Category Archives: Polemics

How every Christian can learn to explain the resurrection of Jesus to others

Basically, as a Christian, I think we, myself included, all ought to be able to show that there is a case for the resurrection on historical grounds. Even if Christians know that the resurrection is true by the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit, you cannot use that when persuading and defending it to other people. So you have to make a case using the available evidence and the normal rules of historical investigation. You can’t assume the Bible is inerrant with your co-workers and you can’t focus on Christian-ese or peripheral issues, either. So how can you do it?

Part A: Historical methods

The way I normally start is with the standard rules used by all scholars who analyze ancient biographies. Basically, there is a list of criteria that scholars across the spectrum use for deciding which parts of ancient literary sources are more likely to be true. It’s amazing when you see debates on this because both sides basically agree on the methodology.

And, if you apply the methodology carefully, then both sides actually agree on what facts in the biographies are authentic. I am talking about agreement on authentic facts by atheists and fundamentalists alike!

Here are some of the rules used for analyzing ancient biographies:

1) multiple attestation – if the fact about X is asserted by two or more
sources, then the fact is likely authentic.

2) dissimilarity – if a teaching of X is different from popular teachings
and concepts of that time and place, it is likely authentic.

3) embarassment – if a fact is embarassing to X or X’s community or the
writers of the biography of X, then it is likely authentic.

4) enemy attestation – if a fact about X is corroborated by enemies of X,
or X’s community, then that fact is likely to be authentic.

5) early attestation – if a fact about X is in an early source, then that fact
is likely to be authentic.

And there are others.

So, if you want to talk about the resurrection at work without being laughed at or fired, you can use these criteria to identify historical facts.

Part B: Minimal facts

Using the historical methods above, you won’t be able to recover MOST of what the New Testament writings say about Jesus. For example, the guard at the tomb is only in Matthew, so you cannot use that as a minimal fact. And John is a pretty late gospel, so most of that can’t be used. So what parts can be used?

Well, here is William Lane Craig’s list of facts:

1) the empty tomb
2) the appearances experienced by various people, including Paul
3) early belief in the resurrection emerged in Jerusalem

And, here is Gary Habermas’ list of facts:

1) death by crucifixion
2) early belief in resurrection
3) appearances experienced by disciples
4) Paul’s appearance and change of heart
5) James’s (Jesus’ brother) change of heart
6) the empty tomb

Probably the most celebrated defender of the resurrection writing today is N. T. Wright. He makes a bit of a different case where he asks what sort of historical occurrence would be adequate to explain the changes in theology and practice that occurred when 1st century Jews in Jerusalem became Christians. His argument is that the changes (“mutations”) require a historical resurrection. Here is Wright’s list:

1) the empty tomb
2) the appearances to various people
and 7 mutations (changes) in the way that early Christians changed
their views of the meaning and centrality of the Jewish doctrines of
the Messiah, resurrection, eschatology, etc.

You’ll be surprised to know that few of these facts are disputed by atheistic historians like Gerd Ludemann, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. The only one that’s sometimes disputed is the empty tomb, but some guys will give it to you. I just read N.T. Wright’s debate against John Dominic Crossan, who is on the far-left fringe. He gave up the appearances AND said he was “OK” with the empty tomb.

So, once you apply the historical criteria, and you hammer out your list of facts, what comes next?

Part C: Inference to the best explanation

Once you have the list of facts, you need to explain why the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead is the best explanation for the facts. This is done by showing that the hypothesis is consistent with all of the available data.

The atheist is likely to jump in at this point with an alternative explanation of the facts. Their explanations will not involve any miracles – instead, they try to account for the facts by proposing a naturalistic hypothesis. Here is a list of a few together with my defense against them.

1) Jesus wasn’t really dead
– crucifixion is lethal and you can’t fake being dead
– this doesn’t explain the early belief in the resurrection, since
a half-dead Jesus would not inspire a belief in the resurrection

2) Jesus’ disciples moved the body and lied about it
– it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.
– it doesn’t explain why the early church was willing to be persecuted

3) The Jews moved the body and lied about it
– they had no interest in helping a rival sect
– it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.

4) The Romans moved the body and lied about it
– they had no interest in helping a trouble-making sect
– it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.

5) Somebody else moved the body
– it doesn’t explain the appearance to Paul, etc.
– there is no evidence to support the claim

6) The early church hallucinated the appearances
– group hallucinations are impossible
– it doesn’t explain the empty tomb
– it doesn’t explain the theological mutations about “resurrection”, since seeing a ghost does not imply a bodily resurrection

Etc.

Keep in mind that when judging explanations, the simplest explanation is usually the best. If a skeptic has to join together multiple hypotheses, then this weakens the appeal of their explanation, because it’s “ad-hoc”.

I wrote another post on the resurrection here, with some links to debates.  Here is a list of the virtually indisputable facts about Jesus, from respected, skeptical, non-Christian scholars like Norman Perrin and E. P. Sanders. More debates are here.

UPDATE: Welcome, visitors from Robert P. Murphy’s blog Free Advice. Please take a look around – the purpose of my blog is to help Christians to integrate their faith with other areas of knowledge, especially economics! For those of you who don’t know, Dr. Murphy is the author of the greatest book on economics ever written (and I’ve read The Road to Serfdom!). This is a book for everyone – and it’s the first book laymen should read on economics.

Democrats caused the recession and Republicans tried to stop it

Who caused this economic downturn and what should we do about it?

Almost no one realizes that this entire subprime lending mess was created by the Community Reinvestment Act, which was passed by President Carter, a Democrat, in 1977. Later on in the 1990s, Bill Clinton, another Democrat, passed laws to enforce the original bill. The purpose of the CRA is to force banks to make risky loans to people who can’t afford to repay those loans.

The extremely left-wing Los Angeles Times explains in 1999 that the CRA was passed to force banks to make risky loans.

Under Clinton, bank regulators have breathed the first real life into enforcement of the Community Reinvestment Act, a 20-year-old statute meant to combat “redlining” by requiring banks to serve their low-income communities. The administration also has sent a clear message by stiffening enforcement of the fair housing and fair lending laws.

In 1992, Congress mandated that Fannie and Freddie increase their purchases of mortgages for low-income and medium-income borrowers. Operating under that requirement, Fannie Mae, in particular, has been aggressive and creative in stimulating minority gains… Fannie Mae has agreed to buy more loans with very low down payments–or with mortgage payments that represent an unusually high percentage of a buyer’s income. That’s made banks willing to lend to lower-income families they once might have rejected.

The extremely left-wing New York Times noted in 1999 that the GSEs gave out the risky loans under duress from Democrat Bill Clinton.

Fannie Mae, the nation’s biggest underwriter of home mortgages, has been under increasing pressure from the Clinton Administration to expand mortgage loans among low and moderate income people and felt pressure from stock holders to maintain its phenomenal growth in profits.

In addition, banks, thrift institutions and mortgage companies have been pressing Fannie Mae to help them make more loans to so-called subprime borrowers. These borrowers whose incomes, credit ratings and savings are not good enough to qualify for conventional loans, can only get loans from finance companies that charge much higher interest rates — anywhere from three to four percentage points higher than conventional loans.

According to the New York Times in 2003, George W. Bush tried to stop the Democrats from ruining the economy with these forced loans. He was blocked by Democrats like Barney Frank.

The Bush administration today recommended the most significant regulatory overhaul in the housing finance industry since the savings and loan crisis a decade ago.

”These two entities — Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — are not facing any kind of financial crisis,” said Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee. ”The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing.”

Here are some video clips to prove that the Democrats opposed regulating  the GSEs. They are responsible for this mess, along with the irresponsible people who signed up for these loans that they could not repay.

Timeline of the events in the crisis: Bush was the first to recommend regulating the GSEs in April, 2001. In 2003, Bush tried to create a new federal agency to regulate the GSEs. He was blocked from doing so by the Democrats in the Senate. In 2005, Alan Greenspan warned that failing to regulate the GSEs could be a catastrophe. Again, Democrats blocked the effort to regulate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The video shows Democrat Chuck Schumer protesting that regulation is not needed. In 2006, McCain and other Republicans introduced a bill to regulate the GSEs. Again, the Democrats voted against it and nothing happened.

Republicans and Democrats in their own words on the GSE accounting practices: Here we have Republican Rep. Richard Baker, Democrat, Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters, Democrat Rep. Gregory Meeks, Republican Rep. Ed Royce, Democrat Rep. Lacy Clay, Republican Rep. Christopher Shays, Democrat Rep. Arthur Davis, Democrat Rep. Barney Frank, Republican Rep. Don Manzullo. Shays notes that the GSEs make many contributions to Democrats who are blocking their regulation.

Fannie Mae CEO addresses Democrats: Fannie Mae CEO calling Obama and the Dems the “Family” and “Conscience” of Fannie Mae. The Democrats obstructed the regulation of the GSEs while taking political contributions from them, especially Obama. Franklin Raines, Jamie Gorelick and Jim Johnson were all executives at the GSEs and are all Democrats. Other Democrats like Penny Pritzker ran other mortgage banks into the ground, and now work for Obama.

According to Human Events, Obama himself sued banks on behalf of ACORN, to force the banks to make these risky loans.

Obama sued Citibank under the Community Reinvestment Act in a typical ACORN-style lawsuit to force the bank to make these risky loans.  ACORN filed many of this type of lawsuit alleging racism in all of them.

According to opensecrets.org, Obama was also the second-highest recipient of political contributions from the GSEs. The American Spectator notes that he included 5.2 billion dollars of taxpayer money for ACORN in the porkulus bill.

UPDATE 1: The Achoress just posted even more of the history of this mess here. She has a link to Nice Deb’s post which contains about 2 dozen warnings issued by the Bush administration about the looming crisis, including 17 warnings in 2008 alone.

UPDATE 2:  Here’s an even better timeline than mine, by Roger Kimball.

Why doesn’t God provide more evidence that he exists?

UPDATE: Welcome visitors from Apologetics 315! Thanks for the link Brian!

Over at economist Robert P. Murphy’s blog, a recent post makes the point that Jesus had a reason for teaching in vague parables instead of giving detailed lectures like a university professor.

Jesus used parables to get across a watered-down version of His true message, because the masses were not prepared–as His apostles were–to literally discard their old lives and follow Him 24/7. So they couldn’t possibly understand what His mission really was.

This made me think about the problem of divine hiddenness. You may hear that argument when talking to atheists, as in William Lane Craig’s debate with Theodore Drange, (audio, video). Basically the atheist’s argument is that 1) God wants people to know about him, 2) reasonable people don’t know about him, so then 3) he isn’t there to be found.

Basically, the atheist is saying that he’s looked for God real hard and that if God were there, he should have found him by now. After all, God can do anything he wants that’s logically possible, and he wants us to know that he exists. To defeat the argument we need to find a possible explanation of why God would want to remain hidden when our eternal destination depends on our knowledge of his existence.

Well, Dr. Michael Murray, a brilliant professor of philosophy at Franklin & Marshall College, has found a reason for God to remain hidden. He argues that if God reveals himself too much to people, he takes away our freedom to make morally-significant decisions, including responding to his self-revelation to us. Murray argues that God stays somewhat hidden, so that he gives people space to either 1) respond to God, or 2) avoid God so we can keep our autonomy from him.

Doing the right thing just to avoid punishment is NOT what God wants. If it is too obvious that God exists and that he really will judge us, then people will respond to him and do moral things out of self-preservation. But God wants us to respond to him out of interest in him, just like we might get to know someone we admire. God has to dial down the immediacy of the threat of judgment, and the probability that the threat is actual. That leaves it up to us to respond to God’s veiled revelation of himself to us, in nature and in Scripture.

(Note: I think that we don’t seek God on our own, and that he must take the initiative to reach out to us. We are free to resist his revelation, at which point God stops himself short of coercing our will. We are therefore responsible for our own fate).

The atheist’s argument is a logical/deductive argument. It aims to show that there is a contradiction between God’s will for us and his hiding from us. The argument requires that God has no possible reason for remaining hidden. When Murray offers a possible reason, the argument is defeated. In order for the atheist’s argument to go through, he must be able to prove that God does not have any reason for being hidden. The atheist has to be able to prove that God could provide more evidence of his existence without interfering with the free will of his creatures.

Michael Murray’s home page is here.

His first paper on divine hiddenness is here:
Coercion and the Hiddenness of God“, American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol 30, 1993.

Murray has defended the argument in works published by prestigious academic presses such as Cambridge University Press, (ISBN: 0521006104, 2001) and Routledge (ISBN: 0415380383, 2007). The book chapter from the Cambridge book is here.  The book chapter from the Routledge book is here.

Michael Murray’s papers are really fun to read, because he uses hilarious examples. (But I disagree with his view that God’s work of introducing biological information in living creatures has to be front-loaded).

This exposition of the problem of divine hiddenness also touches on the topic of religious pluralism. One of the reasons why Christians are so soft on making exclusive theological claims is that we don’t talk much about evidence with non-Christians. Try it! It turns out that most people (even Christians) are pretty lazy about investigating what God is really like.

In fact, you can confront people with facts that disprove their religion and they may not care, especially if they are very distracted by day-to-day issues. For example, try telling atheists about the findings of science from the big bang and fine-tuning of the universe. See how quickly they deny that science has any bearing on religion? People don’t want to respond to evidence, and God gives them space to avoid the evidence.

People choose to separate themselves from God for many reasons. Maybe they are professors in academia and didn’t want to be thought of as weird by their colleagues. Maybe they didn’t want to be burdened with traditional morality when tempted by some sin, especially sexual sin. Maybe their fundamentalist parents ordered them around too much without providing any reasons. Maybe the brittle fundamentalist beliefs of their childhood were exploded by evidence for micro-evolution or New Testament manuscript variants. Maybe they wanted something really bad, that God did not give them. How could a good God allow them to suffer like that?

The point is that there a lot of people who don’t want to know God, and God chooses not to violate their freedom by forcing himself on them. God wants a relationship – he wants you to respond to him. (See Matthew 7:7-8)

If any Calvinists are reading this, I’m really sorry that I am wrong, but it was pre-destined that I would be wrong. That’s a little humor for you. Ouch! Stop hitting me!

Here’s more terrific stuff from Dr. Murray:

Who’s Afraid of Religion?“, Inaugural Lecture delivered March 30, 2006. Franklin and Marshall College.

Seek and You Will Find“, in God and the Philosophers. Thomas Morris, editor. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1994.

UPDATE 1: Welcome visitors from the Anchoress! Thanks so much for the link! New readers may want to take a look around since I cover a lot of different topics here, from free speech to economics to science to public policies!

UPDATE 2: Welcome, visitors from Robert P. Murphy’s blog Free Advice. Please take a look around – the purpose of my blog is to help Christians to integrate their faith with other areas of knowledge, especially economics! For those of you who don’t know, Dr. Murphy is the author of the greatest book on economics ever written (and I’ve read The Road to Serfdom!). This is a book for everyone – and it’s the first book laymen should read on economics.

UPDATE 3: Welcome, visitors from Colliding Universes. Thanks for the link, Denyse! Denyse’s other excellent blogs are Post-Darwinist and Mindful Hack.

The war between science and atheism, part two

In part one, you’ll remember that I argued that the progress of science in confirming the big bang disproved atheism, and I on went to speculate about why there are still atheists today, given this tremendous scientific discovery. This time, I want to discuss the fine-tuning of the initial constants and conditions of the big bang and see how atheists responded to these recent scientific discoveries.

In nature, the values of physical constants, (e.g. – the force of gravity), are set at the instant when the universe is created. Initially, atheists assumed that the constants could be any value, and life would still exist. But the progress of science has shown that if these constants were altered even slightly, then the resulting universe would not permit life. For example, physicist Brandon Carter has shown that if the force of gravity were stronger or weaker by 1 part in 10 to the 40th power, life-sustaining stars could not exist. While each possible value of the force of gravity is equally unlikely, the vast majority of these possibilities prohibit complex life of any kind. That means that any one value picked at random is as likely as any of the others, but it is overwhelmingly likely that the one picked will not permit life.

And how do atheists respond to the evidence of a universe that is finely-tuned for life? Well, there are two responses I’ve seen. The first is to speculate that there are actually an infinite number of other universes that are not fine-tuned, (i.e. – the gambler’s fallacy). All these other universes don’t support life. But, lucky us, we just happen to be in the one universe that popped into being out of nothing, and is fine-tuned to an incredible degree for life. What’s that you say? “Wintery! How can we be sure that these other universes even exist?” Why, you just have to have faith, because there is no way of directly observing these other universes. So, to be an intellectually-fulfilled atheist, you have to believe in billions and billions of demons unobservable universes.

Short of invoking a benevolent creator, many physicists see only one possible explanation: Our universe may be but one of perhaps infinitely many universes in an inconceivably vast multiverse. Most of those universes are barren, but some, like ours, have conditions suitable for life.

The idea is controversial. Critics say it doesn’t even qualify as a scientific theory because the existence of other universes cannot be proved or disproved. Advocates argue that, like it or not, the multiverse may well be the only viable non­religious explanation for what is often called the “fine-tuning problem”—the baffling observation that the laws of the universe seem custom-tailored to favor the emergence of life.

The second response by atheists is that the human observers that exist today, 14 billion years after the universe was created out of nothing, actually caused the fine-tuning. Now you say to me, “Wintery! How can fairies humans fine-tune constants that were set before humans even existed!” Well, it’s true that causality in science has never been known to go backwards in time. But hey, atheists already believe that the entire physical universe popped into being out of nothing. What’s one more anti-science delusion to someone already against the law of conservation of mass and matter? I mean, if you’re already against the progress of science, why not double down?

…maybe we should approach cosmic fine-tuning not as a problem but as a clue. Perhaps it is evidence that we somehow endow the universe with certain features by the mere act of observation… observers are creating the universe and its entire history right now. If we in some sense create the universe, it is not surprising that the universe is well suited to us.

So what makes people become atheists? It isn’t arguments or evidence, because the progress of science repudiates atheism-of-the-gaps. Atheism is really just a long-running tempter tantrum. Atheism is caused when a child’s selfish autonomy runs into moral obligations, or when a child feels alienated because they are raised in a minority religion. The extreme reactions to these typical childhood experiences is triggered by the atheism-module of the brain. Scientists now believe that the atheism-module causes atheists to want to start wars, such as the wars of atheistic communism, which killed over 100 million people, and still enslaves millions in North Korea, Cuba, Zimbabwe, etc.

A podcast with scientist Scott Chambers, an active researcher on the fine-tuning is here. Here are two posts (first, second) discussing Newsweek’s evasions of the fine-tuning, (related podcast here). Five podcasts with atheist scholar Bradley Monton on cosmic fine-tuning are here. Physicist Robin Collins argues here that even if you take the blind leap-of-faith into multiverse-land, you still need a fine-tuning intelligence. Further discussions of the unobservable multiverse delusion are here and here. Further discussions of the non-existent observer delusion are here and here. For a serious, non-snarky, non-satirical look at the psychology of atheism, by a former atheist Professor of Psychology at New York University, look here, (related podcast).

UPDATE 1: Welcome, visitors from The Anchoress. Please take a look around while you are here. And thanks for the link, Anchoress!

UPDATE 2: Welcome, visitors from Colliding Universes. Thanks for the link, Denyse! Denyse’s other excellent blogs are Post-Darwinist and Mindful Hack.

A Christian and a postmodernist discuss religious pluralism

I listened to this week’s episode of the the radio show “Unbelievable”, which is broadcast in the UK by Premier Christian radio. Justin Brierly, the host, moderated a dialog between author Joan Konner and Christian philosopher Peter S. Williams. Konner is the dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, and is the author of “The Atheist’s Bible”. I enjoyed listening to Konner speak, and I admire her for coming on the show. I learned from this podcast that I need to work harder at being more tactful, and gentle with postmodernists. Brierly and Williams do a great job, and I hope that when you listen to the podcast, that you will learn something about how to handle similar challengers.

I thought that I would make a list of some of the points that postmodernists make, because I guarantee that you will have heard some these things before. Many people in our society are guided primarily by emotions, and intuition. For them, there is a tremendous insecurity about what they believe, and the differing beliefs of others makes them uncomfortable. They are upset by absolute claims of fact or morality, because they consider these claims to be exclusive, and judgmental. What upsets them the most is that other people seem to be certain about what they believe, and that these people vote for public policies on the basis of these beliefs. What we’ll see is that postmodernists do exactly what they condemn, namely, they exclude, they judge, and they support public policies that they agree with. These are general points, not specific to Konner.

First, postmodernists have view of faith that is a caricature of authentic Christian faith. Postmodernists think that faith is opposed to reason, and evidence. They believe this because they require that all religions are “equally valid”. It is not that postmodernists have evaluated the truth claims of different religions. It is they have decided in advance that thinking you’re right is mean, and makes people feel bad, and causes wars. Therefore, no faith can be right – all faith is irrational and unsupported. The fact that their own view is absolutist, and exclusive, goes unnoticed.

Second, postmodernists reject reason, science, and any other reality-based support for claims, because supported claims constrain their own subjective will. Postmodernists think that believer’s appeals to reason, and evidence, are coercive. This is because they desire complete autonomy to imagine the world based on their own emotions, and intuition. This is especially true for morality. Postmodernists believe that no one has a right to judge the moral practices of others. But, if you disagree with them on their non-judgmentalism, then you are morally wrong. Again, this is self-contradictory, but it goes unnoticed.

Third, postmodernists reinterpret the truth claims made by all religions as myths, (a la Joseph Campbell). That means that every factual claim made by every religion, past, present, future is factually false. No rational analysis or investigation is necessary. For example, if a religion claimed that universe began to exist, that would be a myth, according to postmodernists. Scientific confirmation from the big bang is irrelevant. No religion can enjoy support from reason or evidence, a priori. Emotional concerns about how exclusive truth claims make people in other religions feel bad is the deciding factor. Again, the claim that no one can make truth claims is self-refuting, because they believe that their claim is true.  They don’t notice the contradiction.

Fourth, for postmodernists, the purpose of religion cannot be to hold true beliefs about the external world. The purpose of religions must be to make people behave well, because then they are all equivalent, and no religion is excluded. It is irrelevant to a postmodern that Christians claim that their religion hinges on a historical event, (the resurrection), which either happened or didn’t. Postmodernists simply presume to tell religious people what their religion really says, and what it really means. Also, postmodernists believe that since all people can invent moral rules and goals for their lives out of thin air, that there is no need for God to ground them. What this means is that according to postmodernists, Stalin’s morality is as valid as William Wilberforce’s morality. Both have the exact same validity, namely, that they are “true” for the subject.

The postmodernism and moral relativism I discussed above also informs progressive thought, which is why progressives seem to always take the side of evil against the side of good. An amazing lecture given by Jewish comedian Evan Sayet at the Heritage Foundation is probably the best treatment of that point that you will ever see.

For further reading, check out this paper on Christian exclusivism, and this paper on the fate of the unevangelized. Both of them are by William Lane Craig. And remember, it is OK to think you are right, and to disagree with others. But God does not coerce, and neither should you. Share your beliefs, and your reasons, if someone asks you to share with them. The important thing is to appeal to reason and evidence, and to be civil and charitable. Disagree with the person’s ideas, but treat the person with respect.