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.
Lowder 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.”
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 .
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?
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.
“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:
 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.