Atheism and the Case Against Christ: Chapter 13

How does McCormick conclude? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We have come to the end of our journey and what do we find? McCormick’s book is extremely lacking. In fact, I find it one of the most lacking books out there for someone of the education level of McCormick who should know better. Even when it comes to his subject of philosophy, McCormick still makes numerous blunders.

In this chapter, McCormick tells us that it should have been a trivial matter for God to make the resurrection believable for reasonable people. (Loc. 4220) Of course, note that McCormick never defines what a reasonable person is. Are people who believe in the resurrection unreasonable? It would seem so since we believe in the resurrection. If we believe in it, then it can be believed by reasonable people. If we are not, on what grounds? Is it that anyone who believes in it is unreasonable, but then McCormick’s criteria could never be met because any atheist who came to believe in it would become ipso facto unreasonable.

So what does he mean?

McCormick also has something on the kinds of atheism that are out there. Thankfully, he says an atheist is someone who affirms the non-existence of God. (None of this lack of belief nonsense) McCormick thinks in fact that ultimately, all religious systems collapse when his kind of analysis is used. I suppose that if you treat a religious question in a haphazard way and ignore the best positive evidence and build up straw men constantly against the belief then, yeah, it would collapse pretty easily. We could say the same way that macroevolutionary theory easily collapses. Just define it how you want, build up some straw men, ignore the positive evidence, and presto! You have outdone the scientific community.

What evidence then does he think is left for God? Well of course, you could deal with the Thomistic arguments, the ontological argument (Which I don’t accept but include in the interest of being thorough), the argument from beauty, the argument from conscience, Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument, the Intelligent Design argument, the moral argument, the argument from religious experience, etc.

Or you could just ignore them and hope they go away.

McCormick wishes to do that by pointing to a survey that showed most philosophers find the arguments for God’s existence unconvincing. Do they? The survey certainly looks convincing. Unfortunately, closer analysis shows some problems, as William Lane Craig points out.

He doesn’t footnote his claim, but undoubtedly what he has to be referring to is the Chalmers and Bourget survey of philosophers that has gotten a lot of press. When this survey came out I was immediately puzzled because I thought, “I never received any such survey.” Neither did any of my colleagues at Talbot. There are seventeen professional philosophers on our campus. None of them were surveyed. I wondered exactly who received this survey. Well, when you look into it what you find is that this survey only was sent to 1,972 philosophers – less than 2,000 philosophers. It was sent to faculty only from 99 selected departments of philosophy. Just 99. Only 62 out of the 99 were in the United States. The rest are foreign – in Europe and Australia and so forth. Of the 1,972 that were surveyed, do you know how many actually responded? Less than half. Only 931 philosophers completed this survey. Yet this is supposed to be a comprehensive study of the belief of philosophers about God.

Rodney Stark, who is a sociologist at Baylor University, has pointed out that in his professional training for sociology he says that unless a survey has a response rate of 85% you are not to trust the results of that survey. This survey had a response rate of less than 48%. A mere 931 philosophers. If you look at the list of institutions to which this survey was sent, it was almost entirely secular universities. It wasn’t sent to places like Talbot, or Wheaton, or Westmont, or even many Catholic institutions. So far from exposing the intellectual deficiency of Christian philosophers, the appeal to this survey, I think, shows the intellectual deficiency of John Messerly’s argument. Here he just cites some survey without looking into it in any detail to see whom it was sent to, how many people it was sent to, how many responded to it. Instead he just cites something that confirms what he already wanted to believe. It really shows the intellectual deficiency of his own argument.

One could say that you don’t want to send this to evangelical and religious institutions because they’re biased, but then you’re just saying you’re going to include all professional philosophers who are not religiously inclined and then ask them if theistic arguments are convincing. How is this a fair examination? Is it that again, religious people don’t count?

Of course, McCormick thinks that even if you find a proof of God convincing, how do you close the circle to say which God is the real one? Christians and Jews and Muslims all have answers for this. McCormick doesn’t like the answers, but he needs to show that they are false.

McCormick thinks the teleological argument fails because of the problem of evil. Of course, this is not the classical teleological argument but the modern one. He tells us that in debates, theists have been at great pains to establish that the creator of the universe is possibly good willing or benevolent or morally perfect. (Loc. 4367.)

Really? It would be nice to see an example of this. Do I just need to take it on faith?

McCormick also tells us that centuries ago, God showed Himself regularly. Now, He hides Himself so we can believe by faith. Really? God showed Himself regularly.

God showed Himself to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph, after that, there was 400 years of silence. He was there during the Exodus and the conquest, but in the time of many of the kings of Israel and Judah, there was often silence. After the return from Babylon, there was another 400 years of silence and then Jesus came. Most of history after that has had some miracles taking place and such, but nothing like the time of the apostles.

McCormick’s claim is a misnomer. It seems to be happening everywhere in the Bible because those are the points worth talking about. Imagine reading a book about the history of war in America. You’ll find a historian writing about every time America went to war. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear America was perpetually at war and we never stopped fighting. That would be false. The historian is often just focusing on the times of war instead of the times of peace because those are the times worth writing about.

As we conclude, it has to be said that there is nothing in McCormick’s book that presents a real challenge. McCormick has ignored the best evidence against his position and built up straw men regularly. It’s amazing anyone takes this seriously.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

McCormick’s Gaffe

 

Atheism and the Case Against Christ Chapter 12

Could Christianity be metaphorical language? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In this Chapter, McCormick looks at the idea of what if Christianity is just a metaphor and you accept it as a good story, but you just don’t believe all the claims and such. You just go because you enjoy the fellowship or something like that. Maybe it’s the case that we could all see it as metaphorical.

Now this position makes no sense to me. There was a time I was at a coffee shop once (I was of course getting tea since I uphold that coffee was created by the devil to lead us away from tea.) and talking to someone about Christianity and they asked “What if it was just a story and not really true in a historical sense? Would you lose anything?”

I answered that I would. A story could not provide salvation. It could not provide peace with God. It could not provide righteousness. Thus, I am surprised that it looks like McCormick actually agrees with me. He considers the idea of a Christian who does not believe in the resurrection to be an oxymoron. I would go further. It is a contradiction. If you do not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead, I have no reason to see you as a Christian. You may have a nice ethical system and really like the teachings of Jesus, but that’s not enough for salvation.

McCormick’s main concern in this is that people tend to become like those they’re around and if Christians have too many negative ways of thinking, those will be rubbed off on someone. When it comes to those negative characteristics, he refers to the church’s stance on homosexuality as an example. I always find it odd that somehow many atheists I meet automatically think accepting homosexuality is a mark of tolerance. It’s my suspicion that many who do this only side with homosexuals because Christianity opposes homosexuals. It’s not for some concern about homosexuals in themselves.

Let’s suppose also that my argument against homosexuality was more of a natural law argument. Would it be wrong just because I am religious? (A persuasion Francis Beckwith takes in Taking Rites Seriously.) If a skeptic made the same argument, would it suddenly be taken seriously? People might have biases, but arguments don’t. Arguments stand or fall on their own.

We also have to be amazed at the constant talk about tolerance and inclusion. Does this mean the more we allow the more inclusive and tolerant we are? Everyone is exclusive at some point and there are some points no one will tolerate. A church that turned the other way at murder would not be a tolerant church. They would be a wicked one. Of course, I realize at this point McCormick and others could cry out “Are you putting homosexuality on the same level as murder?” No. I’m just going to an extreme to paint a picture.

When people talk about being tolerant or inclusive, they generally mean being tolerant and inclusive of ideas that they agree with already. True tolerance is being able to note a person you have a significant disagreement with, still being able to disagree with them, and still having a relationship with them. I am sure McCormick would like to say for instance that he’s tolerant of any Christian friends he has though he disagrees. That is what tolerance is.

McCormick then goes on to list facts he doesn’t find surprising. 51% of Americans refuse to believe life evolved. 55% subscribe to rapture theology. 36% think Revelation (Not Revelations) is true Bible prophecy.

Okay. Let’s see how I measure up.

I have no problem with evolution as a theory. Since I am not a scientist, I cannot comment on if it happened or not, but it’s not a threat to me if it did. I do not hold to a pre-trib, pre-mill rapture at all. As for Revelation, I do think it’s true prophecy, but it is not to be fulfilled in a literal sense (Or rather was not fulfilled). Revelation is an apocalypse which uses powerful imagery to demonstrate earthly realities.

By the way, all of those beliefs are beliefs I did not grow up with. They changed as I learned and studied this stuff and grew in my position. Could I be wrong? Sure. I’m open to that, but I would need to be shown evidence that I am.

McCormick later says that a number of people will go on believing something even after their beliefs have been shown to be faulty according to some studies. I have no doubt of this. It also cuts both ways. If McCormick is shown his arguments are faulty (And I think I have given enough room for pause in my reviews) will he still hold them just as strongly? What about internet atheists who hold to Jesus mythicism (An idea McCormick seems to toy with) and are shown to be wrong over and over? (Anyone who gets after Christians for disbelieving evolution has no basis whatsoever for endorsing mythicism.) We all need to pause and ask if we hold an intellectual commitment more often or an emotional one.

McCormick points to a study that was done where Christians were told about an article from some researchers judged to be authentic by radiocarbon dating and leading scholars from some recently found scrolls that was the disciples confessing that Christianity was a hoax. The lead scholar on the project had to renounce his faith and said he could no longer be a Christian. According to the study, many people said their faith in Christianity was even stronger.

If I had been part of this study, this is how I would have handled when told the claim.

“Okay. Who are these scholars? What are their names? Where was this scroll found? Who was the lead scholar you spoke of? How recently was this find? Can I go somewhere to get to read the manuscripts for myself?”

If too many Christians don’t know how to analyze the information, then yes, this is a problem. McCormick doesn’t mention if any of the skeptics asked questions about the documents and if they didn’t, that’s just as much a problem for skepticism as they are just believing a claim without having sound evidence for it. I happen to agree with many problems McCormick diagnoses in this chapter. I just disagree with the solution to them. The problem is not Christianity as skeptics show the exact same mindset many times. The problem is an over-riding anti-intellectualism in our culture.

McCormick says that one of the reasons the God of classical theism has been so influential is because that God is worthy of worship. Well no. Of course, that God is worthy of worship, but that is not why that type won out. Why it won out was because of evidence. People were convinced Christianity was true, which I would argue was based on the evidence despite what McCormick says. The Christian concept won out so well and then came with such great philosophy from the Greeks that polytheism just couldn’t last.

At Location 4032, McCormick says the truth problem has to be confronted. I agree.

Either what is being claimed about the world, its origins, and humankind’s place in it is accurate or not. And either we have good reasons to think it is true or we don’t. What are those claims and what is the evidence for them? Does all life emanate from some spiritual force? Is some supernatural, conscious, or personal force responsible for the creation of the universe or not? Do we entirely cease to exist when we die or not? What are our reasons for thinking so?

These are all excellent questions.

It’s a pity they were all ignored.

He later asks that if God is all these omni qualities, why does he use such human means to achieve His means. Why does He form such a loving and intimate relationship with a person who prays? We still wonder how it is that McCormick came across this theological knowledge of what an omni being would or would not do. It certainly doesn’t come from experience of what an omni being would do since he is an atheist and cannot believe he has ever encountered such a being. Where does he get these ideas?

As for why God would do this, how about this? To reach humans. What we find in Scripture is that God is so far-reaching that the Son is even willing to take on humanity and go to the lowest position he can. God has no pride. Using human means is not beneath Him. Interacting with human beings is not beneath Him.

McCormick towards the end of the chapter talks about the Clergy Project. This is to help clergy who have decided they are atheists but depend on their jobs for their livelihood and such and can’t just quit. First, I find it interesting that in talking about fakers that McCormick wants to admit atheists like this exist. Second, when one sees the reasons for their doubt in the book, it’s often based on a rigid literalism. This is why we need more apologetics in the church.

In the end, while I do agree that Christianity is not a metaphor, I think the problem of McCormick is he allows no metaphors whatsoever. Everything is literal and rigid and God must act the way that McCormick thinks he should. The irony is that McCormick has more in common with the Christians he goes after than he realizes.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 13

McCormick’s Gaffe

 

Atheism and the Case Against Christ Chapter 11

(We do hope to have something soon on Saturday’s guest.)

Does McCormick have faith right? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

McCormick’s eleventh chapter is all about the f-word, which for him is faith. As I came here, I was expecting more of the same. No actual interaction with scholarship on the concept of faith. No bothering to find out what the Biblical authors would have meant by the word. Just the same usual old canards about faith that have been trotted out time and time again.

McCormick did not disappoint in that area.

As expected, he starts wondering about how many believers would have made it this far through the book. I can understand it. It’s not because the arguments are so good but because they’re so bad that pushing myself through this was a labor of love at times. (Meanwhile, at other times it was so outright hysterical I wanted to see how much more he could get wrong.)

Unfortunately, McCormick has hit on one important note here that many new atheists like to hit on. Faith. There is a great misconception about what faith is in the world today and sadly, Christians give that false impression. It’s quite problematic that atheists who love to go back sometimes and see what a text means when it’s convenient to them and show how Christians don’t understand what they’re talking about at this point don’t bother to go back to the text to see if Christians even have faith right. Hint. They don’t.

McCormick gives a definition that says “To take something on faith or to believe by faith is to believe it despite contrary or inadequate evidence.” Of course, this is a false misunderstanding of the word held by Christians today and atheists do themselves no favor if they justify their mistake by pointing to the mistakes of Christians. If McCormick wants to knock it down, let him, but treating it as the true position with inadequate evidence or despite contrary evidence is an action of faith.

Naturally, McCormick quotes Martin Luther about reason being the greatest enemy faith has. Again, McCormick doesn’t go to the primary sources. When Luther speaks about reason, he’s not speaking about the thinking capacity. He’s speaking about a mind unaided by the Holy Spirit and regenerate and seeking to go about and follow its own desires. Has McCormick done any investigation into Martin Luther and his understanding of reason? No. Instead, he just found a quote he liked and put it up assuming it meant everything he thought it did.

Of course, I should in all of this give my view of faith. That can be found here. This also applies to areas today where we have faith. Those are areas where there is good reason to believe the proposition under question, but there is some element of risk. Such a proper use would be an airplane for instance. Statistics show that air travel is safe, but we all have an element of risk when we get in. There’s no guarantee the plane will land safely.

McCormick says we do not invoke faith for something we don’t want to happen. Indeed, we don’t. That is because faith is when we put trust in something and we often can combine it with hope. Again, none of this shows an interaction with the Biblical material. McCormick has simply condemned the Christians for thinking foolishly yet kept up the act by thinking foolishly himself.

McCormick tells us that many believers have said it is faith and evidence. McCormick says this is a mistake based on what he said earlier, but pointing to mistaken evidence does not make a valid conclusion. McCormick could have asked why they think the way that they do, but he does not. He says that if there is sufficient evidence to justify the conclusion, then faith is not needed, but it can be. Faith is needed in order to act on the proposition. Knowledge is not enough.

People with phobias like myself understand this. When it comes to my phobia, all the knowledge in the world doesn’t seem to faze it. Instead, what is needed is to be able to act. That is then when faith comes where I say “I believe the knowledge I have is sufficient to justify doing something I think is risky.” In the case of Scripture, it’s trusting myself to the risen Christ.

In fact, this all leads to a great irony. Most of McCormick’s criticisms of faith in this chapter I would agree with. If he wants to destroy this kind of faith, more power to him. I want him to do that. I agree that Christians need more than just “faith” to justify the most important question of all. I agree that Christians should have evidence for their beliefs or at least know where the evidence is. (For instance, I would point to a specialist on Islam for instance while I have sufficient reasons for believing the resurrection of Jesus.)

Yet in a great bit of irony, at 3603, McCormick says the following:

The difference is that we often approach the world with a preformed conclusion already in mind. Then, as we consider new information that is relevant to that cherished doctrine, we are receptive to the arguments, evidence, and reasoning that corroborate it and are hostile to arguments that run counter to it. Sometimes we are not aware of it, but our real purpose is to defend the preferred belief. Our faculties of reasoning get put into the service protecting a belief instead of seeking the truth.

This is in fact a great description of McCormick’s book. Now if someone wants to say to me “Maybe you’re guilty of the same” then I say “Maybe I am. If you think I am, present the evidence. Show it.” We should all always be open to being wrong.

McCormick also asks an important question at 3650. He wants to know if there is anything that would dissuade you of the existence of God and the divinity of Jesus. This is a good question. Of course, McCormick couldn’t answer it for us since we must give the answer, but I’d be glad to.

For God, you could show a necessary contradiction in the essential nature of God. Not a paradox mind you, but a contradiction. That would defeat the idea of God. If not that, then you could also refute all the arguments given for the existence of God. This at this point would only show agnosticism. It could be God exists and we just had stupid reasons for believing in Him. You still need to put together a categorical disproof to get to atheism.

For Jesus, it’s quite simple. Some people say the bones of Jesus. I don’t go that route since we have no guarantee that they would have survived had no resurrection taken place which puts us in an unfair position. I just ask people to provide a better scenario that explains the data we have other than the one the church gave.

Next I would ask McCormick what it would take. Unfortunately, what I usually see from this is something like this piece from Jerry Coyne.

The following (and admittedly contorted) scenario would give me tentative evidence for Christianity. Suppose that a bright light appeared in the heavens, and, supported by winged angels, a being clad in a white robe and sandals descended onto my campus from the sky, accompanied by a pack of apostles bearing the names given in the Bible. Loud heavenly music, with the blaring of trumpets, is heard everywhere. The robed being, who identifies himself as Jesus, repairs to the nearby university hospital and instantly heals many severely afflicted people, including amputees. After a while Jesus and his minions, supported by angels ascend back into the sky with another chorus of music. The heavens swiftly darken, there are flashes of lightning and peals of thunder, and in an instant the sky is clear.

If this were all witnessed by others and documented by video, and if the healings were unexplainable but supported by testimony from multiple doctors, and if all the apparitions and events conformed to Christian theology—then I’d have to start thinking seriously about the truth of Christianity. Faith vs. Fact p. 118-119

Please note that this is “tentative” evidence. Boghossian says similar with saying he’d borrow from Lawrence Krauss that he wants all the stars in the sky one night to say something like “I am YHWH. Believe in me.” This would still not be conclusive enough. We could all be experiencing a mass hallucination.

If McCormick gives something similar in answer, what does this mean? It means no reasoning in philosophy or historiography would convince him. Instead, only a personal experience that we could not give would convince him. By the way, this is all the way while complaining about Christians who go by their personal experience. If McCormick says historiography and philosophy can convince him, I want to know in advance. I want to know he’s not expecting a personal miracle. If he is expecting a personal miracle, then dialogue to convince him is ridiculous. It is only relevant for a watching audience.

We conclude then that McCormick still sadly buys into the same atheist myths that you can find anywhere. One would think a Ph.D. in philosophy would do better. Alas, we are disappointed.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

McCormick’s Gaffe

Atheism: The Case Against Christ Chapter 10

Is there a problem with other religions? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

McCormick begins with a list of 500 dead gods. Rather than cram this whole post with their names, I will give a link to where he lists them out. Now at the start, most people would look at this list and be intimidated. After all, all of these gods were believed on by millions and said to be omnipotent, omniscient, and immortal. All are dead. That’s quite the claim.

As usual, McCormick did not do his research on them.

Some of these gods can’t be found even by searching online for them. Nothing comes up. Some of them are characters in stories, albeit at times ancient stories, but still characters. Some of them are more animistic spirits and thus omni qualities would not apply. Many are from polytheistic cultures and again, omni qualities would not apply. Of the omni qualities that would apply, I would be surprised if ten on the list made it.

So what does this tell us? It tells us once again that McCormick will be extremely critical and skeptical when it comes to what disagrees with him, but if he thinks it will argue for his side, he will believe it entirely without doing research. At a later date, I hope to bring out the research that I have done on this. I’m still in the process of putting it all together. If you’re wondering about this list, I advise you to just go through and start checking. See if you start seeing the problems.

Why would McCormick do this? Because he’s a man of faith. He is willing to believe whatever his fellow skeptics tell him uncritically but not so much what disagrees with him. He’s not a true skeptic. He’s just a selective one.

Naturally, after this, we find the “Christians are atheists when it comes to gods XYZ. I just go one God further.” You know, you’d think that if you’re dealing with someone with a Ph.D. in philosophy, you’d find a more sophisticated argument than a pet slogan of the new atheists.

Gentleman of the jury! You all believe that everyone else is innocent of the crime under question. I just ask that you look at my client and go one person further. Think that would work?

How about this for a strange idea? Examine deity claims on a case by case basis. If someone wants to present a claim, study it. See what evidence they give and then evaluate it.

McCormick also talks about how denominations go to the Bible to settle their differences with the idea that if we understand it, then we will know which gods are real and what God’s nature is. I don’t know anyone who approaches it that way. The Bible never really argues for the reality of God. He’s just there in it. As for His nature, you can know that from Scripture, but many of us also turn to natural theology for that as well. For McCormick, it’s as if the Bible is the only resource we have. It’s a great one, but it’s not the only one.

When it comes to interpretation, McCormick at 3059 says “And the way an artist’s explanations of what a work means evolve over time suggests that not even the artist knows what the deeper significance is. The personal meaningfulness is largely a subjective and personal creation.”

If this is followed through, then I think we can conclude that give it some time and we can say that McCormick’s book is arguing for Christianity against atheism. After all, he doesn’t know what the deeper significance is and his personal meaning of what the text means is subjective and personal. Why trust it?

Interestingly, at 3074, when he talks about the way religious people think, he says that we’re more prone to say God’s beliefs are like ours. This is quite the irony because when he has talked about how God would prove Himself, he implies that if God wanted to do it, God would do it the way McCormick thinks He should. McCormick apparently also thinks that if God were real, God’s beliefs would be like His. How is he different from the religious people he critiques?

Meanwhile, many of us would say God’s beliefs aren’t like ours, because we all know things we do wrong that He condemns. We also know He condemns many things we wish that He wouldn’t. Of course, there are too many Christians that want to find God’s will and lo and behold, it conveniently happens to be just what they already want to do.

At 3106, McCormick says that instead of asking what the text says, we should be asking why we think it has the Words of God. That’s a very good question to ask. It would be good if McCormick had seriously investigated it. Unfortunately, as we know, he didn’t. We got simply the sound of one hand clapping.

He next asks if we have evidence to believe any of the supernatural claims are true. Now I prefer to speak of miraculous claims instead but again, this is a good question to ask. A good investigation would also interact with both sides of the debate. McCormick doesn’t.

He then says that the real question of whether a claim should be believed is whether it has evidence reasons, fits well with what we know through science. The only distinction I’d make is that not everything is known through science, but overall I agree with this statement. (Although I do want to know if it is known through science.) I wish McCormick really did because he unfortunately did not really evaluate the evidence and apparently believed a whopper of a claim at the start of this chapter with the list of 500 dead gods.

McCormick has plenty to say about private experience. Actually, I’d agree with him for the most part. Of course, if you do have external evidence and you have a private experience, that can further back what you say otherwise, but there are too many Christians who have just their experience.

Naturally, Dan Barker is listed as someone to consider in this. Well, I have, and I don’t take him seriously. His work is quite weak and shows a whole lot of misunderstanding of basic concepts and of course, he’s a mythicist. That last piece would be enough in itself.

McCormick also thinks we Christians have a dilemma. If there are so many religions that have natural explanations, what makes us sure ours is the right one? The answer is of course the one that he failed miserably at. The resurrection.

As I said, McCormick’s work constantly fails to deliver and just gets worse and worse. We simply have the sound of one-hand clapping. Don’t expect it to get better.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

McCormick’s Gaffe

Atheism and the Case Against Christ: Chapter 9

Would God do miracles? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Keep in mind when we come to something like this and we’re asking if God would do miracles, we’re dealing with a question of theology. If this is theology however, where does McCormick get his information from? He rejects natural revelation as giving us knowledge of the existence of God so how could it tell us the attributes of God? What does he know about God that the rest of us do not?

Also, the question could have an odd answer. It could be that God can do miracles but has never done one. I don’t hold to this, but it’s possible. Whether God can do miracles is theology and metaphysics. If he has is a question of history.

Perhaps I’m nitpicking, but at one point as I go through this chapter, I notice McCormick talking about Job. Job supposedly lose his wife and his children to death. This makes me wonder if McCormick really has studied the Bible at all. I am to trust him on the extra scholarship when he can’t check to see that Job’s wife never died in the text?

McCormick more has a problem with what kinds of miracles take place. Christine Overall he says wants to know why Jesus was hanging out at a party turning water into wine when He could have been healing lepers. Of course, leave out that Jesus did do plenty of healings, though we can be sure these won’t be accepted anyway. Jesus had not yet really started a ministry and was at a party I think just to be a good guest and not shame the person who invited him and his disciples. Why would he turn water into wine? To keep a party going. More than that. This was a big event in the life of the family and the couple. Running out of wine would bring great shame to them that would last. Jesus ensured their honor.

McCormick tells us that many Christians familiar with the problem of evil point out that there could be some absolving reasons why God doesn’t do a certain miracle. McCormick says this is correct, but there may not be. Unfortunately, as long as there could be, then the problem of evil is not a necessary defeater for theism or Christianity. If all we had was the data on the problem of evil, it would be difficult to say, but fortunately the informed Christian has many more positive arguments for God, like the Thomistic ones I prefer.

McCormick also talks about evils of the kind that William Rowe refers to as intense instances of suffering that someone like God could prevent without losing some greater good or permitting something equally evil. Okay. Rowe wants to say there are instances like this. I have two questions. #1. What are they? #2. Can he demonstrate that he knows this?

This would be a difficult question. How could you demonstrate that if one evil did not occur, no greater good would be lost or some other kind of evil would not occur? Some may think I’m switching the burden of proof. I’m not. I’m just asking if Rowe could back his claim. If he can’t, then it’s a statement of faith and it could be true, but we can’t know it.

McCormick also says it’s a problem for omniscience if God does a miracle because He’s changing something. Of course, it could be God in His omniscience knew all along that He would do a miracle and God in His omniscience knew all along who would be praying about an event and took that into consideration. I’m not about to fully enter into such a discussion, but again, the positive arguments for theism and the resurrection still stand strong. McCormick hasn’t touched those and possible ignorance on one area does not overpower that.

Also of course, McCormick nowhere interacts with Craig Keener. If one miracle has happened in the past, then this chapter is defeated. It’s not a shock McCormick says nothing about that.

There really isn’t much to talk on in this chapter. McCormick does have an argument about God would not do something that would be able to be done by a magician, but we’ve seen how flimsy his resurrection argument is and he has no real counter-explanation of the data accepted by critical scholars. In fact, he has no knowledge that can be seen of that data. Until then, that is the only miracle to explain and if he wants to, he can try to show me a dead man who came back to life by his own power.

There’s also the question of could it have been another power that did a miracle. God doesn’t have to be omnipotent, omniscient, etc. Sure, but this is why I use the Thomistic arguments. They do end in a being that must be omni in everything. Of course, I have no problem with some miracles being by dark powers, but I think giving life to the dead is only in the realm of God. Only He could be behind the resurrection.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

McCormick’s Gaffe

Atheism and the Case Against Christ: Chapter 8.

What do I think of chapter 8? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

 

One would hope that as we moved past history into philosophy, which would be more of McCormick’s forte, the arguments would get better. I honestly came here expecting to see some good arguments for atheism, arguments against classical theistic arguments, and material that I would have to really wrestle with. I know. I know. It’s so foolish to expect this after atheist books fail so often to get things right. McCormick unfortunately doesn’t exert any more skill here in his main area than he does in an area he’s not skilled in.

This chapter is about asking why all the gods are hiding. Of course, this presumes that they are hiding. It’s all about really how the evidence is interpreted. I contend that one problem with many atheists is that reality is taken as a given, as if it could just exist and continue to exist on its own. Once we have it here, there’s no need to explain how it stays here. Both need to be explained.

Something McCormick wants is better miracles than what we have. For him, many miracles just seem like magic tricks. (Okay. Well, let’s have him go out to a field with no supplies whatsoever and feed 5,000 men not counting women and children with a few loaves of bread and some fish) For most magicians, to get to do a lot of their tricks requires a lot of equipment. Jesus didn’t have that, but let’s go on anyway.

A requirement McCormick thinks we should have for this is objective and impartial observers. Of course, how we will know this is something I wonder about, especially since we’ve already had talk about people with low IQs and people without knowledge of science. Does he mean atheists like himself? (Which obviously are totally impartial and objective.) Who does he have in mind?

Interestingly, when I read this I thought of a quote from Chesterton about the jury system and ordinary men.

Our civilisation has decided, and very justly decided, that determining the guilt or innocence of men is a thing too important to be trusted to trained men. It wishes for light upon that awful matter, it asks men who know no more law than I know, but who can feel the things that I felt in the jury box. When it wants a library catalogued, or the solar system discovered, or any trifle of that kind it uses up its specialists. But when it wishes anything done which is really serious, it collects twelve of the ordinary men standing round. The same thing was done, if I remember right, by the Founder of Christianity.

He also suggests that miracles should be bigger and grander. After all, if the goal was bringing Jesus back from death to demonstrate His deity to all humanity, why show Him to just His devoted followers for a few moments?

There’s that darn word if again. If. If. If. But what if it isn’t? McCormick approaches the text as if the question of a modern atheist is what is being addressed. Last I checked, the Jews and most others at the time weren’t questioning that God existed. In fact, it wasn’t entirely over the deity of Christ. This was about the Kingdom of God and that would be for the Jews.

Besides, what does McCormick want? For the once and for all sacrifice to happen multiple times in history to multiple people in every generation because that would be more convincing? Does he really think this would help anyway? If he thinks we have differences now, imagine all the differences we’d have with each culture having their own tradition of Jesus coming and dying and then debating over those traditions where they differ any.

What McCormick wants is a God who is continually working to show Himself, but apparently, nothing about making real disciples who will really do the work because, hey, God is already doing all of that. Why bother with evangelism? It’s all on God’s head.

Finally, Jesus didn’t just appear to His followers. James and Paul were both skeptics. Of course, this is evidence that McCormick never really interacts with. As we saw, McCormick’s evaluation of the resurrection leaves out key pieces of data and there is of course even more that he never touched.

He also says make it something an Almighty being would do. At this point, it’s important to note that McCormick is doing theology so I have to ask one question. How does he know? How does he know what an Almighty being would do? What is his source on this material? Does he have experience in dealing with Almighty beings and knowing how they would and would not act?

He also thinks you should pick a better audience because for these people, their lives were filled with spirits, scary events, supernatural action, etc. None of the facts about nature we take for granted were part of their knowledge base. These are all fascinating claims to make. Unfortunately, there is no demonstration of them. It’s as if McCormick has bought into the whole “Ancient People Are Stupid” line entirely.

He seems unaware that the miracles they saw they knew to be miracles because this doesn’t happen naturally. Even today if most of us saw someone touch a leper and saw them instantly have their skin healed, we would be justified in thinking a miracle took place. Ancient people also built boats, because they knew people didn’t walk on water, and they worked to grow food and catch fish, because they knew these did not just multiply instantly on their own.

He continues this by asking what if you were God and were trying to convince an audience of your existence and communicating your desires. Who says that’s the goal? McCormick keeps playing this card over and over and doesn’t demonstrate it. Atheism wasn’t the question and the Jews already knew the desires of YHWH in their Scriptures.

In looking at all of these reasons and others, McCormick concludes by saying that the problem is that not a single miracle in all of history passes this criteria.

Really?

Not a single on.

It’s worth noting that when this book came out, Craig Keener’s Miracles was already out, but of course, you won’t see McCormick interacting with that. Apparently, he can easily say every miracle included in that book is false. It’s amazing how atheists seem to have this absolute knowledge of all history and all miracle claims all over the world.

McCormick says that the problem is divine hiddenness. I contend that the whole term isn’t a misnomer. I think the problem is on our end of not knowing how to evaluate evidence. (And McCormick has shown he’s not good at it with history so why trust him now?) A lot of people have given reasons why God doesn’t just appear suddenly to everyone or something of that sort. These include free-will and creating disciples and things of that sort. McCormick says these are fascinating but they fail for a number of reasons.

Inquiring minds want to know what those reasons are.

Inquiring minds will be disappointed.

He goes on to say that if you want to argue for the resurrection, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have it that God is the reasonable outcome of the resurrection and endorse arguments for divine hiddenness. This is quite the claim.

What is missing is any reason to believe it. Why not? McCormick doesn’t tell me.

He also says that the fact that the arguments for God and the resurrection are weak even to other believers and unconvincing makes the problem more difficult. Well again, this is a statement I have to take on faith. McCormick gives no evidence. Nowhere in here does he interact with the classical arguments for theism. I don’t care frankly if the lay person finds them unconvincing. What I care about is if they’re true or not.

Of course, McCormick seems to be an authority on unconvincing.

McCormick then says God could have given us much more if He wanted us to believe. Again, who says that’s the goal? Just believe? I can get several people to get married easily. Getting them to have a marriage is different.

McCormick goes on to say that you can’t hold that the best explanation of the historical evidence is the resurrection and that there is room for us to believe or not believe. Again. Why not? Why can’t you? What argument has been given? None whatsoever. It’s amazing to me how many times atheists are people of faith. They think they can make an assertion and well, that settles it.

McCormick does point to some people who did have some direct interaction. Abraham still chose to sacrifice Isaac. (Didn’t say anything about him stopping it) The problem is what is the situation with Abraham? Abraham still had a great deal of free will as if you just read his story in Genesis, he still did some stupid things. He lied about his relationship with his wife and he got his concubine pregnant to help God with the promise. Abraham’s event with Isaac happened after a lifetime of foolish choices.

We could say this for most anyone else. It’s most ironic since he mentions the devil and the devil no doubt made the most foolish choice of all. Of course, this assumes God owes everyone a personal appearance and even still in what context? Jesus’s event isn’t just a random event in history but based on a long history of promises to Israel.

McCormick also says that if Allah is real, it would be “perverse, capricious, and unjust for Allah to then judge you and condemn you for failing to believe.” (Loc. 2624) Sorry, but I have to disagree with this. If Islam is true, I deserve all the judgment I get because I have been teaching just the opposite about God Himself. I have no problem saying that because I am convinced Islam is not true, but God doesn’t owe me anything. If I am wrong, I deserve the judgment.

This all gets amusing when McCormick sets up a fake dialogue where a critic asks why the resurrection evidence isn’t better only to be told God wants X. McCormick then has the critic ask “How do we know that God wants X?” (Loc. 2639) Keep in mind, this is the same person who throughout this chapter has been saying “If God wants X.” McCormick is making the claim. Not I. Yet apparently, if a Christian did do that, that would be foul.

Next time we look at miracles and no, it doesn’t get any better.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

McCormick’s Gaffe

Atheism and the Case Against Christ: Chapter 7

What is the counter-evidence problem? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As we continue, McCormick starts this chapter with an ironic saying.

“Sometimes, our own psychology is at work against us, such as when we settle for evidence that is merely consistent with a favored hypothesis because it is easy and satisfying. Sometimes the sources from which we get our information adjust, tilt, or filter it so that we only get a partial picture of the real state of things.” (Loc. 2051)

Yes. That came from McCormick. It is one of those statements in the book that best describes him instead. It’s like reading him talk about Dunning-Kruger syndrome.

This chapter is about counter-evidence. It’s not enough that McCormick has ignored and misrepresented the evidence that we do have, he instead wants to move beyond to ignoring evidence to saying that unless there is counter-evidence then we should be suspicious. Because, after all, every opponent of early Christianity had to be writing about it!

Well, probably not.

At 2175, he says that the Bible we have came together over the centuries through a means that deliberately tried to minimize contradictions, eliminate alternative accounts, lessen dissonant details, and exclude counter-information that did not fit with Christian doctrines.

Why yes. Of course. This makes perfect sense. This is why the church rejected the one Gospel idea of Tatian. They wanted something simpler like four Gospels with different accounts. McCormick has spent so much time talking about contradictions and now says the books were chosen to avoid contradictions.

Of course, we know fake accounts would also have facts like the women visiting the tomb, Jews not believing in Jesus, his own family and brothers not believing in Him, Jesus being rejected in His own town, and of course, Jesus being crucified. We also know they would exclude that information that didn’t seem to fit, like Jesus not knowing the day or hour of the events in Matthew 24. Yep. That’s just what they’d do.

McCormick should consider thinking more about psychoanalyzing himself instead of the Christians. It’s amazing the things that will be believed just to avoid the evidence. Well let’s see how much worse it gets.

He also says the dissent, skepticism, and critical analysis that could have had the potential to deal with the Christian situation have been actively discouraged in church history.

Okay.

Examples?

I mean, seriously, do you have any examples of this or do you want me to take it on faith?

Now of course, you could point to modern churches, but that is in fact an anomaly. Most of the early church was busy exploring these questions as were the medievals and the reformers. Also, the threat of being shamed and persecuted in the early church would lead you to think twice about your beliefs. Of course, let’s remember that according to McCormick, ancient people are stupid so naturally, they wouldn’t do so. Today, we know so much better. (Although nowhere in this book does McCormick consider giving another explanation for what happened.)

At 2277, McCormick asks us to consider that there was a hoax and some of the disciples decided to spread some impressive stories and stage an empty tomb.

Okay.

Why?

Now if McCormick wants to present evidence that this is the case, then he needs to do so. Does he have any? Pointing to the absence is just conspiracy theory thinking. It’s saying “Well of course that evidence won’t be here! It’s damaging to the cause! The fact that it’s not there is evidence enough that there was a cover-up!”

Never mind why also Jesus would have been crucified to begin with. Even if McCormick doesn’t say crucified, why be executed. Jesus had to have been making waves, but how? What rabbis of the time were being executed?

Then McCormick suggests to suppose that there was never an empty tomb at all. Maybe Jesus was buried and His body remained there.

Then the Christian movement would have been easy to stop. Everyone was so stupid that no one went to the tomb? Why also would the disciples start preaching in Jerusalem? Why not preach in a place like Athens or Corinth or somewhere far away where you couldn’t just walk down the street and investigate the claims?

McCormick also asks that if people today can think Michael Jackson somehow survived what happened to him, then why not Jesus? This would be comparable if this was a movement that was rapidly growing throughout the world and not isolated incidents and if it was able to convince people who were closest to the events.

McCormick also suggests that maybe an early believer was overcome with guilt later and admitted he didn’t really see anything. Of course, we have an anachronism as people then did not have the experience of guilt but that of shame, but does McCormick have any evidence of this? This is just bizarre to make your case based on what we don’t have instead of dealing with what we do have.

But then, we have seen that dealing with what we do have is too hard for McCormick.

This is indeed one of the weaker chapters. In the next we’ll start looking at the case more for atheism. Sadly to say, it doesn’t get any better.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

McCormick’s Gaffe

Atheism and the Case Against Christ Chapter 6

What do I think of chapter 6 of McCormick’s book? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Chapter 6 further brings us home just how uninformed McCormick is in Biblical scholarship. This is amusing since he talks about other people holding an emotional commitment to a worldview and thus finding it hard to really examine it properly. One wonders if McCormick is not somehow talking about himself. After all, while one can have a deep emotional investment to Christianity, one can have the same to atheism.

He has a story where someone comes up to you who is a stranger and calls himself Matthew. Matthew wants you to believe a story, but he didn’t see any of it and it’s not clear whether he met or spoke with anyone involved in the story. It was something that took place long ago and passed through a long list of people. He’s still sure they’re all honest and trustworthy.

Matthew then tells you that it actually happened 100 years ago but it wasn’t written until decades later and we don’t have originals of the writing but copies of copies. These original writings were all based on tellings and retellings of the story. Still, he’s convinced everyone involved was trustworthy.

Matthew’s story is about a man named Jones and Jones was abducted off of the face of the Earth. There are many people who sincerely believe the story. It’s not hard to see what the parallel is.

It’s also not hard to see that McCormick doesn’t know for a moment what he’s talking about.

McCormick has cited no references on Biblical scholarship. He has no references on oral tradition and he has no idea how textual criticism works. Instead, he’s gone with a lot of atheist pet slogans and hasn’t bothered to research or questioned them. You can’t help but wonder if he has an investment in these kinds of slogans since they agree so well with what he already believes.

Of course, McCormick says this could change if some crucial differences were shown. Perhaps McCormick should have looked to see if there were any differences. McCormick strikes me as someone who has only really read what agrees with him and disavowed the rest. He does not interact with the best critics of his position at all in these chapters.

It’s also worth noting that Paul is added to the mix and we are told that Paul could be someone who learned about this because he heard a voice when he had a powerful seizure and vision while going to work and before that, he was a famous skeptic with a TV show debunking alien-abduction stories. One can’t help but be impressed with the creativity of certain skeptics. It is apparent they will believe in anything before the resurrection.

So let’s start. First off, McCormick has as we have shown earlier not bothered to understand oral tradition. He also has a problem with written tradition as he assumes a true account would be written down immediately. Does McCormick see this happening with any other book in the ancient world? Or is it rather that McCormick will treat the Jesus story differently? Keep in mind if he does this, he is being hypocritical since he is accusing Christians of treating the Jesus story different from every other claim such as Salem, Islam, alien abductions, etc. If McCormick is going to talk about equal standards, he needs to apply them himself.

Second, we are talking about different cultures. The world of the Bible was an honor-shame culture. In this world, you would not want to share a story that would put you on the outs with society, but that is exactly what happened. The resurrection was a story that would be seen as deviant in nature.

Third, McCormick doesn’t really bother to interact with arguments about authorship or date of writing. Are these not important? Is it the case that obviously Bart Ehrman is right and everyone else is wrong because Bart Ehrman is the skeptic? All of these are important issues. All of them are ignored.

McCormick also says the martyrdom argument won’t work. After all, that people died for a belief doesn’t mean it’s true. If we apply it consistently, we have to conclude that the dedication of Heaven’s Gate proves that there was a spaceship at the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet. This is such a hideous twisting of the claim that it should be embarrassing to McCormick to have it in print.

No. What it is is an indicator that the person is convinced it’s true. If some of the apostles willingly died for their conviction, we can’t be sure that Jesus rose, but we can be sure that those apostles believed he rose. With the Heaven’s Gate cult, we can deny there was a spaceship on the tail of a comet, but we can be convinced that the people sure thought there was one.

All of this thinking is lost on McCormick.

At 1945, McCormick tells us that he thinks the hypothesis that there are other material beings with physical powers unlike our own and in another part of the universe fits more readily with what we know of the rest of the world than magica,l transcendent, supernatural beings. Of course, no doubt, this we refers to materialistic atheists who also share his view. We won’t say anything on God yet, but there is a later chapter looking at the concept of God and yes, McCormick handles it just as abysmally as he handles this.

McCormick has an even worse scenario. Imagine being on trial for a murder committed decades ago that you did not commit. The prosecution rests on the testimony of Mike, Monty, Larry, and Jacob. None of them saw you commit the crime and have never met you, but they heard stories from others that say they saw you commit the murder. This murder happened 30 years ago.

Also, Mike and Larry got a lot of their story from Monty. Not only that, another man shows up named Perry who says you did it, but he didn’t witness it and just had a powerful vision saying you did it. Does this sound like fair grounds to convict you?

Of course not, and it also doesn’t sound like a fair treatment of the NT. We could get into some wonderful discussions on how Paul got his information and who he was and how reliable he was and we could talk about the synoptic problem and archaeological evidence for the NT. Well, we could talk about these things, but they might have the sad consequence of increasing the reliability of the New Testament. It’s best to not touch them.

In the end, McCormick gives yet another weak performance. Only those thoroughly unfamiliar with scholarship will think he has said anything remotely convincing. This is quite amusing since our next chapter will be about counter-evidence, something McCormick regularly avoids.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1 can be found here.

Chapter 2 can be found here.

Chapter 3 can be found here.

Chapter 4 can be found here.

Chapter 5 can be found here.

Chapter 7 can be found here.

Chapter 8 can be found here.

Chapter 9 can be found here.

Chapter 10 can be found here.

Chapter 11 can be found here.

Chapter 12 can be found here.

Chapter 13 can be found here.

McCormick’s Gaffe

 

 

Atheism: The Case Against Christ Chapter 5.

What are my thoughts on chapter 5? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If you want any hard evidence that McCormick is uninformed on Biblical scholarship, chapter 5 is exhibit A.

To begin with, McCormick talks about the oral tradition and says that many scholars point to how reliable it is. It’s noteworthy that in all of this, he nowhere cites a scholar of oral tradition. There’s a good reason for that. None of them would support the nonsense that McCormick has in this chapter. McCormick acts as if oral tradition was just used by the Jews in order to pass down the laws of God.

This is just wrong. Oral tradition was used by the Jews to pass down the sayings of the rabbis as well, but even more, it wasn’t just used by the Jews. Every society at the time relied more on oral tradition than they did on written tradition. That McCormick treats this as if it was just a Jewish phenomenon shows us that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. While there was writing of course, the main way of transmitting information and what was seen as the most reliable was the oral tradition.

At Loc. 1645 McCormick says “The Christian who would corroborate the resurrection in this fashion cannot ignore the fact that Jews, rabbis, Talmud scholars, and modern Jewish experts on the Jewish oral tradition emphatically reject the claim that Jesus’s resurrection was incorporated into Judaism in this way.” and “If Jesus’s resurrection and other essential Christian doctinres that overturn Judaism were preserved by a time-honored and hallowed Jewish method, why does Judaism persist and deny the resurrection and those doctrines?”

Yes. He actually says these.

For the first part, of what relevance is this? Jews don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead for the most part. Okay. And? That somehow demonstrates that oral tradition, which isn’t exclusively Jewish, is unreliable? A modern Jewish expert on oral tradition (Which McCormick cites none) could uphold that the traditions of Jesus were reliably recorded in the New Testament but that they were wrong beliefs. That’s not a problem.

For the second claim, again, this isn’t a Jewish method but a method used by Jews. Every society used oral traditions and many non-Jewish societies today still use oral tradition. Why is it denied? Because Jesus was seen as a crucified criminal who failed the prophecies. Again, this doesn’t overturn the historical evidence.

McCormick wants to also paint the tradition in the story of a money bag being used as evidence. One cop passes it off to another and then to another. A corrupt cop can take some money out of the bag and then just change the amount that it’s said to hold and pass it off to the next. Isn’t this how oral tradition works?

No. Not at all. McCormick should have read some scholars like Vansina or Bailey or Sandy or Dunn or Small or anyone else. I have no reason to think that McCormick is really doing research when he doesn’t even consult sources for his claims.

Usually, oral tradition is compared to telephone, but this isn’t how it is. Instead, the stories would be told in groups. In those groups, there would be people who would be in charge of the tradition ultimately who were the gatekeepers. They would oversee the process and make sure the stories didn’t stray too far. Some minor changes were allowed for minor details, but the main thrust of the story had to stay the same.

In the telephone game, a story is whispered once to one person who cannot hear it again and they have to tell the same story to the next. That’s not at all what was happening. Stories were told in groups and kept in check in that way.

McCormick can then go on all he wants about what are the odds that one person did X in the chain, but this still assumes that individuals are involved in the chain and not groups and that there can be no back-checking. Again, it would be nice if he would reference some scholars of oral tradition. Perhaps I should comment on evolutionary theory and how it works and not cite any scientists who write on evolution. It would be about as effective. This kind of thing sounds convincing if you’re an atheist who has never studied the issue. If you’ve spent any time studying whatsoever, you’re being convinced, but of the opposite viewpoint.

Of course, McCormick says that between the events and the first recording, 30 to 100 years have passed and we only have two copies from two centuries later.

Well if he means complete copies, that could be. That number is quite likely changed now though as we’re constantly finding new manuscripts. However, we also do have partial manuscripts and quotations from the church fathers and writings in multiple languages all over the Empire. Does McCormick think all of them were somehow altered? Note also there is a difference between first writing and first copy that we have. For most other manuscripts, it’s several centuries between the writing and our first copy and yet they are viewed with far less suspicion.

Now someone might be saying “But Bart Ehrman says”. Yes. Let’s see what Bart Ehrman says.

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

And

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.

McCormick then goes on to say at 1715 that when the story gets written down and then adds “Which we would think would be an even more reliable method of recording” and then goes on from there. Well unfortunately, because we would think it would not mean that they would. In fact, the oral word was more reliable to them than the written word. As Papias said

“I used to inquire what had been said by Andrew, or by Peter, or by Philip, or by Thomas or James, or by John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and what Aristion and the Elder John, the disciples of the Lord, were saying. For books to read do not profit me so much as the living voice clearly sounding up to the present day in (the persons of) their authors.”

Teachers would often not like to write down their teachings because students could misunderstand them apart from their tutelage. All McCormick has done is show some cultural favoritism. Not only that, writing would reach far fewer people. Oral tradition was something everyone could understand and evaluate and keep in check. Writing was also costly and timely and would only reach readers and those who they would be read to. For a look at costs, consider this.

The cost of writing and rewriting was not free. A secretary charged by the line. Like anyone whose living depended on billing customers, the secretary kept up with how many lines he wrote each time. Although we do not know the exact charges for making drafts and producing a letter, we can make some educated guesses. A rough, and very conservative, estimate of what it would cost in today’s dollars to prepare a letter like 1 Corinthians would be $2100, $700 for Galatians, and $500 for 1 Thessalonians.” Richards, Capes, and Reeves, Rediscovering Paul p. 78

Of course, we have a quotation from Ehrman which ends with the classic “We have more variances in the manuscripts than we do words in the New Testament.” This sounds convincing again to an atheist who hasn’t studied it, but the reason we have so many differences is we have a large work and we have a large number of manuscripts. Ehrman elsewhere does show that most of these variants are inconsequential.

“It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the only changes being made were by copyists with a personal stake in the wording of the text. In fact, most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most changes are the result of mistakes, pure and simple — slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another. Scribes could be incompetent; it is important to recall that most of the copyists in the early centuries were not trained to do this kind of work but were simply the literate members of their congregations who were (more or less) able and willing. (p. 55) (Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman)

McCormick then says that we know some works were not canonized and deliberately excluded. Indeed. A good researcher at this point would want to know what these manuscripts were and why. McCormick doesn’t, because McCormick is not a good researcher. Just tossing out a sound bite is enough.

McCormick doesn’t know apparently that documents included were to have apostolic authority in believing to be from an apostle or the close associate of an apostle, they were to be in line with the oral tradition, and they were to be accepted by the majority of the church instead of a few isolated communities. I invite McCormick to read some of these later writings and then he should know why they weren’t included.

McCormick also has something to say about the miracles at Lourdes in that the accounts don’t stand up to outside scrutiny. Is he not aware that miracle claims always call for outside scrutiny? It’s not just Catholics working in isolation and they error more on the side of caution.

At 1813, McCormick tells us that the Gospels and Q are the only early written sources we have. Completely absent is any mention of Paul which contains the earliest and best material on the resurrection. Again, exactly how out of touch is McCormick with scholarship today?

He concludes the chapter saying it is true the histories and transmission of the information is much more convoluted than the simplified model he has given. No. In reality, the way of tradition as stated is quite simple as I have argued. It is McCormick’s story that is convoluted. Of course, he would know this if he bothered to read any scholars on oral tradition. Unfortunately he does not, and yet he wants us to somehow treat him as an authority.

I don’t have enough faith for that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

McCormick’s Gaffe

Atheism: The Case Against Christ. Chapter 4

What do I think of McCormick’s continuing argument? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

McCormick early on has a list of people he thinks were in the chain that gave us the New Testament. These are first off, the witnesses who claimed to see the events. Next come the repeaters who repeated the story until it was written decades later. Third are the authors who wrote the books. Fourth are the copyists who copied the works. Finally are the canonizers who put them in the canon.

Now of course, there’s no real work done on identifying the authors. McCormick looks at writers like Ehrman for the most part and just assumes the writers aren’t the ones on the book. Don’t expect to see interaction with contrary scholarship in that regard. It won’t happen.

For instance, let’s suppose that Mark is the testimony of Peter. Have we not skipped a piece of the chain? Is it not the case that there are no repeaters but Mark is just recording what the witness said? What about Matthew? If Matthew is the author of his Gospel, have we skipped others altogether?

Never mind the questions of how sources were used. Matthew could be a witness and still use Mark. Why?  Because if Mark is the testimony of Peter, then Peter saw activities that Matthew didn’t. What in fact of the fact that some writers would even use a scribe still? Does that mean that they are not the author? What if the author refers not to a direct writer but the main source for the material? These are all good questions to ask. McCormick doesn’t.

Now to be fair, McCormick is right when generally, if a manuscript is from the 4th century and one is from the 8th, we should take the 4th century one more seriously. Of course, if we saw the 4th century one had been highly mutilated, say by a sect opposed to orthodoxy that heavily tampered with it, that might change things, but all things being equal, earlier is better.

There is much here about how reliable eyewitnesses are. (By the way, it’s worth pointing out this book came out after Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Don’t expect to see McCormick interacting with that.) McCormick says we would need to have the success/failure rate of the eyewitnesses. This would be nice for the Bible, but the problem is we don’t really have that for ancient history. We can’t go and cross-examine. Now if McCormick wants to rule out the New Testament on these grounds, I wonder if he’s willing to treat other ancient works the same way.

McCormick starts with an example such as a man making predictions about sporting events and who will win. Then he takes us over to Lourdes and points out that a number of people claim a miracle and so many of those are false so we should probably think that the others that are not shown to be false are likely false. Unfortunately, we have switched standards here. We went from one man by himself to rather a more general claim and said “If a lot of people are wrong with one claim, then others making a similar claim must be wrong.” These are not identical.

If we want to go with general, then we could say perhaps if atheism is true, then we should say that the reasoning capacity of people is terrible since so many are theists. Since people are terrible reasoners, we ought not trust the reasoning of atheists. After all, they are people. No. With Lourdes, we treat each claim on its own. Note that also not all the claims are said to be false claims. They’re just not verified claims. Those are two different things.

McCormick also wants us to know if the Biblical writers would be more or less reliable on what they saw? His answer is less because of who they were and when they lived. This is indeed a textbook example of chronological snobbery. Lewis would be amazed at how far McCormick takes it.

McCormick talks about a supernatural belief threshold (SBT). Of course, never mind that some of us question the usage of the term supernatural, but McCormick likes to use words like magic and such regularly. It’s kind of like he thinks those words are magic and as soon as you say them, you show how ridiculous an argument is.

At loc. 1163 he says that if you went to someone with a low SBT threshold, they would be more prone to accept more false beliefs. McCormick unfortunately only applies this to “supernatural” claims. One wonders if he doesn’t see himself as having a low threshold for claims sympathetic to his worldview. For instance, he seems open to Jesus mythicism. Does this not show a low threshold on his part? We’ll in fact see many other claims he believes without citing scholarship in this book. What about the fact that on the internet so many atheists share memes that are just blatantly false?

Perhaps McCormick should encourage cleaning out the house of atheism first.

McCormick also says that if he was a Protestant speaking against Catholicism or a Christian against Islam, the claims would likely be well received. Well no. I would want to evaluate the claims first. Even if a claim argues against something I am opposed to, I want to see if it’s true or false. Just because McCormick easily believes claims that agree with him doesn’t mean the rest of us do.

McCormick also says people living in an agrarian and Iron Age society with low scientific knowledge, education, and literacy would not be very skeptical. Well isn’t this amusing?

For one thing, McCormick is wrong about the Iron Age.

The accepted date for the end of the Iron Age is 587/586 BCE, with the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army, the destruction of the Temple and the end of the Davidic Dynasty. A glance at the historic – archaeological reality shows that this date is of no significance in most areas in the Land of Israel because throughout Samaria, the Galilee, Negev, Philistia and Transjordan no ruins from this period were found and no crisis occurred amongst the material culture. The events of 587/586 BCE only affected Jerusalem and part of the area of the Kingdom of Judah, whereas areas to the south of it were previously captured by the Edomites. It must be that the trauma of the loss of national independence, the destruction of the Temple, and their impact on previous generations of scholars of the Land of Israel, is what established this date as the end of the Iron Age. The date, therefore, is more historical-theological than it is archaeological. It turns out that the material culture of the country – that is, the types of ceramic, types of buildings, burial practices and even the language and writing – continued after the beginning of the sixth century BCE. Fundamental changes in the settlement models and the material culture began only later, at the end of the same century, around the year 520 BCE. Then the rule of the Persian Achaemenid empire was established, the import of the Greek Attic pottery increased, commerce increased and the settlements began to abandon their places on the traditional tells. At the same time the Aramaic writing and language are also replacing Hebrew writing and the Hebrew language and a new ‘ethnic map’ is created in the country with the penetration of the Edomite, Arabic, Phoenician, Greek and other populations.

Please note that this is something that I found just by doing a brief Google search. It’s a shame McCormick couldn’t do likewise. He must have a low Skepticism Belief Threshold (SKBT) where he will believe any claim that argues against Christianity. If McCormick isn’t willing to verify a simple claim like this, why should I trust him on all these other claims?

As for low scientific knowledge, not really. The Greeks for instance in that culture were making incredible advancements. People were interested in science. Either way, to say there was low knowledge does not mean there was no knowledge.

McCormick might be surprised to learn that in Israel, the dead were buried. Why? Because if a resurrection took place, it wasn’t until the end. Resurrections didn’t just happen. It was also known that people don’t walk on water so fishermen built these things called boats. They also had laws against adultery and laws on inheritance because they knew what it took to make a baby. These were not new discoveries.

And finally, illiterate does not equal stupid. Most people were so busy working that reading was not something they had the time or money for. That does not mean they did not possess knowledge. Did they lack formal education often? Yes. Again though, that does not equal stupid, unless McCormick wants to say something about anyone without a college degree being stupid today.

McCormick also says when people are more educated, they are less likely to believe. Well that would depend on what they’re educated in. If students are taught bogus lies like “Science and Christianity are in conflict” then of course an education will make them think Christianity is false. Do they have any arguments for it? Well my interactions show that for the most part, they don’t.

Furthermore, while we might have more knowledge today, overall, I would think most people in ancient and medieval history were getting better educations. They were thoroughly learning how to think when they were educated and tried to study and learn as much as they could. We have more access to knowledge today, but we also have more people relying on Google for everything instead of reading books.

McCormick says the people of the past would not know that the Earth moves or what the sun is or what electricity or hydrogen was. To which I say, so what? How does that mean that they were ignorant in what else they believed? Is it the mark of an intelligent man that he knows the Earth moves around the sun, which is a large star, and what hydrogen and electricity are? There are plenty of people today who are very foolish who can answer those questions.

We could just as well say what would people say 2,000 years from now? We should not believe what those people believed because they did not know about XYZ? If that is the case, should we believe anything today? I suspect McCormick would rightly say we should go by the evidence we have. Indeed. That’s just what the ancients did. The evidence at the time indicated that the sun moved and not the Earth.

McCormick also says they did not know what caused disease or pregnancy or death. Again, we have the same problem, but the second one is just ludicrous. The ancients did not know that sex caused pregnancy? If they didn’t know this, then please tell me when this was discovered. Now if McCormick wants to say “They knew that it was sex, but they didn’t know all about it like we do” then I say “So what?” That means they’re automatically wrong?

As for death, they might not have known exactly like we do, but they knew about death. Dare I say it but these people saw death a lot more than McCormick did in a culture where it’s pretty much isolated from us and we only see the dead person usually made up well in a funeral home somewhere. Not so for them. Death was an everyday reality.

And of course we have the gem at 1202 about Jesus that says in parentheses “If he was real at all.” This is how we know we have someone who just really isn’t interacting with scholarship. McCormick has a low SKBT.

McCormick then says at 1230 that if modern people accept magical claims about people they admire, how much more people 2,000 years ago? The problem is Jesus wasn’t admired. Now of course, you could say His own followers admired Him, but not outside of that. He was a crucified criminal. That is indeed something abhorrent to the people of the time.

““How grievous a thing it is to be disgraced by a public court; how grievous to suffer a fine, how grievous to suffer banishment; and yet in the midst of any such disaster some trace of our liberty is left to us. Even if we are threatened with death, we may die free men. But the executioner, the veiling of the head, and the very word ‘cross’ should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears. For it is not only the actual occurrence of these things or the endurance of them, but liability to them, the expectation, nay the mere mention of them, that is unworthy of a Roman citizen and a free man.” (Cicero, Rab. Perd. 16, trans. Hodge 1927)”

Saying a crucified criminal was the Messiah would be like going around today saying that a convicted pedophile should be the next president of America. In fact, Christianity should have died out quite early just like other beliefs have that have a disaster happen to the leader. Instead, the reverse happened. It would be good for McCormick to ask why, but he can’t get to this question because he already is beginning with a false presupposition.

At 1238, McCormick asks “What would a an ordinary person in the first century be led to think if he had a hallucination, heard something strange, had a remarkable dream, or had some other notable experience?” These are indeed good questions. Each one is worthy of research. Unfortunately, they are not researched and one thing I can assure McCormick of. They would not think “resurrection.”

Of course, at 1246 he says “It may have even been reasonable for them to think Jesus was resurrected, given that they just wouldn’t have known any better.” Maybe it would have been. It would be a great question to explore. Unfortunately, it is not. McCormick is not a researcher in this area. He can ask the questions, but he never follows up in getting the answers.

For one thing, just seeing wouldn’t be enough. There would have to be an empty tomb. McCormick never touches the burial of Jesus. He never also explains the group appearances which cannot be hallucinations. He says at 810 for instance about the witch trials that it strains incredulity to think there was a conspiracy or a mass hallucination. Okay. Then let’s assume McCormick rules those out to explain Jesus. What will he give?

At 1269, he says that it would be far more unlikely and surprising for Jesus’s followers to not have reported seeing Jesus return from the dead and for none of them to hallucinate Jesus. Unfortunately, this still assumes that if they thought they had seen Jesus, then this would mean they would jump to resurrection. No. More likely they would think that Jesus was in Abraham’s bosom. They could have a view of divine exaltation where Jesus had been honored by God in the Heavens, but going the route of resurrection would be the most extreme and the most dangerous route to take.

He also says that “the information we have are hearsay reports from the authors of the Gospels, which were created decades after it is alleged that Jesus appeared to the disciples.” Of course, we are not surprised that he does not interact at all with 1 Cor. 15 which is not decades later but rather has material that is just years later if even that long. He can talk all he wants about the ending of Mark, but meanwhile the real opponents of his position are pointing to a totally different area. That McCormick doesn’t interact with this shows that he is not aware of the material he is arguing against.

Even if we granted this, decades later is not a problem. Most ancient history is decades later. Heck. A great deal of it is centuries later. This is not seen as a problem. Decades later is something that is often tossed out to make the accounts seem problematic. For those who know about ancient history, it’s par for the course. Most historians would love to have four biographies of a Caesar written within a century of his life.

McCormick also says that this central source of information, the ending of Mark, which he has wrong, did not surface until one to two hundred years after the events.  I don’t know any scholar of the resurrection who makes a case based on the long ending of Mark. McCormick has just built up a straw man. McCormick thinks he has a good point. Unfortunately, he just has a low SKBT.

McCormick also says that resurrection reports are not uncommon. Oral Roberts and Pat Robertson report them. Yes. In a society where resurrection is seen to be a good thing and built on a Christian worldview where resurrection is now seen as a good thing, some people report resurrections. Today, it’s not so much of a stir. We can be skeptical, but we don’t balk at it. In the ancient world, that would be different. This is just McCormick imposing his culture on another.

Ironically, at 1372 McCormick says that for many tasks, the worse we are, the more confidence we express. This is the Dunning-Kruger effect. If anyone wants to see it at work, read McCormick’s book. McCormick is thoroughly incompetent with resurrection studies, but writes a book with confidence thinking he has proven his case. Of course, this is because he has a low SKBT.

McCormick also points to a study by Solomon Asch that shows that people seek to conform to the group even if patently false. McCormick thinks this is an argument to show the disciples would believe the resurrection. It’s just the opposite. The social stigma of believing in Jesus would be so great the disciples would be pressured the other way.  For more on that, listen to my interview with Larry Hurtado on Destroyer of the Gods here.

It gets even worse. McCormick claims that IQ scores have gone up on a regular basis so obviously, they would be even worse in the past. McCormick should realize that psycho-history was abandoned years ago. This kind of argument is just the worst kind of snobbery.

When we get to 1545, he says that the possibility of someone returning from the dead would seem like common sense to the ancients given the right background information and expectations. Why? Who knows? Resurrection was only thought to happen at the end of time. The reason the resurrection was talked about as such an unusual event was just that. It was unusual.

At 1568, he tells us that the Christians were deeply religious converts who were actively discouraged from being skeptical or critical about extraordinary claims. Well yeah, unless you consider active shaming or persecution to be discouragement. Their entire social lives would discourage them from this.

He then says “Unless you are a historically minded Muslim or a Mormon who takes the stories about Joseph Smith’s encounters with the angel Moroni to have actually happened, you would probably take a parallel argument to the one I have made against Christianity in this chapter against Roman superstitions, Islam, or Mormonism to be completely plausible.”

No.

I do not think these kinds of arguments are plausible at all. I would prefer arguments that actually study the culture at the time and not only ask questions but research them. Of course, this is because I have a high SKBT, unlike McCormick.

Even more amazing, he admits at 1582 that even if the story of the resurrection was true, because of all that he mentioned, we should not believe the story. At this, we have to wonder what would convince McCormick. He never says.

We could say more, but that’s enough for chapter 4. Next time we’ll cover the fifth chapter.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Part 1 can be found here.

Part 2 can be found here.

Part 3 can be found here.

Part 5 can be found here.

Part 6 can be found here.

Part 7 can be found here.

Part 8 can be found here.

Part 9 can be found here.

Part 10 can be found here.

Part 11 can be found here.

Part 12 can be found here.

Part 13 can be found here.

McCormick’s Gaffe