My ongoing conversation with Bible skeptics has taught me a few things.
The first and foremost is that most aren’t skeptics in the true sense. A skeptic is one who calls accepted knowledge into question or tries to find alternative theories to explain the data on hand. Christians need to have a healthy skepticism toward the Bible, not in order to disprove it as God’s Word, but to challenge faulty interpretations and to test how well we are able to defend the integrity of scripture. While I’ve had a few good conversations with skeptics that were rational, what I’ve found most often is blatant cynicism.
Cynicism is characterized by a mistrust or mockery of established conventions. The cynic doesn’t use inquiry or constructive argument, but mainly sarcasm, verbal abuse and a host of logical fallacies. Oscar Wilde described a cynic as, “A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.” A cynic is one who wants to take the easy path toward being considered an intellectual without doing any of the heavy lifting. It’s a philosophy of misdirection in which the cynic feels proud of his ability to debate merely because he is able to call everything into question without really contributing anything positive toward human knowledge. I wanted to here post three of the most common cynical statements I encounter and some of my brief responses to them.
1. Jesus never really existed. This was the thesis of Bruno Bauer in the 1890s who claimed that Jesus was not a historical person but was an amalgamation of pagan myths. Sir James Frazer followed in the 1920s with his book, The Golden Bough. Although Frazer did not doubt Jesus was a real person, he tried to match many of the Gospel stories with pagan myths showing that the New Testament stories about Jesus had no basis in history. The problem with the Jesus Myth hypothesis is that it was almost universally rejected by scholars soon after it appeared.
When I first encountered this crackpot hypothesis, I had a several months’ long debate on my discussion board, which you can see here:
If they can’t offer names, I won’t continue the conversation. One recently called my tactic “hypocrasy” (sic) because I am a creationist and creationism has been disproved by modern science. What amazes me here is that he fails to see the difference. There are hundreds and perhaps thousands of Ph.D.s teaching science who are creationists. We are a minority, but creationism isn’t a position that has no credible proponents.
1. Can you name a single writer prior to the 1800s who claimed Jesus never existed?
2. Can you name even five Ph.D.s teaching history at the university level who claim Jesus never existed?
What I usually find when I challenge these young unthinking postmodernists is that they don’t really understand the meaning of their thesis. They either confuse the Mythist position with that of Historical Criticism — that Jesus was a mere man. Or they simply haven’t thought the position through, but are driven by an emotional desire to prove Christianity wrong. In very few cases are Jesus Mythists willing to admit that their hypothesis isn’t based on any historical testimony or documentary data. What they do instead is to change the subject to dozens of other objections. It’s hit-and-run atheist activism. I encourage those who want to be involved with apologetics not to waste time with people who do not want to argue through their position and answer hard questions.
2. The New Testament was not written until well after the death of Jesus. I’ve even heard a few who are convinced that the New Testament was not written for “hundreds of years” after Jesus. Just a brief bit of background on this position should be considered. In the 1800s, it was the German Higher Critics who first began to push the proposed date of the New Testament into the second century — even to the later decades. Some were motivated by anti-Semitism. They simply couldn’t fathom the idea of first century Jews founding the religion of Europe. The late dating was not based on documentary evidence or historical testimony. Instead their conjecture was founded on form criticism and source criticism — the idea being that the critic could read into the text what type of person wrote the book, when it was written, and which sources (often non-extant “phantom” documents) the author used.
Reading the Higher Critics or their modern counterparts is aggravating because they will completely dismiss all documentary evidence and historical testimony out of hand. Documentary evidence is in the form of actual manuscripts and fragments of the New Testament. Historical testimony is the records left by first and second century church fathers who quoted from and left commentary on the New Testament.
First, in the late 1800s up to this day there have been about 100 manuscript fragments discovered that date from 115 to 300 AD. The earliest manuscript is a copy of the Gospel of John called the Ryland’s fragment. Since this is considered to be at least a copy of a copy, and John is thought to be the last Gospel written, this puts the Gospels squarely in the first century. The latest possible date for the three synoptic Gospels according to the data then is the 70s and 80s. But we should stress this is the latest possible date. Nothing precludes an earlier date.
Second, the universal testimony of the church fathers beginning with Clement of Rome in the first century has the bulk of the New Testament written by the named authors prior to 70 AD. Some have the earliest Gospel being written by 40 AD. A skeptic may doubt this and certainly liberal scholars want to prefer the later dates of the 70s and 80s, however, there is no testimony from the ealry centuries that even hints at a later date for any of the books of the New Testament. The best the cynic has is an argument from silence. Since conservatives can’t prove conculsively a specific date for each book, then the dates must be later. Of course, this is not logical.
The weakness of the cynic’s position is that he believes the argument from silence “proves” something when in fact, in studying historical events you can seldom prove a negative. The true skeptic ought to admit that the worst case scenario is that we cannot know for certain the exact date of the New Testament — and therefore we must make educated guesses.
3. The Bible isn’t true because people don’t rise from the dead. The belief in miracles such as the resurrection can have a rational basis. However the atheist is irrational in that he wants to interpret the world from a purely naturalistic viewpoint. Yet naturalism has no explanation as to how the universe could have been formed from nothing or to how the beginning of a universe created out chaos and random order, can result in a universe of increasing complexity and order. To hold to a faith that has no basis in collected data is irrational.
On the other hand, Christianity is rational. Jesus Christ the Living Word (or the LOGOS) is the unifying principle of all human knowledge and is the basis for all rational thought. Christianity does not deny scientific and rational thought. All philosophy up until the time of Immanuel Kant was rational in nature. Western philosophy was divided into two groups — Christian and Greek pagan. But both groups were looking for a “unifying principle” that would unite the study of both the seen material and the unseen spiritual worlds. To Christians, this unifying principle was Christ, since the LOGOS was both a linguistic (Biblical literature) and logical (the God-man Jesus Christ as a real historical teacher) answer to the problem of the natural/spiritual dichotomy.
When Immanuel Kant wrote Critique of Pure Reason, he rejected the idea that there can be a principle that unites all fields of knowledge. He was actually arguing for an “irrational” system that tells us that we must forever accept a total dichotomy between the visible and invisible worlds. Modern philosophy and liberal theology now sees the two worlds (the noumenal world and the phenomenal world) as two airtight compartments. If the spiritual world exists, we cannot know anything about it through rational thought according to Kant.
Georg Hegel came along soon after and proposed that all truth is a synthesis between thesis and antithesis. That is, there are no objective truths, just what we end up agreeing upon after argument and debate. In fact, we make up new truths in the process. Thus Kant and Hegel together ended up creating an irrational basis for human philosophy that can never explain how the universe fits together as a whole. Even in the world of science, history, education, literature, and politics, people now see a divided universe that exists in many small compartments, but cannot be understood as a whole. People seek to understand the “many” while denying the “one.”
Hitler was simply echoing Hegelian thought when he said: “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it” and “How fortunate for leaders that men do not think” and “The great masses of the people will more easily fall victims to a big lie than to a small one.”In other words, the “lie” becomes the new “truth” if most people will just believe it.
What Kant and Hegel did was to open the door to irrational thought in the form of existentialism and postmodernism. In fact, we are already well down the slippery slope to irrational philosophy.
What is irrational is the modern reliance on a Kantian, Hegelian dualistic view of the universe that excludes what we cannot measure scientifically as “irrational.” The cynic has gone so far down the rabbit hole of existentialism, that he doesn’t even understand the irrationality Kantian and Hegelian thought. In the long run, his position isn’t a philosophical or religious problem at all. It’s a moral problem fueled by irrational passions.