One of my projects this week has been an examination of claims by one of the supposedly better-educated atheist critics out there. I'm finding that, as usual, even when they have degrees, the education these folks have pretty much stops at the tip of their own noses.
One of the arguments made by this character is that the Gospels don't deserve our trust because they lack certain features of what they take to be reliable histories. For example, they quote the following from Dionysius of Halicarnassus:
For perhaps readers who are already familiar with Hieronymus, Timaeus,
Polybius, or any other historian that I mentioned a short while ago as being careless in their works, when they do not find many things in my own writings that are mentioned in theirs, will suspect me of fabricating them, and will want to know where I learned of such things. Lest anyone should hold such an opinion of me, it seems better that I should state in advance what narratives and records I have used as sources.
According to this critic, the Gospels would have a lot more credibility if they included stuff like this where the authors discuss their sources.
Yeah, right. If you believe for one minute that any atheist would suddenly give the Gospels more credibility if only Matthew or Luke or whoever had gone on some skein like the one above, I have some land here in Florida to sell you. It's a great deal, you just have to evict the giant mouse living there right now.
That's the most obvious problem, but here are a few more. The first is that this amounts to a ridiculous argument that no author has e.g., made use of sources unless they say something like the above. The second is that while an author like Dionysius had plenty of scratch available to publish their works, the authors of the Gospels generally did not -- especially because they were publishing for a mass audience, whereas Dionysus was publishing for a small group of like-minded peers. I have yet to see an atheist critic take any serious accounting of the fact that this wasn't a world where you could pop down to Office Depot and buy a ream of paper for $5.59. This was a world where paper (or parchment or whatever) was an expensive luxury. Yet they have a fit when the Gospel authors don't expend their limited resources to lay out what amounts to methodological window dressing.
The last problem I'll note, though, is the most significant one, and it indicates a blind spot in atheist critics that is as serious as that of a KJV-Only fundamentalist. Basically, atheist critics often take a profession of critical examination (like the one above by Dionysius) and turn it into a citation from inerrant Scripture. You've seen it before: For example, all Carl Sagan had to do was babble, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," and suddenly he became a deity who could say and do no wrong, not even when it comes to his screwed-up history of the Library of Alexandria.
What escapes such critics is that a statement like the above is anything but a profession of objectivity and careful source-filtering. Basically, here's what it is really for: Dionysius is covering his backside in case he is called a liar. He is concerned about his personal honor, which was the primo #1 concern of members of honor-shame societies. What the critic takes to be an explanation by Dionysius of historical rigor is actually little more than an extended pre-emptive exercise in covering his own posterior and protecting his honor rating, and that undoubtedly from peers all too willing to savage it in a context where honor was seen as a zero-sum game.
There were plenty of other motives for Dionysius to say stuff like this, and a cynic who treated his work like the critics treat the Gospels might be apt to pull those out also. The basic description of Dionysius' work indicates that Dionysius "states that his objects in writing history were to please lovers of noble deeds and to repay the benefits he had enjoyed in Rome." Read that through the lens of that social world, and it amounts to him writing as a way to repay the favor shown to him by his patrons or others from whom he had received benefits. Put in a nutshell, his history was a work of quid pro quo.
The standard description also says that one of Dionysius' purposes was to "reconcile Greeks to Roman rule." That sure sounds like an objective measure, doesn't it? Sort of like, a 19th century slave owner writing tales of how happy all the slaves were as a way to "reconcile" their chattel to slavery. Yes, using that logic, we definitely have someone here who was writing the A-1 Steak Sauce Objective History of Rome, don't we?
In light of all that, it's more than a little laughable when critics downgrade the Gospels for being documents meant to encourage faith in Christ. Dionysius was writing for people who wanted to hear things they wanted to hear; a cynic might argue that he was under what amounted to a censor's control and that his history was therefore to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. Therefore, it could be argued, his work is entirely untrustworthy. If anything, if we follow this logic to the end, the Gospels are clearly more objective histories than those of Dionysius, because at least the authors don't fill their text with a lot of self-serving descriptions of how gloriously competent they were, and they also at least were not in the pay of some patron who wanted them to make the local home team smell like a rose garden in order to placate the guys who were being compelled to spade the manure.
I'm not actually arguing that, of course. But I am pointing out just how easy it is to allow your ideology to govern the discussion. And that's exactly what atheist critics do when they complain that the Gospels deserve an F because e.g., they don't imitate Dionysius' self-serving rhetoric.
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I affirm the literal resurrection of Christ, as I affirm the Nicene creed. Unfortunately, affirming it and proving it are two different things. Many apologists try to use the Resurrection as proof in itself that Jesus was the Son of God. The problem is, the event itself has to be proven, and is of equal dispute to the claims of Christ deity. Thus, I doubt that it makes a great tool for verifying the claims of the faith, since it is itself such a claim. On the other hand, let us ask ourselves, "was the true purpose of the resurrection as a proof of Jesus validity?" I think not. I think the true purpose was not offer modern scientific "courtroom evidence" of the event, but to confirm in a religious way, for insiders, by provision of an important symbol. Tillich says that a symbol participates in the thing it symbolizes. Thus a bull fighter dying young is a symbol of darning courage going awry, but a non specific figure like the American flag is not a symbol but an emblam. Thus the resurrection of Christ can be a theological symbol and stil be a real event! Thus the true importance of the event is its theological significance and not its market place value as an apologetical tool.
Atheists have argued, but more importantly historians have argued, that a view like that of the resurrection of Christ can't be understood as a historical event, thus can't be proved by historical evidence becuase history is intrinsically naturalistic. Historians must make naturalistic assumptions thus miracle can't play role in history. The first thing to notice about this argument is that far from contradicting what I've said, it supports my position in that I argue that atheist's only have ideological objections to the resurrection. There's no historically based disproof. If untrained non-historian apologists mistakenly argue "this is historical" their objections are not based upon disproving the historically based evidence they are only based upon ideological assumptions. Evoking the rules of history is also ideological assumption.
Secondly, I don't say "O I'm going to prove the resurrection historically." In the heat of argument I may have said words to that effect, but my actual position is not "yes we definitely prove the resurrection." There is no way to prove something that hapepned 2000 years ago, at least not to the point of making it indubitable. The only way to do that would be to go back in time and watch it happen. It's as unfair a requirement that it be "historical" as it is to say we are going to prove it historically. Either way is an unfair requirement becuase it's not something that can be proved. The prohibition on supernatural evidence in history not withstanding it's unrealistic, and therefore, unfair, to expect it to be proved. Be that as it may all is not lost for the historically minded apologist. There is still a good argument to be made for the resurrection and it invovles historically-based evidence.
Be that as it may, the event of Christ's resurrection offers more to the unbeliever and the cause of Christian apologetics than one might think given what I wrote. Rather than give up on it as an argument, we need to put it into a different context: we need to abandon the "court room" model of proof in apologetics, and take up a historian's perspective. The point is not that we can prove the resurrection "really happened." The importance of historical evidence surrounding resurrection is its possibility as a history making event. By that I mean, it's not as important to prove "conclusively" that it happened, as it is to show that the perimeters shaped by the evidence still leave open the validity of the possibility that such an event occurred, once one clears away the ideological clutter of naturalism. The evidence need only point to the fact that the belief tenet is still "in the running" as a possibility, not that it actually happened, although we believe, as Christians, that it did happen. The event described cannot included as a historical event, because history as a modern social science is constructed upon naturalistic assumptions; but it can be understood as a history making event, one that shaped the nature of our society and culture.
Away with the Court Room Model
So much past apologetics has been based upon the model of a court room debate, then declared to "prove history." We see this most especially in McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Verdict (the classic case). We also see it in the works of a vast array of apologists who say things like, "the man who invented rules for court room evidence (Simon Greenleaf--1783-1953 ) argued for the Resurrection, and he was a smart lawyer, so he must be right." But historians do not "prove" historical 'arguments' by holding courtroom debates! If we are going to make historical claims for the resurrection, we have to think like historians, and not like lawyers. We have to hold the evidence to the perimeters of historical evidence, not to those of jurisprudence.
History is probability. It's not mathematical probably, but it is probabilistic. One cannot go back in time and verify the assumptions of historians, all we can do is argue from extrapolated data as to the most likely conclusion based upon the "facts." But how are these "facts" ascertained? They are not derived from debate, they are not derived from physical artifacts, and they are certainly not given in any kind of absolute certainty. Many skeptics place the level of confirmation they seek on a par with a TV camera recording an event it happens. History is documents! History is not a documentary featuring live footage, although such material is no doubt going to be included in future historical records. But history is the impression we find most likely as a probabilistic guess based upon the data we find available in written documents of the past. Historians do debate documents, but they do not say things like, "would this be accepted in a courts of law?" Historians don't a flying spit wad about what is accepted in a court of law (but one hears that phrase in apologetics quite a bit). Thus, in accessing the prospects for the validity of the resurrection, one cannot worry about courtrooms, or about exact proof as though we could take a TV camera to the tomb and watch the angel move the stone. The best we can ever do is to access the possibility and its place int he likelihood of events, given our world view assumptions vis a vie, supernatural events.
The History Making Concept.
In his great ground breaking work, Theology of Hope (1964) Jurgen Moltmann did something radical. It suited Moltmann to be radical because he was one of the major influences upon radical theology of the 60s, including liberation theology. Being German Moltmann took the structures of historical scholarship very seriously. He knew that historiography of the nineteenth century had ruled out any but naturalistic assumptions in the category of "historical." Moltmann argues, the rules of history exclude the miraculous. This is because historians, as heirs to the enlightenment, automatically exclude the supernatural. For this reason the resurrection cannot be seen as historical, a priori, for the rules of making history are set by an ideology of metaphysical assumptions which dogmatically exclude anything miraculous. History must be predicated upon the assumption of a coherent natural world, therefore, the supernatural cannot be part of history (176). Yet he felt it was important to make a place for the resurrection in modern thought. So he argued for changing the rules. Rather than calling the resurrection "historical" he calls it "history making." The belief itself has shaped the outline of historical event. This is apart from the question of its truth content, the fact of belief in it made history what it is. This introduces the concept of understanding the belief as history making thus the evidence that supports the belief is also history making. His solution: change the rules. We wont call it "historical" but "history making."
"The resurrection of Christ does not mean a possibility within the world and its history, but a new possibility altogether for the world, for existence, and for history. Only when the world can be understood as contingent creation out of the freedom of God...does the rising of Christ become intelligible as nova create [new creation]. ...it is necessary to expose the profound irrationality of the rational cosmos of the tech scientific world." (179)
"The resurrection of Christ is without prattle in the history known to us. But it can be for that very reason regarded as a 'history making event' in the light of which all other history is illumined, called into question and transformed." (180)
Skeptics are too quick to argue that the resurrection is not historical fact. Before they jump into this fray, they should first ask themselves about the nature of historical facts. Most historical "facts" are not proven. "History" (whatever that is) says that Davy Crockett died at the Alamo, yet evidence indicates he did not.* History, like science is a social construct, and is determined by those with the clout to write history. In modernity we have gained an anti-supernatural bias, and so the believer is forced to ask rhetorical questions like "did Jesus raise form the dead?" and then to answer them rhetorically. The German Theologian Jurgen Moltmann changes the rules. Rather than ask if the resurrection is "historical" he merely argues that it doesn't have to be, it is history making. We change the rules of the debate because predicated upon the preaching of the resurrection is one of the most profound developments of world history; the growth of the Christian faith which has shaped the entire Western tradition. We view the Resurrection of Christ as history making because the belief in it did change history, the doctrine of it has made history, and belief today shapes the basis of all Christian doctrine. We put aside the hypocritical skepticism of naturalistic circular arguments and allow ourselves to accept the verdict of a history that has been made by faith in the event, in light of the fact that there is enough there to base faith upon. (see Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 1968).
The doctrine furnishes the basis for hope, when grasped in faith, that offers a much more profound answer to any of questions about life and death than any form of skepticism or pride in confusion ever could. Rather than merely declare a rules change, I will argue that this rules change is warranted based upon the evidence. In other words, not that the resurrection can be "proven" in the same sense that any other aspect of historical research can be proven, but that the resurrection evidence is credible enough that one can feel confident in asserting its truth as a tenet of faith. The actual case can never be proven, or disproved, but the evidence allows one to believe with impunity.
In keeping with my policy of enlightening the reader about my sources, I must point out that I do lean heavily upon two major evangelical sources here: F.F. Bruce, and William Lane Craig. Bruce is, however, one of the most highly respected Evangelical scholars, even among the liberal camp, and Craig is renown as a highly credible and effective apologist. The other sources such as D. E. H. Whiteley, Stephen Neil, Gaalyah Cornfeld, and Luke Timothy Johnson are basically liberal or moderate.A few major liberal theologians, such as Moltmann and Wolfhart Pannenberg have defended faith in the resurrection.
Historical Verdict Reversed
"The real case for skepticism of the resurrection of Christ was actually developed by 19th century liberal theology, and though they don't know it, the objections of most Internet skeptics today are echoes of those arguments. But in the postwar era even major liberal theologians began to defend the resurrection. Ernst Kasemann, student of Bultmann, at Marburg in 1953 argued that Bultmann's skepticism toward the historical Jesus was biased and Kasemann re-opened a new Quest for the historical Jesus. The great modern liberal theologian Wolfheart Paennberg argued for the resurrection of Jesus. Hans Grass argued that the resurrection cannot be dismissed as mere myth, and Hans Freiherr von Campenhausen defended the historical credibility of Jesus empty tomb." (in William Lane Craig, "Contemporary Scholarship and The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ," Truth, 1 (1985): 89-95. "Equally startling is the declaration of one of the world's leading Jewish theologians Pinchas Lapid, that he is convinced on the basis of the evidence that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Lapide twits New Testament critics like Bultmann and Marxsen for their unjustified skepticism and concludes that he believes on the basis of the evidence that the God of Israel raised Jesus from the dead." (Craig, Ibid.)
"According to Jakob Kremer, "By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb" and he furnishes a list, to which his own name may be added, of twenty-eight prominent scholars in support. I can think of at least sixteen more names that he failed to mention. Thus, it is today widely recognized that the empty tomb of Jesus is a simple historical fact. As D. H. van Daalen has pointed out, "It is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions." But assumptions may simply have to be changed in light of historical facts.:"(Ibid.)
Before the apologist can even posit the turth of the resurrection, his truth is refuted by the very nature of historical "facts" as modern thought construes them; supernatural events cannot be part of history. But Moltmann turns this around on the nature of modern thought by arguing that before modern thought can posit a naturalistic history, the content of history is already shaped by supernatural claims.
Yes but that's just a simple matter of you not understanding my argument. I"m not saying "this is true because they say it is." I'm saying:
(1) Gospels are historical artifact that ques us in to a historically validated set of readigns that can be understood as even older artifacts.
(2) these artifacts testify to the early nature of the empty tomb as a belief of the community.
(3) community contained eye witnesses. so this fact would have been screened out if it as false.
(4) It was spread about from an early time thus we can infer form it that the eye witnesses to the situation approved.
(5)not proof but it is a good reason to assume it's valid as a belief.It has historical verisimilitude.
The standard I set my arguments:The Resurrection was a history making event. Whatever truly happened, the actual events which are make by the claims of witnesses and faith in the veracity of those witnesses, the upshot of it all is that the historical probabilities suggest the likelihood of an event, and that event shaped the nature of history itself. The faith claims cannot be historical claims, but they don't have to be. The faith itself is justified, it cannot be ruled out by history, but instead lies at the base of modern history in some form. We can suggest throughout the strength of the evidence that those actual events were the very events attested to in the Gospels. We cannot prove this claim with absolute certainty, but the warrant provided by the evidence itself is strong enough to make the historical nature of the religious hope valid. Some religious hopes are just ruled out by the facts. For example, the idea that the Native Americans are part of the 10 lost tribes of Israel; this can be dispelled by genetics as well as dentistry. The Resurrection, on the other hand, can be accepted as likely Given the suspension of ideological objections of Naturalism.
*Crockett died at the Alamo the evidence clearly indicates that (I would have to assert it anyway,I am rom Texas). The point is it's not something we can prove. We call it "fact" but it's only assumption based upomn perponderence of the evidence.
Despite claims to the contrary, we're still waiting for an academically sound defense of the "Jesus didn't exist" position, one that doesn't rest primarily on gyrations, begged questions, cherry picking, and/or paranoia. For this post I'd like to share two reviews of one such attempted defense, Thomas Brodie's Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus. One was written by me in 2013; the other was written by Nick Peters just this past week, and the original draft was done without having seen my review first. We both manage to point out some of the same weaknesses. Might be something to that.
On the debate over JP's Banana postPaplimnton linked to a Wiki article (an article flagged as needing work be that as it may) saying:
Barbara King argues that while non-human primates are not religious, they do exhibit some traits that would have been necessary for the evolution of religion. These traits include high intelligence, a capacity for symbolic communication, a sense of social norms, realization of "self" and a concept of continuity. There is inconclusive evidence that Homo neanderthalensis may have buried their dead which is evidence of the use of ritual. The use of burial rituals is thought to be evidence of religious activity, and there is no other evidence that religion existed in human culture before humans reached behavioral modernity.That is supposed to prove that religion is made up entirely by humans with no
God involved. I suggest that evolutionary nature of religion in and of itself is not enough to rule out God,After all of God users evolution in creation then we should expect God to allow evolutionary nature of religion to shape human development. Here is my article (part 1) showing how the evolutionary nature of religious development is not contrary to God.
see link above