Previously, I blogged about the historical criteria that historians use to evaluate documents. One of the criteria is “multiple independent sources”. If a story is reported in multiple indendent sources, then historians are more likely to evaluate it as historically accurate. But how about the four gospels? Are they independent sources? The answer might not be what you expect.
Here’s how the question was put to Dr. Craig:
The latest video, “Did Jesus Rise From the Dead,” is especially compelling, but I had a question about it. In the part one video, you cite as evidence, the Gospels plus Acts and First Corinthians and you refer to them as “independent” and “unconnected” sources. But this isn’t exactly true, is it? After all, two of these books were written by the same author, Luke, and so Luke and Acts are connected by authorship. Furthermore, isn’t it true that much information relayed in Matthew and Luke were taken from Mark? This two facts would make it untrue to call the Gospels “independent” and “unconnected” would they not?
Here’s the video he’s talking about:
Dr. Craig answers the question in his latest question of the week. I think this answer is important for those who aren’t aware of how the gospels are organized.
The objection is based on a simple misunderstanding. It assumes that the sources I’m referring to are the books of the New Testament. But that’s not what I’m talking about.
New Testament critics have identified a number of sources behind the New Testament, sources on which the New Testament authors drew. For example, Matthew and Luke drew not only upon Mark as a source but also upon a source which scholars designate “Q,” which appears to have been a source containing Jesus’ sayings or teachings. Thus, if you could show that a saying in Matthew or Luke appears in both Mark and Q, that would count as multiple, independent attestation.
What does this mean? It means that although there is overlap between Matthew and Luke, called “Q”, there are actually three independent sources there: Matthew’s source, called M. Luke’s source, called L. And the material common to Matthew and Luke, which therefore PRE-DATES Matthew and Luke, called Q.
Dr. Craig lists out several independent sources in his full reply:
the pre-Markan Passion story used by Mark
the rest of the gospel of Mark has a source
Matthew’s source (M)
Luke’s source (L)
John’s gospel which is very different from Mark, Luke and Matthew
the sermons in Acts have a source
the early creed found in Paul’s 1 Corinthians 15
So if you are trying to lay out something from the New Testament, and you can find it in two of these sources, and at least one of them is very early, you’re in pretty good shape.
You can watch more of Dr. Craig’s videos in his playlist, here. These are especially useful for people who want to get the overall scope of the battlefield before deciding where to focus in study. Everybody should know about all of these arguments regardless of where you choose to specialize.
So, this is just an advice post for doing apologetics.
Here are three situations I’ve run into while doing apologetics in the last month.
First situation. I was talking with a lady who is an atheist. I had a copy of “God’s Crime Scene” in my hand, and she asked me about it. I told her that it was a book written by the guy who solved the homicide case that I asked her to watch on Dateline. She remembered – it was the two-hour special on the woman who was killed with a garrotte. She pointed at the book and said “what’s in it?” I said, it has 8 pieces of evidence that fit better with a theistic worldview than with an atheistic one, and some of them scientific. Her reply to me was – literally – “which denomination do you want me to join?”
Second situation. I was talking with a friend of mine who teaches in a Catholic school. She was telling that she got the opportunity to talk to her students about God, and found out that some of them were not even theists, and many of them had questions. So she asked them for questions and got a list. The list included many hard cases, like “what about the Bible and slavery” and “why do Christians oppose gay marriage?” and so on.
Third situation. Talking to a grad student about God’s existence. I’m laying out my scientific arguments for her, holding up the peer-reviewed papers for each discovery. I get to the Doug Axe paper on protein folding probabilities, and she holds up her hand. One question: “Am I going to Hell?”
So think about those three situations. In each case, the opponent is trying to reject Christianity by jumping way, way ahead to the very end of the process. When you do Christian apologetics, you do not take the bait and jump to the end of the process dealing with nitty gritty details until you have made your case for the core of the Christian worldview using your strongest evidence. Let me explain.
So, your strongest evidence as a Christian are the scientific arguments, along with the moral argument. Those would include (for starters) the following:
kalam cosmological argument
galactic and stellar habitability
origin of life / DNA
molecular machines / irreducible complexity
the moral argument
The problem I am seeing today is that atheists are rejecting discussions about evidence because they think that all we are interested in is getting them to become Christians. Well, yes. I want you to become a Christian. But I know perfectly well what that entails – it entails a change of life priorities. Both of the women I spoke to are living with their boyfriends, and the kids in the Catholic school just want to have fun. None of them wants to believe in a God who will require self-denial, self-control, and self-sacrifice. Nobody wants God to be in that leader position in their lives. Christianity is 100% reversed from today’s me-first, fun-seeking, thrill-seeking, fear-of-missing-out travel spirit of the age.
So, how to answer all these late-game questions? The answer is simple. You don’t answer any late-game questions until the person you are talking with accounts for the widely-accepted data in your list. These are things that have got to be accepted before any discussion about minor issues like one angel vs two angels at the empty tomb can occur. When we discuss all the basic issues where the evidence is the strongest, then we can go on to discuss issues where the evidence is debatable, then finally, in the last bits before the end, we can discuss these other kinds of questions.
How to explain why this process must be followed to the person who asks specific questions about minor issues? Simple. You explain that your goal is not to get them to become a Christian right now. That you want to let them believe anything thing they want. That’s right. They can believe anything they want to believe. As long as what they believe is consistent with the evidence. And what I am going to do is give them the evidence, and then they can believe whatever they want – so long as it’s consistent with the evidence.
So, for example, I’m going to tell them 3 pieces of evidence for a cosmic beginning of the universe: the expanding universe (redshift), the cosmic microwave background radiation, and the light element abundances. That’s mainstream science that shows that the universe came into being out of nothing, a finite time in the past. And I will charge them not to believe in any religion that assumes that the universe has always been here. For example, Mormonism is ruled out, they believe in eternally existing matter. See how that works? Hey, Ms. Atheist. You can believe anything you want. As long as what you believe is consistent with the evidence.
I think this approach of not letting them rush you to the end at the beginning is important for two reasons. First, we can get our foot in the door to talk about things that are interesting to everyone, in a non-stressed environment. Everyone can talk about evidence comfortably. Second, we show that we hold our beliefs because we are simply letting evidence set boundaries for us on what we are allowed to believe. We can’t believe not-Christianity, because not-Christianity is not consistent with the evidence. And you start with the most well-supported evidence, and eliminate worldviews that are falsified by the most well-supported evidence. Atheism actually gets falsified pretty quickly, because of the scientific evidence.
So, that’s my advice. Had a friend of mine named William try this out about a week ago. It went down like this:
William to me:
This guy I know messaged me and bragged for a while about how easy he can dismantle Christianity. He said: “present the gospel to me as you understand it. I’ll simply ask questions to demonstrate it is not worth your belief.”
WK to William:
First of all, he isn’t allowed to just sit there and poke holes in your case, he has to present a positive case for atheism. Second, don’t discuss Christianity with him at all until you first discuss the evidence for theism – start with the good scientific evidence.
And William wrote this to his friend:
The way I’m wired is that I process all competing theories and go with the best one. By doing a comparative analysis of worldviews I find that Christian theology easily explains the most about the world I find myself living in.
I’m pretty sure that a God of some sort exists because of the scientific evidence for the origin of the universe and the fine tuning in physics. From there I find it quite intuitive that if a God went through the trouble of creating and tuning a universe for life that this God likely has some sort of interest in it and has revealed Himself to humanity in some way.
From there I can look at the major world religions and compare them to see which one explains the past and the present the best. Christianity easily comes out on top.
And then a few days later, I got this from William:
I finally got the agnostic to tell me what he thinks about origin and fine tuning. When I started pointing out that his views were unscientific, he blew a gasket, called me dishonest and told me he didn’t want to discuss anything further.
And that’s where you want to be. Cut off all discussions where the challenger tries to jump to the end and get you to debate the very last steps of your case. Present the strongest evidence for your core claims, and get him to account for this evidence within his own worldview. Lead the discussion with public, testable evidence. All warfare depends on picking the terrain, weapons and tactics that allow you to match your strength against your opponent’s weakness.
OK. So I think it’s safe to say that of all the Christian apologists out there, David Robertson is my least favorite debater. Why? Many reasons, but mostly because he does not bring in evidence, especially scientific evidence. And he seems to make these clever quips like G. K. Chesterton. I like evidence. I would rather that he talk about scientific and historical evidence.
Dina asked me to listen to this debate a while back, between David Robertson and agnostic Matt Dillahunty (he’s not an atheist, he’s just an agnostic). I went in absolutely convinced that Robertson was going to have his ass handed to him by Matt Dillahunty. And I could not have been more wrong.
Here’s the debate posted on YouTube (audio only):
This snarky summary is just a paraphrase from certain parts of the debate, it is not designed for accuracy, but for fun – to make you listen to the debate. Listen to the debate to get the exact words in context.
Matt Dillahunty: he’s an agnostic who calls himself an atheist
David Robertson: he’s from Scotland, could we not get someone better?
Robertson opening statement is incredibly weak, as you might expect, he only had two arguments embedded in a long list of nonsense: 1) origin and design of the universe 2) reality of evil requires objective morality
Robertson: The fact is that matter exists. There are 3 views that could account for this fact: 1) created, 2) eternal, 3) self-generated out of nothing. Option 3) is self-contradictory, 1) requires a Creator, and 2) is falsified by the Big Bang cosmology. So what’s your view?
Dillahunty: You’re trying to get me to say what my view is, but I can just say “I don’t know” and get out of having to take any position on how matter got here. I can say “I don’t know” to all the scientific evidence for the Big Bang cosmology, too!
2) Evil requires objective morality, requires a moral lawgiver:
Robertson: evil exists, e.g. – the Holocaust. If atheism is true, objective morality is impossible. Richard Dawkins agrees. Therefore, theism is the best explanation for the existence of evil.
Dillahunty: In my opinion, morality means doing what helps people have well-being. And I think that the Holocaust is obviously bad, because it hurts the well-being of the victims.
Robertson: The problem is that on your view, different people decide what well-being is to them. If you were raised in the Social Darwinism of the Nazi regime, you would believe that the Holocaust was the best for the well-being of the society as a whole.
Dillahunty: Isn’t it obvious that killing people is bad for their well-being?
Robertson: Is it bad for the well-being of unborn children to kill them?
Robertson: So you’re against abortion, then?
Robertson: So you think that killing the child in the womb is against the well-being of the child, but you’re for that?
Dillahunty: I don’t know! I don’t know!
Then Dillahunty tried to claim Hitler was a Christian:
Dillahunty: here is a quote by Hitler saying that secular schools are bad, and religious schools are good – see, he’s a Christian!
Robertson: when was that said and to whom?
Dillahunty: I don’t know, I don’t know!
Robertson: It was said in 1933, during an election campaign, to Catholic authorities – he was a politician, looking for votes from Catholics so he could become Chancellor.
Good and evil on atheism:
Dillahunty: good actions results in states with more well-being, and evil actions result in states with less well-being.
Brierley: but when the Nazis slaughtered all those people, they believed they were increasing well-being
Dillahunty: But you could demonstrate to them that their action is not going to increase well-being. Survival of the fittest is descriptive of what happens, but it’s not prescriptive.
Robertson: Whose well-being will human beings think about most, if not their own? Do you really think that you can stop people like Charles Manson from being evil by sitting down and trying to prove to them that they are not helping their victim’s well-being?
(A BIT LATER)
Robertson (to Dillahunty): Is it a fact that Dachau (a concentration camp) was morally wrong?
Dillahunty: (literally, not a paraphrase) I DON’T KNOW
When I listened to this debate, the overwhelming conviction that emerges is that Matt Dillahunty is not someone who forms his worldview based on evidence. His rejection of the Big Bang cosmology with “I don’t know” is just atrocious. His comments about slavery in the Bible and Hitler being a Christian show that his investigations of these issues is far below the level of a responsible adult. His dallying with the Jesus-never-existed view just shows him to be fundamentally anti-intellectual, as even atheist historian Bart Ehrman denies that view. His definition of faith has nothing to do with the Bible, or Christian authorities, or Christian scholars – he invented a definition of faith that allows him to mock Christians as morons. That’s just irresponsible – letting the desire to mock others cause you to distort the definition of a word. When asked to state his positions or respond to specific evidence, his response is very often “I don’t know”. It seems to me that atheism, to him, means not pursuing truth with the aim of grasping it. He wants to keep reality at a safe distance – that’s why he says “I don’t know” so often.
On morality, it’s even worse. It’s not surprising to me that he is pro-abortion and has no opinion about concentration camps being objectively evil. Most atheists are pro-abortion, by the way. When it comes to morality, Dillahunty only has his own personal opinions, and they refer to nothing outside his own mind. (His opinion of morality as related to well-being is utilitarianism – a very problematic view – but moreover, it is his subjective view – he isn’t offering it as any sort of objective moral system that would be prescriptive instead of descriptive. Without an after-life, there is no reason for anyone to care about the moral point of view when it goes against their self-interest, anyway. Atheists use moral language, but their statements are not referring to any objective, prescriptive moral reality. Atheism is materialistic and therefore deterministic – it does not even ground the free will that is needed to make moral choices. Their view is Darwinian survival of the fittest, that’s what emerges from their origins story – and it does not rationally ground morality. The strong kill the weak, if they can. I’ve written before about how difficult it is for atheists to rationally condemn things like slavery, and nothing in Dillahunty’s presentation led me to believe that he had solved that problem.
Anybody can be an intellectually-satisfied atheist with an empty head – it’s knowledgethat causes people to conform their beliefs to reality. If one strives to keep one’s head as empty as possible, then of course one can believe anything one wants. I’m glad, speaking as a Christian theist, that I get to follow the evidence wherever it leads. It seems to me that we should do that, rather than decide how we want to live first, and then invent a worldview to justify our desires.