasonable views of Geisler.
Here is Sanders’ conclusion concerning the use of John as a source of information about Jesus:
The synoptic gospels [Matthew, Mark, and Luke] are to be preferred as our basic source of information about Jesus. Yet their authors too were theologians and were capable of creativity. …There are no sources that give us the ‘unvarnished truth’; the varnish of faith in Jesus covers everything. Yet the synoptic authors did not homogenize their material, as John did. The joints and seams are visible, and the contents are quite diverse. There is nothing like the sameness of the Johannine monologues. The synoptic authors, that is, revised traditional material much less thoroughly than did John.
(HFJ, p.73)
Sanders discusses some differences between the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) and the Fourth gospel (John):
1. Narrative Outline/Framework
2. Contents – Jesus’ activities
3. Contents – Jeasus’ teaching
Sanders says these differences “are very substantial” (HFJ, p.66). After spelling out some differences in the narrative outlines, Sanders sums up his view about these differences between the synoptics and John:
The synoptic framework is at least as plausible as John’s, and it may have a slight edge.
This discussion may seem to imply that we must accept one or the other: either John (three Passovers; early cleansing of the Temple; informal trial) or the synoptics (one Passover; late cleansing; semi-formal trial). It is tempting to alternate between them on the basis of plausibility or intrinsic probability, while compromising on the question of duration: a ministry of eleven to twenty-five months (compromise); cleansing of the Temple near the end (synoptics); informal trial (John). We must, however, entertain another possibility altogether: perhaps none of the authors knew what took place when (except, of course, the trial and crucifixion). Possibly they had scattered bits of information, from which they constructed believable narratives that contain a fair amount of guesswork. Or perhaps they did not care about chronological sequence and arranged the material according to some other plan (for example, by topic). This would have resulted in chronological clues being scattered at random, and we could not draw good inferences from them.
(HFJ, p.69)
Both the synoptic gospels and John have somewhat plausible narrative frameworks. There is no clear winner here, and as Sanders admits, it might well be the case that neither narrative framework is based on actual history; the frameworks might be largely “guesswork” by the authors, or might be based on non-historical considerations, such as arranging events by topic.
The specific contents of the synoptics vs. John are what drives the judgement that the synoptics are a better source of information about Jesus. Sanders notes a couple of significant differences in terms of Jesus’ activities:
(1) In the synoptics many of Jesus’ healings, in fact some of those on which the story turns, are exorcisms. In John there are no exorcisms. …
(2) In the synoptics, when asked for a ‘sign’ of his authority, Jesus refuses to give one (Mark 8:11f). Among the most prominent aspects of John is a series of ‘signs’ of Jesus’ status and authority (John 2.11, 23; 4.48, 54; 6.2, 14; 7.31; 9.16; 11.47; 12.8, 37; 20.30).

(HFJ, p.69)
Although Sanders does not say this explicitly, N.T. scholars favor the historical reliability of the synoptics over John in terms of the above two significant differences in the activities of Jesus.
Sanders goes on to point out several significant differences between John and the synoptic gospels concerning the content and style of Jesus’ teaching (HFJ, p.70). Sanders then draws the following conclusions:
It is impossible to think that Jesus spent his short ministry teaching in two such completely different ways, conveying such different contents, and that there were simply two traditions, each going back to Jesus, one transmitting 50 per cent of what he said, and another one the other 50 per cent, with almost no overlaps.
Consequently, for the last 150 or so years scholars have had to choose. They have almost unanimously, and I think entirely correctly, concluded that the teaching of the historical Jesus is to be sought in the synoptic gospels and that John represents an advanced theological development, in which meditations on the person and work of Christ are presented in the first person, as if Jesus said them.
(HFJ, p.70-71)
Sanders then argues that in at least some cases, the narrative outline in the gospel of John is “as strongly determined by the author’s own theology as its discourse material…” (HFJ, p.72). He concludes that, “…we can say neither that John was creative only with the teaching material, nor that he had a good source for his narrative and that he followed it faithfully.” (HFJ, p.72)
To be continued…

bookmark_borderNorman Geisler’s Case for the Death of Jesus

Let me cut to the chase: Geisler’s case for the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross” is crap. It might be marginally better than William Craig’s case, but it is most definitely a hot steaming pile of crap. As with Craig’s case, part of the reason Geisler’s case fails is that he tries to make his case in just a few pages. (This appears to be a common form of mental illness among Christian apologists.)
I’m tempted to work my way slowly through Geisler’s case, as I did with Craig’s case, going sentence by sentence, phrase by phrase, exposing each instance of ignorance, credulity, bias, and bad reasoning. But that seems to be giving his pitiful effort too much respect and credibility. So, I will be a bit more quick-and-dirty in my critique of Geisler’s case for the death of Jesus.
Geisler has quite correctly stated a necessary condition for a successful case for the resurrection of Jesus:
Before we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that he really did die. (When Skeptics Ask, p.120)
It would not be enough, of course, to simply show that Jesus died at some time or other in some way or other. Showing that Jesus drowned when he was just twelve, for example, would be of NO USE for proving the resurrection of Jesus. One must show that “Jesus actually died on the cross” on Good Friday, as an adult (in Jerusalem around 30 C.E.).
I agree with this criterion for a successful case for the resurrection. Let’s call this Geisler’s Criterion. On the basis of Geisler’s Criterion, I judge William Craig’s case for the resurrection to be a failure, because Craig has utterly and completely failed to show that Jesus actually died on the cross. But Geisler has also failed to show that Jesus actually died on the cross, so his case for the resurrection is also clearly a failure.
Geisler gives eight reasons in support of the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross. We can set aside three of those reasons immediately, because they are clearly NOT evidence for this claim:
1. There is no evidence to suggest that Jesus was drugged. …(WSA, p.120)
This is an objection to one specific version of the Apparent Death Theory. But raising a weak objection to one particular version of one alternative theory does not provide positive evidence for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross. I have almost never been drugged, and yet somehow I have managed to avoid dying day after day for many decades. Also, the fact that I have rarely been drugged does not indicate that it is likely that some day I will be crucified nor that I will die while on a cross. This “reason” should be flushed down the drain immediately.
5. Jesus was embalmed in about 75-100 pounds of spices and bandages… . He could not have unwrapped Himself, rolled the stone back up the side of its carved-out track, overcome the guards, and escaped unnoticed…(WSA, p.122)
This “reason” is not only based on various dubious historical claims, but it is also just another objection to a specific version of the Apparent Death Theory. A weak objection to one particular version of an alternative theory does not provide positive evidence for the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross”. The difficulty of escaping from being wrapped up in spices and bandages on a Sunday morning has no relevance to whether the person in question had previously died on a Friday afternoon. This “reason” should be flushed down the drain immediately.
7. If Jesus had managed all this, His appearance would have been more like a resuscitated wretch than a resurrected Saviour. It is not likely that it would have turned the world upside down. (WSA, p.123)
This is probably the most common objection to the Apparent Death Theory, an objection that comes from David Strauss. I call this the “Sickly Jesus Objection”. There are many problems with this objection, but the main problem in this context is that an objection to one particular version of one alternative theory does NOT provide positive evidence in support of the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross. The Apparent Death Theory has many implications, and specific versions of it have additional implications. Showing that one or more such implications is false or questionable, does not provide positive evidence for the death of Jesus. This reason should be immediately flushed down the drain.
In fact, in some instances, refuting an implication of the Apparent Death Theory would also refute the Christian view that Jesus rose from the dead. For example, the Apparent Death Theory assumes that Jesus was crucified. If someone could show that Jesus had NOT been crucified, or that it was doubtful that Jesus had been crucified, this would refute or cast doubt on the Apparent Death Theory. But such an objection would ALSO refute or cast doubt upon the Christian view that Jesus rose from the dead (after being crucified). So, raising objections to the Apparent Death Theory does not necessarily provide support for the claim that Jesus actually died on the cross.
Three down, five more reasons to go.
Two other reasons are relevant but are clearly weak reasons, and should both be quickly tossed aside:
4. The standard procedure for crucifixion was to break the victim’s legs… Yet the Roman executioners declared Christ dead without breaking his legs (v.33). There was no doubt in their minds. (WSA, p.122).
6. Pilate asked for assurance that Jesus was really dead before releasing the body for burial. (WSA, p.122)
Both of these reasons are based on questionable historical assumptions, historical assumptions for which Geisler has provided either no historical evidence or dubious historical evidence. Geisler points us to an alleged event (the breaking of the legs of the other crucified men but not Jesus) that is found only in the Fourth Gospel, a Gospel which is considered to be an unreliable historical source by most leading Jesus scholars of the 20th and 21st centuries.
The Gospels cannot be relied upon to provide accurate details about what Pilate said on any specific occasion. We don’t know that Jesus was buried, nor do we know that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, nor do we know whether Joseph of Arimathea actually went to Pilate to request the body of Jesus. We certainly do not know Pilate’s specific words and actions in relation to the release of Jesus’ body.
But even if we assume that Pilate did ask a Roman officer “for assurance that Jesus was really dead” this does not mean that Pilate actually received such assurance, and if he did receive assurance from a Roman officer that Jesus was already dead, this is still weak evidence. We don’t know the name of this officer. We know almost nothing about the intelligence, character, and background of this Roman officer. What we do know is that scientific medicine would not come into existence until more than a thousand years later, and that the Roman officer was supremely ignorant about the biology and physiology of the human body, as was everyone else in that period of time.
We have weak evidence for the claim that one or more Roman soldiers were very confident on Friday afternoon that Jesus had died on the cross (on the same day that he was crucified), and the assumption that one or more Roman soldiers were very confident that Jesus had died on the cross provides only weak evidence for the conclusion that Jesus actually died on the cross. So, although these reasons are relevant to this conclusion, they provide only weak support for it.
Five reasons down, three more to go.
Reason number eight can be set aside, because it reflects the same sort of ignorance and credulity that Geisler displays in the two other remaining reasons. Also, the content of reason number eight overlaps the content of the other two reasons, so if I can show that the other two reasons are weak or defective, that will also suffice to show that reason eight is weak or defective.
8. In the article “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ” the Journal of the American Medical Society concluded: “Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to His side was inflicted…” (WSA, p.123)
Setting aside the purely medical assumptions and claims in this article, it is clear that this article is based on naive, ignorant, and credulous views of the New Testament. In other words, the historical scholarship in this article sucks. It is almost on the level of William Craig’s childish and pathetic case for the death of Jesus. In any case, if I can show that there are serious problems with the remaining two reasons given by Geisler, this will also serve to show that this Journal article from JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association, March 21, 1986, Volume 256) has serious problems. So, we can set this reason aside and focus our attention on the two remaining reasons given by Geisler.
Six down, two more to go.
To be continued…

bookmark_borderThe Case for the Death of Jesus

I have written several posts about William Craig’s “case” for the death of Jesus in his book The Son Rises. In those posts I showed that Craig made about 81 historical claims, but failed to provide any historical evidence for 85% of those claims, and provided only weak and dubious historical evidence for the other 15% of claims. In short, Craig provided solid historical evidence for ZERO of the 81 historical claims he makes in his “case” for the death of Jesus. He completely failed to show that Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday, and thus his case for the resurrection is also a complete failure.
However, I can imagine a response to my objection to Craig’s case for the resurrection of Jesus:
You are right. William Craig has generally ignored the issue of whether Jesus died on the cross, and his case for the death of Jesus in The Son Rises is pathetic. But the problem here is that Craig does not take this issue seriously, and so he does not make a serious effort to prove that Jesus died on the cross. In his view, the question of whether Jesus actually died on the cross was settled long ago, and there is no need to re-hash the issue.
However, other Christian apologists take this question more seriously, and they make a more serious effort to build an historical case for the death of Jesus on the cross. So, defeating Craig’s half-hearted effort in The Son Rises is something bordering on a Straw Man fallacy. You need to consider the cases made by other apologists. There are other Christian apologists who do a better job on this issue, such as Norman Geisler, Michael Licona, and Gary Habermas. Until you consider the cases made by these apologists, you have only refuted one of the weakest cases available.
I think this is a reasonable response to my objection to Craig’s case for the resurrection. So, I plan to move on to examine cases for the death of Jesus by Geisler, Licona, and Habermas. I believe they in fact do a better job building a case for the death of Jesus than Craig has, so their cases deserve serious examination and consideration.