Co-Authoring a Critical Review of Geisler and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist” with Jeff Lowder

I have a publication announcement about some of the recent work that I have been doing with Jeff Lowder, president emeritus of the Secular Web.

Geisler and TurekLowder is doing a lengthy, chapter-by-chapter critical review of Christian apologists Norman Geisler and Frank Turek’s I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Lowder has done similar critical reviews before of other popular apologetics books that attack atheists. For example, Lowder edited a comprehensive refutation of Josh McDowell’s atrocious and tragically bestselling apologetics book ETDAV, titled The Jury Is In: The Ruling on McDowell’s “Evidence”, which is a great resource for countering stock apologetic slogans and assertions. Lowder has also done a critical review of apologist Ravi Zacharias’ Can Man Live Without God, which is another polemical apologetics book attacking and ridiculing atheists, titled “An Emotional Tirade Against Atheists.” In addition to this, Lowder also edited The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, which is required reading for doing counter-apologetics on the resurrection. Lowder is one of the most knowledgeable and thorough counter-apologists that I have ever read. I consider Lowder, along with John Loftus, to be one of the top counter-apologists whom William Lane Craig should debate, and yet has been avoiding.

The index to Lowder’s review can be found here. Below is a summary of what I have contributed to his review of chapter 9:

Not surprisingly, Geisler and Turek both grotesquely exaggerate the evidence for Christian theism, while repeatedly making straw man attacks against atheists. The fact is that, for many apologists, it is easier to try to shift the burden of proof onto atheists, rather than to defend their own religion. Their strategy is to make atheism sound as ridiculous and implausible as they can, so that Christianity looks less ridiculous by comparison. In effect, they defend Christian theism by creating false dilemmas for the implications of denying their religion.

This strategy was heavily championed by “former atheist” C.S. Lewis, who was a master at creating false dilemmas (Lowder also discusses Lewis in his article “Let’s Attack a Straw Man, C.S. Lewis Style!”). Lewis would offer pre-packaged false alternatives that would always make atheism seem less plausible than Christian theism, whether it be “Jesus must have been a liar, a lunatic, or Lord!” or “If naturalism is true, then morality is nothing but a matter of opinion!” or “Either God designed my mind for thinking, or my reasoning is as random as milk splashing out a map of London!.” For a detailed critical review of Lewis’ arguments, I recommend professional philosopher John Beversluis’ C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion

The fact that Christian apologists have to resort to this strategy actually reflects a weakness in their own worldview. The fact is that, if you view Christianity as an outsider, it seems like a rather bizarre and antiquated religion, especially if you have broader knowledge about the scale of our cosmos and the facts of human evolution and history. Orthodox Christian theism teaches that the lord of the universe, God himself, came to Earth for a tiny sliver of cosmic time, poked around a tiny region in the Eastern Mediterranean for no more than a few decades, only to leave behind primarily anonymous literature about his deeds, written almost entirely by his small community of believers (in a different language than he even spoke). That sounds pretty ephemeral and culturally-specific.

Moreover, we know in modern scholarship that the first Christians had a very incorrect understanding of their cosmology and universe. Take, for example, the apostle Paul’s understanding of his cosmos as reflected in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17:

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”

As NT scholar Bart Ehrman (God’s Problem, pp. 243-244) explains about Paul’s understanding of the universe in these verses:

“The entire passage presupposes an ancient cosmology in which the universe we live in consists of three levels (sometimes called the three-storied universe). There is the level where we human beings now live, on the flat earth. There is the realm below us where the dead exist (e.g., in Sheol). And there is the realm above us, where God — and now Christ — lives. In this understanding, Christ was once with us on our level, then he died and went to the lower level. But he was raised from the dead, to our level, and then ascended to the level above us … to meet the Lord above, in the air. That’s how Paul thought — completely like an ancient person who didn’t realize that this world is round … In our cosmology, there is no such thing as up and down, literally speaking.”

creation1

That makes Paul’s ideas sound pretty antiquated…

Nevertheless, given what we know today about cosmology, many Christians water down their interpretation of scripture, by conceding that the Bible is not an accurate guide to cosmology and that they can still believe in evolution, etc. Fine. But that still doesn’t make Christian theism sound less bizarre [1].

If you believe in orthodox Christian doctrine about the nature of Jesus’ divinity and involvement on Earth, it sounds even more bizarre when you factor in evolutionary biology (for the record, Geisler and Turek do not accept the theory of evolution, but instead describe it as “from goo to you via the zoo”; Lowder refutes this part of the book in his rebuttal to chapter 6). We humans are a subspecies of ape called homo sapiens that have lived on this tiny planet in a remote portion of our galaxy for a brief second of the cosmic calendar. To believe that Jesus was God means that the creator of the universe made a vast cosmos comprising of billions of years and billions of planets, only to take the form of an ape and to come to one planet for a fraction of cosmic time to reveal himself to these homo sapiens. What about our Neanderthal cousins? Why didn’t God visit other continents and regions beyond a tiny sub-pocket of the Mediterranean (unless you also believe in Mormonism)? Has God personally visited any other planets? If there is extraterrestrial intelligence beyond homo sapiens, did God have to visit these species too as their savior? Do they have souls? Sin? Can they go to Heaven or Hell?

alien Jesus

Now, consider the alternative hypothesis. Rather than the creator of the universe taking the form of an ape (specifically a male) for a sliver of cosmic time, perhaps this species of apes living on the third planet of their Sun has a proclivity towards agent over-detection. Historically, they have been shown to project agency and personality onto multiple aspects of their environment, creating many fictional gods in their image and intentionalities reflecting their emotions. One tiny group of these apes came to worship a specific monotheistic God in the 2nd-1st millennium BCE (after roughly 197,ooo previous years of this ape’s anatomical history), who was simply a more enlightened and powerful projection of themselves (imago Dei). An even smaller sect within this group likewise conflated an executed ape, who was a prophet in their movement, with this divine figure after his death. This homo sapiens was also not the only member of his species to be deified in this way. Of course, the implications of this alternative hypothesis is that such religions are probably human-created, driven by limited human knowledge and concerns, and thus have failed to understand or predict the actual size and nature of our cosmos, when they were first conceived of in more primitive parts of human history. One such religion was Christianity.

However, Geisler and Turek want to argue that it ‘takes more faith’ to doubt their religion and to be an atheist. To do so, they have to make it seem like their religion is backed up by a ton of evidence. No matter how bizarre and culturally-specific Christianity may seem, if there is a mountain of evidence for it, then it must be true, right?

(I suppose, in principle, I would even believe that leprechauns ride on unicorns, if someone gave me empirically verifiable evidence of such phenomena, but let’s see what evidence Geisler and Turek have.)

To create this illusion of a mountain of evidence, they have to blow up big and meaningless statistics to dazzle people with. I have blogged about Norman Geisler, in particular, doing this before: “There are thousands of Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, compared to only a handful of Classical manuscripts! We have so much more evidence for Jesus! Take that atheist!.” Of course, Geisler failed to specify that most of this imbalance in Greek manuscripts comes from a sample bias of Christian textual transmission during the Middle Ages, and likewise that having more manuscript copies says nothing about the historical accuracy of a text.

In inflating big and meaningless statistics, Geisler and Turek (pg. 222) employ the 10/42 apologetic (they actually make it 10/43 by adding the Talmud, despite the fact that it postdates the 150 year window). They use this statistic to argue that we have more historical evidence for Jesus (and his resurrection) than the contemporary Roman emperor Tiberius! Now, maybe if we really have 4x the amount of evidence for Jesus than a Roman emperor, maybe God really did then intervene in history, right? Maybe there is (allegedly) so much evidence for Jesus that, no matter how bizarre and antiquated the Christian religion may seem, it must really be true! Just look at all of that evidence!

Well, unfortunately for Geisler and Turek, in attempting to exaggerate the evidence for their religion, and in pretending to know something about ancient history, they completely and utterly got their data wrong! Lowder contacted me after reading my article “Ten Reasons to Reject the Apologetic 10/42 Source Slogan,” where I expose all of the inaccuracies and fallacies of this argument. As someone who studies the 1st century CE Roman Empire for more reasons than just creating after-the-fact rationalizations for a specific religion, I have helped Lowder fact-check their claims.

In contributing to Lowder’s critical review, I have actually revised and expanded my article. I was able to find a number of additional sources for Tiberius:

  • Apollonides of Nicaea: A contemporary grammarian who dedicated one of his works to Tiberius.
  • Aufidius Bassus: A contemporary historian who writes about Tiberius.
  • Scribonius Largus: A member of the emperor Claudius’ court who wrote about Tiberius in his Compositions (97.1).
  • Deculo: An obscure writer whom Pliny the Elder records wrote about Tiberius.
  • Agrippina the Younger: Tiberius’ great-niece whom Tacitus records wrote about Tiberius in her memoirs.

I am certain that there are more literary sources for Tiberius that I have yet to pin down, but even the ones I have discovered so far completely disprove the 10/43 statistic.

Occasionally, people have wondered why I put so much work into digging up these sources in fact-checking this claim. Here is what Tim Widowfield wrote about me on Vridar:

“Consider poor Matthew Ferguson. He has spent an enormous amount of time debunking this claim. It’s a thorough job. He nailed it. Squashed it flat. But here’s the problem: It doesn’t do any good. It won’t change anyone’s mind. The people who come up with these ‘facts’ don’t care about whether they’re true or not.”

The funny thing, however, is that I don’t mind doing this work at all! Unlike apologists, I actually study the 1st century CE for its own sake. I enjoy digging up obscure references and sources like this. The reign of the emperor Tiberius is one of my areas of academic research, and I love studying it!

That is why I was especially glad to help Lowder debunk this misinformation. The fact is that Geisler and Turek are merely trying to use ancient history as a shallow rhetorical device for attacking atheists who don’t convert to their religion. I consider it to be academically detestable. So, I helped Lowder write his review, and these shysters have now been exposed. Below you can read my contributions:

Geisler & Turek Rebuttal: Chapter 9 (Part 1)

Geisler & Turek Rebuttal: Chapter 9 (Part 2)

Enjoy!

-Matthew Ferguson

[1] I should note that I do hold more pantheistic Christians, like James McGrath (and, even to my own begrudgement, David Bentley Hart), in a higher esteem for being more open to other forms of religious discourse, and thus avoiding some of the theological gaps common to more doctrinal (and very often Protestant) versions of Christianity. Though, I should also note that I still ultimately disagree with them. Minimally, I think the arguments above can apply to anyone who dogmatically ascribes to the doctrines of the historical Jesus’ divinity and his resurrection. This article likewise points out how awkwardly these views mesh with what we know about modern cosmology and evolutionary biology. Likewise, not all Christians are apologists like Geisler and Turek, but they do represent a very sizable, a very vocal, and very well-funded subgroup of the global Christian community.

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16 Responses to Co-Authoring a Critical Review of Geisler and Turek’s “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist” with Jeff Lowder

  1. Paul D. says:

    For fun, look up Geissler’s deposition in “McLean v. Arkansas”, in which he testifies that he beliefs in UFOs and that they are part of a demonic plot by Satan. This is clearly a skeptical thinker who demands evidence! 😉

  2. ratamacue0 says:

    Cool.

    See also:

    An Atheist Reads I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0-LSnSBNIncKfFDrz7TrKmtAAUjC7rkZ

    An Atheist Reads Mere Christianity: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL29857556DB7AB87D

    • Thanks! This book, much like The Case for Christ, is the kind that you can write multiple refutations of, and there is still more to say, mostly because there really are just that many wrong things to correct.

  3. David Austin says:

    Hi Matthew,
    I really enjoy your posts, and I am hoping you will eventually write a book as you have been suggesting.

    I am an atheist to religion, but put myself as a bit of an agnostic when it comes to the question of the “Historicity of Jesus”. I would say I put the likelihood as 90% (existing) v 10% (not existing).

    You seem to be pretty certain that Jesus was a historical figure, and I was just wondering if you could outline your reasons for this view (maybe in a separate post). As a classical historian, I think your reasons would be very pertinent.

    Thanks in advance for your views.

    • Hi David,

      I have written a previous article that lays out some of the evidence and methodology which leads me to think that Jesus was a historical person. I have much more to say, and also plan to write more (when I get the chance with my graduate studies), but this blog provides a primer to my main approach to this issue:

      https://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/when-do-contemporary-sources-matter/

      I actually would estimate the probability of Jesus existing pretty close to what you have. Ranging from a low to high estimate, I would say that I am roughly 80-95% certain that Jesus existed. I also wouldn’t call that an “agnostic” position. It is perhaps more agnostic than full certainty, but it still is in the range of pretty strong probability.

      Funny enough, one of the main reasons that I am inclined to believe that Jesus existed is because of a criterion that apologists repeatedly assert that skeptics ignore: early attestation. Most of the material that we have for Jesus’ life is legendary and problematic for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, it is widely agreed upon by scholars that the apostle Paul was a historical person, who knew people attached to the historical Jesus (e.g. Peter and James), and who wrote a handful of letters within a couple decades of Jesus’ life. Paul doesn’t say much about Jesus (I discuss what he does say here), but the consensus in the academic community is that there are a few passages in Paul’s epistles that provide historical information about Jesus. Since Paul is writing fairly early, and since he could have known some of the details of Jesus’ life on the basis of good authority, namely because he knew people who knew Jesus, I am inclined to believe then that Paul is referring to a historical person.

      I am aware that mythicists have offered alternative readings for these passages in Paul, but as far as I know they have not received widespread acceptance among most scholars. This is a major point of disagreement for me, because, in my opinion, no strong case for mythicism can rely on dubious or disputed premises like this, especially when the majority view among scholars goes against the mythicist interpretation of the evidence. I won’t, for example, buy into the interpretation that Paul means something else when he calls James “the brother of the Lord,” unless I have a reason independent of mythicism to buy this interpretation. Likewise, this interpretation would need to be accepted by a larger number of scholars, rather than only by those who favor mythicism. Otherwise, it just comes off as special pleading and the selective interpretation of evidence to support a specific theory.

      I would only accept the view that Jesus was not a historical person, if I could be adequately convinced that I would doubt the historicity of any other ancient figure with the same state of the evidence. If any other ancient figure had letters written 20-30 years after his/her life which appear to make references to him/her, then that is evidence that I would normally accept for that person’s historicity.

      Now, I am aware that Richard Carrier believes that we should demand more evidence for Jesus than ordinary historical figures, because of the Rank-Raglan reference class. In effect, Carrier argues that the prior probability of Jesus’ existence is much lower than simply an ordinary person who had a letter written about them 20-30 years after their death, because Jesus fits a mythical archetype more common of non-historical figures. But assigning Jesus to the Rank-Raglan reference class is a heavily disputed premise among scholars to begin with, which, as discussed above, is a major reason why I cannot not assume it as a given premise.

      Funny enough, when I first became atheist around age 13, I was originally inclined to doubt Jesus’ historical existence. The reason why is because the stories that I had been told about Jesus were so obviously false and absurd that I assumed that such a person must have been entirely legend. When I got into college and started talking about this issue with experts around age 18, however, I was argued out of this position on the grounds that, despite a massive amount of unreliable and legendary stories, there are a few early references to Jesus that can make a minimal case for his historicity. So, I did something that apologists assert we skeptics never do. I believed a story that I was inclined to disbelieve, because there was a historical criterion that I believed could make a good case for a kernel of historical truth.

      Interesting enough, if Carrier is correct about the Rank-Raglan class, my teenage impression about Jesus would actually have been correct! It would have been correct for me to doubt this figure’s historicity, precisely because there are so many absurd and ludicrous stories about him, which make a collective case from contamination to doubt any historical core behind his biography. I am still not persuaded by this view, but I do think that it is interesting how my knee-jerk, initial reaction, without a bunch of NT scholarship to argue me out of it, may have actually been correct. If Carrier is correct in his arguments for mythicism, then the smell test alone would be a sufficient reason for doubting Jesus’ historical existence. Again, I have not been persuaded to this view, but it would be a very interesting reflection on the role that common sense, in the face of extremely low priors, plays in assessing historical evidence.

      But I am not persuaded right now that the prior probability of a minimal historical Jesus is actually that low, primarily because there are other, more historical reference classes that Jesus could be assigned to. Namely, I think that Jesus can also be assigned to the reference class of the handful of other Jewish messianic pretenders that we know of from the 1st century CE, whom scholars agree were historical. If Jesus belongs to this reference class, then I do not think that the prior probability of his existence is that low, and a couple letters referencing him 20-30 years after his death would probably be enough to say that he was historical.

      • David Austin says:

        Hi Matthew,

        Many many thanks for responding to my comments in such a detailed way. It is very much appreciated. I will read your article about historical evidence. I also look forward to reading you book when it is published.

        I think that, since even you put the historicity of Jesus to max. 95%, it should give Christians reason to pause that they cannot be 100% certain that Jesus actually existed even though the probability is high.

        When you look at other major religions, there is very good evidence that their founders actually existed (Mohammed, Buddha etc), and in modern times we have Joseph Smith (Mormonism) & L. Ron Hubbard (Scientology) whose existence is not in doubt.

        If one cannot establish Jesus’ existence with 100% certainty, it is not a good basis to believe that this person was born of a virgin, performed miracles and resurrected from death after 3 days.

        Just some food for thought.
        Regards
        David Austin

        • Hey David,

          I do not academically specialize in the time and region in which Buddha or Muhammed lived, so I cannot say as much about their historical situation. But, as a general rule, the further you go back in time, the more speculative things become. I can be 99%+ certain that Joseph Smith and L. Ron Hubbard existed, but for Buddha and Muhammed it is probably going to also be in the ~90% range (possibly less for Buddha). Probabilities drop from 99% to 90% and so on, when you are further distanced from an event and the evidence becomes more speculative.

          I should also note that I probably would not have assigned a low range of 80% (though I am probably more at 90%) for Jesus before reading Carrier’ OHJ. I don’t agree with Carrier’s view and, as noted above, I think that it probably requires special pleading on a number of important points. But what Carrier has demonstrated for me is that the hypothesis of myth is more plausible than is sometimes claimed. I do not think that it is probable, but even plausible alternatives will drop the probability of your favored hypothesis. I think that, for Carrier’s view to be correct, the scales would have to fall on a number of critical issues in a direction that conveniently fits mythicism. I do not think that the scales likely do fall in this direction, but it is certainly plausible that they could. Since that is the case, I have to lower slightly the probability of historicity.

          I agree that, if it is only 90% certain or so that Jesus existed, it would be very difficult to prove that he performed miracles which have less than a 0.001% liklihood of occuring (I explain how the prior probability of the resurrection is actually much lower than this in my article “History, Probability, and Miracles”). But I have likewise argued that paranormal claims (not just miracles, since there can be natural paranormal claims like alien abductions, etc.) should be off the table anyways when analyzing ancient texts, mostly becasue affirming such claims requires far too many controversial ad hoc assumptions:

          https://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/history-and-the-paranormal/

          I am hoping to say much more in my planned counter-apologetics book, so this is just a snippet of my current thoughts. Thanks for reading!

      • Patrick says:

        The idea that most of the material that we have for Jesus’s life is legendary seems to me to beg the question against the veracity of the Gospels. I guess that the main reason for this view is the fact that a large amount of the content of the Gospels consists of miracle accounts, and as atheists don’t believe that there are genuine miracles they dismiss all these accounts as incredible. As for the historicity of Jesus the idea seems to be that one would just has to strip away all the miraculous elements from the Gospels and what is left is the real Jesus of Nazareth. However, there seems to me to be a problem with this view, as in the Gospels the miraculous elements take such an important place that I think there would not be much left if everything that is directly or indirectly connected to them would be removed. It’s not just that all the miracle accounts would have to be dropped but also all those sayings of Jesus that in one way or another presuppose His having worked miracles or having cast out demons. Moreover, if Jesus regarded Himself as the Messiah, and the Son of God or at least as a figure of utmost importance in God’s plan with humankind it is to me hardly imaginable that He would not have done deeds that would be at least equal to those that important figures in the Bible were thought to have done and that He would not have aspired to back up His claims by such deeds. One could even ask why anyone would have listened to Him if He hadn’t done so. If one argues that Jesus didn’t make the extraordinary claims about Himself that we read about in the Gospels one may ask why He was crucified at all. To sum up if all miraculous elements in the Gospels are removed the resulting Jesus would have hardly any resemblance with the Jesus we read about in the Gospels.

        As for Paul’s references to Jesus in his letters collected in the New Testament the Jesus depicted by Paul is “the Son of God” and “the Christ” (=”the Messiah”). Moreover Paul mentions Jesus’s divinity, His preexistence, His being without sin and His resurrection. So these views about Jesus don’t belong to a late stage of the supposed development of them but are already present in the earliest documents about Jesus, written 20 to 30 years after His death. Now it could be argued that these views weren’t common among the early Christians, that they were invented by Paul or someone else and that Jesus’s disciples and the first Christians didn’t share them. However, if Paul had had views about Jesus that would have been so much different from those that people like the apostle Peter or James the brother of Jesus had this certainly would have resulted in theological controversies that would have left traces in the writings of the New Testament. Now, one cannot say that in the New Testament theological controversies among the early Christians are concealed, as we can read about such controversies in it. It is not just that we don’t read anything about controversies concerning Jesus, but from Galatians 2,9 one can even see that Paul was on friendly terms with the leaders of the church in Jerusalem.

        One can even argue that Paul was of the opinion that Jesus had worked miracles, even though he never said so. Paul claimed to have worked miracles (Romans 15,18-19, 2 Corinthians 12,12) and he pointed to miracles happening in Christian churches (1 Corinthians 12,9-10, Galatians 3,5). Now the idea that Paul regarded himself and some fellow Christians as being capable of working miracles but not Jesus seems to me to quite implausible.

        In Luke 1,1-4 the author of Luke’s Gospel makes the claim that it is based on eyewitness acounts. Moreover he stayed for a while in Jerusalem (Acts 21,15-18) and there met James the brother of Jesus (Acts 21,18) and certainly other witnesses of Jesus’s deeds as well, and it may have been during this stay that he collected the material for his account of Jesus’s words and deeds. So in my view with respect to this Gospel a good case can be made for the view that it is historically reliable.

        • Dear Patrick,

          I see that you have already posted a number of comments on the Secular Outpost articles that this blog links to (and likewise have already been answered there by multiple other commentators). I should also be frank that I am not really interested in getting involved in a protracted dialogue right now (I had to deal with another comment like this recently, which likewise required a large amount of corrections, and thus time, on my part).

          Nevertheless, your comment illustrates well the type of false dilemmas that lie behind a lot of apologetic reasoning, so I suppose that I can lay aside some time to explain many (not even all) of the problems with your comment above.

          You start with the common apologetic trope that “atheists” (hitherto re-categorized more appropriately as “non-apologists”) doubt the Gospels solely due to an alleged bias against miracles:

          “The idea that most of the material that we have for Jesus’s life is legendary seems to me to beg the question against the veracity of the Gospels. I guess that the main reason for this view is the fact that a large amount of the content of the Gospels consists of miracle accounts, and as atheists don’t believe that there are genuine miracles they dismiss all these accounts as incredible.”

          You have already made a number of methodological errors here. First off, the canonical Gospels are not the only ancient documents relevant to the legendary development around Jesus. From sources outside of the NT alone we get claims such as that Jesus was a gnostic who had come to replace the Hebrew god, in addition to the idea that he never came to Earth in the flesh at all but was merely a phantom who “appeared” to be in the flesh (docetism), or that he was merely a magician and a trickster who was actually the bastard son of a Roman soldier named Pantera, or that Jesus taught sayings that are also shared in the Apocalypse of Baruch, etc., in addition to a number of other (often contradictory) legendary traditions.

          Even from sources outside the NT it can be demonstrated, therefore, that there was a large amount of legendary development and contradictory claims in antiquity surrounding the figure of Jesus. The question is whether we should *privilege* the canonical Gospels and the other books of the New Testament in trusting their reports about Jesus’ life. I have already written a lengthy article explaining how there could have easily been legendary development between the time when Jesus was executed and when the canonical Gospels were written several decades later:

          https://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/when-do-contemporary-sources-matter/

          However, I have also noted that there is *limited* evidence that can be gained from Paul and the canonical Gospels (much less information than your comment implies). You seem to think that non-apologists trust everything else in the Gospel narratives but simply remove all the miracles:

          “As for the historicity of Jesus the idea seems to be that one would just has to strip away all the miraculous elements from the Gospels and what is left is the real Jesus of Nazareth.”

          This already misunderstands the non-apologetic position. For one, there are a lot of mundane details in the Gospel narratives that are already problematic, such as the contradictory and obviously invented accounts of Jesus’ birth, the blatant redactions and discrepancies in the Gospels’ four different passion narratives, the presence of what would appear to be allegorical characters, etc.

          In addition to these problems, however, I have also written at length about how the genre of the Gospels does not match that of historical prose, and how the Gospels thus cite none of their sources nor explain their methodology. I have also written about how the traditional authorial attributions of the Gospels are spurious, and how they were thus very likely written by non-eyewitnesses. I have also compared the Gospels to other ancient texts from the same period through a variety of historical-critical criteria and identified a number of problems with their historical reliability.

          All of these issues are relevant to legendary development, but you seem to further get things wrong in your understanding of which direction the legendary development would have gone:

          “However, there seems to me to be a problem with this view, as in the Gospels the miraculous elements take such an important place that I think there would not be much left if everything that is directly or indirectly connected to them would be removed.”

          Scholars have found a far more complicated situation to be the case. It is true that some of the earliest pre-Gospel materials that scholars have identified through source criticism were summary outlines of Jesus’ miracles. However, what we can tell from these outlines is that many of these miracle stories were actually based on the Midrash of OT passages (a literary and theological, rather than historical, motivation). For example, there are two sets of miracle collections used in Mark’s gospel, both of which are designed to model Jesus after Moses. To summarize the double miracle cycle between Mk. 4-8:

          “Gospel stories about Jesus’ miracles are a type of midrash (i.e., contemporizing and reinterpreting) of Old Testament events in order to illustrate theological themes. Among the many miracles in Mark’s original narrative, there are two sets of five miracles each. Each set begins with a sea-crossing miracle and ends with a miraculous feeding. He uses this literary construct so his readers will recall the role of Moses leading his people through water towards the promised land, and feeding them with manna from heaven. Jesus does something similar. And with each water and feeding miracle, there is one exorcism and two healing miracles that are to remind readers of the works of the prophets Elijah and Elisha and how Jesus surpasses them. The parallels between events in Jesus’ life to those in the lives of Moses, Elijah and Elisha and others are too close for a coincidence. This points more to constructing religious myths in the gospel for theological reasons, than to reporting historical facts.”

          Scholars William Telford and Richard Horsley discuss these pericopes further here and here.

          This actually means that Mark’s narrative is being built around earlier outlines of Jesus’ miracles (meaning that even the mundane narrative details may have been invented to narrativize the miracles). But we can tell further that these miracles were themselves based on parallels with the OT, such as the alleged miracles of Moses. That speaks strongly *in favor* of the hypothesis of legendary development, since we can tell that stories about Jesus were being made up to parallel him with OT figures. It should also be noted that these are pre-Gospel traditions, meaning that we can detect legendary development surrounding Jesus before the Gospels were even written.

          You pose another false dilemma regarding the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ death:

          “If one argues that Jesus didn’t make the extraordinary claims about Himself that we read about in the Gospels one may ask why He was crucified at all.”

          I don’t know, maybe because he had attacked money changers at the Jewish Temple? Maybe because the Passover was already a politically volatile time? Maybe for a whole slew of other political/social/religious reasons beyond Jesus making extraordinary claims about himself? You are trying to restrict the options to a much narrower set of alternatives that juxtapose either Jesus claiming to be the Son of God, or the Roman and Jewish authorities having no grounds for executing him. You obviously want to pose such a false dilemma to get the “skeptic” to concede that Jesus made extraordinary claims about himself, but the reality is far more complicated, open to far more alternatives, and is ultimately speculative and unprovable either way since we are so chronologically distanced from the event.

          You next state:

          “As for Paul’s references to Jesus in his letters collected in the New Testament the Jesus depicted by Paul is “the Son of God” and “the Christ” (=”the Messiah”). Moreover Paul mentions Jesus’s divinity, His preexistence, His being without sin and His resurrection.”

          This grossly oversimplifies Paul’s view of Jesus. There is actually a wide range of scholarly dispute about Paul’s view of Christology. Bart Ehrman in How Jesus Became God is just one expert who would strongly disagree with much of your interpretation of Paul. What you have said above cannot be assumed, therefore, as a given premise of NT scholarship, even if some scholars (e.g. Simon Gathercole) may hold similar views. Someone can be completely consistent with mainstream NT scholarship and still doubt that Paul had a Christology consistent with those found in the later NT books, such as the Gospel of John.

          “However, if Paul had had views about Jesus that would have been so much different from those that people like the apostle Peter or James the brother of Jesus had this certainly would have resulted in theological controversies that would have left traces in the writings of the New Testament.”

          Paul did have conflicts between Peter and James about issues such as circumcising Gentiles, etc. These are the conflicts that we can detect in our mere 7 undisputed letters from Paul. They could have likewise disagreed on a wide range of other issues that do not show up in our surviving literary sources. Furthermore, we don’t even know for sure what Peter and James thought about Christology, because we do not have any texts undisputably written by them (the authorship of 1 and 2 Peter and the Epistle of James is far too disputed among scholars to merely assume as a premise that Peter and James wrote these texts). Furthermore, even the later canonical Gospels are not necessarily consistent on Christology. Scholars such as Ehrman and Daniel Boyarin have argued that the Synoptics have an “adoptionist” view of Jesus’ divinity, whereas John views Jesus as pre-existent with God the Father. Again, the situation is far more complicated than how you are representing it.

          “In Luke 1,1-4 the author of Luke’s Gospel makes the claim that it is based on eyewitness acounts.”

          I explain how this passage, in addition to a number of other pieces of evidence, in no way supports the idea that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses (or based on the accounts of eyewitnesses) in this extensive 50-or-so-page article (I also discuss how the large majority of mainstream NT scholars would doubt your assertion here):

          https://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/why-scholars-doubt-the-traditional-authors-of-the-gospels/

          My overall impression of your comment is that it is filled with false alternatives. To paraphrase in my own words:

          “You either have to strip the Gospels solely of their miracles because of a naturalist bias, or you should take their accounts at face value!”

          “Either Jesus made extraordinary claims about himself, or the Romans and Jews would have had no reason to execute him!”

          “Either Paul agrees with the accounts of Jesus in the Gospels, or he would have written more about why he disagrees!”

          All of these dilemmas greatly oversimplify the scholarly situation. You are not without company on this, since I explain above that C.S. Lewis was an early apologetic champion of framing things in terms of false dilemmas. The reason why apologists have to rely on the formula “either you accept apologetic position X, or you have to accept absurd alternative Y” is because it is the only way to make Christianity seem plausible in the face of a far more plausible range of secular interpretations.

          From the outsider’s perspective, Christianity seems incredibly bizarre and implausible. Even a minimal interpretation of its core theology entails that God created a massive universe of billions of planets, only to visit a small region of one of them in the form of a male ape for a small fraction of cosmic time, leaving behind no contemporary documents of this event.

          The alternative view is that a species of ape on the third planet from their Sun has a tendency towards agent over-detection, which has caused them to project human personality and agency onto natural events in their universe. A small group of these apes elevated a prophet in their movement to the status of God (a character that they had invented which represented a more enlightened and powerful view of the human image), in order to rationalize his Messianism after his death. This species of ape has also created a wide range of other superstitions and similar legendary traditions.

          To overcome the fact that Christianity, at face value, seems so implausible, apologists have to exaggerate the evidence for Jesus to make it seem like it requires even greater implausibilities to doubt Christianity’s core claims. However, to create such an impression they have to rely on fallacious false alternatives, like you have done, like C.S. Lewis has done, and like many other apologists have done and will continue to do.

          To the outsider, this is obviously a rhetorical game. The real reason that apologists have to rely on false dilemmas is because, when you remove these dilemmas and allow for a wider range of alternative views, it is not hard at all to doubt the core claims of Christianity. For the outsider, the religion would appear to be nothing more than a human-made superstition. Plain and simple.

  4. David Austin says:

    Hi Matthew,

    Just as a side issue, I find it ironic that the apologetic book is entitled “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist”.

    It seems to be saying that having too much faith makes you an atheist, and that faith is not a good thing. Seems contrary to what Christians are saying where faith is a virtue.

    Regards

    • To me, it seemed like it was intended as a pun on the secularist view of what faith is, which is considerably more narrow than the view of faith that many Christian intellectuals have. The idea behind the pun is something like, “with all this evidence and argumentation in favor of X, Y, and Z, in favor of theism/Christianity,” I don’t need as much faith to be a Christian as I would need to be and *remain* an atheist.

      The secularist dichotomy between faith and evidence use (as though faith could never be evidence-based) is apparently what is being punned.

      Part of the point in the evidential and cumulative case apologetics camps is that one’s faith can be strengthened by the evidence. This would mean that faith can be evidence-based, even if only indirectly. Not sure that I would classify Turek in either of those two camps though. He doesn’t seem to really take that approach.

      The Christian apologetics community really can be categorized as using three dramatically different approaches (classical, evidential, and presuppositional). The reality of it is that one cannot hold to all three approaches with an equal emphasis and remain consistent. For example, if the evidential approach is the primary, then the presuppositional approach will be downplayed, and vice versa.

    • Matt says:

      That is not even related, maybe you should actually read the book.

  5. Matt says:

    Of coarse evidence is what you should base reality on. I’m not sure if you guys knowingly deny the truth, but one thing is certain—God exists, the God of the bible exists— and that currently puts a lot of people in tough (yet manageable) situation. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.

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