Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My Philosophy on Apologetics (Part IV) - Death by a Thousand Concessions*

In Part 1 I showed how we should use a "practical epistemology" when assessing evidence for a religion. Meaning we shouldn't hold it to a higher standard than standards we use when assessing risky decisions in our lives. Furthermore, in parts II and III, I demonstrate that using a practical epistemology, one is forced to use a double standard to avoid both the resurrection and a personal cause of DNA.

But I’ve been much too generous in my assessment. In fact, as far as scholarship in each relevant field is concerned, they not only apply a double standard, but concede so much that it would be difficult, in principle, to offer more evidence for Christianity than what they already concede.

As far as the evidence for the resurrection of Christ, I didn’t mention this before, but over 95% of New Testament historians agree that Jesus was crucified and didn’t survive the process. Furthermore, over 99% of them agree that the followers of Jesus “had experiences which they believed to be appearances of the risen Jesus.” These statistics apply to most atheist and agnostic New Testament historians, and represent over 2,000 sources on the historical Jesus in French, German and English. (New Testament scholar Dr. Gary Habermas documented this, in a five year process surveying all of the sources.)

Though it is less evident in popular circles, the scholarship in each relevant field realizes the need to avoid the double standard. So in historical Jesus circles in particular, they do believe that it is “historically certain” that Jesus was crucified and died. They also realize the disciples proclaimed the resurrection and claimed appearances. Furthermore, they concede that it is ludicrous to postulate a conspiracy on their part, and consider it absurd to regard them as deliberate liars. This forces them to essentially admit that there is both honest and eyewitness testimony to Jesus after his death. Furthermore this eyewitness testimony is coming from entire groups of people who saw Jesus, not just an individual. As if this wasn’t enough, the eyewitness testimony is coming from groups who have spent every part of three years with the man, so the chances of them making a mistake is practically zero. The concession made by the non-Christian historical scholarship is literally breathtaking at this point. The point they are making is very similar to what Christians want to prove to their friends, namely that their is eyewitness testimony to Jesus after his death. Because if we think about it, what other evidence could we possibly even try to give for any event at all, other than honest eyewitness testimony by a very qualified group? More evidence cannot be offered for any event, even in principle, once honest and qualified testimony has been conceded.

Granted, many of the scholars like to postulate group "visions" to explain the resurrection appearances. However, the disciples claimed that Christ was buried and raised, so it was a physical resurrection. Furthermore, some of the accounts describe the resurrection Jesus eating food and even saying he is not a ghost. But all throughout early Christianity, the disciples seem well aware when they are having visions, versus when it is physical. But it seems the scholars are saying that this is the only vision where they did not think it was visionary, which is quite an odd thing to say. For how am I supposed to know that my friend who eats and drinks with me is not a vision either?

This extremely concessionary behavior can be seen in the field of biology as well, though the emotional intensity of the debate seems to be heightened. Notice, as far as the genetic code is concerned, there is no debate, even among the most passionate atheists, as to whether or not DNA should be called information, or if its processes should be referred to as “transcription” and “translation.” Nor does there seem to be any frustration with the comparison of genetic codons to words, as in done in the discipline of bioinformatics. Nor do atheist scientists constantly qualify these words, painstakingly being careful to say that its merely “analogous” to information or to translation, or transcription. On the contrary, the word “information” is regularly applied to the genetic code without qualification. The same is true with the words “code,” “transcription,” and “translation.” This is rather remarkable that there isn’t any fuss over terminology here, even among the most committed atheist scientists. Furthermore, they concede that DNA is extremely complex. Not only that, they readily concede that there is no widely accepted naturalistic theory for how this could come about. The situation is very similar to what we have with the resurrection. In order to prove that an agent was responsible for the creation, what more could we do other than get our opponents to call it "information" themselves, admit that it is so complex that even they can’t make it, and admit there is no widely accepted naturalistic alternatives? What greater evidence could we possibly even try to provide, even in principle, other than the genetic information itself being written in English, or something ridiculous like that?

*Leading philosophical atheist Antony Flew, in his article “Theology and Falsification,” once charged that those who believed in God nuanced him with so many qualifications that the idea of God was no longer meaningful. He said it died the “death by a thousand qualifications.” His article is very clever, and a helpful critique of the way some people talk about God. However, this present post merely builds on that clever phrase Flew applied to God, by saying opposition to Christianity dies the “Death by a Thousand Concessions.” Nevertheless, this present post is not at all meant to be a response to the Flew article.

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