The circular reasoning behind claims that the apostles were biased
Officer Maloney: Inspector Clueless, I think we have enough evidence to nail Kwang-myeong with this murder.
Inspector Clueless: Okay, let's hear what you have.
Officer Maloney: An acquaintance of the decedent, Ms. Topotula, claims to have seen Kwang-myeong point the gun at the decedent and pull the trigger.
Inspector Clueless: Are you saying that Ms. Topotula thinks that Kwang-myeong killed the decedent?
Officer Maloney: Yes sir.
Inspector Clueless: Well, obviously she is biased against Kwang-myeong and we cannot use the testimony. What else do you have?
Officer Maloney: Well . . . Mr. Vargas, the man who lived next door to Kwang-meyong, heard Kwang-myeong claim that he shot the decedent.
Inspector Clueless: So Vargas also thinks that Kwang-meyong killed the decedent?
Officer Maloney: I would guess so.
Inspector Clueless: Officer Maloney, when are you going to stop bringing me these biased witnesses and come up with some objective evidence?
The antithetically-named Rational Response Squad has posted an challenge to all us poor Christians: they'll pay $500 to prove that Jesus existed. According to the page at myspace, they say: Prove Jesus was real, win $500! A Rational Response Squad Challenge:
Here's the thing, everyone always claims that Jesus existed - even as a mere man. So here is your chance to prove Jesus existed and win a lump sum of money in the process!
Here is what EVERY respectable historian considers evidence for a historical person:
1. CONTEMPORARY UNBIASED ACCOUNTS! That means somebody else that lived during the time of Jesus, and did not have a bias towards him. That also means the Bible does not count since none of the books in the New Testament were first or second hand accounts of Jesus' life - Including the Gospels.
Of course, what they are asking for is impossible. Not that it cannot be established with reasonable certainty that Jesus existed and that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, and that the disciples believed He rose from the dead -- all of those things are fairly well-established facts to someone with an open mind. Rather, the trick of this type of claim is that there is no objective basis for determining if such a thing has been "proven".
But what is of more interest is the way that the (Ir)rational Response Squad has rigged the evidence. The best evidence for the existence of Jesus, for what He did in his life, and for the ressurection is the Gospel and Epistle accounts. However, that evidence is automatically discounted because it is "biased". Why is it biased? Because the authors of the Gospels were Christians -- they actually believed what they were testifying to.
Stop and think about this for a moment. The people who wrote the Gospels came to the conclusion that Jesus was God based upon what they had seen and heard, but since what they saw and heard led them to a conclusion about who Jesus was (and is) and since that conclusion is contrary to the conclusion that the (Ir)rational Response Squad seeks, the testimony of the disciples and apostles should be disregarded as biased. This is a rather clear example of the logical fallacy of "begging the question" which is in the form of a "circular argument." As I stated recently, circular reasoning (or better known as "begging the question", aka petitio principii) is an argument that looks something like this:
A because B.
B because A
To give an example of begging the question straight out of the skeptics' argument handbook,
God exists because the Bible says so.
The Bible can be trusted because God exists.
In this type of argument, no argument exists because the proof of A is founded on B, but the proof of B is founded on A. As such, if the evidence for B is A, but the evidence for A is B, then there is no independent reason to believe either. (Of course, this is not the Christian claim, but that is a topic for another day.)
The same fallacy is in place when a person claims that the authors of the Gospel ought not to be believed because they are biased. The argument that is being made is no more than this:
The disciples believe they witnessed Jesus claim to be God and believe they have seen Him rise from the dead.
The claim of the disciples is untrustworthy because it is biased.
The claim of the disciples is biased because they believed they witnessed Jesus claim to be God and believe they have seen Him rise from the dead.
Do you see how silly this claim of bias is? The arguments of skeptics who make the blanket assertion that none of the Gospels or Epistles are reliable because they are written by Christians begs the question by assuming that anyone who believes that Jesus actually claimed to be God, performed miracles and resurrected from the dead must be making such a claim only because they are Christian. In other words, if anyone claims to have seen the Son of Man risen from the dead, they will not be believed because they are biased, but the bias results because they claim to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
But bias is not a type of thing that automatically makes testimony unreliable. Rather, bias is a factor in evaluating the strength of an assertion. The fact that the people who reported that Jesus rose from the dead became Christians is a factor that should be considered in determing whether the claim is truthful, but in and of itself bias is not dispositive of whether the claims are truthful. As the vignette above shows, it is silly to discount the testimony of someone simply because they actually believe that something happened which led them to a conclusion. It is okay to point out that the claims may be biased and factor that into the evaluation, but what the (Ir)rational Response Squad (and others like them) seek to do by dismissing the evidence on claims of bias alone is incredibly sloppy thinking.
Of course, when the question of belief is taken into consideration, it seems to me that the fact that the people who wrote the Gospels were believers argues in favor of the authenticity of the claims. After all, if the people who claim to have seen Jesus perform miracles and rise from the dead after hearing Jesus' claim to be the one and only Son of God were not Christians, that would raise serious doubts in my mind about whether Jesus actually did these things.
So, what type of evidence would be acceptable to the (Ir)rational Response Squad (and others like them) given this limitation? I guess it would have to be someone who saw Jesus perform miracles, saw Him crucified and resurrected, and saw Him claim to be God, but who still did not believe that Jesus was anything special. Of course, such a person almost certainly wouldn't exist. Anyone who actually saw these things would almost certainly be a Christian (or have reached some type of conclusion about Jesus' extra-natural personhood), and, hence (by this logic), biased and untrustworthy. Fortunately, we have people who witnessed what Jesus said and did and who wrote them down so that we may believe (John 20:31). Thank God for biased witnesses!
Cross-blogged at Apologia Christi