Jerry Newcombe, a Christian apologist, has a posting up that is entitled “A challenge to skeptics: an Easter message“.
Ooooh, a challenge, who can resist, so I thought I’d take a look (spoiler alert: don’t hold your breath waiting to be challenged because you won’t be).
Have you ever heard of Theudas? How about Judas of Galilee?
That would be a Yes and a Yes (some of us did not go a christian schools, and were actually educated).
They were would-be messiahs in the first century. How many followers do these men have today? Zero, zip, nada.
Not strictly true … some of us have seen the movie and are fans, it got a 7.9 rating in IMDB, but of course I know what he is really getting at, and it is silly because there are of course other well-known religious folks from long ago that we all know of and who have millions and even billions of followers today.
Of course, we’ve all heard of Jesus Christ. One-third of humanity professes to believe in Him.
Yes, but that 31% (not quite one third), do not actually agree on what he preached, or how they should actually follow him, there is almost no consensus about anything concerning him.
But I guarantee you we would never have heard of Him had He not risen from the dead.
… and yet there are many historical religious folks that do not meet this zombie criteria, and yet we have all heard of them, Mohammed, Buddha, etc… Nope, this is clearly not a valid guarantee, nor can it be demonstrated to be true or even testable.
Whoever you are, whatever you believe, you have a vested interest in looking into the issue of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. There are millions today who simply dismiss the message of Christianity out of hand and don’t realize the eternal peril they are in by doing so.
… actually that would be billions, not millions, remember his observation that only one third does (which turned out to be 31% and not 33.3%), well that means that the vast majority of humans on the planet today dismiss the claims. As for this “eternal” peril, well that is of course the usual religious sales patter, “only we have the truth, everybody else is wrong, and if you don’t believe us, then you will burn in hell”. Ever so slight flaw there … most of the competing religious claims make the exact same pitch, so clearly somebody is being quite delusional because they are mostly mutually exclusive claims. They do all have one attribute in common, they all claim to have evidence, yet when challenged, it turns out that … gasp! … none of them do.
Finally, many non-religious do not just “dismiss”, but rather have seriously examined the claims and find no compelling evidence.
On the first Easter, the tomb of Jesus was empty. That is an historical fact.
The claim that this is a “historical” fact is pure unadulterated fiction, there is not one single jot of credible evidence to verify this assertion.
Furthermore, the original skeptics of the resurrection were the disciples themselves. The only explanation for their turn from cowering in fear to boldly proclaiming Christ, though it cost virtually all of them their lives, was that they had encountered the risen Jesus.
OK, two points here … the book he is reading this from (the Gospels), were all written many many decades after the events described. The earliest account, Mark, was written 35 years later, and so these writings are not contemporary accounts, nor were they even eyewitness accounts.
The other observation is that he is suggesting that being prepared to devote your life and even die for a belief is verification that the belief must be true. Ah but if that was indeed correct, then I can only wonder when Mr Newcombe will be converting to Islam, because clearly the 9/11 hijackers fit that same description.
The late Chuck Colson worked in the Nixon White House. He said: Compare the Watergate scandal with the resurrection. With Watergate, there was a human conspiracy; but once it began to break, it collapsed completely. And 80 men went to jail – Colson being one of them. But nothing (not even torture, nor martyrdom) could stop the disciples who proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus.
People believe crazy things and are willing to die for those same delusions. He appears to be strongly suggesting (again) that the degree of fanaticism demonstrated is a means for verifying claims, and that is quite frankly absurd.
Honest skeptics who have examined the evidence have eventually become believers. Repeatedly.
Honest believers who have realised that there is no actual evidence have abandoned their belief and eventually become disbelievers. Repeatedly … and their numbers are vast and rapidly growing.
*General Lew Wallace (1827-1905) was an unbeliever and set out to disprove the faith that he later came to embrace and help to promote. His pro-Christian book, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, became the basis for the 1959 film of the year.
It is of course perhaps wholly appropriate for a work of fiction to be an inspiration for yet another work of fiction.
*One of the best known defenders of the Christian faith of today is Josh McDowell, but as a young college student, he was very skeptical about the historicity of Christianity. In fact, he spent some time on study leave at the British Museum specifically to refute the faith.
“best known” … seriously! … that I very much doubt, but actually I am aware of who he is and have read some of his writings (and no, I’m not convinced by his claims either, they simply do not withstand any critical analysis).
After a few weeks of intense study, he realized how wrong he was. He realized that the Christian faith is based on the facts of history, available for anyone open-minded enough to discover.
… except these facts, are not facts in our reality. What is rather odd about the claim that there was once a chap walking around healing the sick, causing the bind to see and reading the dead, is that no contemporary historians noticed. Outside of the Gospels, which are no contemporary accounts, in the entire first century there is not one single credible historical reference, absolutely nothing. Zero, zip, nada.
He became a dedicated believer, has written many books, including the best-selling, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, and has proclaimed Christ all over the world. Josh McDowell said of the resurrection of Jesus: “It’s the most fantastic fact of history.”
So we are well into Mr Newcombe’s challenge, and we have lots of assertions that it is all a fact, and pointers to others who claim that it is all a fact, but not one single jot of evidence to verify any of these assertions.
Next come the two classical go-to guys for apologists … CS Lewis and Lee Strobel … as the almost mandatory appeal to authority.
*C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) was one of the greatest Christian writers of the 20th century. He taught at Oxford and at Cambridge University. But as a young man, he had been an atheist, until he examined Christianity more closely. He describes himself in Surprised by Joy as “the most dejected, reluctant convert in all of England . . . drug into the kingdom kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting [my] eyes in every direction for a chance of escape.”
*Lee Strobel used to be the legal affairs editor of the Chicago Tribune. He graduated Yale Law School and was no intellectual slouch. He also was a confirmed skeptic. But when his wife started attending church, he decided to go on a quest: to use his investigative skills to examine the claims of Christianity, including the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Strobel was honest enough to follow where the evidence would lead him. He became a Christian and now is a leading apologist. He has now written such classics as The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith.
… and neither of them has anything to offer. I’ve read them both, but don’t take my word on that, you can easily check it out yourself.
For example, if you dip into Mr Strobel’s writings you find that he has no actual empirical evidence at all.
His “evidence” is well known and available for all to read. His book The Case for a Creator consists of interviews with intelligent design advocates, the guys who claim “God did it” on the basis of exactly zero evidence. They might indeed befuddle those not familiar with the absurd assertions they promote, but their various claims are most certainly not credible or evidence based.
His other book, the Case for Christ, is a similar one-sided collection of claims made by well-known christian apologists that will tick boxes for those who want to believe, but offers no independently verifiable empirical evidence.
Mr Lewis is no better. OK, yes he is a better writer, it is the arguments he presents that are no better. Many pick up his books and find nothing of any real substance.
*Author Dr. Mike Licona, professor at Houston Baptist University, told me that he had serious doubts as a young man: “So, I resolved to do a thorough investigation and go where the evidence led. After years of research, the conclusion was inescapable that Jesus had risen from the dead, and the Christian gospel turns out being true.”
… another claim that there is “evidence” … and yet so far no one single pointer to this “evidence” emerges, instead we are palmed off with somebody who was persuaded, so it must be true …. except that appeal to authority is worthless by itself, this “trust me I’m a smart chap, and I say it is true” patter, simply does not cut it.
Licona’s key professor was Dr. Gary Habermas of Liberty University. Habermas is one of the greatest scholars on the resurrection alive. He tells me: “I struggled through many years of religious doubt, for some ten years straight and then more sporadically for many more years beyond that. It dominated my thinking during those years.”
… and so this appeal to authority is a reference to a chap simply making yet another appeal to authority. Such multiple layers of logical fallacy are indeed quite jaw-droppingly amazing.
He concludes: “Having studied other philosophies and world religions along the way, at one point I thought I was becoming a Buddhist. Throughout my entire search for answers, nothing quieted my toughest questions more thoroughly that did my detailed study of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This event became my anchor and foundation for faith ever since.”
… ah yes … “faith” … the process of pretending to know things you do not have any evidence for, and there indeed is solid evidence that there is no evidence. You see, the key is this, if it is indeed all historical fact, then no faith is required because it is all easily verified, but the moment the “F” word pops up, then that is a big bold flashing red neon sign that announces “no evidence”, so either it is a fact or they have faith, but you simply can’t claim both.
Skeptics are welcome to examine the evidence for themselves. He is risen indeed.
They have examined the “evidence” and found it to be lacking substance, so while some might indeed claim that their imaginary friend is a zombie, they don’t have anything of any substance at all to back that up with.
Side Note: As a rather strong hint, the bible is not “evidence”, but is instead a claim, and as it turns out, is a claim that has no other historical sources to back it up at all. (Yes, I’m aware of both of the Josephus references in book 18 and 20 of his writings, and am happy to explain why neither is credible, ask me if curious, or just check it yourself).
So he simply lacks a bit of information … right?
He clearly feels we lack a bit of information, and if we only examined it and absorbed that missing information then we would be convinced. Of his sincerity I have no doubts, but as for his facts, nope, not convinced.
It may also indeed be tempting for me to be convinced that he simply lacks a bit of information and if he had that information then he would stop promoting fiction as fact.
So is all this really all about a lack of information?
Actually no, not at all, he is heavily invested in his belief both culturally and emotionally, and so the rationality required to support that naturally emerges to justify that investment. He has retreated from testable facts into untestable assertions that cannot be tested empirically or conclusively refuted, and so this enables him to retain the belief by asserting that these untestable assertions are facts.
That is the real issue.