Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Critique of Ray Comfort's Argument for God's Existence

By Ryan Hemelaar

Ray ComfortRay Comfort, founder of the ministry Way of the Master and who was also featured on a 2007 ABC Nightline debate on the existence of God, has one main argument he uses to prove the existence of God. It goes something like this:

"When you see a building, how do you know there was a builder? The building is proof of the builder. When you see a painting, how do you know there was a painter? The painting is proof of a painter. In the same way, if you look at the trees, the birds and the rest of creation, creation proves there was a creator."

Now this argument sounds pretty reasonable. It is based on the Thomistic Cosmological Argument for the existence of God put in analogous form. However, this argument has one major flaw, and so I would like to point it out and suggest a modification to Ray's argument in order to correct it.

The Problem

In Ray Comfort's argument, the reason why a building must have a builder is because the building exists. Similarly, for the painting and then for the creation. So to put Ray's argument in a formal form, it would go something like this:

  1. Everything that exists has a creator.
  2. The universe (creation) is something that exists.
  3. Therefore, the universe (creation) has a creator.

If you are any bit familiar with Thomas Aquinas' arguments, you'll realise that this is pretty much exactly one of his proofs for God. The only problem with it however is that we as Christians affirm that God exists, therefore according to the first premise, God would also need a creator.

When Ray Comfort has been presented with this objection, he responds that God had no creator, sometimes making reference to the impossibility of infinite regression. While it is true that infinite regression is impossible, by Ray's own words, he has denied his own first premise. For it's no longer, "Everything that exists had a creator" as God does not conform to it and thus Ray can no longer point to something and say that it obviously must have had a creator.

The Solution

There is a solution to this problem. Just like the Thomistic Cosmological Argument for the existence of God as been largely abandoned in favour of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, I hope it can be the same with Ray Comfort's argument. Put formally the Kalam Cosmological Argument reads as follows:

  1. Everything that has a beginning has a cause (creator).
  2. The universe has a beginning.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause (creator).

This argument does not succumb to the same problem as Aquinas and Ray Comfort's argument. As God's eternal existence does not refute the first premise, since God had no beginning and thus requires no cause. So no longer can an unbeliever defeat the argument on that basis, although you might want to explain to them if they ask why God couldn't have had a beginning (please see this article for some reasons why).

However, some may say this argument is too advanced for a few people, so it would be useful for me to explain how you could use this argument with the same simplicity as Ray's. Try this:

"Just say you came to this very spot a number of years ago when this building right here was not yet built. Then you come back to this very spot today and notice that the building exists. How do we know there was a builder for it? Well because it exists today and didn't exist a number of years ago. In the same way, since science says that the universe had a beginning, if we look at the trees, the birds, and the rest of the universe/creation, the fact the universe/creation exists today and didn't at one stage in the past, proves that there must have been a creator to it."

There are obviously many different ways you can use this argument with different examples (maybe you can suggest some in the comments below?). I just hope that this will prevent the objection coming up in the unbeliever's mind that a logical fallacy has been committed in saying that God does not conform to the very argument that you're presenting (if you're using Ray Comfort's argument).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Dawkins’ Ironic Hypocrisy

By James Patrick Holding

Dawkins Creationists are certainly accustomed to being dismissed as a crackpot fringe that holds a minority position—especially in the community of science, where indeed the vast majority of scientists argue for some form of evolution. We are also accustomed to being ridiculed by popularist demagogues like Richard Dawkins. Dawkins professes to find himself highly disturbed that anyone at all accepts young earth or creationist views, and is even more despairing that despite years of evolutionary indoctrination in our schools, creationism just doesn’t seem to be going away. Recently, at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, Dawkins was quoted as saying:

‘I have spoken to a lot of science teachers in schools here in Britain who are finding an increasing number of students coming to them and saying they are Young Earth creationists. Now this is a belief that the Earth is only 6000 years old, and it is such a staggering mistake that it is very concerning to hear this. It is no small error–it is equivalent to someone believing, despite the evidence, that the width of North America from one coast to the other is only 7.8 yards.’1

One could compile a lengthy list of the insulting rhetoric Dawkins has heaped upon creationists,2 but it is not my purpose to address that here. Rather, I’d like to comment on what has become a rather stunning irony and hypocrisy that has emerged from the rhetoric of Dawkins (as well as a handful of other critics of creationism). Dawkins and many others are quite frank in dismissing special creation as a minority, crackpot view. And yet it seems that when it comes to certain ideas that they find beneficial to their agenda, it doesn’t matter at all whether those ideas are considered a minority, crackpot view by experts in other fields!

The most stunning example of this, from Dawkins, is his tacit endorsement of what is popularly known as the ‘Christ myth’–the conception that Jesus did not even exist at all, not even as a person walking the earth (much less as the incarnate Son of God). In The God Delusion, for example, Dawkins says that it is ‘possible to mount a serious, though not widely supported, historical case that Jesus never lived at all’ and appeals to the work of G. A. Wells.3 Dawkins also made an appearance in a 2006 film titled The God Who Wasn’t There, created by apostate Brian Flemming. The God Who Wasn’t There argued vociferously for the ‘Christ myth,’ including the even more absurd proposition that Jesus’ life story was derived from accounts of pagan deities.4 While Dawkins did not address the existence of Jesus in the film, that he even appeared in it amounts to him giving the film and its main ideas credibility. And he praised it warmly in The God Delusion, despite its crass errors.

Bill Maher

Dawkins himself apparently has not accepted the Christ myth as actually true. In The God Delusion, he says that Jesus ‘probably existed’ and leaves it at that. Nevertheless, that he even grants the Christ myth a semblance of credibility reveals a certain ironic hypocrisy in his criticism of creationists, and that of others who dismiss creationism as a minority or crackpot view: From the perspective of serious historians, the Christ myth is precisely that. It is a ‘staggering mistake’ and ‘no small error’–equivalent to someone believing, despite the evidence, that the width of North America from one coast to the other is only three centimeters, and that the continent itself is made of burnt toffee. Yet Dawkins willingly gives this fringe view a hearing and directs his readers to sources that advocate it.

The Christ myth is not endorsed by a single reputable historian. The leading proponent of the Christ myth over the past century—G. A. Wells, whom Dawkins mentions—is not a historian, but a professor of German. (He has also recently recanted his position on the Christ myth.5) The current leading proponent of the thesis, Earl Doherty, possesses a mere Bachelor’s degree in history. Among persons who do possess an advanced degree, Robert Price, a biblical scholar, advances other fringe notions such as that sayings of Jesus may be more accurately preserved in Muslim Sufi tradition than in the Gospels. Note that these represent the Christ-myth’s most credible representatives.6

Dawkins of course is far from the only advocate of evolution to be a victim of this ironic hypocrisy, and he may not even be the most prominent. The recently released American film Religulous,7 hosted by comedian Bill Maher, features an ‘ambush’ interview of Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, in which Pryor states that the scientific community is divided over whether evolution is true. Maher solemnly corrects Pryor by affirming that evolution is the majority view of scientists; yet elsewhere in the film, Maher advocates the Christ myth plus other wacky ideas.8 Many of Dawkins’ own fans, likewise, can be discovered to endorse the Christ myth.9

Dawkins’ hypocrisy in this matter raises a number of interesting questions aside from the blatant hypocrisies involved. How far do Dawkins and his ideological cohorts actually investigate matters in their own field, if they so readily and willingly accept as credible a fringe thesis like the Christ myth? How much does this indicate Dawkins and others to be less objective scientists and thinkers, versus their being demagogues who have already decided what is true and will welcome any idea that they find amenable to their misotheism, no matter how absurd?

Of course, these questions do not act as substitutes for directly addressing arguments presented by Dawkins and other evolutionists. They do, however, make it clear that they are in no sense deserving of any benefit of the doubt. They would be well advised to remove the log cabin from their own eyes prior to giving creationists advice on extracting the mote they think they see in their eyes.


  1. ‘Richard Dawkins: ‘Growth in creationist beliefs a problem for schools, The Scotsman, 2 April 2008. Return to text.
  2. For example, in a 16 September 2008 letter to New Scientist, Dawkins offered the following barbs: Creationism is ‘obviously silly’, and it is the result of ‘ignorance or stupidity’. Return to text.
  3. Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p. 122, Mariner Books, 2008. See review by Philip Bell, Atheist with a Mission, J. Creation 21(2):28–34, 2007; and this follow-up response to critics. Return to text.
  4. For an analysis of Flemming’s film, see my article, ‘Great Expectorations: Or, The Apostate Who Wasn’t All There’. Return to text.
  5. See James Hannam, ‘An Evening With G. A. Wells’. Dr Hannam recently completed his Ph.D. on the History of Science at the University of Cambridge, and is the author of God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science (2007). Return to text.
  6. For replies to Doherty, see Fairy Castles Built on Sand: Or, A Most Complex Case of Christ-Myth. For replies to Price, see these articles as well as my book Shattering the Christ Myth (Xulon Press, 2008). One other name that may be mentioned in passing is that of Richard Carrier, a premier member of the Internet Infidels website, who has just recently (2008) obtained his doctorate in history. Carrier has expressed sympathy for the Christ myth thesis, but claims to be in the process of investigating it. In the main he was persuaded of its plausibility by the works of Doherty. Return to text.
  7. See my critique, Religupigulous:Bill Maher’s Arrow Through the Head, 4 October 2008. Return to text.
  8. There is added irony with Maher, inasmuch as he advocates a variety of crackpot scientific theories that creationist and evolutionist scientists alike would disdain. As the Wall Street Journal reports: ‘But it turns out that [Maher] is no icon of rationality himself. In fact, he is a fervent advocate of pseudoscience. The night before his performance on Conan O’Brien, Mr. Maher told David Letterman—a quintuple bypass survivor—to stop taking the pills that his doctor had prescribed for him. He proudly stated that he didn’t accept Western medicine. On his HBO show in 2005, Mr Maher said: “I don’t believe in vaccination. … Another theory that I think is flawed, that we go by the Louis Pasteur [germ] theory.” He has told CNN’s Larry King that he won’t take aspirin because he believes it is lethal and that he doesn’t even believe the Salk vaccine eradicated polio.’ Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, ‘Look Who’s Irrational Now’, 19 September 2008, which also documents the strong correlation between rejection of superstitions, cults, and paranormal claims like ghosts and clairvoyance, with attendance at a theologically conservative church. Return to text.
  9. Examples of this can be found in comments to Dawkins’ article Atheists for Jesus, 11 April 2006 (accessed 5 November 2008). As one admirer of Dawkins puts it: ‘Jesus not only didn’t exist, but he is certainly not a good modern (key word-modern) ethical role model, as others here have pointed out.’ Return to text.

Source: Creation Ministries

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

By Dr. William Lane Craig

"Man," writes Loren Eisley, "is the Cosmic Orphan." He is the only creature in the universe who asks, Why? Other animals have instincts to guide them, but man has learned to ask questions. "Who am I?" he asks. "Why am I here? Where am I going?"

Ever since the Enlightenment, when modern man threw off the shackles of religion, he has tried to answer these questions without reference to God. But the answers that came back were not exhilarating, but dark and terrible. "You are an accidental by-product of nature, the result of matter plus time plus chance. There is no reason for your existence. All you face is death. Your life is but a spark in the infinite darkness, a spark that appears, flickers, and dies forever."

Modern man thought that in divesting himself of God, he had freed himself from all that stifled and repressed him. Instead, he discovered that in killing God, he had also killed himself.

Against this background of the modern predicament, the traditional Christian hope of the resurrection takes on an even greater brightness and significance. It tells man that he is no orphan after all, but the personal image of the Creator God of the universe; nor is his life doomed in death, for through the eschatological resurrection he may live in the presence of God forever.

This is a wonderful hope. But, of course, hope that is not founded in fact is not hope, but mere illusion. Why should the Christian hope of eschatological resurrection appear to modern man as anything more than mere wishful thinking? The answer lies in the Christian conviction that a man has been proleptically raised by God from the dead as the forerunner and exemplar of our own eschatological resurrection. That man was Jesus of Nazareth, and his historical resurrection from the dead constitutes the factual foundation upon which the Christian hope is based.

Of course, during the last century liberal theology had no use for the historical resurrection of Jesus. Since liberal theologians retained the presupposition against the possibility of miracles which they had inherited from the Deists, a historical resurrection was a priori simply out of the question for them. The mythological explanation of D. F. Strauss enabled them to explain the resurrection accounts of the New Testament as legendary fictions. The belief in the historical resurrection was a hangover from antiquity which it was high time for modern man to be rid of. Thus, in liberal theology's greatest study of the historicity of the resurrection, Kirsopp Lake's The Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1907), Lake carefully plots the legendary development of the resurrection narratives from the root historical event of the women's visit to the wrong tomb. He concludes that it is not the end anyway: what is vital for Christian theology is the belief in the immortality of the soul, the belief that our departed friends and relatives are still alive and that in time we shall be re-united with them. Thus, the NT has been replaced by the Phaedo.

Liberal theology could not survive World War I, but its demise brought no renewed interest in the historicity of Jesus' resurrection, for the two schools that succeeded it were united in their devaluation of the historical with regard to Jesus. Thus, dialectical theology, propounded by Karl Barth, championed the doctrine of the resurrection, but would have nothing to do with the resurrection as an event of history. In his commentary on the book of Romans (1919), the early Barth declared, "The resurrection touches history as a tangent touches a circle-that is, without really touching it." Existential theology, exemplified by Rudolf Bultmann, was even more antithetical to the historicity of Jesus' resurrection. Though Bultmann acknowledged that the earliest disciples believed in the literal resurrection of Jesus and that Paul in I Corinthians 15 even attempts to prove the resurrection, he nevertheless pronounces such a procedure as "fatal." It reduces Christ's resurrection to a nature miracle akin to the resurrection of a corpse. And modern man cannot be reasonably asked to believe in nature miracles before becoming a Christian. Therefore, the miraculous elements of the gospel must be demythologized to reveal the true Christian message: the call to authentic existence in the face of death, symbolized by the cross. The resurrection is merely a symbolic re-statement of the message of the cross and essentially adds nothing to it. To appeal to the resurrection as historical evidence, as did Paul, is doubly wrong-headed, for it is of the very nature of existential faith that it is a leap without evidence. Thus, to argue historically for the resurrection is contrary to faith. Clearly then, the antipathy of liberal theology to the historicity of Jesus' resurrection remained unrelieved by either dialectical or existential theology.

But a remarkable change has come about during the second half of the 20th century. The first glimmerings of change began to appear in 1953. In that year Ernst K�semann, a pupil of Bultmann, argued at a Colloquy at the University of Marburg that Bultmann's historical skepticism toward Jesus was unwarranted and counterproductive and suggested re-opening the question of where the historical about Jesus was to be found. A new quest of the historical Jesus had begun. Three years later in 1956 the Marburg theologian Hans Grass subjected the resurrection itself to historical inquiry and concluded that the resurrection appearances cannot be dismissed as mere subjective visions on the part of the disciples, but were objective visionary events.

Meanwhile the church historian Hans Freiherr von Campenhausen in an equally epochal essay defended the historical credibility of Jesus' empty tomb. During the ensuing years a stream of works on the historicity of Jesus' resurrection flowed forth from German, French and English presses. By 1968 the old skepticism was a spent force and began dramatically to recede. So complete has been the turn-about during the second half of this century concerning the resurrection of Jesus that it is no exaggeration to speak of a reversal of scholarship on this issue, such that those who deny the historicity of Jesus' resurrection now seem to be the ones on the defensive. Perhaps one of the most significant theological developments in this connection is the theological system of Wolfhart Pannenberg, who bases his entire Christology on the historical evidence for Jesus' ministry and especially the resurrection. This is a development undreamed of in German theology prior to 1950. Equally startling is the declaration of one of the world's leading Jewish theologians Pinchas Lapid, that he is convinced on the basis of the evidence that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Lapide twits New Testament critics like Bultmann and Marxsen for their unjustified skepticism and concludes that he believes on the basis of the evidence that the God of Israel raised Jesus from the dead.

Empty Tomb What are the facts that underlie this remarkable reversal of opinion concerning the credibility of the New Testament accounts of the resurrection of Jesus? It seems to me that they can be conveniently grouped under three heads: the resurrection appearances, the empty tomb, and the origin of the Christian faith. Let's look briefly at each.

First, the resurrection appearances. Undoubtedly the major impetus for the reassessment of the appearance tradition was the demonstration by Joachim Jeremias that in 1 Corinthians 15: 3-5 Paul is quoting an old Christian formula which he received and in turn passed on to his converts According to Galatians 1:18 Paul was in Jerusalem three years after his conversion on a fact-finding mission, during which he conferred with Peter and James over a two week period, and he probably received the formula at this time, if not before. Since Paul was converted in AD 33, this means that the list of witnesses goes back to within the first five years after Jesus' death. Thus, it is idle to dismiss these appearances as legendary. We can try to explain them away as hallucinations if we wish, but we cannot deny they occurred. Paul's information makes it certain that on separate occasions various individuals and groups saw Jesus alive from the dead. According to Norman Perrin, the late NT critic of the University of Chicago: "The more we study the tradition with regard to the appearances, the firmer the rock begins to appear upon which they are based." This conclusion is virtually indisputable.

At the same time that biblical scholarship has come to a new appreciation of the historical credibility of Paul's information, however, it must be admitted that skepticism concerning the appearance traditions in the gospels persists. This lingering skepticism seems to me to be entirely unjustified. It is based on a presuppositional antipathy toward the physicalism of the gospel appearance stories. But the traditions underlying those appearance stories may well be as reliable as Paul's. For in order for these stories to be in the main legendary, a very considerable length of time must be available for the evolution and development of the traditions until the historical elements have been supplanted by unhistorical. This factor is typically neglected in New Testament scholarship, as A. N. Sherwin-White points out in Roman Law and Roman Society tn the New Testament. Professor Sherwin-White is not a theologian; he is an eminent historian of Roman and Greek times, roughly contemporaneous with the NT. According to Professor Sherwin-White, the sources for Roman history are usually biased and removed at least one or two generations or even centuries from the events they record. Yet, he says, historians reconstruct with confidence what really happened. He chastises NT critics for not realizing what invaluable sources they have in the gospels. The writings of Herodotus furnish a test case for the rate of legendary accumulation, and the tests show that even two generations is too short a time span to allow legendary tendencies to wipe out the hard core of historical facts. When Professor Sherwin-White turns to the gospels, he states for these to be legends, the rate of legendary accumulation would have to be 'unbelievable'; more generations are needed. All NT scholars agree that the gospels were written down and circulated within the first generation, during the lifetime of the eyewitnesses. Indeed, a significant new movement of biblical scholarship argues persuasively that some of the gospels were written by the AD 50's. This places them as early as Paul's letter to the Corinthians and, given their equal reliance upon prior tradition, they ought therefore to be accorded the same weight of historical credibility accorded Paul. It is instructive to note in this connection that no apocryphal gospel appeared during the first century. These did not arise until after the generation of eyewitnesses had died off. These are better candidates for the office of 'legendary fiction' than the canonical gospels. There simply was insufficient time for significant accrual of legend by the time of the gospels' composition. Thus, I find current criticism's skepticism with regard to the appearance traditions in the gospels to be unwarranted. The new appreciation of the historical value of Paul's information needs to be accompanied by a reassessment of the gospel traditions as well.

Second, the empty tomb. Once regarded as an offense to modern intelligence and an embarrassment to Christian theology, the empty tomb of Jesus has come to assume its place among the generally accepted facts concerning the historical Jesus. Allow me to review briefly some of the evidence undergirding this connection.

(1) The historical reliability of the burial story supports the empty tomb. If the burial account is accurate, then the site of Jesus' grave was known to Jew and Christian alike. In that case, it is a very short inference to historicity of the empty tomb. For if Jesus had not risen and the burial site were known:

(a) the disciples could never have believed in the resurrection of Jesus. For a first century Jew the idea that a man might be raised from the dead while his body remained in the tomb was simply a contradiction in terms. In the words of E. E. Ellis, "It is very unlikely that the earliest Palestinian Christians could conceive of any distinction between resurrection and physical, 'grave emptying' resurrection. To them an anastasis without an empty grave would have been about as meaningful as a square circle."

(b) Even if the disciples had believed in the resurrection of Jesus, it is doubtful they would have generated any following. So long as the body was interred in the tomb, a Christian movement founded on belief in the resurrection of the dead man would have been an impossible folly.

(c) The Jewish authorities would have exposed the whole affair. The quickest and surest answer to the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus would have been simply to point to his grave on the hillside.

For these three reasons, the accuracy of the burial story supports the historicity of the empty tomb. Unfortunately for those who wish to deny the empty tomb, however, the burial story is one of the most historically certain traditions we have concerning Jesus. Several factors undergird this judgment. To mention only a few.

(i) The burial is mentioned in the third line of the old Christian formula quoted by Paul in 1 Cor. 15.4.

(ii) It is part of the ancient pre-Markan passion story which Mark used as a source for his gospel.

(iii) The story itself lacks any traces of legendary development.

(iv) The story comports with archeological evidence concerning the types and location of tombs extant in Jesus' day.

(v) No other competing burial traditions exist.

For these and other reasons, most scholars are united in the judgment that the burial story is fundamentally historical. But if that is the case, then, as I have explained, the inference that the tomb was found empty is not very far at hand.

(2) Paul's testimony supports the fact of the empty tomb. Here two aspects of Paul's evidence may be mentioned.

(a) In the formula cited by Paul the expression "he was raised" following the phrase "he was buried" implies the empty tomb. A first century Jew could not think otherwise. As E. L. Bode observes, the notion of the occurrence of a spiritual resurrection while the body remained in the tomb is a peculiarity of modern theology. For the Jews it was the remains of the man in the tomb which were raised; hence, they carefully preserved the bones of the dead in ossuaries until the eschatological resurrection. There can be no doubt that both Paul and the early Christian formula he cites pre-suppose the existence of the empty tomb.

(b) The phrase "on the third day" probably points to the discovery of the empty tomb. Very briefly summarized, the point is that since no one actually witnessed the resurrection of Jesus, how did Christians come to date it "on the third day?" The most probable answer is that they did so because this was the day of the discovery of the empty tomb by Jesus' women followers. Hence, the resurrection itself came to be dated on that day. Thus, in the old Christian formula quoted by Paul we have extremely early evidence for the existence of Jesus' empty tomb.

(3) The empty tomb story is part of the pre-Markan passion story and is therefore very old. The empty tomb story was probably the end of Mark's passion source. As Mark is the earliest of our gospels, this source is therefore itself quite old. In fact the commentator R. Pesch contends that it is an incredibly early source. He produces two lines of evidence for this conclusion:

(a) Paul's account of the Last Supper in 1 Cor. 11:23-5 presupposes the Markan account. Since Paul's own traditions are themselves very old, the Markan source must be yet older.

(b) The pre-Markan passion story never refers to the high priest by name. It is as when I say "The President is hosting a dinner at the White House" and everyone knows whom I am speaking of because it is the man currently in office. Similarly the pre-Markan passion story refers to the "high priest" as if he were still in power. Since Caiaphas held office from AD 18-37, this means at the latest the pre-Markan source must come from within seven years after Jesus' death. This source thus goes back to within the first few years of the Jerusalem fellowship and is therefore an ancient and reliable source of historical information.

(4) The story is simple and lacks legendary development. The empty tomb story is uncolored by the theological and apologetical motifs that would be characteristic of a later legendary account. Perhaps the most forceful way to appreciate this point is to compare it with the accounts of the empty tomb found in apocryphal gospels of the second century. For example, in the gospel of Peter a voice rings out from heaven during the night, the stone rolls back of itself from the door of the tomb, and two men descend from Heaven and enter the tomb. Then three men are seen coming out of the tomb, the two supporting the third. The heads of the two men stretch up to the clouds, but the head of the third man overpasses the clouds. Then a cross comes out of the tomb, and a voice asks, "Hast thou preached to them that sleep?" And the cross answers, "Yea". In the Ascension of Isaiah, Jesus comes out of the tomb sitting on the shoulders of the angels Michael and Gabriel. These are how real legends look: unlike the gospel accounts, they are colored by theological motifs.

(5) The tomb was probably discovered empty by women. To understand this point one has to recall two facts about the role of women in Jewish society.

(a) Woman occupied a low rung on the Jewish social ladder. This is evident in such rabbinic expressions as "Sooner let the words of the law be burnt than delivered to women" and "Happy is he whose children are male, but woe to him whose children are female."

(b) The testimony of women was regarded as so worthless that they were not even permitted to serve as legal witnesses in a court of law. In light of these facts, how remarkable must it seem that it is women who are the discoverers of Jesus' empty tomb. Any later legend would certainly have made the male disciples to discover the empty tomb. The fact that women, whose testimony was worthless, rather than men, are the chief witnesses to the empty tomb is most plausibly accounted for by the fact that, like it or not, they were the discoverers of the empty tomb and the gospels accurately record this.

(6) The earliest Jewish polemic presupposes the empty tomb. In Matthew 28, we find the Christian attempt to refute the earliest Jewish polemic against the resurrection. That polemic asserted that the disciples stole away the body. The Christians responded to this by reciting the story of the guard at the tomb, and the polemic in turn charged that the guard fell asleep. Now the noteworthy feature of this whole dispute is not the historicity of the guards but rather the presupposition of both parties that the body was missing. The earliest Jewish response to the proclamation of the resurrection was an attempt to explain away the empty tomb. Thus, the evidence of the adversaries of the disciples provides evidence in support of the empty tomb.

One could go on, but perhaps enough has been said to indicate why the judgment of scholarship has reversed itself on the historicity of the empty tomb. According to Jakob Kremer, "By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements concerning the empty tomb" and he furnishes a list, to which his own name may be added, of twenty-eight prominent scholars in support. I can think of at least sixteen more names that he failed to mention. Thus, it is today widely recognized that the empty tomb of Jesus is a simple historical fact. As D. H. van Daalen has pointed out, "It is extremely difficult to object to the empty tomb on historical grounds; those who deny it do so on the basis of theological or philosophical assumptions." But assumptions may simply have to be changed in light of historical facts.

Finally, we may turn to that third body of evidence supporting the resurrection: the very origin of the Christian Way. Even the most skeptical scholars admit that the earliest disciples at least believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Indeed, they pinned nearly everything on it. Without belief in the resurrection of Jesus, Christianity could never have come into being. The crucifixion would have remained the final tragedy in the hapless life of Jesus. The origin of Christianity hinges on the belief of these earliest disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead. The question now inevitably arises: how does one explain the origin of that belief? As R. H. Fuller urges, even the most skeptical critic must posit some mysterious X to get the movement going. But the question is, what was that X?

If one denies that Jesus really did rise from the dead, then he must explain the disciples' belief that he did rise either in terms of Jewish influences or in terms of Christian influences. Now clearly, it can't be the result of Christian influences, for at that time there wasn't any Christianity yet! Since belief in Jesus' resurrection was the foundation for the origin of the Christian faith, it can't be a belief formed as a result of that faith.

But neither can the belief in the resurrection be explained as a result of Jewish influences. To see this we need to back up a moment. In the Old Testament, the Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead on the day of judgment is mentioned in three places (Ezekiel 37; Isaiah 26, 19, Daniel 12.2). During the time between the Old Testament and the New Testament, the belief in resurrection flowered and is often mentioned in the Jewish literature of that period. In Jesus' day the Jewish party of the Pharisees held to belief in resurrection, and Jesus sided with them on this score in opposition to the party of the Sadducees. So the idea of resurrection was itself nothing new.

But the Jewish conception of resurrection differed in two important, fundamental respects from Jesus' resurrection. In Jewish thought the resurrection always (1) occurred after the end of the world, not within history, and (2) concerned all the people, not just an isolated individual. In contradistinction to this, Jesus' resurrection was both within history and of one individual person.

With regard to the first point, the Jewish belief was always that at the end of history, God would raise the righteous dead and receive them into His Kingdom. There are, to be sure, examples in the Old Testament of resuscitations of the dead; but these persons would die again. The resurrection to eternal life and glory occurred after the end of the world. We find this Jewish outlook in the gospels themselves. Thus, when Jesus assures Martha that her brother Lazarus will rise again, she responds, "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day" (John 11.24). She has no idea that Jesus is about to bring him back to life. Similarly, when Jesus tells his disciples he will rise from the dead, they think he means at the end of the world (Mark 9.9-13). The idea that a true resurrection could occur prior to God's bringing the Kingdom of Heaven at the end of the world was utterly foreign to them. The greatly renowned German New Testament scholar Joachim Jeremias writes,

Ancient Judaism did not know of an anticipated resurrection as an event of history. Nowhere does one find in the literature anything comparable to the resurrection of Jesus. Certainly resurrections of the dead were known, but these always concerned resuscitations, the return to the earthly life. In no place in the late Judaic literature does it concern a resurrection to doxa (glory) as an event of history.

The disciples, therefore, confronted with Jesus' crucifixion and death, would only have looked forward to the resurrection at the final day and would probably have carefully kept their master's tomb as a shrine, where his bones could reside until the resurrection. They would not have come up with the idea that he was already raised.

As for the second point, the Jewish idea of resurrection was always of a general resurrection of the dead, not an isolated individual. It was the people, or mankind as a whole, that God raised up in the resurrection. But in Jesus' resurrection, God raised just a single man. Moreover, there was no concept of the people's resurrection in some way hinging on the Messiah's resurrection. That was just totally unknown. Yet that is precisely what is said to have occurred in Jesus' case. Ulrich Wilckens, another prominent German New Testament critic, explains:

For nowhere do the Jewish texts speak of the resurrection of an individual which already occurs before the resurrection of the righteous in the end time and is differentiated and separate from it; nowhere does the participation of the righteous in the salvation at the end time depend on their belonging to the Messiah, who was raised in advance as the 'First of those raised by God.' (1 Corinthians 15:20)

It is therefore evident that the disciples would not as a result of Jewish influences or background have come up with the idea that Jesus alone had been raised from the dead. They would wait with longing for that day when He and all the righteous of Israel would be raised by God to glory.

The disciples' belief in Jesus' resurrection, therefore, cannot be explained as the result of either Christian or Jewish influences. Left to themselves, the disciples would never have come up with such an idea as Jesus' resurrection. And remember: they were fishermen and tax collectors, not theologians. The mysterious X is still missing. According to C. F. D. Moule of Cambridge University, here is a belief nothing in terms of previous historical influences can account for. He points out that we have a situation in which a large number of people held firmly to this belief, which cannot be explained in terms of the Old Testament or the Pharisees, and these people held onto this belief until the Jews finally threw them out of the synagogue. According to Professor Moule, the origin of this belief must have been the fact that Jesus really did rise from the dead:

If the coming into existence of the Nazarenes, a phenomenon undeniably attested by the New Testament, rips a great hole in history, a hole of the size and shape of the Resurrection, what does the secular historian propose to stop it up with?. . . the birth and rapid rise of the Christian Church. . . remain an unsolved enigma for any historian who refuses to take seriously the only explanation offered by the church itself.

The resurrection of Jesus is therefore the best explanation for the origin of the Christian faith. Taken together, these three great historical facts--the resurrection appearances, the empty tomb, the origin of the Christian faith--seem to point to the resurrection of Jesus as the most plausible explanation.

But of course there have been other explanations proffered to account for the resurrection appearances, the empty tomb, and the origin of the Christian faith. In the judgment of modern scholarship, however, these have failed to provide a plausible account of the facts of the case. This can be seen by a rapid review of the principal explanations that have been offered.

A. The disciples stole Jesus' corpse and lied about the resurrection appearances. This explanation characterized the earliest Jewish anti-Christian polemic and was revived in the form of the conspiracy theory of eighteenth century Deism. The theory has been universally rejected by critical scholars and survives only in the popular press. To name only two considerations decisive against it: (i) it is morally impossible to indict the disciples of Jesus with such a crime. Whatever their imperfections, they were certainly good, earnest men and women, not impostors. No one who reads the New Testament unprejudicially can doubt the evident sincerity of these early believers. (ii) It is psychologically impossible to attribute to the disciples the cunning and dering- do requisite for such a ruse. At the time of the crucifixion, the disciples were confused, disorganized, fearful, doubting, and burdened with mourning-not mentally motivated or equipped to engineer such a wild hoax. Hence, to explain the empty tomb and resurrection appearances by a conspiracy theory seems out of the question.

B. Jesus did not die on the cross, but was taken down and placed alive in the tomb, where he revived and escaped to convince the disciples he had risen from the dead. This apparent death theory was championed by the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century German rationalists, and was even embraced by the father of modern theology, F. D. E. Schleiermacher. Today, however, the theory has been entirely given up: (i) it would be virtually impossible medically for Jesus to have survived the rigors of his torture and crucifixion, much less not to have died of exposure in the tomb. (ii) The theory is religiously inadequate, since a half-dead Jesus desperately in need of medical attention would not have elicited in the disciples worship of him as the exalted Risen Lord and Conqueror of Death. Moreover, since Jesus on this hypothesis knew he had not actually triumphed over death, the theory reduces him to the life of a charlatan who tricked the disciples into believing he had risen, which is absurd. These reasons alone make the apparent death theory untenable.

C. The disciples projected hallucinations of Jesus after his death, from which they mistakenly inferred his resurrection. The hallucination theory became popular during the nineteenth century and carried over into the first half of the twentieth century as well. Again, however, there are good grounds for rejecting this hypothesis: (i) it is psychologically implausible to posit such a chain of hallucinations. Hallucinations are usually associated with mental illness or drugs; but in the disciples' case the prior psycho-biological preparation appears to be wanting. The disciples had no anticipation of seeing Jesus alive again; all they could do was wait to be reunited with him in the Kingdom of God. There were no grounds leading them to hallucinate him alive from the dead. Moreover, the frequency and variety of circumstances belie the hallucination theory: Jesus was seen not once, but many times; not by one person, but by several; not only by individuals, but also by groups; not at one locale and circumstance but at many; not by believers only, but by skeptics and unbelievers as well. The hallucination theory cannot be plausibly stretched to accommodate such diversity. (ii) Hallucinations would not in any case have led to belief in Jesus' resurrection. As projections of one's own mind, hallucinations cannot contain anything not already in the mind. But we have seen that Jesus' resurrection differed from the Jewish conception in two fundamental ways. Given their Jewish frame of thought, the disciples, were they to hallucinate, would have projected visions of Jesus glorified in Abraham's bosom, where Israel's righteous dead abode until the eschatological resurrection. Thus, hallucinations would not have elicited belief in Jesus' resurrection, an idea that ran solidly against the Jewish mode of thought. (iii) Nor can hallucinations account for the full scope of the evidence. They are offered as an explanation of the resurrection appearances, but leave the empty tomb unexplained, and therefore fail as a complete and satisfying answer. Hence, it seems that the hallucination hypothesis is not more successful than its defunct forebears in providing a plausible counter-explanation of the data surrounding Christ's resurrection.

Thus, none of the previous counter-explanations can account for the evidence as plausibly as the resurrection itself. One might ask, "Well, then, how do skeptical scholars explain the facts of the resurrection appearances, the empty tomb, and the origin of the Christian faith?" The fact of the matter is, they don't. Modern scholarship recognizes no plausible explanatory alternative to the resurrection of Jesus. Those who refuse to accept the resurrection as a fact of history are simply self-confessedly left without an explanation.

These three great facts--the resurrection appearances, the empty tomb, and the origin of the Christian faith--all point unavoidably to one conclusion: The resurrection of Jesus. Today the rational man can hardly be blamed if he believes that on that first Easter morning a divine miracle occurred.

Source: William Lane Craig, "Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ," Truth 1 (1985): 89-95.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Jesus and Pagan Mythology


Was Jesus a copied myth or a real person?

Dr. William Lane Craig responds:

The late Robert Funk, founder of the radical Jesus Seminar, used to complain bitterly of the chasm that exists between high scholarship and popular beliefs about Jesus. Funk was thinking primarily of the insulation of popular piety from historical Jesus scholarship; but nowhere does the chasm yawn wider than between popular impiety and historical Jesus studies.

The Free Thought movement, which fuels the popular objection that Christian beliefs about Jesus are derived from pagan mythology, is stuck in the scholarship of the late nineteenth century. In one sense this is flabbergasting, since there are plenty of contemporary sceptical scholars, like those in the Jesus Seminar, whose work Free Thinkers could avail themselves of in order to justify their scepticism about the traditional understanding of Jesus. But it just goes to show how out of touch with scholarly work on Jesus these popularizers are. They are a hundred years out of date.

Back in the hey-day of the so-called History of Religions school, scholars in comparative religion collected parallels to Christian beliefs in other religious movements, and some thought to explain those beliefs (including belief in Jesus' resurrection) as the result of the influence of such myths. Today, however, scarcely any scholar thinks of myth as an important interpretive category for the Gospels. Scholars came to realize that pagan mythology is simply the wrong interpretive context for understanding Jesus of Nazareth.

Craig Evans has called this shift the "Eclipse of Mythology" in Life of Jesus research (see his excellent article "Life-of-Jesus Research and the Eclipse of Mythology," Theological Studies 54 [1993]: 3-36). So James D. G. Dunn begins his article on "Myth" in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (IVP, 1993) with the flat disclaimer, "Myth is a term of at least doubtful relevance to the study of Jesus and the Gospels."

Sometimes this shift is referred to as "the Jewish reclamation of Jesus." For Jesus and his disciples were first century Palestinian Jews, and it is against that background that they must be understood. The Jewish reclamation of Jesus has helped to make unjustified any understanding of the Gospels' portrait of Jesus as significantly shaped by mythology.

This shift is pronounced with respect to the historicity of Jesus' miracles and exorcisms. Contemporary scholars may be no more prepared to believe in the supernatural character of Jesus' miracles and exorcisms than were scholars of previous generations. But they are no longer willing to ascribe such stories to the influence of Hellenistic divine man (theios aner) myths. Rather Jesus' miracles and exorcisms are to be interpreted in the context of first century Jewish beliefs and practices. Jewish scholar Geza Vermes, for example, has drawn attention to the ministries of the charismatic miracle workers and/or exorcists Honi the Circle-Drawer (first century B.C.) and Hanina ben Dosa (first-century A.D.), and interprets Jesus of Nazareth as a Jewish hasid or holy man. Today the consensus of scholarship holds that miracle-working and exorcisms (bracketing the question of their supernatural character) most assuredly do belong to any historically acceptable reconstruction of Jesus' ministry.

The collapse of the old History of Religions school took place for primarily two reasons. First, scholars came to realize that the alleged parallels are spurious. The ancient world was a virtual cornucopia of myths of gods and heroes. Comparative studies in religion and literature require sensitivity to their similarities and differences, or distortion and confusion inevitably result. Unfortunately, those who adduced parallels to Christian beliefs failed to exercise such sensitivity. Take, for example, the story of the Virgin Birth, or, more accurately, Jesus' virginal conception. The alleged pagan parallels to this story concern tales of gods' assuming bodily form and having sexual intercourse with human females to sire divine-human progeny (like Hercules). As such these stories are exactly the opposite of the Gospel story of Mary's conceiving Jesus apart from any sexual relations. The Gospel stories of Jesus' virginal conception are, in fact, without parallel in the ancient Near East.

Or consider the Gospel event of most interest to me: Jesus' resurrection from the dead. Many of the alleged parallels to this event are actually apotheosis stories, the divinization and assumption of the hero into heaven (Hercules, Romulus). Others are disappearance stories, asserting that the hero has vanished into a higher sphere (Apollonius of Tyana, Empedocles). Still others are seasonal symbols for the crop cycle, as the vegetation dies in the dry season and comes back to life in the rainy season (Tammuz, Osiris, Adonis). Some are political expressions of Emperor worship (Julius Caesar, Caesar Augustus). None of these is parallel to the Jewish idea of the resurrection of the dead. David Aune, who is a specialist in comparative ancient Near Eastern literature, concludes, "no parallel to them [resurrection traditions] is found in Graeco-Roman biography" ("The Genre of the Gospels," in Gospel Perspectives II, ed. R. T. France and David Wenham [Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1981], p. 48).

In fact, most scholars have come to doubt whether, properly speaking, there really were any myths of dying and rising gods at all! In the Osiris myth, one of the best known symbolic seasonal myths, Osiris does not really come back to life but simply continues to exist in the nether realm of the departed. In a recent review of the evidence, T. N. D. Mettinger reports: "From the 1930s. . . a consensus has developed to the effect that the 'dying and rising gods' died but did not return or rise to live again. . . Those who still think differently are looked upon as residual members of an almost extinct species" (Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, The Riddle of Resurrection: "Dying and Rising Gods" in the Ancient Near East [Stockholm, Sweden: Almquist & Wiksell International, 2001], pp. 4, 7).

Mettinger himself believes that myths of dying and rising did exist in the cases of Dumuzi, Baal, and Melqart; but he recognizes that such symbols are quite unlike the early Christian belief in Jesus' resurrection:

The dying and rising gods were closely related to the seasonal cycle. Their death and return were seen as reflected in the changes of plant life. The death and resurrection of Jesus is a one-time event, not repeated, and unrelated to seasonal changes. . . . There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct, drawing on the myths and rites of the dying and rising gods of the surrounding world. While studied with profit against the background of Jewish resurrection belief, the faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus retains its unique character in the history of religions. The riddle remains (Ibid., p. 221).

Notice Mettinger's comment that the belief in Jesus' resurrection may be profitably studied against the background of Jewish resurrection beliefs (not pagan mythology). Here we see that shift in New Testament studies I flagged above as the Jewish reclamation of Jesus. The spuriousness of the alleged parallels is just one indication that pagan mythology is the wrong interpretive framework for understanding the disciples' belief in Jesus' resurrection.

Second, the History of Religions school collapsed as an explanation of the origin of Christian beliefs about Jesus because there was no causal connection between pagan myths and the origin of Christian beliefs about Jesus. Take, for example, the resurrection. Jews were familiar with the seasonal deities mentioned above (Ez 37.1-14) and found them abhorrent. Therefore, there is no trace of cults of dying and rising gods in first century Palestine. For Jews, the resurrection to glory and immortality would not take place until the general resurrection of all the dead at the end of the world. It boggles the imagination to think that the original disciples would have suddenly and sincerely come to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was risen from the dead just because they had heard of pagan myths about dying and rising seasonal gods.

But, in a sense, all this is irrelevant to your main question, Kevin. For, as you indicate, the people you're talking to are impervious to scholarship. When you point out to them the spuriousness of the alleged parallels, then you're accused of "working too hard to save your religion." This is a no win situation for you. So I'm inclined to say that you should not go about "trying to refute every single similarity." Rather I think a more general and dismissive attitude on your part may be more effective.

When they say that Christian beliefs about Jesus are derived from pagan mythology, I think you should laugh. Then look at them wide-eyed and with a big grin, and exclaim, "Do you really believe that?" Act as though you've just met a flat earther or Roswell conspirator. You could say something like, "Man, those old theories have been dead for over a hundred years! Where are you getting this stuff?" Tell them this is just sensationalist junk, not serious scholarship. If they persist, then ask them to show you the actual passages narrating the supposed parallel. They're the ones who are swimming against the scholarly consensus, so make them work hard to save their religion. I think you'll find that they've never even read the primary sources.

If they ever do cite a primary source passage, I think you'd be surprised what you find. For example, in my debate on the resurrection with Robert Price, he claimed that Jesus' healing miracles were derived from mythological healing stories like those concerning Asclepius. I insisted that he read to us a passage from the primary sources showing the purported parallel. When he did so, the tale he produced bore no resemblance whatsoever to the Gospel stories of Jesus' healing miracles! It was the best proof that the stories were not genealogically related.

Remember: anyone pressing this objection has a burden of proof to bear. He needs to show that the narratives are parallel and, moreover, that they are causally connected. Insist that they bear that burden if you are to take their objection seriously.

Source: ReasonableFaith.org

Sunday, March 8, 2009

What to say to a Jehovah's Witness (Part 1)

By Andre Holwerda

The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society is the religious organisation that oversees the international movement known as Jehovah's Witnesses (hereafter referred to as JWs). It is one of the largest and most profitable organisations of its type in the world, with its publishing houses producing a greater number of publications per year than all the denominations of Christendom combined. If you live in a major city in almost any part of western society, you have probably experienced that familiar knock at the door on a Saturday morning from two well dressed individuals who wish to talk to you about Armageddon, the end of the present world governments and how you can survive it all and live forever in a kind of paradise on earth. In such a situation as this, many of you would no doubt be tempted to express your views to these people using the time-honoured door-slam method. I write this article to urge you to rethink that particular strategy.

When you are being visited by a pair of JWs, what you are being presented with is your own personal home mission field. You are being visited by two individuals who have been the unfortunate victims of brainwashing. They have been taught not to think independently but to depend almost exclusively on what they are being taught by the Watchtower. There are severe repercussions within the organisation for anyone who dares to entertain an independent thought. This kind of brainwashing is typical of cults and is extremely damaging to mental health. This is one of the primary reasons why instances of mental illness among cult members are statistically far more common than among the general population. It is imperative then, that we as Born Again Christians take the time to carefully witness to these folks who have been seriously deceived by this dangerous cult.

As you can probably tell from the introduction, this article is not designed to be read by Jehovah's Witnesses. Its purpose, rather, is to shed some light on what these people believe and how best to witness to them with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Firstly then, let's establish some basic ground rules that should be kept in mind whenever we are dealing with a JW.

  1. Cultists (and especially JWs) are, as I mentioned already, the victims of mind control. Therefore, much patience, self-control and tact is required when dealing with them. They simply will not understand most arguments from scripture and logic the first time you make those arguments. The importance of this point cannot be overstated.
  2. JWs are typically well-meaning and, frankly, nice people. You should adopt a similar attitude.
  3. JWs are trained by their organisation to be teachers rather than learners. They do not come to your door to have you give them a course in theology (although that is what you are subtly going to do). They come to teach YOU about THEIR version of God. So play dumb and act like you want to have them teach you.
  4. Ask questions! Use buzz words and phrases, such as: "Can you help me?", "I don't understand that. Could you explain it to me please?", "I have a problem with that. Can you give me the answer?"
  5. Pray! Pray! Pray!

If you keep these five points in mind you will find that your JW friends are more likely to come back again next time. If, instead, you just try to grill them with scripture, one of two things will happen. They may become extremely defensive and offended and will shut down mentally to everything you say and you will have ruined the opportunity. The other possibility is that you will have insufficient knowledge of scripture to deal with their arguments and you will be twisted into a doctrinal pretzel. With all of that said then, let's move on to part two of this article and discuss the beliefs of the Watchtower and how to deal with them.

When you put forward your arguments to a JW you must be sure to focus on only two major themes; the diety of Christ and His resurrection. Of all the unbiblical beliefs held by JWs, their denials of Christ's deity and his physical resurrection are the most damming. Do not allow the JW to distract you from these issues. When you start talking about these things, they WILL attempt to take you down a rabbit trail and get you talking about issues like Hell, the 144,000, corruptions in your version of the Bible and their pet favourite – The Trinity. You must not allow them this luxury but when they attempt this strategy you will simply say, "I'd love to talk to you about that but we'll have to come back to it later because right now I really need you to help me with the issue at hand."

In my experience witnessing to JWs, a very solid and dependable approach is to begin with the resurrection by stating something like this:

"Hey, I was wondering if you could help me with something. I have a problem. You see, I was speaking to another one of your people a little while ago and they said something I didn't quite understand. They said that Jesus, when he was raised from the dead, didn't actually rise in a physical body but came back as a spirit creature. Is that correct?"

The JW will emphatically answer yes and you will say:

"Well, you see now that's my problem! What if Jesus had said that he was going to come back in the same body he had before his death?"

Following this statement, the JW will virulently object, claiming that Jesus never said that. You must keep your cool and assure them that you have in fact found some place where he did say that. You will then, with head-spinning speed, turn to John 2:19-20, where we read:

Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days?"

You must get the JW to follow along with you in their Bible, which although a woefully inaccurate translation, is nevertheless quite correct in its rendering of this verse. Get them to read those two verses with you if you can and then turn to them and ask:

"Which temple was Jesus talking about?"

In my experience I have received two common answers to this question. One is "I don't know" and the other is "the temple in Jerusalem". Either of these answers will provide the perfect opportunity for you to read the very next verse, which says:

But he was speaking of the temple of his body (emphasis mine).

So there you have it. Jesus promised that he would physically raise himself from the dead. That this is speaking of his resurrection is clear from reading verse 22. It does not say he was speaking of the temple of his spirit but rather his BODY! The Greek word somatos, translated here as 'body', only ever refers to a physical form. Under no circumstances can it possibly mean a spiritual form. In this context it can only have one meaning and that meaning is 'a physical body'. You will press this point to the JW and will not leave John chapter 2 until they are prepared to admit that there is at least a chance that they might be wrong about the resurrection being spiritual. If they will not admit right there and then the possibility that they may have been mislead regarding the resurrection, you must bid them farewell and ask that they please return when they have discovered the answer to your problem. You will remind them that you would be most willing to consider joining their organisation if they could only convince you that what Jesus said about being raised physically was not in fact what occurred. This may or may not get them to return but if nothing else it will hopefully plant a seed of doubt in their mind and get them thinking independently about whether or not what they have been taught is true.

Of course, things may not always go so smoothly when witnessing to a JW. They do have a pre-programmed list of go-to texts up their sleeve that they have been trained to twist in order to provide answers to the claim that Jesus' resurrection was physical. None of their answers are any good, but they are confusing enough to stop the average Christian in their tracks. In another article I will deal specifically with these and other objections and provide tips on how to refute them. However, for now, I would like to give a couple of scripture references you can have up your sleeve that will add further weight to your side of the argument. Those references are as follows:

  • Luke 24:36-43 – In this passage Jesus appears to his disciples after his resurrection and their first reaction is to assume that they have seen a spirit. However, Jesus corrects them and says, "a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have". This statement obviously indicates that Jesus was physical and not a spirit, as the disciples had supposed. Not only that, but he also ate with the disciples. Since when does a spirit eat?
  • John 20:24-27 – In this passage Thomas, one of Jesus' disciples, states that he will not believe the reports of Christ's resurrection unless he personally sees him and touches him. In order to counteract Thomas' unbelief, Jesus does appear to Thomas eight days later and does allow him to place his fingers in his wounds. So not only was Jesus able to be touched (thereby demonstrating his physical nature) but he also still bore the wounds of his crucifixion, thus confirming that he still possessed the same body he had before his crucifixion. Verses 28-29 of John 20 will also come in very handy when we begin to deal with the issue of the deity of Christ.

To summarise then, the John 2 reference, when combined with Luke 24 and John 20, provides a cogent argument for the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. This argument stands in stark contrast to the teaching of the Watchtower that Jesus' resurrection was only spiritual and not physical. Frankly, this argument is unanswerable from a Biblical standpoint. JWs cannot make a solid defence against it. They will, however, attempt to take certain texts out of context and twist their meanings in an attempt to confuse you enough to get you off the subject. I will deal with these attempts in my third and final article. My next article, however, will present some arguments that I recommend using to make a case for the deity of Christ. Again, remember that when talking to a JW the two issues of greatest concern are the resurrection of Christ and the deity of Christ. All other issues are peripheral and should be treated as such. In fact, it may be best to avoid them altogether if at all possible.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Read Part 2 >

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dawkins' Critique of the Ontological Argument


Richard Dawkins, in his book "The God Delusion," references Douglas Gasking's 'Proof' that God does not exist. It goes like this:

  1. The creation of the world is the most marvelous achievement imaginable.
  2. The merit of an achievement is the product of (a) its intrinsic quality, and (b) the ability of its creator.
  3. The greater the disability (or handicap) of the creator, the more impressive the achievement.
  4. The most formidable handicap for a creator would be non-existence.
  5. Therefore if we suppose that the universe is the product of an existent creator we can conceive a greater being namely, one who created everything while not existing.
  6. An existing God therefore would not be a being greater than which a greater cannot be conceived because an even more formidable and incredible creator would be a God which did not exist.
  7. Therefore, God does not exist.

How would you respond, Dr. Craig?

Dr. William Lane Craig responds:

I have to confess that I had never come across this argument until I read it in The God Delusion. The reason for its obscurity isn't hard to divine: it's so wrong-headed that even detractors of the ontological argument who understand that argument would agree that this objection is no good. To see why, let's review the ontological argument.

The version below comes from Alvin Plantinga, one of America's premier philosophers. It's formulated in terms of possible worlds semantics. For those who are unfamiliar with the terminology of possible worlds, let me explain that by "a possible world" one doesn't mean a planet or even a universe, but rather a complete description of reality, or a way reality might be. To say that God exists in some possible world is just to say that there is a possible description of reality which includes the statement "God exists" as part of that description.

Now in his version of the argument, Plantinga conceives of God as a being which is "maximally excellent" in every possible world. Plantinga takes maximal excellence to include such properties as omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection. A being which has maximal excellence in every possible world would have what Plantinga calls "maximal greatness." So Plantinga argues:

  1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.
  2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world.
  3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world.
  4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.
  5. If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists.
  6. Therefore, a maximally great being exists.

Premises (2)-(5) of this argument are relatively uncontroversial. Most philosophers would agree that if God's existence is even possible, then He must exist. The principal issue to be settled with respect to Plantinga's ontological argument is what warrant exists for thinking the key premiss "It's possible that a maximally great being exists" to be true.

The idea of a maximally great being is intuitively a coherent idea, and so it seems plausible that such a being could exist. In order for the ontological argument to fail, the concept of a maximally great being must be incoherent, like the concept of a married bachelor. But the concept of a maximally great being doesn't seem even remotely incoherent. This provides some prima facie warrant for thinking that it is possible that a maximally great being exists.

In his book Dawkins devotes six full pages, brimming with ridicule and invective, to the ontological argument, without raising any serious objection to this argument. (He notes in passing Immanuel Kant's objection that existence is not a perfection; but since Plantinga's argument doesn't presuppose that it is, we can leave that irrelevance aside.) He then cites the parody of the argument you mention above, which is designed to show that God does not exist because a God "who created everything while not existing" is greater than one who exists and created everything.

Ironically, this parody, far from undermining the ontological argument, actually reinforces it! For a being who creates everything while not existing is a logical incoherence and is therefore impossible: there is no possible world which includes a non-existent being which creates the world. If the atheist is to maintain—as he must—that God's existence is impossible, the concept of God would have to be similarly incoherent. But to all appearances it's not. That supports the plausibility of premiss (1) of Plantinga's argument.

I think you can see that Dawkins doesn't even understand the logic of the ontological argument, which moves from the logical possibility of God's existence to its actuality. A parody of the argument that moves from a logical impossibility to actuality is not parallel to the argument.

Dawkins chortles, "I've forgotten the details, but I once piqued a gathering of theologians and philosophers by adapting the ontological argument to prove that pigs can fly. They felt the need to resort to Modal Logic to prove that I was wrong" (God Delusion, p. 84). This is just embarrassing. The ontological argument is an exercise in modal logic—the logic of the possible and the necessary. I can just imagine Dawkins making a nuisance of himself at this professional conference with his spurious parody, just as he similarly embarrassed himself at the Templeton Foundation conference in Cambridge where he describes his confronting sophisticated philosophers and theologians with his flyweight objection to the teleological argument!

If you're interested in further responses to Dawkins' critique of theistic arguments, have a look at Chad Meister and my new book God Is Great, God Is Good, forthcoming this year with Inter-Varsity Press.

Source: ReasonableFaith.org