Friday, September 30, 2005

Can Television Get Worse?

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Comes Out Against Archeology

Yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had an editorial on the teaching of intelligent design. The editorial illustrates a series of problems not only with many people's thinking on issues of origins, but also on other issues, such as separation of church and state. The editors claim that intelligent design brings "shame for educated minds". I think that the archeologists and forensic scientists who read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette might want to send the editors of that paper a letter to explain to them that there is no shame in believing that the work of an intelligent agent can be detected.

On a related note, the Discovery Institute's Evolution News & Views web site is reporting that Eugenie Scott recently repeated the common objection to intelligent design on the basis that intelligent design hasn't been published in peer-reviewed science journals. The objection is false, as anybody who has made much of an effort to follow this controversy ought to know, but Eugenie Scott took the error a step further. She used this objection to intelligent design during a television appearance with Stephen Meyer, who recently authored an article advocating intelligent design for a peer-reviewed science journal.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Trivial Evangelism for a Trivial Age

I'm not even going to attempt to summarize this story. Read it for yourself. When churches use the sort of approaches described in this article, how do those approaches affect people's perception of the gospel message being conveyed, assuming that these churches are conveying the gospel? It's been so long since these churches have taken a Biblical approach toward unbelievers, so if they want to try something new (new for them), why don't they try the Biblical approach? If concepts such as our relationship with God, judgment, and Heaven don't interest people much, why would we want to gain their interest with chocolate and lingerie?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Through Faith They Still Speak (9/25/05)

"My chief object was the glory of God, by giving a practical demonstration as to what could be accomplished simply through the instrumentality of prayer and faith, in order thus to benefit the Church of Christ at large, and to lead a careless world to see the reality of the things of God, by showing them, in this work, that the Living God is still, as four thousand years ago, the Living God....That it may be seen how much one poor man, simply by trusting in God, can bring about by prayer; and that thus other children of God may be led to carry on the work of God in dependence upon Him, and that children of God may be led increasingly to trust in Him in their individual positions and circumstances" (George Muller, cited in Roger Steer, Delighted in God! [Wheaton, Illinois: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1981], pp. 157-158)

Parents Do Little as Their Children Waste Their Lives (Ecclesiastes 12:1)

The Associated Press has a story about how often young people listen to music:

Ryan Cusick says he spends more time listening to his iPod than he is awake.

That’s because he goes to sleep listening to music.

Within minutes of waking up, Cusick, 18, clutches his iPod, pops in his earphones and plays some fast-paced music to get his day rocking. Something with strong drum beats — maybe Metallica, said the University of Colorado freshman.

He falls asleep listening to slower, alternative rock, and he usually wakes up in the middle of the night to pull the plug on the music. By then, songs are stuck in his head and play in his dreams....

“You walk around campus, and it’s like every third person has the white earplugs in,” Cusick said. “You’ll see a group of friends, and none of them are talking. It’s like they are off in space.”

To get some idea of what they're listening to, visit, and read some of the lyrics to the latest popular music. These are the messages that are filling young people's hearts, not only in America, but also in many other parts of the world.

Of course, the fact that these songs are "stuck in their head and play in their dreams", as the Associated Press puts it, doesn't mean that this music influences them much. No, it's just entertainment. It's not of much significance. In fact, how much is there in life that does have a lot of significance? Just spend your time, hour after hour, listening to music, playing video games, talking about trivial things on the phone, furthering your career, planning for retirement, etc. Don't have much concern for eternity. Don't have a sense of urgency.

I'd prefer that young people's hearts be filled with something like this:

Lord, in the fullness of my might,
I would for Thee be strong:
While runneth o’er each dear delight,
To Thee should soar my song.

I would not give the world my heart,
And then profess Thy love;
I would not feel my strength depart,
And then Thy service prove.

I would not with swift wingèd zeal
On the world’s errands go,
And labor up the heavenly hill
With weary feet and slow.

O not for Thee my weak desires,
My poorer, baser part!
O not for Thee my fading fires,
The ashes of my heart!

O choose me in my golden time:
In my dear joys have part!
For Thee the glory of my prime,
The fullness of my heart!
(Thomas Gill, "Lord, In the Fulness of My Might")

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Through Faith They Still Speak (9/24/05)

"O church of God, cry day and night to Him. If your voice, O spouse, is sweet in His ears, turn not away your face and let not your voice be silent. But cry, and even in the night watches, pour out your heart like water before the Lord God." (Charles Spurgeon, in Robert Hall, ed., The Power of Prayer in a Believer's Life [Lynnwood, Washington: Emerald Books, 1993], p. 191)

The Brown/Boteach Debate

This past Monday, I wrote about a debate to be held the next day between Michael Brown and Shmuley Boteach. There was an article on the debate earlier this week in The Pitt News. Judging from this article, it seems that many people used the debate as an opportunity to accuse evangelistic Christians of being deceivers, racists, etc. As you read the article, notice how little attention is given to the evidence regarding Jesus and how much attention is given to other issues that are more subjective. Here are some excerpts:

Critics of Jews for Jesus call it a Christian front, bent on converting as many Jewish people as possible....

Boteach — at a disadvantage because so many Jewish people refused to come to the event — spoke with passion and fury.

“The Holocaust was due to evenings like tonight,” he said loudly. “Jews are made to feel spiritually inferior. We are a race punished for not believing in Jesus.”

Boteach was angry for most of the debate — even to the point of screaming fiercely at an audience member who interrupted him....

“They keep trying to convert us instead of respecting us like we have respected them,” Boteach said. “This is the essence of racism.”

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Unity of the Apostles

Skeptics of Christianity and professing Christians who hold untraditional views often suggest that there was a high degree of disunity among Jesus and the apostles. The writings of Paul are contrasted with what Jesus taught, for example. Russell Moore and Peter Boyles recently debated the death penalty on Lee Strobel's program "Faith Under Fire", and Moore cited Romans 13:4 in support of the death penalty. Boyles' response was to dismiss the passage as the opinion of Paul and to ask for evidence from what Jesus taught. Skeptics often will propose theories about the origin of Christianity that depend on a large amount of disunity among the apostles and other early church leaders. Richard Carrier of, for example, argues that Paul believed in a different type of resurrection than other New Testament authors. I saw one skeptic on America Online argue that the reference to false apostles in Revelation 2:2 has Paul in view. And people will often set Paul's view of justification against James' view, for example.

In response, we can do more than just attempt to harmonize Jesus and Paul or Paul and James. We can also cite a wide range of historical evidence for the unity of Jesus and the leaders of the early church.

Of course, nobody should deny that there was some degree of disunity among Jesus and His earliest followers. Paul gives some examples in Romans 14, and we know that second century Christians, for example, disagreed on issues such as when to celebrate Easter and whether particular sins cause a loss of salvation. Humans are fallible, and there are thousands upon thousands of potential areas of disagreement among us. The issue here isn't whether Jesus and the early church leaders were united in everything, but rather whether they were united to enough of an extent to refute common skeptical and untraditional views of early church history.

They were. And if they weren't, we would have good reason to expect to know it. We know that the early Christians were willing to discuss their disagreements. We know of the dispute between Paul and Barnabas through the reporting of Luke (Acts 15:36-40). We know of the dispute between Paul and Peter because Paul wrote about it (Galatians 2:11-21). We know of the disputes among the disciples of Jesus because the gospel writers mention them (Mark 10:35-41, Luke 22:24, etc.). From passages like Acts 15:2, 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, and Galatians 1:6-9, it seems unlikely that Paul would have remained so silent about disagreements with men like James, Luke, and John if he had disagreed with them on important matters like justification, the resurrection, and the deity of Christ. When Judas betrayed Jesus, he acquired a reputation that left many historical ripples in many places. His betrayal is mentioned in the gospels, Acts, 1 Corinthians 11, the church fathers, etc.

I sometimes see skeptics ask how Christians know that somebody like the apostle Thomas or the apostle Matthew remained a Christian. How do we know that they didn't renounce the faith later in life? After all, while we have reliable early records about the deaths of people like Peter, Paul, and James, we don't have such records for all of the apostles. What if one of them or more than one retracted what he had said about Jesus rising from the dead, for example? The answer is that although the traditions for those other apostles aren't as strong as the traditions we have for people like Paul and Peter, we probably wouldn't see such traditions at all, nor would we see an absence of contrary traditions, if these other apostles had renounced the faith. In other words, if somebody like Thomas or Matthew had gone the way of Judas, we would expect his reputation to go the way of Judas' reputation. Instead, we find people who knew the apostles making comments like the following:

"I exhort you all, therefore, to yield obedience to the word of righteousness, and to exercise all patience, such as ye have seen set before your eyes, not only in the case of the blessed Ignatius, and Zosimus, and Rufus, but also in others among yourselves, and in Paul himself, and the rest of the apostles. This do in the assurance that all these have not run in vain, but in faith and righteousness, and that they are now in their due place in the presence of the Lord, with whom also they suffered. For they loved not this present world, but Him who died for us, and for our sakes was raised again by God from the dead." (Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians, 9)

Similarly, other men who were contemporaries of the apostles write about the unity they had and refer to them collectively as if they had taught the same doctrines: Clement of Rome (First Clement 5, 42, 44); Ignatius (Letter to the Ephesians, 11; Letter to the Magnesians, 13; Letter to the Romans. 4); Aristides (Apology, 2); The Epistle of Barnabas (5); etc. Papias, who probably was a disciple of John, wrote:

"If, then, any one came, who had been a follower of the elders, I questioned him in regard to the words of the elders, - what Andrew or what Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the disciples of the Lord, and what things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I did not think that what was to be gotten from the books would profit me as much as what came from the living and abiding voice." (Eusebius, Church History, 3:39:4)

Papias seems to think that all of the apostles taught the same doctrine, so that he could get one "abiding voice" from examining what was taught by all of them. Polycarp, who also knew the apostle John, speaks positively about the apostle Paul (Letter to the Philippians, 3) and was in good fellowship with a church that had been in good fellowship with Paul (the Philippian church). Apparently, John never told Polycarp of any significant theological disagreement he had with Paul. Skeptics often try to drive a wedge between Paul and Luke, suggesting that Luke misrepresented Paul in the book of Acts or that Luke held a different view of the resurrection than Paul. But Paul and Luke speak positively of one another, as we see from Luke's portrait of Paul in Acts and in Pauline passages such as Colossians 4:14, 1 Timothy 5:18, and Philemon 24. One of the earliest patristic accounts we have of the relationship between the two men is Irenaeus' comment that "Luke was inseparable from Paul, and his fellow-labourer in the Gospel" (Against Heresies, 3:14:1).

The apostles repeatedly spoke of their unity with one another. Paul writes of matters that are "of first importance" (1 Corinthians 15:3), then refers to how all of the church leaders he had just mentioned were teaching the same things (1 Corinthians 15:11). He refers to his unity with James, Peter, and John (Galatians 2:7-10) and the other apostles in general (1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 2:20). He implies his unity with the other brothers of Jesus as well, not just James (1 Corinthians 9:5). Peter refers to Paul's writings as scripture and speaks highly of Paul himself (2 Peter 3:15-16). Matthew, in his gospel, speaks positively of all of his fellow disciples except Judas. The same is true of John in his gospel, and Revelation 21:14 implies the same sort of unity. Some of the early churches, such as the Corinthian church and the Ephesian church, were in fellowship with multiple apostles (Peter and Paul in Corinth, Paul and John in Ephesus, Peter and Paul in Rome, John and James in Jerusalem, etc.).

Perhaps the best illustration of early church unity comes from the writings of Hegesippus around the middle of the second century. After traveling to churches in different parts of the world and examining their doctrines, he concluded that there was fundamental unity among the churches, even several decades after the apostles had died. Other men writing around the same time, such as Irenaeus (Against Heresies, 3:3:1), would make similar comments. We know that this unity consisted of doctrines such as monotheism, the virgin birth, and the Messiahship of Jesus. There were disagreements on other matters. But Hegesippus could write of the church remaining pure under the apostles, then gradually being corrupted over time, yet still refer to a core of shared beliefs in the middle of the second century (Eusebius, Church History, 4:22:1-8). There would be an increasing variety of doctrines with the passing of time, which is inevitable, but that disunity can't be attributed to the apostles.

The best explanation for the unity of the apostolic church is that the message the apostles were conveying was true. What would have united such diverse people as Peter, Thomas, Paul, and James in such difficult circumstances? If they were all defining Jesus without much concern for historical accuracy, why does such a unified message emerge? They claimed to have seen the risen Christ, so how could so many people have been mistaken about such eyewitness testimony? How could they have been so united and have spread the church so far throughout the Roman empire under such adverse circumstances? If they were telling the truth, if their claims were rooted in history and they had witnessed what they were proclaiming, it makes sense.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

What Happened at the End of the First Century?

Have you ever noticed that skeptical theories about the origin of Christianity tend to place a lot of weight on the period from 70-100 A.D.? Often, three of the four gospels will be dated to that timeframe, some of Paul's writings will be alleged to have been written pseudonymously at that time, doctrines such as the physical nature of Jesus' resurrection supposedly were originated or popularized during that period, etc. These closing decades of the first century are often referred to as a sort of silent period in church history. We don't have as detailed a historical account of the events of that time as we have for the earlier decades in the book of Acts or for later generations from Irenaeus, Eusebius, and other sources. Skeptics consider these decades fertile ground for their speculative theories, so a large degree of their criticism of the early church falls on the shoulders of the people living at that time. Mind you, these people held responsible for fabricating so much of Christianity often can't be named, since they're figments of the skeptical imagination. But whoever they were, they must have done their work sometime around 70-100, after the death of James, Paul, and Peter.

There are some elements of truth to this view. The leadership of the church was significantly diminished after the persecutions of the 60s, and eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles would die over time. And we have no detailed account of the history of this period like we have for the earlier decades from Luke or for the time of Constantine from Eusebius, for example. But is it plausible to use the 70-100 timeframe as a receptacle for so many skeptical theories?

One of the most obvious problems with putting such heavy skeptical weight on this period is the ignorance and contradiction of such theories by the generations that immediately follow. Papias speaks of New Testament documents written by individuals such as Mark, Peter, and John (Eusebius, Church History, 3:39; see also here). He doesn't refer to Petrine communities or Johannine communities. It would be difficult to disagree with Martin Hengel when he writes:

"Therefore nothing has led research into the Gospels so astray as the romantic superstition involving anonymous theologically creative community collectives, which are supposed to have drafted whole writings." (The Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ [Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 2000], p. 81)

Papias and other second century sources give historical details surrounding the authorship of the New Testament books, and they know nothing of the many authorship theories put forward by modern skeptics. Clement of Rome will refer to 1 Corinthians as written by Paul himself (First Clement, 47), and Polycarp will tell the Philippian church to follow what Paul himself wrote to them (Letter to the Philippians, 3). There's no concept of Paul writing part of the letter, followed by the churches or later individuals adding more content to those letters as they saw fit. Rather, men like Clement of Rome and Polycarp refer to these documents as having been authored entirely and only by Paul. According to these men, Christians are to hand on what they received from the apostles, not change it or add to it. When somebody like Marcion would alter the text of the apostolic documents, he would be widely condemned for it (Dionysius of Corinth, cited in Eusebius, Church History, 4:23:12; Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 1:27:4; etc.). As Glenn Miller extensively documents, the earliest apostolic Christians and the second century church were opposed to pseudonymity (writing a document such as Titus or 2 Peter under somebody else's name).

What many of these skeptical theories are proposing, then, is that a series of events occurred in the 70-100 timeframe that are known to have been opposed by the earlier Christians and are known to have been opposed by the later Christians. Those events were not only unknown to the generations that immediately followed, but were even universally replaced by false accounts of what happened. A document such as Matthew's gospel would be written by some Matthean community, not by the individual Matthew, yet the generations immediately following would universally be ignorant of the community authorship and universally attribute the document to the individual Matthew. What we would be led to believe, then, is that the church up until about 70 practiced one thing, then radically changed from 70-100, then went back to its previous stance around the end of the first century or the beginning of the second. It's far more plausible to conclude that there was no such change in the 70-100 timeframe.

As far as I know, none of the earliest opponents of Christianity use any argumentation that would suggest a knowledge of some of these skeptical theories. Trypho, Galen, Celsus, and other early enemies of Christianity show no knowledge of a document like 1 Timothy not being written until decades after Paul died (As if nobody would notice!), nor do they seem to be aware that Christians didn't originate a belief in a physical resurrection of Jesus until a few decades after His death, for example. And none of the earliest Christians write as if they knew of any enemies of Christianity who were using such arguments.

Who was alive during the closing decades of the first century? We often think of leaders like James and Peter dying in the 60s, but, from a logical standpoint, it's highly unlikely that all of the eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus would be dead by 70, and any suggestion that all of the eyewitnesses and contemporaries of the apostles would be dead by then is out of the question. Even if they had all been dead, they would have passed information on to the next generation, and that information wouldn't be likely to be as radically misunderstood or altered as skeptical theories require.

But we don't have to rely only on what seems logical. We know of specific individuals who lived past 70, and we know that some of them held church offices. The apostle John lived until the end of the first century (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5:30:3; Victorinus, Commentary on the Apocalypse of the Blessed John, 10:11; Eusebius, Church History, 3:18:1). Polycarp, who was born around 70, is reported by Irenaeus (who had met Polycarp) to have personally known multiple apostles. People often associate Polycarp with the apostle John, since John is so often named as a mentor of Polycarp, but Irenaeus tells us that he had known multiple apostles:

"I am able to describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat as he discoursed, and his goings out and his comings in, and the manner of his life, and his physical appearance, and his discourses to the people, and the accounts which he gave of his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord. And as he remembered their words, and what he heard from them concerning the Lord, and concerning his miracles and his teaching, having received them from eyewitnesses of the 'Word of life,' Polycarp related all things in harmony with the Scriptures." (Eusebius, Church History, 5:20:6)

"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" (Against Heresies, 3:3:4)

Thus, John must not have been the only apostle, or the only eyewitness of Jesus, to have lived into the late first century. Hegesippus, a second century Christian who gives us some historical information about the church in the late first century, mentions that a cousin of Jesus by the name of Symeon was alive and was a leader in the church at the close of the first century (Eusebius, Church History, 3:32:6). Papias, who lived in the late first and early second centuries, refers to a man named Aristion who apparently was a personal disciple of Jesus and was still alive (Eusebius, Church History, 3:39:4), and he refers to the daughters of Philip (Acts 21:8-9) still being alive in his day (Eusebius, Church History, 3:39:9). Papias probably was a disciple of the apostle John (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5:33:4), and he refers to himself consulting apostles and their disciples (Eusebius, Church History, 3:39:4). Both Papias and Quadratus (Eusebius, Church History, 4:3:2) report that people who had personally been raised from the dead or healed by Jesus lived down to their own time.

There was no silent period of early church history that was so silent as to make skeptical theories of the origin of Christianity credible. We know a significant amount about what was happening during the closing decades of the first century. The church was being led by men like the apostle John, Jesus' cousin Symeon, Papias, and Polycarp. Any view of Christianity that involves radical doctrinal changes in the closing decades of the first century, or involves a large percentage of the New Testament books being written pseudonymously or anonymously at that time, for example, is unlikely to be true.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

How Apathetic Were the Early Opponents of Christianity?

The arguments of the early opponents of Christianity are weak, and they sometimes corroborate significant claims made by the early Christians. For example, the early Jewish opponents of Christianity acknowledge Jesus' performance of apparent miracles and His empty tomb (Matthew 28:11-15; Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 108; Tertullian, On Spectacles, 30), and they either acknowledged or tried to avoid discussing Jesus' fulfillment of Micah's Bethlehem prophecy (Origen, Against Celsus, 1:51). As a result, critics of Christianity often suggest that not only were the early Christians highly undiscerning and careless, but so were the early opponents of Christianity. Supposedly, Christianity could have been refuted, but wasn't, because the early opponents of the faith didn't have the means and/or desire to do so.

There can be no reasonable denial of the fact that there were means to refute Christianity in its earliest generations, if its claims were false. Eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles would have been alive throughout the first century and well into the second century. Polycarp, for example, a disciple of multiple apostles, lived into the second half of the second century. Genealogical records, which would be relevant to Jesus' alleged Davidic descent, are known to have still been accessible at least several decades after Jesus' death. Other documents, including documents no longer extant, also would have been available. Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate probably would have produced some documents surrounding Jesus’ execution, and Luke knows of “many” accounts of Jesus’ life circulating (Luke 1:1). The gospel accounts of Jesus’ enemies looking into His background, asking Him questions, and trying to find witnesses against Him are both logical and consistent with what we know from ancient Jewish sources about how perceived false teachers were treated. Given the nature of the claims being made by the early Christians, including many public events witnessed by many people, the religion would have been refutable at significant points if it was false.

Considering their ability to refute Christianity if Christianity was fundamentally untrue, did the early opponents of the religion have much of a desire to refute it? Or were they more apathetic?

Nobody would deny that Christianity, being a Jewish religion, would initially have been unheard of in many Gentile regions of the world and would initially have been of less concern to Gentiles than to Jews. But what about the early Jewish opponents of the faith?

We can go to the Founder of Christianity and ask how He was treated. He was repeatedly and publicly opposed by the leaders of the nation, to the point of having Him tortured and crucified. That sort of response doesn't suggest apathy. Paul was a persecutor of the early Christians, and the book of Acts gives many other examples of extensive Jewish efforts to oppose the religion, with some Gentile assistance along the way. Stephen was stoned to death. James, son of Zebedee, was beheaded. The Jewish historian Josephus writes of James, the brother of Jesus, being murdered. The Roman historians Suetonius and Tacitus write of Christian persecution under the emperor Nero. Paul writes of Christian persecution as if it was a widespread and ongoing issue (2 Corinthians 11:23-33, 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16), as does Peter (1 Peter 2:12, 4:12-19). Paul and John write letters from prison, Paul is beheaded, Peter is crucified, Ignatius is given to wild beasts, etc.

Many Jewish arguments against Christianity are handed down from generation to generation, as we see in the New Testament, Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho, Origen's Against Celsus (Celsus was a Gentile with Jewish sources), the Talmud, etc. Ignatius, writing early in the second century, refers to disputes he had with (apparently) Jewish opponents of Christianity (Letter to the Philadelphians, 8), and it's reasonable to conclude that such disputes were occurring frequently both before Ignatius' time and afterward, as we see reflected in Matthew's gospel and Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho, for example. Justin refers to how the Jewish opponents of Christianity "have sent chosen and ordained men throughout all the world" to argue against the faith (Dialogue with Trypho, 108). All of these facts, as well as others that could be cited, suggest that the early Jewish opponents of Christianity were far from apathetic about the religion.

What was the size of Christianity at this point in time? Christians would have been only a small percentage of the population early on, but nobody knows just how small. Some of the best indicators we have suggest a size significant enough to warrant a lot of attention from the Jewish leadership. Luke, who is demonstrably reliable on historical matters, cites thousands of converts in the book of Acts and refers to "a great many" of the priests converting (Acts 6:7).

Critics often try to undermine Luke's testimony in a number of ways. They'll suggest, for example, that ancient authors sometimes used numbers in symbolic or deliberately exaggerated ways. Thus, when Luke refers to three thousand converts at Pentecost, for example, he might not mean that there literally were three thousand. But a literal three thousand isn't unreasonable, as Ben Witherington explains:

"In the first place, the population of Jerusalem at feast time was quite large, perhaps even as high as 180,000 to 200,000, and interestingly enough careful estimates have shown that the temple precincts could even accommodate such a huge crowd. In the second place if there was even close to such numbers in the temple area, 3,000 would have been a distinct minority of the crowd....This [conversion of 3000 people] no doubt would have drawn the attention of the Jewish authorities rather rapidly, as Acts 3 shows." (The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1998], p. 156)

Furthermore, the fact that ancient sources sometimes used numbers in a less literal manner doesn't justify assuming a less literal usage every time we encounter a number in an ancient source. We have to have a reason for thinking that a number is less literal. When the gospels refer to Jesus having twelve disciples, are we to assume that He actually had fifty-eight disciples? Or when Paul refers to going to Jerusalem after fourteen years (Galatians 2:1), should we think that he actually went there after two years? We can't just assume that every number used in every context in an ancient source can be dismissed as non-literal. We know from comparing Luke's work to that of Josephus, for example, that Luke was more careful with numbers, so we have good reason to trust him.

Another passage in Acts that's often criticized is 21:20. It's suggested that there couldn't have been so many Christians in Jerusalem at the time. But the passage doesn't limit its description to Jerusalem. The fact that the person speaking was in Jerusalem at the time doesn't logically lead to the conclusion that he's speaking with Paul about people in Jerusalem and nowhere else.

We have no good reason to doubt Luke's numbers. We have many good reasons to believe them.

Early in the second century, the Christian author Aristides would address the following comment to the Roman emperor:

"This is clear to you, O King, that there are four classes of men in this world:--Barbarians and Greeks, Jews and Christians." (Apology, 2)

Thus, Aristides not only considers Christians one of four distinct classes of men, but also expects the emperor to recognize them as such.

Apparently, the account of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem was so well known in the early second century that not only was the Roman emperor aware of the birthplace, but he also was aware of the specific location of the cave within Bethlehem. Early in the second century, the emperor Hadrian planted a grove of trees in honor of the god Adonis at the location of Jesus' birthplace, as a deliberate insult to Christianity:

"Both Jerome and Paulinus of Nola provide evidence that the cave in Bethlehem, under the present Church of the Nativity, was identified as the birthplace [of Jesus] before the time of [the Roman emperor] Hadrian - thus almost into the first century. Hadrian (117-38) marked the site by planting a grove of trees there in honor of the Roman god Adonis." (John McRay, Archaeology & the New Testament [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 2003], p. 156)

It doesn't seem that the early opponents of Christianity were particularly apathetic about the religion. Some people would have been somewhat apathetic, and some wouldn't have even heard of Christ. But there wasn't nearly enough apathy to make skeptical theories about the origin of Christianity plausible. The nature of the early anti-Christian arguments suggests that there wasn't much apathy. Why refer to Jesus performing His miracles by the power of Satan if not many people were paying much attention to Christianity early on and thus people weren't confident that He performed any miracles to begin with? Or why refer to Jesus' tomb being empty because His disciples stole the body if not much attention was being given to Christianity and thus nobody knew whether the tomb was actually empty? Why not just respond to the Christian claim of an empty tomb by saying that nobody knew whether there was such a tomb or by saying that nobody knew whether Jesus' body was ever there? The fact that the Jewish authorities acknowledged the tomb's existence and its being empty after Jesus' body was placed there suggests that they had reliable evidence to that effect.

The best explanation for the weakness of the early arguments against Christianity is that a stronger case wasn't possible. The basic facts being asserted by the early Christians were true.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Supposed Gullibility of Ancient People

Critics of Christianity often suggest that we can't have much confidence in the claims of the early Christians or ancient sources in general, since they were so ignorant and undiscerning. Online skeptics use this sort of argumentation a lot. Richard Carrier, for example, has made some use of it. (See Glenn Miller's response and J.P. Holding's.) The argument is so common that J.P. Holding has referred to a general skeptical principle of APAS (Ancient People Are Stupid).

Of course, different critics will use this argument to differing degrees. Some will only use it to a relatively small extent, reminding us that many undiscerning people lived in the past and that past generations didn't know some things that we know today and didn't have some of the advantages we have. If the argument is only carried that far, it's reasonable, but many critics carry it much further. Some critics will even go so far as to suggest that hundreds of miracles could be reported in the New Testament, even by alleged eyewitnesses, with little or no investigation of the claims attempted by Christians or their opponents.

This suggestion that there was little or no concern for evidence in the ancient world not only runs contrary to modern human experience, but also runs contrary to some widespread themes we see throughout the Bible. What is prophecy, for example, if not a form of verifiable evidence (Isaiah 44:6-8)? The concept of apostleship involves the value of eyewitness testimony (Acts 1:22, 1 Corinthians 9:1), and the New Testament authors repeatedly emphasize the significance of the testimony of eyewitnesses (Hebrews 2:3, 2 Peter 1:16, 1 John 1:1).

We also ought to ask how much relevance this issue of gullibility has. A highly gullible person might accept a third-hand report that he shouldn't have accepted, but how much discernment is needed to know whether you saw a man walking on water or spoke with a man who had risen from the dead? Some of the claims about gullibility among the early Christians go beyond general gullibility. They would require a high degree of delusion, even the occurrence of multiple hallucinations or other psychological disorders, sometimes among large groups of people.

Ignorance, misinformation, and undiscerning people can be found in any age. In our age of science, technology, and medicine, billions of people believe in reincarnation, worship animals, trust horoscopes, and vote for Bill Clinton. Should future generations conclude that they can't have much confidence in twenty-first century sources? Should they conclude that they can't know much about the twenty-first century world? If Nancy Reagan consults astrology, should we therefore reject anything she says about conversations she had with Ronald Reagan? Should historians writing about Ronald Reagan ignore his wife's testimony on all subjects because of her lack of discernment on one subject? If an intelligence agency is wrong about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, should we therefore not believe anything else from that source? Since there are so many false claims made in so many places in the modern world, such as on the web and by corrupt governments, should we conclude that nobody can arrive at much confidence in their conclusions about twenty-first century events?

Ancient methods of recording information and sorting through truth claims weren't as advanced as ours. And our methods today aren't as advanced as what will exist in future generations. Ancients did have some advantages over us, though. Many of them probably had better memory skills, given the oral nature of their culture, for example. But we're better off overall. The question is whether the ancient sources are sufficiently reliable, not whether they're as reliable as later generations.

The ancient Christians were aware of concepts such as naturalistic explanations of alleged miracles (Matthew 28:13), the significance of careful investigation (Luke 1:3), eyewitness testimony (2 Peter 1:16), distinguishing between the quality of different miracle claims (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2:31:2), comparing manuscripts (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5:30:1), and corroboration from hostile sources (Origen, Against Celsus, 1:51). Early critics of Christianity, such as Galen and Celsus, criticized Christians for being ignorant and undiscerning, but they also acknowledged that other Christians were more knowledgeable and more discerning. Similarly, though Christians are often accused of being ignorant and undiscerning today, and sometimes rightly so, there are many Christians who are more reasonable. There was a lot of ignorance, misinformation, and lack of discernment among the ancient Christians, but there also was a lot of knowledge, truth, and discernment among them.

The historian Robert Wilken writes:

"Once it is recognized that what Galen says of the Christians could just as well be said of other schools, it must also be said that Christians had already developed a reputation among the Greeks and Romans for appealing to faith. Celsus, another critic of Christianity whom we will consider in the next chapter, complained that Christians sought out uneducated and gullible people because they were unable to give reasons or arguments for their beliefs. They asked people to accept what they said solely on faith (c. Cels. 1.9). What Galen and Celsus said about the Christian movement no doubt fitted the kind of Christianity that most people met with in the cities of the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, precisely at the time that Galen and Celsus were writing against Christian fideism a number of Christian thinkers had begun to revise and correct this view of Christianity. Among the defenders of the reasonableness of the Christian tradition were such early Christian apologists as Justin Martyr and Athenagoras...Though Celsus might make rhetorical points against Christian reliance on faith instead of reason, his more serious arguments assume that Christian thinkers wished to be judged by the same standards as others....The question of the mythological and legendary character of the Gospels did not first arise in modern times. The historical reliability of the accounts of Jesus' life was already an issue for Christian thinkers in the second century....What Porphyry wrote about Daniel [dating it to the second century B.C.] was so revolutionary, and so disturbing to Christian interpreters, that his critics sought to refute him in detail and at length....Pagan critics realized that the Christian claims about Jesus could not be based simply on the unexamined statements of Christians...The question of faith and history, so much a part of modern theological discourse since the Enlightenment, was also a significant part of the debate between pagans and Christians in the ancient world....Christians and pagans met each other on the same turf. No one can read Celsus's True Doctrine and Origen's Contra Celsum and come away with the impression that Celsus, a pagan philosopher, appealed to reason and argument, whereas Origen based his case on faith and authority....Pagan critics realized that the claims of the new movement [Christianity] rested upon a credible historical portrait of Jesus. Christian theologians in the early church, in contrast to medieval thinkers who began their investigations on the basis of what they received from authoritative tradition, were forced to defend the historical claims they made about the person of Jesus. What was said about Jesus could not be based solely on the memory of the Christian community or its own self-understanding....When one observes how much Christians shared with their critics, and how much they learned from them, it is tempting to say that Hellenism laid out the path for Christian thinkers. In fact, one might convincingly argue the reverse. Christianity set a new agenda for philosophers. The distinctive traits of the new religion and the tenacity of Christian apologists in defending their faith opened up new horizons for Greco-Roman culture and breathed new life into the spiritual and intellectual traditions of the ancient world." (The Christians as the Romans Saw Them [New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1984], pp. 77-78, 101, 112, 138, 147, 200-201, 203, 205)

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Three D's and 1 Corinthians 15

I mentioned, in a recent post here, that I've been having some discussions with Jon Curry on Greg Krehbiel's theology board. Curry has renounced Christianity and is now a deist.

He's brought up a lot of arguments, sometimes inconsistently, and I want to post some examples of how untenable those arguments are over the next few days. Curry has raised common objections regarding the lateness of the New Testament documents, the possible carelessness of the early Christians, the possible apathy of Christianity's early enemies, etc.

Today I want to discuss 1 Corinthians 15, a passage that's highly problematic for critics of Christianity, since it runs contrary to so many critical claims about the nature of the evidence. We can summarize three of the most common objections to Christianity with three D's:

- Dated. Are the earliest Christian accounts too late to have sufficient credibility?

- Dishonest. Were the early Christians dishonest, such as in making up miracle accounts?

- Delusional. Were the early Christians too undiscerning to be trusted? Were the resurrection witnesses hallucinating or undergoing a psychological disorder of some other type, for example?

1 Corinthians 15 is significant in that this one passage gives us a lot of evidence against all three of these arguments. Regarding a creed Paul cites in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, Gary Habermas and Michael Licona explain:

"In fact, many critical scholars hold that Paul received it [the creed of 1 Corinthians 15] from the disciples Peter and James while visiting them in Jerusalem three years after his conversion [Galatians 1:18-19]. If so, Paul learned it within five years of Jesus' crucifixion and from the disciples themselves. At minimum, we have source material that dates within two decades of the alleged event of Jesus' resurrection and comes from a source that Paul thought was reliable. Dean John Rodgers of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry comments, 'This is the sort of data that historians of antiquity drool over.'" (The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2004], pp. 52-53)

Though we can attain a lot of data on the resurrection from the gospels and other sources, notice some facts we can establish just from this creed in 1 Corinthians 15 and its immediate context:

1. The testimony to the resurrection is early. The whole spectrum of scholarship, from liberals to conservatives, is in agreement that 1 Corinthians can be dated to within 30 years of Jesus’ death and that the creed in 1 Corinthians 15 can be dated even earlier (1 Corinthians 15:3).

2. The testimony to the resurrection is Jewish. Paul refers to the resurrection occurring “according to the [Jewish] scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:4). Given that the mainstream Jewish view of resurrection at the time Paul was writing involved a resurrection of the same body that went into the grave, it follows that Paul probably held the same view. As he goes on to explain, that which goes into the ground is what comes out in a transformed state (1 Corinthians 15:36-38).

3. The testimony to the resurrection is accepted by people other than the professing eyewitnesses, and is still considered credible decades later (1 Corinthians 15:1).

4. The testimony to the resurrection is from multiple sources. Paul mentions hundreds of people (1 Corinthians 15:5-8).

5. The testimony to the resurrection is detailed. Paul names people and mentions identifiable groups, he mentions witnesses in their chronological order (“then”, “after that”, and “last of all” in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8), and he knows what proportion of the witnesses are still living (1 Corinthians 15:6).

6. The testimony to the resurrection comes from eyewitnesses. Paul was an eyewitness (1 Corinthians 15:8), and other eyewitnesses were giving their testimony (1 Corinthians 15:11).

7. The testimony to the resurrection comes not only from individual experiences, but also from group experiences. Hallucinations are individual experiences, but the apostles saw the risen Jesus together, as did more than 500 people at once (1 Corinthians 15:5-7).

8. The testimony to the resurrection doesn’t just come from people who were already believers when they saw the risen Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:9).

9. The testimony to the resurrection is given realistically. Paul understood the significance of what he was asserting (“of first importance” in 1 Corinthians 15:3 and 1 Corinthians 15:14-19).

10. The testimony to the resurrection was given by people willing to suffer for what they were testifying to (1 Corinthians 15:30-32).

11. The testimony to the resurrection is continually updated, even decades after it originated. Even about two to three decades after the resurrection occurred, Paul was following the lives of the other resurrection witnesses so closely that he knew that a majority of the more than 500 people he mentions were still living, though some had died (1 Corinthians 5:6). Apparently, Paul was being careful with the data he was citing and was continually thinking about it and rethinking it. He wasn’t being careless.

12. The testimony to the resurrection is unified. Whatever false views non-leaders in the early church may have adopted, the leaders of the church, including Jesus’ closest disciples, were agreed in what they were teaching on the subject (1 Corinthians 15:11).

All of these facts and others can also be derived from other early Christian sources. But even from 1 Corinthians alone, especially chapter 15, a document that both liberals and conservatives accept as early and as written by Paul, we can dismiss many popular arguments against the traditional Christian view of Jesus’ resurrection. The claim that the resurrection belief came from unhistorical legends that gradually developed over time is refuted by the earliness of 1 Corinthians and the creed of 1 Corinthians 15. The theory that the witnesses of the risen Christ were hallucinating is contradicted by the realism and carefulness of Paul’s testimony and the fact that Jesus sometimes appeared to multiple people at once. Other skeptical theories likewise can’t survive the scrutiny of this one passage, much less the combined scrutiny of all of the evidence.

Michael Brown

I heard Michael Brown interviewed on the radio today. He's a convert to Christianity from Judaism. He's here in the Pittsburgh area for some speaking engagements, and he'll be debating the Jewish rabbi Shmuley Boteach tomorrow. I don't agree with all of Brown's theology and his past involvement in the Brownsville Revival, but he's produced a lot of good material in response to Judaism, and his treatment of the Messianic prophecies is among the best I've seen on a popular level. He's also a good writer. I highly recommend his series Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books), especially Volume 3.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Through Faith They Still Speak (9/18/05)

"If, however, we cannot discover explanations of all those things in Scripture which are made the subject of investigation, yet let us not on that account seek after any other God besides Him who really exists. For this is the very greatest impiety. We should leave things of that nature to God who created us, being most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit; but we, inasmuch as we are inferior to, and later in existence than, the Word of God and His Spirit, are on that very account destitute of the knowledge of His mysteries....all Scripture, which has been given to us by God, shall be found by us perfectly consistent; and the parables shall harmonize with those passages which are perfectly plain; and those statements the meaning of which is clear, shall serve to explain the parables; and through the many diversified utterances of Scripture there shall be heard one harmonious melody in us, praising in hymns that God who created all things. If, for instance, any one asks, 'What was God doing before He made the world?' we reply that the answer to such a question lies with God Himself. For that this world was formed perfect by God, receiving a beginning in time, the Scriptures teach us; but no Scripture reveals to us what God was employed about before this event. The answer therefore to that question remains with God, and it is not proper for us to aim at bringing forward foolish, rash, and blasphemous suppositions in reply to it; so, as by one's imagining that he has discovered the origin of matter, he should in reality set aside God Himself who made all things." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2:28:2-3)

A Pathetic Look at a Pathetic Industry

Today's New York Times has a disturbing story on abortion. Some of the comments from the women having abortions and the abortion providers are remarkably ridiculous, as are some of the statistics and the laws described. Here are some portions of the article:

In a pre-operation holding room, Alicia, 17, awaited an abortion for which her parents were not asked permission. Under Arkansas law, as in 33 of the 34 states that require parental consent or notification, juveniles can bypass their parents if they persuade a judge that they are mature enough to make the decision themselves, or that it might be in their best interest....

Getting a judicial bypass was not difficult, she said. The clinic scheduled her appointment early in the morning, and after taking a pregnancy test, for which she paid $200, she met with a judge briefly in his chambers.

"If you go to the judge and say, 'I'm afraid to tell my parents because they might harm me,' that's all you need to say," said Dr. Tom Tvedten, who has been performing abortions in Arkansas for 20 years, and now works part time at the Little Rock clinic. "It doesn't have to be true, because how would anybody know?"...

Nationally, 1,819 facilities provided abortions in 2000, down from a high of 2,908 in 1982, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Dr. Edwards, 63, said he felt an obligation to stay in business. "If we retired, I'm not sure anybody else would come to Arkansas and practice," he said. "We can't get residents from the hospital to come over and see what an abortion is like." Threats against abortion clinics are on the decline, in part because of sterner laws to protect clinics. But picketing has remained steady, at 80 percent of clinics....

Doctors can perform abortions as early as eight days after conception, and 59 percent of women having abortions do so within eight weeks, according to 2001 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fewer than 1 percent have abortions after 20 weeks....

Ebony, 28, an operating room supervisor, rinsed the blood off the aborted tissues for Dr. Edwards to examine. Ebony, too, had a story. When she was 15, her aunt and grandmother had made her carry her pregnancy to term. Later, she had an abortion. As a Baptist, she still considered abortion a sin - but so are a lot of things we all do, she said. She squeezed Regina's hand.

"No problem, sweetie," Ebony said. "We've all been there."

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Sands of Time are Sinking

This article is an illustration of a larger problem. What it says about homosexual marriage could be repeated with regard to Trinitarian doctrine, justification, apologetics, church history, and many other issues. Pastors need to stop feeding their congregations so much baby food. There's a reason why Paul wrote about the full armor of God rather than the full pajamas of God. Maybe the most significant part of the article is this:

"McGuire doubts that Christians today would consider as faithful pastors [those] who remained silent about slavery or stood by silently as Adolf Hitler came to power and began murdering Jews."

What we do today will be history tomorrow. If you want to know what it was like to live in America under slavery or in Germany under Hitler, it was like what you're experiencing today. Pastors and their congregations need to have more of a sense of urgency and need to attempt to accomplish greater things, including things that are impossible without God. Stop giving out baby food and setting low expectations.

Through Faith They Still Speak (9/17/05)

"if you have done so because you imagined that you could throw doubt on the passage, in order that I might say the Scriptures contradicted each other, you have erred. But I shall not venture to suppose or to say such a thing; and if a Scripture which appears to be of such a kind be brought forward, and if there be a pretext for saying that it is contrary to some other, since I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another, I shall admit rather that I do not understand what is recorded, and shall strive to persuade those who imagine that the Scriptures are contradictory, to be rather of the same opinion as myself." (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 65)

Since Massachusetts Hasn't Crumbled to the Ground and Fallen Into the Atlantic Ocean, I Think I'll Change My Position on Homosexual Marriage

One of the themes we see repeated often in scripture, particularly the Old Testament, is the concept that the consequences of sin don't always arrive immediately after the sin is committed. The people of Israel were often rebuked for reasoning that they had avoided judgment because judgment didn't occur quickly. Apparently, the New York Times is slow in learning this lesson as well:

There's nothing like a touch of real-world experience to inject some reason into the inflammatory national debate over gay marriages. Take Massachusetts, where the state's highest court held in late 2003 that under the State Constitution, same-sex couples have a right to marry. The State Legislature moved to undo that decision last year by approving a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages and create civil unions as an alternative. But this year, when precisely the same measure came up for a required second vote, it was defeated by a thumping margin of 157 to 39.

The main reason for the flip-flop is that some 6,600 same-sex couples have married over the past year with nary a sign of adverse effects. The sanctity of heterosexual marriages has not been destroyed. Public morals have not gone into a tailspin. Legislators who supported gay marriage in last year's vote have been re-elected....

As a Republican leader explained in justifying his vote switch: "Gay marriage has begun, and life has not changed for the citizens of the commonwealth, with the exception of those who can now marry who could not before." A Democrat attributed his change of heart to the beneficial effects he saw "when I looked in the eyes of the children living with these couples." Gay marriage, it turned out, is good for family values.

I don't know of any opponent of homosexual marriage who expected the sanctity of heterosexual marriage to be "destroyed" and public morals in general to be in a "tailspin" so soon after legalizing homosexual marriage. When divorce occurs in a home, we don't conclude that the divorce must have had few or no negative consequences because there isn't "destruction" and a "tailspin" within a year or two of the divorce.

We have logical reasons to expect negative results to homosexual marriage. We have experiential reasons to expect negative results, given what's happened in other nations. And we have reason to expect negative results from revelation, namely the Jewish and Christian scriptures. Does the New York Times' editorial overturn any of these three lines of evidence? No. Does a year or two in Massachusetts without "destruction" and "tailspin" overturn any of these three arguments? No.

The Times quotes a Democratic legislator commenting on what he supposedly saw in the eyes of children who were living with homosexual couples. Yes, the New York Times has a firm grasp on objective and convincing argumentation. They'd probably see the same look in the children's eyes if they gave them candy to eat for breakfast or let them watch television all day rather than going to school.

What the Times and these Massachusetts legislators need to do is interact with the arguments actually being made by opponents of homosexual marriage, interact with the sort of data we see from homosexual marriage in the Netherlands, for example, and interact with the Biblical data, including the evidence we have for the reliability of the Bible. Judged by those standards, today's New York Times editorial is weak, unconvincing, and embarrassing.

Friday, September 16, 2005


Barna recently released a study on churches' use of technology.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a study that found an increased acceptance of bisexuality among women.

Intelligent design has been in the news a lot lately, and here's a page at the Discovery Institute's web site that has audio and video files of that organization's media appearances. And here's a page with an archive of William Dembski's recent appearance on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show.

President Bush called for a national day of prayer Friday, and he attended an event at the National Cathedral in Washington:

"The interfaith service included prayers or scripture reading from clergy representing a variety of religious groups, including evangelical, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim." (Baptist Press)

There doesn't seem to have been much concern for pleasing God, but men were pleased:

"Members of the congregation called the service an appropriate way to honor hurricane victims....Despite their distance from the center of the disaster, they said the prayer service was an important step in focusing the nation on the work ahead." (The Dallas Morning News)

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Don't Do It

Whatever you do, don't click on this link.

Monday, September 12, 2005

You never know who you're quoting

As I mentioned immediately upon return from my hiatus, my blogging will be very sporadic going forward. Jason has been kind enough to contribute to the blog on an ongoing basis, both on the weekends and (now) during the week. I have noticed on a couple of occasions that someone has quoted one of Jason's blogs but attributed the quote to me. If you're going to quote the blog, please note the signature line at the end of the post to see which one of us wrote it. I have come to expect that certain types will rail against me for things I write. But I expect them at the very least to make sure it was I who wrote it.

Pray for Jon Curry

For those who haven't heard, Jon Curry, who used to post on the NTRM message boards, is doubting Christianity, and he now refers to himself as a deist. He posted a message on the subject on Greg Krehbiel's message board, and I and others have responded to him there. Please pray for him.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Through Faith They Still Speak (9/11/05)

"So firm is the ground upon which these Gospels rest, that the very heretics themselves bear witness to them, and, starting from these documents, each one of them endeavours to establish his own peculiar doctrine." (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:11:7)

The Christmas Criticism Season Has Arrived

Christmas comes only once a year, but media criticism of the Bible's infancy narratives lasts longer than the Christmas season. It's only the middle of September, and the misinformation is already underway.

This upcoming Wednesday, the National Geographic Channel will be running a program titled "Science of the Bible", and we read the following in a description of the program at their web site:

"But only two of the four gospels in the Bible provide an account of Jesus’ birth and a closer look at them reveals some surprising inconsistencies."

While the National Geographic Channel is "surprised", none of this is new to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Their periodical, The Tidings, recently ran a story on this National Geographic Channel program. We read the following about this publication:

"The Tidings is the weekly newspaper of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. The Los Angeles Archdiocese covers Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties in the state of California. A total of four million Catholics reside in the area, making the Los Angeles Archdiocese the largest archdiocese in the United States. Begun in 1895, The Tidings is the only weekly Catholic newspaper in Southern California, and is the oldest continuously published Catholic newspaper on the West Coast of America."

Here's what this newspaper of the one true and infallible church founded by Jesus Christ tells us about the National Geographic Channel program on the birth of Jesus:

This does not, of course, undermine the reality of the Bible as the divinely inspired Word of God. The series doesn't even touch on that part of our understanding of sacred scripture. It's looking for facts, which are not the same as truth. And the fact is that what the scholars and archaeologists find doesn't mesh with what St. Matthew and St. Luke wrote about the birth of Jesus, the subject of the first episode. Of course, as the program points out, the accounts that St. Matthew and St. Luke wrote don't really agree with each other either.

For example, if you place the date of Jesus' birth according to what St. Matthew wrote, Our Lord was born in 6 B.C., right before the death of King Herod. If you place the date of Jesus' birth according to what St. Luke wrote, Jesus was born 10 years later. One of the points made is that both St. Matthew and St. Luke were writing almost 90 years after Jesus was born. Because of the fall of Jerusalem and the fact that most of the eye-witnesses were dying off, it would have been very hard for them to get a clear picture of what actually transpired. What it doesn't mention (and possibly should have) is that in those days, history was written to make a point, not necessarily to tell the facts....

The film is respectful and uses knowledgeable sources, including Dr. Daniel Smith-Christopher, of Loyola Marymount University and perennial Religious Education Congress speaker. Where it works best, however, is in its recreations of how scholars think the birth of Jesus might have come about, and the basic finding is that it was probably a pretty ordinary event overall....

So even though it questions the factual accuracy of the Gospel narratives, oddly enough, by stripping away the extraneous elements of those stories, the program gets to the heart of what the narratives are all about -- the humble birth of a child who would change the world.

Later this year, I'm going to be doing a lot of segments on issues related to Christmas in my Apologetics Log series on the NTRM Areopagus forum. I'll go into much more detail there, but I'll make a few general comments here.

The gospels were intended to record history. They're Greco-Roman biographies. They have the characteristics that allow us to reach that conclusion. They were interpreted as historical accounts by the earliest Christian interpreters. They were interpreted as historical accounts by the earliest non-Christian interpreters as well. I think that a writer addressing the Bible for a publication of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles ought to know more about the genre of the gospels.

And I'd like to know where this writer, Anne Louise Bannon, gets the concept that we can date Jesus' birth in Matthew at 6 B.C. and His birth in Luke ten years later. There are multiple years that are plausible for both gospels, and the timing of Luke's census has multiple plausible dates.

Bannon's late dating of the gospels is unlikely to be true, and her reference to eyewitnesses "dying off" doesn't support the conclusion she associates with it. If some eyewitnesses with relevant information were still alive, as they surely would have been during the earliest decades of church history, then eyewitness testimony was a factor. Adding the qualifier that they were "dying off" does nothing to change the fact that people were available. And questions about Jesus' background would have been asked before even Jesus Himself had died. Jesus probably discussed such issues with His disciples and other people. The issue here shouldn't just be eyewitness testimony. A man like Jesus' brother James, who was bishop of Jerusalem into the 60s, probably would have significant and reliable information, and so might many other people, such as Jesus' cousin Symeon, who apparently lived even beyond the late date of the gospels suggested by liberal scholarship. Hostile witnesses would have been available as well, and some of the events of the infancy narratives were of a highly public nature.

There are many reasons to trust the infancy narratives, and I'll be going into more detail later this year (here and in the Apologetics Log series). But it would be good if liberal academia and the liberal media weren't being assisted by proponents of the one true and infallible church founded by Jesus Christ.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Another Look at Jonathan Prejean's Errors

Jonathan Prejean repeatedly loses his temper and refers to how he's finished arguing with his Evangelical critics, only to go on to continue arguing with them, sometimes later that same day. He doesn't seem to have much concern for being careful with his words or for being consistent. In a thread on Pedantic Protestant's blog earlier today, Prejean wrote to me:

"You asked for it, kid. I was going to spare you since I had already taken down your boss."

Now, the reader should keep the context of these exchanges in mind. Prejean is responding to my mentioning of some of his many errors, such as his false claims about Galatians, Clement of Rome, and Papias. I also discussed his failure to make a case for Roman Catholicism and the unconvincing nature of his appeal to allegorical scripture interpretations, for example. The reader may recall that it was after discussions with Steve Hays and me that Prejean began his off-and-on "retirements" of recent days. Those discussions didn't go well for Prejean, and now we're seeing, once again, how upset he is.

So, when we go to the latest post Prejean links us to, on Greg Krehbiel's board, what do we see? More of Prejean's irrationality, double standards, and short temper. He begins with the title "Lowering the Boom on Boy Engwer", which goes well with the atmosphere in which he's writing. And it gets worse from there. After repeatedly telling us that he would no longer respond to us, and after repeatedly breaking his word, Prejean once again writes:

"You dishonest, conniving lowlives don't deserve any more of my time, and I refuse to give it to you."

He's "retiring" again!

But that's near the end of his post. At the beginning of the post, he starts with his usual arbitrariness and double standards:

"You see, despite some pretty decent familiarity with the basic works out there, I had never heard of any reputable scholar recently holding out Clement as teaching justification by faith alone, nor the Epistle to Diognetus, so I knew you were must just be basing it on your own personal opinion about what the text meant, rather than any reliable scholarship that would actually know about the social context sufficiently to give an informed interpretation."

Let's note a few things:

1.) Last year, on the Catholic Answers boards, Prejean said that he didn't even know whether there are any Evangelical patristic scholars. And just within the last several weeks at Greg Krehbiel's board, he said that he didn't know whether there are any Baptist patristic scholars. Yet, now he claims that he has "some pretty decent familiarity with the basic works out there", and he goes on to cite the Baptist patristic scholar D.H. Williams (more on that later).

2.) Prejean uses the qualifier "recently", probably because he knows that I've cited Philip Schaff on this subject in the past. Is Prejean suggesting that some radical change has occurred in our understanding of Clement of Rome's beliefs about justification within recent decades, so that previous scholars can't be cited on this subject? If so, then why didn't Prejean raise that objection in response to my mentioning of Schaff in prior discussions? Why does this "recently" qualifier appear only now? And what's the logic behind it?

3.) I don't claim that I must consult a patristic scholar before being confident about a conclusion regarding what a church father wrote. Even if I hadn't cited Schaff or anybody else, I would still have significant evidence to go by from the text itself and from my knowledge of the social context from other sources. Consulting scholars is good, but objecting that I haven't cited a scholar (though I have in this case) wouldn't, by itself, refute my argument.

4.) Prejean isn't consistent with his own professed standard. When he and I were discussing Clement of Rome in January of this year, at his blog (he allowed comments at his blog at that point in time), Prejean repeatedly made claims about Clement without citing a single patristic scholar to support his conclusions. At one point, Prejean even argued that the chapter titles were written by Clement, a concept he couldn't have gotten from any patristic scholar, since no patristic scholar agreed with Prejean on that issue. So, if Prejean repeatedly interprets Clement without consulting patristic scholars, why would he demand that I not only cite scholars for my interpretations, but also that I only cite recent scholars? How many times now have we seen Prejean engage in such double standards?

Prejean goes on to discuss the patristic scholar D.H. Williams:

"So I grabbed D.H. Williams, being a Baptist patristics scholar whom you supposedly respect, to see what he had to say. So I'm reading along in Evangelicals and Tradition (2005), get to page 130 in the section on justification and the early tradition, and Williams recaps the sort of standard view that the early church fathers were relatively careless on justification and that they didn't really stick to Pauline theology carefully: 'One is reminded of T.F. Torrance's verdict against Clement and the apostolic fathers, charging them directly with contradicting Paul and teaching a theology of 'works.''"

Before I proceed to interact with something Prejean goes on to say, let me note the contradiction between what these patristic scholars are saying and what Prejean is telling us. Remember, Prejean has argued in the past that my interpretation of the Biblical teaching on justification isn't credible without patristic support for it. Yet, here we see Prejean himself quoting patristic scholars who think it's plausible to conclude that the fathers contradicted the Biblical doctrine. And, of course, many Biblical scholars agree with my view of what the Bible teaches. So, if there's scholarly support for my view of the Bible's teaching and for my view of the plausibility of the church fathers' erring, then will Prejean acknowledge that I hold views on those subjects that are supported by credible scholarship?

But I do think that justification through faith alone is found in some patristic sources, and I gave Prejean examples, including scholars commenting on the subject, in previous discussions with him (at his blog and on Greg Krehbiel's board). I don't own the book by D.H. Williams that Prejean is quoting, but he (Prejean) goes on to write:

"This is YOUR OWN GUY, a BAPTIST whom you supposedly respect who flat out says that your argument isn't accurate, and you didn't even have the good sense to consult him before you published slanderous attacks on people you ought to consider Christians. That is so low, so despicable, that you don't even deserve the honor of me rebuking you."

First of all, let's get the timing straight, since Prejean seems to be too angry to think reasonably about such issues. Judging from the information at, it looks like Williams' book came out in June of this year. When did my original discussion with Prejean (regarding Clement of Rome) occur? This past January. It would be difficult for me to have consulted a book that wasn't out yet.

Besides, Williams isn't the only patristic scholar, nor is he the only baptistic patristic scholar, nor have I argued that I must cite patristic scholars in order for my conclusions to have any credibility. And see my comments above regarding Prejean's failure to be consistent with his own professed standards here.

I don't know whether Prejean is representing Williams accurately. I expect to get to his book eventually, but I haven't yet. Regardless, my view of the Biblical doctrine of justification has been supported by credible Biblical scholars, my view of Clement of Rome and other church fathers has been supported by credible patristic scholars, and even some scholars who allegedly disagree with me on Clement (D.H. Williams, for example) agree with me about the Biblical teaching and the plausibility of the concept that church fathers erred on this subject. And I've discussed the text of First Clement with Prejean at length. I've also discussed other patristic passages on this subject with him.

Regarding Papias and Eusebius, Prejean writes:

"Between that and and you not even realizing that my argument about Papias and Eusebius was actually *right* because you were too dense to follow the argument (and BTW, Nevski is chomping at the bit to excoriate you about that on Crowhill, so if you are so brave, show it there), I figured that you were probably just that dumb."

It doesn't make sense for Prejean to now claim that he was right about Papias and Eusebius, since he previously had argued that his errors were only minor. If the errors were minor, they would still be errors. But now Prejean is saying that he was right. Which is it? He can't reconcile his self-contradiction by saying that he was right on one primary issue while being wrong on lesser details, since I didn't say that I was limiting my comments on his errors to whatever he considered to be his primary point. If Prejean erred, he erred. Saying that it was on less important issues is a qualifier he can make if he wants to, but it doesn't change the fact that he erred. Besides, one of the points on which Prejean erred can't rationally be dismissed as minor. It was central to his argument.

Let's look at what Prejean originally claimed about Papias. Here's what he said this past January:

"In the particular case of Papias, we actually have records from Eusebius of his having been influenced by spurious literature that he believed to be of apostolic origin. IOW, it seems unlikely that his opinions stemmed from John himself, but rather by interpreting what John had written in light of the spurious literature."

Notice what Prejean is trying to do here. He's trying to explain how Papias could have been wrong about premillennialism. According to Prejean, Papias was wrong because he was relying on spurious literature. Prejean uses the term "literature" twice. And if Prejean could prove that Papias did derive his premillennialism from spurious literature, that would indeed be a good explanation of how Papias allegedly erred.

But when we go to what Eusebius wrote about Papias, there's no mention of spurious literature. Prejean was wrong. And, despite his frequent demand that his opponents cite patristic scholars agreeing with their beliefs, Prejean made his original claims about Papias and Eusebius without citing a single patristic scholar.

Prejean later acknowledged that Eusebius doesn't refer to any spurious literature. But once he realized that his original argument was wrong, Prejean replaced it with another wrong argument. In a discussion on Greg Krehbiel's board, Prejean told us that Eusebius refers to the elder John (somebody Papias consulted) "making up" premillennialism. But when you read what Eusebius actually wrote, he says nothing about the elder John making up premillennialism. And, once again, Prejean cited no patristic scholars in support of his assertion.

The reality is that Prejean made a series of false claims about Papias and Eusebius in multiple discussions in multiple forums, spanning several months of time. And his latest argument on the issue, namely saying that he agrees with Eusebius' speculation that Papias misinterpreted the apostle John, does nothing to make a convincing case for Papias' being in error. Eusebius was two centuries removed from Papias, and other early patristic sources agree with Papias' premillennialism. Citing the speculations of a source two centuries removed doesn't explain how Papias would have erred. So, not only did Prejean repeatedly make false claims about Papias and Eusebius, but even after getting the facts right, he's still giving us a weak argument.

In closing, let me comment on what Prejean says near the end of his post:

"You dishonest, conniving lowlives don't deserve any more of my time, and I refuse to give it to you."

Haven't we heard this sort of comment from Prejean many times now? I think we can all see how little concern he has for controlling his temper and for keeping his word.

Prejean continues:

"Keep publishing your own ridiculous 'most natural' reading of primary sources without any regard for historical context, even when the best qualified scholars out there consider your interpretation untenable."

Yes, I believe in following the most natural reading of a text. What does Prejean suggest? Following the least natural reading?

Did I ever suggest that I don't have "any regard for historical context"? No. Have I cited scholars agreeing with my conclusions? Yes. Has Prejean been consistent with his own professed standards? No. Has he given us reason to conclude that something in the historical context of Clement of Rome, for example, would refute my interpretation of that source? No.

Finally, Prejean writes:

"Just gotta finish my formal refutation of their idiotic 'you have to use the GHM too!' argument (which won't require any further interaction with them), and their whole castle in the air will have come tumbling back to the ground."

So, Jonathan, why don't you cite for us some scholars who agree with your approach on these issues? Why not name a scholar who agrees with you that the infallibility of the church is "axiomatic", that we should interpret the Bible allegorically because of the use of allegory by Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria, and that allegorical interpretation leads us to Roman Catholicism? I doubt that you can name a single scholar who agrees with you on those three absurd arguments you've put forward, much less all of your other arguments. I, on the other hand, can cite many scholars who agree with my grammatical-historical approach toward scripture and who agree with my conclusions on justification and other significant issues.

While you keep looking for ways to avoid being limited to a grammatical-historical reading of scripture, you still can't give us any coherent and defensible argument for using your allegorical method and thereby arriving at Roman Catholicism. You've written a lot, Jonathan, without saying much.

Through Faith They Still Speak (9/10/05)

"The fact that there are such men confessing themselves to be Christians, and admitting the crucified Jesus to be both Lord and Christ, yet not teaching His doctrines, but those of the spirits of error, causes us who are disciples of the true and pure doctrine of Jesus Christ, to be more faithful and stedfast in the hope announced by Him." (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 35)

Told Ya So

Well, the Crimson ambulance chaser has unceremoniously declined my generous offer to get past his absurd obsession with an Orthodox priest and to move into the ramifications of his paranoid charge of “heresy” against me and other evangelicals regarding our view of Cyril, Ephesus and Nicaea—much of which charge consists of outright lies about our view (makes me wonder what kind of lawyer Prejean is; I can venture a good guess). Prejean used to be somewhat of a reasonable voice amid the chaos of Roman Catholic fundamentalists; but since his recent pummeling by Steve Hays and Jason Engwer (the latter of which he now calls “boy”—a painfully obvious tell-tale sign that he knows he got clobbered and is now desperately trying to salvage some modicum of his lost manhood, due to losing a fight he himself started, by belittling his opponent), he has retreated to hyper-fundamentalism that screams “HERESY!!!” everywhere it looks.

Since Prejean does not want to venture into the ramifications of this (who could blame him?), let me frankly state the reasons he does not want to take it to the next level:

1. Prejean has locked himself into a very specific and very narrow Cyrillene definition of the person and natures of Christ, and senses a need to be just as bombastic about it as “Saint” Cyril himself. Indeed, once you’ve locked yourself into it, no other view—no matter how subtly different—can be allowed to stand. For if there’s a possibility the other view is right, then by extension there is a possibility that your view is (GASP!) wrong! If he can quickly write us off (Presto Chango) as non-Christians, bombastically dismiss us, and degrade us in the eyes of his onlookers, maybe—just maybe—they won’t notice that he’s doing all this in a desperate attempt to take the spotlight off the fact that he was completely demolished recently by those who think more clearly on this issue, and thereby remove himself from the quagmire he’s gotten himself into.

As an aside, it is simply hilarious to watch how Gnostic little Timmy Enloe has become in his agreeing with Prejean about the legitimacy of all his Cyrillene “beaming of propositions back and forth between minds.” I guess “the enemy of my enemy” and all that : )

2. Prejean can now judge whether a view of Christ is heretical only one the basis of his Cyrillene Christology, leaving him absolutely no recourse to Scripture--which is probably better for him since he founders on Scripture. Hence, his charge of heresy is based not on the rock-solid foundation of God’s revelation to man, but rather on highly speculative Neo-Platonist-drenched philosophical musings about who Christ is that go far beyond the biblical record. Prejean’s “authority” for labeling us “heretics” amounts to the “authority” of the Jewish Sanhedrin that opposed the apostles and its own Messiah. Scripture is the sole ultimate authority on this matter; how could it be otherwise? As I have repeatedly pointed out, no one on earth knows how the person and natures of Christ come together. No one.

3. Even if Prejean had not locked himself in to his position, he would never want to allow this issue to venture into the area of biblical revelation. Why? As I've already mentioned, Prejean does not know Scripture. He is incompetent with it. He is afraid to evaluate this issue by that standard because he knows his views would easily be put down. I found it amusing to read at least one of Prejean’s recent cronies actually admit that the reason he became Roman Catholic is because all of this Christology stuff was just to confusing to sort out for himself! Imagine that! “I can’t sort out; and I can’t tell which position is the right one; But amazingly enough, I can somehow tell you which entity believes the right view. So I’ll just take a blind leap in the dark and let this entity figure it out for me. Never mind that I could never be sure whether the entity to which I’ve entrusted my soul is any less confused about it!" That, my friends, is precisely the reason why we cannot follow philosophical speculations about God that go beyond Scripture. If the poor soul I just referenced would have limited his speculation to what the biblical writers actually tell us, then concerns about which view is right would never have entered his mind in the first place.

4. Everyone should be aware that Prejean is being spoon-fed the points he is making from one of his cronies. Prejean himself has no background in this area, no training in it; and as I mentioned in my last post, until six months ago he was not even aware that most patristic scholars believe Cyril was a closet Monophysite, that Nestorius was orthodox by Chalcedonian standards, and that Ephesus and Chalcedon advanced different Christological views. Here’s how Prejean responded:
Nope. I admitted that it was ‘somewhat doubtful’ whether Nestorius personally was Nestorian and that some scholars have made the argument (albeit pretty convincingly discredited by recent scholarship) that St. Cyril was a monophysite.
Yes this is what he admitted; but only after he had charged Nestorius with heresy and only after I had to correct him! Read the interaction yourself in the side bar of this blog (see under Historical Theology). I had to correct him on his uninformed view several times, and he wrote the statement above as a measure to save face and not to appear as uninformed as he actually is on this issue! He knew nothing about this issue just six months ago. And now he is running around the Internet pretending to be a well-informed patristic scholar. How someone accomplishes that in just six months is beyond me. Well, not really; as I said, he’s being spoon fed this information, and he's been arguing someone else’s views, not his own. I rather doubt that Prejean even understands half the points he makes—which explains why he has had to retreat so many times in his encounters with evangelicals with whom he picks fights. Frankly, he’s just not that bright.

Steve Hays’ latest blog entry is well worth reading in this regard.

Mass Hallucinations After the Death of a Non-Existent Jesus

David Wood recently posted a review of Richard Carrier's new book Sense and Goodness Without God. Wood's review is lengthy, but worth reading. It's titled "Good 'n' Senseless Without God", and here are some portions of it:

...the book seems less like an atheist apologetic and more like a venue for Richard to state his opinions about nearly everything.

Richard’s digressions become most unbearable when he clearly has no idea what he’s talking about. For instance, he maintains that the government should abolish income tax, for it is “a major public evil.” The amazing thing is that he goes on to propose all sorts of acts and reforms that would be impossible to pay for even now, let alone after we have abolished an enormous source of revenue....

Richard’s economic theory is only missing one thing. I suggest that the government should give a billion dollars to each and every person on the planet. That way everyone would be rich. It would be simple really, since the government can print as much money as it likes....

Many theists would accuse Richard of being too skeptical; I would argue that he isn’t really a skeptic. Whereas a true skeptic casts a doubting eye on everything improbable, Richard only applies his skepticism to the views of his opponents. Like most atheists, he is utterly incredulous when it comes to the supernatural, but completely gullible when it comes to the natural....

At times Richard even seems deluded, as when he argues that atheists are the most persecuted minority in the world: “[A]s atheists know better than anyone else on the planet, if you say you don’t believe you often become a social outcast.”

This is the epitome of egocentrism. Around the world, people have been shunned, oppressed, tortured, and killed for their beliefs, yet Richard thinks that he’s got it worse than all of them. He even shares with his readers the suffering that resulted from his stand against theism: “For the first time, rather than being merely constantly pestered, I was being called names, and having hellfire wished upon me.” If Richard were to study other cultures, he might realize that there are people in the world who go through more than mere name-calling for the sake of their beliefs, and that graduate students at prestigious universities shouldn’t be calling themselves “social outcasts.”...

Indeed, his [Carrier's] book is possibly the most inconsistent work I have ever read....

As we investigate Richard’s claims, a pattern should be coming into view. Richard goes to the Bible searching for the most unfavorable interpretation he can find. It’s fine if that’s his method, but remember that he demands that the principle of interpretive charity be applied to his writings. He says that we should assume that any contradictions we find in his book are only in our own minds, yet he’s quick to point out apparent contradictions in the Bible. He even does this when the “contradictions” can easily be reconciled...

While it is amazing to think that atheists would be willing to deny the principle of cause and effect in their desperate efforts to defend their views, it is just as startling to find Richard suggesting that the multiverse is eternal when it has supposedly developed through a process of evolution. If the universes get simpler and simpler as we go back in time, wouldn’t we eventually get to a beginning? Richard’s view suggests this, yet he claims that the multiverse would still be eternal, for the beginning would be “an eternal fixed reality.” Frankly, I just can’t make sense of this (and neither can Richard)....

It is also important to note that Richard’s entire case for a natural origin of life is around a page and a half, which is strange considering this is a hotly debated topic and one that is essential for his defense. He may argue that his space was limited, but his book is more than 400 pages long and is filled with irrelevant digressions and numerous redundancies. Surely he could have omitted his political speculations in order to make room for some actual evidence....

Though this topic is also critical for Richard’s case, he again fails to offer any evidence as to how consciousness arose. His section on “The Evolution of Mind” is just a page in length, and it merely describes his view of what a mind is, rather than providing a reasonable evolutionary pathway for the development of consciousness....

In a section titled “The Argument to the Best Explanation,” Richard correctly notes that the “best explanation will . . . rely on fewer undemonstrated assumptions than any competitors.” Yet it would be difficult to imagine an explanation that has more undemonstrated assumptions than his. Richard is free to exercise his extraordinary faith in believing these assumptions, but to repeatedly declare that his position is founded solely on science and logic is an insult to science and logic. The unskeptical skeptic strikes again!...

If Richard would turn on his skepticism for even a second in the presence of his own arguments, they would melt like ice cream. Therefore, Richard’s defense of meaning in an atheistic universe fails miserably. It’s not surprising that his chapter on the meaning of life is among the shortest in his book (three pages), and that it ends with three paragraphs on how to deal with depression....

Carrier attributes the origin of life to natural causes, and the resurrection of Jesus to an incredible ensemble of mass-hallucinations....

Since the debate [with Michael Licona], Richard has again argued that Jesus never existed. Thus, we have a problem. Richard believes that Jesus probably never existed. He also says that the theory he thinks is “most probably correct” is that Jesus’ disciples experienced visions of him after he died....

Jesus never existed. Nevertheless, he had close companions who did exist. (If you’re wondering how a person who didn’t exist could have followers, you may be forgetting that nonexistent people can be very, very crafty.) These followers became extremely distraught when Jesus (who didn’t exist) was tortured and crucified by Roman soldiers (who did exist). Jesus (who didn’t exist) may or may not have been placed in a tomb (which may or may not have existed). In light of the death of their nonexistent leader, the minds of these followers were so overcome by emotion that they soon experienced grief hallucinations, in which they saw visions of the risen Jesus (whom no one had ever seen to begin with). Strangely, these disciples came to believe that Jesus was resurrected without his body (probably because nonexistent people don’t have bodies). This caused them to become bold evangelists of the risen Lord they had never seen. James (who did exist), the brother of Jesus, also experienced grief hallucinations when he heard that his brother (who didn’t exist) had been nailed to a cross (many of which did exist). James joined the other followers, and the group became so bold that it attracted the attention of a man named Saul (who did exist). While Saul wanted to destroy Christianity because it went against everything he believed in, he was overwhelmingly attracted to its humble message of social reform. Thus, in the midst of a murderous rampage against Christianity, Saul also hallucinated and experienced a vision of Jesus (who never existed). The Apostle Paul (who previously existed as Saul) later met with Jesus’ followers to make sure that his teachings were in line with those of Jesus. He was pleased to learn that his teachings indeed matched up with the words of the non-existent Jesus, and he continued to spread Christianity throughout the Roman world....

In other words, Richard’s underlying belief is: “If God exists, he should be just like me.” Since God isn’t just like Richard, God must not exist. This mode of thinking may seem strange to the uninitiated, but it is the foundation of all atheism, and of Richard’s book in particular. It is the ultimate hubris, and the unstated accusation of every atheist in the world.

No matter what God does, atheists are always free to complain. They can always look for a way around the evidence to avoid the presence of God. But if a person consistently rejects the evidence, resorting to claims about mass-hallucinations among the close companions of a non-existent person, God is under no obligation to offer him further evidence. Those who wear blindfolds shouldn’t blame the sun for not lighting their path....

All things considered, Sense and Goodness Without God is the worst and most tedious book I’ve ever read. It is boring, biased, illogical, inconsistent, and full of errors. It is devoid of wit, uninformative, repetitive, and full of childish complaints against God. It is the self-centered, self-published work of a self-proclaimed philosopher. What makes the book even worse is that Richard really believes that he has written a philosophical masterpiece.