Book Plunge: Evidence Considered, Chapter 7

Does atheism account for the data? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In chapter 7, Jelbert responds to another essay of David Wood on explanatory scope of worldviews. It’s about God, suffering, and Santa Claus. Many children believe Santa Claus puts presents under the tree because our parents say so and we tend to think they’re reliable. Okay. Some of us might have better reasons for believing in such phenomena than others.

Wood’s main point is that atheism is not an explanation and when the gifts show up, who do you think? Theism has great explanatory power on the other hand and if the only problem is suffering, there are more than enough reasons for that. So what does Jelbert say?

His first paragraph in response is worth quoting in full:

The ancient Egyptians saw the brute fact of the sun rising each day. They explained that this occurred because Khepri, the scarab god, would push the sun across the sky ahead of him like a beetle pushing a ball of dung. It is unclear whether the ancient Egyptians ever took this “explanation” seriously, but the point is clear; a divine explanation is no explanation at all.

It really is a wonder that a paragraph such as this is typed. Jelbert wants us to look and say that this is obvious nonsense, but is it really? If you are an ancient Egyptian, do you not want to explain things some way? If you know of no other explanation, what is wrong with a divine one?

Jelbert says that a divine explanation is no explanation at all, but this is most certainly false. There are plenty of arguments for atheism. I do not consider them true arguments and fewer still are good arguments, but they are at least arguments. There are many explanations for how life came from non-life and while it is quite likely that some of them are false, they are still explanations. Even if something is seen as a bad explanation, a bad explanation is still by definition, an explanation.

If Jelbert wants to say that it is clear that this doesn’t explain things, he would need to show how. Has he demonstrated that there is no god named Kherpi pushing the sun? Perhaps Kherpi is invisible and has a superpower that we mistake to be a natural law like a character in a comic book. Do I think this is true? Not at all. Could Jelbert prove that it is isn’t? Doubtful.

Furthermore, this assumes that all divine explanations are equal. Why should I think that? Could it be some cases of theism have more explanatory power than do others? Is it a stretch to say that there’s more evidence backing the New Testament being true than there is backing the Book of Mormon being true? If Aristotle’s natural theology can end in a deity very similar to that of the three great monotheistic faiths, could it be because there was some explanatory power to that and the evidence led that way?

Not only this, if Jelbert is saying that divine explanations are not explanations, then is he not begging the question? He would like to say he’s open for evidence of God, but God would certainly have to explain something if He existed. Yet if Jelbert says that an explanation of God would explain nothing, then He is asking us to give something that doesn’t exist, mainly an explanation that cannot explain and yet have it be something that explains the data to him.

To base this on one example would be like looking at a fossil that has been seen to be a fraud in defense of evolution and then say, “Well as you can see, an evolutionary explanation is no explanation at all.” Jelbert would rightly say “Yes. That was wrong, but look at all this other data here for this better explanation!” I agree, and I will do the same for theism.

Jelbert goes on to say that for thousands of years, humans thought they had all the answers and all the explanations. No scientific advance was needed. That’s why they were resisted. I wish to know what history Jelbert is reading. If he thinks that during the medieval period they were only discussing theology and philosophy, he is badly mistaken. Often, the argument he’s using comes with this graphic:

Such a graphic though shows an abject ignorance of the medieval period and one that I suspect Jelbert has never really looked into. We cannot know because Jelbert cites no historians of the period here. All of this is just asserted, it’s almost like Jelbert wants us to take him by faith. I reserve the faith for the atheists. I prefer to check to see the evidence first.

Tim O’Neill is quite good at dealing with this. As he says on his blog:

It’s not hard to kick this nonsense to pieces, especially since the people presenting it know next to nothing about history and have simply picked this bullshit up from other websites and popular books and collapse as soon as you hit them with some hard evidence. I love to totally stump them by asking them to present me with the name of one – just one – scientist burned, persecuted or oppressed for their science in the Middle Ages. They always fail to come up with any. They usually try to crowbar Galileo back into the Middle Ages, which is amusing considering he was a contemporary of Descartes. When asked why they have failed to produce any such scientists given the Church was apparently so busily oppressing them, they often resort to claiming that the Evil Old Church did such a good job of oppression that everyone was too scared to practice science. By the time I produce a laundry list of Medieval scientists – like Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, John Peckham, Duns Scotus, Thomas Bradwardine, Walter Burley, William Heytesbury, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton, Richard of Wallingford, Nicholas Oresme, Jean Buridan and Nicholas of Cusa – and ask why these men were happily pursuing science in the Middle Ages without molestation from the Church, my opponents have usually run away to hide and scratch their heads in puzzlement at what just went wrong.

Jelbert here could complain that I have just pulled into the debate another Christian apologist so why take the claim seriously? He could say that, but he would be wrong. O’Neill is no Christian apologist. In fact, he’s actually an atheist.

The point is the Christians in the medieval period were indeed busy trying to find explanations. Sometimes they were right explanations. Sometimes they were not. I would like Jelbert to find the time where the medievals explained scientific conundrums simply by saying “God did it.” If he can’t, then Jelbert has bought into a theory of history without any evidence. Perhaps by his standard he has an explanation that is no explanation at all.

Jelbert does take this kind of approach as he says that science comes to explain things that we used to explain with deities. Perhaps some did, but where are the Christians doing this? He does say that many Christians just move on to the next scientific difficulty. Right now, the big argument is that God tunes the universal constants. What happens when another explanation is found for that?

Dare I say it, but I agree here. I do not use the fine-tuning argument because first off, I do not understand the science behind it. If someone does, they are free to use it. However, even if I did understand the science, if I used it, I would not use it alone. I would never hang my theism on a scientific argument. I think it’s wrong to hang any worldview on any scientific argument. This is why I use the metaphysical arguments of Aquinas that are untouched by science.

Jelbert goes on to look at Wood’s question asking if we should reject an explanation that explains the data. Jelbert says that the answer is yes. He points to pseudo-science. Unfortunately, he does not give any examples and this is just a way of begging the question. Jelbert says we reject hypotheses when they make predictions that fail, but what failing prediction does he have in mind? Furthermore, if it fails at a prediction, it’s not really an explanatory hypothesis so Wood is still safe.

Jelbert’s next statement is again worth quoting in full.

And what of Wood’s idea that atheism explains nothing? If we include all scientific discovery in this (Which is reasonable because science is a naturalistic endeavor), it is hard to imagine a more wildly inaccurate statement.)

The reality is it’s hard to imagine a more wildly inaccurate statement than Jelbert’s! Why should we say science is a naturalistic endeavor? What about atheism is essential to science? A Christian and an atheist can do the exact same experiment in the lab. Their worldview does not affect the outcome. We could easily imagine a world where there are only Christians and the science would work the same way. We could easily imagine a world where there are only atheists and the science would work the same way.

Jelbert is also confusing methodological naturalism with metaphysical naturalism. The use of the former does not entail the latter and even still the former is a difficult term to define. Can it be that if any scientist looks at the data and thinks that it looks like a deity has been involved, that he has ceased to do science? What would he think of Fred Hoyle’s statement that

“A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”

If a scientist says something like this, are they automatically excluded? It’s hard to not think of Lewontin’s statement.

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

It amazes me that so many atheists ask for scientific evidence for God, which I consider to be a category fallacy really, and then rule out any science that points to God. It’s also a problem because what if God is the explanation? If so, then we are doing science at the outset that cannot reach the truth because we have ruled out the truth in advance based not on science, but on philosophy, and bad philosophy at that.

Still, Jelbert will look at the questions and one question is why is there a world at all? Jelbert says that if we want to ask the purpose, we have to consider everything, including the evil in the world, which Wood thinks is better explained by a good God. I find this quite fascinating.

You see, when Jelbert looks at Wood’s claim, Wood has to look and consider all the data and consider all possible explanations. When Wood gives a claim, Jelbert is only willing to consider naturalistic explanations. Why does Jelbert say we have to consider everything, but he himself doesn’t?

We also have to ask is evil an exception or is it the norm? Dare I say it, but quite likely Jelbert wakes up in a warm bed every morning, has food in his refrigerator, drives from place to place, has a home where he has air conditioning and heating and cable TV and the internet, and goes through every day not fearing for his life. Does he really want to say that good is the exception and not evil?

As I have said also, if we go to other cultures where suffering is much more prevalent, they do not really talk about the problem of evil. I suspect more of us do because we have a sort of entitlement mindset. We think that we are owed a certain kind of life.

Jelbert then says that if it’s individual purpose, we have to create our own, but he prefers his as an atheist more than as a Christian. Conclusion? By most measures atheists have a better explanation. Ah yes. We used the great sample of one and came to a conclusion of all atheists. Well let’s go with this.

I as a Christian have a great purpose in my life that is a Christian purpose. If I went and asked my wife and she agreed with me for herself, then that would be two. By Jelbert’s standards then, Christians have a better explanation. Does that seem ridiculous to you? It is.

Something Jelbert never seems to ask is why do we ask the question anyway? Why do we think that there is a purpose? What is this longing in us that thinks that we are actually supposed to matter? Do we really matter? If we don’t really, why live like we do? Why deny reality?

He then goes on to the question of why the universe is fine-tuned. He chalks it up to selection bias, but this seems odd. Nature has a bias? Jelbert in doing this has just taken nature and made it his deity. He also presents the fallacious argument that if we are here to observe it, then the universe must be fine-tuned to evolve and support life. This is like the case of being sentenced to death tied to a stake and facing you are fifty sharpshooters with laser scopes on their rifles. Somehow, they all miss and the official in charge says that divine favor must be on your side and lets you go. When asked why it happened you say “Well of course it did, because I wouldn’t be here if it didn’t!” Yet this is the very thing to explain. Most of us would think the game had to be rigged somehow.

As for diversity, that is explained by evolution. Now here’s another problem for Jelbert. I could happily accept evolution as an explanation for the diversity of life. Evolution is not a problem to my theism. The problem is as has been said, Jelbert has to accept it. It’s the only game in town.

You see, for me, I happen to think that we know a lot more about the gestation process than our ancestors did. We know that there is no divine intervention involved every time a woman gets pregnant. Does that change the truth of the Psalms that we are fearfully and wonderfully made? Not at all. God using a naturalistic process does not change Him being behind the process and the great mind that developed it. I consider evolution in the same light.

Jelbert says that Wood has no explanation, but Wood does. Jelbert can’t just throw out God as an explanation entirely. Wood could easily say “I do not know the specifics of how God brought about the diversity of life, but I see enough evidence for Him so I know He did it and if He does exist, then He is behind it somehow.”

Jelbert goes on to ask that if scientists discovered how abiogenesis takes place, where would that leave the theist? For me, it would leave me in the exact same place. It would not be a problem. God is never meant to be a stopgap. I could instead ask Jelbert, what if it doesn’t come up? Jelbert has a lot more hanging on the science than I do.

What about miracles? Does God explain those? Jelbert says that there are conflicting miracle claims in many religions. It would have been nice if we had been told these claims. For instance, Christianity would happily accept the miracles of Judaism. They’re part of our Old Testament. Islam meanwhile claims no miracle except the Koran. Miracles that show up in the hadith later on are quite likely not historical and the Koran admits many miraculous things about Jesus.

What about other religions? Pantheistic systems like Hinduism don’t explain miracles because all is God. What is behind the miracles? Is God changing God? This certainly doesn’t work where the extra-material world is an illusion. What of Buddhism? Buddhism seeks to break people away from attachment to the world. Miracles make no sense here either.

It’s also worth pointing out that I do not rule out miracles in other religions because they are in other religions. I actually have this strange idea. Let’s go with a case by case study and look at the evidence for a claim before we decide if it’s true or not. I realize this goes against the atheistic position of ruling them out a priori, but that is just what you do when you go by the evidence. Chesterton said years ago that the theist believes in the miracle claim, rightly or wrongly, because of the evidence. The atheist disbelieves in it, rightly or wrongly, because he has a dogma against them.

What about the idea that some miracles are the work of demonic powers such as the devil? Jelbert says that we need to be able to scribe to the devil a very devious mind if we hold this. I don’t think it will take a lot to convince Christians of that. This is someone Jesus said in John 8 was a liar from the beginning and is a murderer and no truth is found in him.

Jelbert also says it’s amazing so many people were born into the right religion, but does this not go against his science? Jelbert just happened to be born in the right part of the world where they have scientific explanations instead of theistic ones. Isn’t that a wonderful coincidence? This is simply the genetic fallacy.

Jelbert does present the evidence of Sai Baba as a miracle worker. He says that we dismiss the claims and say he was just a con man. I have not looked at the claims so I cannot say. I can say I would not just dismiss them. If evidence can be shown that he was a con man, then that does damage the evidence for miracles. He goes on to say that the Gospel writers were not witnesses of what they wrote, but reported other traditions uncritically. In later chapters he looks at the historical Jesus, so we will deal with this then. Shortly here, we could simply recommend the newest edition of Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham.

It’s also worth pointing out that Jelbert does give a source here some and that source is Wells. Wells was not and is not a New Testament scholar. In fact, for some time, he held to mythicism. It is a wonder why Jelbert takes someone like that seriously, but it is quite likely any port in a storm.

Jelbert does say the New Testament has Jesus doing miracles such as raising the dead and feeding miraculously which were done by Elisha. Well of course! What does he expect? Jesus is doing reenactment and showing that He is greater than Elisha while staying in the tradition of Elisha. Of course, Jesus healed the blind as well and that didn’t happen in the past, but I suppose we just speak where it did happen and ignore where it didn’t.

He goes on to quote Wells saying that the letters of Paul don’t mention miracles. Why should they? The letters are not biographies. They are written to tell of the life of Jesus. The only reason to mention a miracle is that it is relevant to the needs of the people. Are we to think that telling the story of the multiplication of food would somehow help the Corinthians deal with food offered to idols?

We do need to go into some more New Testament as Jelbert does look at the appearances. Jelbert points to an evolutionary development based on the number of appearances, but how does this mesh? The account with the most experiences by far is the first one, the found in 1 Cor. 15. Still, this is discussed more in later chapters so we will deal with it then.

Jelbert then concludes that atheists can be thankful for their existence, their families, their friends, and all that these entail, but I want to know, thankful to whom? Jelbert has no one to thank for his existence and if he wishes to say the universe, then the universe has become the deity. If the universe needs an explanation, who could the universe thank?

In the end, I have to agree with Mike Licona on this, that methodological naturalism can often be a safe space for atheists. I, meanwhile, as a Christian theist can accept science happily and have no problem. I could accept the explanations of evolution and such given in this chapter and my worldview in Christian theism is not altered one iota. Jelbert could not say the same about theism.

We’ll continue next time looking more at science itself.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Further Response To John Tors

Has the Bible been betrayed? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

John Tors isn’t happy. He just doesn’t like my last response to him. Not too much of a shock, but yet he has written a long diatribe in response. I don’t really plan at this point in addressing everything since Tors has spent so much time on this that one wonders if he’ll be publishing an Ebook on the topic soon. At this point, I also plan on this being my final response. Tors is too much of a time drainer and honestly, not worth it, but I figured it could be fun to go after this one.

Tors gives off the impression of one saying that if anyone doesn’t interpret the Bible the way he does, they are a liberal bent on betraying evangelicalism. As much as I have a problem with Geisler, it could be said Tors goes even further than Geisler and if Tors was in Geisler’s position, one can picture the nightmare that would be hanging over the Evangelical world. Tors has not only a fear of everything else being “liberal” but is also convinced he knows better than the experts in the field and I mean the ones who are working out of their specialty.

It’s amazing that right off, Tors, like Geisler, acts like anyone who disagrees does not hold to the Correspondence Theory of Truth, which I do hold to. Tors says that:

First, truth is what corresponds to reality.  Something that does not correspond to reality is not true.  It is not true, for example, to say that George Washington issued the Emancipation Proclamation or that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote Tarzan of the Apes.  It is true to say that Donald Trump is currently the President of the United States of America.

Why is this important? Because if you suggest anything different in the accounts, then you’re going against the truth! Unfortunately, one doesn’t have to look hard at the Gospels to know that they are quite different. If you mean every story has to be exactly the same in every detail, then no, the stories cannot all be true. Consider the story of the centurion’s servant. Who came? Matthew says the centurion was the one who engaged Jesus and spoke the whole time. Luke says elders of the town came to Jesus and then says the centurion sent others to talk to Jesus on his behalf. Which is right? The stories are obviously the same story, but they are obviously not identical.

Most of us realize that the centurion sending servants to act on him would be seen as if he himself came since they were acting on his behalf. When the Press Secretary makes an announcement, no one shouts “error” when it’s said later “The President today said that….” Of course, I have picked a minor example. Others could be found. What did Peter say at the Great Confession of faith? Did the voice at the baptism of Jesus speak to Jesus or to the crowd? How many times did the rooster crow at Peter’s denial? If you want more, just go look up your favorite skeptical website and see all the “Bible contradictions.”

Most of these are of course minor deals. They rely on ancient practice and such. Was it an error that Jesus said three days and three nights He would be in the belly of the Earth? After all, if Jesus died on Friday and He rose on Sunday, then that’s two nights and just one day. It’s when you realize that for the ancient Jews that a part of the day would be sufficient that you realize that Jesus did speak accurately by their standards. That is what is often missed. Why should we judge an ancient work by modern 21st century standards?

Second, an error is “a mistaken opinion or belief” (OED, p. 847), “mistaken” being “having a wrong opinion or judgment, being under a misapprehension” (OED, p.1795), and “wrong” being “incorrect, false, mistaken” (OED, P.3732).  If this is still not clear, “incorrect” is “of a state, description etc.: erroneous, inaccurate” (OED, p.1342) and “false” is “of an opinion, proposition, etc.: not in accordance with the truth or the facts; erroneous, untrue” (OED, p.912).

Again, no objection, but we have to wonder how far will this go? Did Jesus give the Sermon on the Mount twice and just use second person and third person both? Again, for many of us, it’s not a problem to say that one writer could have adapted what was said to apply it better to the audience. It’s also not unlikely that Jesus would have given this talk more than once. I am a speaker. This Monday night, I’m giving a talk for the third time on life with Aspergers and raising awareness at Why Should I Believe? I have given this talk before, so I know what I will say, but it will also be different. One highly doubts that Jesus was the only speaker in history who only gave every sermon or parable one time.

“Inerrant,” then, means “in accordance with the truth and the facts, not untrue, true.” It is regrettable that we have had to go to such lengths to establish the meaning of “inerrant,” which should be axiomatic, but, as we will see, it is necessary to do so, lest anyone attempt to pass off as inerrant that which manifestly does not meet this definition.

I don’t think anyone is disputing any of this. What is being disputed is what standards will we use? For instance, when I encounter someone who says we need to go by the plain meaning of the text, I ask plain to who? To a 21st century American? A 19th century Japanese man? A 17th century Chinese man? A 13th century Frenchman? An 11th century Englishman? An 8th century German? A 5th century Italian? A 3rd century Greek or Roman? A 1st century Jew?

Who determines what is the plain meaning? It would be the author ultimately and that author wrote according to 1st century standards. Will those standards be different from ours? Absolutely. It’s not right of us to force him to follow our rules. We must look at his and see how closely he followed them. I have regularly pointed out that we are following Western standards way too often and those cause us to badly misread the text.

Tors starts in on Wallace here with:

New Testament scholars who work on determining the wording of the original Greek New Testament are functioning at the level of the deepest integrity when they argue that the original read “in Isaiah the prophet.” This is because they are arguing for wording that seems to communicate a mistake. They argue this in spite of their own feelings about the biblical author’s accuracy …. the vast majority do have sufficient respect for a biblical author that they will not impute to him an ostensible inaccuracy unless the manuscript testimony compels them to do so. At all points, textual critics are historians who have to base their views on data, not mere theological convictions. The rule that almost all textual critics follow is: Choose the reading that best explains the rise of the others. This means looking at the external and internal evidence in an effort to trace out both history and psychology.

Wallace is right here. We want to get to what the original text said and not what is easier for us. The rule is all things being equal, if you have two readings, the more difficult one is to be preferred. It’s more likely that a scribe would try to smooth out a reading than to make it more difficult. Of course, Tors lunges in on “Wording that seems to communicate a mistake” and immediately, there you have it. Wallace does not concede a mistake. I pointed Tors to Ehorn’s work on composite quotations which includes Jewish sources to show that the practice that was done was a Jewish practice. We can be quite confident that Tors will likely never read it.

We should also point out that Tors refers to me next as good old Nick Peters and soon drops the “good.” It’s not escaped my notice that the Old Nick was a name given to the devil. As I have said, Tors has upped the ante of Geisler. Tors is unfortunately the kind of person an apologetics approach like Geisler produces. It’s one that says that if you stand up for inerrancy, then you cannot possibly be wrong. You’re not just correct in your conclusions, but in all of your actions.

In my look at what Wallace says about inerrancy, I point out that Wallace goes after a magic wand approach that treats the Bible like a science book. Tors won’t have any of that! Inerrant means the Bible is without error! That’s it! He writes that

Peters actually says, “He went after a view of what that is,” and already we can see that he is off the rails.  As we have pointed out, there is only one definition of “inerrancy”, and that is what the word actually means: without error, in accordance with the truth and the facts, not untrue, true.  Inerrancy is not a matter of opinion, such as which is the best sport or the most flavourful food.  It has a specific definition, so there is no other “view of what that is”; any other “view” of it is not inerrancy.

Nice to know we have the word from Sinai here. At any rate, the question becomes, what constitutes an error? Is it an error by our standards or by their standards? You see, it was treating the Bible like a science textbook that led to many of our problems. Does Tors think that the sun goes around the Earth? That was what some people argued and they did it based on the Bible. Does that mean the Bible was wrong or our interpretation was wrong because we treated it like a science textbook? (This is also why I disagree with a concordist approach and trying to do things like read the water cycle into Job.)

As an example, Norman Geisler looks at Martin Luther. I am a Protestant, but of course, Luther was not infallible. We did not replace one Pope with another one. Luther was wrong on some matters. Geisler at his website puts up some statements that he himself would not agree with.

D. Scientifically Authoritative

  • There was mention of a certain new astronomer who wanted to prove that the earth moves and not the sky, the sun, and the moon. This would be as if somebody were riding on a cart or in a ship and imagined that he was standing still while the earth and the trees were moving. [Luther remarked,] “So it goes now. Whoever wants to be clever must agree with nothing that others esteem. He must do something of his own. This is what that fellow does who wishes to turn the whole of astronomy upside down. Even in these things that are thrown into disorder I believe the Holy Scriptures, for Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and not the earth [Josh. 10:12].

  • Because we are not sufficiently able to understand how these days occurred nor why God wished to observe such distinctions of times, we shall rather admit our ignorance than attempt to twist the words unnecessarily into an unnatural meaning. As far, therefore, as St. Augustine’s opinion is concerned, we hold that Moses spoke literally not allegorically or figuratively, that is, the world and all its creatures was created within the six days as the words declare. Because we are not able to comprehend we shall remain disciples and leave the instructorship to the Holy Ghost..??

    Let’s give one caveat here. There are a number of Luther scholars who don’t hold to the accuracy of all in the Table Talk. Okay. for the sake of argument though, Geisler does. In fact, someone like Jason Lisle would argue that since Geisler denies a young Earth, that he denies inerrancy. It’s amazing to me that Mike Licona uses ancient writing techniques to interpret the Bible and that’s disallowed, but Geisler uses modern science to interpret that the ancients had no access to, and that’s okay! Still, the look at Luther gets worse.

E. Self-consistent

  • Though this Epistle of St. James was rejected by the ancients, I praise it and regard it as a good book, because it sets up no doctrine of men and lays great stress upon God’s law. But to state my own opinion about it, though without injury to anyone, I consider that it is not the writing of any apostle. My reasons are as follows:

  • First: Flatly in contradiction to St. Paul and all the rest of Scripture it ascribes righteousness to works and says that Abraham was justified by his works in that he offered his son Isaac, though St. Paul, on the contrary, teaches, in Romans 4, that Abraham was justified without works, by faith alone, before he offered his son and proves it by Moses in Genesis 15. . . . Second: Its purpose is to teach Christians, and in all its teaching it does not once mention the Passion, the Resurrection, or the Spirit of Christ (Ibid., p. 24).

    So apparently, in this paradigm, it’s okay to question the authority of James and even say that he disagrees with Paul on justification, and you’re not denying Inerrancy, but question the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27 and you’re in trouble now.

If we read the Bible in the way the author did not intend us to read it, then we are going to misread the text. The author did not have 21st century Western Americans in mind. With the New Testament, the author had first century Jews and Gentiles in mind, varying of course on the book being read.

When we get to Daniel Wallace recommending we treat the Bible like any other work of history and study it according to that method, Tors has a lot to say. I will quote what he says about my looking at it here.

Old Nick Peters really gets his shorts into a knot on this one, carping, “Just say ‘It’s God-Breathed.’ Okay. How does that deal with the writing? Are we to think God just breathed one day and ‘Poof!’, here is the Gospel of Luke!”  Then, in response to Wallace’s view that the Bible should be held to the same standards as other ancient historians such as Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Josephus, I pointed out that “Josephus, Livy, Tacitus, Suetonius, and ‘any other ancient historian’ were not divinely enabled by the Holy Spirit. The Bible was, however, so it is in a completely different category from ‘any other ancient historian’s writings.’” Peters responds,

If you want to see what’s wrong with this kind of approach, just consider if Tors was saying the same about the Koran or the Book of Mormon. Is Wallace treating the Bible like any other book? In a sense, yes. That’s the wonderful truth about the Bible. When you treat it like any other book, you see that it is not like any other book.

The mind certainly boggles at this.  Peters actually mocks the concept of Scripture being God-breathed (“Are we to think God just breathed one day and ‘Poof!’, here is the Gospel of Luke!”), griping, “How does that deal with the writing?”  He makes no effort to find the answer to this question, it should be noted; he just seems to use this as a pretext to ignore the issue.  Indeed, he intimates that saying that the Bible is God breathed carries no more weight than saying it for the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon.  (This shows, perhaps better than anything else, where the type of evangelical Peters is defending is coming from, and should really put paid to any credibility old Nick may ever have had.)

Yes. Because I asked a queston, I actually mocked the idea of the text being God-breathed. At this, we wonder what color the sky is in Tors’s world. Does he see an enemy behind every bush. I hold the text is God-breathed. What I deny is saying that “God-breathed” answers every objection. It doesn’t.

Tors also says I make no effort to find out the answer to the question, this one being the census in Luke. You see, if I’m writing a response, I’m meant to deal with every single objection. Well, no. I’m not. I was dealing with a dangerous view of inerrancy instead. I’d like to point out now that Tors says nothing here about the question of the feeding of the 5,000 or the synoptic problem or a multitude of other “contradictions” that are presented. Sauce for the goose after all…

However, if Tors wants to know about what I’ve done on the question, well this is the beauty of having a podcast. I have interviewed Ben Witherington on the birth narratives and if anyone wants more on Luke, I interviewed Darrell Bock on that as well. After all, these scholars are much more specialized than I, so why not listen to them?

Tors goes on to say that

Now, it should be obvious that the question “How does that [i.e. that Scripture is God breathed] deal with the writing” is not an excuse for ignoring the fact that Scripture is God breathed and if and when the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon can show ancient prophecies that were fulfilled or advanced knowledge that people at the time of writing could not know, and when either is endorsed by a man who claimed to be Deity and proved His claims by rising from the dead, then we can consider whether either is God breathed.  Until then, the Bible remains sui generis.  It is difficult to see how this would not be obvious to any Christian – unless he actually believed the Bible has no more evidence for being God breathed than does the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon.

But notice this! As soon as Tors brings up other points about the Bible, then saying “God-breathed” is no longer sufficient to make the case. The Bible is true because of XYZ. I fully agree that this cannot be done with the Qur’an or the Book of Mormon. Tors is actually arguing my point. With advanced knowledge though, Tors makes the mistake that I have pointed to earlier of concordism in this article.

Even if we granted the point, there are still other passages that we would not take literally, such as Proverbs saying the Earth sits on pillars. What of Joshua and the sun? Does Tors agree with Martin Luther or not? Tors is in fact reading the Bible as a science textbook. The problem is if you take Job’s saying and read it as a science statement, you’ll miss the real statement he wants to make. What that is I leave to the scholars of Job.

Consider that we do this with Genesis. We make the debate about the age of the Earth, as if that was the real concern in the author’s mind. He wanted us to know how old the Earth is. I agree with John Walton that the passage is about the creating of sacred space. Once you get that, it beautifully fits into the Gospel and bypasses the whole debate as the point of the text is not the age of the Earth but the why of the Earth then.

Tors goes on to say that

As to how does the fact that the Bible is God breathed “deal with the writing,” Peters might want to study 2 Peter 1:20-21; he might want to notice that what is written by men is explicitly stated to be spoken by God Himself (e.g. Acts 1:16, 4:25, Hebrews 3:7-11); and he might want to take Jesus’ promise seriously, wherein He said in John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”  Note to Wallace: The Holy Spirit is better than a “tape recorder.”

Then if this is the case we have to ask why do the Gospels have different things being said? Sure, the content is virtually the same, but the wording is not identical. Note also that if we want to take John 14 literally, well it only says that what Jesus said would be brought to recall and says nothing about his deeds. How about events one was not a witness of? Luke and Mark used eyewitnesses but were not themselves eyewitnesses. (Mark could have seen some things possibly and could be the fleeing naked man in Mark 14, but there’s no hard proof of that.) Mark and Luke would never have received Jesus’s promise. Also, it’s hard to see how Tors can avoid a dictation theory.

As to Peters’ enthusiastic statement that “That’s the wonderful truth about the Bible. When you treat it like any other book, you see that it is not like any other book,” as we explained in the previous article, “logically it is lunacy, for if treating the Bible like any other book leads to the conclusion that it’s not like any other book, that means the initial working presupposition that it’s like any other book is wrong and inapplicable and therefore invalidates any conclusion reached when using that presupposition.”  That is simple and obvious enough that even a reasonably intelligent child can understand it; why Peters apparently cannot is hard to understand.

Except it doesn’t, and I argue that many people who deny this use a different standard. Just yesterday I was in a Twitter war involving mythicists saying we have no contemporary records of Jesus. Now of course we do, such as the epistles and Gospels, but I want to take their standard. My question to them is what about Hannibal, Queen Boudica, and Arminius? All of these were very well-known figures at their time who did amazing things and yet no contemporaries said a peep about them. I get told “Well they weren’t supposed to be the Son of God doing miracles and rising from the dead.” Do you see that?! The standard has changed!

One such standard is the inerrancy standard which means inerrancy according to modern Western ideas of inerrancy. These differences show up in different accounts of any ancient event. Mike Licona in his recent work shows that even the same author has different accounts of the same event.

Another problem is that many people come with a viewpoint that says miracles can’t happen. Of course, no evidence will be persuasive if you rule out any possibility of being wrong right at the start. For these people, saying that “magic” (And magic and miracles are not the same) is in the text rules it out ipso facto. The standard here being that the Bible must adhere to the rules of natural law. The problem is not the Bible, but false standards brought to it.

Now I approach this without fear. If the skeptic wants to say he will test the Bible like any other book, my reply is simple. “Do it.” I say that because I am convinced the Bible can stand up to scrutiny. I don’t just sit back and say “God-breathed!” and think that answers all the questions.

As for what is said about infallibility and inerrancy, I got my information from Derek James Brown, who did his dissertation on ICBI. He supports it, but thinks there needs to be changes. He pointed out that infallibility is the basis because if God cannot error, then he cannot produce a text that will have errors in it. In that sense, because God cannot error, a text that He is behind will not error. It is not the other way around. Hence, I said Tors has it backwards. Tors wants to point to what Wallace and others say. I’m quite sure that if Wallace read my assessment on this matter, he would have no problem with what I’m saying. Of course, we do have to ask if God did indeed do this with the Bible, which is another question, and one that I think the answer is yes, God did produce such a text, but it is not a hill I’m willing to die on either.

We move on:

“You obviously have a high view of scripture,” I observed. “Why?”

“Because Jesus did,” he said matter-of-factly.

 “How do you know?” I asked.

“One criterion that scholars use for determining authenticity is called ‘dissimilarity.’ If Jesus said or did something that’s dissimilar to the Jews of his day or earlier, then it’s considered authentic,” he said. “And he’s constantly ripping on the Pharisees for adding tradition to scripture and not treating it as ultimately and finally authoritative. When he says that scripture cannot be broken, he’s making a statement about the truth and reliability of scripture.”’

Peters then says, “Tors quotes multiple parts of this multiple times each time with incredulity, because, you know, incredulity makes a great argument.”  It is difficult to ascribe this comment to Peters’ general incompetence; it smacks of intellectual dishonesty.  Arguing from incredulity, which is a logical fallacy, by the way, is to say that something cannot be true because one personally finds it difficult to believe, and I did no such thing.

My argument against Wallace’s claim here was to point out that

How does the ridiculous criterion of “dissimilarity” show that Jesus had a high view of Scripture? Oh, that’s right; it doesn’t. This is a non sequitur. Wallace did not answer Strobel’s question but simply jumped to another topic ….

So according to these scholars, if a 1st-century Jew says something that sounds like what we’d expect a 1st-century Jew to say, that indicates it’s not authentic, and if the founder of Christianity said things that Christians believe, then that indicates it’s not authentic. Authenticity is determined by dissimilarity! Only a madman or a Biblical scholar could assert such arrant nonsense as this with a straight face, for it is more than obvious that Christians, as followers of Jesus, would base their beliefs on what He said, so of course it would sound similar, and that 1st-century Jews said things that sounded like what 1st-century Jews said – because they were 1st-century Jews.

No. By argument from incredulity, I simply mean that Tors takes a response that he will not accept it and then argues from there. Tors ignores Wallace’s point about how the criterion of dissimilarity shows the case. Jesus is different from the crowds of his day as he rips into the Pharisees for adding Scripture to tradition. Jesus argues that Scripture alone is sufficient and cannot be broken and if tradition contradicts Scripture, tradition is wrong. That is how it makes the case. Jesus was speaking outside of the cultural standards for rabbis of the time by lambasting the Pharisees and his argument against them depended on his having a high view of Scripture.

Peters continues to embarrass himself.  I quoted Wallace saying, “The Gospels contain a summary of what he said. And if it’s a summary, maybe Matthew used some of his own words to condense it.  That doesn’t trouble me in the slightest. It’s still trustworthy,”and I pointed out that “Actually, if the writers are making stuff up and mixing the historical with the non-historical, then it is not trustworthy, as there’s no way to know what in the Bible is true and what isn’t.”

Now, what I have said is axiomatic and so obvious that even a child could understand it.  But not old Nick Peters.  (Either that, or there is a whiff of intellectual dishonesty here also.)  He sniffs,

It is a mystery how one goes from ‘Saying something in one’s own words’ to ‘Making stuff up.’ Apparently, Tors can make these kinds of leaps. He then says there’s no way to know that something in the Bible is true or isn’t, but this is just ridiculous. We can know this by studying history.

Let us look at this point by point, and we will get a good understanding of where old Nick is coming from.

First, he said, “It is a mystery how one goes from ‘Saying something in one’s own words’ to ‘Making stuff up.’ Apparently, Tors can make these kinds of leaps.”

Let us clear up the mystery for him: I did not make a “leap” of any sort.  I said, Actually, if the writers are making stuff up and mixing the historical with the non-historical, then it is not trustworthy.”  “IF the writers are making stuff up.”  IF.  Perhaps Peters should open up a dictionary and perhaps a textbook of English grammar and learn the meaning of the word “if” and how it is used.  If he does that, he should come to understand that my statement is not a “leap”; it is axiomatically true.

By the way, it’s worth pointing out that Tors cries foul if anyone dares to insult him, but he has no problem with it. I’m not whining about this. I actually find it amusing. I quite loved the part about how I “sniffed” something. I easily picture Tors as a red-faced preacher pounding the pulpit and screaming out every line.

Tors’s point is highly false. There is nothing about making stuff up when you say things in your own words. It’s called paraphrasing. The writers of the Gospels had to do this to some extent anyway since Jesus for the most part was speaking Aramaic. That would be translated into Greek by them and they would have to put the saying in the words they thought best captured what Jesus said. Again, they weren’t interested in word-for-word. The gist is what was important.

It still boggles the mind how that means “Making stuff up.” Now if Jesus never told the parable of the prodigal son and Luke just made up the parable and put it in the words of Jesus, that would be making stuff up. If instead the parable was told in Aramaic and Luke put it in his own words in Greek, that would not be making stuff up. Besides, we can be sure that much of what Jesus said was a lot longer than what we have. The Sermon on the Mount can be read in about twenty minutes. I am sure Jesus spoke a lot longer. Matthew is just giving us the main points of the message.

Second, while condensing people’s words is not necessarily problematic when done by a reporter, nor is using one’s own words to describe the situation, claiming that someone said something when in fact he did not say it is an error.  And while other ancient writers may not have been able to avoid such errors, in the case of the Gospel writers, Jesus’ actual words were brought to their memory by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), such errors were not unavoidable, nor did the writers make them.  Why so many evangelical scholars want to ignore John 14:26 is, as we have indicated, difficult to understand.

With this then, I contend that Tors’s view is unsustainable. As soon as we have different words taking place, then inerrancy will have to go. My version of inerrancy is just fine. I don’t go by errors by modern standards, but by ancients where the gist of what was said is sufficient. Again also, John 14:26 would not have anything to say to Mark and Luke and nothing to say about Jesus’s actions.

Third, and this is the most disturbing, Peters says, “He then says there’s no way to know that something in the Bible is true or isn’t, but this is just ridiculous. We can know this by studying history.”  And there you have it, folks.  According to Peters, you can’t know that the Bible is historical, unless you study external sources of history.  The fact that little of the Biblical narrative can be proven “by studying history” doesn’t seem to bother old Nick.  The problem of explaining why the Biblical narratives, unsupported, cannot be known to be historical, but secular historical sources can be is something he does not address (nor is there any indication he has even thought about it), though he is doing a good job of uncritically following Wallace into this morass.

Yes people. Let this keep you awake at night. If you want to know about the reliability of the Bible, you might actually have to *Gasp* study! Horror of horrors! Those who want to defend the Bible and show it to be true will need to study history! It might not be enough to just stand up and shout “God-breathed!” and let that be it.

As for the problem, once again, Tors expects me to address everything. Well let me explain it to you Tors. I give the Bible the benefit of the doubt largely because Jesus rose from the dead. I believe in the Bible because I believe in Jesus, not the other way around. Many areas I have found have been corroborated by study in archaeology and secular sources. Where there is no evidence either way, I am willing to grant the benefit of the doubt to the Bible. It’s proven reliable in areas I can check. I will trust it where I can’t. Tors naturally assumes that since not every post contains my every thought, I must not have thought about something. It’s amazing how arrogance and ignorance often go hand in hand.

It doesn’t even seem to occur to old Nick that the Gospel books are, even at a minimal view, historical documents that must be given the same prima facie credibility as any other historical documents.  And, given the fact that there are four Gospel books, that they are all based on eyewitness testimony (and two were written by apostles), that they were written close to the time of the events described therein, and that their manuscript attestation is considerably better than anything we have for any other ancient writing, the Gospel books are far better historical evidence for the life and career of Jesus than we have for any other ancient personage, including Augustus and Tiberius, the two Roman emperors contemporaneous with Jesus.  They are more than adequate to tell us about Jesus, and we have no need for inferior ancient documents to verify them; “Now beyond all contradiction the lesser is blessed by the better” (Hebrews 7:7), not the other way around.

Well considering that I’ve done podcasts on these topics interviewing scholars and written on them myself on my blog and debated them, yes, I do know about these. One wonders if Tors is just trying to flaunt some intellectual superiority or something here. He does seem quite obsessed with himself after all.

In fact, although Peters claims that “inerrantists do engage with history, and I speak as one of them,” neither he nor his fellow travelers do any such thing; indeed, old Nick shows no indication of even understanding how the application of historiography is to be done.  He seems to think that “apply[ing] historiography to the Bible” is opening a reference book or two written by the sort of people described in our original article and uncritically passing on whatever one finds there.  That is not “apply[ing] historiography to the Bible”; it is more in the nature of chanting a mantra.

Tors seems to think he knows what I’m talking about here. My thinking on the matter is to critically study the books. Even the ones written by my father-in-law I question. When he told me about something Ehrman said once, I thought it was a powerful quote, but I asked where it was and looked it up myself to make sure the quote was right. I also do go and get out the primary sources often and see what they say. I have to do this with modern history with all manner of false quotes put up on the internet. The same applies to ancient history.

The intellectual gallimaufry of Peters becomes even more clear with his next statement: “He also asks how could readers of the Gospel assume any of it was historical? Answer. They wouldn’t. This would also be something that skeptics could look at. Want to know if it’s historical? Just send a servant or two to the area of Judea. Have them ask around. Do an investigation. This is what historians did.”

One wonders why eyewitnesses of events cannot be trusted in what they say, but “historians” can be trusted when they tell us whether these eyewitnesses should or should not be trusted; it should be obvious to anyone who thinks that eyewitness testimony is preferable to the testimony of one who is not an eyewitness.

Looking at this, it’s as if Tors rode into town to skeptical Gentiles who did not believe in resurrections and to Jews who had a zeal for their text and said “Jesus is risen!” and everyone converted. If a skeptic got his hands on a Gospel, he would not assume it was true. He would investigate it. You could say it was from eyewitnesses all day long and that it was God-breathed. That would not be enough. He would want to verify it, and who could blame him? Christianity by social standards was a shameful belief system and one would lose their honor by embracing it.

I also didn’t say historians could be trusted the same way. On mundane claims, one would have no problem, but when it came to claims that put one at an area of risk, one wants to double-check. This is what any wealthy high-honor person would do if they were skeptical.

Beyond that, I don’t think the Gospels were largely written to convince skeptics. It was more for the edification of the church in passing down the life of Jesus, especially as the apostles were getting older and dying. No doubt there was some persuasive effort to them, but that wasn’t the main point. A preacher in a church will often be speaking to the audience of Christians present, but could include enough for a skeptic with questions.

And, more important, while there should be little doubt that people around the mid-1st century AD did “send a servant or two to the area of Judea” (1 Corinthians 15:1-7) who could check personally with eyewitnesses, we live a good 1,900 years too late to use that method ourselves – and according to what old Nick just said, it is the only way we can believe the Bible is historical. So we cannot believe it.  Game over.  One wonders if old Nick is even listening to himself before he makes his assertions.

Sure. We live at a downside with that. Does that mean we’re lost entirely? No. We can study the sources that we do have and the more we study those, the more we see how incredible a book the Bible is. Tors seems to be like someone eager to make a point saying “Did you think of that? Did you? Huh?! Huh?! Huh?! I bet you didn’t!” No, Tors. I did. Sorry, not game over.

I also objected to Peters’ ludicrous assertion that Dr. Paige Patterson (Th.M, Ph.D) is not qualified to comment on issues of New Testament scholarship and exegesis, though Peters (B.Sc.) obviously believes himself qualified to make such comments.  It is strange that he does not realize that most reasonable people would not agree with him about this, but may well see Peters as a coxcomb.

Sorry Tors, but unless Paige Patterson has kept up with the latest in NT scholarship, then no. They shouldn’t speak on the matter. Mike Licona is fine on NT scholarship, but if he speaks on evolution, test that with a better source. I also do not claim that I am a better authority in my person alone. I claim that I am relying on the best scholars in the field. By all means, check everything I say.

Characterizing my objections as “go[ing] after[Peters] and Holding,” old Nick sets about trying to vitiate my claims.  He begins by averring that “I do not think the Bible does have historical or scientific errors. I guess Tors knows my view better than I do. I have no problem with the statement that the Bible is without error.”

Unfortunately, Peters’ avowal here seems at odds with his book’s insistence that “the perception of ‘inerrancy’ offered by the old guard is dangerous, misleading, and obscurantist in that it will result in a view of the Bible that is not defensible or respectable.”  It seems possible to reconcile the two statements only if what old Nick means by “without error” here is actually different from inerrancy as believed by the “old guard.”

It’s quite easy to reconcile and the overwhelming majority of evangelical scholars would understand my view and be behind it. When I say the Bible is without error, I mean according to the rules and standards of writing at the time and not ours. Why should our time be so special that we get to determine what should and should not have been written? We are not that special.

This becomes much clearer, in fact, when Peters goes on to say, “I have a problem with a more wooden inerrancy approach that is bent on literalism and 21st century ideas rather than writing styles of the ancients.” What he derides as “a more wooden inerrancy approach that is bent on literalism” (you know, the Bible means what it actually says) is actual inerrancy, and he has “a problem” with that.  So whatever old Nick may mean by believing the Bible is without error, it is not inerrancy.

The literalism is the problem and again we have to ask about the clear meaning of the text as I indicated above. For instance, I think when Jesus said “This generation will not pass away” in Matthew 24, He meant that generation. Much of the language He described is figurative. Dispensationalists would disagree and take those parts literally and read Jesus talking about a different generation or the Jewish people.

Everyone recognizes that the Bible has different usages of language. It has hyperbole, sarcasm, irony, metaphor, parable, simile, poetry, etc. A literalistic approach is not always the best approach to the text. When Jesus says that the high priest will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds and sitting on the right hand of God, are we to say that Jesus is literally going to ride a cloud while sitting at God’s side the whole time? Not at all. Tors is applying a Western hermeneutic of literalism.

Incredibly, old Nick tries to defend Licona’s drivel, saying, “This might sound like an odd notion, but to refute someone’s interpretation, you have to show the text does not mean what they take it to mean.” It is no surprise that Peters has it backwards yet again.  Since this is not Wonderland, an “interpretation” does not get an initial presumption of validity simply by being put forward; it is the one who says that a statement in the midst of a historical narrative and indistinguishable in style from the surrounding passages is not historical who has the onus probandi – and Licona has not come even remotely close to meeting it.  Had old Nick stayed with philosophy longer, he might have understood that.

Except he has. He spends a number of pages in his book and gave a talk later on at a conference on it. Has he proven it? No. That’s a far more difficult thing to do with history. Has he given a justification? Yes. Am I entirely convinced? No. My thinking is that we should still investigate the claim and see what the text says. When I first heard of the interpretation, I just marked it down as an interesting idea to consider. I hold to the opinion that it is better to debate a question and not settle it, than to settle it and not debate it.

Peters is still not done.  I mentioned in my original article that Peters “is married to Mike Licona’s daughter” – which full disclosure should require.  Old Nick objects, saying, “Why yes, I am married to Mike’s daughter. Apparently, this is being waved around to promote the ‘Bias’ charge.”  Yet again, Peters shows himself to be careless with facts, as I never accused him of bias.

Directly, no. Yet still I never said several things or argued several things and Tors has no problem making assumptions about those. Again, do as he says, not as he does. If not bias, then one wonders what the point of bringing this up is. Even if I am wrong in why it was brought up, can I be blamed for wanting to cut off a possible objection in advance? Apparently, I can be.

In fact, old Nick protests a little too loudly, saying, “All Tors needs to do is contact Mike and be assured from Mike that we have many disagreements, even on the New Testament, and I do not walk in lockstep with him.”  That does not, of course, prove that Licona does not influence Peters’ thinking, as in the selfsame article, Peters tells us that he changed his major from philosophy to New Testament – and he did it “when Mike Licona told me he thought my stuff on NT was really good.”

And this seems to prove my point about bias. To begin with, my point about my major is one that Tors could have seen by doing the research. Tors is talking about the Ebook I wrote that explicitly says what my major is in it. Did he not read it? This calls into question for me Tors’s ability to do research. Note also there’s nothing about “Oh sorry. I got that wrong.” Tors is practically incapable of admitting an error.

And yes, Mike influences me. I do take his words seriously, but I can also question them just as much. Would Tors prefer that I be the son-in-law of a great New Testament scholar and not heed his words? Sorry, but I prefer the path of humility, which I think Tors left long ago as we will see.

Old Nick does not seem to be at all aware how ludicrous his attack on Dr. Patterson is seen to be by any thinking person.  Dr. Patterson, who has done such great work defending the Bible, is being told by a small-time blogger with a “Bachelor of Science in Preaching and Bible from Johnson Bible College” that he is not qualified to comment on the issue of inerrancy, though the small-time blogger with the bachelor’s degree obviously feels that he himself is qualified to comment on this issue, for he freely does it.  Any thinking person would find the hubris of this small-time local blogger to be repugnant.

For those interested in hubris, wait till the end. For now, if anyone wants to know about my ability and such, just read my blogs and other written material and listen to the podcast I present. When I interview someone, see if I ask informed questions that show that I know the subject matter. Feel free to check the endorsements page of my website as well to see what scholars in the field say about my work.

But not to Peters, and it may be his hubris that prevents him from thinking straight.  He actually says, “Does Patterson publish regularly in journals of New Testament scholarship? Is he cited by New Testament scholars? If not, then he’s stepping out of his field” but then goes on to say, “I also am quite sure that the evangelical scholars will go with my work far more than Geisler’s, particularly since I’m the one who interviews them.”

Think about it, folks; according to old Nick, Dr. Patterson (Th.M, Ph.D) has no cachet on inerrancy because he does not “publish regularly in journals of New Testament”  and is not “cited by New Testament scholars,” but “evangelical scholars will go with [Peters’] work far more than Geisler’s,” even though he himself does not “publish regularly in journals of New Testament”  and is not “cited by New Testament scholars” – and holds only a Bachelor’s degree, and not in New Testament studies.

Yes. I am not cited by them. No problem. My claim is whose opinion they will think is more accurate. I interview the scholars. I know what they think. We have enjoyable conversations, much like Daniel Wallace and I had together one night after an ETS meeting where we went out with a bunch of guys. We talked some about New Testament scholarship, and then went on to talk about our wives.

I do not think any scholar who is not related to old Nick will “go with [his] work,” though they may appreciate having him as a cheerleader and for providing a platform through his podcasts.  Peters seems to be living in a fantasy world of his own.

Then Tors is simply wrong, as Dan Wallace says in his review of my Ebook co-written with James Patrick Holding, Defining Inerrnacy,

Defining Inerrancy: Affirming a Defensible Faith for a New Generation, by J. P. Holding and Nick Peters, published by Tekton E-Bricks on 22 May 2014, is intended to be a response to Norm Geisler and Bill Roach’s Defending Inerrancy—and so much more. Both have a similar cover and similar title. Defining Inerrancy, however, is a gloves-off defense and affirmation of a version of inerrancy that many are not acquainted with. That is, many except those who are Old and New Testament scholars.

Translation: The material in the Ebook is not news to Old and New Testament scholars. Wallace knows them and knows them even better than I do. Tors can keep talking about the fantasy world, but he ignores that I do meet with these scholars and talk with them. I count Dan Wallace as a friend of mine as I do many other scholars through my work on my podcast.

In sum, old Nick can be safely ignored by all.  His approach is damaging to the church.  Fortunately, he is a small-time blogger and podcaster, and it is unlikely that he will have much influence, and certainly not on those who are not already inclined to follow the destructive path outlined in our original article.

Time will tell what will happen. As it is, I think my reach is getting better and better, but again, time will tell. As for Tors, I am confident that he will keep marginalizing himself more and more and staying in his insulated circle. As I told people I was responding to him, the response I got was “Who?”

Of course, it’s bizarre to say Mike is the next Bart Ehrman. In fact, the more likely scenario is someone in Geisler’s camp would be the next Bart Ehrman since Ehrman was one who put too many eggs in the Inerrancy basket and not just Inerrancy, but a literalist Inerrancy. If Geisler thinks that that is not a problem, I’d like him to meet the several ex-Christian atheists that I’ve met online who in large part left Christianity because they had the Inerrancy doctrine called into question when they in reality held to a modern view of Inerrancy, like Geisler’s.

It doesn’t seem to occur to Peters to wonder what would have happened to these “ex-Christian atheists” had they come across an apologist who accepted inerrancy and gave them solutions to their difficulties, instead of coming across the type who said, “Yeah, there are errors in the Bible, but don’t worry about it.  Yeah, the Bible is wrong about creation but, hey, trust it on the resurrection anyway.”

The problem is that this approach leads to more difficulties. When I meet an atheist who wants to argue creation, I take them to the resurrection. Why? Because you could argue until you’re blue in the face and you might convince them their objections don’t hold wait, but it won’t get them to the cross. I also don’t do the game that I call “Stump The Bible Scholar.” This is where a Christian is presented with a list of 100 contradictions in the Bible. Suppose this Christian goes and researches all of them and answers them all. Will the skeptic convert? Not a chance. He’ll just get 100 more contradictions. It also continues the idea of the all-or-nothing game. As Wallace says in his above review

In Defining Inerrancy, the authors note that they have known many evangelicals who have abandoned the faith precisely because they started out with such a hardening of the categories. This rings true: I get countless emails from people who have either jettisoned their beliefs (or have friends or family members who have) because their starting presupposition was that it’s inerrancy or nothing. Such people would throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater! And it is this very problem that one of the architects of modern evangelicalism, Carl Henry (who could hardly be condemned as being soft on inerrancy!), addressed in his book, Evangelicals in Search of Identity. It seems that many evangelicals are still not listening. And yet Henry saw, forty years ago, that the evangelical church was making inerrancy the litmus test of orthodoxy to its discredit. Yet again, I digress. Holding and Peters are not in the least denying inerrancy; they are simply rejecting a rigid form of it that they see as dangerous to the health of the evangelical church.

Note also I do not say the Bible is wrong on creation, but when it comes to the science of the matter, I’m more than happy to tag another friend of mine who knows the science far better. It is a mistake to think one must be an expert in everything. I am happy to let someone more knowledgeable in that area than I deal with the question.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the completely wrongheaded and dangerous approach adopted by old Nick Peters is to look at his handing of Genesis 1.   He says:

This is why when it comes to evolution, I stay out of the debate. I am not a scientist and I do not speak the language. If you think evolution is false and want to argue it, here’s what you do and I don’t think even the staunchest evolutionist will disagree with me on this point. Go do your study and preferably a degree in a science that is related to the field, such as biology, and study the arguments for and against and make your own arguments and present a case from the sciences that refutes evolution. If evolution is bad science after all, the way to refute it is with good science.

And there you have it, folks.  You are a Christian – you believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be, God the Son and Saviour; you follow Him and you know that He proclaimed Scripture to be the word of God (Matthew 4:4), that it cannot be broken (John 10:35), and that it must be fulfilled (passim) – but if you want to know about origins, don’t bother to study the word of God, to investigate it with your knowledge of Hebrew and exegesis, because none of that matters.  You need to get a degree in science so that you can assess the indirect inferences of secular men and decide about origins.  What is the authority here: the word of God or secular science?

Here’s the problem Tors. If you go to a skeptic who doesn’t accept Scripture and tell him evolution is false, he will discount what you say immediately. I follow the following advice:

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he hold to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.

Who said that? A modern liberal? Nope. Augustine centuries ago. It’s still true today. If evolution is false, it will be false because it will be bad science and can be shown scientifically. If you want to argue evolution, you actually need to study science. Tors again falls for the idea of the Bible as a science textbook, as if God’s main concern in Genesis 1 was giving us science.

Now, Walton denies that God created the Earth in six 24-hour days, as the Bible clearly teaches; “The Genesis account , he claims, refers to a literal seven day period in history, sometime after the material creation, when God assigned the cosmos its real intended functions, prior to his taking up residence in it as his temple.”  But Walton does not have a degree in science, the prerequisite Peters demanded, so why does he accept his view over the plain meaning of the Biblical text?  Why is Walton qualified to proclaim on this issue without that all-important science degree?  By Peters’ own standards, he should not “hold more to John Walton’s view on Genesis 1.”

Because Walton’s approach is a hermeneutical one. I have argued you could hold to Walton’s approach and be a YEC, an OEC, and a theistic evolutionist. Tors also assumes the plain meaning of the text is one to a modern Western person. Perhaps he should read Walton’s book on the topic. Since Geisler is not a YEC, does he want to also argue that Geisler is denying inerrancy by going against the “plain meaning” of the text and using science to interpret the text? Walton does nothing like that. Walter Kaiser would also agree as he has said that Genesis tells you that it happened in the beginning. It’s the science that tells you how old the Earth is.

In his blog post,Nick Peters made various claims and charges that require responses, but some did not fit into the flow of our main article, so they are addressed herein.  Peters’ comments are prefaced with “Re:” and are italicized; my responses are in regular type.

Re:My ministry partner, J.P. Holding, has updated his page on Mark 1:2 in response to some of what Tors says. I will thus not be responding to criticisms of Holding unless they involve me directly.”

Holding’s update to his page utterly fails to rebut anything I said.  His update has been demolished, as can be seen at our article “Mark 1:2 Revisited: A Response to James Patrick Holding”, at http://www.truthinmydays.com/mark-12-revisited-a-response-to-james-patrick-holding/.

Demolished so well that Tors started stopping Holding’s comments because he didn’t want to embarrass him. Right. Of course, in Tors’s world, as soon as he says something, the opposition is demolished.

There are certainly differences in wording among the Gospel books, but that does not mean the words of Jesus were replaced by the Gospel writers who “recorded the gist of it.”

First, as Peters notes, Jesus spoke mostly in Aramaic, while the Gospel books were written in Greek.  But old Nick does not seem to realize that when translating from one language to another, it is possible in many cases to make different choices of wording so that they are different in the target language, but all of them accurately portray the original language.

Absolutely, but they won’t be word for word. They will be different. There is also a difference between “before the cock crows” and “before the cock crows twice.” The gist of the saying is what mattered.

Furthermore, there is no reason to think each conversation is recorded in full.  In conversations, questions may have been asked more than once, in different words, and answered more than once, in different words.  The different Gospel writers might have recorded different parts of the conversation.

So Tors can say that the writers condensed something and yet, that’s okay. Wallace says the same thing and he’s denying inerrancy. Gotta love it. We also have “might have”. Does Tors not know? The text is God-breathed! Does He want to cut out the words of God?!

The utter silliness of old Nick is shown in his apparently-meant-to-be-sarcastic question, “Are we to think Peter said radically different things when he made his great confession of faith to Jesus?

Here is Peter’s great confession in the various Gospel books:

Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.” (Mark 8:29)

Peter answered and said, “The Christ of God.” (Luke 9:20)

These are all different, but a skeptic could point out the “evolution” in the text. Matthew takes Jesus from being the Christ to being the Son of God as well. I have no problem saying the content is the same, but the wording is different each time, but there’s no dispute at what is at the heart.

Re:“We have to wonder what Tors is thinking here. Does he think someone would come up to Matthew and say “Hey Matthew. What are you writing?” “I don’t know. It’s in Greek.” Is it just awful to think that Matthew told a story in his own words? Perish the thought!

It seems that this unutterable genius that is Nick Peters does not realize that Matthew, as a tax collector, had to know Greek and had to be good at it.   He really needs to do his homework.

Sarcasm is lost on this one. It’s something you notice about fundamentalists. They don’t really have a sense of humor. I have in fact spoken elsewhere saying that Matthew was one who was definitely literate in the apostles being a tax collector. Tors really needs to get a sense of humor.

Re: I seriously doubt Dan Wallace will want to spend much time with Tors so I will take them on for him.

“If so, then either of [Geisler and Patterson] are free to respond to the criticisms that I have made of their approach. Nothing has been said by them so far. Geisler ignored a challenge that was put on his wall by someone else from Holding and banned the person who put it up.”

Interesting; in old Nick’s fantasy world, scholars of course rightly ignore me but naturally should not ignore old Nick (or his friend Holding) but should respond.  The possibility that Geisler does not respond to Holding for the same reason that Wallace does not respond to me does not seem even to occur to him.

In fact, I have no reason to think that Wallace has any idea that I wrote about him; he is no doubt a very busy man.  But if he will not “want to spend much time with Tors,” he has been well advised; it is another maxim of strategic warfare not to enter into a battle one cannot possibly win.  And he cannot win this one.

Tors again misses the point. Does Geisler owe us a response? No. But, if someone puts up a challenge and that person is blocked and the post deleted, then it is clear that someone is ignoring counter-evidences. Also, with my defense of Mike Licona, I would easily be seen as the one most representative of Mike and speaking on his behalf. Geisler also has referred to my defense, but he has never addressed it. That’s a big difference.

By the way, with what I said earlier about hubris, consider Tors is confident that he could best Wallace on this one. Not counting on Wallace taking up the gauntlet, but it would be amusing. Apparently, the lesson on humility is for everyone else.

In closing, I plan on this being my last response unless something drastic happens. Tors is like a tar baby that will take up too much of my time, when I have speaking jobs to do, books to read for my show, and a beautiful Princess to treasure. Further responses I will leave to others.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Deeper Waters Podcast 3/11/2017: Mike Licona

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

“It depends on which Gospel you read!” Many of us have heard Bart Ehrman talk about this in describing Gospel differences. It is a kind of unavoidable problem. Why are there differences in the Gospels? Shouldn’t we expect them to agree, especially on major events like the resurrection?

If you want to know why there are differences in the Gospels, you should talk to someone who has written on this. In fact, the very name of his book is Why Are There Differences In The GospelsThat someone is Mike Licona, a friend, a scholar, a great apologist, and my father-in-law, and he will be my guest. So who is he?

MikeLicona

According to his bio:

Mike Licona has a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies (University of Pretoria), which he completed with distinction. He serves as associate professor in theology at Houston Baptist University. Mike was interviewed by Lee Strobel in his book The Case for the Real Jesus and appeared in Strobel’s video The Case for Christ. He is the author of numerous books including Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? What We Can Learn From Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017), The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP Academic, 2010), Paul Meets Muhammad (Baker, 2006), co-author with Gary Habermas of the award-winning book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel, 2004) and co-editor with William Dembski of Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science (Baker, 2010). Mike is a member of the Evangelical Theological and Philosophical Societies, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature. He has spoken on more than 90 university campuses, and has appeared on dozens of radio and television programs.

We’ll be talking about Plutarch in comparison with the Gospels, including not just parallel accounts, but how does the writing of Plutarch compare even with anonymity, dating, and miraculous activity? We’ll then be looking at some scenes in Plutarch that appear in more than one life that he has written, but at the same time are vastly different. We’ll be discussing how these work when carried over to the Gospels and if there are similarities in treatment.

We’ll then go to the Gospels. What are we to make of the idea of Ehrman that “It depends on which Gospel you read?” How does this research affect the doctrine of inerrancy if it does at all? What are we to do when we read the same story in different Gospels and see great differences between them? Do the differences outweigh the similarities?

I hope you’ll be listening. Mike Licona is an excellent scholar and this work is one that has been published by Oxford Press and so one can’t say it’s your regular evangelical press. I also hope you’ll be willing to go to ITunes and leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I always love to see how much you like the show.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

 

Book Plunge: The Miracle Myth

What do I think of Lawrence Shapiro’s book published by Columbia University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been said before that when Christian Philosopher Alvin Plantinga gets a critique of the Christian worldview, he likes to take his opponent’s argument and reshape it, not to make it weaker, but to remove any problems he sees in it. He wants to make it as strong as he can. When that is done, he goes and then deals with the argument.

Shapiro seems to take the exact opposite approach of taking arguments of his opponents and making them as weak as possible in this book.

This is a book that does not deal accurately with any of the ideas that it wishes to critique. The author takes straw man after straw man and then announces with joy that the hideously weak case has been knocked down. Unfortunately, Shapiro has knocked down a sand castle while a powerful fortress stands there untouched.

In fact, a striking problem of Shapiro’s book is how little time he spends discussing actual miracle claims. There are many times he argues against the idea of miracles and in fact painting them as ridiculous as claims of alien abductions or Bigfoot. The only two claims of a miracle he takes on are the Book of Mormon and the resurrection of Jesus, and while I disagree with the former entirely, even then Shapiro does a horrible job dealing with this.

Fortunately, at the start Shapiro does make clear what he’s arguing against. He says “Miracles, I argue, should be understood as events that are the result of supernatural, typically divine, forces.” Now at this point, I still wonder what is meant by this term supernatural. I don’t see atheists and skeptics define it a lot and the supernatural/natural dichotomy makes no sense to me.

I can’t help but wonder how familiar Shapiro is with some miracle arguments when he says “Why do we think that it’s perfectly natural that a stone falls when dropped or that metal expands when heated or that days are shorter in the winter than in the summer? We do so because these events and others like them happen all the time.” Of course, Hume himself said that dropping a stone 1,000 times and watching it fall will not prove that it will fall the 1,001st time.

At the start of his story The Man Who Was Thursday, Chesterton wrote about a man who was amazed about all that did happen like that. It is amazing when a train reaches the correct stop or a letter reaches the correct address because there was a potentially infinite number of places it could have gone to. All of these are a way of establishing order in the universe.

Why bring this up? Because unknowingly to Shapiro I suspect, when he makes statements like this, he’s upholding the theism he would be arguing against. This is, in fact, part and parcel of the fifth way of Thomas Aquinas. The fact that there is expected order at all is something that needs to be explained and with more than “We see it happen every day.” You may see a man kiss his wife every day, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to know of a reason behind it.

Right after this, Shapiro does bring up the natural/supernatural distinction which he thinks that nearly everyone accepts. Perhaps they do, but for what reason? I contend that it is not a good one as I have questioned Christians and atheists on this one and never received replies that make sense of the distinction. I prefer to speak of objects acting according to their nature unless other objects or forces or beings intervene.

I’m not surprised when I get to Location 571 in my Kindle reading and read “If science tells us anything, it’s that the dead tend to stay that way.” Normally, this kind of statement isn’t really spelled out which makes it all the more humorous. Perhaps Shapiro just isn’t aware that man in the past has always tended to bury or dispose of the dead in some way. We learned pretty quickly that they’re not coming back. If this is the discovery of modern science, then please tell me which scientist discovered this and when it took place. We know more scientifically about death, but you don’t have to be a scientist to know that dead people stay dead.

Shapiro then says something about the inference to the best explanation. It’s understandable that when you see something science can’t seem to explain, such as a statue crying, you can infer that the cause must be something outside the realm of science (Which is what he would call supernatural.). There’s nothing wrong with the reasoning per se. We do it all the time with what we can’t observe.

At this point, I wonder about the question of goodness. Do we observe goodness? Hume would have said we didn’t. You talk about how the action feels to you and you impress that onto the action. Myself being a Thomist, would prefer to say that the goodness is in the action itself and you recognize it as such. Science cannot explain this goodness. It’s a metaphysical quality. This is not to insult science. It’s just properly recognizing the limits of science.

At 841, Shapiro tells us that whatever we assume about God’s nature is purely speculative. Really, they’re guesses. Somehow, Aristotle and Aquinas and other thinkers didn’t get that memo. They used reasoning about metaphysical matters to arrive at a conclusion about God they could argue for. Sadly, Shapiro never bothers to look at such arguments.

Shortly after, he starts to say something about the resurrection. He tells us that there is a better natural explanation, that for instance, the women went to the wrong tomb or the body was stolen by grave robbers. These would surely explain the data better.

Except they don’t. Kirsopp Lake tried the wrong tomb explanation long ago. It never got much ground. Anyone would have been happy to point out the right tomb. As for grave robbers, grave robbers would normally not steal the whole body but only the parts they needed. None of these would explain either the appearances or the conversion of skeptics like Paul and James.

But hey, Shapiro just needs a just so story. Just throw it out and boom, you’ve shown what a better thinker you are. Obviously, this is something that has never crossed the mind of Christians ever.

It’s ironic he says this in response to Licona’s book on the resurrection where counter-theories would be dealt with. He also says Licona cannot say that this is a miracle. Unfortunately for Shapiro, Licona regularly speaks about what a miracle is. It’s described as an event that goes beyond the laws of nature and takes place in an atmosphere charged with religious significance.

A blind man sits at home one day and all of a sudden, BOOM!, his eyes are open and he can see. Is this a miracle? Maybe.Maybe not. On Licona’s terms, it wouldn’t look like it just yet. Meanwhile, a blind man is at a church service and people gather around him and pray in faith that in the name of Jesus the man’s eyes would be opened. The man can then see. This would be a miracle.

Shapiro also gives an account of Sally. Sally is a little girl who is amazingly accurate with all she says. Unfortunately, she’s also boring. She talks about mundane things regularly. Then one day you see Sally and she talks about how she’s been an alien hostage for twelve years and had gone through a wormhole and because of that, it will seem to us like she was never gone. After all of the description, he asks if we should believe her. His reply is we shouldn’t.

I have a different reply. I understand skepticism. By all means, be skeptical, but instead, ask “Okay. What is the evidence?” Could we take Sally to a doctor to check her for bruises? Could we see where the abduction took place to see some residue? Could Sally tell us facts about the universe and such she would not have known otherwise that we can verify?

Does that seem bizarre to you? Why should it? What is wrong with receiving a strange claim and just asking “What is the evidence?” I’m skeptical of alien abductions, but I am sure that if someone was abducted by aliens, they would want to talk about it. Should I discount the story immediately without seeing the evidence they have?

Shapiro also gives an account of a disease that can only be treated if caught early. The disease is a deadly one, but the treatment leaves one in a horrid state. The test for the disease is accurate when it says someone has it 999 out of 1,000 times. The test says you have it. Should you get the treatment?

Shapiro argues that there is in fact overall a 1 in 10,000,000 chance of getting the disease. Since I am not a specialist on probability, I spoke to my friend Tim McGrew on this, who is a specialist on this. According to him, this means that at the start, the probability you have the disease is .0000001. If the test makes it a thousand times more likely that you have it, your odds are still ,0001.

McGrew says that in that case, it might not be wise to get the treatment regardless of what the test says, but what if there are other tests? What if you can go to other doctors and find other means? Each of these will increase the odds. Should you not at least consider doing this?

McGrew also points out that events like miracles are not like catching a disease where one in a certain population will get it as a random event in the universe. A miracle is a deliberate action by an agent. It is not as if we bury people and one out of every 10,000,000 will rise from the dead.

Shapiro also says with other events, we have more independent sources and other evidence, such as if we take the account that a volcano destroyed Pompeii. I find this one quite amusing since for Pompeii, we only have one direct reference to it. We have allusions to it, but it’s only mentioned by Pliny to Tacitus telling about why his uncle died in an off-the-cuff remark. It’s not until Cassius Dio centuries later that we learn that Herculaneum was destroyed.

Amazingly, Shapiro does concede that if God exists and He is omnipotent, this raises the probability that the resurrection happened to one. You would think that someone would want to look at theistic arguments at that point, but it looks like Shapiro doesn’t. Shapiro in fact asks why not believe in aliens or other entities that raised Jesus. If Shapiro wants to make a case for any of those, he’s welcome to it. We will make our case for a theism consistent with the Aristotelian-Thomistic arguments and see which explanation makes the better case.

It’s sadly not much of a shock when Shapiro goes also to “the historian Richard Carrier.” (Cue Yakity Sax playing in your head right now.) I could repeat all that Carrier says here in comparing Jesus’s resurrection to the crossing of the Rubicon, but I have done that elsewhere. Keep in mind also that in historical statements about this event, Shapiro says “We have the written reports that historians produced a couple hundred years after the event.” Keep this in mind because this tells us right now that a couple of hundred years isn’t a problem.

Doug Geivett was also the one who made the claim originally that the evidence of Jesus rising from the dead is comparable to that of Caesar crossing the Rubicon. Shapiro says Geivett would be disappointed to learn that Carrier thinks the Biblical miracles are made up. No, I quite contend that Geivett would not be at all disappointed, other than disappointment for the possible salvation of Carrier. Carrier’s positions are getting more and more to the extreme that it looks more and more that if Carrier says something is true, the opposite is far more likely to be true.

A story Shapiro goes on to deal with then is the account of the Book of Mormon. Now I have done some reading on Mormonism including all of their Scriptures, but it’s hardly a specialty area. Still, while Shapiro makes a good case, it’s just a decent one. Much more could have been said. What is interesting is that he makes a case with something he thinks many of us would readily agree on to show us that the case for the resurrection is just as bad.

Oh really?

In all of this, Shapiro has been wanting to compare Jesus to the story of a frog in India who heals pets who are brought to him, except for ferrets. For some reason, he does not like ferrets. The person telling you about this frog is convinced. Now it’s time to see how well this holds up.

The frog believer tells you at this point that not until decades later did someone think to write down anything about the accounts. Yes. Decades later. This is a man who just recently said a couple of hundred years wasn’t a problem for crossing the Rubicon. Now decades later is a problem for Jesus.

Shapiro also doesn’t ask why the accounts were never written down. He never pauses to think that he lives in a society where books are easily made, inexpensive generally, and everyone can read them. I got his book sent to me immediately on my Kindle and it didn’t cost a lot. Did the ancients have it the same way? Not at all.

In the ancient world, you had two choices. You could go with oral tradition for one. This was free, quite reliable, (Shapiro would have to say that as oral tradition would be necessary for those historians writing a couple hundred years later) and could reach everyone who could speak the language. You could also write. Writing was timely and expensive, not seen as reliable when compared to oral tradition, and could only reach those who could read unless someone read it to them.

This would have been a good thought for Shapiro to consider, but he never does. Instead, he just assumes that the culture was just like his and writing makes the most sense. To us, it does. To them, it didn’t.

Shapiro also says before researching this book, he was profoundly ignorant of the New Testament. I think Shapiro is in a worse position now. He is still profoundly ignorant of the New Testament, but now he thinks that he is informed on it. This isn’t a big shock since he tells us his sources are Bart Ehrman and Richard Carrier. After all, when you want to learn about a view, there’s nothing like going to people who will already agree with the ideas that you hold.

At the start, he is skeptical about written records because the people who were Jesus’s disciples couldn’t write anything. Perhaps, but perhaps not. Some fishermen would need a basic literacy, especially being in charge of a business. Tax collectors would definitely need a basic literacy. Also, the people we attribute the Gospels to does not mean they themselves sat down and wrote the account. Most writings were done through scribes. The Gospel according to Matthew could mean that Matthew was the main source of the account, for instance. We know there were well-to-do people in the early church and they’d just need to give some funding for the writing of the Gospel and it would be made.

Speaking of authorship, Shapiro says that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not the original authors. Unfortunately, you will not see him interacting with any positive case. He thinks it sufficient to show that Irenaeus said there were four Gospels because there were four corners of the Earth and four principle winds. Never mind that this says nothing about authorship and even only makes sense if it is already accepted that there are four Gospels. Never mind there’s no interaction with someone like Dr. Charless Hill who wrote Who Chose The Gospels? Just make the assertion and that’s enough. Of course, any case will sound good if you only present the evidence for your side.

For enemy assent, he says you would think that if Jesus returned from the dead, some Roman or Jew would write about it to express their disappointment. Why? Why would you expect that? In fact, we did have one Jew who wrote about it. That was Paul. His opinion won’t count though because He became a Christian. We have no evidence that Jesus appeared to the Romans or the Jews en masse so why would they give a testament of it? They would want to shut this up immediately.

Shapiro does tell us that Josephus mentions Jesus twice, but we can’t be sure if the writings are authentic since Christians passed them down. This is news to Josephus scholars who are quite convinced that the Testimonium has an authentic core to it with information about Jesus and the second reference is really not questioned at all. It would have been nice for Shapiro to actually look at real scholars on these issues specifically, but he doesn’t.

For physical evidence, Shapiro thinks it’s interesting that square stones were used to seal tombs instead of round ones so they couldn’t be rolled. Shapiro thinks that since this basic fact is wrong, we can’t trust the accounts. Is this accurate? I spoke to Greg Monette about this who I have interviewed on this before. Monette has spent time in Israel and is doing his Ph.D. on the burial of Jesus.  This is what he told me about it.

Simple answer: even if it were a square stone what do you call it when you move it into place? You ROLL IT!!! It’s true that many tombs discovered have square stones but not all. Rachel Hachlili and L. Y. Rahmani provide numerous references to round doors. I’ve personally seen some in Jerusalem.

For reliable accounting, he tells us our information ultimately comes from two sources. It comes from Mark and from John. He makes no mention of Paul and he makes no mention of material unique to Matthew and Luke and no mention of Q.

Amusingly, in the middle of this, he says that we today “have a sophisticated medical science that explains what happens in death and why death is irreversible, except very rarely and certainly not after a period of three days.” It’s as if the ancients just didn’t know that dead people stay dead. Sorry, but this is hardly breaking news.

He goes on to say that New Testament scholars recognized long ago that the Gospels as they are today would be unrecognizable to the original authors? Really? What scholars are these? In talking about this, he refers to Bart Ehrman. That sounds like a good idea. Let’s see what Bart Ehrman says about this.

If the primary purpose of this discipline is to get back to the original text, we may as well admit either defeat or victory, depending on how one chooses to look at it, because we’re not going to get much closer to the original text than we already are.… At this stage, our work on the original amounts to little more than tinkering. There’s something about historical scholarship that refuses to concede that a major task has been accomplished, but there it is. Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior: An Evaluation: TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism, 1998, a revision of a paper presented at the Textual Criticism section of the 1997 Society of Biblical Literature in San Francisco. http://rosetta.reltech.org/TC/vol03/Ehrman1998.html

 

In spite of these remarkable [textual] differences, scholars are convinced that we can reconstruct the original words of the New Testament with reasonable (although probably not 100 percent) accuracy. Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 481.

Shapiro also tells us that within a couple of centuries of the writing of the Gospels, hundreds of distinct Gospels had to exist. Okay. Show them? What’s the evidence for this? Go with the manuscripts we have and show me the vastly different manuscripts.

He also wants to bring out some discoveries that will be absolutely shocking! Now if you’ve read this blog any, none of this will shock you, other than Shapiro’s ignorance about it and the ideas he brings from it. As I said earlier, Shapiro moved from being profoundly ignorant to being profoundly ignorant and thinking he’s not.

His first major shock for you is that 1 John 5:7-8 is not in the original manuscripts. (Shapiro has John 5:7-8 and nothing about it being 1 John) So what do we draw from this? It’s that the author of John never accepted the Trinity.

Yes. I’m serious. That’s exactly what he says.

Of course, there will be no interaction with scholars like Tilling, Bauckham, Hurtado, and others. Never mind you can see the full deity of Jesus in the Gospel of John plain as day. Never mind the early church never had this verse and they still had no problem condemning Arius. Never mind that technically this verse doesn’t even go with the Trinity. Arians and modalists could still interpret it a different way. The ignorance of Shapiro is astounding.

Next major shock. The Gospel of Mark did not originally have the last twelve verses which means the first witness we have did not mention the resurrection. Well, no. The first witness we have is Paul who did talk about the resurrection. Second, it would be a mistake to think that Mark has no resurrection. Who would disagree with him on this? Bart Ehrman. Check footnote 280 on p. 226 of How Jesus Became God.

It is sometimes said that Mark does not have a resurrection narrative, since the final twelve verses (16:9–20) are lacking in our best and earliest manuscripts. It is true that Mark appears to have ended his Gospel with what is now 16:8, but that does not mean that he lacks an account of Jesus’s resurrection. Jesus is indeed raised from the dead in Mark’s Gospel, as the women visiting the tomb learn. What Mark lacks is any account of Jesus appearing to his disciples afterward; in this it is quite different from the other three canonical Gospels.

And finally, the account of the woman caught in adultery is not in the original writings. Of course, no doctrine hangs on this one at all, but what is amazing is how amazed Shapiro is by these discoveries. He thinks he’s found something that blows apart the idea of the reliability of the Bible. Question for Shapiro. How do you know that these weren’t in the originals? Could it be you know that because we do in fact have great information on what is in the originals?

But nope, Shapiro thinks this destroys any idea that the Gospels are reliable. The only matter destroyed here is the idea that anyone should pay attention to anything Shapiro says. I can take him to the best conservative scholars who have no problem thinking the text is reliable and know these problems already. Perhaps my interview with Dan Wallace would suffice.

In good scholarly humility, Shapiro decides to interact with N.T. Wright and say “It seems that Wright’s case for the resurrection—consisting of more than seven hundred pages of learned and dense analysis of the historical context in which Jesus and the authors of the New Testament lived—can be easily disassembled with the philosophical tools that I have illustrated in the preceding pages.”
Never underestimate the ego of modern day atheists.

He goes on to say that to grant that Jesus’s tomb was found empty and that people claimed to see Him alive after his crucifixion is to beg the question. No, Shapiro. It is not. It is to go with the conclusion of Biblical scholars across the board who have studied this. While Ehrman is a rarity who discounts the burial, let’s look at what he says on the appearances.

“We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that . . . he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.” (Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, pg 230).

Shapiro wants to argue also that all that is necessary is just the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. Unfortunately, belief will not explain what happened to the body or the appearances or the conversion of skeptics like Paul and James. Shapiro gives an explanation that explains nothing and then thinks he’s defeated Christianity. You honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry. In fact, he’s so desparate for a solution that he even goes with the twin hypothesis and says maybe Jesus had a twin named Kanye.

Shapiro gives an explanation that explains nothing and then thinks he’s defeated Christianity. You honestly don’t know whether to laugh or cry. In fact, he’s so desparate for a solution that he even goes with the twin hypothesis and says maybe Jesus had a twin named Kanye.

To top things off, Shapiro thinks that if we are strong conservatives, his arguments should be found very troubling. The only troubling matter is Shapiro actually thinks they’re troubling. Shapiro actually makes me thankful that atheists are getting more and more uninformed and thinking they are informed.

He also has an appendix asking what the supernatural is. The oddity is that he never really answers the question the whole time through. I searched and searched and found nothing. It’s also worth pointing out that not once in this book is Craig Keener’s work interacted with.

In conclusion, Shapiro’s book leaves me tempted to be an environmentalist. It’s a shame so many innocent trees will die. I hope in the future we’ll see a better class of skeptics than this.

Book Plunge: Why Are There Differences In The Gospels?

What do I think of Mike Licona’s book published by Oxford University Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Go to any debate online about the New Testament and one idea you’ll see pop up regularly will be “It contradicts itself over and over.” Go listen to Bart Ehrman and hear him speak about these and what will he say? “Depends on which Gospel you read?” Gospel differences are something that is a cause of concern to many a skeptic and of course, many a Christian as well. Especially if you hold a high view of inerrancy, you want to know why there are so many differences in the Gospel accounts.

This question isn’t anything new. It goes back to the church fathers. This is in fact why there was even an attempt to turn the four Gospels into one Gospel, but the church didn’t really go for it. As it stands, we have four today and they do contain obvious differences, so do we just have sloppy historians or what? Should we call into question the reliability of the Gospels because of this?

Mike Licona has chosen to answer this question and has done so by doing something that many in our world could consider cheating, but hey, he did it. He actually went back and compared differences in accounts of the same event by an author close to the time of Jesus. His choice was Plutarch and he looked at some of his lives that described figures who lived at about the same time and were quite likely written close to each other chronologically.

Of course, everyone should be warned of possible bias on my part. As many know, Mike Licona is my father-in-law, but at the same time when we have our discussions, if I think he is wrong on something, I do not hesitate to tell him. He got a blunt son-in-law when I married Allie.

Mike’s approach is unique and something that had not been done before. If there is any difficulty I encounter when I am engaging with skeptics of the faith is that they assume the way we do things today is superior simply because that is the way we do them. If we do history this way, well that is the right way to do history. If we want this kind of precision in an account, well that has to be superior and that is what the ancients would want. The greatest error we often make is we impose our own time and culture and society on the ancient world and then misread them.

This is why I say Mike cheated, though in a loose sense of course. He actually went back and saw how they did history and what do you see? You see that the differences that you see in the Gospels that are so problematic are the same kinds of differences you see in Plutarch. Some will no doubt complain and say that surely the Gospel writers would not write Holy Scripture in a style that was known to the pagan world. (Yeah. The second person of the Trinity can condescend to become a human being and die on a cross, but using a certain literary style? God forbid!) Such an opinion is going against the overwhelming majority of Biblical scholarship and ignores how God has often met people where they were and if the writers wanted to write a biography of Jesus to tell about His life and teachings, there weren’t many other options.

Mike goes through the accounts and shows that Plutarch used many different techniques when writing and that the Gospel writers did the same. He has a number of pericopes in Plutarch and a number in the Gospels that give a cross comparison. If one wants to throw out the Gospels as unreliable then, one will have to do the same with Plutarch. This indeed raises the debate to a whole new level. Is the modern skeptic willing to throw out one of the most prolific writers in ancient history just to avoid the Gospels?

What does this say for we moderns as well? It tells us what I said at the beginning. We can too often assume our own standards of accuracy and throw those onto the text not bothering to ask if the ancients followed them. If they did not, then we are being anachronistic with the writers and in fact, being unfair with them. They were not moderns and we should not treat them like moderns.

This should also be taken into account when considering our modern idea of inerrancy. For instance, many of us might think inerrancy means we have to have the exact words of Jesus. What if the Gospel writers did not think that but wanted the exact voice instead? In other words, they wanted the gist of what Jesus said even if it wasn’t exact wordage? That’s okay. We just have to accept that. The ancient works were not modern works and if we impose on them what they aren’t, we will get the wrong message and also miss the true message of them.

Mike’s work has really raised the bar of debate and pushed it beyond just simple harmonization. It is harmonization based on how the ancients did it and not how we moderns do it. I fully hope that other scholars will come alongside and critique the work, both positively and negatively and that we can, in turn, come to a greater understanding of the Gospel texts.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 10/15/2016: Mike Licona

What’s coming up Saturday? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Gospels are some of the most well known works of literature in the world. Yet today, there is much debate about them. On the one hand, you have some people who are convinced that everything in them is literally true. On the other, you have people who are more of the mythicist mindset who think they’re all totally false. In the middle you have various positions, like my own which is a contextualizing inerrancy or that of many NT scholars today who think there is some truth but not everything is true.

Well what are we to think? Are the Gospels reliable? Can they stand up to the test of scrutiny? Are they good sources to learn about the historical Jesus from?

These are all good questions to ask. Of course, if you ask a good question, you need to make sure you go to a good source for the answer. For that, I decided to bring back a personal favorite guest of mine. This Saturday, I’m pleased to welcome one of the two people in the world I can rightly call “Dad” to the studio. It will be my father-in-law Mike Licona.

Who is he?

MikeLicona

According to his bio:

Mike Licona has a Ph.D. in New Testament Studies (University of Pretoria), which he completed with distinction. He serves as associate professor in theology at Houston Baptist University. Mike was interviewed by Lee Strobel in his book The Case for the Real Jesus and appeared in Strobel’s video The Case for Christ. He is the author of numerous books including Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? What We Can Learn From Ancient Biography (Oxford University Press, 2017), The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (IVP Academic, 2010), Paul Meets Muhammad (Baker, 2006), co-author with Gary Habermas of the award-winning book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregel, 2004) and co-editor with William Dembski of Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy, and Science (Baker, 2010). Mike is a member of the Evangelical Theological and Philosophical Societies, the Institute for Biblical Research, and the Society of Biblical Literature. He has spoken on more than 90 university campuses, and has appeared on dozens of radio and television programs.

We’ll be talking about the questions surrounding the Gospels. Having recently debated this with Bart Ehrman and having written a book (Which we will be interviewing him on) about the topic of the Gospels as Greco-Roman biographies, Mike is prepared to tackle this question for us. We will also answer questions of if the Gospels really are Greco-Roman biographies, since apparently some people dispute this, and what that means.

Then we’ll ask how we should try to approach the Gospels and what we’re looking for. Do some people set the standard too high? Do some people set it too low? How do the Gospels compare to other works of literature of the time? What about claims of authorship?

I hope you’ll be joining us next time. We are working on getting past episodes up. We do have the one from the 24th of September and the 8th of this month. They will be up soon. Please consider also leaving a review of the show on ITunes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Fathers Know Best?

What do the church fathers say about Matthew 27? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Norman Geisler has come to picture obsession to the extreme. For years now, he’s been harping on Matthew 27 and really, not producing anything new. In all this time, he could have gone out and read Burridge on why the Gospels are Greco-Roman Bioi or gone to the best scholarly monographs he could find on the passage in Matthew 27, but instead, he just wants to repeat the same material.

So now he’s gone to the church fathers. Now I’m sure we’ll all agree that while the church fathers have authority, they are not the final authority. What matters most is what the Scripture says. Still, it would be foolish to just dismiss all the church fathers. Their views should be taken seriously.

But do they really agree with Geisler?

Let’s start with Geisler’s citation of Ignatius’s epistle to the Trallians.

What does the text supposedly say?

“For Says the Scripture, ‘Many bodies of the saints that slept arose,’ their graves being opened. He descended, indeed, into Hades alone, but He arose accompanied by a multitude” (chap.Ix, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I, p. 70).

Why do I say supposedly?

Because there are two versions of the epistle. There is the shorter version and the longer version. Most scholars consider the longer version to be spurious.

So let’s go to chapter 9 of the shorter version. What do we see?

9:1 Be ye deaf, therefore, when any one speaketh unto you apart from Jesus Christ, who is of the race of David, who was born of Mary, who was truly born, ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died, in the sight of the things that are in heaven and on earth and under the earth;

9:2 and was truly raised from the dead, his Father having raised him up; according to the similitude of which also his Father shall raise up us who believe in him in Christ Jesus, apart from whom we have not the true life.

Why was the spurious version cited? Why is this not pointed out?

Either A) Geisler does not know and this is an error of ignorance that calls the research ability high into question

or B) It is known and is ignored, in which case facts are being ignored to suit an agenda.

I think it’s best to be generous and go with A.

Let’s now look at the epistle to the Magnesians.

According to Geisler.

“…[T]herefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master—how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher? And therefore He who they rightly waited for, being come, raised them from the dead”[Chap. IX] (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. I (1885). Reprinted by Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, p. 62. Emphasis added in all these citations).

While some connect this to Matthew 27, nothing in the context demands it. Further, what does it mean, “When he came?” Nothing is said about the death of Jesus or about opening of the tombs. It could be referring to Matthew 27, but the text does not demand it.

The next statements are from the lost fragments of Irenaeus. The problem is many scholars consider these lost fragments to be spurious. Once again, the problem is the same as in the first citing of the epistle of Ignatius.

Next is Clement of Alexandria. What do we have from Geisler?

“‘But those who had fallen asleep descended dead, but ascended alive.’ Further, the Gospel says, ‘that many bodies of those that slept arose,’—plainly as having been translated to a better state”(Alexander Roberts, ed. Stromata, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. II, chap. VI, 491).

But what do we find earlier?

But how? Do not [the Scriptures] show that the Lord preached the Gospel to those that perished in the flood, or rather had been chained, and to those kept in ward and guard? And it has been shown also, in the second book of the Stromata, that the apostles, following the Lord, preached the Gospel to those in Hades. For it was requisite, in my opinion, that as here, so also there, the best of the disciples should be imitators of the Master; so that He should bring to repentance those belonging to the Hebrews, and they the Gentiles; that is, those who had lived in righteousness according to the Law and Philosophy, who had ended life not perfectly, but sinfully. For it was suitable to the divine administration, that those possessed of greater worth in righteousness, and whose life had been pre-eminent, on repenting of their transgressions, though found in another place, yet being confessedly of the number of the people of God Almighty, should be saved, each one according to his individual knowledge.

So a question.

Does Geisler think the apostles went and preached the Gospel to those in Hades? If not, why not? If so, on what grounds since this is a testimony centuries later?

Now of course, it could be that Clement really sees the resurrection of the saints as historical and that must be taken into consideration, but it is not the final authority.

Next comes Tertullian. What does Geisler quote?

“’And the sun grew dark at mid-day;’ (and when did it ‘shudder exceedingly’ except at the passion of Christ, when the earth trembled to her centre, and the veil of the temple was rent, and the tombs burst asunder?) ‘because these two evils hath My People done’” (Alexander Roberts, ed. An Answer to the Jews, Chap XIII, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, 170).

An obvious problem here is all it says is that the tombs burst open. That could easily happen in an earthquake. There is no mention of saints coming out. Now Geisler could say is that Tertullian did fully have in mind that scene, but that would be claiming to know authorial intent, which he says cannot be known.

Next he says this about Hippolytus

“And again he exclaims, ‘The dead shall start forth from the graves,’ that is, from the earthly bodies, being born again spiritual, not carnal. For this he says, is the Resurrection that takes place through the gate of heaven, through which, he says, all those that do not enter remain dead” (Alexander Roberts, Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5, The Refutation of All Heresy, BooK V, chap. 3, p. 54). The editor of the Ante-Nicene Fathers footnotes this as a reference to the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27:52, 53 (in Note 6, p. 54.), as indeed it is.

But is it indeed? Perhaps it is. Perhaps it is not. Could it not refer to the future resurrection, especially since it is also in the future tense? Of course, it could refer to Matthew 27, but must it do so necessarily?

What about Origen?

Now to this question, although we are able to show the striking and miraculous character of the events which befell Him, yet from what other source can we furnish an answer than the Gospel narratives, which state that ‘there was an earth quake, and that the rock were split asunder, and the tombs were opened, and the veil of the temple was rent in twain from top to bottom, an the darkness prevailed in the day-time, the sun failing to give light’”

Once again, the tombs are open, but there’s no mention of saints getting out and walking around. Again, Geisler cannot appeal to anything else here because he says we can’t know authorial intent.

Geisler also goes to chapter 36. What does the chapter say in that work?

Celsus next says: What is the nature of the ichor in the body of the crucified Jesus? Is it ‘such as flows in the bodies of the immortal gods?’ He puts this question in a spirit of mockery; but we shall show from the serious narratives of the Gospels, although Celsus may not like it, that it was no mythic and Homeric ichor which flowed from the body of Jesus, but that, after His death, one of the soldiers with a spear pierced His side, and there came thereout blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true, and he knows that he says the truth. Now, in other dead bodies the blood congeals, and pure water does not flow forth; but the miraculous feature in the case of the dead body of Jesus was, that around the dead body blood and water flowed forth from the side. But if this Celsus, who, in order to find matter of accusation against Jesus and the Christians, extracts from the Gospel even passages which are incorrectly interpreted, but passes over in silence the evidences of the divinity of Jesus, would listen to divine portents, let him read the Gospel, and see that even the centurion, and they who with him kept watch over Jesus, on seeing the earthquake, and the events that occurred, were greatly afraid, saying, This man was the Son of God.

Again, no mention here. Strange isn’t it?

For Cyril, I see no reason to doubt that this is referring to Matthew 27 and this must be taken seriously, but it is also about 300 years after the event.

Next is Gregory of Nazianzus.

“He [Christ] lays down His life, but He has the power to take it again; and the veil rent, for the mysterious doors of Heaven are opened;5 the rocks are cleft, the dead arise. He dies but he gives life, and by His death destroys death. He is buried, but He rises again. He goes down to Hell, but He brings up the souls; He ascends to Heaven, and shall come again to judge the quick and the dead, and to put to the test such words are yours” (Schaff, ibid., vol. VII, Sect XX, p. 309).

This could indeed be a reference to Matthew 27, but it could also have in mind a passage like Ephesians 4. Mike Licona would want to know how this would work with Jesus being the firstfruits of the resurrection. If Jesus is the first to rise in a new and glorified body, how is it that these saints arise in such a body before Jesus? It is a question Geisler needs to take seriously.

We have no beef really with what is said later by the early fathers, but it’s worth noting that the earliest references possible to this do not mention it. In fact, this could be along the lines of what some scholars would say is legendary development. I’m not saying that it is, although we all do know legends did arise around Jesus. That does not mean that they are found in the Gospels of course. Gnostic Gospels and such contained stories about Jesus we would call legends. In fact, some of our Christmas tradition comes from the Proto-Evangelium of James. (Not really a Gnostic Gospel, but rather something that could have been seen as Christian fiction.) It is doubtful that Geisler thinks Jesus struck down bullies with death as a child or extended the length of planks of wood for his Dad or brought clay pigeons to life, but these are accounts found in other works and at times, even some Christians got confused.

We conclude that there is still much research to be done on this question but let it be known the difference. When a question like this is raised, it is better to debate the question without settling it, than it is to settle it without debating. We prefer the former. Geisler seems to prefer the latter.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

No True Inerrantist!

Who exactly counts as an Inerrantist? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Over at his Facebook, Norman Geisler is making much about how he has a web site defending Inerrancy which is endorsed by Billy Graham and Ravi Zacharias and several prominent Seminary leaders. How many NT scholars endorse this is strangely absent. So any way, what do we find when we go to Geisler’s site?

We’ve lost a growing number of scholars over the issue of inerrancy. This is a problem because pastors follow scholars. And ordinary people follow pastors. So it’s only a matter of time before we could see the full erosion of the Bible within our generation… unless we take action to alert the Christian community. And please sign this petition to tell your friends that you stand up for the Bible.

Yep. So here’s the deal. Mike Licona writes a huge book defending the resurrection of Jesus from the attack of opponents. Geisler finds one part that he disagrees with that most people would most likely gloss over and say “Well that’s interesting” and move on. Immediately, Geisler shifts to an attack mode pulling out all the guns he can find and firing as much as he can. Why? Because Mike Licona is attacking Inerrancy!

Because, you know, the best way to do that is to seriously work at exegeting the text and look at many readings of it and come to a conclusion on it all in a work that is built around defending the bodily resurrection of Jesus. It’s a wonder Licona was able to do this while wielding his pitchfork at the same time and cackling about how much damage would be done to the church.

No. It’s not that Licona simply made a mistake or is in error for Geisler. Licona is instead attacking inerrancy and is seeking to redefine it. Of course, it’s only Licona who’s doing this despite Licona pointing out that J.I. Packer, one of the framers of the ICBI statement has his own interesting views. As Licona says

One of those who penned CSBI is J. I. Packer. Packer says Genesis 1 in its entirety is a “prose poem,” a “quasi-liturgical celebration of the fact of creation” and by no means describes what we would have seen had we been hovering above the chaos of creation. He goes on to say he does not know whether Eve actually spoke to a serpent or whether there actually was a Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. And he says it does not matter because poets of the period who wrote outside of the Bible used trees in a metaphorical sense in their literature.

Where does Packer say this? Licona says

See http://sydneyanglicans.net/media/audio/creation_evolution_problems/. Packer’s relevant comments begin at 20:00 and go through 49:00.

This apparently is okay to say and be in line with inerrancy. To say that Matthew 27 contains something figurative is not. Unfortunately, we have no direct statement from Packer himself. We only get everything second hand from Geisler. We would like to see some interaction from Packer himself. We don’t want it to come from Geisler. To the sources!

But of course, we know that if people like Licona are not stopped, we will lose the Bible in a generation!

Someone please wake up and smell the coffee! People are falling aside from the faith left and right and you know what, it’s not because they deny inerrancy. While one of Geisler’s students wrote a paper asking if Mike Licona is the next Bart Ehrman, it’s more likely that someone following Geisler will be the next Bart Ehrman.

Why is this? Because Ehrman gave inerrancy a huge position in his Christian worldview. When it fell, that’s when the floodgates opened. It’s a Damascus Road experience that shows up constantly in his books. In fact, inerrancy, along with young-earth creationism, are two major reasons youth are falling away.

Why? Because if you have to take the Bible “literally” (Who came up with that rule anyway?) then they’re convinced that the Bible teaches young-earth creationism. (Which ignores the fact that the account is not written to be a scientific account.) If the Earth is old, then that also means inerrancy has to go, and if the Bible is not inerrant, then it’s not the Word of God, and it’s not the Word of God, then it’s just another book and you can’t trust it.

Now Geisler of course holds to an old Earth. (A view that he holds thanks to modern science, because we all know it’s okay to use 20th century science to exegete a Biblical text but it’s not okay to use 1st century genres that the authors had access to to interpret a Biblical text.) Geisler doesn’t see that as denying inerrancy. People at AIG and other places however do see it that way, but Geisler is allowed to hold that position because, well, he’s the one in charge after all and if he says its within the bounds, then its within the bounds.

Now getting back to this web site, Geisler has a petition up on the site. What does it say?

“I affirm that the Bible alone, and in its entirety, is the infallible written Word of God in the original text and is, therefore, inerrant in all that it affirms or denies on whatever topic it addresses.”

That can be found here.

I did a search on the page. There is no mention of ICBI. If this is all that is meant by inerrancy, I have no problem with it. I hold to that. If the Bible affirms something, then that is true. If it denies something, then that is also true. The question is “What does the Bible affirm or deny?” An inerrancy statement doesn’t tell you what that is. It just tells you that whatever it is, that that statement is either true or false.

So as I said, I have no problem with the statement.

So you know what? I did what Craig Blomberg did. I signed it.

signedstatement

There. See? I signed it.

“Yeah! Well I don’t see your name there or Craig Blomberg’s!

That’s right. They were removed.

signatureremoved

It would be good to know on what grounds it can be said that I do not affirm inerrancy. Is it because I disagree with Geisler? Has this become the grounds now for holding to inerrancy? If you do not agree with Geisler’s view, then you do not agree with inerrancy period? This even though the statement that I signed has absolutely nothing to say about ICBI? Now Geisler might say “Well I know that when I wrote the statement, I meant the ICBI view.”

Well sorry, but that won’t work. All I have there is the text and I cannot read Geisler’s “authorial intent” after all and so just going by the words that are right there on the page, I fully agree and I have zero problem.

More likely, we have a No True Scotsman fallacy. No True Inerrantist disagrees with inerrancy the way Geisler presents it after all and if you say you do but you disagree with him, then you are not a true inerrantist! And all true inerrantists in history would have agreed entirely with ICBI!

It’s almost as if someone really wants to be a Pope.

And that someone can determine who truly believes in inerrancy and who doesn’t.

It’s as if he knows their minds, you know, the authorial intent and all.

We’ll just have to ask how much more division must take place in the body before Geisler finally realizes the harm that he’s doing in trying to defend his legacy. If anything, by his own actions, he’s already destroyed it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Here Comes Inerrancy Again

Has the focus on Inerrancy died out yet? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

I am someone who does hold to Inerrancy, yet I do not think I can say I hold to ICBI Inerrancy. I think in light of new information in historical studies, we need to reconvene and have another meeting to determine what we mean by Inerrancy. This is not because of a lack of trust in the Scriptures, but because of the new information. If Inerrancy is true, it will survive any new information that comes our way. If it is not, it won’t. If it is not true, let us abandon it. If it is true, let us find a way to defend it.

Yet I do not really fight the Inerrancy battle any more. It’s not because I think it’s a losing battle. It’s not because I don’t think it can be defended. It’s not even because I do not think the doctrine is worthwhile. It is because it becomes a central point of the faith and that if it is seen as fallen, then it takes everything else with it.

An example of this is young-earth creationism. Now I know several people who are YECs. There are biblical scholars I respect who are YECs. My own wife is a YEC. My ministry partner is a YEC. I am not. I hold more to John Walton’s view on Genesis 1.

Yet here’s an important difference. The people who I respect who hold this view also do not make it an essential. Too many people who are YECs have it as a fundamental of the faith. If you deny YEC, you’re denying Christianity. You’re denying Inerrancy. You are an enemy of the faith trying to destroy it. You are liberal in your approach. You are making compromises with modern science.

What will happen when this is the focus? Young students will go off to school and get information for the first time that contradicts their YEC view. Do they simply dispense with that and go off and study the works of leading scholars and come to a different view? No. They decide that Christianity itself can’t be true.

What of Inerrancy? It’s the same way. Young people are often told that this is an essential of the faith. Then off they go to college unprepared. What happens? They get presented with 1,001 Bible contradictions and they have no idea what to do. In the end, they abandon their faith. It’s not just young people. I’ve had mature adults tell me that if there is one contradiction in the Bible, then it’s not true and Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. I’ve heard atheists say that if this one part in a Gospel contradicts another, then can we trust anything historically in the Gospels?

What happens for the apologist is this becomes what I call a game of “Stump The Bible Scholar.” The critic thinks if they find one contradiction that you can’t answer, then they can just dismiss all of Christianity. How many such alleged contradictions are there? Hundreds of them. Is it fair to expect any of us to have to carry around an answer in our heads to every single contradiction? No.

Yet some in the field still have not got the memo. Case in point, though he has been quiet for a long time, Geisler has written a long piece again with Inerrancy coming under attack once more! Once again, my focus will be on his attack on my father-in-law, Mike Licona.

As Geisler writes “He redefines “error” to include genre that contains factual errors. He claims that “intentionally altering an account” is not an error but is allowed by the Greco-Roman genre into which he categorizes the Gospels, insisting that an CSBI view cannot account for all the data (MP3 recording of his ETS lecture 2013).”

Simple fact. Licona is right. Let’s consider one example. Can Geisler tell me what order the temptations of Jesus happened in? Is it the case that Jesus was tempted to jump from the temple pinnacle first, or was he tempted to worship the devil first? Luke says he was tempted to worship the devil first. Matthew says he was tempted to jump from the pinnacle of the temple first. (To be sure, all of them agree that the absolute first was the turning of stones to bread)

Does Geisler want to actually suggest that Jesus went into the wilderness twice and fasted 40 days and 40 nights twice and then the devil came and tempted him twice and used the exact same temptations but switched things around? Doubtful.

Does this affect Inerrancy? Hardly. The ancients were not as interested in chronology as we were. They could have a thematic account and that works fine. In fact, if it’s said someone wants to alter an account and therefore it’s not false, well everyone of us knows that this is false.

To use an example, suppose some Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door. I have a good dialogue with them and they leave. Well my folks love me and they want to hear about my apologetic endeavors so I call and tell them the story. I don’t remember everything, but I tell them a basic account.

Then I call Licona to tell him how it went. Am I going to tell the story differently? You bet! Why? Because Licona knows the apologetics language so something that would make no sense to my parents makes perfect sense to Licona. That is altering. One account will have details the other did not have. This is also considering the fact that I am the author of both accounts.

Geisler’s greatest problem I think is his absolute inability to interact with genre criticism. He states

“Another aspect of non-inerrantist’s thinking is Genre Criticism.”

No. This is a genre of historical thinking in fact. To say the Gospels are in fact sui generis, that is, in their own category, yet this in fact practically becomes a category. The question we have to ask is can Geisler produce any NT scholarship that indicates that the Gospels are in fact sui generis or at least that they are not Greco-Roman biographies?

What Geisler is doing is in fact arguing they are not Greco-Roman biographies based not on reading Burridge and giving a sustained argument against his view, but by saying that it leads supposedly to a false conclusion, denying Inerrancy. (Which it doesn’t. You can affirm the Gospels as Greco-Roman Biographies and believe the Bible is Inerrant.)

Let us suppose I held this argument.

If evolution is true, Genesis is false.
But Genesis cannot be false.
Therefore, evolution cannot be true.

Now to be entirely clear, I do not hold to such a position at all. My view of Genesis would not change whether or not evolution is true or false. If I wanted to show that evolution is false, what would I do? Well I’d go out and I’d study the sciences and I’d read all that I could on both sides and then when I had informed myself of the position, I’d make a logical argument based on the evidences.

My argument would not convince anyone who held to evolutionary theory as it is, and indeed, it shouldn’t. The case against evolution must be made on a scientific basis if it is to be made. The case against the Gospels being Greco-Roman biographies must be made on a historical and linguistic basis.

Geisler goes on

“Although he claims to be an inerrantist, Mike Licona clearly does not follow the ETS or ICBI view on the topic.”

Are we to believe that Inerrancy did not exist until ETS or ICBI came? Are we to believe that it is only in light of modern information from ETS or ICBI that one can truly hold to a position called Inerrancy? This is quite interesting. One must reject modern information that has come to light to understand the Gospels, but one must accept modern distinctions that have arisen to define what Inerrancy is and if you do not hold to ETS or ICBI, you do not hold to Inerrancy.

If Licona says he is an inerrantist, let’s do something interesting. Let’s believe him. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Does Geisler suspect Licona has some hidden ulterior motive that he wants to destroy the faith of some? If anyone thinks that, then the view is simply laughable. Yet the term “non-inerrantist” is a sort of code word that is thrown around in order to tell someone “Do not trust this person! This person is the villain!”

No. Let’s listen to their case instead. That works much better. Unfortunately for Geisler, the more he does this,the more he will drive people away from ICBI and from ETS. If anyone wants to know an excellent reason why I’m skeptical of ICBI and even joining ETS, it’s because I’ve seen Geisler’s usage of ICBI and the way he wants ETS to be ran. In fact, I know of other up and coming minds in the field who think the same way.

“Licona argues that “the Gospels belong to the genre of Greco-Roman biography (bios)” and that “Bioi offered the ancient biographer great flexibility for rearranging material and inventing speeches…, and the often include legend.” But, he adds “because bios was a flexible genre, it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 34).”

Note also that Licona says this at the beginning of his book. He’s not writing this book for evangelicals. He’s writing this book for scholars who may or may not be evangelicals. He’s making a case from a historiographical standpoint. At the end, he does admit the honest truth about historical genres and bioi. This is entirely true. If one reads a bioi, it can be difficult to know.

What needs to be present is in fact historical argumentation against this claim instead of just presenting it as problematic in itself. The argument cannot be dismissed because it supposedly leads (And it doesn’t) to a conclusion that we don’t like. It must stand or fall on its own terms. Let’s consider again another example of this. Let’s consider an atheist.

If Jesus really rose from the dead, my father who died as an atheist is in Hell.
I do not like the thought of my father being in Hell.
Therefore, Jesus did not rise from the dead.

Now let’s consider an opposite perspective that a Christian could make.

If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then I am without hope in this world.
I do not want to be without hope.
Therefore, Jesus did rise from the dead.

Now either Jesus rose or he didn’t. Neither of these arguments however are persuasive.

Geisler goes on to say

“This led him to deny the historicity of the story of the resurrection of the saints in Matthew 27:51-53 (ibid.,527-528; 548; 552-553), and to call the story of the crowd falling backward when Jesus claimed “I am he” (John 14:5-6) “a possible candidate for embellishment” (ibid., 306) and the presence of angels at the tomb in all four Gospels may be “poetic language or legend” (ibid., 185-186).”

For the first one, this is an assumption. Geisler is presupposing the account is historical, when that is in fact the very fact that is under the topic of debate. It will not work to say that if you cannot take this literally (A concept Geisler does not understand), then nothing in the Bible can be taken that way. (A mistake Al Mohler also makes.) If Geisler wants to show the case wrong, he needs to make a historical and literary argument. He does not need to wave around Inerrancy. Frankly, the whole concept of Inerrancy should never have been brought up. As for the charge of embellishment, Licona is presenting an argument for possibility in a scholarly situation, which is what he’s supposed to do. He himself does not hold to any embellishments in the text. This has been pointed out repeatedly and one can hear it for themselves on Chris Date’s podcast here. The same can be said for the angels at the tomb. Licona is not denying that there were angels. He’s presenting an argument in a scholarly venue and to show he is not begging the question at the start, he cannot just assume there are no legends or embellishments in the text.

Of course, we also have the changed date in John, but again, I wish to ask Geisler, who changed the order of the temptations? If this is being done for thematic purposes, the audience knows this. Now I do not agree with Licona on this one, but Geisler needs a stronger case. Licona also informs me that Geisler in “When Critics Ask” does not even mention this problem. Does Geisler have a solution?

Geisler goes on to say quote Licona saying

So um this didn’t really bother me in terms of if there were contradictions in the Gospels. I mean I believe in biblical inerrancy but I also realized that biblical inerrancy is not one fundamental doctrines of Christianity. The resurrection is. So if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is still true even if it turned out that some things in the Bible weren’t. So um it didn’t really bother me a whole lot even if some contradictions existed” (emphasis Geisler’s)

It is interesting to see that the resurrection being a fundamental is not worth highlighting, but saying that Inerrancy isn’t a fundamental is. Does Geisler think one can be a Christian and not believe in Inerrancy? Does he think one can be a Christian and not believe in the resurrection? I would hope he would answer yes for the former and no for the latter. Yet here, Geisler is putting a secondary doctrine before a primary doctrine. This is exactly the problem with his critique of Licona in the first place.

And for the record, it wouldn’t bother me if there were contradictions. I’d have to change my views on inspiration and Scripture, but my Christianity would not fall apart if the Bible had contradictions in it.

Geisler goes on to say

“This popular Greco-Roman genre theory adopted by Licona and others is directly contrary to the CSBI view of inerrancy as clearly spelled out in many articles. First, Article 18 speaks to it directly: “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture” (emphasis added). But Lincona rejects the strict “grammatico-historical exegesis” where “Scripture is to interpret Scripture” for an extra-biblical system where Greco-Roman genre is used to interpret Scripture. Of course, “Taking account” of different genres within Scripture, like poetry, history, parables, and even allegory (Gal 4:24), is legitimate, but this is not what the use of extra-biblical Greco-Roman genre does. Rather, it uses extra-biblical stories to determine what the Bible means, even if using this extra-biblical literature means denying the historicity of the biblical text.” (Emphasis Geisler’s)

Note again that there is no argument to a position like Burridge’s. As for Scripture interpreting Scripture, how? The Bible cannot interpret something. One can explain something by looking at another passage, but interpretation is done by minds. Geisler also says that there are genres within Scripture, but has this strange idea that there can be no genre of a whole book within Scripture? Does he think a prophecy book, like Nahum, is the same genre as a historical book, like Joshua?

Geisler also says it the problem is that it uses extra-biblical stories to determine what the Bible means.

Geisler, I suspect some Christians who are strong YECs want to talk to you about this. After all, you use extra-biblical science, something the ancients had ZERO access to, to interpret Genesis 1 and argue that it cannot be talking about a young Earth in that text. Why is it you can use extra-biblical sources that the ancients could not access to interpret an ancient document, but Licona cannot use extra-biblical sources that were contemporary with the literature to interpret the text?

Please note also these YECs would say that you are denying the historicity of Genesis 1 by using extra-biblical science and compromising with unbelief. They would also say that you are denying Inerrancy by having an interpretation that denies the literal reading of Genesis 1. Now I think that they are wrong, but they are accusing you of something similar to what you are accusing Licona of, except Licona actually uses information that is relevant to the time.

It won’t work to say you don’t do this. After all, in this very entry you say

“Of course, as shown above, general revelation can help modify our understanding of a biblical text, for the scientific evidence based on general revelation demonstrates that the earth is round and can be used to modify one’s understanding of the biblical phrase “for corners of the earth.” However, no Hebrew or Greco-Roman literature genre should be used to determine what a biblical text means since it is not part of any general revelation from God, and it has no hermeneutical authority.”

So once again, Licona uses information that is contemporary and the people of the time would have recognized to interpret a passage? BAD! Geisler uses modern science that the ancients did not have in order to interpret a passage? GOOD!

There’s more also on dehistoricizing but as said, that’s the very question under debate. I was not aware that Geisler had become a presuppositionalist….

Geisler continues,

“Furthermore, similarity to any extra-biblical types of literature does not demonstrate identity with the biblical text, nor should it be used to determine what the biblical text means. For example, the fact that an extra-biblical piece of literature combines history and legend does not mean that the Bible also does this.”

Yes, which is also why Licona has not said that the Bible does in fact do this.

In new material, Geisler tries to defend himself.

“Some have objected to carrying on a scholarly discussion on the Internet, as opposed to using scholarly journals. My articles on Mike Licona’s denial of inerrancy (see www.normgeisler.com/articles) were subject to this kind of charge. However, given the electronic age in which we live, this is an archaic charge. Dialogue is facilitated by the Internet, and responses can be made much more quickly and by more people. Further, much of the same basic material posted on the Internet was later published in printed scholarly journals.”

Note also that Geisler did not meet with Licona willingly for a round table dialogue. All Licona asked for were witnesses to be present. Why would this be denied? Would not Geisler want to make sure the meeting was held in the most honorable method? Yet Geisler refused.

One can say this is an archaic charge, but in reality, it was entirely unprofessional. Scholarly disputes are to be handled in the scholarly community. Geisler immediately posted in attack mode putting Licona on the defensive and as I will say later on, did in fact go after his job. For someone wanting dialogue, Geisler has not interacted seriously with his critics, as we will see. My responses go unanswered. J.P. Holding’s responses go unanswered. Max Andrews’s responses go unanswered.

Geisler goes on to say

“In a November 18, 2012 paper for The Evangelical Philosophical Society, Mike Licona speaks of his critics saying “bizarre” things like “bullying” people around, of having “a cow” over his view, and of engaging in a “circus” on the Internet. Further, he claims that scholarly critics of his views were “targeting” him and “taking actions against” him. He speaks about those who have made scholarly criticisms of his view as “going on a rampage against a brother or sister in Christ.” And he compares it to the statement of Ammianus Marcellinus who wrote, “no wild beasts are such dangerous enemies to man as Christians are to one another.” Licona complained about critics of his view, saying, “I’ve been very disappointed to see the ungodly behavior of a few of my detractors. The theological bullying, the termination and internal intimidation put on a few professors in SBC…all this revealed the underbelly of fundamentalism.” He charged that I made contacts with seminary leaders in an attempt to get him kicked out of his positions on their staff. The truth is that I made no such contacts for no such purposes. To put it briefly, it is strange that we attack those who defend inerrancy and defend those who attack inerrancy.”

The reality is people looking at this on the internet saw what Geisler is pushing hard to deny. He was being a bully and to this day still is. Licona himself has told me about the presidents of Seminaries who got the calls Geisler never says happened, or the professors at those Seminaries who heard it from those presidents. These do not wish to give their names due to not wanting to be targeted. Why did Licona lose his job at NAMB but because of this Inerrancy debate? (Licona loved what he did at NAMB, but decided to resign because Geisler’s attack on him could make him a centerpiece of debate and he did not want NAMB dragged into that.)

Geisler’s behavior has been a major turn-off to people who once supported him, including myself, and now we want nothing to do with him any more. His legacy has been seriously damaged and there is no one he can blame besides himself. Geisler asks why we defend those who attack Inerrancy and attack those who deny Inerrancy.

Answer is, we don’t. We do not see Geisler defending Inerrancy. We see him attacking Licona for having a different interpretation and turning it into an Inerrancy debate. Licona has given a historical case. If Licona can be shown to be wrong in the case, then he will change it. If not, then he won’t. Licona is making a decision based on the evidence. Would Geisler prefer he not do that?

Geisler goes on to say

“While it is not unethical to use the Internet for scholarly articles, it wrong to make the kind of unethical response that was given to the scholarly articles such as that in the above citations. Such name-calling has no place in a scholarly dialogue. Calling the defense of inerrancy an act of “bullying” diminishes their critic, not them. Indeed, calling one’s critic a “tar baby” and labeling their actions as “ungodly behavior” is a classic example of how not to defend one’s view against its critics. ”

No. It’s not wrong. It’s accurate. This is what was going on. Yes. Geisler has been called a tar baby and perhaps what Geisler should do is take a good long look at himself and ask why that happened. Could it be the problem is really with him? Geisler is instead playing the victim here. He’s the one who went and pushed Licona down on the playground and doesn’t like it when other students come up and say he can’t do that and take a stand themselves. Geisler’s own actions are a classic example of how not to defend one’s self against one’s critics.

Finally we hear

“What is more, while Licona condemned the use of the Internet to present scholarly critiques of his view as a “circus,” he refused to condemn an offensive YouTube cartoon produced by his son-in-law and his friend that offensively caricatured my critique of his view as that of a theological “Scrooge.” Even Southern Evangelical Seminary (where Licona was once a faculty member before this issue arose) condemned this approach in a letter from “the office of the president,” saying, “We believe this video was totally unnecessary and is in extremely poor taste” (Letter, 12/9/2011). One influential alumnus wrote the school, saying, “It was immature, inappropriate and distasteful” and recommended that “whoever made this video needs to pull it down and apologize for doing it” (Letter, 12/21/2011). The former president of the SES student body declared: “I’ll be honest that video was outright slander and worthy of punishment. I was quite angry after watching it” (Letter, 12/17/2011). This kind of unapologetic use of the Internet by those who deny the CSBI view of inerrancy of the Bible is uncalled for and unethical. It does the perpetrators and their cause against inerrancy no good.”

Licona is right. The internet is not where scholars go to dispute their claims. Scholarly conclaves are the place for that. My ministry partner and I are not scholars however. Yet even with this video, Geisler STILL has it wrong. I DID NOT PRODUCE THE VIDEO! I do not know how many times I have to say this before it will sink in. Some people have noted that the date on this blog often comes out as 2007. I do not know how to fix it. That’s how technically inept I am. When art work is done for my podcast, it is done by my wife because I do not know how to do it well on my own. I cannot produce a picture like that easily and Geisler thinks I produced a video? Watch the video at the time and see how at the end, it says it’s a production of Tektonics ministries.

Geisler wants his critics to listen to him, but it seems he does not want to listen to his critics.

Now let’s look at other charges about the video.

First, Geisler says it was offensive to list him as Scrooge.

Okay. I think it was offensive to go after Licona and have him lose his job at NAMB and pass around a petition behind his back. In fact, I suppose my ministry partner will agree to something. It would be just fine for the video to be taken down as soon as Geisler publicly apologizes to Licona for how he did that and does something to make restitution. Until then, the video stays.

Geisler lists several people who complained about the video. Unfortunately, these are also not named so we cannot say anything about them. Yet why should I take them seriously? I know several people who thought the video was in excellent taste and wonderfully represented what is going on in the situation. Why should I choose Geisler’s sources over mine?

The time has simply come to rethink Inerrancy, and Geisler’s behavior has been a large catalyst in this. This is largely also in light of recent scholarly works that have come out such as Sandy and Walton’s “The Lost World of Scripture.” My review of that can be found here and my interview with Sandy on this excellent book can be found here. As Sandy and Walton say on page 303 “The alternative
is to recognize that inerrancy needs to be redefined in light of the literary
culture of the Bible. Hopefully this book is a step in the right direction.” (I recommend the whole of the 20th and 21st chapter)

More critiques of Geisler can be found here at Deeper Waters and a search feature can find several titles. (Hopefully I can get them all linked together once I figure that out. Again, I’m the one who was supposed to have made a video…)

I interviewed Mike Licona on my own podcast with the first 20 minute segment talking about this discussion. That can be found here.

A link to all of Holding’s material can be found here.

Max Andrews’s can be found here.

For those wanting to make sure I represented Geisler honestly, his piece can be found here.

We might respond to more of this piece later on. We might move back to Carrier instead. Time will tell.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

The Minimal Facts Still Stand

Do I have anything to say in reply to Ferguson? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Recently, I was sent Ferguson’s argument against the minimal facts to see what I would have to say about it. My response can be found here. I posted my link on Ferguson’s blog in the comments section. While Ferguson initially said there was nothing to respond to there, it seems he decided to write a response anyway. (One that I heard about from others. For some reason, Ferguson did not want to come to my blog to post it.)

So let’s look at what Ferguson says. After much complaining about the nature of my reply, which is quite amusing when he says after much time:

To begin with, Peters wastes a lot of time at the beginning of his critique nitpicking some of the statements I have in my introduction to the issue. This is tedious, since I was merely contextualizing the issue for my readers, and his objections are largely just complaints about a few introductory remarks.

Do as I say, not as I do, but at any rate, what does he say?

First, Peters complains about how I point out that the minimal facts apologetic is not really about proving “only one” miracle, but is an evangelism tool to get people to convert to Christianity. Peters claims, “All you have to do is get that Jesus rose. Don’t want to believe the Bible is Inerrant? Sure. Go ahead.” But I would really be surprised if Peters thinks that the only other issues here are the fine points of Christian doctrine. Clearly, clearly apologists are using the minimal facts argument to get people’s foot in the door about believing in Christianity. No non-apologist goes around saying, “Hey, I have this case that Jesus rose from the dead, but none of it matters, I was just letting you know.” Obviously, the apologist wants the resurrection to be a starting point for getting people to “accept Christ” and convert. So it’s really silly to pretend that we are only discussing one issue here, when the minimal facts is a conversion tool. I don’t dismiss it on those grounds alone, but I was merely contextualizing for my readers what we are dealing with.

Actually, if we take a look at what I did say, I was stating exactly what I think Habermas would say based on my being present for several of his talks. Here is my response to that in full.

That’s fine. Go ahead. Habermas has even said in public talks that at the start, he’s not saying God raised Jesus from the dead. He’s saying that Jesus rose. You come up with your explanation. You want to say it was sorcery. Fine. Say it was sorcery. Just give a reason why you think it was and why you think my explanation that it was God who raised Him is lacking. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?

For instance, Pinchas Lapide is a Jewish scholar who thinks God raised Jesus from the dead. We differ on the meaning and interpretation of that event and if we had a dialogue, that is what I would want to talk about. In my response, I said it’s fine for you to have a different reason why you think it happened. Just be able to argue a case for it. All the minimal facts is out to prove is the event of the resurrection. It cannot say anything about the meaning of the resurrection or even the source of the resurrection.

Of course, it would be my hope that someone would come to the conclusion that Jesus is who He said He was and that God raised Him from the dead, but I have to go beyond just the minimal facts for that. The minimal facts are necessary, but they are not sufficient. Yet then as I said, this becomes another dialogue. Note of course that when I encourage someone to believe something, I will provide a reason, as would Ferguson. What problem could be had with this?

Another problem is Ferguson doesn’t tell you all of what he said. He said that

What apologists don’t tell you is that in the fine print of the “minimal facts” apologetic there is a clause stating that by accepting the free trial of the resurrection miracle, you are signing yourself up for a lifetime subscription to a fundamentalist, conservative Christian worldview.

My reply was as follows:

No you’re not. There. An assertion made without an argument can be dismissed just the same way. All you have to do is get that Jesus rose. Don’t want to believe the Bible is Inerrant? Sure. Go ahead. There are some Christian scholars who hold to the bodily resurrection and don’t think the Bible is inerrant. Want to believe in theistic evolution? Sure. Go ahead. There are some like that as well. There are Christians of all stripes who believe Jesus rose from the dead and do not hold to a “conservative and fundamentalist approach.”

If Ferguson wanted to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead but also wanted to believe the Bible had errors or that God used evolution in bringing about life on Earth, by all means go ahead. Ferguson is saying a lot more than just “They want you to become Christians.” He’s talking about the kind of Christian they want you to believe, and it simply doesn’t fit the facts. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I have railed numerous times against marrying Christianity with Inerrancy or views on creation.

Ferguson goes on:

Next, Peters doesn’t understand the principle of methodological naturalism, which in the introduction I explain is how history, as a method, normally operates. Peters states, “I do not see a good reason to accept methodological naturalism. When I look at history, I want to know what really happened and I cannot do that if I rule out explanations that I disagree with right at the start.” Peters here clearly does not understand what I said in the article. I very specifically stated, “Simply because history is methodologically naturalist does not entail ontological naturalism.” The point of this introductory statement was to explain the scholarly practice of bracketing, where certain questions are acknowledged to be beyond the scope of a particular methodology.

Most of us know that this is just lip service really. “Oh we’re open to miracles, but we’re just going to act as if they can’t happen.” Of course methodological naturalism does not mean ontological naturalism is true, but it does mean the person doing the history is going to act like ontological naturalism is true. In fact, as Ferguson says later on:

If I can find another hypothesis with a higher prior probability, even if it requires a few ad hoc assumptions and does not have as good expected evidence, it can still be a more probable explanation of the data than a miracle.

Which is a way of saying that any explanation will work better than a miraculous explanation. One wonders what is the great danger of a miraculous explanation, unless it is a fear that someone’s worldview will be in jeopardy. But alas, if that is the case, then the worldview is shaping the evidence instead of the evidence shaping the worldview.

As we move on Ferguson says:

What Peters doesn’t seem to understand is that history is not the same thing as the past, but rather a method used in the present to investigate the past. Historians acknowledge that history cannot tell us everything that has occurred in the past, and so certain questions are normally recognized to extend beyond the scope of the historical method. Such questions often include religious questions, which have underlying theological assumptions that separate them from ordinary questions about the past. Historians normally bracket these questions, as ones that need to be answered by a different epistemology, which often include one’s religious convictions.

Actually, I do understand that. The means is not the same as the end. The reality is Ferguson however also has underlying theological assumptions that affect his view of history. His underlying theological assumption is that there can be no acts of God in history. That is his prerogative. I will gladly upfront admit my bias that on independent grounds I have strong reason to believe in the existence of a theistic God and therefore am highly open to miracles.

At the same time, I will also add in that one can be an atheist and seriously study miracles. All you have to do is have a non-dogmatic approach. It is the same kind of approach I take to UFO stories. Personally, I’m skeptical of there being life on other planets. Yet at the same time, if people come forward with evidence, I want to hear the evidence. If I’m wrong, I want to know it. Also, if I myself happen to see something some day and I cannot explain it any other way, I will certainly be more prone to say “Maybe I’m wrong about this.”

I have no problem with Ferguson being skeptical of miracles. Skepticism can be a good thing! I have a problem with an unreasonable skepticism that stacks the deck way too high. As we go through, we will see that Ferguson does just that.

Reading on we see Ferguson say

This does not entail that all supernatural events are automatically ruled out from happening in the past, but it does mean that someone will need more than just ordinary historical methodology when dealing with them. Here is an excellent article from biblical scholar Hector Avalos explaining this practice, where he discusses how a question such as, “Did Alexander the Great fight elephants in India?,” is categorically different from a supernatural question, such as, “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” Normally, historians bracket the second form of question as one that clearly involves many more philosophical and theological issues than the former. But bracketing the question does not ipso facto entail denying the event.

To which Avalos’s contention comes down to that we have no experience supposedly of the supernatural. Of course, I do not hold to the so-called natural/supernatural distinction. Yet I wonder who it is Avalos is speaking of. There are people the world over who will claim to have experiences that are suprahuman in nature. Ferguson disputes Keener’s claim that miracles are happening today, but what cannot be disputed is numerous miracles are being claimed today. If Avalos and Ferguson both discount these a priori, then is it any shock they reach the conclusion they do? It is saying “Those of us who deny the suprahuman are not having experience of the suprahuman.” Well of course not! If they were having it, it would be quite likely they would not be denying that it exists.

Note also that the event is what is in question and the minimal facts are meant to establish the event. Could it be Ferguson denies the event because it entails a conclusion that he does not like, that he sees no other explanation for it than something outside of nature operating on nature? If so, then he is no longer really doing history. After all, let’s make the assumption for the sake of argument that it is true that Jesus rose from the dead. If Ferguson’s approach rules that out a priori, then it would follow that he can never know history. How can one have a valid methodology if it rules out that which actually happened?

It could be said “We know it didn’t happen because miracles don’t happen.” That is not an argument you know from history however. After all, there are numerous miracle claims in history. That is an argument built on a metaphysical approach. It gets even more problematic if you say miracles don’t happen today, despite miracle claims all over the world, also because of that prior metaphysical position. For such people, it would seem they themselves have to personally witness a miracle, and even then it is not sure if they would believe it or not.

If I examine the arguments against the possibility of miracles and find them lacking, as even an agnostic like Earman has, and I have independent reasons for believing in God, then I can be open to miracles. This does not mean that I ALWAYS go with a miraculous explanation.

For instance, I hold to miracles happening as well in a religious context. Suppose, as is claimed often in Keener, that there is someone with a serious illness and this person is approached by a Christian who prays in the name of Jesus, and then the sick person immediately recovers. Question. Is one justified in thinking a miracle has taken place? Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that it was really a non-miraculous event that just happened to happen then that is unknown to the healed person and the praying Christian. Does that mean that the belief it was a miracle is without justification?

Furthermore, I think a great danger is the often misunderstanding of what is meant by empirical. An online dictionary gives three definitions.

1.derived from or guided by experience or experiment.
2.depending upon experience or observation alone, without using scientific method or theory, especially as in medicine.
3.provable or verifiable by experience or experiment.

Note #2. Without using scientific method.

An article at Plato.stanford.edu defines empiricism this way:

The Empiricism Thesis: We have no source of knowledge in S or for the concepts we use in S other than sense experience.

Source here.

If empiricism is made synonymous with science, then we have some problems. It would be fair to say that most scientists are empiricists, but it does not follow that most empiricists are scientists. Aristotle was an empiricist, but he was not a scientist. Aquinas (And I am a Thomist after all) was an empiricist, but he was not a scientist. It’s worth pointing out that Bishop Berkeley was also an empiricist, and his empiricism led him to believe that matter does not really exist. Of course, I disagree with Berkeley, but the point is that one can be an empiricist and hold to suprahuman realities. For instance, one could suppose that all of Aquinas’s arguments fail, but all of them do start with sense experience. It’s important to note that for an empiricist, all knowledge begins with sense experience, but it does not mean that all we can have knowledge of will be detectable by the senses.

Finally, Avalos’s criticisms are in response to David Marshall. One can read Marshall’s writings on Avalos here.

Let’s move on.

Next, Peters states that he is open to miracles happening today and also exploring the miracles of other religions [1]. I am as well, so long as we can first investigate these miracles in the hard sciences. If we could confirm the existence of miracles under scientific observation, then that would change our background knowledge about the possibility of miracles occurring in the past, and thus would increase the prior probability for a miracle occurring in a past event

Is Ferguson really open? His own words say he will go with something that is more ad hoc with less supporting evidence if it avoids a miraculous explanation. Also, how exactly should the hard sciences investigate this kind of claim?

This is something my friend Cornell started responding to Ferguson about. After a short time, Ferguson decided to not let Cornell’s comments stand. That includes the start of this comment that can be shown Cornellposthere.

Strangely enough, when Cornell called Ferguson out on it, that got to stay up.

It is also interesting that Ferguson complains about what Cornell said about him, but in Ferguson’s own blog post to me, he criticizes me about reading comprehension six separate times.

I’m remembering something being said once about people in glass houses…

If anyone wants to see what Cornell was saying, they are free to go to my blog and read it in the comments section. That can be found here.

The problem is that if history is the study of the past and the past is not repeatable, then how is one to redo a miracle under scientific observation? If God acts to do a miracle, one cannot force Him to act again. It is true that science of course studies unrepeatable events all the time, but this is the study of what happened naturally. Science cannot answer yea or nay on the question of miracles or God. Science is great at telling you about the material world. There is nothing better at doing that. It is limited in that it can only tell you about the material world. What inferences you make from the scientific data is more philosophy.

Reading on with what Ferguson has we see that he says:

I explain this in my article History, Probability, and Miracles. The problem is that history relies on indirect observation and is a highly speculative method that must rely on probability. Science, in contrast, is a highly precise and rigorous method that can make conclusions with a much higher degree of certainty. Apologists point out that you can’t observe the past scientifically, which I agree with, but this does not divorce science from history and give history free reign to draw conclusions that would contradict our scientific knowledge. Instead, history operates as a secondary epistemology, where science provides for much of our background knowledge and prior probabilities when we investigate historical claims. When a historical claim contradicts what we know scientifically or what has not been confirmed scientifically, we can automatically be more skeptical of it.

Which gets us to the conclusion that if we do not use science, then anything goes. This is not only an appeal to consequences, but an empirically disprovable argument. How so? Just look around and see if any evangelical is saying “Any explanation goes.” Heck. Look and see if anyone is saying that.

Also, Ferguson says that an event cannot go against our scientific knowledge. I always find an argument like this amusing. I wish to ask some questions. Let’s suppose we are taking miracle claims in the NT as an example. How about this.

The NT claims that Mary gave birth as a virgin not having had sexual intercourse prior. Do we know better now with modern scientific knowledge? When was it demonstrated by science that virgins don’t give birth? Who did this experiment?

The NT claims that Jesus took a few loaves and fed 5,000 men not counting women and children. When was it demonstrated that bread doesn’t just naturally multiply at this rate on its own? Who did the test?

The NT claims that Jesus walked on water. When was it demonstrated by modern science that people don’t walk on water?

The NT claims that Jesus rose from the dead. When did science demonstrate that dead people naturally stay dead?

One final question we could ask is depending on when these experiments were done, why were our tax dollars wasted in this way?

No one would deny that we possess far more scientific knowledge than the ancients did, but while we may attribute scientific error to them, let us not attribute stupidity to them. They knew virgins don’t naturally give birth. They knew people don’t naturally walk on water. They knew bread doesn’t naturally multiply instantaneously. They knew dead people stay dead.

You don’t have to be a scientist to know these things. This is just rudimentary knowledge. In fact, the only way the ancients could speak about what was a miracle was that they had some idea of what happens when there is no outside interference. Does Ferguson really think the reason for skepticism today is we know more about science?

Ferguson also wishes to compare miracles to astrology. This comparison does not work. It does not follow that because one belief system is false that another one is. Astrology must be dealt with on its own criteria. So too must the claim of miracles. Miracles often have other knowledge involved, such as the existence of God, something that is not provable or disprovable by science and pointing to scientific testimony in this area is irrelevant. Being a good scientist does not make you a good philosopher any more than being a good philosopher would make you a good scientist. It is also why I’ve told those in ministry who have no scientific studies under their belt to stay out of science debates, and that includes myself. I will gladly discuss the philosophy and history of science, but I will not discuss science qua science.

Everyone applies probability when they assess claims that they cannot directly observe. I am pretty sure that if I told Mr. Peters “I had cereal for breakfast this morning” and then claimed “Later, a cartoon anvil apparated above my head, crushed me into a pancake, and then I popped back,” Mr. Peters would be skeptical of the latter claim and demand more evidence. I could merely complain (as Mr. Peters does about my skepticism) that his “worldview” is getting in the way, but I think we can all tell that Mr. Peters would have good reasons for being skeptical.

Indeed I would be, and as I have said I have no problem with skepticism! Yet if there could be provided good evidence for such a claim, then I would be willing to accept it. Again, I do not condemn skepticism. I condemn unreasonable skepticism. What reason has Ferguson given for his skepticism. Science? The ancients had just enough scientific knowledge as would anyone claiming a miracle today. Has Ferguson dealt with all theistic arguments that leads one to believe there is an agent that is capable of doing miracles?

Ferguson is fair where he states that I do know people who have been involved in occult practice and have no reason to discount their claims. He replies that:

Personally, I do not think that any instance of witchcraft, sorcery, fortune telling, magic, miracles, divine intervention, or wizardry has ever been reliably documented to occur. Accordingly, these events have a very, very low prior probability in my background knowledge.

Which is fine, but the question is why? Why must it be that ipso facto anyone making such a claim is either lying or mistaken? Perhaps Ferguson should talk to such people and hear their own accounts and seek to find natural explanations for all of them if he thinks it possible. I would instead think it more profitable to have a worldview where one is open to evidence and does not have to think everyone who says something contrary is either lying or delusional in some way, especially if some such people are quite rational persons in other areas of life and do not show any signs of being habitual liars or habitually delusional.

Quite fascinating is what Ferguson then says about Keener’s book “Miracles.”

Do we find scientifically documented cases of people walking on water in the book? Flying in the air and ascending to heaven? The Red Sea parting? A man feeding a whole crowd of people with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish? A man who is crucified, stabbed, and then brain-dead for three days rising from the dead? If Keener had demonstrated such things, then he would have no doubt been awarded with the Noble Prize in Medicine by now. These are what I will term “biblical-scale” miracles.

Instead we have a lot of cases of people healing under unlikely circumstances, dubious claims in regions of the world where there are high amounts of superstition and career miracle workers, and fortuitous events where people have good luck. I’m highly skeptical about whether Keener’s book even proves non-”biblical-scale” miracles, but we don’t need to go there. The point is that Keener does not provide reliably documented instances of “biblical-scale” miracles, and accordingly, his book does not change our background knowledge for such extraordinary events occurring.

This simply means that Ferguson does not accept the miracles provided because they’re not the miracles he wants. “Sure! You might have some resurrections from the dead (Which Keener does) in there, but there’s no parting of the Red Sea!” Note also that Ferguson also makes the same claim that Hume does. The accounts are to be discounted based on where the people come from. This is simply saying “I do not accept testimony from people who do not think like me.”

So what is the reasoning? Perhaps it is all coincidence when these happen, but how many times does coincidence have to happen to no longer be coincidental? What about medical documentation? As Keener says in his book, the catch-22 is that when it happens in a medical facility, it is often then assumed it must have been some medical practice we don’t know about.

Also, why assume these people are just superstitious? (And what does it mean to be that? Does it mean to hold to animism or just hold to a belief in God? Does belief in miracles mean one is superstitious?) Keener’s own wife and brother hold French PH.D.’s. (Should I mention one of those is in science?)

What Ferguson is doing is judging all the people in an area by the worst beliefs he can find in that area.

What do we often say about stereotyping a group of people like that today? Think about it.

Therefore, Ferguson is just all too quick to dismiss Keener. In fact, Ferguson in this does not deal with the claims themselves of Keener, but simply why he is skeptical of them. (Note in fact Keener has a whole chapter on dealing with Hume’s argument using sources from established philosophers) Again, is the evidence shaping Ferguson’s worldview, or is his worldview shaping his view of the evidence?

Also worth noting is that it’s the “Nobel” prize.

Ferguson goes on:

So now, after moving past Peters’ complaints about my introductory remarks, we can discuss the minimal facts apologetic. Peters starts off with a straw man. At the beginning of the article, I provide a word-for-word list of William Craig’s version of the minimal “facts.” Peters complains, “Right here, I can tell the study has not been done on this. Craig’s approach is not the minimal facts approach of Habermas.” I can tell from this that accurate reading comprehension has not been done. I explicitly state in the article, “This apologetic takes a variety of forms.” I was specifically refuting Craig’s version of the apologetic, because I consider it to be a stronger version of the apologetic than Habermas and Licona’s. Peters is complaining because I mention Habermas earlier in a parenthetical remark as an example of an apologist who makes this argument. But the article is specifically addressed towards Craig’s argument. Peters proceeds to critique my article as if it were an article about Habermas’ use of the argument, which causes him to miss key points in many places. Nevertheless, I have added a footnote refuting Habermas and Licona’s version of the apologetic as well, most of which already overlaps with the issues I address in the article.

Perhaps if Ferguson wanted to just critique Craig, he should have just critiqued Craig. Note that Habermas’s name is in fact listed first, which to the reader who does not know better, they will think it is being addressed. I also said I am not interested in defending Craig’s approach, so why should I be criticized for not defending an argument that I don’t hold to. Still, let’s look at what Ferguson says in the footnote:

First, the fact that Jesus was crucified:

“Fact” one is largely trivial. Jesus lived, so it makes sense that he had to die some way. Crucifixion wasn’t an uncommon form of execution, so there is nothing too improbable about the stories of his crucifixion. But nothing about this “fact” really proves anything about a magical resurrection.

Note the nice well poisoning by referring to the resurrection as magical. However, I find this extremely important to the argument since the death that Jesus went through entails one of great shame. Jesus was seen in his death as a traitor to Rome, a blasphemer to YHWH, or both! The shamefulness of his death speaks volumes if we realize it was an essential part of the early Christian apologetic and would have liked to have been avoided. Crucifixion may have been common, but was it common for street preachers in Israel to be crucified prior to the Jerusalem War?

Note the second fact of Habermas and Licona is: “2) his disciples believed he arose and appeared to them,”

Ferguson’s response?

This “fact” has largely been addressed in the third and fourth sections of this article. One thing to add is that Habermas and Licona frequently embellish the “persecution” that the disciples endured as an argument ad martyrdom for the resurrection. I have already discussed in this previous article how the stories about the disciples’ martyrdoms are primarily later legends full of historical improbabilities and clear fictional inventions. Candida Moss discusses this further in
The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom.

Note that fact 2 is just that the disciples claimed this. It is not that they were persecuted for this. Note what Ludemann says about the claim of appearances.

“The only thing that we can certainly say to be historical is that there were resurrection appearances in Galilee (and in Jerusalem) soon after Jesus’s death. These appearances cannot be denied” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” p. 81

Of course, we can even look at what Ferguson himself said in the original writing.

I don’t think any skeptic denies that the early Christians claimed to have experiences of Jesus risen from the dead.

Of course, Ferguson and Ludemann give different interpretations, but note that they do not disagree with the fact.

As for Candida Moss, I point people to the review of my ministry partner here.

Fact three is the conversion of Paul. Here is what Ferguson says:

The conversion of unlikely persons is a new argument, not covered by the “facts” above, but it brings very little to the table. I agree that it is unlikely that an early church persecutor like Paul would convert, but guess what, not many did. If Jesus had appeared to Pontius Pilate, Tiberius Caesar, and Caiaphas, and gotten all of them to convert, that may be a stronger case for a miracle. But if the later resurrection stories were purely a superstition, I would expect one or so former persecutors might later sympathize with the group and convert. This is the evidence that we do have. Furthermore, Paul’s conversion is really not that extraordinary. As discussed in the post, Paul shows signs of suffering from hallucinations (e.g. 2 Corinthians 12:2-4). If Paul were facing cognitive dissonance about persecuting a group that he gradually started to feel sympathy for, and then had a hallucination of their leader chastising him, it is not that hard to see how he might later have a conversion experience.

Note the fact is not denied! Instead, we have a cognitive dissonance of the gaps. I suggest that Ferguson should leave psychology to psychologists. It is hard enough to diagnose a patient that is sitting right across from someone. It is even more difficult to do so to someone from 2,000 years ago who we can’t talk to.

Ferguson states that Paul shows signs of suffering from hallucinations, but is this really the case? It is only if Ferguson’s argument that these things cannot happen is accurate, but then this is just begging the question. Also, the idea about feeling sympathy for the Christians is a modernistic approach that would not match with a work such as Malina and Neyrey’s “Portraits of Paul.”

Note also we have a cognitive dissonance of the gaps showing up here. Cognitive dissonance is an argument that is used to try to explain away any event like this. I have followed my own advice. Instead of looking to my own knowledge of cognitive dissonance, I went to an actual psychologist.

The idea of CD is that if a person performs a behavior that is not in keeping with their attitudes or values, a tension is felt. Naturally, one cannot undo the past, but one can change one’s attitude in order to relieve the tension. In the study done by Leon Festinger on this, there were three ways to reduce the tension.

#1 Change an aspect of the situation, namely an attitude.

#2 Add a new element to the mix. (“Well even though I lied, I probably wasn’t believed.”)

#3-Denying responsibility by saying one has no choice. (“I had to do it. It was my job.”)

Another suggestion given was that the person to reduce tension would lie to themselves and have it be a lie they believed. Problem with this one. Over 80 studies have been done on reducing CD. Not once has this been a response.

Thus, for CD to be at work, someone like Paul, and the rest of the disciples, would have to have convinced themselves of something they thought was untrue, that Jesus physically rose from the dead. The disciples in doing this would have to convince themselves Jesus rose from the dead, something that could have easily been shown to be false.

The study can be found here:

Leon Festinger and J. M. Carlsmith, “Cognitive Consequences of Forced Compliance,” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58, 203-211.

How about James’s conversion? Here’s what Ferguson says:

The conversion of Jesus’ brother James, the alleged “skeptic,” is even more problematic. The Gospels are not even consistent on whether the family of Jesus were sympathetic to his ministry. John 7:5 and Mark 3:21 have Jesus’ family not agree with his ministry. Luke 8:19-21, in contrast, rejects Mark’s earlier tradition and has the family be supportive of the ministry. Furthermore, unlike Paul, we do not have any writings of James (the epistle attributed to him was either written by another James or a forgery), so it is not even clear what James’ feelings were about Jesus prior to his death. Only the later Gospel hagiographies, written by unknown authors who did not witness the events, tell the story in conflicting ways. Even if James had originally been a skeptic, do we really need a miracle to explain a family member later becoming sympathetic with a new religious movement that had sprung up about his brother? This is very feeble evidence to try to prove something as improbable as a magical resurrection.

Again, note the language of magical resurrection. Ferguson apparently has catch phrases he likes to use, like reading comprehension. Mark has his family saying he was out of his mind. This is not likely something that would be made up. It would fit in as an embarrassing feature to be disbelieved by one’s own family. Luke is said to have the family be supportive of Jesus. What does Luke say?

19 Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”

21 He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”

There is nothing here about support. There is nothing here about condemnation. If we want to know what is more likely, we must look elsewhere. In fact, Ferguson points to what happened in Mark. What does Mark say?

20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family[b] heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

Does anything in Luke contradict this? Could not his family in Luke be wanting to get Jesus because they thought he was out of his mind and being an embarrassment to them?

I see then no reason to accept Ferguson’s claim as the skepticism of James would not be something that the early church would invent.

And as for the claim about the tomb being empty:

The empty tomb is already addressed in sections one and two of this article. One thing to reiterate that is already discussed in my linked paper is that even if Paul believed in a “one body” view of the resurrection, which is highly disputable (see footnote 5 below), where Jesus’ burial place was technically empty, that does not mean that he claimed an empty tomb was discovered or was the basis for belief in the resurrection. If the discovery of an empty tomb were part of the basis of belief in the resurrection, it is unfathomable that Paul would not mention this in 1 Corinthians 15. Instead, Paul only discusses “appearances” of Jesus, which demonstrates that such appearances were the basis of early faith in the resurrection, not the discovery of an empty tomb. Accordingly, Paul does not provide pre-Markan corroboration of an opened tomb.

Licona’s word study on the nature of physical vs. spiritual has not been interacted with. It is interesting that Ferguson wants everything Carrier wrote to be responded to, but does not want to respond to leading evangelical scholars the same way. If we are to respond to Carrier, will he respond to Licona’s study the same way?

Furthermore, if Licona is right, and that has not been seriously contested, that the understanding would be physical, then we have physical appearances being claimed in 1 Corinthians 15. In fact, N.T. Wright on page 382 of The Resurrection of the Son of God commenting on 1 Cor. 9:1 says

The word heoraka, ‘I have seen’, is a normal word for ordinary sight. It does not imply that this was a subjective ‘vision’ or a private revelation; part of the point of it, as Newman stresses, is that it was a real seeing, not a ‘vision’ such as anyone in the church might have. The same is emphatically true of the other text from 1 Corinthians.

So let’s get back to Ferguson.

I point out in the article that Craig’s minimal facts require accepting a lot of the biblical stories at face value. Peters replies, “This is not the minimal facts argument. In fact, the minimal facts argument is done to AVOID such a statement. One can take a quite liberal approach to the Bible and still accept the minimal facts.” No, many liberal scholars reject Craig’s claim about Joseph of Arimathea and women discovering his empty tomb. What Peters has done in his straw man is conflate my statements with Habermas’ approach. Habermas’ approach is based on what more liberal scholars often accept, but even much of this information is dependent on the New Testament, as opposed to outside, disinterested secular sources. So the statement still largely applies. This does not mean that I dismiss the evidence right off the bat (I provide a whole article refuting it), but once more I am just contextualizing the issue for my readers.

No. What has been done is that Habermas’s approach has been straw manned. Habermas’s approach does not depend on the biblical stories at all. They are rooted in Paul of course, but why should we discount Paul? Ferguson says he wants to use secular disinterested sources. Why would a disinterested source write anything about something they were disinterested in? Does Ferguson expect people who don’t care about an event to write much about that event? He might as well expect me to write something about my interest in the Super Bowl. (To which he will only find me talking about watching commercials and when the game was on, reading my book.)

Note also you do not have to accept the NT as the Word of God or anything like that. All you have to do is accept that Paul was not lying in what he said and passing on honest tradition. You can say that tradition is entirely wrong, but you need some grounds upon which to say that.

Ferguson says:

I refute Craig’s first claim about Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb being found empty. Peters asserts that this is irrelevant, since it is allegedly not part of Habermas’ approach. But one of Habermas’ claims is about the empty tomb.

Peters states:

“Ferguson thinks that dispatching with the claim about Joseph of Arimathea’s burial of Jesus deals with the empty tomb. No. It would just mean one account of the burial was wrong. It would not mean that there was no burial and thus no empty tomb.”

Which would simply mean as I said that one can be free of Joseph of Arimathea and have an empty tomb still. My point stands still.

Ferguson has also said:

So “fact 1″ is not a fact at all. This does not mean that Jesus’ body had to stay up on the cross, but as Crossan (pg. 152) observes, “It is most probable that Jesus was buried by the same inimical forces that had crucified him and that on Easter Sunday morning those who knew the site did not care and those who cared did not know the site.” Thus, the discovery of an empty tomb is a literary myth that requires no circumstantial explanation from the historian.

So which is it? If they did not know the site, then it seems odd they would claim the tomb was empty. Surely the apostles who were great followers of Jesus would have familiarized themselves with where he was buried. Note also Ferguson says the discovery of an empty tomb was a literary myth. If he thinks the empty tomb is a myth, and this is because he dispenses with Joseph of Arimathea, in what way am I inaccurate? Or could it be that it’s Ferguson’s phrasing that is the problem. (Note, a number of critics of his article said he did not get Habermas’s approach correct.)

Going on we read:

First, Peters does not address Carrier’s hundred-plus page article, “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb” in The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond The Grave (pgs. 105-232) disputing whether Paul and the Jews of his days had universal, carbon copy beliefs about a physical “one body” view of the resurrection. Peters’ assumption that Paul would corroborate an “empty” tomb is simply based on a disputable interpretation of Paul’s theology about the resurrection. Paul never spells out that there was an “empty” tomb.

If we are to play this game, then I can say that nowhere in the article do we see a dealing with N.T. Wright’s book or Mike Licona’s book and on and on. Do we really want to play this game? Note that Ferguson makes a case about my using a disputable interpretation, as if all of Ferguson’s interpretations and all of Carrier’s interpretations for that matter are indisputable! No scholar has after all disputed Ferguson’s understanding of Galatians 1:15-16.

I could also ask if Ferguson has interacted with Dale Martin’s “The Corinthian Body.” On page 128 Martin says

Some commentators attempt to explain Paul’s concept of the resurrection by speaking of a nonmaterial or nonphysical pdoy, leading to the impossibly difficult concept of a “noncorporeal body.” The impossibility of the concept is clear when one tries to translate such language back into Greek and imagine how Paul could have conceived, in Greek, of a “nonbody body.”

Ferguson goes on to say:

Accordingly, Paul does not corroborate that an empty burial place was discovered and that this was a basis for belief in the resurrection. Instead, Paul records that later “appearances” were the basis for the resurrection. This, in my opinion, is much weaker evidence for a resurrection than the discovery of an empty tomb. If Jesus’ body were discovered not to be in its grave, the body could not be found, and later people had appearances of Jesus, this would be a stronger case for a bodily resurrection. This is why I specifically targeted Craig’s case in sections one and two of the article, in order to demonstrate that the stories about the “discovery” of an empty burial place are later legends.

Paul doesn’t because an empty tomb alone would not be enough. One has to know not only that the tomb was empty, but that there is reason to believe the occupant is up and on the move. That is where the appearances come in. Of course, the appearances by themselves help with this as the movement would not have been started if the body could be produced. Also, there is no reason the movement would be started if the disciples were still convinced Jesus’s body was still there. One would think that before making a public claim that would have them not only facing public shame but also being guilty of blasphemy before YHWH, they’d want to check all the facts they could.

Paul, even if Peters’ speculative interpretation were correct that he theologically believed that Jesus’ body was no longer physically in its burial place (wherever that happened to be), would not corroborate that anyone confirmed this by finding an empty burial place. Accordingly, by refuting Craig’s first and second “facts” the historian does not need to circumstantially explain how Jesus’ burial place was found empty or how a body was discovered to have gone missing. One need only to explain why Jesus’ followers later claimed to have experiences with him, who may have been unable to or not sought to confirm whether there was actually an empty burial place, regardless of whether they believed it was empty or not for theological reasons, which again is highly disputable.

It would be interesting to know how else such an event would be confirmed. If Ferguson could tell us, it would be much appreciated. Again, why would the disciples not want to check and make sure of their claims, especially due to the nature of the death that their Messiah died? Why would they go about the most unbelievable claim that they could, that a crucified Messiah was the basis for salvation for all and was King of the Universe, without checking that claim?

Let’s move on to hallucinations:

Peters next moves on to complain about my analysis of the post-mortem sightings of Jesus. He does not dispute that such post-mortem sightings are still common rumors today and even states, “I could grant some of them.” As someone who maintains that the post-mortem sightings of Elvis and Michael Jackson are nothing but rumors, I will just have to disagree on this. The reason I made this point is to show that the prior probability of rumors about post-mortem sightings is higher than the prior probability of an actual post-mortem interaction with someone. Accordingly, when assessing the post-mortem sightings of Jesus, there is a higher prior probability that these are just rumors, so it will take some pretty solid expected evidence to make actual post-mortem sightings more probable.

For one who claims problems with reading comprehension, I do not see why it would be hard to claim that some really do have appearances of Michael Jackson or Elvis. I do not dispute them because I am entirely open to individual hallucinations. I do not rule them out. We have to look at the state of mind that such people are in and see if there is any contradictory evidence.

To say that these are just rumors would be problematic. Paul’s own claim with mentioning the 500 is to say that they are open for interrogation, and if Meeks’s claim is true that Christianity had a sizable number coming from well-to-do people, then these would be the very people with the resources to check this claim, people with a high honor position in society who would not jeopardize it by buying into a shameful group like Christianity immediately.

Moving on Ferguson says:

Hence the problem is that we do not have the writings of a single eyewitness who knew Jesus during his or her lifetime (unlike many eyewitness accounts of post-mortem sighting today). The Gospels are later legendary accounts packed full of authorial inventions. Accordingly, we have very weak expected evidence that cannot overcome the low prior.

Which is irrelevant for Habermas’s and Licona’s minimal facts. As I have said, I am only interested in that of Habermas and Licona. Their claim can be established without the gospels. In fact, we do have a claim of an eyewitness who saw Jesus. Granted, not someone who knew him during his lifetime likely, but a claimant. Paul himself! This is confirmed by Wright’s statements in TRSOG. Ferguson does say that Paul is our best source, but as I showed earlier chooses to dismiss him as someone who has hallucinations.

Ferguson goes on to say about his comparison with Bro Cope Peters.

We can’t go back in time and see what Paul was like. Accordingly, I provide a modern example to illustrate the type of people who make claims about being raptured to heaven and having dead people appear to them. Paul claims (2 Cor. 12:2-4) to have been raptured to “third” heaven, just as Clarence claims to have been raptured to heaven twice. Clarence likewise claims that Jesus has physically appeared and that he has touched Jesus, which is much more clear than Paul’s vague descriptions about Jesus appearing to him. Do I trust Clarence? Of course not! The guy shows clear signs of mental illness. Furthermore, I did not claim that Paul or Clarence were schizophrenic, but said that they “appear” to be such or to experience some sort of other mental disorder. This needs to be taken into account when evaluating what they relate in their experiences.

The claim of their appearing to be schizophrenic rests on Ferguson’s worldview. These things can’t happen, therefore anyone who says otherwise must have some mental issue in some way. Of course, if they do not have one, but only appear to have one, then we could ask if perhaps an experience like Paul’s could be true. We do not see Cope as having any signs of serious education and we see him showing up in an individualistic society where such is more acceptable. Paul is just the opposite. Paul is no doubt a highly educated scholar of his time. He is in an agonistic society where he would face shame for his behavior, and he is putting his religious beliefs on the line for his claim.

As said, the problem is that the idea is just too ad hoc, Paul has to have a kind of CD that is not in line with the understanding of CD and there have to be hallucinations and not only that, collective hallucinations, which are even more outside of our background experience than miracles are.

Note also that Ferguson says that this could be explained as a heatstroke on the way to Damascus. If that is the case and Ferguson wants to accept that part of Acts, what does he do with the testimony in Acts 9:7 that those with Paul heard the voice but did not see anyone, or 22:9 where they saw the light but did not understand the voice, or in 26:14 where they all fall to the ground. Ferguson’s explanation must explain all of that as well, unless he just wants to beg the question by only accepting the data that is agreeable with his explanation. Yet doing such is just bad history.

As we go on:

Peters writes:

“Note that in 1 Cor. 15, this is not described as a vision but put alongside appearances to Peter, James, the twelve, and five hundred.”

Yes, that is precisely what I am noting. Paul uses the same visionary language to describe his experiences of Jesus as he uses to describe Jesus’ other followers’ experiences. The later accounts of them physically interacting with Jesus are only in the anonymous Gospels, which I demonstrate show a clear trail of legendary development getting them to that point.

Yet as Wright points out, this is not visionary language. This is language used of every day seeing and that it also applies here as well. For Ferguson’s hypothesis to work, everyone must be having hallucinations and the same type of hallucinations and then a large group of people must have had a collective hallucination, something not known to psychology.

Moving on:

For starters, I did explain the question of the body, if he had actually read the article. Second, I have written another article about how interpreting group hallucinations from 1 Corinthians 15 is an unlikely reading of the text, which even then can still be explained in natural terms. More importantly, Peters straw mans how I think the visionary experiences developed. I very clearly explain how the early visionary experiences could have been the result of cognitive dissonance. The death of Jesus could have caused his followers to seek new explanations for how he could still be the messiah. Some of them may expect his imminent return and start having a prior expectation that they would see Jesus. A few could have visions or hallucinations, relate the incident to others, and then give them a prior expectation for having similar experiences of Jesus. Soon, the idea could emerge that Jesus has been raised. This belief blossoms into a religion, legends develop over the course of half a century, and finally the anonymous author of Mark could make up a story about an empty tomb being discovered, the later author of Luke could write about how Jesus could teleport and how his disciples could not originally recognize what his resurrected form looked like, and, finally, the later author of John could claim that some of them physically touched Jesus. This is all far more probable than a supernatural miracle, and we have the type of evidence of legendary development that we would expect if it had occurred this way.

This is all very interesting, but what evidence do we have other than the belief that this is likely how it happened. Instead, we have a cognitive dissonance of the gaps. The disciples would all have to have a kind of unusual CD and to have hallucinations so powerful they convinced themselves of a lie and convinced others of it, including those who were well-to-do and had the means to examine the claim.

Furthermore, we have evidence that the church had already reached Rome by the time of Nero’s burning in Tacitus, which would before the writing of Mark for Ferguson. Apparently, the belief that Jesus was risen did not really need Mark’s gospel to be popular. Furthermore, what evidence have we that Mark was written to argue that Jesus was risen? These would be written for Christians who already accepted the basic testimony to inform them of the life of Jesus. Ferguson might think his account is more probable, but only if you accept his claim prior that any miracle could not be the answer.

Let’s move on to the word study aspect.

Peters does dispute my interpretation of the verb ὤφθη (“to be seen” or “to appear”) in the passage:

“Licona says about ὤφθη in its Pauline usage in “The Resurrection of Jesus” that there are 29 usages of it by Paul in the NT. 16 refer to physical sight, 12 have the meaning of behold, understand, etc. Only one refers to a vision. However, this is still a problem in that the creed is not Pauline language really but language Paul got from elsewhere.”

To begin with, I highly doubt that I would agree with Licona’s categorization of the verbs. But furthermore, this is the wrong way to approach the data. Consider the following sentence: “I met Jesus during my darkest hour in prison.” Now, in English the verb “meet” can take on a literal, physical connotation or can take on a figurative, symbolic connotation. Now, most of the time we use the verb we will use it in the literal sense. Does that mean that I should interpret it in a literal sense, simply because that is the more common usage, even when the context of the statement above suggests otherwise? Obviously not.

Ferguson highly doubts that he would accept Licona’s categorization. What is there to accept? Either the data is there or it isn’t and just saying “I’m skeptical” is not an argument. Ferguson wants to dismiss it by pointing to an English comparison. How about dealing with it instead based on the Pauline usage of it, the evidence that we do have?

In the case of ὁράω (“to see”) the verb very often has visionary connotations when used to describe people having experiences with celestial beings. Here is PDF documenting such visions of the god Aesculapius where the verb is used frequently. This is the context in which we have similar “appearances” and visions of a resurrected Jesus. Sure, ὁράω can more often mean other things in other circumstances, but the context is what is important. Peters even acknowledges that, if the creed is pre-Pauline, then it wouldn’t depend on Paul’s usage. Where does he go for context? Into the later Gospel of Luke, which is splicing the later legendary material with the earlier material, the very type of practice he claims to be avoiding in taking Habermas’ approach to the minimal facts.

The point is Luke understands revivification of a corpse. If Wright is right and this does not refer to a vision and if Martin is right and 1 Cor. 15 is about a physical body and not a spiritual one, then we have Paul describing the physical appearances of a physical body. One could say these people were all hallucinating, but what cannot be disputed is they were convinced of a physical body.

Furthermore, I also explain in the article, which Peters does not address, that even if the earliest Christians around Paul’s time believed in a physical resurrection, this new enhanced body is still able to appear in visions. This is made clear if, contrary to Habermas’ approach, we do splice the accounts of the later the Gospel authors, who clearly believed in a physical resurrection, but still describe the appearances in some of the following ways:

“Luke (24:31) has Jesus at first be unrecognizable to his followers and then teleport, John (20:19) has Jesus able to walk through walls, and Acts (10:9-13) has Jesus appear in visions from the sky. The point being is that even if the early Christians believed in a physical resurrection (which is debatable), Jesus’ enhanced resurrected body was still able to appear through visions, phantoms, and revelation. Accordingly, all of the early post-mortem sightings of Jesus can be explained in terms of hallucinations and visions. No eye-witness account survives of someone claiming to see or touch a physical Jesus. These stories come from later legendary narratives, such as the anonymous Gospels.”

Once again, this is all assuming that these are visions because this falls outside of our ordinary experience. The assumption is that if Jesus resurrected in a new and glorified body, He would not be able to do these things. It would be interesting to know how Ferguson establishes such. More interesting is his claim of Acts 10:9-13 as Jesus appearing in the sky. Acts 10 says nothing about that. It simply has Peter responding to a voice. Whether that voice has a physical accompaniment or not is not stated in the text. Furthermore, if Paul’s testimony in 1 Cor. 15 is accurate, we do in fact have such eyewitness testimony. Also, if Ferguson wanted to interact with the gospels, perhaps he should also deal with Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.”

Peters next claim is riddled with problems:

“These could have been hallucinations? Okay. I need to see evidence of that. Why would the apostles have come up with this? It would have been the most easily disprovable theory and ended up costing them everything, especially in the society of the time where they would have received ostracism and of course, be going against the covenant of YHWH which means they would face His judgment. Paul himself would be in no position to have such an experience. He was a persecutor of the church and the conversion accounts in Acts include objective phenomena which means that this was not something that just took place in Paul’s mind.”

The evidence is that hallucinations are far more probable than an actual resurrection and Paul is even using visionary vocabulary. Again, Peters is being sloppy in splicing Paul’s own account with Acts. The apostles came up with this because they were facing cognitive dissonance about how Jesus could still be the messiah. Peters’ notion that people would seek to “disprove” this fringe religious movement is ridiculous. The early Christians were a small, insignificant cult in an ancient world rife with other religions and superstitions. There were no investigative reporters going around trying to refute this stuff. In very rare instances, someone like Lucian of Samosata would write a polemic against a new religion, but this was very rare and we have no reason to expect that someone would do it for Christianity.

I find it quite amusing that Wikipedia is the source for Lucian of Samosata. (One of the rare times Wiki has ever been linked to on this blog.) The counter-evidence is Wright’s study of the Greek usage in 1 Cor. 9:1 and the fact that Ferguson is still saying hallucinations are more likely. Ferguson has already stated he will go with another explanation with less evidence in order to avoid a miraculous one. Keep in mind at the same time, he wants to avoid “bias.”

Note also I said that this would be the most disprovable hypothesis. Whether or not someone would try to dispute it, one would not want to start a religion on a claim that most anyone could have disproven by going to the tomb and especially in the very city where the Messiah was put to death. Also, why go with a bodily resurrection, especially if this movement was going to Gentiles who would care nothing about a bodily resurrection? Again, the disciples, if they wanted to convince everyone their Lord was the Messiah, chose the most impossible way to go about doing it and really, had nothing to gain from it.

As for the notion of ostracism and persecution, I demonstrate how the martyrdoms of the disciples are largely legendary in a previous article (the article includes discussion of how James’ death may not be corroborated by Josephus, since his reference could be to Jesus and James, the sons of Damneus). Furthermore, I encourage people to read Candida Moss’ The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom in order to see how the supposed persecution of the disciples is largely exaggerated. Likewise, just because there might have been ostracism of the early Christians does not overcome the low probability of a resurrection happening.

We’ve already got a reply up to Moss, but does Ferguson really want us to think that the Jesus in the Josephus passage is one of the sons of Damneus? As I have said elsewhere:

“First off, this case involves identification by the brother instead of by the father, which means James must have had a very well-known brother. Second, this Jesus is said to be the so-called Christ, not something that would be interpolated by a Christian. Third, there is no reference to the other Jesus being called Christ anywhere that I know of or having a brother named James that was executed by Herod.”

Note also that Ferguson is looking at ostracism and tying that in with martyrdom. My claim is about ostracism. Christianity would be a belief that brought about shame in society and the only reason to accept it was one was convinced that it was true. Of course there were some persecutions later on that did involve martyrdom. This was not a continuous event, but one that happened from time to time. Yet for most people, death was not what they feared the most. It was shame.

Regarding the fourth section, Peters writes:

“Ferguson is writing against the idea that Christians would have a crucified messiah as their savior. To be sure, there were new beliefs floating around. How having a more radical belief is more probable than a resurrection has not been shown. The term magical is just a bit of well poisoning on Ferguson’s part. Magic in the ancient world does not correspond to what we have in the resurrection.”

Obviously I meant magic as a synonym for “supernatural.” Peters is just nit picking at this point. Also, yes, a new religion springing up is far more probable than the laws of physics being violated and a three day brain-dead human rising from the dead.

Magic is not a synonym for supernatural. Ferguson can call it nitpicking. I call it well-poisoning. Note also that he speaks about the laws of physics being violated (As if ancients didn’t know that dead people stay dead. We don’t need modern physics to tell us that.) Yet why say they are a violation of the laws of nature. As Cornell says, someone Ferguson refused to interact with:

Ferguson says “I provide a definition of what I would consider to be a miracle in another blog, just search “miracle”:
http://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/defining-theism-atheism-supernaturalism-and-naturalism/
One main criterion is that miracles involve agency or intention, which nature does not exhibit. So they would not just be categorized under nature. “

Me: Your link defines miracle as “Miracles are events caused by supernatural agencies that supersede the capabilities of non-teleological natural forces and agents derived from non-teleological natural forces.”

It looks like we are in the same ballpark, I only asked this because IMO finding the right definition is where philosophers come into conflict, and I believe this right here can make or break a debate, only because of the potential strawmen that come about afterwards. The Latin miraculum, which is derived from mirari, is defined as “to wonder” thus the most general characterization of a miracle is as an event that provokes wonder.

Augustine (City of God XXI.8.2) defined miracles as: “that a miracle is not contrary to nature, but only to our knowledge of nature; miracles are made possible by hidden potentialities in nature that are placed there by God.

Thomas Aquinas ( Summa Contra Gentiles III:101) defined miracles as: “a miracle must go beyond the order usually observed in nature, though he insisted that a miracle is not contrary to nature in any absolute sense, since it is in the nature of all created things to be responsive to God’s will.

Source: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, miracle section:

David Hume stated miracles as: ““A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.”

David Hume – ‘An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding’ L. A. Selby Bigge, ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902), pp. 114

My definition of ‘miracle’ comes from the Cambridge Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (2008):

“An event (ultimately) caused by God that cannot be accounted for by the natural powers of natural substances alone. Conceived of this way, miracles don’t violate the laws of nature but rather involve the occurrence of events which cannot be explained by the powers of nature alone. When dead bodies come back to life it is a miracle because the molecules that make up the corpse lack the powers necessary to generate life.”

^This definition is very similar to the one used by Thomas Aquinas and G.W Leibniz.

Ferguson in his earlier post said:

“But belief in the resurrection need not even be unlikely. Kris Komarnitksy has written an excellent article about how “Cognitive Dissonance Theory” can explain the early Christian belief in the resurrection. This theory observes that among religious groups and cults, when something occurs that violates the adherents’ previous expectations and beliefs, rather than abandon their cherished religious beliefs, they instead invent new and radical ad hoc assumptions to rationalize the alarming information. Just look at liberal Christians today who are “evolution-friendly” and think that Christianity is compatible with Darwin’s theory, after thousands of years of Christianity teaching Six Day Creation and a century and a half of Christians battling evolutionary science. Rather than drop their warm and comforting beliefs about their religion, they merely invent new stories to explain away how utterly discredited it has been.”

And in this post looking at what I said says:

Peters next makes a trivial objection to an off-handed remark I made about cognitive dissonance, where I discuss how certain Christians who are forced to accept evolution from evidence, rather than abandon their belief in the Bible, which has a very different story in Genesis, will simply make ad hoc assumptions to avoid having to abandon their faith. This was just an example of how cognitive dissonance reduction works. Peters writes:

“Why should I be held accountable for what Christians did for a century and a half. I am not a theistic evolutionist, but I have no problem with evolution. I just leave it to the sciences. I could not argue for it. I could not argue against it.”

Obviously he is not even grasping the point of the example, and instead just saw the word “evolution” and started chasing an off-handed remark. This is the sort of tangential and scattered thinking that mires Peters’ analysis.

Yes. Scattered thinking. People who live in glass houses again…

My point is entirely valid. Ferguson gives the appearance that if a Christian today is doing this, it is a kind of CD. (Again, the CD of the gaps!) My reply is that there were Christians back then who were arguing against evolution. There were also Christians who weren’t. One can consider Charles Kingsley or Asa Gray for instance. It seems that Ferguson has an idea of all-or-nothing interpretation depending on a wooden literalism.

Again, Ferguson is free to argue CD all he wants to and if he wants to present counter-claims for my source in psychology, I will happily pass them on.

Cognitive dissonance would be more likely to be the case here than a supernatural resurrection and the circumstances of rationalizing how Jesus could still be the Messiah explain this. Peters did not even read or address the example I provided of Sabbatai Zevi, where the messianic figure did much worse then die, but even converted to Islam! This would be much more damaging for a Jewish religious movement and yet the movement persisted through cognitive dissonance reduction. It is not clear that the early Christians believed in a physical resurrection, which Peters continues to speculate. I explain Paul’s and James’ conversions above. Again, everything has a more probable natural explanation.

I am already familiar with Zevi. (Apologies again for the Wikipedia link being necessary apparently.) The problem with Zevi is that after his conversion to Islam, the movement died out. For Christianity, it was just the opposite! It was after the event that should have killed Christianity that Christianity shot off! Some followers of Zevi tried to hold on after the aversive event, but nowhere near what was before. In Christianity, it was after the event that the movement started which does not follow with CD. CD would result in fewer people believing in the long run rather than more.

But hey, CD of the gaps. What can you say?

That about sums up Peters’ complaints. The last bit is Peters parroting the typical apologetic slogan that skeptics only don’t believe in the resurrection because of their “worldview.” He ends his article with “In Christ.” Does Peter not realize that his worldview is playing a role as well? I’m open to the possibility of miracles, but the minimal facts evidence does not measure up. Every one of the alleged circumstances can be explained in more probable natural terms. Accordingly, Christianity looks no different to me than any other religion on the planet, all of which I think are nothing more than naturally explicable superstitions.

Yeah. I do. That’s why I openly admit in my article that I have a bias. Ferguson says he is open to the possibility of miracles, but we see no real evidence of that. He has already said he will go with another explanation that is more ad hoc and with less evidence. Is this also an implicit admission that there is some evidence that could justifiably lead someone to conclude that a miracle had occurred? If that is the case and that is based on historical data, then have we not done what Ferguson has said? If not, then why say he is wiling to go with a belief with less evidence? How can there be less evidence than no evidence?

I conclude in the end that Ferguson has built his work on scholarship that is not acceptable in most circles, such as Carrier and MacDonald, and will go with any evidence rather than a miracle. I also conclude that he is not open to being disproven due to his inability to interact with a comment on his own blog. Once again, I leave my offer for Ferguson to come to TheologyWeb to the Deeper Waters section if he wishes to debate this back and forth.

In Christ,
Nick Peters