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I’m very honored to be here and happy people actually showed up to listen to this debate. I have a lot of ground to cover so I must begin.WIBA and HTDCF books. Why I Became an Atheist, is my magnum opus, and How to Defend the Christian Faith: Advice from an Atheist. Most of what I’ll be saying can be found in these two books of mine. If you disagree with anything I say then I refer you to them for more.
Tonight I'll start with the current state of Christian apologetics, then I'll deal with the so-called evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, then I'll pull it all together in the end. I’ll start with a quote from Avery Dulles:
“The 20th century has seen more clearly than previous periods that apologetics stands or falls with the question of method.” I’m going to highlight this tonight, something most apologists haven’t quite considered before. [Dulles, History of Apologetics (1st ed.), p 246].
On Apologetics and Method, Definitions and Argument
Apologetics = Defending the truth of Christianity.
Method = Developing the most effective strategy defending Christianity.
All apologetics is special pleading! This is my contention. Everything said in defense of Christianity operates by an unreasonable double standard. Apologists treat Christianity differently than they treat the evidences of all the other religions they reject.
Case in point: One should first come up with the best method to know which religion is true, if there is one. This problem has only recently come to light, and it’s significant. In response, apologists are trying to come up with a method after the fact, that justifies their faith. Folks, this is not how it’s honestly done! Method must come first.
Christian Apologetics Is In Serious Crisis!
1953 Bernard Ramm brought attention to it Varieties of Christian Apologetics.
1976 Gordon Lewis, Testing Christianity’s Truth Claims: Approaches to Christian Apologetics.
2000 Steven B. Cowan, ed., Five Views of Apologetics.
2006 Kenneth Boa and Robert Bowman Faith Has Its Reasons.
1) Evidential Method:
“Historical evidence alone is sufficient to believe Jesus arose from the dead and that God exists.” I have no beef to pick with this method. It is the only reasonable method for assessing the truth of religious faiths. It requires sufficient objective evidence to believe. I just disagree it leads to Christianity. The kicker is that so do most Christian apologists!
Evidential Method: An Admitted Failure
Without God, Miracles Aren’t Likely. Norman Geisler: “The mere fact of the resurrection [of Jesus] cannot be used to establish the truth that there is a God. For the resurrection cannot even be a miracle unless there already is a God.”
Lessing’s Ugly Broad Ditch. 18th century German critic Gotthold Lessing:
“Miracles, which I see with my own eyes, and which I have opportunity to verify for myself, are one thing; miracles, of which I know only from history that others say they have seen them and verified them, are another.”
Bart Ehrman Echoes Lessing: “All that historians can do is show what probably happened in the past. That is the problem inherent in miracles. Miracles, by our very definition of the term, are virtually impossible events,” so “miracles, by their very nature, are always the least probable explanations for what happened.”
Deists were the first modern evidentialists. Deism began as a method for gaining religious truth. It was based on sufficient evidence. It ended with the rejection of all religious dogmas except for the need of a creator. After Darwin’s Origin of Species most deists became atheists. That’s because the evidence leads there!
2) Classical Method:
So to correct for the failures of evidentialism apologists adopted a 2-step method:
1) First argue to the existence of a god; 2) Then to the resurrection.
But do theistic arguments work? Two of the greatest living Christian apologists are Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne. Plantinga has admitted theistic arguments don’t work, saying, “I don’t know of an argument for Christian belief that seems very likely to convince one who doesn’t already accept its conclusion…if Christian beliefs are true, then the most satisfactory way to hold them will not be as the conclusions of argument.” Swinburne specifically rejects the Moral Argument to God’s existence, saying, “I cannot see any force in an argument to the existence of God from the existence of morality.” Another Christian apologist of note is John Feinberg. He wrote, “I am not convinced that any of the traditional arguments [for God’s existence] succeeds.” Now if they don’t think these arguments work why should any of us? It’s not just me who is saying this. It’s what Christian apologists themselves say.
Even if so, which god? Deist god? Allah? A non-personal force? An evil god? A scientific god who is watching us like rat’s in a maze?
It only grants miracles are possible. If there is a creator god miracles are possible! But I grant miracles are possible even as an atheist! There’s nothing all that controversial about this.
It ends up being nothing more than a dressed up evidentialism! For believing in a creator god does not tell us which god exists. One must still look at the evidence just as I do. So the classical method brings apologists back where they started from, forced to deal with the evidence, which is something they had hoped to avoid.
3) Presuppositional “Method”:
“The evidence for the resurrection can only be accepted through the lens of Christian assumptions.”
But where do these assumptions come from? How is it possible to start with assumptions without first looking at the evidence? The evidence must come first. That makes the assumptions carry all of the weight as evidence. Consistency means allowing Muslim assumptions as their evidence, or Mormon assumptions as their evidence. This non-method tacitly admits there isn’t sufficient evidence to believe in the resurrection. Otherwise it would never have been concocted.
This “begs the question.” All other Christian apologists agree. Not just me saying this.
4) Reformed “Method”:
“It’s reasonable to believe in God and the resurrection without the need for and/or the existence of sufficient objective evidence.”
Who would ever say such a thing? This is another admission by apologists themselves, that there isn’t sufficient objective evidence to believe. For if it existed then this non-method would never have been concocted.
This requires psychic ability, since it’s argued the spirit world communicates to believers what happened three days after Jesus was crucified. How else can we reasonably know what happened in history except by using the historical method?
5) Fideism “Method”:
“Private subjective experiences (PSE) of a risen Jesus provide good reasons to believe.”
But PSE are only evidence of PSE. They are only evidence of private subjective states of the mind. They say nothing about the objective world.
This is the method of insanity! Folks, this may sound offensive but this is the method of insane people in psyche wards, who think they are Jesus!
Unreliable as a historical method. PSE cannot tell us if historical evidence shows Jesus resurrected, just think of Custer’s Last Stand. So it’s not a method at all! It too concedes Christianity does not have sufficient objective evidence for it. Christian apologists admit this. It’s not just me saying it.
6) Cumulative “Method”:
“The apologist needs to be able to employ different approaches in different contexts. Every person will react and be reached differently, so there is no one approach that will work every time.” --Wayne House & Dennis Jowers.
Who would ever say such a thing? Apologists are searching for a method that works to convince others, rather than one that helps us arrive at the truth. That’s the context of what they wrote. Its exhibit A in revealing the truth about apologetics. The goal is to persuade. The method is special pleading. Whatever works is what they’ll adopt. It is the warp and woof of Christian apologetics.
Cumulative “Method” (cont.)
Like mixing oil and water. I fail to see how evidentialism, the Classical method, presuppositionalism and fideism or can be harmonized or reconciled.
Leaky bucket problem. Since they all have gaping holes in them, putting them together doesn’t stop the leaks.
Proponents merely agree on the conclusion, that’s it! What we see here are Christians struggling to develop a method that supports their prior faith, rather than developing an objective method that leads to the truth about religions. As you can see, they struggle precisely because they reject evidentialism.
The Results On Method:
Evidentialism: Admitted failure! Evidentialism led to deism and to atheism.
Classical: Back to Evidentialism! A god belief doesn’t change anything.
Presuppositionalism: Question begging!
Reformed: Psychic ability! Completely by-passes historical inquiry.
Fideism: The method of Insanity! Unreliable as a historical method.
Cumulative: Faith in search of a method! This is what’s really going on!
Since there are six major methods,
then any given one of them is rejected by 83% of apologists!
i.e., 83% of apologists reject the need for and/or existence of sufficient objective evidence.
What if Mormons admitted that?
Outsider Test for Faith Method:
“The only way to test religious faiths is from the perspective of an outsider, applying the same consistent level of reasonable skepticism to them all. I’ve defended this in my book.”
Now for the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus:
Assume you have never heard about Jesus or Christianity.
Abdu is a missionary from China preaching Yingianity, a newly discovered religion.
Why Do This?
It’s the only way to dispassionately evaluate your culturally inherited religious faith because we seek to confirm rather than disconfirm our beliefs!
Why Do This? (cont.)
Because we depend on familiarity. Here’s an example: If you’re a Christian you see nothing bizarre about the gospel story involving one member of a Trinitarian god who came down to earth by being born of a virgin, who was 100% god and yet 100% man, to be killed so the other two members of the trinity could forgive people who believed that story, and then was raised from dead and ascended into the sky to return to the Trinitarian throne, bringing back to reign with him the sinless man Jesus, who is forever joined to him at the hip.
Because we depend on our cultures. We are products of our times and indoctrinated into our cultures. Culture isn’t even something we see until we focus on it. For cultures allow us to see in the first place. Cultures are the very lens through which we view the world. And this is a Christian culture we live in, especially if you were raised to believe.
Because our brains lie to us! Cognitive biases get in the way of evaluating your own religious faith. The mother of all cognitive biases is confirmation bias, which is the strong tendency to search for data and/or interpret existing data in ways that confirm one’s prior beliefs. This bias forces believers to misjudge the probabilities in favor of their faith. The brain only cares if what it concludes helps it to survive. The brain evolved to act this way for self-preservation purposes. It maintains and defends its beliefs so you can survive as a social creature, since you need others to survive! You will defend the beliefs of your social group in order to stay within the safety net of your social group, irrespective of whether those beliefs are true or not. There is a massive amount or solid research supportive of these undeniable facts.
What Would it Take to Accept Abdu’s Yingianity?
It would take an overwhelming amount of strong historical evidence to overcome our concrete personal experience that dead men stay dead.
Where’s the Empirical Evidence?
There is none!
Because it supposedly happened in the ancient pre-scientific past, in a lone part of the planet, before investigative reporters, videos and cell phones!
Where’s The Textual Evidence?
There is none!
i.e., No original texts!
We must wait until the 4th century to get full manuscripts
Contains forgeries. Pastoral Letters. Ending of Mark. II Peter. Bart Ehrman’s works have proven this.
Excludes other Christian writings. Judaizers. Gnostics. See Bart Ehrman’s books, Lost Scriptures and Lost Christianities.
Where’s The First Hand Testimonial Evidence?
There is none!
There were no eyewitnesses to the resurrection. No one can say “I saw Jesus as he was raised from the dead.” No eyewitnesses wrote anything either. We do not have anything written directly by Jesus himself or any of his original disciples.
All supposed testimonies to the resurrection of Jesus are reported to us by others, which is considered inadmissible in court because it’s hearsay evidence. Subsequent gospel writers plagiarized from Mark, the first gospel. So the gospel stories of Jesus’ resurrection stand on Mark’s gospel alone, and at the end of his gospel there isn’t a sequence where Jesus shows himself alive after dying.
No chance to question anyone. There is a reason why hearsay testimony is not allowed in our courtrooms. How do we really know what they actually testified to? Did they actually see the risen Jesus as claimed? Did they all tell the same story? Did any of them recant later? Just think of Mormon origins.
Comes from admitted visionaries. Paul is the only writer to claim he had seen the risen Jesus and his letters are the earliest testimony we have of it. But we have serious difficulties in knowing what he saw. On the Damascus Road he never claimed to have actually seen or touched Jesus (see Galatians 1; Acts 9; 22; 26). He specifically said it was a visionary experience (Acts 26:19; see 9:17), and that he had many of them (2 Corinthians 12:1-7; see 1 Corinthians 9:1, Acts 16:9-10; 18:9; 22:17-18; 23:11, Galatians 2:2). Paul repeatedly speaks of “revelations” which he passed down to the church (1 Cor. 2:13; 7:40; 14:37). He even says he learned about the “Lord’s Supper” from “the Lord” himself (1 Corinthians 11:23). Paul even claimed he got his whole gospel from a private revelation (Galatians 1:11-12). Paul’s early churches were visionaries too (Acts 2:17), where “young men saw visions.” They were convinced they were receiving divine messages from Jesus and expressed them through the “spiritual gifts” of divine “wisdom,” “knowledge,” “prophecy” or “tongues” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). The writer of the book of Revelation (2-3) said he received seven letters to the seven churches in a private revelation.
Paul equates his own visionary experience of the risen Jesus with the witnesses he mentioned in I Corinthians 15:3-8, so their testimony cannot be considered any better than Paul’s.
These are all private subjective experiences. Why should we accept that these private revelations came from God? I see no reason why we should.
Where’s the Prophetic Evidence?
There is none! I defy someone to come up with one statement in the Old Testament that is specifically fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that can legitimately be understood as a prophecy and singularly points to Jesus as the Messiah using today’s historical-grammatical hermeneutical method. It cannot be done. An expressed hope for a future savior is not to be considered a prediction, unless along with that hope are specific details whereby we can check to see if it was fulfilled in a specific person.
No prophecy of a Trinitarian God. OT Texts like “Let us make man in our image” are describing polytheism.
No prophecy of an Incarnation or Virgin birth. In Matthew 1:20–23 the author claims that Isaiah 7:14 refers to Jesus’ virgin birth calling him “Immanuel (of God) with us.” The context for the prophecy in Isaiah tells us that before any “young woman” (not virgin) shall conceive and bear a son who grows to maturity the southern Israelite kingdom of Ahaz, would be devastated. The prophecy says nothing whatsoever about a virginal conception. And it says nothing about a messiah, either. The prophecy was actually fulfilled in Isaiah 8:3 with the birth of the child king Maher-shalalhash-baz. All kings we’re thought of as divine anyway.
No prophecy of a dying Messiah. The Suffering Servant in Isaiah was Israel. 49:3: God says, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” The Psalms were not predicting anything about the death of Jesus either. They are merely prayers in times of affliction that the NT writers applied to Jesus out of context.
No prophecy of a resurrection. It doesn’t exist in the OT.
Where’s the Corroborative Evidence?
There is none!
Nothing from any contemporaries. We don’t have anything written by the Jewish leaders or by the Romans that mentions Jesus, the content of his preaching, why he was killed, or what they thought about claims that he had been resurrected. Wouldn’t you want to know what they said if you were really interested in knowing the truth? So given that we don’t know what they thought isn’t the intellectually honest thing to do is to admit you don’t know after all?
Bizarre unbelievable stories of zombies, earthquakes and eclipses. We have no independent reports that the veil of the temple was torn in two at Jesus’ death (Mark 15:38), nor that darkness came “over the whole land” from noon until three in the afternoon (Mark 15:33), nor that “the sun stopped shining” (Luke 23:45), nor that there was an earthquake at his death (Matt. 27:51, 54), with another “violent” one the day he arose from the grave (Matt. 28:2), nor that the saints were raised to life at his death and at his resurrection “went into the holy city and appeared to many people” and were never heard from again (Matt. 27:52–53). Could these events really have occurred without subsequent Roman or rabbinic literature mentioning them? These silences are telling.
No empirical evidence
No original texts
No first-hand testimonial evidence
No prophetic evidence
No corroborative evidence
Case in Point: The Jews and The Evidence:
Beloved of God
Believed in God
Believed God does miracles
Hoped for a Messiah
Knew their prophecies
But overwhelming numbers of them did not believe!
Since these Jews were there and didn’t believe, why should we? No, really. Why should we? Why should anyone? The usual answer is that these Jews didn’t want to believe because Jesus was not their kind of Messiah, a king who would throw off Roman rule. But then, where did they get that idea in the first place? They got it from their own scriptures. And who supposedly penned them? Their God.
I am baffled as to why an omniscient God could not think of any other way to have Jesus crucified but by using the Jews to instigate it. But because he couldn’t, God needed to mislead the Jews about the nature of their Messiah. So due to this loving plan of his, Christians have been given a reason to persecute and kill Jews for centuries for being Christ killers [the Romans are actually the guilty ones]. Not only this, but the overwhelming majority of Jews will go to hell where Judas is waiting for them. If anyone was sacrificed for the sins of the world it would be Judas and the Jews. Does this sound fair for a perfectly good, omniscient judge?
Think like an outsider for the first time in your lives!
Consider this 800 page book by Michael Alter, The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry. It’s the best book of its kind, an encyclopedic refutation of the resurrection of Jesus hypothesis, and it’s only Part 1 of a projected 2 volume work. The stunning fact is that it’s not written by an atheist. It’s written by a believer, a theist, just not Abdu’s kind of theist. He’s a Jew.
Do You Remember What It Would Take to Accept Abdu’s Yingianity?
It would take an overwhelming amount of strong historical evidence to overcome our concrete personal experience that dead men stay dead. Let this sink in before proceeding.
Would you accept Yingianity given this non-evidence, if 83% of Ying apologists rejected the need for and/or existence of sufficient objective evidence?
You would not accept Yingianity!
You should not accept Christianity!
You should not accept Christianity!
 Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics, p. 95.
 “On the Proof of the Spirit and of Power,” in Lessing’s Theological Writings, trs, Henry Chadwick (Stanford University Press, 1956, pp. 51-55)
 Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief, p. 201.
 Richard Swinburne, The Existence of God 2nd, ed. 2004, p. 215.
 John S. Feinberg, Can You Believe it’s True: Christian Apologetics in a Modern & Postmodern Era (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), p. 321.